- Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Red Dreher has written a personal reflection on Dante's Divine Comedy in a book called How Dante Can Save Your Life. Readers are posting mixed reviews, partly, it seems, because they don't understand the depth of the subject matter. Dreher quotes a review and offers some reflection on the family matters he revealed in his book:
Given his life experiences, it would have been easy for Dreher to paint himself as a victim and blame everyone else for his woes. But neither God nor Dante allows him to do so. Rather, as he descends the levels of the inferno and then ascends the cornices of purgatory alongside the Florentine poet, he comes face to face with his own propensity to make golden calves out of his family and his tradition: in a word, southern ancestral worship. Yes, his father and sister must bear some guilt, but Dreher alone allows himself to become bound to these false idols.He says, "For me, Dante’s understanding of sin not as lawbreaking but as a damaged form of love was important to understanding my crisis situation, and how to break out of it."
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was killed on this day in 1945.
A while back, Hunter Baker enthused over his exploration of the free-church idea in Germany. Baker observes, "A regenerate church is not a private church," and so must engage the state while remaining independent from it.
Here's a short piece on Bonhoeffer's last twelve hours.
Michael Hollerich reviews a biography of Bonhoeffer, getting into many of the ideas presented in Charles Marsh's Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, including this one:
Protestantism in particular could not surrender the claim to be a Volkskirche, a true national church and the spiritual custodian of the German people. This was the preoccupation, even among Confessing Christians, that ultimately disenchanted Bonhoeffer and led to his visionary anticipation of an outcast church on the margins of society. We can appreciate the measure of that disenchantment if we remember that he had taken membership in the Confessing Church so seriously that he once said that whoever knowingly separated himself from the Church separated himself from salvation—for which he was roundly denounced for “Catholic” thinking.As with most things, the man had something there.
Throckmorton describes an odd conflict of research in a recent book by George Barna and David Barton, U-Turn: Restoring America to the Strength of its Roots. "U-Turn examines current cultural trends and historical patterns," the publisher states, "to reveal that America cannot sustain its strength if it remains on its current path. Combining current research with the authors’ trademark insight and analysis, the book gives readers a unique view of the moral and spiritual condition of Americans and provides specific insights into how we can turn our nation around."
Apparently the research isn't current enough, because the group that still bears Barna's name refutes some of it. "Barna in 2011 rebuts the Barna of 2014 (which is really an amplification of Barna of 2006)," Throckmorton explains. "The 2014 Barna says '61 percent of Christian youth who attend college abandon their faith as a result.' The 2011 Barna said that statement contains two myths." Read on to learn about those myths.
Lee Seigel describes the influence Saul Bellow had on him and a new biography of this important 20th century author who has been somewhat forgotten.
This spring, on the centennial of his birth and the tenth anniversary of his death, Bellow will burst from posthumous detention. A volume of his collected nonfiction is being published, as well as the fourth and last installment of the Library of America edition of his work. But the main event will be Zachary Leader’s biography The Life of Saul Bellow: To Fame and Fortune, coming out in May, which portrays Bellow up to 1964. Orchestrated by Bellow’s literary executor, literary superagent Andrew Wylie (who replaced Wasserman), this massive life by Leader, also Wylie’s client, is transparently meant as a corrective to the authorized biography published by Atlas in 2000, which presented Bellow as a racist and a woman-hater, among other things, and accelerated Bellow’s fall from literary grace.
You can feel the lines being drawn and the gloves going up as you read Leader’s book. Leader very deliberately presents Bellow’s life in a way meant to rebut charges of Bellow’s racism and misogyny one by one. And where Atlas meanly dwells on Bellow’s minor failures — a short-lived literary magazine, several unsuccessful plays — Leader rightly celebrates his triumphs. Where Atlas resentfully interprets Bellow’s characters as reflections of their author’s narcissism, Leader gratifyingly shows how Bellow transformed his personal limitations into liberating art.
True Crime stories don't live in isolation. They purport to tell the truth from recent history, and sometimes their authors become players in the story. Here are five True Crime accounts that have stirred up the cases they describe.
No single case has probably generated more quality standalone volumes in true crime than that of Jeffery MacDonald. MacDonald was an Army doctor whose pregnant wife and two daughters were murdered in their home in 1970. According to MacDonald, Manson-like hippies attacked him and his family. After a military court failed to make the charges stick, MacDonald returned to civilian life but was eventually indicted in 1974. Then, following a lengthy appeals process over the sixth amendment that went all the way to the Supreme Court, he was tried and convicted of the murders in 1979. Before the trial, MacDonald had granted nearly unrestricted access to writer Joe McGinniss in the hopes that McGinniss would write a sympathetic book that argued his innocence. The result was 1983's Fatal Vision, which squarely pointed the finger at MacDonald and was adapted into a TV movie. In 1987, MacDonald sued McGinniss for fraud and, after a mistrial, they settled out of court. The dispute between them was the subject of Janet Malcolm’s 1990 classic nonfiction media meditation, The Journalist and the Murderer. In 2012, [True Crime author] Errol Morris published his own investigation into the MacDonald case, A Wilderness of Error, and argued in favor of MacDonald’s innocence.
"If a more provocative book has been written in the last 10 years, I haven’t read it," states Collin Hansen. "But that’s not because David Platt rejects biblical teaching, as we’ve seen with some other young pastors. And that’s not because Counter Culture advances any particular sectarian theological agenda that would repel other evangelicals. Counter Culture is the most controversial book I’ve seen in at least the last decade mostly because he restates the teaching of Jesus and his Word without any qualifications, with little attempt to cast such demanding beliefs in a way that would appeal to modern readers."
Hansen marvels at Platt's boldness, quoting him on our resistance to God's direction: "If there were 1,000 ways to God, we would want 1,001."
I remember my high school history teacher explaining that though "fundamentalist" was a term of disapproval, all believers held to the fundamentals of the Bible, so we could all be called fundamentalists. That may have been one of the many encouragements I've received over the years that has made me comfortable with political and theological labels. I think I'm stepping away from that now.
Dr. Matthew Hall reviews Matthew Sutton's new history of twentieth century evangelicalism, American Apocalypse. He says evangelicals tried to distinguish themselves from fundamentalists in different ways, but in fact they were more similar than they wanted to admit. "The entire tradition shares a premillennial expectation of an imminent and traumatic second coming of Christ," Hall writes. Sutton believes that primary context shaped many theological doctrines.
American Apocalypse will make a great many evangelical readers uncomfortable. Because of his extensive work in primary sources, Sutton has—better than anyone else—documented the ways in which some of the most prominent, and beloved, white evangelical and fundamentalist figures were enmeshed within their own cultural context. This enculturation manifested itself routinely in anti-Semitism, white supremacy, and nativism. Whether it’s reading Harold Ockenga’s anti-Semitic assessment of Jews in Hollywood, or the myriad of voices justifying white supremacy and indicting racial intermarriage, Sutton shows how these attitudes weren’t on the fringe of the movement. Rather, they often inhabited its center.
Historian Thomas Kidd is writing about Josiah Franklin, candlemaker and Benjamin Frankin's Calvinist father.
In the late 1670s a wave of intense persecution came against nonconformists across England, as many church and government officials regarded them as dangerous incendiaries who might once again threaten the stability of the nation. . . . University of Oxford officials sanctioned the public burning of writings by non-Anglican luminaries such as John Milton. Even pacifist Quakers, who would soon found Franklin’s longtime home of Pennsylvania, were jailed under brutal conditions and died by the hundreds during the 1680s. Northamptonshire was a hotbed of nonconformity, and in one episode in the mid-1680s more than fifty members of landowning gentry were arrested on suspicion of seditious religious activity.
In a spectacular essay titled “The Paradox of Intellectual Promiscuity,” found in his altogether indispensable final essay collection I Have Landed: The End of a Beginning in Natural History, Gould uses Nabokov’s case to make a beautiful and urgently necessary broader case against our culture’s chronic tendency to pit art and science against one another — “We have been befogged by a set of stereotypes about conflict and difference between these two great domains of human understanding,” he laments — and to assume that if a person has talent and passion for both areas, he or she can achieve greatness in only one and is necessarily a mere hobbyist in the other.(via Books, Inq.)
A few days back I posted a review of a book on the Viking Age which had disappointed me. Author Ruth A. Johnston, who happens to be a Facebook friend, then mentioned her own book on Beowulf, which I'd already read. I hadn't noticed that it came from the same publisher.
Ruth's book, A Companion to Beowulf, is much, much better.
A Companion to Beowulf is, as you would expect, an introduction to the poem, useful for students or history buffs or Tolkien fans. It's well written and comprehensive, and includes a list of modern adaptations, a glossary of names, a list of works cited, and even a chapter on Tolkien.
For some reason, she fails to note my theory, mentioned on this blog, that Beowulf is "refugee literature." I've also been inclined to give credence to theories that Beowulf's "Geatish" tribe may have been someone other than the Gotlanders. Johnston states flatly that they were Goths. But that may be because she knows more about the subject than I do, hard as that may be to believe.
I did catch what I think are couple small errors. She says the spear was the symbol of a free man -- I'm pretty sure it was the seax. A spear is what a slave would be most likely to carry. She also speaks of Vikings wielding "two-headed fighting axes." That should be "two-handed fighting axes." They never fought with double-bitted axes.
But those are the sort of small mistakes you'll find in any book -- even mine. All things considered, this is an excellent introduction to a wonderfully alien work of literature. I recommend it.
[Personal note: I apologize for my continued absence from this blog. I thought I'd be doing more blogging while I had a few weeks of winter break, but I scheduled myself a number of projects, and they've taken more time than I expected. And now I'm just a week away from classes again. lw]
I approached Kirsten Wolf's book, Viking Age: Everyday Life During the Extraordinary Era of the Norsemen, with anticipation. For years a book with a similar job description, Jacqueline Simpson's Everyday Life in the Viking Age, has been a standard for Viking buffs and reenactors. It's well-researched, readable, and useful. But it's old now, and we've learned a lot since Simpson wrote. We need a new book in that vein.
This book is not it.
That's not to say it's worthless. I'll admit I learned some things reading it. But I'm not as sure of those things as I'd like to be, because the book contains too many "facts" that are just plain wrong.
The author states twice that the Battle of Svold took place in Norway (it took place in the Baltic). She states that Olaf Tryggvason was the great-grandson of Harald Fairhair (historians aren't sure nowadays). She says that Olaf Tryggvason made the Greenlanders accept Christianity (no historian believes that anymore).
Most of the gross mistakes seem to be associated with King Olaf Tryggvason's career. Perhaps the author's reading has been deficient in that area. Prof. Wolf teaches Old Norse literary studies at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I hesitate to criticize a professor in a university system in which I am a student, but she seems weak on material outside her specialty. I suspect the book was a rush job, probably done under deadline.
A special weakness of this volume is the illustrations. The book is lavishly illustrated, but most of those illustrations are worse than useless, except to fill up pages. The publishers opted for copyright-free pictures whenever possible, which means we are treated to a feast of 19th Century engravings, with horned and winged helmets and classical poses. In a book which fails to even mention the Cardinal Truth -- "No horned helmets!" -- this is inexcusable. Newcomers to the field will come away with a bundle of misconceptions.
Jacqueline Simpson's book was illustrated with simple and useful line drawings that depicted actual archaeological finds. But hiring artists to do that sort of thing costs money, which the publishers of Wolf's book were apparently unwilling to spend.
This coming Spring, Rabbit Room Press will release a new memoir from the great author Walter Wangerin, Jr. It will be called Everlasting Is the Past.
"In this new memoir, he invites the reader into the past to experience his loss of faith as a young seminarian, his struggle to find a place for his chosen vocation amid a storm of doubts, and his eventual renewal in the arms of an inner-city church called Grace."
Pre-orders are being taken.
Our friend Ori Pomerantz has published another little e-book (I got mine free, for the record). This one is called Manual of Mockery, and its ostensible purpose is to instruct people in how to create good Internet memes.
In fact, it's an accessible short course in basic logical argument.
"What relevance does Christianity have in our societal system? What place does the church have in a system that so often seems to be ordered only by the ultra-complex machinery of state power and corporate strategy?"
Hunter Baker answers these questions and more in his collection of essays, The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life. Get it today for almost half-price.
Cary Elwes, whom you may know as Pierre Despereaux from Psyche, has written a book on his experiences making the film The Princess Bride. The book, As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride, is a delightful book for fans and possibly movie buffs, and we have some of the revelations in this article in L.A. Weekly. Here are some of them.
Fox bought the movie rights to the book as soon as it was published in 1973, but it was 1987 when it finally played in theaters. In the meantime, many directors wanted to do it, including Robert Redford. Can you imagine Redford as The Dread Pirate Roberts (if he cast himself in his own film)?
Author William Goldman had seen many of his screenplays produced before The Princess Bride, but he was unprepared for the filming of this one. He freaked out on the first day when they were filming the scene in the fire swamp. "As soon as the gas geyser lit up her dress, Goldman burst out screaming, 'OH, MY GOD! HER DRESS IS ON FIRE! SHE'S ON FIRE!!!' Later, he scolded Reiner: 'You're setting fire to Robin on the first day?! What are you, nuts? It's not like we can replace her!'"
There's a word for that reaction, if I could only think of it.
Thomas Kidd has a new biography on one of America's great evangelists, George Whitefield.
Although I deeply respect and appreciate him, my Whitefield is not a perfect man. As Whitefield readily admitted, he struggled with the temptations of fame, and I also show his besetting difficulties in relating to other evangelical leaders such as the Wesleys. Most disappointing (as Dallimore noted too) was Whitefield’s advocacy for slavery, and his personal owning of slaves.I thought I had read that he opposed slavery and got into trouble with some Georgian businessmen for saying so.
When director William Desmond Taylor was murdered, no one in 1922 Los Angeles knew who did it. William Mann spins all the details into a wild noir that "seems far too cinematic to be credible. Yet every word of it is true," writes Stefan Kanfer.
... the author spins a terrific yarn, though he frequently goes into overdrive, with staccato, machine gun-style sentences, as if to keep his readers’ attention from wandering: "Three long blond hairs. Clearly not Taylor’s. With a tweezers, the detective removed the hairs and placed them in an envelope. Now he just needed to match them to someone’s head."(via Prufrock)
Former CBS News reporter Sharyl Attkisson could not pursue her line of questioning on many interesting stories because her sources in The White House or her own bosses at CBS were interested in advocating their side, not revealing the truth. Attkisson says this and more in her new book, Stonewalled: My Fight for Truth Against the Forces of Obstruction, Intimidation, and Harassment in Obama's Washington.
The New York Post gives us many details:
“Many in the media,” Attkisson writes, “are wrestling with their own souls: They know that ObamaCare is in serious trouble, but they’re conflicted about reporting that. Some worry that the news coverage will hurt a cause that they personally believe in. They’re all too eager to dismiss damaging documentary evidence while embracing, sometimes unquestioningly, the Obama administration’s ever-evolving and unproven explanations.”She says she asked by Katie Couric about a possible interview with Attorney General Eric Holder on the Fast and Furious scandal. Attkisson, who had done many reports on that subject, said it should be a relevant interview, but after that weekend (without a Couric interview on air) the network began cancelling her stories, saying she had reported everything already. Attkisson wonders if Holder ordered CBS to stop talking about it.
One of her bosses had a rule that conservative analysts must always be labeled conservatives, but liberal analysts were simply “analysts.” “And if a conservative analyst’s opinion really rubbed the supervisor the wrong way,” says Attkisson, “she might rewrite the script to label him a ‘right-wing’ analyst.”
She also believes the Obama administration had someone hack her laptop to listen to her and plant classified documents on her hard drive, possibly intending to use them to prosecute her as needed.
A 1959 essay on creativity by Issac Asimov, that has not been published, has been released by a friend at MIT. In it, Asimov talks about the origin of the theory of evolution, which he says was devised by two men independently, Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.
A person willing to fly in the face of reason, authority, and common sense must be a person of considerable self-assurance. Since he occurs only rarely, he must seem eccentric (in at least that respect) to the rest of us. A person eccentric in one respect is often eccentric in others.He goes on to say a team hoping to develop great new ideas needs to become comfortable with each other and inspire each other to look forward. (via Prufrock)
Consequently, the person who is most likely to get new ideas is a person of good background in the field of interest and one who is unconventional in his habits. (To be a crackpot is not, however, enough in itself.)
I love history because I love romance (by which I mean, not novels by Barbara Cartland, but romantic adventure – swashbuckling and gunplay in long-lost times and distant places). I picked up The Brothers Laffite: The Treacherous World of the Corsairs of the Gulf, by William C. Davis, to get some of the facts behind the legend of Jean Laffite and his brother Pierre. I knew what I was getting into, and was already aware of their sordid side, so I read it with interest.
Most of us know the Laffites as “the pirates who helped Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.” And they did that, though they weren’t quite as noble as the movies make it seem. They were operating a smuggling operation out of Barataria Island, taking advantage of political instability and the difficulties the US government had enforcing its laws in the newly extended territories of the Louisiana Purchase. When the British fleet sailed in, they seem to have tried to play both sides against the middle (a recurring theme in their story), but the Americans got their hands on them first, so they helped them.
Like most criminals, they never actually got very rich, although they tried to live like it. They seem to have been rather courtly with their (white) prisoners, but at bottom their reality was pretty ignoble. They violated America’s ban on importing slaves through a clever manipulation of the law, first importing the miserable captives illegally, then turning them in as contraband and collecting the reward (Jim Bowie partnered with them in this scam). They were also “filibusters,” a term which originally referred to adventurers, mostly Americans, who set up bogus “revolutionary republics” in Spanish America and then issued letters of marque giving their acts of piracy a cloak of legality. But the Laffites added a characteristic twist of their own – they informed on their fellow filibusters to the Spanish, for pay.
There’s little heroism to find in this story, but what it does offer is a fascinating look into a formative but little-known era of American history. The book is very long, but half of it is footnotes.
According to Michael J. Kruger's review of Professor Peter Enns' new book, The Bible Tells Me So: Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable to Read It, the Bible doesn't tell us anywhere near what we might think it does. Kruger says he always notes the cover endorsements on a new book, and some gave him pause.
But perhaps most illuminating was the inside flap, where the publisher describes the book’s purpose: “In The Bible Tells Me So, Enns wants to do for the Bible what Rob Bell did for hell in Love Wins.”In the end, Kruger says Enns' book wants it both ways. Discover God in the pages of Scripture while understanding most of what's written there is imaginary and contradictory. Repent and believe in Christ on the cross, but the Bible's morality is untenable and inapplicable to you.
Not until after I read the book in its entirety did I realize how accurate this comparison actually is. Of course, Bell’s book (also published by HarperOne) challenged a core historical tenet of the Christian faith, namely the belief that hell is real and people actually will go there. Christianity has just been wrong, Bell argues, and we finally need to be set free from the fear and oppression such a belief causes. Bell positions himself as the liberator of countless Christians who have suffered far too long under such a barbaric belief system.
Likewise, Enns is pushing back against another core historical tenet of the Christian faith: our belief about Scripture—what it is and what it does. The Bible isn’t doing what we think it’s doing, he argues. It doesn’t provide basically reliable historical accounts (instead, it’s often filled with myth and rewritten stories). It doesn’t provide consistent theological instruction (about, say, the character of God). And it doesn’t provide clear teaching about how to live (ethics, morality, Christian living). Although Christians have generally always believed these things about Scripture, Enns contends that scholars now know they simply aren’t true. And when Christians try to hold onto such beliefs, it only leads to fear, stress, anxiety, and infighting. Like Bell, Enns is positioned as a liberator able to set believers free from a Bible that just doesn’t work the way they want it to.
Ori Pomerantz is a personal friend of mine, and of this blog. So my endorsement of his new e-book, Lying With Memes: Quick, Concise, and Wrong, might be a little suspect (I got a free review copy, by the way, so you can factor that in). But I thought it was a valuable and entertaining little book.
Memes, those short messages pasted on art, like digital posters or vertical bumper stickers, are part of my life, and probably of yours too, if you're reading this blog. If you use a service like Facebook, you've probably laughed or done an arm pump on seeing some, and promptly shared them. Sometimes you learn later that they're false or misleading, and feel embarrassed. You've probably also been angered by some memes, and they may have even sparked arguments and lost you friends.
Ori's short book is an explanation of how memes are constructed (with how-to instructions), and also a plea for more rational, decent memes. He provides a simple short course in logic (something much needed in our time) and admits that the information he gives may be used or misused. "I hope you will use this knowledge for good," he writes, "to identify when people try to cheat you, rather than for evil, to cheat people yourself."
A quick read and not expensive. Recommended.
Aaron Armstrong reviews Stephen Furtick's Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God's Voice Above All Others, saying it has plenty of good advice but fails to connect it to the gospel. "Instead, we get this advice: 'The gospel says that those who do not forget the past are condemned to repeat it,'" Armstrong reports.
Craig Silverman, the author of many words on media accuracy, said people generally believe books are more reliable than magazines or newspapers. "A lot of readers have the perception that when something arrives as a book, it’s gone through a more rigorous fact-checking process than a magazine or a newspaper or a website, and that’s simply not that case," he said.
Why don't publishing houses spend time and money making sure they aren't publishing the next fabricated memoir? Kate Newman suggests they don't pay enough in repercussions when an author slips them a phony victim story.
“Maybe there should be a warning, like on a pack of cigarettes,” said another author. “‘This book has not been fact-checked at all.’ Because when I realized that basically everything I had read until that point had not been verified, I felt a little bit lied to.”
Of course, I should warn you that I didn't verify any facts stated in Newman's article. No, I did verify one, but that's it. Who knows if they rest is true?
C.S. Lewis grew up among some well-known atheists and may have believed the same things argued today by speakers labeled "New Atheists." Peter S. Williams has written a book on the subject, and this podcast introduces a series of discussions on that book, C S Lewis vs the New Atheists, with an overview. You can get a brief review and chapter list here.
The movie project about America's worst serial killer is moving forward with the announcement that Andrew Klavan will write the script. He says the challenge will be writing a movie that people will want to see, because the base story is almost too repulsive. He tells NRO what's most important about the Gosnell story:
I’m a crime writer. It’s a great crime story. But you know, I notice I’ve gone through this whole interview without saying the words “abortion” or “abortionist.” But that’s a part of it too, a central part. I’m in a sort of — I won’t say “unique” but certainly strange position on this. I’m a natural-born libertarian. With every fiber of my being, I want people to live the lives they want to live, whether it suits me or not. You want to be gay? Have a good time. You want to condemn gays? Knock yourself out. You want to dress up as Beyonce and get a tattoo of Louisiana on your forehead? I’m the guy who’ll buy you a drink and say, “Nice tat, Yonce.” I know a lot of women who’ve had abortions — people I like and love. I know a lot of people who are pro-abortion, likewise. But moral logic has convinced me that this is wrong — more than wrong – as wrong as a thing can be. It’s not about your feelings versus mine. It’s not about social conservatism. It’s not about libertarianism. And it’s not about feminism either or “women’s health care.” What nonsense that is. It’s an actual question of good versus evil. And listen, in the end, that’s what all great stories are about.(via ISI)
Barnabas Piper's new book, The Pastor's Kid, is out today. In his interview with Matt Smethurst, Piper talks about his own feelings and what he learned from other pastors' kids.
Your book is based on what you learned from hundreds of conversations with pastors’ kids over the years. What surprised you most as you interacted with other pastors’ kids?The tendency for judging pastors' kids was a dual expectation of perfection and rebellion. People thought these children should be models of the Christian life while also believing they would rebel and reject the church. It's an impossible standard.
Two things surprised me. The first was the consistency of the stories and experiences regardless of context. Even the phrasing of answers and the quotes they shared of what people in their churches had said to them were almost verbatim. While I expected similarities, it was almost like a bunch of people had copied the same answer on a test or something. It gave me real clarity about what needed to be addressed as well as assurance that my own experiences weren’t the outlier.
The second thing that surprised me was how many PKs are now in vocational ministry. The stereotype is of PKs who turn their back on the church, but I connected with dozens who, despite their struggles, love and serve the church.
Rodney Stark, distinguished professor of the social sciences at Baylor University, talks about his new book, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity. He said he spoke at a college once and was surprised to get a question from two high-GPA students about when and where was the Roman Empire. "I thought it was some sort of tease, so I told them the Roman Empire ruled Southern California in the 1920s." They believed him.
One of the most blatant [myths that has gained currency today] is blaming the West for all the problems involving Muslims, specifically terrorist attacks. Reflecting what is being said in the classrooms, academic conferences devote many sessions to “Islamophobia” (hatred of Muslims) but none to terrorism—except for the explanation that it is provoked by the many wicked things the West has done to Islam, now and in the distant past....
Another pernicious myth is that Europe slept in ignorance through many centuries following the fall of Rome—an era known as the Dark Ages. But it never happened. Many professors, even if they know it, are reluctant to admit that the major encyclopedias now acknowledge that the notion of the Dark Ages was invented by Voltaire and his friends to vilify the Church and makes themselves seem important. It always should have been obvious that the centuries denounced as the Dark Ages were an era of remarkable invention and progress, at the end of which Europe had advanced far beyond the rest of the world.
A new, engaging resource for poets has come out this year. A Poet’s Glossary by Edward Hirsch is the reference work you would expect from the name and a readable commonplace-type book to boot. The interconnections between words and examples given for each term do not come from a dead literature professor collecting dust on tenure, but a poet who sounds as if he would be routinely in the running for favorite teacher.
The Washington Post says Hirsch "explains each term in clear, direct prose, often moving from a general definition to a layered explanation of how each term has evolved over time. Take, for example, the opening entry, abecedarian, which begins, 'An alphabetical acrostic in which each line or stanza begins with a successive letter of the alphabet.' Many readers have seen this ancient form but may not know that it was often employed for sacred texts. Hirsch explains this connection and highlights a psalm in the Bible as well as poems by St. Augustine and Chaucer within just a few lines."
Hirsch is the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation and a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.