What’s Love Got To Do With It?

In 1984, from her immensely successful comeback album Private Dancer, Tina Turner released what is perhaps her signature solo song, which became her first and only #1 hot in the Billboard Hot 100, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?”  The song became so synonymous with her as an artist that it was also the title of a movie about her life.  If you know a little bit about the back story of Tina Turner’s life, the title of the song and its sentiments make more sense.  Having spent many years in an abusive relationship with the controlling Ike Turner, Tina Turner had better reason than most people to be more than a little bit down on love.  To be sure, she is a woman with the same sort of longings that human beings have in general, but in this song she questions why people should put the longings and chemical reactions inside of us on such a pedestal.  She saw, again more clearly than most, that merely following the chemical reactions inside of us often led to unhappiness and misery.  Certainly that is true for many of us in this world.

Throughout my life I have had very little sympathy with those who rage against all restrictions against following their defective brain chemistry wherever it wants to go.  To be sure, I have a lot of empathy with those who struggle to deal with longings in the face of moral, legal, and cultural opposition, but I have little sympathy with those who rage against the need to struggle against their own natures.  Anyone with a shred of self-knowledge will know that we are all filled with a great deal of loathsome and problematic longings.  Perhaps I am aware of such matters better than most because my own longings have been more loathsome or at least more problematic than most [1], but I know the level of heroic self-restraint that is necessary for me to live anything remotely approaching a decent and normal life.  I have to continually remind myself that the slow people on the road or the frustrating people I deal with in my life are not intentionally trying to bother me but are people likely focused on their own problems and issues and just unaware of the irritation that they cause to others through their ignorance or incompetence.  Being a bit more aware of the difficulties I cause myself and others through my own incompetence, I tend to feel a sense of deep melancholy and shame for myself.

I have a dear relative whom I deeply love.  I remember when she was very young that I taught her how to play checkers.  I remember that from the time I become an adult that we would frequently walk around the country block near where our grandparents lived and would talk about the goings on of life, and the way that it was so complicated by the behavior of others.  Shortly after I turned twenty-one my grandparents and the widow of a Belizian sugar farmer took us to a wine tasting (a grape juice-tasting for my dear relative) and it was thought that we were a couple from the way we got along.  One time I took her as a date for a ladies’ night and my pastor at the time thought it necessary to announce to the whole congregation during announcements that I was there with my cousin, on account of how struck he–and apparently everyone else–was by my rapport with her.  The fascination other people saw in how I got along with this relative, and with other people for whom I have felt a great deal of love and fondness, has always struck me as more than a little strange.  Did people think that I lacked any sort of emotional longings being a person of deep intellect and more than the usual amount of awkwardness and discomfort?

Being a person with a heart formed for love, I have never thought it necessary to hide or disguise the love I felt for others when I felt it.  God knows I have known too little love in this life as it is.  But I have never viewed the love I have felt as an excuse in acting for my own selfish desires.  I have plenty of selfish desires, have always had more than my share of them, and likely will struggle with them as long as I live and draw breath in this human existence, just like everyone else.  Fortunately, though, my love has always been combined with a regard and a respect for others and a deep horror at coercing others into being mere objects.  I have loved others as subjects far too much to engage in the sort of objectification I find all too common in the world around me, and if that has saved me from a great deal of suffering and torment, and saved others from a great deal of suffering at my hand, then perhaps it has been worth at least some of the complications and unhappiness that has involved my own emotional life.

Famously, the Greeks had at least four words for love.  Our English language seems a bit impoverished in comparison, but we too have plenty of words, it just that the word love itself is a bit too slippery and elusive for the purpose of clarity.  Perhaps this is so because we want it to be.  We could, if we wanted, cut and slice our own complex and even contradictory definitions for love into other words if we wanted to.  We could have a word like storge to describe family affection, phileo to describe the love of brothers and friends, eros to describe our considerable sexual and romantic longings, and agape to describe a self-sacrificial love that few people approach in their own conduct towards God or others.  The fact that we, and I speak here as a native English-speaker with a large vocabulary, do not choose to do so says something about us.  It is as if we know somewhere intuitively that calling something, whatever it is, by the name of love will give it a dignity and a legitimacy that it would deserve if it were called by a more limited and precise term.  Our language is fuzzy because we want it to be.  We do not want clarity, because if we were clear about what we meant we would have to stare into the dark abyss of our own hearts, and be honest with ourselves and others about the limits of what we meant.  That is not an appealing prospect for any of us.

[1] See, for example:








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Book Review: And Still She Laughs

And Still She Laughs:  Defiant Joy In The Depths Of Suffering, by Kate Merrick

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishing.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book is messy in the best way.  Reading this book, which is one of an unfortunately long list of books about dealing with the messiness and brokenness of life by female authors [1], one gets the feeling that speaking to the author would not be unlike reading the book in its honesty and in its forthright awkwardness.  I have somewhat mixed feelings about the rush of books being written by and for people who have been deeply damaged by life.  On the one hand, as someone who has been deeply damaged by life in ways that are painful and distressing, and knowing many people who feel the same way from a variety of circumstances, I am glad that there are books made that seek to comfort people and reach them where they are.  On the other hand, I think we would do well more to point towards the ideal than wallow in the pain and suffering of the real.  This book, like many, reaches us where we are, but there are other books needed to point us to where God meant for us to be.  Perhaps this author, in the future, will write some of them.

In this book’s 200 or so pages with twelve chapters that mix the author coming to terms with the death of her daughter Daisy from cancer and the experience of multiple miscarriages with her own intense biblical study of other notable biblical women like Bathsheba, Mary of Nazareth, Sarah, and Hagar.  The book has an interesting feel to it, in that it is full of vivid discussion of the problems of life from the author’s own experience and observation, told with wit and even sometimes a sense of reckless abandon and also a thoughtful and serious take on notable biblical women and their value as models and comforters to believers.  It goes without saying that this book is written by women, about women, and for women, as are many books that are in my library, but this book is not meant only for women, and there are certainly men who would find a great deal of encouragement in the honesty of the author and her willingness to openly wrestle with the pain and difficulty of life with a fair amount of bravery.

There is a lot to value about this book.  The author clearly has a good authorial voice and a command of her subject matter.  One can empathize with her and how she struggles to overcome grief and bitterness and PTSD.  One can also celebrate the fact that despite her suffering she has a loving husband and two surviving children who bring her great joy, even if they do not erase the pain and suffering and loss that she has experienced.  This book is one that asks some tough questions and in wrestling with God gives encouragement to those who are wrestling with God in their own seasons of divine discontent and trial and struggle.  Indeed, it is surprising how polished this book feels despite the author’s scatological focus and the messiness in many senses of the word of her subject matter.  Be that as it may, as a book that combines biblical study along with elements of memoir, this book is one I can warmly recommend, especially for women looking for encouragement during dark seasons of life.  The author’s honesty and grim determination will likely lessen the burden that many feel in their own periods of grief and sorrow.

[1] See, for example:










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Book Review: Reclaiming The Art Of Biblical Meditation

Reclaiming The Art Of Biblical Meditation:  Find True Peace In Jesus, by Robert J. Morgan

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Thomas Nelson.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.  A free study guide is available for all readers of this book.]

I have been looking forward to this book for quite a while, or at least a book like this one.  As a person with lifelong anxiety difficulties, a subject I write about often [1], I have often come across recommendations for meditation as a way to reduce the high levels of crippling anxiety under which I labor in this life [2].  There are many books that either assume that the reader knows a great deal about biblical meditation or seek to promote Buddhist or New Age meditation, about which I have a great deal of abhorrence given the way it opens up one’s mind to ungodly spiritual influences.  The author here gives a short and straightforward guide to biblical meditation aimed at people like myself who desire more peace and calm in life and have a biblical worldview.  One wonders why there are not more books like this one available, but this is the sort of book to appreciate anyway, given the conditions of our world.

In terms of its contents, this book is very straightforward in its approach.  This is not a particularly difficult or complicated book.  To be sure, application is harder than reading, but the author has an immensely worthwhile approach to his material and this book is a joy to read.  Most of this book is made up of ten short chapters that deal with the subject of biblical meditation, discussing its importance, focusing on God and gaining perspective, seeing ourselves as God sees us, calming our spirit and finding peace, helping us to understand God’s word, gaining insight into God’s will, giving techniques for effective meditation, finding godly success, hiding God’s word in our hearts through meditation and memorization, and a conclusion discussing the benefits of biblical meditation.  After this comes a ten-day meditation guide that gives practical steps and questions to encourage meditation through looking at each word, reading passages in different translations, and doing word studies.  The book closes with a thoughtful set of scriptures to meditate on, acknowledgements, and notes, all of which come in at under 200 short pages.  The book is not only beautiful to read, but its graphical design is beautiful, a sign that those involved really paid attention to making this a worthwhile book in many ways.

To be sure, this book is not perfect.  There are at least a few occasions where the author gets a bit too mystical about the Trinity, as many professed Christian mystics are wont to do on occasion.  That said, for the most part this is a practical guide to how to meditate on scripture based on what the Bible itself says.  There is a wide need for this in our contemporary society, as I am sure I am not the only one in life who finds myself far too burdened by anxiety and stress.  The book’s approach is made all the more better by the author’s own admission of his own struggles with self-doubt and his own knowledge of his lack of preparation for the godly success he wanted out of life, and his awareness of the difference between how God measures success and how the world does.  This is a book that manages, therefore, to answer quite a few concerns in our desire to know God and God’s word better even as we become the way we need to be for God to work out His plans in our lives.

I would like to comment in addition on the free study guide material that is included for download for those who follow the link at the top of this entry and go through the subscription process outlined on the author’s webpage.  The introduction to the short guide (28 pages) shows the author is aware of the intense anxiety of our age and the fact that a how-to guide on meditation was needed.  The guide then includes five sessions which have a consistent format of conversation, content, and conclusion, each of which has important elements of questions, an intense study of God’s word, and application.  The guide as a whole is an effective companion to the book, and one wonders why the author didn’t simply include it in the book, which was fairly short already.  At any rate, while one would wish for more meditation on the law of God, this book is fantastic at providing the practical tips needed to meditate on scripture along with plenty of worthwhile passages to reflect on.  It would be ungenerous not to appreciate this book for being so practical and helpful, and its guide is the same.

[1] See, for example:









[2] See, for example:








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Just Stop Your Crying, It’s A Sign Of The Times

Yesterday afternoon as I was listening to some music to relax at the end of a long day of work, I came across a review of the new Harry Styles single “Sign Of The Times,” which ended up being very positive.  Not entirely expecting this given the reviewer’s reputation, I was curious enough to listen to the song itself, which I found to be a moving piano ballad.  As the sort of person who likes to know more detail [1] about songs, I did some research and saw what Mr. Styles was getting at by writing his lyrics about a mother giving birth to a crying baby while having been told that because of a problem she would not be able to make it.  And so birth and death are combined in the story of the song, which adds layers to the song’s rather non-specific framing.  I think it’s even better of a song when one knows what the singer was going for in his writing and performance.  We’ll see if the song can improve on its spot as #4 on the charts as a debut.  Some people are thinking that the song is not as successful as Zayn’s debut “Pillowtalk,” but whatever its chart position it is a better song and there is something worthwhile about that.

This morning I looked at the news and saw that Aaron Hernandez [2] had apparently hung himself while in prison.  Although he beat a double murder charge, he was still in jail for life for murder.  As someone whose beat as a writer includes suicide, sadly [3], it is worth discussing why this happened with this timing.  Aaron wasn’t going anywhere for a long time, likely for the rest of his life, as a result of his previous conviction, and the elation of beating the rap of murders–whether he committed them or not–would have been followed by the crushing realization that the victory was an empty one.  Perhaps it was too much to take.  Part of the price of being a particularly tormented soul is being interested in the tormented souls that one finds convenient to investigate, and for better or worse there are many tormented souls in my day and age, and in the places that I haunt in my own deeply conflicted existence.  Until my own soul finds its repose, I suppose I will always be interested in such matters.  Perhaps it is a sign of the times, or a sign of the sort of gloomy person I am.

What is the relationship between what we believe about end times and how we live our lives?  Clearly there is some sort of relationship.  By and large, we live in an age without a great deal of optimism.  When we look at our political discourse on either side of the divide in our nation or others, we see a great deal more fear about the other side than we have any particular confidence in anyone.  Even those who by virtue of eschatology consider themselves optimists depend on one of two events happening–either a massive conversion of society to godly conduct or a deus ex machina, including perhaps the literal return of Jesus Christ, in order to save us from ourselves.  We seem invited at every turn to either seek an escape from intolerable existence through some chemical or philosophical means or turn our gaze towards the grim task of surviving one day at a time despite the fact that a great deal of our existence is grim and without a great deal of cheer.

And yet the tune with which we began does at least hint at where we can find courage.  As a fond reader of young adult dystopian literature aimed at people a bit younger than I am, I notice a particular pattern that appears particularly relevant.  The young and tormented heroes of these stories, over and over again, seek to save the world even when they have some awareness that they do not save it for themselves.  We know that there is a terrible price to fighting against the pervasive evil that permeates every aspect of our contemporary existence.  We know, even if we struggle against it, that we are corrupted somehow by living in the times and places that we do.  We know the terrible contest between our noble ideals and our passionate longings.  We reach for glory and honor and stumble into madness and despair, and we know that even if we are able to make a better world somehow with all the help we can find, that we will be scarred enough by the experience that we will not be able to fully enjoy and grasp the joy of that better world because of what we have experienced.  Even if we should live in the flesh until we see a better world tomorrow, we are still ourselves, and we are still faced with the task of being renewed and transformed from within.  What use is it to save the world if we cannot save it for ourselves as well?

[1] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/news/harry-styles-sign-of-the-times-childbirth-rolling-stone-interview-uk-charts-ed-sheeran-streaming-a7690401.html

[2] See, for example:


[3] See, for example:










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Audiobook Review: Louisa May Alcott: The Woman Behind Little Women

Louisa May Alcott:  The Woman Behind Little Women, by Harriet Reisen, read by the author

I must admit, Louisa May Alcott was a writer I grew up reading–in my Florida library there is still a copy of her work Little Men, after all–but she is not someone I knew a lot about.  Like a great many biographies of famous and tragically unhappy writers [1], I found a lot to identify with in this book.  Quite frankly, I found that fact depressing.  I can’t really blame the author for hitting such a personal nerve, not least one that is fairly exposed and reasonably frequently hit by my reading, but I feel it must be noted.  Louisa May Alcott was a writer who longed for freedom and yet was a slave of duty to her family, someone who was prickly but immensely talented, someone who had a great deal of drive but simultaneously struggled with health problems ended up having an early death.  Not only this, but her writing, like mine, straddled the boundary between family friendly and immensely dark, as she had her greatest success writing for a juvenile audience yet also wrote about some extremely dark material under a false name to preserve her reputation as a lady.  It would be hard for a spinster nineteenth century novelist to be as Nathanish as Louisa May Alcott is; it’s rather alarming, in fact.

The structure of this book is relatively conventional in that it follows a chronological order of the life of Miss Alcott, but that life was a lot more odd than I could have imagined.  Born in straightened circumstances as the second daughter of four (just like the March sisters) to an unconventional father (Bronson Alcott) who was one of the leading lights of the Transcendentalist movement and also someone who struggled mightily with mental illness and was a total failure at providing for his family despite his self-education and drive at rising from obscure rural poverty and a stormy and dramatic mother (Abigail May Alcott) who came from the Bostonian elite, this book spends a great deal of its time talking about Louisa’s difficult childhood and young adulthood when she was immensely poor.  The book spends considerably less time talking about her successful career as a novelist, her time as a nurse in the Civil War, and the rest of her life dogged by health problems and difficulties dealing with the demands of being a celebrity.  The book has an unusual structure given that so much of Alcott’s work was due to her own experiences as a poor girl from a rich family with a rich imagination and a strong desire to earn the love of her family through their economic dependency on her writing.  The plan worked, but the ending is an unhappy one with Alcott and her father dying within two days of each other and the surviving relatives feuding over the money left behind.

How is one to rate both this book and the life it portrays.  The author, who did some excellent sleuthing in finding unpublished manuscripts that contained an interview with the last living person to have known the Alcotts still living, does a great job here.  If I am uncomfortable with this book, it is not the failure of the author but rather the complexities of the life of the subject, whose ceaseless and often joyless toil led her to imagine happiness in reincarnation and who viewed her earthly burden as some sort of karmic debt that she had to carry so that she would not have to blame her parents, who deserve a great share of the blame for Louisa’s unhappiness.  Parents should not raise children who feel it is their responsibility to provide for a whole extended family at risk to their own happiness and well-being.  Any family that demands such sacrifices as the price of parental love has screwed up mightily, and that is definitely true of this family.  I listened to this book immensely sad for its subject, and not at all pleased to have found out more about her life.  Biographies, even very good ones, are often overrated, because in finding out more about what drove authors to write as they did, we often find little but suffering and difficulty.

[1] See, for example:





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Audiobook Review: The Man Who Loved Books Too Much

The Man Who Loved Books Too Much:  The True Story Of A Thief, A Detective, And A World Of Literary Obsession, by Allison Hoover Barlett

As it without a doubt that I love books too much [1], it would probably be easy to think that this book was talking about someone like myself.  Thankfully, for me, that is not the case.  This particular book deals with the world of book collecting, and while I collect a great many books, the volumes in my collection, for the most part, would not be the sort of books that would lead one to become an AABA book shop owner nor someone whose obsessive love of collecting books would lead one into prison in most countries (Thailand excepted, sadly).  This book was enjoyable to read as someone whose books are far more practical and far less literary in taste than most of what is discussed here, but given my fondness for purchasing volumes from Abebooks, I suspect I am already at least part of the world that is talked about here given my own dealings with such AABA book shop owners of high repute (some of whom are discussed here).  At any rate, I saw this book as a somewhat tangential but interesting account of other people who are in my world of bookish folk, and it met my expectations and more.

For the most part, this book is a parallel biography of sorts of two men who both share an obsession for books and have tangled over their different view of law and morality.  John Gilke is the book thief, whose inventive means of stealing books through credit card fraud in order to build an enviable collection that would cause others to see him as a cultured and intelligent man.  Ken Saunders, on the other hand, is the dogged bibliodick who hunts down book thieves with grim determination.  The cat and mouse game between the two of them is remarkable, and while the book seller from Utah who is at least nominally retired from his position as head of AABA security is far more appealing, one is struck by the way that books draw such passion from people for different reasons.  Books are discussed for their material value, for their content, for their materiality as objects, for their smell and odd features and for the way that they serve as tokens of wealth and success, and the end result is to show how what make someone an obsessive book thief is a certain narcissism, given the fact that book collectors (and collectors in general) tend to be a fairly obsessive lot of people anyway, although not all of us maliciously so.

There is a lot to like about the book, although some readers may be turned off by the way that the author inserts herself into the story.  As is the case with many books that spring from contemporary journalism, the journalist feels it necessary to insert herself into the story.  Would this have been a better book if it was less personal?  I’m not sure, except that modern journalism has a narcissistic tendency that lends itself to covering other narcissists like the titular book thieving criminal of this particular book.  Speaking for myself, at least, I found the intrusion of the author into the story only slightly irritating, and not enough to mar the compelling story and the world of high end book collectors and wannabes rather well.  For myself, I do not see a great deal of attraction in the sort of first volume collecting that is done by many of the people discussed in the book, but since I read and review mostly pre-publication and first edition material myself I suppose that without any evident desire to enter into such a world that I do so as a matter of course.  Such is the thug life, I suppose.

[1] See, for example:










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An Ambivalent Culture

Being a fairly notable anglophile myself [1], I am listening to an audiobook right now that covers British culture during that awkward period from the mid-90’s to the mid-20’s when I grew up from a teenager to a young adult.  Among the more notable aspects of the book so far (I am about 3/8 through with listening to it at present) is the way it talks about the British as an ambivalent drinking culture.  An ambivalent drinking culture is one that has certain negative stigmas towards drinking and drunkenness but also a simultaneous belief that drinking is a necessary social lubricant for socially awkward and repressed people.  Being a somewhat socially awkward and immensely repressed and restrained person by nature, my own family history involving alcoholism has overwhelmed whatever sort of ambivalence I have towards the personal use of alcohol, although I find myself drawn to songs that deal with the melancholy of drinking and the search for self-medication to overcome at least for a while the feeling of grim despair about intolerable pressures and a life that seems to be going nowhere.

A few years ago, I told a coworker of mine that I was a person of deep ambivalence in my own feelings about people and things.  My coworker did not believe me, for she had seen my own particularly strong feelings expressed through ferocious critique and did not realize that the fierceness of opinions of one kind hid a deep undertow going the opposite direction.  Admittedly, ambivalence is not an easy feeling for me to convey, given that much of my ambivalence in life results from the combination of a strong will to do what is right, even in particularly difficult or unpleasant situations, along with particularly strong longings and feelings that result from painful and unpleasant experiences or that pull me in areas I know to be immensely dangerous.  It is ambivalent to want to do what it right and to be good and to know that one, by nature, is not necessarily a good person.  It is ambivalent to be polite in person and in communication and to feel a great deal of frustration and anger about the behavior of others.  Such ambivalence is at the heart of my own existence.

In many ways, ambivalence is often at the heart of a culture.  Let us, for example, imagine the fiercely patriotic areas of South Carolina and Virginia during the revolutionary generation.  These people risked their life and property in order to seek independence from Great Britain, and some of them wrote moving and poetic speeches and documents defending the legitimacy of their rebellious acts in ways that still inspire patriotic Americans today.  Over and over again, in the face of the corrupt discourse of imperialism and the corrupt domestic politics of Great Britain that allowed for rotten boroughs, the disenfranchisement of “new” cities and colonies and Catholics and the vast majority of citizens, they declared the equality of man.  Yet their fierce rhetoric did not, and certainly does not, disguise their ambivalence in two essential ways.  For one, they desired to be seen and respected as elites themselves, not exactly equal in all respects with the citizens they led.  For another, many of those who spoke out the loudest about freedom were themselves slaveowners who denied the freedom of those who labored on their own plantations and in their own mansions built on the blood and sweat and toil and tears of the oppressed.  Our generation has within it contrary tendencies both to praise the rhetoric and to lament the imperfect conduct of the same esteemed founding fathers of our country.

Whatever our own proclivities when it comes to judging the ambivalence of others, we ought to be sensitive to the fact that all of us live ambivalent lives as a result of being human beings.  We all see ourselves as far more noble and consistent with our ideals than we are in actuality.  We judge ourselves by our intentions and judge others by the results of their behaviors.  We clearly see the flaws and shortcomings in others that we turn away from when looking in the mirror in incomplete self-examination.  Even when we recognize that we have much to be ambivalent about, we have a hard time expressing that complicated package of ambivalence that we may feel.  We are pulled in different directions by different currents, trying to steer our ships and avoid being wrecked on the reefs that surround those destinations we are striving to reach.  Sometimes there are no safe harbors in the storms of life.  How can we be just to ourselves and others in the face of these mixed emotions, and how do we convey those feelings without being cruel or unkind to those whose only fault may be being in the wrong place at the wrong time–too close for us to feel comfortable and too distant to feel intimate?

[1] See, for example:





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Non-Book Review: Norwegian Volunteers Of The Waffen SS

Norwegian Volunteers Of The Waffen SS, by Geir Brenden & Tommy Natedal


Although I do not often have the chance to formally review books about World War II history [1], as Norwegian history is part of my beat as a historian [2], I was greatly intrigued by the opportunity to read and review a book on Norwegian volunteers of the Waffen SS for the Michigan War Studies Review.  Norway’s role in World War II is full of complexity and ambiguity.  Norway was a conquered country that at least attempted to resist the Wehrmacht, and had a healthy partisan movement that required Hitler to put a lot of soldiers on the ground (relative to its scarce population) to preserve Nazi rule.  On the other hand, the experience of Norway in World War II was responsible for adding a particularly ugly word to the English language in quisling and there were plenty of Nordic volunteers for the Waffen SS to die in “glory” on the Eastern front in the horrors of that brutal and ugly war.  To be sure, this is not a volume that will likely hang with pride on many of the families of the soldiers included.  This may be among the rare cases of a regimental history that likely no one who was a part of the regiment would want their service to be remembered.

In looking at this book itself, the book comes with a lot of heft.  The book is composed of more than 500 oversized pages, meaning that this is a book suitable for free weights for many of its readers, myself possibly included.  Most of the book appears to contain photographs of the soldiers who happened to be volunteers.  It is important to note that word, as we are not talking about people who were impressed or drafted into service for a hated regime, but those who, for whatever reason, decided to fight on the side of one of the worst regimes in the dark course of human history.  Whether these people fought for mercenary reasons or belief, these people were volunteers, and not in the sense that they were “voluntarily” removed from a United Airlines flight.  That is a striking and unusual matter to explain and one wonders how these people tried to lay low when World War II ended in disastrous defeat for Nazi Germany and its various puppet regimes.

[1] See, for example:






[2] See, for example:









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Non-Book Review: The Principality Of Antioch And Its Frontiers In The Twelfth Century

The Principality Of Antioch And Its Frontiers In The Twelfth Century, by Andrew D. Buck

One of my favorite parts of being a prolific book reviewer for the De Re Militari is being able to read books on a variety of subjects that I would otherwise find it difficult to read otherwise.  Among the subjects that I have read quite a few books on is the Crusades, which are a lot more fascinating and complicated than is often seen [1].  Among the more important parts of the Crusader realm was the principality of Antioch, a vitally important city going back to Hellenistic times at least, and one of the cities whose reconquest was vital in showing the success of the mid-Byzantine revival under the Macedonian dynasty.  To be sure, there are not going to be many people who care about the borders of a crusader kingdom during the 1100s unless they have a strong interest in Crusader history, but as I happen to be one of those people this is a book I appreciate and will likely enjoy reading and reviewing.

So, taking a quick look at the contents, I see a book that is about 250 pages, including two appendices that, strikingly, are integrated with the rest of the text.  The chapters include materials on the extent of the principality, the rulers of Antioch, central governance and military service, the officers of the principality between 1127 and 201, Lordship (along with another appendix on noble families), the question of whether Antioch was a frontier society, and the relationships between the realm and Byzantium and the Latin East.  The maps appear well integrated with the text and the author does not shy away from using a massive amount of sources to help justify his discussion.  This looks like a short book, but one with a lot of focus and a lot of detail.  Usually, when the subject of the book is this compelling–namely a small part of the history of the Middle Ages in a small part of the Middle East–the results are good.  Here’s hoping that is the case here.

[1] See, for example:









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It’s A Small World After All

For most of today, I was not sure whether I really wanted to write about the day or not.  To be sure, it was a long day, and an interesting one, but I was not sure I wanted to take the time late in the night to write about yet another odd day where I rush from one activity to another [1].  I realized, though, that even if it cost me a bit of sleep it would be worthwhile to write about the weekend when I found myself in one of my fairly Nathanish coincidences, where when I was at dinner with some friends my noisiness about not wanting any bread until 8PM led a total stranger to come over to our table and introduce himself.  As it happens, they were in the booth right next to ours, and after chatting for a bit we found out he was in Cogwa and had a mutual friend in the patriarch of one of the families who appears often (although almost always unnamed) in this blog from their fellow truck driving experiences, and once this happened, I felt that writing about today was fairly inevitable, as I have opportunity to lament or celebrate that my being such a loudmouth tends to make life more interesting than it would be otherwise.  By the time I got home and let said gentleman know about the encounter, the other gentleman had already relayed it to him, which allowed me to have a rare online conversation with anyone from that family.

After that, I saw at least another reason why my day was sufficiently odd to be worthy of comment.  After leaving dinner, I drove home through negligible traffic to do some grocery shopping after sunset for the rest of the week where I could restock with my customary leavened items that I had refrained from eating the last few days.  I was still in my suit and tie, and was shopping as nonchalantly as possible.  Apparently, given the odd looks I got from small children and the way that people seemed to respond to my dress, I was not being nonchalant enough.  When I arrived home I found that I had two books and three cds that had arrived during my sojourn of a few days in the country, and a package full of membership forms for the Naval Historical Institute that I will be passing out at my talk about salvage efforts next month.  That reminds me I have some writing to do soon, as I dislike doing things at the last minute.  I find it interesting how I was given no warning about the package but was expected to know what to do based upon the contents of the package alone.  Apparently mind reading is something that is expected of me.

Mind-reading is apparently something that is expected or at least appreciated in my life, and today was an example of how odd of a turn that is.  For example, it turns out my roommate figured that I had gone for the weekend because I had brought the mail and left the house having locked it behind me, so that he knew I had come home and then left again.  That I judged as a reasonable assumption to make.  Earlier today I was chatting with our choir director before our performance, which appears to have gone well, and she commented that she trusted me to know where to go as far as the choir is concerned, as I was the first one on.  While we were still waiting we managed to have a brief chat about our mutual problems in feeling sick to our stomachs when we eat too much in the morning, which leads both of us to avoid eating breakfast regularly, or at least eating later.  That is an odd thing to have in common with someone, I must admit.  Later on we chatted about a video that had been recommend to me by one of other young people in the congregation, where she referred me to her mother to request it, and also chatted about the open speaking procedures of the Quakers, which she appeared to have a great degree of interest in.  I wondered, although I did not comment, if she feels somewhat envious of the fact that Quakers allow participation from any member in terms of speaking, while our church only has male speakers.  She is a sufficiently serious-minded young woman, that I imagine she could speak as well and be as insightful as many of the gentlemen who speak.  I certainly consider her a peer of mine in terms of her seriousness of thought and sense of wit, and that is not something I say lightly.  Also, somewhat oddly, she seemed heartened by my announcing to our group about five minutes before the afternoon services that I would be heading off to the stage to get ready for the ensemble.  I guess it was about as close to goodbye as her and I ever manage over the course of our unusual interactions.

Nor did that exhaust my odd interactions for the day.  What, after all, can one say about the fact that my name was mentioned by two of the speakers during services for different sermonettes I have given this month [2]?  Or what of the visitor to our congregation from ABC who sat next to me at lunch and somehow managed to compliment me on my tight hugs after the third time we had hugged over the course of that day?  Or what do I say about the interaction I had with a fellow musician after the afternoon services in which she lamented the way her ex sought to string her along with friendly family dinners to pretend as if everything was okay when it was not?  Or what do I say about the fact that at dinner one of the people suggested a trio with my mother and herself and I, which led me to research some songs when I got home to add to my busy schedule with a piece, while I also managed to get the sheet music for a piece where our congregation’s pastor wants me to add an instrumental bridge to give a bit of variety to a piece that would otherwise be pretty monotonous.  Also at dinner, our group reflected on the unpleasantness of dying alone, a thought that horrifies me?  How is someone like myself to sleep well at night when I have so many things to puzzle over, so many odd interactions to ponder, so many questions that remain unasked because I lack the time or opportunity in the face of so much to do and so many places to go and so many people whose behaviors I find as puzzling as they find me.  What does all of this mean?  Surely these things cannot be mere coincidence, or they would not keep happening over and over again.

[1] See, for example:









[2] See, for example:



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