Monday, February 8, 2016
This week: the usual suspects
Well, dear readers, it's another month! I have a serious itch for science and science fiction at the moment, so I have no less than five potential science reads stacked up now, and three potential SF books. Among the numbers...Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World, and Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chromosomes. What about science fiction? Well, there's some of H.G. Wells' less well known novels, and perhaps something newer.
I recently finished The War of the Three Gods: Romans, Persians, and the Rise of Islam. It is a brief but highly detailed history of the last Romano-Persian war, one in which the great powers of the classical world mauled each other. Rome nearly perished here, because while the Persians were sweeping into Syria and Judea, tribes in the Balkans began raiding against Constantinople. Eventually the Persians would be stopped, and even subjected to raids in their heartland, and the statuo quo ante bellum stored. No sooner had the armies retired, however, than came armies from Arabia...and by the time the ancients realized these weren't just the usual Bedouin raids, all of Persia was falling and the Romans were again stripped of most of their territory outside of Anatolia. The second half of the book is dedicated to Islam's early military victories, with abundant maps that showcase the solid maneuvering of commanders like Khalid. The book is chiefly about combat, with some politics mixed in as the Persians weakened themselves through civil war. I intend on reading a fair few more books about the 'middle world' later on.
Since I am in the area, I may as well mention a book I read a few weeks ago, Facing East by Frederica Mathewes-Green. recounts a year in the life of a small Orthodox mission, one created by six families that include the author's newly-minted priest of a husband. The M-Gs, as the author refers to her family later on, are both converts to the faith, and throughout this piece she reflects on the way her experience has changed in the last three years, as she and her husband begin to soak in the liturgy and live the Orthodox life more deeply. While this is not a formal introduction to Orthodoxy, or even a conversion testimonial, Mrs. M-G often provides exposition about the what and why of service. Like the faith itself, however, this tale is more experiential than epistemological. We encounter the sacraments -- Baptism, for instance -- not through lectures but through the lives of the congregants, communicated in the intimate and awe-filled style of the author. Short though it may be, Facing East provides a hint of how deep a well the Orthodox tradition is. The mission of Holy Cross may be small and relegated to renting a space that has to be evacuated every Sunday afternoon to make room for the weekday tenants, but in their religious life they are as firmly established as any of the grandest metropolitan seats or parishes across the world. I'll probably have couple of more books about Eastern Orthodoxy as the year goes on. For the moment, however...SCIENCE!