Rich People Problems – Review

Kevin Kwan. Rich People Problems. New York: Doubleday, 2017. Print.

I had a friend who was on a full-ride scholarship for his MBA at a business school that had a reputation of catering to wealthy heirs who would spend their lives cutting coupons from inherited wealth. He was taking a course on business law, but much of the class was actually about inheritance law. The professor would be explaining some arcane case about a family set to inherit millions but there was some problem with the will. My friend said that more than one student in that class remarked that his family had had a similar problem when a grandmother or uncle had died. My friend just said, “I wish had those kinds of problems.”

Welcome to installment number three in the tales of the rich Singaporeans and the wealth and royalty in their circle. Rich People Problems includes most of the characters we have already met in Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend. And they are having the kind of problems my friend envied in his business school classmates.

My friend would say with obvious irony, “I feel so sorry for you. What terrible problems.” Frankly, that would be a typical reader response to Rich People Problems, except that the story is mostly quite funny.

The main problem indeed is that Mrs. Young Sun Yi, the matriarch of Tyersall Park, who in volume #1 was described by the daughter of a millionaire as “richer than God,” is on her deathbed. She has led a much less sheltered life than most people think and is worth billions. The vultures are circling. Everyone is hoping to get a significant piece of the pie.

Her only son, and, hence, traditional heir is Philip Young. He does keep in touch with his mother, but really does not care for Singapore. He moved years ago to Sydney where he lives a relatively simple and happy life. His son Nick has been one of the main characters in the first two novels, and as the only son of the only son, he also has a chance.

Nick’s problem is that his grandmother expressed her disapproval when he married Chinese-American Rachel rather than the girl his parents wanted him to marry. However, he grew up in Tyersall Park and has to confess he is sentimentally attached to it.

Nick’s first cousin Edison “Eddie” Cheng has become a notorious brown-nose to impress his grandmother. Unlike some of his other relatives, he is very style-conscious and does not mind being photographed by the press as long he and his family are wearing couture clothing. He will get a funny come-uppance because of his own fashion sense.

Philip’s four sisters—Felicity, Eddie’s mother Alix, Victoria, and wife of a Thai prince Catherine—are also naturally interested and involved. Let us just say many funny and obnoxious things happen. Because these people are super-rich, newspapers and gossip magazines are all interested when something even faintly scandalous happens, or for some, even when they are observed in public.

The adventures of Astrid Teo (Felicity’s daughter) and her boyfriend Charlie Wu continue. Both of their divorces appear to be going smooth until Charlie’s ex-wife tries to kidnap their daughters and releases an incriminating video tape.

And we see the continuing adventures of Kitty Pong, former Hong Kong porn star now married to Chinese billionaire Jack Bing. Kitty still refuses to be upstaged. This becomes even more difficult for her because Colette, Jack’s daughter from his first marriage, has married an actual Scottish Lord. Not only is he a Lord, but he is truly wealthy, not having to marry a rich foreigner to keep the line going.

The one rich person who probably does have true financial problems is distant cousin Oliver T’sien. He is an interior decorator who has hired himself out as a social guide to Kitty to help get established among the Asian elite. Much of China Rich Girlfriend concerned mishaps and misunderstandings in her attempts to gain acceptance. It turns out that Oliver’s parents are in debt millions, and even though they associate with the same elite, they probably are on their way out simply because they cannot afford to play in their league any more. (See The Magnificent Ambersons.) Oliver knows he is out of the picture in terms of Sun Yi’s will, but perhaps if he plays his cards right with the Bings, things may work out.

One chuckle for this writer which perhaps illustrates Kitty and Jack’s pretensions is that they name their son Harvard. In Crazy Rich Asians Nick’s mother is unsure about Rachel because she went to Stanford, a school “where students who don’t get into Harvard” go. From my own experience in teaching in China, Harvard seems to be the only American school Chinese really have heard about. When I was teaching in China on an exchange program, the teachers were asking me what my high school was doing to get students into good schools like Harvard. I explained a few things and also noted that my school was in Connecticut only about twenty miles from Yale, so Yale was the prestige school for many people where I lived. The name Yale drew a blank. It was Harvard or nothing. It was one of the few times in my life I had a boost because I was a Harvard grad. Illegitimi non carborundum.

Many of these super-rich people come across as being at least as shallow as Kitty Pong. Even Rachel, who is portrayed sympathetically by Kwan, tries to console her husband at one point by quoting—not the Bible, not Confucius, not even Chairman Mao—but radio personality Delilah.

The coolest part of the story, though, is what we learn about the Young family during Japanese occupation. The British were no more prepared for the Japanese in 1941 than the Americans were. The Japanese took over Singapore in a few days, with some of their troops on bicycles. The occupation was just a brutal there as in other places. How the people of Tyersall Park managed to survive and to help fellow Singaporeans and the British in many ways makes for a great story. Like so many people who survived the Pacific War, the Youngs never talked about it, but we begin to see that some of those crazy rich Asians are not as shallow as perhaps we thought. (We should note that the rich Asians are not crazy—at least not most of them—they are Asians who are crazy rich.)

Rich People Problems has an epilogue which seems to wrap everything up. Most of the people we are interested in have had their problems resolved one way or another. Is Kwan saying that he is finished writing about these people? From the popularity of his books, I suspect his publisher and agent would like him to continue. Time will tell.

Treasure Island – Review

Robert Louis Stevenson. Treasure Island. 1883; New York: Sterling, 2004. Print. Sterling Unabridged Classics.

Yo ho ho and a bottle of rum!

I think I read Treasure Island when I was a child, some time between fifth and seventh grade. To be honest, I am not sure if I finished the book, but it was a long time ago. Whether I did or not, reading or re-reading this classic made me realize that a few things have simply become a part of our culture thanks to this book: pirates and parrots, buried treasure, Long John Silver, the Black Spot, Ben Gunn, pieces of eight. Even if this was the first time I had read the book, I knew something of these things.

Treasure Island moves quickly. Our protagonist and usual narrator Jim Hawkins is a boy of about twelve who befriends an old sailor named Billy Bones at his mother’s inn. (His sick father dies early in the book.) Hawkins shares the treasure map from this sea captain with the doctor who attended Bones as he lay dying. With the financial assistance of Squire Trelawney, soon they have a ship and crew to go to the lawless Caribbean to find Skull Island, a.k.a. Treasure Island. (Our narrator drops enough clues that we understand the story is set in the 1750s.)

Other people looking for Billy Bones and his map include the menacing Blind Pew and other sailors of questionable intentions. When the ship Hispaniola is ready to sail, the captain understands his orders are secret and no one knows the contents of the map except for him, Jim Hawkins, the doctor, and the squire. Still, it seems most of the crew know more about the destination than the captain does. It turns out that nearly the entire crew are former pirates who want a share of the treasure and will stop at nothing to get it.

Jim Hawkins, as cabin boy, often assists Long John Silver, a one-legged old salt who is hired as a cook. We soon learn that Silver is the leader of the pirates who plan on taking over the ship after the treasure is taken aboard, if not sooner. It is not a coincidence that Silver’s pet parrot is named Captain Flint, after a notorious pirate, now dead. The squire, a former sailor himself, tells us:

Blackbeard was a child to Flint. The Spaniards were so prodigiously afraid of him that, I tell you, sir, I was sometimes proud he was an Englishman. I’ve seen his topsails with these eyes, off Trinidad, and the cowardly son of a rum-puncheon that I sailed with put back—put back, sir, into Port of Spain. (35)

That is about all I am willing to tell of the story in case there are readers who have not read it. Enjoy it yourselves!

Just as Treasure Island would influence people’s perceptions of pirates since (especially Hollywood’s) so some things in the novel were influenced by Robinson Crusoe. Ben Gunn has been marooned on Skull Island for over three years and has survived by catching wild goats. This was how Crusoe survived on his island, and before him the historical Alexander Selkirk chased wild goats to survive his ordeal. How Hawkins and a small band overcame a larger band of mutineers reminds us of how Crusoe and his small band quelled a mutiny near the end of his story.

Treasure Island has a lot more action than Robinson Crusoe. The appeal of books like the Hardy Boys, the Chronicles of Narnia, or most of Gordon Korman’s books is that not only are the main character or characters young, but these characters get directly involved in the main conflict and help solve the mystery or the problem. So it is with Jim Hawkins. He becomes one of the heroes of the book because of the actions he takes. He may not have been consciously thinking of solving the problem and thwarting the pirates’ plans: He just wants to have an adventure! Boy, does he get one!

After nearly a century and a half, Treasure Island still grabs our attention and keeps us going. It has become an icon hearkening back to the Golden Age of Piracy.

Yo ho ho!

P.S. It is strictly coincidental that we read two books by guys with the same last name (spelling differences being negligible) at around the same time.

P.P.S. Treasure Island is available in a number of abridged versions, but I would say that most people in grades five or higher should be able to read the complete version. It is not that long of a book. Since it is set in the 1700s and at sea there are some older expressions and nautical terms that may be unfamiliar to some readers. As much as part of me does not want to admit it, Cliff’s Notes has a great page on the book’s vocabulary for any landlubbers (people who never go to sea):

The Big U – Review

Neal Stephenson. The Big U. 1984; New York: Harper, 2007. E-book.

We have usually enjoyed Neal Stephenson’s writing. He is known for his clever scenarios, generally set with available technology but with an extreme twist. The Big U is his first novel, and it does give a hint of what his work would be like, especially his breakout novel Snow Crash.

The Big U satirizes American university life. That is something that is easily satirized, but seldom done because university people tend to take themselves very seriously. While much of The Big U is humorous, some of the satire is too serious to be funny.

We meet a smorgasbord of characters. The English major student government leader who is trying to make American Megaversity a little more habitable. The president who is credited with turning things around. Members of the SUB, Stalinist Underground Battalion, Stephenson’s version of the SDS who are trying to overthrow the American government and getting practice by trying to overthrow the power structure of the university. And, as with all Stephenson novels, a few science and computer nerds including a group who is trying to do a live action Dungeons and Dragons in the catacombs of the university and another who is making a mass driver accelerator out of spare parts in the lab.

While there are apparently no sororities or fraternities on the campus, there is a group of male students who call themselves Terrorists and treat female students like sex objects ripe for the picking and a corresponding group of status-conscious girls. Because this is an eighties campus, there is the token lesbian.

The sense of oppression, such as it is for our proto-snowflakes, is the megaversity setup. The entire school consists of four twenty-five story high rises, so dorm life and student life are restricted to this tight urban space. On one side of the campus (I use the term loosely) is a major highway. Also bordering it are some office buildings, one topped by a huge, colorful neon sign known as the Big Wheel, that some students pretend worship both as a joke and a hazing ritual.

And one conflict, perhaps exaggerated but typical of dorm life everywhere, pops up between roommates who both have powerful stereo systems that try to drown each other out.

Even from this brief introduction to the tale illustrates Stephenson’s strength as a writer: He puts together wild but believable scenarios. The Big U is no different. At the same time it satirizes the university scene.

But her petition was rejected because of a computer error which made it appear that she had gotten a 260 instead of a 660 on her SATs. (792)

Tokenism. They have to have tokens. Lucy is their token black, I’m their token individual. They love having a loudmouth around to disagree with them—makes them feel diverse. [And this was written in 1984 before the term politically correct had been coined!] (600)

Above their heads they [the SUB] carried their big black-on-red posters of S. S. Krupp [the Megaversity president] with a target drawn over his face. (1508)

Even speech today has become a form of violence…(661)

Before the gaming group takes to the underground tunnels, they play a World War II simulation game using a large room with players themselves acting as playing pieces. This prefigures Infinite Jest’s game of Eschaton. (Since Stephenson and Wallace were acquainted, I suspect that the debt may have been acknowledged.)

In his introduction, Stephenson acknowledges an indebtedness to Julian Jaynes’ The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. This was a theory published in the 1970s and which had some currency back then. Jaynes was a lecturer at Princeton. I once read a book in the early eighties that alluded to this, but then the book was written by a dean at Princeton. I had written a critique of Jaynes’ book, but no one was interested in publishing because his ideas never caught on. Of course there is a Catch-22: If it did catch on, who would dare publish a critique?

Though the introduction makes it sound like the bicameral mind theory will be important in the book, the mageversity president dismisses it in a single sentence in a manner very similar to Jason Lisle, whose book I reviewed here.

You’re a Jaynesian and a materialistic monist. In which case you’ve got no reason to believe anything you think, because anything you think is just a predetermined neural event which can’t be considered true or logical. Self-refuting, son. Think about it. (1507)

Indeed, ultimately it appears that the whole American Megaversity is self-refuting. Still one person in the novel notes bicamerally:

You know about the Central Bifurcations that separates magic and technology. Some of you have probably noted that lately Leakage has been very bad. (3333)

Briefly, Jaynes’ theory is that the two cerebral hemispheres of ancient man were completely separated. When attempts were made for one hemisphere to connect with the other, ancient man perceived this as some kind of inspiration or god. Some time around the turn of the first millennium B.C., this “bicameral mind” broke down and modern man evolved, using reason instead of depending on gods, which was really just a form of schizophrenia.

Perhaps Stephenson is symbolizing this theory, or, I suspect, satirizing it. We have the two roommates with overly loud stereo systems competing and resulting in conflict. Similarly, we have the Terrorists and some of their friends speaking of the Big Wheel, which is just outside the “Plex” (i.e., the campus), as if it were some kind of divine voice. Awareness of Jaynes’ theory could add a layer of interpretation.

I do not want to give more of it away, but besides the characters and scenarios mentioned above, the tale also includes giant mutant rats, a women’s center, and spies from Crotobaltislavonia, as one can guess from its name, a land somewhere in Eastern Europe, which back in 1984 would have been either part of the Soviet Union or the Warsaw Pact and whose name echoes Al Capp’s country of Lower Slobbovia.

Written in the early eighties, Stephenson may have been looking back at campus riots in the sixties:

How many other universities do you know where a civil war closes off the academic year?

Alas, it happened at Harvard in 1969 and Kent State in 1970. The cycle seems to be swinging in that direction again. At least back then there was a controversial war. Nobody was protesting Halloween costumes.

So The Big U prefigures many of the current excesses and injustices at today’s American institutions of higher learning. It also raises questions about the integrity of journalists. Reading it now is perhaps not as funny as reading it when it first came out because some of Stephenson’s jokes would be taken too seriously by snowflakes and professors nowadays, but it is still a wild ride.

Grammar is like the walls and bumpers of a pinball machine. Rhetoric is like the flippers of a pinball machine. You control the flippers. The rest of the machine—grammar—controls everything else. If you use the flippers well, you make points. If you fail to image your concepts visibly, your ball drops into the black hole of nothingness. (763-765)

Stephenson makes his points, all right.

No More Dead Dogs – Review

Gordon Korman. No More Dead Dogs. Prince Frederick MD: Recorded Books, 2000. Audio CD.

No More Dead Dogs demonstrates why we are fans of Gordon Korman. English teacher and drama coach Mr. Fogelman assigns eighth grader Wallace Wallace—yes, that is his name—a book report on Old Shep, My Pal.

As Wallace puts it, when you see a book with an award medallion and the picture of a dog on the cover, you know the dog is going down. In the course of the book, we see the truth of this observation with examples such as Old Yeller, Sounder, Bristleface, Irish Red, and as Wallace points out, Where the Red Fern Grows which has two dogs die before the end. Old Shep, My Pal (c. 1950) is no different in that respect. In some ways it is worse, at least in some of those other books there is some action to keep things going.

Wallace writes an honest, if brief, paper on why he does not like the story. Unfortunately, Shep’s tale is one of Mr. Fogelman’s all-time favorites. Not only that, but he is directing the middle school play this year which is an adaptation of—Old Shep, My Pal. Wallace gets an incomplete, which means detention with the teacher until the work is made up.

Wallace tries a few rewrites, but Mr. Fogelman finds these unacceptable as well. This complicates his life for two reasons beyond the annoyance of daily detentions.

(1) He is on the football team, but he cannot attend practices if he is serving detention, and if the detention is carried over from Friday to Monday, he cannot suit up for the team’s games.

(2) Because Mr. Fogelman is directing the play, Wallace has to attend rehearsals of the stage version of his least favorite story to serve his detention.

Reason #1 becomes a big deal because while Wallace was a substitute player for the team who averaged about five minutes a game, he scored the winning touchdown off an opponent’s fumble in the closing seconds of last year’s championship game. He became a hero in the town, and no one can understand why he is not playing this year, especially as the Giants rack up a significant losing streak. His ex-best friend Cavanaugh, the team’s starting quarterback, gets annoyed because while he did most of the scoring last year, Wallace got a lot of the glory and attention. (Hey, I an a Patriots’ fan, and Malcolm Butler was just a name I heard on the radio occasionally until the Super Bowl a year ago.)

Reason #2 complicates things because Wallace speaks his mind during rehearsals. Indeed, he has a reputation of always telling the truth. He even has a poster of George Washington and the cherry tree in his room at home.

If the dialogue is lame, Wallace says so. Truly, one reason he did not like the book was its stilted and unrealistic dialogue, which the play simply lifts from the novel. If a scene is boring because there is no action, Wallace speaks up. But he is no mere annoying critic or surly complainer. He suggests ways of making improvements. Most of the cast and crew see things his way, so Mr. Fogelman reluctantly agrees to a series of changes in the play. For what it is worth, all of the suggestions are improvements.

There are other complications. The editor and only staff member of the school newspaper builds sensational stories based on a very limited amount of facts. Week by week the kids at school—and many people in town—love Wallace or hate him, depending on what The Sentinel says that week.

The president of the drama club takes acting and the play very seriously. To her, Wallace is a dumb jock trying to cause trouble. Her best friend Trudy develops a crush on Wallace, and her younger brother Dylan, a school football fan, blames the play and the drama coach for ruining the football season—an opinion shared by many in the town.

Also someone is trying to sabotage the play. A number of weird accidents happen during rehearsals including marbles being released on stage causing actors to slip and fall, and right before dress rehearsal the stage is filled with confetti, a foot deep in places. The confetti was formed by someone shredding all 45 copies of the script. Most people believe Wallace is the prankster.

Typical of Korman, there is much humor, a lot of witty dialogue, and multiple points of view. While we mostly see the story from Wallace’s perspective, we get chapters consisting of memos from Mr. Fogelman, diary style letters to Julia Roberts from the drama club president, articles from The Sentinel, and others. Besides characters already mentioned, we meet the football coach, other guys on the football team, a “rad dude” rollerblader, and members of a local rock group including a drummer with bangs to his nose known as the Void.

Gordon Korman is almost always good for a laugh. No More Dead Dogs will not disappoint.

The Wars of the Roses – Review

Dan Jones. The Wars of the Roses. New York: Penguin, 2015. E-book.

Like many people, I have gotten much of my English history from historical fiction, especially Shakespeare but also including writers from Walter Scott to Philippa Gregory. Since I do teach some of the Shakespeare English histories from time to time (always Henry IV Part 1, usually Henry V, and sometimes Richard III), I have a fairly detailed royal family tree that I give to my students. Still, a lot of the nonfiction background reading that I have done has been articles and works like Asimov’s Guide to Shakespeare—yes, Isaac Asimov the Robot guy. Jones’ The Wars of the Roses goes into much greater detail, but it reads like a novel. I believe that is simply that this period in English history is wilder than any storyteller could fabricate.

In the early part of the fifteenth century, it appeared that England was on the rise. It had a stable, capable government led by a king who is arguably the best monarch in the country’s history (Shakespeare thought so). It appeared that the Hundred Years’ War had been settled and England had regained much of the continental land that it had lost in the thirteenth century. Indeed, the French were going to recognize the son of Henry V as their king as well as England’s.

Jones quotes Ecclesiastes 10:16 and applies it directly to England. Alas for England, Henry V died young in 1422, leaving behind a 9-month-old son. What is remarkable, actually, is that Henry had put in place a leadership team that would manage the country quite well while the young Henry VI was growing up. The problem is that Henry VI was no ruler, and by the time he was in his late twenties, the old leaders were largely gone and the next generation was vying for power with a king who did little about it.

Meanwhile, the French gained back much of the land Henry V had conquered, and they never had to recognize Henry VI as theirs. We learn about Joan of Arc and others who helped bring this about.

The Wars of the Roses started in earnest around 1450, and England was in a state of civil war much of the time until 1485 when Henry Tudor defeated Richard III in battle and became Henry VII. Yes, the main competing royal houses were those of Lancaster, supporters of Henry VI and his family and associates, and the Dukes of York who also claimed royal ancestry and were frustrated over Henry VI.

The crown actually did change hands several times, but what is perhaps most remarkable is that nearly everyone involved in an attempt to rule or, often, simply to bring order to their own region, was killed. Some were killed in battle, but most were killed judicially. A few were assassinated.

I once read the Chinese classic The Three Kingdoms. That work covers a period of about a century during a time of great civil unrest in China. It was appalling how many men were beheaded by their enemies and allies alike. I realize after reading The Wars of the Roses that fifteenth century England was not much different. I understand that Lewis Carroll’s Alice stories in part parody English history. Now I can understand where the Red Queen’s “off with his head!” came from.

Henry VI was overthrown but came back to power about nine years later. At one point before his overthrow he had actually been in a catatonic state for about fifteen months beginning in 1453, probably from a stroke. People hoped he would follow in the footsteps of his father. It appeared he was following after his French grandfather, Charles VI, a.k.a. Charles the Mad.

One of the main figures in all the intrigue is the Earl of Warwick. He had become quite powerful and something of a literal kingmaker. Still, things would catch up with him eventually. Jones believes it is no surprise that one of Warwick’s knights, Sir Thomas Malory, would write a collection of King Arthur stories to give people a sense of what a true and good king should be like, but also with an awareness of plotting and civil strife going on just below the surface.

The Yorkist Edward IV ruled 1461-1483 with a significant interruption. He seemed to managing to get things together, but alas, when he died, his oldest son was only twelve, and he was put out of the way shortly by people supporting Edward IV’s brother who became Richard III.

Jones describes the fascinating rise of the Tudors. It is probably even more remarkable than the rise of the Stewarts in Scotland. Owen Tudor was a Welsh nobleman. He claimed some ancestry from Welsh kings. Jones is dubious of the claims, but, of course, Welsh kings would include Arthur. He became the lover and then the wife of King Henry V’s widow. For a long time Katherine of Anjou as the young Henry VI’s mother had a lot of power. While she lived, she never receded quite to the background. When the Yorkists were in power after 1460, the Tudors were in France and Brittany for safety. Owen’s son Edward had one son, Henry.

At the time Brittany was a separate Duchy from France, and the Tudors found favor with the Dukes there. Brittany and Wales were both made up of Britons who had been driven west and south by the Anglo-Saxons. Even today a person speaking Welsh and one speaking Breton can understand each other. The Tudors did have some difficulties when the King of France took over Brittany, but they managed to win favor with him as well. Although never stated, a recurring theme in The Wars of the Roses is the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Interestingly, Jones points out that Edmund Tudor, Owen’s son, was Welsh and French, not English. The only provable royal blood in his veins was French from his mother, though she did become Queen of England by marriage. Still, he married Margaret Beaufort, the daughter of the Earl of Somerset, a son of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster; both Somerset and Gaunt were brothers to kings. So Henry Tudor, Edmund’s son could claim English royal blood through his mother.

In normal circumstances, being third cousin from one sitting king and third cousin twice removed from his rival would mean that Henry Tudor would have virtually no chance of becoming king. However, many of the people who might have been in his way had been killed or imprisoned. He did take a big risk fighting Richard III in 1485, but he had procured enough allies and Richard was killed in battle, and so he started a new dynasty.

Jones does not end his history with 1485. There was something of a legacy of that bloody century. He notes a few pretenders who claimed be one of the young princes who were killed in the Tower of London. These proved to be phonies, but Henry VII was relatively merciful to them. Henry also looked with suspicion on anyone with a royal connection. As he grew older, he became more paranoid apparently, and a few somewhat harmless souls ended up being accused of treason and losing their heads.

Perhaps to prove a point, Henry VII named his first son Arthur, not only suggesting his Welsh background, but his hopes for a stable and great British rule. Arthur died childless before his father did, so Henry Tudor’s second son would become the next king, Henry VIII. Jones points out that there were many conflicts in England in the next century, but most of them involved religion and international intrigue. He also notes that between 1413 and 1509 no King of England took the throne as the adult son of the previous king. The new king was either a child or had overthrown the previous one. Even in 1509, Henry VIII was only seventeen, but he was pretty experienced and was up to the task.

Interestingly, Jones notes that the term War or Wars of the Roses was first used in the early nineteenth century. Still, the Tudors would use the symbols of the roses to not only emphasize their legitimacy but to present the idea that they had brought stability to the land after of period of incompetent or evil rulers. By the time Shakespeare was writing, some of the events had already been transformed from history to legend. Jones wants to emphasize the history.

The Wars of the Roses reads like a novel. Jones does a pretty good job with background, and he alternates chapters like a novelist to keep the pages turning. It is a wild run.

I have not read any Song of Fire and Ice books, nor do I get the Game of Thrones television show on my set, but I have certainly read enough about the program. George R. R. Martin, the author of the books, has said that he was inspired by the Wars of the Roses. Lannister even sounds like Lancaster. I suspect that fans of the television show or Martin’s book series would enjoy this book, even if it is nonfiction.

The Magnificent Ambersons – Review

Booth Tarkington. The Magnificent Ambersons. 1918; Project Gutenberg, 16 Sep 2016. E-Book.

In what seems like a never-ending quest to find things related to The Great Gatsby, I decided to read The Magnificent Ambersons. Fitzgerald apparently was influenced by Tarkington, another Midwestern Princetonian who had made a splash in the literary world. Indeed, the title of The Great Gatsby echoes The Magnificent Ambersons, although the title was suggested by an editor, not by Fitzgerald. Tarkington won a Pulitzer in 1919 for this book.

Years ago I read Tarkington’s Seventeen, which was quite funny. Ambersons is not so funny, unless you find all irony funny. The decline of a prominent family parallels the rise of an American city. That is the theme in a nutshell, but, of course, the human story gets our attention.

There is a pattern that we often see in the Bible. I recall years ago listening to a tape entitled The Tragedy of the Third Generation Religion by Paris Reidhead. Frequently the first generation that is touched by God is quite strong and loyal. The second generation is usually reliably faithful because they witnessed or heard directly what God did. The third generation often falls away. To them it’s ancient history.

In our last review we mentioned how Er, the son of Judah was “wicked,” but he was two generations after Jacob. Similarly, David left Solomon a godly legacy, but Solomon’s son was a rebel and broke up the Kingdom.

A friend recently told me of a study saying something similar happens with families that become successful in business. The first two generations tend to handle the wealth responsibly, but the third generation takes it for granted and often squanders it or worse.

That sums up The Magnificent Ambersons. Civil War veteran Major Amberson founded the family fortune. There is a mansion and two hundred acres known as the Amberson Addition. The family owns a hotel in town. The Major’s son serves as a Congressman. His daughter marries Wilbur Minafer, a “steady young businessman and church-goer.” (228) The story focuses on the only member of the third generation of Ambersons, George Amberson Minafer, terribly spoiled and terribly proud.

His uncle the Congressman is also named George, and occasionally this causes some confusion to the reader, though often young George is Georgie. Georgie is wrapped up in himself. And his mother is likewise wrapped up in her only child. This does make him independent: He is not a follower, but he also has little understanding of other people. The main conflict in the novel involves a love triangle formed by three people Georgie is close to, but he is clueless about it until quite late in the story. The reader can laugh at Georgie or merely shake his head.

People in town suggest that someday Georgie will get his “comeuppance.” He does. It is not clear that he learns anything, but by the end his family has had to sell off nearly all their property, and Georgie has to find an actual job. But The Magnificent Ambersons is set in America, and we traditionally have been skeptical of aristocracy. And unlike a decadent aristocrat out of Chekhov or Wilde, Georgie does go to work.

There is also a sense that things have passed the Ambersons by. Georgie convinces himself that automobiles are merely a fad and will never replace the horse. But things never quite stay the same.

Much of the story has to do with Georgie’s love life—I use the term somewhat loosely. He does have sort of a girl friend, but she is reluctant to commit. They are comfortable with each other and appear together socially for about five years, but when Georgie tells her that he does not want to have a job but merely serve on clubs, committees, and charities, we understand her reluctance to stick with him.

The ending seems a bit tacked on, that the author had to figure out a way to wrap things up. It does wrap things up so that there is a sense of hope at the end. It is not a tragedy like Gatsby. Still, I am not sure the purpose is achieved. Thomas Mann uses a similar device toward the end of The Magic Mountain, but there it is effective and even, dare I say, prophetic. With The Magnificent Ambersons, it merely comes across as a device, even a trick.

Still, it is an entertaining story. It is hard to sympathize with any of the characters much, but we can take the author’s persona and enjoy what he says about America, about the rich, and about human pride.

A Lineage of Grace – Review

Francine Rivers. A Lineage of Grace. 2000-2001; Carol Stream IL: Tyndale, 2009. Print.

A Lineage of Grace is a collection of five short novels originally published separately. A friend who thought I would like them lent the five hardcover volumes to me about a year ago. In the meantime I discovered that they had been compiled into a single thick trade paperback volume which I also had access to. I ended up reading them in the single volume because it was easier to carry on vacation.

Before reviewing these books, I have to mention a misperception I had about Francine Rivers. The first book I ever read of hers was The Last Sin Eater. That is a powerful book with real literary quality. Indeed, I assumed she was a literary author with a Christian bent like Leif Enger or Edward P. Jones. Some years later I read one of her other books. It was an entertaining historical romance, a Ben-Hur type story with a female protagonist. The girl becomes a house slave rather than a galley slave, but you get the idea). That book was apparently the first in a series. It was worth reading, but after reading the second volume, I never bothered with the third. I just did not care that much, and I realized that I was in fact reading a formulaic romance.

Thanks to the detailed description of the author in the edition of A Lineage of Grace, I learned that Mrs. Rivers in fact is known as a romance writer and has received various awards in that genre. In fact, The Last Sin Eater was something of an anomaly. It perhaps showed what she could do, but producing one or two popular romances a year is certainly a better way to make money and keep the publishers happy.

The five novels that make up A Lineage of Grace can be considered romances in the sense that the main characters are women. However, probably only one could be considered a romance in the traditional Austen-Brontë sense where the focus is on how the woman got the man and lived happily ever after. That is because these books are Biblical fiction, well-imagined tales about the women who appear in the genealogy of Jesus. That tells us something of the title of collection—exactly whose lineage we are talking about.

Here are the novels: Unveiled, about Tamar the daughter-in-law and consort of Judah who gave birth to the sons who would begin the royal line of Judah; Unashamed, about Rahab the harlot the native of Jericho who helped the Israelite spies and ended up marrying an Israelite; Unshaken, about Ruth the Moabite who married Boaz and became the great-grandmother of King David; Unspoken, about Bathsheba who committed adultery with David and became the mother of King Solomon; and Unafraid, about Mary, the mother of Jesus.

It is interesting to note that the first three women were not Israelites. With Tamar that is perfectly understandable since she is a contemporary of Jacob, and Jacob’s sons had to get their wives from somewhere since the Israelites as a separate people really begins with Jacob’s descendants. Some commentators would say that Jacob and his sons had to sojourn in Egypt for some time to develop their own identity and not be absorbed into other Canaanite or Syrian people groups.

Rahab, of course, was from Jericho, the city that would be destroyed by the Israelite invasion into the Holy Land. Not only was she a pagan, but she was a prostitute as well, but even the Bible tells us that she had enough sense to see that the Israelite God was more powerful than even the Egyptian gods (Joshua 2:9-11). The Bible tells us that she married Salmon, a Judahite, and they would become the parents of Boaz.

The Bible actually tells us more about Ruth than any of the other women protagonists of these novels thanks to the Book of Ruth. She was from Moab and actually immigrated to Judah in part because of her faith in the God of Israel.

Bathsheba and Mary, of course, were Jews. However, even Bathsheba is not exactly a role model for her unfaithfulness to her husband.

Unveiled does a clever job of imagining what life must have been like among the semi-nomadic peoples that inhabited Canaan at the time of Jacob. Imagine if you can that your first two husbands were both killed by their God because of their wickedness. What might you think about that God? Was He cruel? Was he just?

Unveiled portrays Tamar as having to marry Er through an arranged marriage. Jacob’s sons were wealthy and would have made attractive matches, but character counts. The Bible describes Er in a single sentence “Er was a wicked man in the Lord’s sight.” (Genesis 38:7) Rivers does a good job of showing, at least with some imagination, that Er was some kind of jerk. The main conflict here, though, comes from Tamar’s mother-in-law. The Bible tells us she was a Canaanite and Rivers imagines her following Canaanite gods and having mastery over her sons in spite of father-in-law Jacob’s beliefs.

This is easy enough to imagine even if it is extra-biblical. Similarly, Rivers imagines Tamar having an older sister who was dedicated to one of the Canaanite gods and becomes a shrine prostitute. We know from archaeology and the Bible that this was not an uncommon practice in those days, just as it is still done in some South Asian countries today. So when Rivers sets the scene described in Genesis 37 where Tamar disguises herself as a shrine prostitute, she obtains the clothes from those made for her sister.

Genesis 38:11 also notes that Judah sent Tamar back to her own parents after his two sons had died, and that he probably had no intent of marrying her to his third son Shelah as the law required. All Scripture says is that Judah was afraid that Shelah would die as well. Rivers displays the fear and superstition that could have gripped Judah’s whole family, that Tamar might have been feared the way a “Jonah” is aboard a ship. Clever indeed, but believable. In the end, we get a sense of justice of some kind for Tamar. She does bear her husband’s seed the way she legally was supposed to, and her sons become Judah’s heirs.

Unashamed tells a story about Rahab. The Bible tells us little of her other than what I already shared. Rivers, though presents a plausible scenario. Here Rahab is given to the King of Jericho as a concubine to give her father some political advantage. She is neither a shrine prostitute as Rivers imagines Tamar’s sister nor a wife. She might be compared to Scheherazade a little except that when the king tires of her, she is not killed but simply sent back home; but no one wants her, so she becomes a prostitute. Inferring from what Joshua 2:2 tells us, she imagines Rahab prospering because she reports to the king various things she hears in her occupation that might affect him.

Much of the conflict here comes because the Israelite spies have promised Rahab that any family member of hers in her house when they attack will also be spared. But who would believe Rahab or even want to be associated with her.

Though the Bible does not name either of the Israelite spies whom Rahab helps, Rivers easily imagines that Salmon is one of them. That is certainly a possibility since he would have been one of the leaders of Judah at the time of Joshua but also young enough not to have already been married.

Salmon has to defend Rahab’s character and his choice of bride to many of the Israelites as well. Yes, she helped them. Yes, she believes in Yahweh. But she is a Canaanite and a prostitute. Perhaps it does say something about the God of the Bible that He does recognize repentance and conversion so that even an open sinner and outsider can be adopted into God’s family and become an ancestor of King David and of the Messiah Himself.

Unshaken is probably the closest to a romance in this set of stories. But Unshaken focuses on Ruth and Naomi. Boaz is a relatively minor character. The perspective here is survival, which is probably not far from the Biblical account. Naomi returns to her hometown after a long sojourn in Moab with no one other than her widowed Moabite daughter-in-law. They have no son or husband to protect them, and both are subject to suspicion by the Bethlehemites How will they even earn a living?

Naomi’s faithfulness is questioned since she left the town years before. Yes, she went because her husband wanted to avoid the famine, but why had she returned now? And Ruth, of course, was a goy, an outsider. She had confessed her faith in the God of Israel, but the Law was pretty strict about Moabites after all the business with Balaam.

I have heard the scene in which Ruth places herself under Boaz’s feet while he is sleeping in different ways. I had never heard it interpreted the way Rivers does it, but like most of her fiction here, it is plausible. It also adds to the conflict. We see much of the story through Naomi’s point of view, which adds an interesting dimension.

Unspoken is the most romantic tale in the literary sense because it emphasizes the emotion. Rivers does a clever job of putting together what little we know of Bathsheba from the Bible into another plausible tale. The Bible tells us that Bathsheba is the daughter of Ammiel, one of David’s “thirty,” his top soldiers and bodyguards. Her husband Uriah the Hittite is also one the thirty. She is granddaughter of Ahithophel, a key advisor to David.

With all this connection to David and his army, Rivers first presents Bathsheba as a little girl with a crush on David. While she respects and seems happy enough with Uriah later after she marries, when David summons her, she goes in with eyes wide open. We also understand that David would have been a good deal older than she.

Her girlish fantasy might have been fulfilled, but the reality is not easy. Yes, David is attracted to her, but he had her husband killed. He is very busy as a king and general, and she is only one of several wives. Abigail treats her with understanding, but there is a lot of rivalry among the wives. She loses her first child but does give birth to Lemuel Solomon.

I wonder if one little detail in Rivers’ version really happened the way she says. She has Uriah learn about Bathsheba’s adultery before he goes off to battle to be killed. The Bible is silent on that, but the novel suggests that when Uriah tells David that he will not go home to be with his wife it is because he is upset at her and David, not for the reasons the Bible says he gives David. Still, it could have happened that way.

A good part of the story deals with the family conflict in the House of David, something which the prophet Nathan said David had brought upon himself (see II Samuel 12:10). Bathsheba through all this is a careful observer and intercedes for Solomon at just the right time as some of his older half-brothers have gone too far in either their search for revenge or in their political ambitions.

Solomon tells us in the Bible that he received some of his wisdom from his mother (see Proverbs 31:1). Rivers cleverly scatters a few of Solomon’s proverbial sayings in the tale to suggest both that Bathsheba learned from her experiences and her sons learned from her.

The last woman mentioned in Christ’s genealogy is, of course, Mary, His mother. So Unafraid is about Mary. The Bible really only mentions Mary a few times. She is with the 120 followers of Jesus at Pentecost. She witnesses His crucifixion. On a couple of occasions she is among a group of people following him. She is with him at the wedding in Cana. And, of course, we read about her in connection with what we know of Jesus’ birth and boyhood in the Gospel of Luke.

Rivers does these all fairly well with very little embellishment. She also tries to imagine what it must have been like to have had the supernatural experiences Mary did when she was young—visitation by an angel, virgin conception, John the Baptist’s recognition. How could she be sure?

Realistically, when she tells people what had happened, few believe her. When even her own sons do not believe her, she decides it is better to remain silent. There is also a touch of humor because her other children are more difficult to raise than Jesus was. He always seemed so obedient and joyful. She had a much harder time with her other sons and daughters. Why wouldn’t she? It can be a reminder to us not to criticize the way other people raise their children.

Rivers also imagines Mary later on in life, living as John’s adopted mother and sharing her memories with Luke as he is assembling his gospel. She also has to remind people that she has been saved by the grace of God, no different from any other believer.

One distinctive difference between Unafraid and the other books in the series is that Rivers has Mary directly tempted a number of times. Those temptations appear in bold print in the book. They mostly are given to make her doubt about herself and about who Jesus is. I do not know if Mel Gibson had read Unafraid before he made The Passion of the Christ film, but the effect is very similar to the devil character who appears from time to time in that film. The unusual makeup make that figure stand out in the film the way the black print and the genuine doubts stand out in the story. As in the film, the technique is subtle, not overdone, and probably reflects thoughts or temptations that most of us have had at one time or another.

Francine Rivers had good material to begin with, and she makes the most of it.

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.

Questions, Comments, and Observations on the English Language