Category Archives: Reviews

Reviews of books or films, especially those that relate to language or literature in some way.

The Glory of Their Times – Review

Lawrence S. Ritter. The Glory of Their Times. Rev. ed. New York: Morrow, 1984. Print.

The Glory of Their Times
was considered a baseball classic when it first came out in 1966. The author produced a revised edition in 1984 with four more chapters. Regardless of your age, The Glory of Their Times is worth reading. It is historical, personal, confessional, and simply fun.

Ritter explains what he tried to do in his introduction. He looked for old retired baseball players who played professionally in the first two or three decades of the Twentieth Century and interviewed them about their experiences. While baseball was a business back then, it was much more informal, and even the way it was played was different.

Many of the stories have a similar arc. They began playing for a hometown team when they were teenagers in the 1890s or the aughts. Either someone saw them play or someone knew them and got them to sign a professional contract. In most cases the parents were opposed because baseball players had the reputation of being riffraff. As they became successful players, even the most intransigent father expressed pride over his son. Two men listed all the college graduates on their respective teams to try to show that the reputation of baseball players was undeserved.

We learn that Rube Waddell and Smoky Joe Wood first played professionally as ringers in a supposedly all-girls baseball team. Both were young enough that facial hair was not a giveaway. Indeed, in those days many young men were working by age 14 or 16, and a number of men saw professional baseball as a way out of the usual factory or mining job that employed many of their peers.

A number of players spoke of encounters with Honus Wagner, Ty Cobb, and Babe Ruth. It truly does seem that these three were the top players other than pitchers of this era and deserved the attention and acclaim they got. Everyone spoke highly of Wagner and Ruth. We are even told that Cobb was a gentleman—off the playing field.

The name that appears the most in the twenty-six interviews is John McGraw. Many of the men played for him or had dealings with him at some point in their careers. Others played against the teams he managed. He was known for strong language and speaking his mind. It seems they either loved him or hated him. One player expresses his gratitude to all he learned from McGraw. Another expressed how happy he was when he was traded to another team. He apparently had a great baseball mind, but also was a tough contract negotiator.

A spot check notes that four of the twenty-six men interviewed made the Hall of Fame: Paul Waner, Hank Greenberg, Sam Crawford, and Harry Hooper. All the others were fairly solid players who had a good number of good seasons in the major leagues, men like Joe Wood, Chief Myers, Babe Herman, Goose Goslin. A few had just half a dozen years in the majors, but even they have stories to tell about the early years of the major leagues as we know them (1901-present). Fred Snodgrass stood out because he was blamed for losing a World Series; we hear his side of the story, and also a couple of teammates who stick up for him.

A few of these old-timers note that it is difficult to compare players in their era with those in the present. The gloves and balls have certainly changed. Collective bargaining and free agency have made a huge financial difference. One interviewee concedes that Willie Mays might have done well in the dead ball era. Still it is difficult comparing apples and oranges, as they say. I recall reading an interview with Hall of Famer Hugh Duffy, who had seen Ruth, Wagner, Cobb, Speaker, and other stars through the forties but was old enough to remember Mike “King” Kelly (fl. 1878-1893) as “in a class by himself.”1 You never know.

My generation? My heart has always been with Roberto…

Many thanks to the friend who gave me this book.

1 Jim Moore and Natalie Vermilyea, Ernest Thayer’s “Casey at the Bat” (Jefferson NC: McFarland, 1994) 253.

All-New Baseball Brain Teasers – Review

Michael A. Morse. All-New Baseball Brain Teasers. New York: Sterling, 2006. Print.

This book is fun. Yes, there are sixty “brain teasers” in All-New Baseball Brain Teasers, but not the usual type that we see in puzzle pages: e.g., how many trips does the ferry man make so the fox and hen are never alone or some list logic puzzle. There are questions about unusual plays in baseball and how the rules tell the umpire what to call.

One set of questions, for example, discuss the balk. Who really understands what a balk is? Other than some umpires? A pitcher throws a ball (i.e., not a strike), the batter does not swing, but the catcher has set up with one foot outside the catcher’s box. A pitcher fakes a throw to third base and then throws to first on a pick-off attempt. Are these balks?

Morse explains the ins and outs of the infield fly rule. It only applies when there are fewer than two outs and runners on base. What if the ball gets carried by the wind after the umpire has already called an infield fly?

There are a number of questions having to do with foul balls vs. fair balls and foul balls vs. foul tips. We know that a baserunner cannot advance on a foul ball. Is he free to steal on a foul tip?

Morse also does a pretty good job explaining the murky rules concerning interference. All examples in the book come from actual professional baseball games—two or three from the minor leagues are mentioned in passing, but all the puzzles come from actual major league games. One example is the famous “purse slap” by Alex Rodriguez in the 2004 Championship Series against Boston. While the book was published before 2013, reading what the rules say about interference may give some closure to the 2013 World Series game that ended when a Cardinal runner was awarded home after he had been tagged out. It was weird, the interference was certainly unintentional, but according to the rules, the umpires got it right. And what about umpire, fan, animal, and bird interference?

There are many such instances in this book. I some ways it is simply an entertaining collection of stories worth reading. In the long run, it could save baseball fans a lot of heartburn if they have a handle on these exceptional rules. Oh, and the umpire is always right.

One slight caveat. As a young Pittsburgh Pirate fan in 1960, I first learned about media bias when the Most Valuable Player of the World Series award was given to a member of the losing team. How could that be? What about Haddix, Law, Clemente, and especially Mazeroski? I remember somebody telling me that the other team was from New York and the press always favors New York. It is very clear that Morse is a Yankee fan, too, but in all fairness, he admits this on the first page, so his honesty helps us accept this obvious bias.

Daniel’s Great Prophecy & The World’s Great Problem – Reviews

Nathaniel West. Daniel’s Great Prophecy. New York: Hope of Israel, 1898. Google Books 8 Aug 2015. E-book.

———. The World’s Great Problem. Philadelphia: Winston, 1859. Google Books 7 November 2008. E-book.

Daniel’s Great Prophecy is the real deal. It lives up its name. Over the years I have read numerous books on end-times prophecy. I used to work in a Christian bookstore, so I had access to many of them. There really is a good reason that Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was the biggest selling book in America in the seventies. I have even read some books specifically on the Book of Daniel. This book serves its purpose best.

As the title suggests, Daniel’s Great Prophecy is an examination of the prophecies in the Book of Daniel. This is not a commentary. There is virtually nothing about the Lion’s Den, the Fiery Furnace, or Belshazzar’s Feast. This is about Daniel’s historical prophecies. For that matter it barely touches on the two prophecies that came true in Daniel’s lifetime, Nebuchadnezzar’s madness and Belshazzar’s fall.

This book takes a look at the historical scope of Daniel’s prophecies with the emphasis on the end times. West is very literal but also fairly even handed in his approach. And he is thorough.

He emphasizes the two prophecies in Daniel that detail the four kingdoms that rule the Holy Land. These are found in chapters two (the giant image made of four metals) and seven (the four beasts). In addition chapters eight through twelve are also all prophecies of future events—future with respect to Daniel in the sixth century B.C., and many in the future with respect to us in the twenty-first century A.D.

What is refreshing about this book is that the author does not try to necessarily say that certain prophecies yet to happen must occur a particular manner. He notes that all four of the prophetic kingdoms (Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome) not only take over Israel, but they have dominion in all three of the continents of the Old World. Since the breakup of Rome only the Turks have had an empire in all three, but at the time West is writing, he is unsure of how much longer their reign will last. He notes and emphasizes that the Turks would probably not have been in power at all in his lifetime except that various Western powers made deals with them.

Like some other writers such as Henry Halley of Halley’s Bible Handbook fame, he suggests that the final persecution of Christians and Jews may be based on Islam. He is not dogmatic about it, but he quotes figures of the numbers of Christians executed in his lifetime by the Ottomans. Now this was a decade and a half before the Armenian genocide, but there were already signs that the Sultanate was headed in that direction. He also notes that the woman in Revelation 12, usually seen as representing Israel because she is surrounded by twelve stars for the twelve tribes, stands over the moon, the most common symbol associated with Islam.

Since the world began, no greater crime has been committed—save the crucifixion of Christ—than the introduction of this organized anti-Christian power, in 1856, into the family of civilized and Christian nations by the so-called “Christian Powers” themselves, at a cost of 300,000 lives and 300,000,000 of money, and in the face of gigantic massacres whose atrocities made the blood of mankind run cold. And all the more unutterably guilty have been the “Powers,” since the suosequent massacres in 1860, 1876 and 1894-1897, in south-eastern Europe, Crete, Greece, Armenia, with the slaughter of 130,000 Christians, and a total since 1822 of 162,000, and the destruction of the homes of 1,000,000 sufferers, and the agonies, tortures and dishonor of mothers, daughters and babes, have been allowed by the ” Powers ” to pass unavenged—Russia now consenting—all the “Christian Powers” shelling with their fleets (1897) defenseless Christians fighting to secure their freedom from the Turks! (678-85)

As the last paragraph suggests, West refers frequently to other prophetic Scriptures as well, especially Isaiah, Ezekiel, Joel, Zechariah, Matthew 24 and 25, Revelation, and the letters to the Thessalonians. He shows how the different prophecies fit together, especially which ones are describing the same event. An obvious one is when Jesus specifically mentions a prophecy in Daniel. There are numerous others, and West makes a pretty convincing case.

Even in his day, there were those who had different interpretations of end times prophecies, including those who said they should not be taken literally. But when we see so many of the prophecies having already come true—e.g.. Greece will conquer Persia rapidly but that empire will be divided among four leaders with the passing of the first leader—it is hard to take them as mere parables or fictions illustrating spiritual truths.

No, the Book of Daniel and prophecies like those in Matthew give us hope. God does have a plan. He will see it through.

As mentioned in another book by West, he sees the necessity for the Jews to repopulate the Holy Land before the Second Coming. He also says that it is unlikely that many will convert to Christianity until the Lord comes.

He also has fairly convincing arguments about why the pre-tribulation secret rapture will not happen. Apparently by 1898 that teaching had gained some traction among Christians. He says:

It is remarkable how plainly the 70th week dominates the structure of our Lord’s Olivet-Discourse from Matthew 24:15 to Matthew 25:40. Warning against three snares, (1) that His Advent might be any moment, Matthew 24:4-8; (2) that it might be a secret one, Matthew 24:27; (3) that it might precede the close of the Tribulation, Matthew 24:29-31…He makes the Resurrection and the Rapture the first acts at His coming, the gathering of His elect by His angelic ministry, Matthew 24:30-31,40-41,44; Matthew 25:1. (1615-18, 1625-16)

He also does refer to various political events around the world, but holds off connecting them specifically to Bible prophecy. They are general observations mostly about how mankind has fallen short. For example, he is writing as the United States is deliberating about the crisis in Cuba. After the book was already published, of course, America would be involved in the Spanish-American war.

Time and again he refers to what in his day was called the Eastern Question. Now it is usually called the Near Eastern Peace Process, but it seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

West was born in 1826 and died in 1906. While reading Daniel’s Great Prophecy, the reader gets the impression that this is his life’s work. The organization, the clarity, the handling of Scripture are all very tight. Earlier works reflect some of his views, but this seems to be the one that puts it all together.

Of course, there may be a few quibbles. People do understand the dates of some of the events described in the Bible differently. West is using the best chronology available at his time. Indeed, in some cases he is probably more accurate than many today. This blog, though, notes a different date for the beginning of the “countdown” for Daniel’s prophecy of weeks (see “The Day the Lord Did Make”). He takes it to begin with Cyrus’s original order to resettle Judah in 536 B.C. The results are different and more specific if one takes it to mean Artaxerxes’ order to establish the city of Jerusalem in 444 B.C.

Those are minor differences because since the time of Jesus we are specifically told NOT to try to set dates (See Matthew 24:36). West gives reasonable interpretations of the Bible to share why the day-year interpretation of prophecy does not usually work. Most of those who have set dates for the Lord’s return usually do that scheme, and they have so far all been unsuccessful: the Millerites, Ellen G. White, the Mormons, the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Even Sir Isaac Newton tried his hand at the day-year substitution though the date he set is still in the future (2060 if you really care to know).

I had a friend who used a yellow highlighter to mark things in books and articles that he thought were important. He used to sometimes say that a particular article should just be dipped in a bucket of yellow ink, everything it had to say was important. I found myself highlighting a lot of Daniel’s Great Prophecy. If it were a print edition, I might need a bucket of yellow ink as well.

The World’s Great Problem is a short piece written much earlier but it reflects a point of view that comes through indirectly in much of West’s book on Daniel.

What is the great problem? Very simply, the world is always looking to create some kind of perfect society. It seems like most ideologies are utopian in some way. He emphasizes that the problem is simply that fallen man cannot set up a perfect anything until Jesus sets up His Kingdom. Even the so-called Christian nations of the West in the author’s day do not trust one another and appear to be building for war. West did not live to see how accurate he was, but it appears to be true.

Fans of C.S. Lewis note this theme in novels like The Last Battle or That Hideous Strength. It has become a common concept in many of the dystopian novels that have appeared in recent years.

It also is certainly true in our day that those who are trying to create some kind of utopia do not tolerate those who do not share their belief about their schemes. We see this in socialism, certainly in Communism and Fascism, and even in the Islamist or Hindu Nationalist movements today. Submit or die. The blood of martyrs is not a foundation for building a perfect society.

Both books, but especially Daniel’s Great Prophecy, are meant to give the reader hope. Read them and see.

N.B. As anyone who has tried to read files posted on Google Books knows by their own admission “you may see spelling mistakes, garbage characters, extraneous images, or missing pages” because of the OCR scanning. There are many spelling mistakes and odd characters in the edition I was reading, but anyone familiar with the English alphabet should be able to understand what was meant in most cases, although it does slow down the reading. For example, a common error was “The Son of Alan” for “The Son of Man.” If you see that a capital A followed by a lower case l could be mistaken for an M, such errors begin to make sense.

Above references cite Kindle locations, not page numbers. Quotations from West citing Bible passages use Roman numerals. I have changed these to Arabic numbers for easier reading and spelled out the names of the books instead of abbreviating them for the Bible citation links to appear in this blog.

News of the World – Review

Paulette Jiles. News of the World. New York: Morrow, 2016. Print.

When done well, a return story is one of the most exciting and satisfying stories to read. The granddaddy of them all, of course, is The Odyssey, still one of the best stories ever written (or sung). The Italian national novel The Betrothed is another great one. Some feature animals like The Incredible Journey and Lassie Come Home. A recent return novel that received such attention is Cold Mountain. Though not a book, O Brother Where Art Thou? is one of the best contemporary films, and it is The Odyssey with a Southern spin.

News of the World is another, and well worth reading. Its time period is similar to that of Cold Mountain. The setting is reminiscent of Blood Meridian, a book reviewed here. However, the comparison stops there. Imagine Blood Meridian but with characters who understand that the world can be an evil place, but instead of lowering themselves to the gutter level of the world, they attempt to exhibit honor and nobility while overcoming obstacles. In other words, more like Odysseus than the kid.

The title of News of the World and the main character’s occupation help put things in perspective. The story is set in the wide-open spaces of Texas after the Civil War in 1871. There has been no elected government since the war ended and the military occupation is mostly interested in keeping away Indian attacks. It is anarchy and requires character to overcome.

Seventy-one-year-old widower Jefferson Kidd had been a militia sergeant from his native Georgia in the War of 1812. He moved to San Antonio, married, had a family, and although he was pushing fifty, he was drafted into the Army for the Mexican War where he would eventually be promoted to Captain. He is known, then, as Captain Kidd, but he is no pirate.

Civil War taxes and censors took away his property and printing trade. Now he travels from town to town in North and Central Texas reading the news. He gets papers from all over the country and even a few from overseas. In these small towns he is popular and respected enough to make a living. He is a nineteenth century news aggregator. We understand that he sees the big picture. He refuses to read controversial political news from Texas because he wants to stress important discoveries and things the rest of the world is interested in. He also knows that people with guns and strong feelings can be dangerous.

While in Wichita Falls, near the Oklahoma border, he agrees to conduct a white girl who was taken captive by the Kiowa when she was six and held for four years back to her relatives near San Antonio. Her parents were killed in the raid, but she has an aunt and uncle. U.S. Government policy is to reunite Indian captives with their original families.

The girl speaks no English. He is told her name is Johanna, but she sees herself as Cicada. About a third of the way through the novel, the Captain realizes that she had spoken German before (there were many German immigrants in Texas at this time) and slowly begins to communicate with her.

But she is behaving like an Indian through and through. She cannot understand why white people live in boxes and even put wood or cloth over the windows and doors. She is far more comfortable living and sleeping in the Captain’s wagon than in a hotel room.

Along the way they have a number of adventures. There are challenges from the weather and flooding rivers. Many people do not understand why Johanna is the way she is. They are tracked for miles by a white slaver who knows that a young blond girl brings a lot more money than a typical Indian woman.

A few local women try to care for Johanna while the Captain is occupied with other business. Some show some understanding; others, none. Before he gets to San Antonio, Johanna is able to acts as the teller collecting the dime admission to his readings.

There are many tender details about caring for horses or fitting clothes. The Captain is always thinking about what he will read at his next reading. Because he usually rides a circuit, he has friends in a number of towns. And, of course, he wants to bring Johanna home. Not only is there anarchy in Texas—itself a challenge for a senior citizen and a ten-year-old girl traveling light—but unlike the wars against the British and Mexican armies, there are no rules of engagement when fighting Indians or those who have no regard for the law.

One town is having a Hatfield-McCoy type feud. The Captain does his best to stay out of it, but the men from one family wonder why the Eastern papers do not carry any news of them. He runs into men who basically have a protection racket (they charge fifty cents, a nice sum but affordable) and others on the trail who show a real concern for their safety.

It is a story that keeps moving and is told well. We care about both main characters. We understand them even if we cannot relate to them. They are clever survivors on this wild Western trail. If Cormac McCarthy had characters with consciences, he might have come up with something like News of the World. Yes, the world can be evil. (See I John 5:19) Yes, the world news tells us that. But there are people and things that still make it a wonderful place.

A Fistful of Collars – Review

Spencer Quinn. A Fistful of Collars. New York: Simon, 2012. Print.

A Fistful of Collars is another Chet and Bernie mystery. For the uninitiated, Chet is the dog and the narrator of the tale. Bernie is his master and a private investigator. The titles are canine wordplays of well-known mysteries, though this one plays on an old Clint Eastwood spaghetti Western, a Fistful of Dollars.

It turns out Bernie is hired (he is always in need of money) to keep an eye on a temperamental movie star who is starring in a Western that is being filmed in the California desert valley where Bernie and Chet live. Thad Perry vaguely resembles Tom Cruise.

When Bernie first meets him, Thad challenges him to a boxing match. Thad keeps in shape partly by doing boxing drills, but Bernie was an actual boxer while he was in the service. It is hard to tell whether Bernie’s “whupping” of Thad makes Thad angry or respectful.

The plot gets curious and complicated. Bernie is hired not by the filming company or producers but by the mayor’s office. The mayor wants to make sure that Thad behaves and that the valley gets a good reputation in Hollywood. Chet and Bernie follow Thad’s main bodyguard to an abandoned neighborhood where he gives a mean looking guy a wad of money. When Bernie returns with some police friends, Chet finds that unsavory character dead from a stab wound. Bernie realizes there is more to Thad and company than meets the eye.

Bernie’s girlfriend Suzie gets a great job opportunity and moves to Washington DC to work for a big-name newspaper there. Suzie recommends he gets in touch with a reporter whom she had worked with and seems to have made a connection between Thad and the valley. (N.B.: Keep in mind that all the narrative is from the dog’s perspective, so this valley, though in Southern California, is not THE Valley.)

Bernie arranges a meeting with this reporter, but when he gets to the rendezvous, he discovers her body with a big stab wound in a dumpster. There are a number of other weird goings on. What started out as a glorified babysitting job becomes something else entirely.

What is really bugging Thad Perry? What has his bodyguard been up to? Is there another reason why the mayor’s office is so interested in keeping an eye on Mr. Perry? Will Bernie and Suzie find true love?

As with the past episodes in the series, A Fistful of Collars is well plotted, but kept down to earth and with comic relief as we see it all from Chet’s point of view. Oh yeah, Thad Perry has a pet—an enormous black cat. How can anyone trust a cat person?

Second Coming of Christ & The Right and Left Hand Blessings – Review

Nathaniel West. Second Coming of Christ. Chicago: Revell, 1879. Google Books. 2012. E-book.
———. The Right and Left Hand Blessings of God. Philadelphia: Presbyterian Board of Publications, 1853. Google Books. 13 Jan 2009. E-book.

A friend who recently completed a master’s program at a seminary recommended nineteenth century author Nathaniel West for books on Bible prophecy. He is not to be confused with Nathanael West, the twentieth century author known especially for his Day of the Locust. That book alludes to Bible prophecy, too. Maybe they are not so different after all.

West’s books are long out of print, but Google Books has posted some of them online. It turns out that Second Coming of Christ is not actually written by West, even though he is listed as its author. It is a collection of essays and lectures edited by West. There are thirteen separate essays and lectures plus an appendix with excerpts from other documents.

There is one focus to Second Coming of Christ: the Millennium. In the Bible, Revelation 20:1-10 describes a thousand-year reign of Jesus over the earth after He returns. This is called the Millennium from the Latin or the Chiliasm from the Greek.

Over the centuries Christians have debated the prophetic significance of these verses. Some say the Millennium refers to events that have already taken place such as the fall of the Roman Empire. Others say that it describes the Church Age, in other words, it is a summary of world history since the first century. Other say that the Millennium is a time in the future, a prophecy that is yet to be fulfilled.

Historically, many interpreters from the time of Augustine on have advocated one of the first two. Most Reformed churches take the first as their understanding. This was probably the case of West’s own Presbyterians back in 1879. The official position of the Catholic Church is the second. The contributors to Second Coming of Christ take the third, the most literal interpretation.

At the time this was written millennialists were in a distinct minority. This is not necessarily so today. Many of the arguments for the position are repeated in several essays, so there is a certain repetitiveness, but each one takes a different approach.

Many years ago I read Irenaeus’s Against the Heresies. Irenaeus lived around the year A.D. 140. His mentor was Polycarp of Smyrna, who had studied under John, the author of Revelation. Irenaeus would sometimes write, “Polycarp said that John said.” In other words, from a Biblical perspective, he had some authority. Irenaeus clearly understood a literal millennium after Christ returns. He even wrote that it would be a Sabbath rest for the world, after six thousand years of turmoil. Many of the authors in Second Coming refer to Irenaeus and other early church fathers (i.e., from the first three centuries), the majority of whom were like Irenaeus and took the prophecy literally.

From a contemporary perspective, two things are worthy to note. All the presentations that touch on the subject express the belief that Jesus will return after the so-called Antichrist has been revealed. This is a literal interpretation of Revelation 19:19-20 and II Thessalonians 2:3-8. No author or speaker mentions a “rapture” apart from the Second Coming.

One author does mention in passing Edward Irving, the person who in the 1830s first came up with the idea that Christians would be taken out of the world before the Antichrist was revealed and Jesus returned openly. That author merely notes that Irving had translated a popular French book on Bible prophecy into English and calls him “erratic in some things but still a noble soul.”

The other notable item from a modern perspective is that some of the writers and speakers state explicitly that the Jews must be gathered back to the Holy Land, especially Jerusalem, before the Millennium will come to pass. Many Scriptures are cited, but one that stood out was Zechariah 12:10 along with chapters 35 through 39 of Ezekiel. Of course in 1879 it would still be nearly seventy years before that would come to pass in 1948, or eighty-eight years if we consider Jewish rule of Jerusalem which did not happen until 1967 (see Luke 21:24).

Regardless of what is happening in Israel or what the pope might be doing, several writers note perhaps the most important thing about God’s promises for the future. In every generation those who are devoted to the Lord are looking forward to His coming. That is what really matters. Jesus is coming back and bringing an honest justice to the world. There will come a time when the earth and mankind shall fulfill the vision and intent God had from the beginning.

This is vastly good news “to all them that also love his appearing.” (II Timothy 4:8 KJV) “Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the Great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.” (Titus 2:13 KJV)

The Right and Left Hand Blessings of God is short, more like a tract or perhaps a message based on a sermon or two. It is very simple and direct teaching taking its cue from Proverbs 3:16. The Scripture tells us that God has different blessings from His right hand and His left hand. The right hand gives “length of days” and, hence, eternal life. The left hand gives riches and honor.

God’s promise of eternal life applies to all who receive it by faith. He does not take that away. His grace is unconditional. However, He does not always give riches and honor. Not only that, but as Job reminds us, they can be taken away.

West notes that, unlike God, people cannot extend life to anyone. However, they can share riches and they can honor others. For humans, this becomes the right hand blessing. Indeed, when we face someone our right hand is opposite their left. West tells us that a left hand blessing coming from a person is literally sinister. (See Matthew 6:3) West also makes a case for tithing since most biblical examples, even in the Old Testament, are apart from the Law.

It could be summed up in the saying “God loves a cheerful giver” (See II Corinthians 9:6-7) or “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) Give. And then wait and see what God does. West would say that applies to both giving and prophecy…

Iron Rails, Iron Men – Review

Martin W. Sandler. Iron Rails, Iron Men, and the Race to Link the Nation. Somerville MA: Candlewick P, 2015. Print.

Iron Rails, Iron Men presents a gripping overview of the building of the Transcontinental Railroad. There had been no construction project quite like it, and it was remarkable that it was completed at all.

The book profiles a number of leaders who had a hand in it such as Theodore Judah, who envisioned it and actually helped form the Central Pacific Railroad to save months on the China trade, and William T. Sherman, who as a junior officer in the 1850s served on one of the U.S. Army surveys to determine the best route. The project actually began in 1863 during the Civil War. President Lincoln saw this as a way to further unite the country. Till then politicians argued over whose states should get the route, but with eleven southern states out of the discussion thanks to the war, Lincoln got the support he needed.

The project began to accelerate after the war. Veterans used to following orders and living a military routine fit in well. Irish immigrants escaping famine and looking for work were eager. General Grenville Dodge had done the most to keep Union railroads intact during the war, so he was recruited to supervise the Union Pacific Railroad construction from Omaha to Utah.

There were also, famously, the Chinese on the Central Pacific Railroad (Sacramento to Utah). Leland Stanford, one of the chief officers of the CPRR, thought they would be too small, but one of the other officers Charles Crocker said, “They built the Great Wall, didn’t they?” Not only were they skilled workers, but they stayed healthy. In the Sierras most water was from dirty streams and tarns, and many men sickened. But the Chinese always heated their water or made tea before drinking it, so they avoided a lot of the illnesses contracted by the other men.

The passes and trails in the Sierras were probably the most challenging to pass a railroad through, especially chipping and blasting out a towering ledge known as Cape Horn and building the Summit Tunnel a third of a mile through solid granite. Blizzards and snow avalanches caused them to build snow shacks like covered bridges to keep the lines open and the work progressing.

Alongside both railroads went telegraph lines. When the Golden Spike was finally driven in May 1869, word went out over the wires immediately to both coasts.

Thousands of men participated in this effort. Hundreds died. Sherman, now a general, had to send out troops to protect the construction workers on the plains from Indian attacks. William Cody earned his nickname Buffalo Bill by hunting bison to feed the workers. While the railroad would bring the states together and really open up the West, it also would contribute to the disruption of the traditional lives of the Native Americans and the decimation of the bison herd.

Iron Rails, Iron Men
contains an interesting epilogue. Some of the leaders of the project were honored—Dodge was elected to Congress without even campaigning and would get Dodge City, Kansas, named after him. Some of the railroad executives would get involved with the Crédit Mobilier scandal. James Strobridge, the Central Pacific construction boss, would recall in a 1917 interview the names of the nine men responsible for laying ten miles of rail in a single day. Seven were Irish. He recalled, “Nobody was crowded, nobody was hurt, nobody lost a minute.” (155)

Photographs and engravings of the project appear on every other page. In many cases, the picture is worth many words. Both railroads were alert to public relations to encourage investment. If nothing else, the pictures give a sense of the geography and construction challenges the builders of the railroad met.

Yes, it was a race, as the full title suggests. The UPRR and CPRR tried to outdo the other, but as they were getting closer, they did have to come to an agreement on where they would join. On the day he was sworn in, President Grant told the companies that they would be getting no more government support until they agreed where the tracks should connect. By the ninth of April, they had negotiated to meet at Promontory Summit, Utah. So they did. The country and even the world were never the same again.

The Knights of Bushido – Review

Edward F. Langley Russell of Liverpool. The Knights of Bushido: A Short History of Japanese War Crimes. 1958; New York: Skyhorse, 2008. E-book.

A few years ago I inherited a copy of a diary kept by my father’s cousin who died in a Japanese slave labor camp during World War II. He had been a civilian construction worker on Wake Island when the war started. The island was attacked a few hours after Pearl Harbor and managed to hold off a major amphibious attack for nearly three weeks.

He was among those kept on the island until September 1942 to build an airfield and dredge a channel for the Japanese. From there he was taken to Japan where he died among the intolerable conditions of Camp Fukuoka #18 in April 1943. His diary was kept hidden and preserved by a fellow inmate who eventually returned it to his parents (my great aunt and great uncle) in the early fifties.

During the time I was editing and annotating this diary, I read many works on the War in the Pacific, especially about Wake Island and POWs. Numerous works that I read referred to The Knights of Bushido, but I never got around to reading it until just now. (Amazon had a good deal…).

There are other books documenting Japanese atrocities such as Daws’ Prisoners of the Japanese and Weller’s First to Nagasaki, yet none have as many testimonies as The Knights of Bushido. The book focuses mainly on British and Dutch prisoners (including colonials from India, Australian, Canada, Indonesia, etc.) and countries that had been ruled by them. Russell himself was an English Lord, a military lawyer, and investigator for both the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes tribunals.

Still, there are numerous descriptions of events in the Philippines, Taiwan, China, and Japan. The only mention of Wake Island, for example, concerns the January 1942 transport ship (Russell calls them Prison Hulks but today they are commonly called Hellships) which took the majority of Wake captives to China and the massacre of the remaining 96 civilians on the island in October 1943.

What Lord Russell details is stunning. From the time that Japan began fighting in China in 1931 until its surrender in 1945, the pattern changed little. Civilian populations were raped and killed, often deliberately massacred to instill fear or to demonstrate Japanese racial superiority. Prisoners, whether military or civilian, were often summarily executed or retained for slave labor. They rarely had access to any medical care and were always inadequately fed and (as they say today) hydrated.

The death toll in many places was staggering. For example, of 473 prisoners on a forced march from Sandaku to Ranau, Indonesia, in February 1945, only six were still alive in June. Often at the trials, the Japanese defense was that they also were without food, water, and medical attention, but not a single Japanese or Korean soldier in attendance died during this time.

In virtually every location, prisoners were used for target and bayonet practice. Beatings were common. (My cousin’s diary says that daily beatings were the routine at Fukuoka #18). In the first six weeks of occupation of Nanjing (a.k.a. Nanking), China, over 200,000 people were killed—nearly all of them civilians including women and children. That alone is more than the number of people killed in the two atomic bombs . Yes, the atomic bombs were terrible, but the Japanese atrocities were really on a much greater scale.

The Knights of Bushido includes photographs, much testimony, and selections from many incriminating Japanese documents. Lord Russell is not being sensational. Every detail is carefully documented. I understand now why so many sources on the Pacific War refer to this book. The reader realizes, too, upon completing the book that the information contained in it just scratches the surface. Everywhere Japan conquered from the Russian border to the Nicobar Islands, from Melanesia to the home islands, their treatment of the local population and prisoners (including civilians) was cruel and ruthless.

Russell devotes a chapter to the war crimes trials. Here he points out how weak and even ridiculous most of the legal defenses were. Were nuns and children really a military threat? There was enough documentation still in existence to show that extermination was a protocol and mistreatment of civilian populations and prisoners was policy.

This review could itemize the many examples Russell gives, but it better serves the readers see for themselves. This review will conclude with three reflections.

Since the 1970s it has been considered politically incorrect if not rude to use the word Jap for Japanese. At times students at my school have acted offended when a Pacific War veteran uses the term at an assembly. After reading this, one can understand. My father was a veteran of the Pacific War. When he spoke of people or products from Japan, he always used the word Japanese. But when he spoke of the people he was fighting in the war, they were the Japs. After reading what The Knights of Bushido details about the destruction and massacres in Manila, I get it. My father never said much more than that Manila was awful. I can see why.

The term “man’s inhumanity to man” is a cliché. This review has not even mentioned the more extreme torture methods used on civilians and prisoners or the truly savage practices of some of the Japanese soldiers. I wonder to myself not only how people could do some of these things, but also how could anyone even think of them. I am reminded that the Bible tells us that there are people, “Speaking lies in hypocrisy, having their consciences seared with a hot iron.” (I Timothy 4:2) That is the only explanation. Such consciences were seared. Any sense of chivalric honor was pure hypocrisy. Lord, may it never happen to us.

Third, The Knights of Bushido shows us why there has to be a God. While hundreds of people were ultimately found guilty of war crimes, it is pretty obvious that thousands of people committed them. The human justice system is limited because people are not omnipresent nor can they read minds. Our own biases and perceived offenses get in the way as well. We have to look to God for true justice. So many things in history have caused people to say what the Bible itself says:

How long, O Lord, holy and true, doest thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? (Revelation 6:10, cf. II Peter 3:7-9)

Perhaps, too, Americans can relate to Longfellow’s Messianic vision written during our own Civil War:

The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!

N.B. The Knights of Bushido uses the spelling and place names common in English to the first half of the century. Since then a number of place names have changed or at least come to be spelled differently, e.g., Nanking for Nanjing, Kwantung for Liaodung, or Celebes for Sulawesi. In most cases consulting a good atlas or even a search engine can clear up any confusion.

Beren and Lúthien – Review

J.R.R. Tolkien. Beren and Lúthien. Ed. Christopher Tolkien. Boston: Houghton, 2017. Print.

In the preface to Beren and Lúthien, Christopher Tolkien writes that he is now 93 years old. This will probably be the last piece of his father’s work that he will see to publication.

This tale is appropriate to share in detail with the public. It was apparently one of Tolkien’s favorites—even his tombstone refers to it. Almost as interesting as the tale itself is what Christopher Tolkien writes about his father’s work in this book.

We learn that Tolkien started writing various stories and histories of Middle Earth from 1916 or 1917, the time he returned to England—injured and ill from the Battle of the Somme—and married. He considered The Hobbit a diversion when it came out. Still his publisher either rejected or never read eight Middle Earth stories after that until he sent them The Lord of the Rings. Finally, there was another story about Hobbits!

From his voluminous notes, it appears that Tolkien was more interested in the elves and men than he was with Hobbits. Beren and Lúthien contains the first two, but no Hobbits. There are apparently at least three different versions of the story, and in two of them Beren is human and Lúthien is an elf. Lúthien is also called Tinúviel, the name I recall from The Silmarillion or The Lord of the Rings. In the Middle Earth scheme, they would become the great grandparents of Elrond, a key character in the Trilogy, and great-great grandparents of Arwen, who would marry Aragorn.

The first version of the tale is the most complete from Tolkien’s notes. It is a prose quest, similar in style and approach to many Grimm Brothers stories. Beren falls in love with Lúthien. He nicknames her Tinúviel, which means “nightingale” in the Elven language. Her royal father does not approve of Beren. When he sees how brokenhearted his daughter becomes, he relents—at least technically. He gives Beren permission to marry Lúthien, but only if he can complete an impossible quest. He must bring him a Silmaril stone from the crown of the evil lord Morgoth.

This reminded the reader of similar quests in enchanted castles from the Grimms. Here, though, there are interesting twists. An important figure in all versions is Huan, large enchanted wolfhound who is a skilled hunter and is impervious to most weapons.

The prose version takes up approximately a third of the book. The other two thirds is divided between two partially completed poetic versions of the story taken from longer pieces that Tolken wrote. The older version with short rhymed couplets reminds the reader of an Old or Middle English style. Christopher Tolkien believes the second version from another tale written in longer couplets is better poetry. Most readers would probably agree.

Like the other Tolkien works edited by his son, such as The Silmarillion or the exhaustive History of Middle Earth, Beren and Lúthien is more of a compilation. The narrative may not “flow” the way his novels do, but the stories are well worth sharing. Because of the renown of Lúthien/Tinúviel in some of his other stories, Beren and Lúthien was an excellent way to complete the Tolkien oeuvre.

Ordained Irreverence – Review

McMillan Moody. Ordained Irreverence. OBT Bookz, 2012. E-book.

With a name like McMillan Moody, this guy has to be associated with book publishing. Of course, Macmillan is a secular publisher (though it does carry titles by C. S. Lewis) and Moody is a conservative Christian publisher. Ordained Irreverence is somewhere in between.

Ellington “Elmo” Jenkins is about to graduate from a conservative seminary, perhaps not all that different from Moody Bible Institute. He has one requirement left—an internship. Through a bad date, he comes in contact with a staffer from the local megachurch and soon finds himself as an intern there.

As one can judge from the title, there is a lot of humor here. Elmo’s office is a converted broom closet. But the church has status. The senior pastor is an avid golfer and the board of elders includes a Mr. Fitzsimmons, as Elmo puts it, very old money and the wealthiest family in the area. One thing Elmo has going for him is that he played on his high school golf team, so at least he can keep up with the big boys.

This reviewer was laughing out loud in places. Like Garrison Keillor, Moody has fun with the foibles and funnybones of Christians with good taste and not a little tenderness. Moody is no Lenny Bruce.

Elmo is not really sure what his calling is. He is tone-deaf. He is no orator. He refuses to even use the word missionary because he does not want to hear a call to some forbidding foreign land. Maybe this internship will give him some direction.

Ordained Irreverence is largely composed of discrete chapters. Each chapter is a little story in itself, giving us another perspective on First Church. There are two story threads that tie the chapters together. Elmo is attracted to a young woman (only a year older than he) on the church staff. This relationship progresses awkwardly but still romantically.

He also discovers an old note from 1959 that refers to the Black Toe. He has to do some digging, but the Black Toe Enigma has baffled the church for nearly 100 years. Back in 1939 it even made the newspapers. It involves a wealthy deacon who almost died of exposure when his feet broke through the ice on a brook while hiking in the winter. He was rescued by a man who claimed to also be a member of the church, but the deacon could not remember who it was because had passed out. All he knew was that the man gave him his boots so he must have had frostbitten feet—or black toes.

So, yes, will the mystery be solved? Will he get the girl? Perhaps more important, will he still be sane after helping to chaperone a middle school all-nighter? What happens there could only happen to middle schoolers…

I confess I was attracted by the price, currently free at Amazon. Of course, Ordained Irreverence is the first of at least half a dozen books about Elmo, so this is a loss leader to get us wanting to read more. I suspect for many readers this will work. I had just read some pretty intense books, it was final exam time at school, and there were other things conspiring to make my life complicated, if not miserable. I needed some laughter. Thank you Elmo Jenkins for sharing your life with us. I suspect that I may read another when I am looking for a laugh.