I began this book some time ago, but discovered very quickly that it would largely be meaningless to me until I knew the events that transpired in theI began this book some time ago, but discovered very quickly that it would largely be meaningless to me until I knew the events that transpired in the first world war. Many of the stories and the characters involved in them made little sense to me, and carried the proper weight, until I could get a grasp of what exactly was taking place. The strength of this book is that it allows the reader to enter imaginatively into the experiences of those who were present so many of the events described abstractly by historians. Without that knowledge, however, the stories and characters contained here lack proper gravity. Thus, I prepared myself by listening to podcasts and online courses, as well as doing some limited reading on my own. These provided the backdrop necessary to be able to appreciate Englund's work. (I heartily recommend Dan Carlin's hard-core history episodes on the first world war, entitled "blueprint for Armageddon," as well as the course offered by the Great Courses on the first world war.) With this backdrop in place, I resumed my reading of the beauty and the sorrow, with great relish. The author has assembled a representative group, if such a thing could be imagined in such widely varied circumstances spanning multiple continents and millions of lives, and in telling their stories, I was given some idea of what it meant to live through such a tragic, terrible war. England adopts the technique of jumping from story to story, and such a way that I struggled to keep track of who the characters were, but it did manage to hold my interest, perhaps in a way that a less jumpy sequence would've failed. It certainly allowed me to pick up and put down the book at will. Even now, I feel better equipped to return to the larger histories of the war, with a better idea of what it meant to live through all The battles and treaties and negotiations and deaths recounted there with a deeper sense of what it really meant for the people who experienced those things. ...more
Rousmaniere has put together a wide-ranging and well informed selection of narrative and reflection that is as mindful of the religious sense as it isRousmaniere has put together a wide-ranging and well informed selection of narrative and reflection that is as mindful of the religious sense as it is of the awful fury of the sea. It proves as interesting a study of the Storm as it does of the human beings that try themselves against it. Whether by sail or steam, whether gloriously enduring or swiftly undone, whether biblical or contemporary, the personalities here set forth were carefully drawn and compelling. Highly recommended....more
Nothing could have interested me less, upon first hearing about this piece of narrative history, than a tale of architecture and murder. A friend whosNothing could have interested me less, upon first hearing about this piece of narrative history, than a tale of architecture and murder. A friend whose livelihood is architectural consulting had lent me the audiobook, so I’ll admit I dismissed his enthusiasm as geeking out on a subject of his own expertise. It languished in the center console of my pickup for nearly a year.
Once I began this story on a road trip, however, I was fascinated and could hardly find a reason NOT to drive somewhere on a given day, eventually snatching even three- or four-minute excursions into the Gilded Age. By far the construction of the Fair was what stirred me, though I did appreciate Larson’s portrayal of the psychopathic murderer Mudgett/Holmes. At first, the alternation between the late Victorian ambition for worldwide glory and the perverted machinations of a glossy psychopath was jarring and contrived: a case where the conceit of alternating between storylines to create dramatic tension was a little too obvious. But as Larson’s narratives progressed and it became more clear that the juxtaposition of these storylines was as remarkable to the author as it was to me, it seemed to become a sort of synechdoche not only for the contradictions and strife of the age, but of humanity itself. That a time and place could exist where the aspirations of Burnham, Atwood, Millet, Root, Olmsted, and Ferris could draw the same air as the predatory scheming of Holmes doesn’t seem so strange to us now, who inhabit the era of suspicion and narcissism as our native land. We have lost the wonder that laid hold of Pascal centuries ago, who exclaimed in his Pensées,
What a chimera then is man! What a novelty! What a monster, what a chaos, what a subject of contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, feeble earthworm, depository of truth, a sink of uncertainty and error, the glory and the shame of the universe.
One might say that Burnham and Holmes have coexisted in every age, though the 19th century convergence of a rush of civic optimism and the anonymity of the urban landscape provided a field on which their energies could be amplified to a pitch never before seen in the history of the world. Larson’s postscript confirmed my suspicion that it was indeed his intention to find in the World’s Columbian Exposition a lens to focus our wonder upon the monstrous prodigy, the glorious shame, that is humanity.
Larson’s ability to sweep his reader up in the process of conceiving, planning, organizing, and building the Exposition is truly marvelous. There were a number of moments where his slow, even painstaking ascent to some moment of triumph left me agape, chuckling, or at the point of tears. My favorite moment of the whole book—my enjoyment of which was aided enormously by Scott Brick’s excellent pacing—was Dedication Day, 1893, as hundreds of thousands gathered in the White City for the unveiling of the Court of Honor. His narration of the scene caught me up in a rush of patriotic fervor. At the push of the button by President Cleveland, there began a clamor: steam whistles blowing, pennants and banners unfurling from the eaves of the graceful and majestic halls arrayed in harmony at the waters’ edge, the gilt Statue of the Republic blinding anyone who let their eyes rest on it for more than a moment, the guns of the USS Michigan thundering their salute and “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee” spontaneously bursting from the full hearts of the teary-eyed crowd. I was a happy kid for a moment, back at the Blue Angels airshow with Lee Greenwood on the loudspeaker.
And then someone steals Jane Addams’ purse.
At first, I was furious at Larson for including that detail, which seemed to spoil the whole effect. Then, more calmly, I realized this was just the thing for a story dedicated to the infuriatingly indeterminate creature that builds such cities in the full knowledge that they will last but a season. There have always been those who wait for the chance of a far-eyed reverie to despoil their mark; for every Hal, a Falstaff will be close behind.
My solitary gripe with Larson is the nearly utter exclusion of any kind of religious content to the book. Perhaps it is my suspicion over our present cultural moratorium of all things godly, but it seemed negligent to confine any mention of religious matters to Holmes' rigid Methodist upbringing and Burnham's philosophical musings as the end of life approached. The Gilded Age certainly had its prophets and preachers, and to ignore what religious figures of the time had to say about the fair (or the religious convictions of its characters) is serious lacuna.
Listening to the audiobook version was a delight, as I tend to read too fast, preventing the images from taking form in my mind’s eye. The slower pace allowed me to join the architects in designing my own imaginary city, though I certainly tried my best to use photographs to assist the weakness of my own creativity. One resource I highly recommend can be found here.
The whole story left me with a wistful longing for a time when people wondered at psychopathic criminals rather than love for the honor of city and nation. I would recommend this book for anyone who’s never wondered at either. ...more
The desert fathers are a puzzle and a paradox. Spend a little time in their company and you'll be throttled by grace--the strange, unmanageable mysterThe desert fathers are a puzzle and a paradox. Spend a little time in their company and you'll be throttled by grace--the strange, unmanageable mystery of a life focused into a white-hot point of recollectedness, the simplicity of willing one thing. Their pithy distillations of spiritual experience burn the throat but warm the belly, like a stiff whiskey. Enjoy with moderation....more
What most surprised me about the Silver Chair was the way that Lewis is able to so effectively incorporate some of his Christian apologetic into the nWhat most surprised me about the Silver Chair was the way that Lewis is able to so effectively incorporate some of his Christian apologetic into the narrative--I'm thinking of the arguments the Witch uses to enchant the heroes into doubting the existence of anything but her own sordid world by attempting to dismiss their experiences as imaginative augmentations of ordinary reality--the sun nothing but the apotheosis of the lamp, etc. I had first encountered these arguments in the abstract in "Transposition", published in the collection of essays entitled The Weight of Glory, but was pleasantly surprised to find them here, and put to good use. In fact, the marsh-wiggle's response may even be the more effective one than Lewis' own......more
**spoiler alert** I have to say that it is in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader that I find Lewis' imagination most stirring. What I love about these sto**spoiler alert** I have to say that it is in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader that I find Lewis' imagination most stirring. What I love about these stories to the edge of the world is the sense not of a comprehensive vision of the whole, but of steadily being brought into places and situations that are always present but unreachable in the present order. Sailing to the edge of the world, stumbling upon yet more wonderful and inside-out realities, conveys to me the sense of "faerie" better than any other. Lewis seems to me to particularly excel at this--stepping into places which, though remote, are more real, and not less, than the ones we ordinarily inhabit. A weekend sailing excursion to the Channel Islands off the coast of California while I was in college always sits in my memory as the closest thing to how I want death to be; Lewis has augmented this memory with even greater simplicity that at once seems to calm fear and excite desire. It sounds a little childish, I know, but Reepicheep's implacable resolution to swim to the end of the world "and die with his nose to the rising sun" will haunt me for ever. ...more
A true classic--stirring adventure, reveries of wonder, terrible villains, heroic victory. A gift to the world bestowed by the pen of a truly great-heA true classic--stirring adventure, reveries of wonder, terrible villains, heroic victory. A gift to the world bestowed by the pen of a truly great-hearted soul....more
Recently, a friend plowed through the Chronicles and having spent some time in the precincts of Elfland, I counted it a shame that I'd not read this sRecently, a friend plowed through the Chronicles and having spent some time in the precincts of Elfland, I counted it a shame that I'd not read this series since elementary school (and probably had never finished it). And so with the release of a podcasted audio version, I undertook the project, mostly over the car stereo. Taking the books in the chronology of the narrative rather than in the order in which they were published was a nice touch, though I recognize now that there is a good case to be made for reading them in the order Lewis wrote them. All the same, it was fun to get a sense of the sweep of the world of Narnia from beginning to end, so I don't regret it. I do enjoy Lewis' stories, but what truly awes me is the imaginative abundance of the worlds he assembles. My favorite scene in this particular story is of the "world between the worlds", a sleepy green place that entranced me with its simplicity, managing to be both unreal (as a non-world) as well as full of anticipation for what awaits. I realize that's somewhat silly given the spectacular passage where Narnia is sung into being, but I've been spoiled on that image by Tolkein's superlative account in the Silmarillion and so Lewis' left me a bit flat, understandably. Part of what I grew to appreciate in the version read aloud is the way in which the spoken word allows room for images to develop and to take root; as I switched back and forth between written and spoken versions, I noticed that I read these stores much too fast, and the cadence of Dr Hart's delightful accent enriched my imaginative experience (though she has some annoying habits--all part of the charm of a reader, I guess)....more
This little volume is probably outdated on elephant knowledge but offers something truly unique. Sanderson offers a kind of world history through theThis little volume is probably outdated on elephant knowledge but offers something truly unique. Sanderson offers a kind of world history through the lens of the "Abu" (his collective term for the distinct African and Asian species) and their relationship with mankind. It's quite a fascinating story and provides just as many helpful perspectives on humanity as it does on elephants. I came across this book through a recent article in the New Atlantis which offers a splendid bibliography, one that I'm planning to sift through ponderously, like a loxodont grazing in the jungle. http://www.thenewatlantis.com/publica......more
Working one's way through the Cather oeuvre is a worthy project. I can hardly recommend an author any more highly--for all the reasons that everyone lWorking one's way through the Cather oeuvre is a worthy project. I can hardly recommend an author any more highly--for all the reasons that everyone loves her writing. I certainly don't have much that is original to say. Her landscapes and love for varied lands, as varied as the prairies of the Midwest, the deep forests of Quebec, and the desert of New Mexico is surpassed only by the simple intricacy of her characters, like a yellowed round of crocheted lace: born of steady, clear-eyed labor. As part of the WWI centennial, I'm trying to read as much as I can about the conflict, and this has provided a much needed respite from the bewildering cloud of political and military references. It has also done wonders to put the mysteries of the human heart back into my historical imagination, right where it belongs. ...more
This book was a significant resource for me as I crafted a series of podcast episodes on the virtues to a college audience. It was a great blessing foThis book was a significant resource for me as I crafted a series of podcast episodes on the virtues to a college audience. It was a great blessing for me to come across this book, since it anchored my own reflections with such challenging depth. Pieper does a great service to his reader by not only articulating the basic definitions of virtue, but then situating them within a wider understanding of the human person and human activity that frequently imposes need to set the book down and meditate. Pieper encountered the clash of the Christian worldview with competing ideologies in the 20th century, and saw what was truly at stake: he understood that something was in danger of being irrevocably lost, something that he valued enormously because it was enormously valuable. The Christian ethical and moral foundations of civilization are truly precious, and Pieper has done something wonderful in presenting these virtues in a format that allows their glorious beauty to shine through their periodically arid formulations....more
I came across this book a little while ago, and remember that I tried reading it as a kid and failed. That makes sense to me know; it's a hard book toI came across this book a little while ago, and remember that I tried reading it as a kid and failed. That makes sense to me know; it's a hard book to read, and so it's in a strange place, between children and adult audiences. That said, I did enjoy it, and could probably see it being read aloud to one's children, with plenty of commentary interspersed throughout. It is a good story, and might help give young readers a sense of the majesty of the kingdom of Poland prior to its devastation in the 20th century. I couldn't help but wonder if that was at least one factor in its public reception as an award-winning book....more
Christian Smith and his team of researchers have done an outstanding job in their published work by communicating their findings from the National StuChristian Smith and his team of researchers have done an outstanding job in their published work by communicating their findings from the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) in a series of books released for the general public. Anyone interested in the true state of American religion should be familiar with this work, which now has shifted from a study of teens aged 13-19 to a longitudinal study that notes how these beliefs and practices shift over time. You may already be familiar with Smith's not-so-pithy but strikingly insightful summary of the de facto religious beliefs of American youth as "moralistic therapeutic deism", a term he coined when doing his original study published in Soul Searching: The Religious Lives of American Teenagers along with Melinda Denton. In Lost in Transition, his attention has shifted to a later cohort of 19-24 year-olds first interviewed in the earlier study. Now, they are what are known as "emerging adults", a life stage that has come into being on account of postponement of marriage and childbearing, less stable career paths in a global economy, and a greater willingness of parents to continue to support their children after they leave the home (among other things). There are the typical challenges most people may already recognize in the lives of emerging adults, particularly college students, including the hook-up culture, binge drinking, and drug use. These are all too familiar, unfortunately. But what was surprising about these findings were the attitudes that also showed up among emerging adults: uncritical embrace of mass consumerism, almost total disengagement from civic and political life, and an inability to aspire to much beyond the limited horizon of a secure job and good relationships. Some of these things are not terribly important in the short term, but do not bode well for the future of our republic, and so should be of concern to all, not just those who are actively engaged in education or ministry. The importance of Smith's published work is not in any proposed solutions to these developments; none, in fact, are offered. Rather, his more modest goal is simply to communicate that what is happening in the lives of emerging adults in 21st century America does not serve them well and does not contribute to their flourishing or to the common good. The more we can be persuaded that this is the case, the better. Without agreement that something must change in the short term, youth and emerging adults will continue to suffer the dire consequences of inaction....more
A certain episode of Radiolab featured this story as a way of considering the power and necessity of language for human flourishing. (You can listen aA certain episode of Radiolab featured this story as a way of considering the power and necessity of language for human flourishing. (You can listen at this link). Schaller tells the story of a young man she meets almost by accident at a class for deaf students at a university in California in the 1970s. After interacting with him briefly, she discovers that his inability to communicate is not ignorance about the particular signs of American Sign Language, but is actually a consequence of the fact that he was never taught any language at all. Her attempts to sign and communicate are simply mimed back to her by this obviously intelligent but clearly bewildered 27 year old, who observed everything around him intently but could make no connection between what was being done by others and their intention to communicate with him. The story tells briefly how this young man, referred to as Ildefonso in the book, comes first to grasp language as an adult. This begins an odyssey not only for Ildefonso, but for Susan his teacher; she was charting new territory in a field that had long regarded languageless adults as unteachable. My interest in the story derives not only from the remarkable story itself, but also from the philosophical writings of a 20th century novelist, Walker Percy. Percy was fascinated by semiotics, or "sign theory" first enunciated by the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce. Semiotic theory gave Percy the means to develop a philosophical anthropology that was both scientifically grounded but that avoided a reductionist materialism that dismissed language as a mere epiphenomenon of neural activity. In The Message in the Bottle How Queer Man is How Queer Language Is and What One Has to Do With the Other, his collection of linguistic essays, he attempts to show how language defies comprehension in terms of linear, stimulus/response patterns, and that "meaning" is irreducibly threefold: sign, concept, and speaker cannot be broken down into a more fundamental binary interaction. In other words, language is an utterly unique phenomenon in the history of the cosmos, and science cannot explain it simply in terms of material and efficient causes. One point of contact between Schaller's experiences with Ildefonso and Percy's linguistic theory was the moment that Ildefonso "gets" the fact that gestures "mean" concepts. Percy recounts a similar moment: the famous event in which Helen Keller, with water running over one hand and the sign for water traced on her other hand first realizes that "water" isn't just a sensation, but a name. Both Helen and Ildefonso enter the human community at that moment, and in Ildefonso's case, a lifetime of confusion and isolation is washed away in an instantaneous flood of tears. Schaller writes with great passion for her subject matter, and her research into the ways in which languageless adults have been misunderstood in the past allows her to bring a fresh eye to much of human history and the study of language. Her love for the Deaf community also shines through and gave me insight into a segment of our society of which I know little to nothing. Highly recommended for parents of deaf children and all men of good will! ...more