Thursday, March 05, 2015

Books read in March 2015

1. Reformation : Europe's House Divided 1490-1700 by Diarmaid MacCulloch

A most detailed and comprehensive work on the history and theology of both the Reformation and the Counter-reformation response. It tales on all of Europe though I found it weak on the 17th century in what the author calls the Atlantic Isles. ( Is this some new political correctness to avoid Ireland being part of the British Isles?) Post Restoration history in both England and Scotland seems too brief. There seems to be little on the Test Acts and nothing on the various Covenants nor the Covenanters. But one is certainly given a good theological understanding of the diversity between various Reformers. The author is no fan of John Calvin. Does this explain his omission of how Calvin influenced capitalism when he reformed the the traditional understanding of usury?

2. Best Kept Secret: 3 (The Clifton Chronicles) by Jeffrey Archer

I enjoy Archer and have read most of his work including the previous two books in this series. However I think he has become rather predictable and formulaic here. I found the main big story far fetched. Archer certainly shows his familiarity with elections and publishing but I think the prolonged bitter hatred of two vindictive characters here was rather over the top. Perhaps I have too soft a view of human nature.

3. The Swallows Of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra

Set in Taliban controlled Kabul and written in 2002 when these extremists controlled the city. I confess I do not understand the link between book and title and was surprised to find the author is in fact an Algerian man. But he seems well informed of the horror that was Kabul at the time. The story is well written but shocking in its horror, so bad in fact that the subject matter means I cannot give it five stars. Do not expect a happy ending.

4. Edge of Eternity (The Century Trilogy) by Ken Follett 

I have enjoyed all three volumes in this series but this one has to be an out and out left wing piece of historical fiction. The causes beloved of the left are applauded and no leader from the American right is worthy of approbation. It also seems to have been written for an American market. I recall only two passing references to British prime ministers and the only British politics seems to be the Sexual Offences Act decriminalising male homosexual acts. But some of the big events, 1961 to 1989 are covered through the lives of families in USA, USSR and East Germany. A long book. A large canvas and a good read if you do not mind the story coming from left field, liberal left that is not communist.

5. Jesus, Jihad, and Peace: A Prophetic Vision for the Middle East by Michael Youssef

The author, a Christian from Egypt, is well qualified to write on Islam and Christianity. He pulls no punches showing Islam does not mean peace but submission, submission to Allah who is not the same in his attributes as God worshipped by Christians. The West needs to wake up to the goal of the minority of Muslims, Salafist/Wahabbis who are setting the agenda of a universal caliphate, world domination. The majority of Muslims do not support their methods but remain silent out of fear. It reads all too like the Republicans in Northern Ireland during the Troubles, a comparison the author does not make for he lives in USA and his book is aimed at an American readership. I was hesitant when the cover says. 'What Bible prophecy says about world events'. But this is a balanced approach with my only criticism that he does not relate that the last days started at Pentecost and the first part of Matthew 24 is about AD70. There is helpful contrast between the beliefs and methods of Islam and Christianity as well as a clear presentation of the Christian gospel.

6. LONDON: The Information Capital: 100 maps and graphics that will change how you view the city by James Cheshire and Oliver Uberti

From fascinating serious information about London to the most trivial of trivia it is all here. Maps and charts to pour over and fascinate. This book represents the fruit of endless information gathering only possible in the electronic age. Read through it, dip into it, on the coffee table or for reference, this is a fun book.

7. Lila by Marilynne Robinson

The third novel in the Gilead books is set before the second one, Home and I was pleased to have read Home first as some references to the Boughton family and their black sheep son would have been hard to understand without Home. Lila was rescued by an old drifter woman, Doll and throughout the book Lila thinks back to he time with Doll and a group of drifters in dust bowl America. After Doll dies Lila is employed in a St Louis whorehouse then a hotel before she comes to Gilead where after living in an abandoned shack she is befriended by the old widower, Rev Ames and so begins a strange, tender love story. They marry but she can never tell him the details of her past. There is much here of beauty in love and kindness. There is exploration of themes dealing with eternity and hell also the meaning of baptism. Lila reads a lot from Ezekiel, Ames quotes Calvin, not what one finds in modern novels. Writing on sexual matters without explicit detail is refreshing. Can we look forward to more from this small Iowa town? How will the Ames boy grow up?

8. Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc by Joseph Pearce

Belloc seems to be little remembered today except as a writer of comic verse. This biography shows how he was a foremost apologist for the Christian faith in the first half of the 20th century alongside his friend G K Chesterton. His Christianity though was decidedly Roman Catholic and he was influential in leading many of his friends, well known names, into that church. It was therefore amusing to read that he had a son who alienated from his father called an adopted child Martin Luther to irritate Belloc. Belloc's much loved wife died in her forties and he lost his eldest and youngest sons in the two World Wars so he was a man acquainted with grief. He was judged the finest orator of his  day and had a huge and varied literary output. He said he only wrote because he needed the money but one of his passions was to retell English history without what he regarded as its innate Protestant bias. He was a larger than life character loving beer, wine, Sussex, his native France, travel and sailing, but above all his Church.

9. Dark Fire (The Shardlake Series) by C. J. Sansom 

This is the first Shardlake story I have read and it will not be the last. I enjoy historical fiction and detective stories and here you have both. In fact there are two stories of detection in this volume. The author does make Tudor London come alive. His characters are well drawn. Plenty of mystery and excitement .Knowing that Cromwell is to fall hangs like a sword of Damocles over the story. I look forward to more about Shardlake.

10, Heartstone (Matthew Shardlake 5) by C. J. Sansom

Fifth in the Shardlake series but the second one I have read. Once again much detail as to Tudor life. Here one learns about wardship, travel, the army, archery, the threatened French invasion, warships and the sinking of the Mary Rose. Once again Shardlake has two mysteries to solve putting his own life at risk. A long story but a good read.

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