After Nationalism, Enjoying the Bible & The Politics of Catastrophe

Or, reviews of books I want to read…

One of the conundrums of book addiction is that you soon collect more books than you can hope to read but you have also built up a habit of reading book news and reviews which leads you to want more books. Rinse, repeat…

Allow me to share that problem with you by sharing reviews of books that I want to read.

Mark Melton reviews After Nationalism: Being American in an Age of Division by Samuel Goldman at National Review:

Since independence, citizens have bickered over who “we” are — the essential question of nationalism, which focuses on a people with a strong common identity — yet every attempt to maintain a cohesive identity has failed. Today in this concise book, Goldman responds to commentators who believe that citizens must return to some overarching identity and purpose. He argues that this task is difficult when the conditions that allowed previous unity no longer exist. Moreover, nationalists do not reasonably explain programs that could reignite a meaningful shared identity. In contrast, he favors the opposite course — accepting increased localism with smaller communities for a diverse citizenry.

Sympathy for Nationalists, but Little Hope

Over at Front Porch Republic, Zach Pritz reviews Matthew Mullin’s Enjoying the Bible:

We have become so conditioned to read every text as an instructional manual that we become frustrated when the meaning of poetry and Scripture are not clear. This diagnosis sets the stage for Enjoying the Bible. Recovering the art of reading Scripture requires teachers, pastors, and parents to train students to exchange their “Cartesian eyes” for the right pair of reading glasses. Mullins has lifted his lantern and taken the step forward to guide us out of the darkness of Biblical illiteracy.

Reading with Our Hearts: A Review of Enjoying The Bible

Lastly, at The American Conservative Jonathon Van Maren tackles Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe by Niall Ferguson

It is characteristic for conservative historian Niall Ferguson to have produced an exceptional history during a pandemic. Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe is a sweeping chronicle of global disasters large and small from the dawn of recorded history to the end of 2020; a detailed account not only of previous pandemics, but an embryonic analysis of the moment we are currently living through and “a diary of the plague half year.” For those seeking to ground themselves in historical context after the topsy-turvy events of the past year, Ferguson’s latest offering will prove invaluable.

Putting the COVID Crisis in Context

Those Who Disappeared by Kevin Wignall

Having read all of the awesomely named Kevin Wignall‘s books, when given the opportunity to grab Those Who Disappeared on NetGalley I jumped at the chance. And like most Wignall books, I can say that I enjoyed this one and read it pretty quickly.

When a man’s body is discovered in a Swiss glacier thirty years after he went missing, his son, Foster Treherne, hopes he’ll finally have closure on what happened to the father he never met. But then the autopsy reveals signs of a struggle, and what was assumed to be a tragic accident suddenly looks more sinister.

Foster tracks down his father’s old friends, but when he starts to ask questions it becomes clear that there’s something they don’t want to tell him. While some are evasive, others seem to wish the body had never been found. What exactly is their connection to each other, and why are they so reluctant to discuss the day his father disappeared? Who are they trying to protect?

If he wants to uncover what really happened, Foster must follow the trail of secrets and lies—no matter how devastating the consequences, and what they might reveal about his father. Because the truth can only stay buried for so long…

It was a thought provoking and engaging read. Wignall’s characters are always interesting and unique and Faster is no exception

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“The Devil’s to Pay” John Buford at Gettysburg: A History and Walking Tour by Eric J. Wittenberg

Gettysburg – one of the key battles in the Civil War that turned the tide in favor of the Union. It also is an excellent example of the use of cavalry. General Buford expertly led Union cavalry on the first day of the battle. Eric J Wittenberg chronicles the actions of Buford and his men as they delayed Confederate forces in his book “The Devil’s to Pay” John Buford at Gettysburg.

Wittenberg brings his traditional skills of excellent writing and thorough research to this book. I consider the book a “page turner” because Wittenberg’s writing is casual and easy to follow. He sprinkles in plenty of maps to keep the reader apprised of the tactical situation.

As with most descriptions of the Gettysburg Campaign, Wittenberg gives an excellent summary of the Union and Confederate movements prior to the battle. For obvious reasons, he gives particular attention to Buford and his division. Wittenberg also gives good biographies of the main actors in the fighting—giving particular attention to Buford and his brigade commanders Colonels William Gamble and Thomas Devin.

As I have mentioned in previous reviews, Wittenberg is an expert in Civil War cavalry. He has written many articles and books on cavalry tactics and operations. This knowledge is on full display in the book with his analysis and understanding of Buford’s tactics to delay the Confederate infantry. Wittenberg frequently references Civil War cavalry manuals and how Buford’s actions were textbook. Buford deployed his men with maximum effect.

Not only is the narrative and analysis of Buford’s actions great, Wittenberg’s appendixes are just as strong. He includes appendixes on the myth of the use of Spencer rifles by Buford’s men in the battle; the nature of Buford’s defense (defense in depth or covering force). Finally, Wittenberg includes a walking and driving tour of Buford at Gettysburg—something I will definitely take on my next trip to Gettysburg!

The book would be an awesome addition to the library of any Civil War enthusiast.

 

Freiheit! by Andrea Grosso Ciponte

I am not a huge graphic novel reader, but when given the chance to explore an interesting subject or approach to illustration I will pick one up.

Freiheit! by Andrea Grosso Ciponte is a good example.

With an entire nation blindly following an evil leader, where did a handful of students find the courage to resist? The university students who formed the White Rose, an undercover resistance movement in Nazi Germany, knew that doing so could cost them their lives. But some things are worth dying for.

The White Rose printed and distributed leaflets to expose Nazi atrocities and wake up their fellow citizens. The Gestapo caught and executed them. Sophie Scholl was twenty-one; her brother Hans, twenty-four; Christoph Probst, twenty-three; Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf, twenty-five.

But the White Rose was not silenced. Their heroism continues to inspire new generations of resisters. Now, for the first time, this story that has been celebrated in print and film can be experienced as a graphic novel. Italian artist Andrea Grosso Ciponte’s haunting imagery will resonate with today’s students and activists. The challenges they face may vary, but the need for young people to stand up against evil, whatever the cost, will remain.

I was intrigued by the description: “The dramatic true story of a handful of students who resisted the Nazis and paid with their lives, now in a stunning graphic novel.”

I found it an odd yet powerful exploration of the underground resistance to Hitler. The art is dark and almost surreal while the text is formal and driven by literature and philosophy.

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Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War by David A. Powell and Eric J. Wittenberg

When I am struggling to figure out what to read, I go to a familiar topic—the Civil War. I also try to read an excellent author’s work. My latest read hits both of these. Although Tullahoma: The Forgotten Campaign that Changed the Course of the Civil War is not solely written by Eric Wittenberg (it is co-written by David Powell), I can see his influence in the words.

Although the Tullahoma Campaign under General William S. Rosecrans does not garner the attention of the other two major campaigns that occurred simultaneously (Gettysburg and Vicksburg), the success of his army (Army of the Cumberland) was pivotal in the Union’s war efforts to conquer the South. The Campaign’s success cleared most of Tennessee of Confederate forces and changed the course of the war in the Western Theater.

Powell and Wittenberg do yeoman’s work establishing the situation for both sides prior to the Campaign. They describe the strategic and tactical circumstances in the region and Theater. They also detail the strengths and weaknesses of both sides, including in leadership and supplies.

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Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children #1) by Seanan McGuire

I’m playing around with this format to see is this might be a way to quickly and easily post short reviews of book that I have read but don’t plan on offering an in-depth review.

I saw Every Heart a Doorway at a local bookstore and added it to my TBR list. Finally borrowed it for Kindle from Libby app and read it. I figured this would be something I enjoy. “Creative spin on classic fairy tale/mythology/speculative fiction trope.”

It was interesting… but unsatisfying somehow.

As is often the case with first books in a series, it felt like a setup that didn’t quite payoff. This is a novella so it really does read like an introduction. It is also like one part speculative fiction, with a heavy dose of paint by numbers “diversity,” and one part murder mystery. I don’t think the two blended very well. My sense is the first aspect is more interesting than the second and thus was undercut by the latter; particularly in the second half of the book.

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A Man by Keiichirō Hirano

An interesting but disjointed and convoluted Japanese mystery in translation


As is all too typical these days, I can’t recall why I had A Man on my To Be Read list. Perhaps it was because the author is Japan’s award-winning literary sensation” and this is first novel to be translated into English. But for whatever reason the $1.99 Kindle price was right and I added the Audible version for a few dollars more.

Akira Kido is a divorce attorney whose own marriage is in danger of being destroyed by emotional disconnect. With a midlife crisis looming, Kido’s life is upended by the reemergence of a former client, Rié Takemoto. She wants Kido to investigate a dead man—her recently deceased husband, Daisuké. Upon his death she discovered that he’d been living a lie. His name, his past, his entire identity belonged to someone else, a total stranger. The investigation draws Kido into two intriguing mysteries: finding out who Rié’s husband really was and discovering more about the man he pretended to be. Soon, with each new revelation, Kido will come to share the obsession with—and the lure of—erasing one life to create a new one.

Because I purchased both the ebook and audiobook, this was another book that I both read and listened to at different times. I do this sometimes when I am juggling multiple books and employing strategies to maximise the books I finish (I was trying to read 100 in a year in 2020).

And that may have played a role in why I found it interesting but rather disjointed and/or convoluted. It seemed to meander and jump around and as a result left me rather confused as to what it was all about.

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Thomas Chatterton Williams: Wrestling with Race and Culture

Part One: Losing My Cool

For once, I thought I might actually offer a holiday/historical themed book review on the actual holiday. Something I have hoped but failed to do many times in the past.

But first, a confession. It might seem counterintuitive to post about Thomas Chatterton Williams on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Or perhaps it might be seen as a typical reactionary thing to do as a “conservative.” I.E. rather than write about racial injustice, what the holiday should be about, post about someone who rejects race and seeks to get beyond it. Fair enough.

For the record, I plan to read what you might call primary documents during February, Black History Month. As the Black Lives Matter movement and related issues exploded over the summer I thought it would be interesting to attempt to read in a way that was emotionally removed from this summer but intellectually connected.

Books in this vein I hope to read this year (from my Library of America and Everyman’s collection):

So with that aside, what to make of the aforementioned Thomas Chatterton Williams?

Thomas Chatterton Williams is the author of Losing My Cool and Self-Portrait in Black and White. He is a contributing writer at the New York Times Magazine, a contributing editor at the American Scholar and a 2019 New America Fellow. His work has appeared in the New Yorker, the London Review of Books, Harper’s and elsewhere, and has been collected in The Best American Essays and The Best American Travel Writing. He has received support from Yaddo, MacDowell and The American Academy in Berlin. He lives in Paris with his wife and children.

I believe I first heard of him via Twitter where I saw links and recommendations to both his essays and his books.



I was first intrigued by Self-Portrait in Black and White: Unlearning Race and checked it out from the library. But decided to read Losing My Cool: How a Father’s Love and 15,000 Books Beat Hip-hop Culture: Love, Literature, and a Black Man’s Escape from the Crowd first. And I really enjoyed it.

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