I just finished Richard Foster’s best known book 1978’s Celebration of Discipline, which examines the inward disciplines of prayer, fasting, meditation, and study in the Christian life, the outward disciplines of simplicity, solitude, submission, and service, and the corporate disciplines of confession, worship, guidance, and celebration.
This book was great in that it appealed to my more traditionalist bent, but did so without much in the way of dogma. Foster takes the best from many different christian spiritual disciplines and puts them together to present what I would call a rule of life. In many ways it is a challenging read, in that it expects a lot from you. However, I tend to appreciate a religious book that doesn’t pull punches. I got so much out of it that I have moved on to another of his books, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home.
Mayflower, by Nathaniel Philbrick is somewhat inaccurately titled as very little of this book has to do with the Mayflower itself. The Pilgrim’s time in Holland and aboard the Mayflower is merely prelude to the epic story of the 56-year period from the sighting of land off the coast of Cape Cod to the conclusion of King Phillip’s War.
While their famous survival of the first harsh New England winter leading to the first Thanksgiving is all here, that part of the story only takes up about twenty percent of the book. In reality, Philbrick offers the reader a complete history of Plymouth Colony from 1620-1676. The majority of the narrative focuses on King Phillip’s War which happened right in my home town making this book really come to life for me.
Philbrick is a historian, as the fifty pages of notes and nearly 40 page long bibliography can attest to, but he is also natural storyteller who is able to make this story a compelling one. Most interesting to me were the human aspects of the tale. Neither the Pilgrims nor the Native Americans were saints, and both contributed to what was ultimately the tragic loss of almost the entire population of Natives throughout New England. These were real people with very human motivations, both noble and selfish.
Another fascinating aspect of reading this book was learning that much of the sanitized history I remember learning in school was simply wrong. I remember learning that Squanto was the friendly Indian who helped the Pilgrims communicate with their new neighbors. In fact, while he certainly was one of the most prominent interpreters for the Pilgrims he was also openly scheming against both them and Massasoit (of the First Thanksgiving fame) to try and take over the New England tribes for himself. In the end he dies a traitor. Another false-history was what I had been told of King Phillip. I always imagined him as the noble warrior trying to win back his land from the encroaching English. In reality he was largely a coward who took every opportunity to run from a fight and after falling into the beginning of the war became largely irrelevant afterward. The entangled alliances that brought most of the Native population into conflict with the three English colonies reminds one of the start of WWI. As always, history repeats itself.
A solid read from start to finish I can highly recommend Mayflower to history buffs and general readers alike.
On a side note, the fact that my town was mentioned repeatedly in the book caused me to do a little digging of my own. Turns out my town was attacked and burned to the ground during the initial onslaught of King Phillip’s War, with the invading Natives coming right over the hill on which I now live to attack the main garrison which stood just down the street. History alive indeed!
Paris is a unique book, both in subject matter and in structure. In brief, it tells the story of the city, from early medieval times up through the second World War and everything in between. While many works of historical fiction have been set in Paris, and others have told the story of particular events that have taken place in the great city, I can think of none that strive to tell the story of the city itself.
Rutherford accomplishes this feat by following a group of families as they travel down through the ages, sometimes feuding, sometimes intermingling, sometimes existing in complete obscurity from one another. Following the narrative thread through the first half of the book is a bit challenging as he does not write his tale in chronological order. One chapter you are dealing with the inner workings of Versailles, the next it is the roaring 20’s and Paris is being “invaded” by American artists. However, once you approach the novel’s halfway point you find yourself invested in the little triumphs each family has had and rooting for one group or another.
Even though the reader’s sympathies may lie with one family or another, Rutherford has clearly been careful not to create a clear protagonist/antagonist relationship between the various clans. Each family has its heroes and villains. It is almost because of this that you identify so closely with certain groups. One family in particular has a member who does some rather unspeakable things which caused me to wince as I rather liked the family as a whole. It seemed more of a betrayal since I had formed a relationship with this group of individuals.
Through following these families I even learned a bit about Parisian history that I had been hereto unawares. I of course knew about the storming of the Bastille, but I did not know a main objective was to get at the gun powder stored there. I was also unaware of the complicated relationship many of the upper classes had with occupying Germans. These and other tidbits of history made the book both enjoyable and educational. Overall, Paris was a great book that I can strongly recommend to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, Paris the city, or history in general.
On a side note: all good fiction should somehow change us, or at least inspire us in some way, and Paris was able to do that for me. It inspired me to look into my own history a bit. My family had been in the same town for 6 generations and my kids are the fourth generation to live in my house. Granted, my hometown is no Paris, but this novel got me wondering if there are some stories worth researching about my own past. You really can’t ask for much more than that from a novel.