Author: Charles

Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine (Barry Strauss)

The Roman Empire, or at least the western Roman Empire, is a history of decline, as we all know. But not linear decline, and that matters. Ten Caesars, the latest offering from the always-excellent Barry Strauss, profiles the ten most consequential Roman emperors, narrating the ups and downs of the empire they ruled. Strauss’s book is capsule history, a chapter-by-chapter summary of the profiled emperors, offering facts without many larger explicit conclusions, so there is little new here for anyone with even passing knowledge of the Empire. Think of it, then, as a refresher course.

The Saxon Savior: The Germanic Transformation of the Gospel in the Ninth-Century Heliand (G. Ronald Murphy)

Immediately before the Ascension, the last command of Christ to the Apostles was to “make disciples of all nations.” Ever since, at least until very recently, proselytizing has been a core goal of all Christians. This work has often not been easy. Christianity is always counter-cultural, opposed to the inherent dubious tendencies of mankind. Moreover, the history narrated in the Gospels is embedded in the world of first-century Palestine, and that world is starkly alien to most cultures that have been the target of conversion. Such challenges have been met in various ways by Christian missionaries, and by Christianizing conquerors. The Heliand, a ninth-century “gospel harmony” used to persuade the pagan Saxons defeated by Charlemagne to accept Christianity, was one such way.

The Moral Basis of a Backward Society (Edward C. Banfield)

Most cultures throughout history have been terrible. The natural state of so-called civilized man is somewhere between today’s Venezuela and today’s Somalia. Large-scale success, exceptions to the general rule, offering long-term stability combined with some degree of flourishing, has been limited to a handful of cultures. If you add actual accomplishment that advances the whole human race, you are left with only three, the Greeks, the Romans, and Christendom—which three, no surprise, are closely linked in history and in attributes. None of this is news, although it is denied by the malicious clowns now temporarily in charge of public discourse.

When Money Dies: The Nightmare of Deficit Spending, Devaluation, and Hyperinflation in Weimar Germany (Adam Fergusson)

Inflation, like most society-wide monetary happenings, is always complex and often incompletely grasped. At least this is true of its causes; of its effects, most of all its social effects, there is now little doubt. We learned much about inflation during the twentieth century, when the advent of permanent fiat money made hyperinflation possible for the first time. But as this book shows, the infamous German hyperinflation of 1923 was poorly understood by those who lived through it. And whatever we understand now, the past several years, and in particular the past few months, have demonstrated that we still often ignore what we know. When Money Dies shows what happens when reality reasserts itself. It’s not pretty.

Against Masks

The great social argument of this instant is whether everyone should now, because of the Wuhan Plague, be required to wear face masks, and if so, under what circumstances. Today, therefore, I will offer a complete analysis of mask wearing, something I have seen nowhere else. True, I normally disdain writing about transitory matters, which this likely is, but the Plague and the varied reactions to it in the policy realm say much that reflects light onto broader and more permanent topics, and this is particularly true of masks, arguments about which condense matters of greater import.

SAM: One Robot, a Dozen Engineers, and the Race to Revolutionize the Way We Build (Jonathan Waldman)

The classic American path to technological success has been for driven tinkerers to obsessively work to solve a problem, from Eli Whitney to Thomas Edison to Steve Jobs. Such men strove to enrich themselves while benefiting others. SAM, the tale of one Scott Peters and his ten-year attempt to create a bricklaying robot, narrates such a story. True, his attempt was mostly unsuccessful, but then, most such attempts are. And in modern America, when excellence and achievement have been traded in wholesale for less-than-worthless “diversity and inclusion,” his is an inspiring tale.

Starship Troopers (Robert Heinlein)

Starship Troopers, sixty years old, is a famous work of science fiction. As with most Robert Heinlein novels, the point is more the ideas than plot or character. Heinlein therefore often swerves dangerously close to message fiction, but it never becomes intolerable. This book is Heinlein’s vehicle to explain who he thinks should rule a society and what principles should inform that ruling class’s actions. His main goal is to attack universal suffrage as stupid, which is true enough, although his proposed alternative is too artificial. While I’m interested in the franchise today, and its relationship to aristocracy and hierarchy, I’m equally interested in secondary aspects of the book, in particular what the role of women should be, if any, in the military.

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Lawrence Wright)

We all know religious devotion has declined precipitously in America. Most of what religion remains is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which is the sherbet of religions, an unsatisfying imitation of the real thing. No doubt this decline is temporary, since the human religious impulse, toward transcendence and final meaning, is too strong to remain unsatisfied. The success, or at least the visibility, of Scientology, a scam with falsifiable and internally incoherent beliefs, shows this clearly enough. I’m not going to beat up on John Travolta and Tom Cruise, though. I instead want to explain the religious principles and structure of a well-run state, and in particular, of the Foundationalist state.

Lord of All the Dead (Javier Cercas)

Years ago, I lived in Budapest with an elderly Hungarian relative, my grandfather’s cousin. She had lived through World War II as a young woman. One day, as we were eating lunch, she reminisced about the Russian invasion and conquest of Hungary in 1945, which she survived. She looked at me and said (in Hungarian), “Always remember, when you are grown and are a powerful man, that war is a terrible thing.” We all know this, but it is easy to forget the personal impact of war—both on soldiers and on everyone else in a society. This uneven book is a reminder of those costs, and an opportunity to ponder when they are worth paying, as civil war slouches ever closer to us.

Mine Were of Trouble (Peter Kemp)

Among the many tools of the superbly effective Left propaganda machine, one of the most effective is its control of publishing. Leftists use this to ensure that innumerable books fitting the Left narrative stay in print indefinitely, primarily for use as indoctrination tools in schools, as a glance at any modern curriculum at any grade level will show you. On the other hand, books not fitting the Left narrative disappear—never republished, expensive to buy used, and impossible to read online because of the stupidly long terms of modern copyright law. Thus, the reprinting, by Mystery Grove Publishing, of this excellent book, by an Englishman who volunteered to fight for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, is a great service.