Book Review: 52 Little Lessons From Les Misèrables

52 Little Lessons From Les Misèrables, by Bob Welch

[Note: This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.]

I have a confession to make: I have never read Les Mis, nor seen the musical, nor watched the movie. I nearly bought the book as a college student at a bookstore, the Penguin unabridged version, but was rather daunted by the hefty length (over 1600 pages). I have it on my kindle as well (as it was free from Amazon at the time, and who am I to turn down free books?), but have not read it, again because the length is overwhelming. There is less excuse, save the absence of the right company, for me to have never watched the musical or seen the movie, but perhaps of one of the many fans of the movie that I know can help rectify that problem. So, I may be among the most painfully unqualified people around to read this book, given my nearly total unfamiliarity with the context. That said, the Oregon-based author (who makes a lot of comments about the Pacific Northwest and his life here) manages to bring a lot of wisdom and explain and distill Les Mis (combining the novel, musical, and movie, and examining them all as part of the same text) and make it a compelling read even for someone who is not at all familiar with the work. Well done.

As the title of the book indicates, the contents of this book examine 52 little lessons from Les Mis [1], and not only does the book quote Hugo as well as the lyrics of the songs of the musical and movie, but the book also examines the scriptural parallels to Hugo’s masterpiece, looks at Hugo’s complicated life and character, and looks at history as well as other books about Christian virtue. Certain authors like C.S. Lewis and Oswald Chambers are quoted often as well, to good effect, and this book manages to use the word ragamuffin enough to trigger comparisons to one of the least favorite books I have ever reviewed [2] without falling prey to its excesses. Likewise, it possesses a great deal of skill and craft while also giving praise and glory to God and serving to benefit the work that it references [3]. Whether a reader is familiar with Hugo’s epic novel, he or she will either appreciate it all the more for being able to relate it to contemporary religious and social and political concerns, or will likely be more interested in reading the book in the first place.

As is often the case, I found a great deal of this book to be personally relevant. The author comments about the importance of grace to those who have lived difficult lives (and indeed, we all have in some fashion), and points to the fact that ultimately our good conduct should spring not from conventional ‘religion’ but from a changed heart and spirit out of which pour love and concern. Over and over again the author praises Valjean for his sincerity and his concern, for his willingness to put himself in harm’s way, to avoid taking vengeance on those who have harmed him, and on his struggle to live an honorable life despite massive liabilities including a horrible personal background and tremendous degree of loneliness and isolation. There was much in this book, perhaps too much, that I could relate to, and given what I read that is likely to be the case with Les Misèrables as well. Yet, to quote Victor Hugo, “So long as ignorance and misery remains on earth, books like this cannot be useless.”

[1] Here they are, for those who are curious:

Context matters.
Fame brags; love whispers.
Knock and the door will be opened.
Every personal encounter matters.
Even the coldest heart can thaw.
Blessed are the poor in spirit.
Actions trump words.
It’s not about “the stuff.”
The conscience must not be ignored.
Starting over can redefine our purpose.
Goodness requires no audience.
Our actions ripple through time.
We need to see people as God sees people.
Crisis reveals character.
Grace, accepted, changes us.
Our strengths can become our weaknesses.
Trust can be misplaced.
God’s ways aren’t always our ways.
Not all that glitters is gold.
God hears our desperate cries for help.
Children need childhoods.
We need one another.
Faith must touch others.
Don’t rush to judgement.
Faith in others unlocks their giftedness.
The past can be a springboard to the future.
Paying it forward changes the world.
A contented life is a thankful life.
Wisdom can come from weird places.
True character is consistent character.
Remember the humanity of the homeless.
Remember those who put their lives on the line.
Deceit is no respecter of social person.
The truth shall set you free.
Political opinions are unworthy idols.
Jesus’ life was revolutionary stuff.
The truth isn’t always obvious.
Perspective changes things.
Love means letting go.
Self-pity morphs into selfishness.
The older are not necessarily the wiser.
Hiding feelings hampers relationships.
We can break the chains from our pasts.
Opportunities to help shouldn’t be wasted.
Love has a gritty side to it.
We matter more than we know.
Religion isn’t the answer.
True revolution starts and ends in our hearts.
The law is not enough.
Love perseveres.
We are les misèrables.
To love another person is to see the face of God.

[2] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/08/07/book-review-the-ragamuffin-gospel/

[3] This is true of other excellent books of this type:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/07/05/book-review-the-ultimate-harry-potter-philosophy/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/05/10/book-review-what-will-happen-in-harry-potter-7/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/07/02/book-review-c-s-lewis-mere-christianity/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/03/01/book-review-if-i-had-lunch-with-c-s-lewis/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/book-review-all-roads-lead-to-austen/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2014/06/21/book-review-how-to-teach-your-children-shakespeare/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Book Reviews, Christianity, History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: 52 Little Lessons From Les Misèrables

  1. Pingback: Movie Review: Joseph & The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat | Edge Induced Cohesion

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