Given my love of Holland's other two books, which explained the innards of the Roman Empire's downfall and Christiandom's willingness to utilize a letGiven my love of Holland's other two books, which explained the innards of the Roman Empire's downfall and Christiandom's willingness to utilize a lethal combination of passive aggresiveness and outright violence to legitimize their standing, it seemed a foregone conclusion that I would seek out his explanation of the rise of the Persian kings, the curious attempts at backstabbery involving early forms of democracy in Athens, and the brutal, but effective, lifestyle of the Spartans in their little slice of the Greek peninsula. Although occasionally bogged down in details describing the ins and outs of Athenian life and the major and minor players involved, the book doesn't disappoint in describing the line of Persian kings and the the ways in which they both captured power and maintained it. Similarly, Holland addresses the curious progression of Spartan life in ways that make their action at Thermopylae seem unsurprising, though no less extraordinary (for a crash course in hyperbole, watch 300).
Similar to patterns seen later in the the Roman Empire, Imperial Japan, Soviet Russia, and the Unites States, the course of human foible in Athens before, during, and after each subsequent disaster and victory involved a few voices out-voluming others, resulting in unnecessary chaos and angst. The moral is that history continues to repeat itself, because the only species aware of its inevitable death continues to actively complicate life until the candle goes out, forcing even the mighty redwoods to very slowly look at one another and shrug their pulp-y "shoulders".
Similar to his other books, reading this was like sitting in on a history class taught by your favorite British instructor who, in full control of their faculties of dry humor and hindsight-specific irony, encourages you to dive deeper....more
Another great chapter in the Sharpe's series. It isn't just Cornwell's ability to tell an exceptionally good story; it's also that Sharpe's more heroiAnother great chapter in the Sharpe's series. It isn't just Cornwell's ability to tell an exceptionally good story; it's also that Sharpe's more heroic exploits continue to be based on historical reality (i.e., a Scottish Captain from the 94th Regiment), making these books the best kind of historical fiction....more
Rob Bell is one of only three people in the world that would make me actively darken the door of a random church in order to hear a sermon related toRob Bell is one of only three people in the world that would make me actively darken the door of a random church in order to hear a sermon related to any degree with Christian theology. And this is coming form a person knee-deep in science who also believes in God. My only beef is his use of typesetting, which presents
his ideas in a way that
emphasizes the use of
to emphasize their
being presented on the
The only benefit I can see from this stylistic choice is the transformation of a powerful and worthy pamphlet into a somewhat substantial hardback book. However, this doesn't lessen the impact of the message, which has needed to be shouted from pulpits for a terribly long time. Luther tried, but you can only do so much with severe limitations of budget and public literacy. Better late than never....more
I picked this up almost immediately after finishing Rubicon, because I was so enamored by the author's writing style and ability to turn the dry intoI picked this up almost immediately after finishing Rubicon, because I was so enamored by the author's writing style and ability to turn the dry into the infinitely entertaining. I admit to some skepticism of this being the case here, given that this was an earlier work of his and the always uplifting focal point of Middle Ages Christianity, which has the potential to induce weeping or throwing oneself into traffic. Thankfully, the author delivered, and his narrative voice kept depression at bay.
The macro view of this book concerns the ability of one relatively small group of people to maintain dominion over a slightly larger group of people by colluding with one another to convince an enormous group of people that the end of the World is nigh. It's difficult to do justice to how gripping this story line is and how remarkably well-crafted the character studies are throughout the narrative. And thanks to the author's grasp of how delicious irony is, there are endless aspects of remarkably subtle comedy injected throughout. Perhaps the best example of this is how the apocalyptic date attached to St. John's "Revelation" magically marches past 1,000 A.D. to continue subsequently attaching itself to other gospel-supported dates depending upon declarations by the Pope currently in power and the "nobles" currently sitting in strategically located castles throughout Europe. Impressively enough, I can hop in the car right now and within minutes, find a sign in front of a church stating exactly the same thing.
And always there lurks the justification used throughout this time period (and other) for almost all activities, seemingly opposed to anything Jesus might've imagined even in the most disturbing of fever dreams, dedicated to a good cause: the conversion of "barbarians" to Christendom and "the strict enforcement of the law of God".
"Wistfully, [Prince-Bishop Thietmar of Merseburg] reflected on how a Polish bishop might encourage his flock to keep a fast by the simple expedient of punching out the teeth of anyone who broke it. Other moral standards were upheld in an even more no-nonsense way. A convicted prostitute...was liable to have her genitals sliced off and hung from her doorpost; while a rapist, nailed by his scrotum to a bridge, would then, 'after a sharp knife has been placed next to him,' be confronted with the unpleasant options of self-castration or suicide. Food for thought, indeed."
If you're a history buff, this makes for fascinating reading. The story provides insight into the rise and fall of post-Charlemagne rulers, their justifications for expanding their rule, the foundations of why some might view France as a little "curious" in how they deal with people both internally and externally, and Germany (period). Yet, we're also introduced to many of the origins of religious hatred, which turn out to be nowhere near as complicated as politicians and journalists like to describe. It's actually pretty clear where and why things went wrong, and, while it's sad that behavior has changed little in ~1,000 years, a close reading of history is terribly enlightening.
This won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I can't imagine there existing a more brief and entertaining trip through a very bleak, complicated time period in religious and sociopolitical history. ...more