All posts filed under: Book Reviews

The Making of Oliver Cromwell (Ronald Hutton)

If you know anything about Oliver Cromwell—and few do nowadays— you probably have an opinion about the man. Some vilify him; “A curse upon you, Oliver Cromwell, you who raped our Motherland,” the Irish rock band The Pogues sang. Others praise him as an enemy of arbitrary rule and a proto-republican. Ronald Hutton’s new biography of Cromwell’s early life and his climb to prominence makes no final judgment on the man, but it does offer a nuanced view of this complex historical figure. From Hutton’s excellent book we get not just history but the realization, in this desiccated age, that men such as Cromwell always emerge during great turmoil, rising as if from sown dragon’s teeth.

For the Freedom of Zion: The Great Revolt of Jews against Romans, A.D. 66–74 (Guy MacLean Rogers)

Let’s talk about the Jews. No, not about how the Jews supposedly run the world (although there is some truth buried in that claim, to which we will return). I mean about the actual Jews, the past and present people who have been, arguably, more central to the story of mankind than any other people. This book, Guy MacLean Roger’s For the Freedom of Zion, exhaustively narrates the First Jewish-Roman War, A.D. 66–74, in which the Romans defeated a Jewish revolt, and during which the Romans destroyed the Second Temple. From it we can take both fascinating history and useful thoughts for today.

On Wealth and Poverty (Saint John Chrysostom)

As far back as I can remember, I wanted to be rich. I was not wealthy growing up, nor was anybody I knew. Today, however, as I state perhaps too often, I am rich. I bathe twice daily in French champagne and always cover my burgers in gold leaf. The problem is, as most everybody knows, that being rich sits very uneasily with Christian faith. At a minimum, being rich is a grave danger for a man’s soul. To gain insight into this problem, or maybe seeking reassurance, rather than rely on my personal interpretation of Scripture, which is worse than useless, I turned to one of the Fathers of the Church, Saint John Chrysostom.

The Age of Paradise: Christendom from Pentecost to the First Millennium (John Strickland)

Christian nationalism is in the air. While that obscure term has been weaponized recently to whip up hate against Christians, it is a real thing, with many historical manifestations. For both Christianity and nationalism are excellent and awesome, and like the chocolate and peanut butter in Reese’s, they are even better together than alone. Still, the combination of state and religion has not always been well executed. It must be, however, for mankind to flourish, which is why one pillar of Foundationalism is establishing the proper balance in the society of the future. To this end, we can learn a lot from this history of the first thousand years of Christianity.

The Eggs Benedict Option (Raw Egg Nationalist)

Often those who complain about the world in which we live offer neither a clear vision of how things might be different, nor a path to achieve that vision. Refreshingly, in The Eggs Benedict Option the pseudonymous writer Raw Egg Nationalist offers both vision and path, centered around food, in all its aspects, as the core of human flourishing. His essential insight is that, now as ever, he who controls the food controls the people. We must pick the controller—either our globalist ruling classes, or each of us for himself. The former is and will be a disaster for the nation. But for the latter, hard work and discipline are required.

The Concept of the Political (Carl Schmitt)

This, Carl Schmitt’s best-known work, first published in 1932, is a crucial book for our present moment. The clear-eyed Schmitt, who stands far above any modern political philosopher, writes here of timeless principles that lie behind political action, and he slices through the ignorance, doublespeak, and confusion that surround any discussion today of the “why” of politics. As always, he offers a crisp analysis of reality, with implications and applications for all times and moments. And for Christians in today’s America, this book has extra value, because reading it restores the proper Christian understanding of “enemy,” something that has been (quite recently) lost, to our great detriment.

Breakfast with the Dirt Cult (Samuel Finlay)

In 1952, Ralph Ellison published, to great acclaim, his first and only novel, Invisible Man. The book narrated how Ellison’s protagonist, a black man, suffered social oppression. But that was long ago, and one thing black people definitely don’t suffer anymore is oppression. Rather, many dish it out, aided by their allies of other races, as seen most dramatically in the terroristic Floyd Riots, but it happens every day in every organization in America. The targets are, most of all, those at the bottom of today’s social hierarchy—heterosexual (that is, normal) white men outside the professional-managerial elite. And Samuel Finlay’s Breakfast with the Dirt Cult is, one might say, the new Invisible Man.

The Populist Delusion (Neema Parvini)

What is populism? The snap answer is rule by the people. The more accurate answer is rule by an elite who strongly claim that they govern on behalf of the whole people. That claim is sometimes true and sometimes false, but as Neema Parvini’s The Populist Delusion, a compact summary of what is often called elite theory, pithily shows, it is always an elite who actually rules. Thus, the key question for a society’s flourishing is whether it is ruled by a virtuous elite, who rules for the common good, or by a rotten elite, as America is ruled by now. Embedded in this question is another question, however—how an elite can be removed and replaced. This latter question is the most important question in 2022 America.

Dark Age America: Climate Change, Cultural Collapse, and the Hard Future Ahead (John Michael Greer)

I am both pessimist and optimist about our future. I expect our civilization, that of the West, to end entirely, and soon. Yet at the same time, I believe we can have an intensely bright future thereafter—not a return, certainly, but something wholly new, informed by the wisdom and knowledge of the past. Moreover, I think that technology, rightly ordered and used, will be a pillar of that future, if we reach it. John Michael Greer, a man hard to categorize politically, agrees with my pessimism, but not with my optimism, especially as regards the future use of technology. Today we will explore whether I should amend my beliefs, through the prism of Greer’s Dark Age America.

The Man from the Future: The Visionary Life of John von Neumann (Ananyo Bhattacharya)

This is a disappointing book. Not awful, but not good. The Man from the Future manages to take the life of the polymath John von Neumann and to make it dull, never giving us any real sense of the man, although we do get some sense of his accomplishments. Beyond that, it’s filled with bad history about ancillary matters, making the reader wonder about the veracity of core biographical matters. And worst of all, the author, Ananyo Bhattacharya, wastes our time by endlessly trying to shoehorn into von Neumann’s story fantasy contributions by supposedly marginalized people, who are unknown because they did nothing worth noting. All this turns what might have been an excellent book into a chore.