“Edward Gibbon in his Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire said that the following five attributes marked Rome at its end: first, a mounting love of show and luxury (that is, affluence); second, a widening gap between the very rich and the very poor (this could be among countries in the family of nations as well as in a single nation); third, an obsession with sex; fourth, freakishness in the arts, masquerading as originality, and enthusiasms pretending to be creativity; fifth, an increased desire to live off the state. It all sounds so familiar. We have come a long way since our first chapter, and we are back in Rome.”
– Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live? (p. 227)
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius
Forget The Princess Diaries – here we have The Philosopher-King Diaries. I wonder why Disney hasn’t made a movie of this one yet? All kidding aside, Meditations really is a fascinating read, elegantly written and insightful. From a Christian perspective, it’s also remarkably empty: an elaborate house of morality and philosophy built on a sinking sandbank of pure humanism.
Shutter Island by Dennis Lehane
I picked this up at the library the other day, mainly because I was in the mood for something noirish and this seemed to fit the bill. As I’ve already seen Scorsese’s film adaption, the story itself probably won’t have many surprises for me, but Lehane’s writing is so good I really could care less. Consider: “His small dark eyes sat far back in their sockets, and the shadows that leaked from them bled across the rest of his face.” That’s just brilliant.
Confessions by Augustine
“Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” If I had to pick one book to call the Most Beautiful Book I’ve Ever Read, this would be it. If you haven’t read it, you can’t imagine what you’re missing. Go buy a copy. Better yet, buy ten copies – one for yourself and nine to give away . Just one thing: don’t settle for any of those “modern English” translations, where the beauty of Augustine’s writing is dramatically lessened. “Updating” Augustine is like “updating” Shakespeare – not cool.
The Travels by Marco Polo
I just finished this, and my one word review would probably look something like this: Meh. The subject matter is (mostly) fascinating, but Polo’s writing isn’t half as colorful as the locales he’s describing. Here’s a warning to potential readers: whenever Polo says something like “What need have I to say more?”, don’t be fooled. He will inevitably say more anyway.
How Should We Then Live? by Francis Schaeffer
Marvin Olasky offers an excellent summary of what this book has to offer: “How Should We Then Live? was produced by a genius who cared about the battle of ideas. It’s also the book I still recommend to students for a quick overview of ‘the rise and decline of western thought and culture.’ Schaeffer brilliantly takes readers from ancient times through the Renaissance, Reformation, and Enlightenment, then discusses the breakdown in philosophy and science and moves on to art, music, literature, film, and much else besides.”
Peter’s Angel by Aubrey Hansen
Almost a third of the way through this one and finding it quite enjoyable. I have a few quibbles, but these are fairly minor, and I think it’s safe to say that Aubrey has surpassed her debut effort (Red Rain) by leaps and bounds – the writing is better, the characters are deeper, and the alternate history is well done. Look for a more detailed review next week.
What’s on your bookshelf right now?
From Francis Schaeffer’s How Should We Then Live? (p. 92):
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) was certainly the zenith of the composers coming out of the Reformation. His music was a direct result of the Reformation culture and the biblical Christianity of the time, which was so much a part of Bach himself. There would have been no Bach had there been no Luther. Bach wrote on his score initials representing such phrases as: “With the help of Jesus” – “To God alone be the glory” – “In the name of Jesus.” It was appropriate that the last thing Bach the Christian wrote was “Before Thy Throne I Now Appear.” Bach consciously related both the form and the words of his music to biblical truth. Out of the biblical context came a rich combination of music and words and a diversity of unity. This rested on the fact that the Bible gives unity to the universal and the particulars, and therefore the particulars have meaning. Expressed musically, there can be endless variety and diversity without chaos. There is variety yet resolution.
And this is why I love Bach.
"But words are things, and a small drop of ink, falling like dew upon a thought, produces that which makes thousands, perhaps millions, think." – Lord Byron