Wednesday, September 2, 2009

This Week at the Library (2/9)

Books this Update:
  • Are We Rome?, Collen Murphy
  • Alternative American Religions, Stephen J. Stein
  • Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, Shane Claiborne
  • Roma, Steven Saylor


I began this week with Are We Rome? a political work comparing the United States and the Roman Empire. Author Collen Murphy begins by acknowledging the problems inherent in comparing states that existed in vastly different periods of history, but maintains that there are some generalities that can be noted. The book comments on military matters, privatization and corruption, imperial hubris, and a few other such topics. Nothing seemed too far-fetched: Murphy is quite cautious, but not the point of annoying the reader by soft-pedaling his criticisms of the two governments.

I followed this with Alternative American Religions, a short book of religious history covering the rise and fall of groups known as “sects”, “cults”, or “new religious movements”. The first half of the book is stronger than the first, as chapters are more detailed about their subjects. I imagine the author was confined to a certain page count, as coverage of 20th century movements tended to be a bit rushed and devoid of a lot of description.

I was able to follow up on a recommendation this week in Shane Claiborne’s Becoming the Answer to Our Prayers, a brief work on pro-active prayer – where the “prayer” consists not of requests of God, but admissions of needs and desires that the praying person wants to address in his or her own life. Claiborne is accompanied by Jonathan Wilson-Hargrove, and the two labor to show how Christians can begin to answer their own prayers and effect God’s will. This was a little awkward to read (me not being a Christian), but I sympathize.

Lastly, I read Steven Saylor’s Roma, a historical epic spanning a thousand years of history, detailing the growth of Rome. Its history is seen through the eyes of one family, patricians whose fortunes rise and fall through many generations. We visit eleven specific generations, as there are eleven stories here. Saylor incorporates legends of pre-Republic Rome along with historical accounts to deliver a riveting story of human history, where the lives of one generation generate the legends and religion of further generations, as well as to comment on the universality of certain political and religious themes. It was a wonder to read, and definitely one to remember.

My reading this week was cut short by my preparations for returning to university and for the start of classes. I will be saving Niebuhr’s The Irony of American History for a time when I will be able to do it justice – Thanksgiving, perhaps. Like Erich Fromm, it's "serious" reading, and needs my full attention: I can't just read it off and on like a novel or popular history/science. Speaking of which, since I now have access to my university library, I can finally comment on The Sane Society.

Pick of the Week: Roma, no question. It's probably pick of the month.



Next Week’s Potentials:
  • A History of God, Karen Armstrong. I’ll probably be finishing this one – it reads much better after Sumerian mythology is dealt with.
  • The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan. I’ve read this before (2006), but it’s been a while since I read anything by Carl Sagan and I want to return to him. This and Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors were crucial in reigniting my interest in science, and making the “mundane world” a joy to consider.
  • Death by Black Hole, Neil deGrasse Tyson. Tyson is supposed to be the next Carl Sagan – we’ll see.
  • Murder on the Appian Way, Steven Saylor. This is next up in Roma Sub Rosa.
  • Taming of the Mind, Thubten Chodron. This came up in a search for Buddhism.
  • The Sons of Caesar, Philip Matyszak. This is a history of Rome's first dynasty. I don't know much about it.

Given that this is the first week of classes and that there is a very strong possibility that I will be getting a new computer this weekend to replace my recently deceased Medion, I would not bet on my ability to read six average-length books. I also may check out Rome’s first season on DVD this week. If that occurs, I’ll be lucky to read three of these – but we shall see. (I'm in a very Roman mood.)

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