Defence Speeches by Cicero

“I imagine you must be wondering, members of the jury, why it is that, when there are so many leading orators and men of the highest rank present here in court, I of all people should have stood up to address you; for neither in age, nor in ability, nor in authority do I bear comparison with these men who have remained seated.”

So begins, Cicero’s first speech, Pro Roscio Amerino, his first speech delivered in a criminal court when he was a young 26-year-old defence advocate.  While Defence Speeches contains five speeches that Cicero gave during the years 80 B.C. to 52 B.C., this speech is my favourite.  It shows Cicero as a fresh, young advocate, willing to take chances, yet also using his wiles to sway listeners to his point of view.  His rhetoric is at once firm and decisive, yet also almost self-effacing at times, but in an astute and cunning manner that only serves to increase his power.  His client, Sextus Roscius, was, in the end, acquitted of patricide, and this case helped begin Cicero’s journey to rhetorical fame.

The defence speech, Pro Milone, is one of Cicero’s most famous, as he defended Titus Annius Milo against the charge of murdering the tyrant, Publius Clodius Pulcher.  It was an unusual defeat for him, but it is one speech for which we have an independent account from a 1st century scholar, Quintus Asconius Pedianus.  Because of the secondary source, we can target possible inconsistencies in Cicero’s presentation of the facts, which are backed by other evidence.  It is said that because the trial was so politically volatile and emotions so unstable, Cicero had to perform under unusual circumstances.  Ancient sources disagree as to the cause of Cicero’s less than stellar performance (some say threats from Clodian supporters, some say the soldiers stationed around the forum made him uneasy) but the end result was a vote of 38 to 13 of “guilty” and Milo was sent into exile.

In spite of the defeat, Milo did not seem to hold a grudge.  When Cicero sent a copy of this defence speech, written at a later date, to Milo, Milo joking replied that it was fortunate that a speech in that form had never been heard in court because he would then not be enjoying the wonderful mullets in Massalia (Marseilles – his place of exile).

Cicero denounces Cataline (1882-88)
fresco by Caesare Maccari
source Wikipedia

If one is familiar with the history of Clodius, one can only conclude that Milo did the empire a favour by getting rid of him.  Suspected of committing incest with his sister, Clodius employed gangs to terrorize the citizens of Rome and the surrounding country, for his own political and monetary benefit.  In 63 B.C., he was able to exile Cicero for his involvement in the illegal execution of five Catlinarian conspirators, and while Cicero was away, proceeded to demolish his elegant house, attempting to have the ground consecrated to deny any further right to build upon the site.  Upon Cicero’s return, Clodius’ gangster tactics continued, as he regularly had his gangs harass Cicero’s workmen as they attempted to re-build his home.

Also included in this book are the speeches, Pro Murena, Pro Archia, and Pro Caelio, where he defends against electoral malpractice, illegal exercise of citizen rights, and civil disturbance, respectively.

From some of these speeches, the reader is given a window into Rome during its more turbulent times, and one realizes, among the grandeur, learning and sophistication, there is continual political unrest and moral decay, boiling in a cesspool of men grasping wildly for prestige and power. It’s a book that probably should be read in “doses”, but the value of the historical import and the insight into human ambition cannot be underestimated.

The Book of Margery Kempe

“When this creature was twenty years of age, or somewhat more, she was married to a worshipful burgess [of Lynn] and was with child within a short time, as nature would have it.”

The second book of my Well-Educated Mind Biographies Project took me to the turn of the fifteenth century when the Late Middle Ages was morphing into the Early Renaissance.  Margery Kempe, a married women with 14 children decides that her devotion to God eclipses everything else in her life, and embarks on a mystical journey to get as close as she can to His Love and Grace, and to conform her life to His will.  While the narrative is somewhat disjointed, springing back and forth between different episodes in Margery’s life, the reader must decide:  does Margery have a special relationship with God and are her actions spiritually beneficial, or is she somewhat unbalanced emotionally and do her actions have a negative impact on those around her?

While Margery speaks of her devotion to God and of the special protection and attention he sends her way, a repeated theme runs through this book of her unusually shocking weeping and crying, and how her behaviour alienates the people around her.  In story after story, Margery weeps and wails in loud outbursts, a person or the people get irritated with her and, at the least, want her to stop and, at the most, want her imprisoned.  Margery does show a comprehension that her behaviour sows discord with those around her, and does try to moderate her reactions, but is unable to because of the force of feeling for God in her heart; she simply cannot control her response.

At first, like many people Margery met, her weeping and sobbing drove me crazy.  I think in this book she described every incident that she wailed and moaned, and I was soon in complete sympathy with the people who wanted her either run out of town or put in prison.  Yet about mid-way through the book I began to think ………..  How did Margery conduct herself as a person?  What were her traits and how did she interact with other people whom she met in life?  Yes, her life was completely given to God and he was her primary source of love and care and motivation, but the result of that love was her willingness to help and care for people, her desire to see people saved and experience God’s grace like she had, and, surprisingly, her meek yet powerful words that she used against her accusers. Rarely did she respond in kind to their recriminations, intimidation or threats, but with an honest and sincere demeanour, that often would disarm them.  Did she ever hurt anyone with her behaviour?  No, she was simply annoying and, therefore, was it right to ostracize her, berate her and throw her in prison for being bothersome?

Ultimately I felt that this book said as much about the society around Margery, as Margery herself.  Their intolerance for anyone different than themselves, their impatience at her benign behaviour and their lust for vengeance was quite startling, yet when I compared it to our society today, how different was it really?  Don’t we display the same intolerance, the same prejudice and the same narrow-mindedness as the people of Margery’s time?   Are we exasperated or offended by people with different ideas or bothered when people behave differently than we expect?  I think, if we’re honest, we’d be compelled to answer “yes”.

The book also gives fascinating details of medieval life.  While we, as moderns, always tend to think women were oppressed and had no say in how they lived their lives, Margery chose to live apart from her husband, traveled around Europe often in the company of men, and quite forcefully made her own choices about the path her life would take.  Certainly she was occasionally reprimanded by priests or given advice by townspeople that she should behave like a “normal” woman, but the vast majority of people appeared to accept her lifestyle without comment and are much more concerned or annoyed with the quantity of her weeping and emotional distress.

Margery’s amazing perseverance in her beliefs, and her ability to remaining faithful when she is imprisoned, ostracized, mocked and threatened, are what impacted me while reading this biography.  Her lack of anger and her tolerance towards her persecutors is truly heroic.  While I wouldn’t want to be Margery Kempe, and I didn’t agree with all her decisions, I can certainly see traits within her that would be beneficial in my own life, and for that, I have a reluctant admiration for her single-minded faithfulness and unquenchable spirit.

Confessions by Saint Augustine

“You are great, Lord, and highly to be praised: great is your power and your wisdom is immeasurable.”

Book No. 1

Book:  The Confessions of Saint                   Augustine
          Oxford World Classics
            Translation:  Henry Chadwick

I’m starting my Well-Educated Mind Biography Project with possibly the first biography ever written, Confessions by St. Augustine.  Born in 354 A.D. in Thagaste, which is modern day Algeria, Augustine reveals his time as a boy growing up in North Africa, his profession as a teacher of rhetoric, his travels to Rome, his connections with the Manicheans*, and finally his conversion to Christianity.  We, as a reader, are privileged to have a window into his life and internal struggles, as he asks questions about life and God.

*Manicheanism:  a quasi-religion that taught a dualism of everything that is material is evil, and everything that is spirit is good.  Their beliefs caused them to take rather bizarre views of Christian teachings such as:  because God created a material world, he cannot be good; Jesus did not become man because all material is evil, etc.

First Stage of Reading:

What historical events coincide-or merge-with these personal events?
Augustine lived in the Roman Empire during a time of political, social and religious turmoil, which helped him to produce prolific amounts of writing addressing these situations.  

Augustine was born in a century where at the beginning, Christianity was a persecuted religion, yet at the end of the century most people of the Roman Empire were at least ostensibly Christian and Christianity was the official religion of the Empire.  As the church attempted to determine its nature,  there were many disputes among Christians and much of Augustine’s writing deals with these issues.  He also endeavoured to reconcile pagan thought with Christian values, one of the first Latin writers to explore the benefits of pagan ideas as well as assessing their limitations.
Who is the most important person (or people) in the writer’s life?

Perhaps the most important person in Augustine’s life was his mother, Monica.  Her prayers and petitions for him were unceasing and what a wonderful thing for her to see him eventually become a believer.  

Ambrose, the archbishop of Milan, was instrumental in Augustine’s journey away from Manichean belief and towards a belief in God.  Augustine respected his intellect and his influence on Augustine was unequivocal, as he encouraged him to look beyond the literal into the substance of the Bible, and asserted that a deeper meaning could be found there, contrary to what Augustine had learned from his Manichean teachers.  

Saint Augustine in his study (1480)
Sandro Botticelli
source Wikipedia

The Second Stage of Reading:

What is the theme that ties the narrative together?
Confession is the most important word in this work.  It is as if Augustine must confess to make his journey complete. 
What is the life’s turning point?  Is there a conversation?

Well, of course, Confessions is a very long conversation of Augustine’s with God.  But in reference to his conversion, I believe it was more a process.  Augustine himself said that he believed that God was with him and guiding him even when he was living with sin and recriminations.  He also makes reference to not being ready to hear or act on certain convictions, so in retrospect, while Confessions is a conversation with God, it is also the story of his life.  I like this presentation because it makes his life meaningful; even though Augustine at times made poor choices and employed wrong-thinking, none of his life, in effect, was “wasted.”

The Confessions of Saint Augustine
source Wikipedia

The Third Stage of Reading:

What are the three moments, or time frames, of the autobiography?
1.        As a child, forming a poor character by stealing and valuing things that were superficial .  He grew up accepting the social value of using knowledge as an end, rather than as a means to forming good character, yet he could see that there was no fruit in this approach to life.

2.        As a young man, being influenced by friends and being draw into the Manichean beliefs as he searched for meaning in the world.  Augustine seemed to straddle the life of worldly pleasures and the search for a life of  abiding faith.

3.       As a more mature man, finding a way of reconciling God to his intellect, converting to Christianity, discovering joy and peace, and writing his confessions.
Do you agree with what the writer has done?

I absolutely love that Augustine kept searching.  We all get pulled into the world to a certain extent, by technology, materialism, etc. and we all struggle with our human nature.  Augustine’s search for God ended not only in finding Him, but by learning that God had been search for him all-along.  And in the end, Augustine was no longer living for himself but for God, a manner of living that brought such joy and contentment to his spirit.

Saint Augustine & Saint Monica (1846)
Ary Scheffer
source Wikipedia

This book is broken up into two section, the first being Augustine’s autobiography (the first 9 books) and the second being theological & philosophical works (the last 4 books).  With regard to the latter, Augustine’s curiosity and quite astounding intellect can leave his reader going “huh?” as we try to navigate with him through the quite confusing realms of memory & senses, the meaning of time, and the book of Genesis and how it intersects with the Trinity.  In retrospect, the change in tone between these two sections are perhaps not as unusual as they first appear.  In the first nine autobiographical books, Augustine is dealing with the past, yet with the second section, he deals with the present and some of the thoughts that he is reflecting on during his life as a bishop.  These subjects also tie into the material he has already presented:  memory affects his presentation of his past experiences, time relates to the existence of his past recollections, and the chapters on Genesis and the Trinity are reminiscent of his earlier inquiries on how to read the Bible and how to view God.

During my first reading of Confessions, the last few chapters honestly went over my head, but with this second reading, I was able to follow Augustine’s train of thought at least now and then.  I will definitely re-read this book in the future.  There is so much to draw from this great intellect and I still feel that I have only scratched the surface.

Portrait by Phillipe de Champaigne
17th century
source Wikipedia

Favourite Quotes:

“If anyone find your simultaneity beyond his understanding, it is not for me to explain it.  Let him be content to say ‘What is this?’ (Exod. 16:15).  So too let him rejoice and delight in finding you who are beyond discovery rather than fail to find you by supposing you to be discoverable.”

In our present time, where progress counts for so much, how many people would be content with not knowing?  And how paradoxical that a desire for discovery of something unknowable, actually brings less knowledge than “not knowing”.

“There is never an obligation to be obedient to orders which it would be pernicious to obey.”

Further reading: 

The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton (Classic Club Spin #5)

“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadow of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.”

I had heard many stories about Thomas Merton, the “Buddhist Trappist monk” and I was interested in finding out the commonalities he discovered between Buddhism and Catholicism. However, as it turns out, The Seven Storey Mountain is an autobiography of Merton’s early life, before he converted to Catholicism, and covering a few of the years after he entered the Trappist monastery, so I’ll have to search further to read about the Buddhist-Catholic component.  Nevertheless, this book, which was featured in the National Review’s 100 Best Books of the Century, was charming, funny, heart-warming, spiritual, serious, emotional and intellectual.

Born in Prades, southern France on January 31, 1915, and during the First World War, Merton had a somewhat nomadic life as a child.  Perhaps gaining perspective and creativity from his artistic French father and a certain practicality from his American mother, he draws the reader into the book in the first chapter:

“On the last day of January 1915, under the sign of the Water Bearer, in a year of a great war, and down in the shadow of some French mountains on the borders of Spain, I came into the world.  Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born.  That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God and yet hating Him; born to love Him, living instead in fear and hopeless self-contradictory hungers …… My father and mother were captives in that world, knowing they did not belong with it or in it, and yet unable to get away from it.  They were in the world and not of it —— not because they were saints, but in a different way: because they were artists.  The integrity of an artist lifts a man above the level of the world without delivering him from it ……… I inherited from my father his way of looking at things and some of his integrity and from my mother some of her dissatisfaction with the mess the world is in, and some of her versatility.  From both I got capacities for work and vision and enjoyment and expression that ought to have made me some kind of King, if the standards the world lives by were the real ones.  Not that we ever had any money; but any fool knows that you don’t need money to get enjoyment out of life.”  

From Merton’s early life in France, we move with him to America and then, after the death of his mother, his return to France with his father, while his brother, John Paul, is left behind with his grandparents.  When Merton is 13 years old, they move to England, but when his father dies of a brain tumour, he eventually moves to the U.S. again, and finds himself enrolled in Columbia University, on his way to a possible promising professorship.  Yet life intervenes and through various circumstances, Merton finds the church and from there, a personal relationship with God.

Merton was not a man who was searching for an escape from life. Fascinatingly, he did not find the monastery; the monastery found him. Initially, as a young man, his life consisted of university, friends, bars, girls and fun.  Calling himself a true child of the modern world, he was a mirror of its afflictions: selfishness, ambition, irreligion, materialism, etc.   His expectations were to graduate and find employment, as other young men in his situation.  Yet within the social activity and superficial amusements that he experienced as a typical American youth, he nevertheless felt an emptiness that came with an increasingly strong desire to be filled.  Perhaps Merton had tried it all and the only thing left was God.

Merton’s prose is delightful, both beautifully description and harmonious, yet he is also adept at injecting light humour into situations:

“‘France!’ I said, in astonishment.  Why should anybody want to go to France?  I thought: which shows that I was a very stupid and ignorant child.”

And an excerpt from a trip to Switzerland with his family when he was about 11 years old:

“The rest of the time was one long fight.  We fought on pleasure steamers, we fought on funicular railways, we fought on the tops of mountains and at the foot of mountains and by the shores of lakes and under the heavy branches of evergreens ……………. By the time we got to the Jungfrau koch, everybody was ready to fall down from nervous exhaustion, and the height made Bonnemaman faint, and Pop began to feel sick, and I had a big crisis of tears in the dining room, and then when Father and I and John Paul walked out into the blinding white-snow field without dark glasses we all got headaches; and so the day, as a whole, was completely horrible …………… John Paul humiliated the whole family by falling fully dressed into a pond full of gold-fish and running through the hotel dripping with water and green-weeds.”

Merton’s deep understanding of human nature is punctuated by intelligent comments throughout the book.

On school:  “But when a couple of hundred of these southern French boys were thrown together in the prison of that Lycée, a subtle change was operated in their spirit and mentality.  In fact, I noticed that when you were with them separately, outside of school, they were mild and peaceable and humane enough.  But when they were all together there seemed to be some diabolical spirit of cruelty and viciousness and obscenity and blasphemy and envy and hatred that banded them together against all goodness and against one another in mockery and fierce cruelty and in vociferous, uninhibited filthiness.”

On literature:  “A course in literature should never be a course in economics or philosophy or sociology or psychology …….. the material of literature and especially drama is chiefly human acts — that is, free acts, moral acts.  And, as a matter of fact, literature, drama, poetry, make certain statements about these acts that can be made in no other way.  That is precisely why you will miss all the deepest meaning of Shakespeare, Dante, and the rest if you reduce their vital and creative statements about life and men to the dry matter-of-fact terms of history, or ethics, or some other science.  They belong to a different order.”

On capitalism:  “It is true that the materialistic society, the so-called culture that has evolved under the tender mercies of capitalism, has produced what seems to be the ultimate limit of this worldliness.  And nowhere, except perhaps in the analogous society of pagan Rome has there ever been such a flowering of cheap and petty and disgusting lusts and vanities as in the world of capitalism, where there is no evil that is not fostered and encouraged for the sake of making money.  We live in a society whose whole policy is to excite every nerve in the human body and keep it at the highest pitch of artificial tension, to strain every human desire to the limit and to create as many new desires and synthetic passions as possible, in order to cater to them with the products of our factories and printing presses and movie studios and all the rest.”

courtesy of The Thomas Merton Center at Bellarmine University   

Through his writing, Merton’s connection with the outside world was only enlivened and strengthened after he entered the Trappist monastery. Most of his most vibrant and inspirational work was produced while he was cloistered, as if being in the world made him understand it less, but by being removed from it, he gained a greater understanding.  While his post-monastery accomplishments were vast, he initially felt the vocation of a writer in conflict with his vows, but under the urging of his abbey superior, he became a prolific author, producing more than 70 books on spirituality, social justice and pacifism, and The Seven Storey Mountain gained him a world-wide reputation.  He became more interested in inter-faith dialogue and amassed a huge correspondence with a great number of influential people.  In 1968 he attended an inter-faith conference for Catholic and non-Christian monks in Thailand, and, after stepping out of the bathtub in his hotel room, Merton was accidentally electrocuted by touching an electrical fan. He was 53 years old.

Upon its publication, The Seven Storey Mountain won critical acclaim, appealing to a post World War II society looking for meaning and stability.  Grahame Greene had high praise for it, saying: “Is is a rare pleasure to read an autobiography with a pattern and meaning valid for us all.  The Seven Storey Mountain is a book one reads with a pencil so as to make it one’s own.”  By 1984 it had sold 3 million copies, and to-date is in continuous printing and is published in 15 different languages.

The value of a book such as this is that it takes you out of life as you see it from your own perspective.  Like it nor not, society influences our thoughts, our choices, our perceptions and our actions.  We often see situations from one vantage point and must struggle to get a different view.  Merton starts with the familiar, living the status quo, but then takes you out of the normal, the complacent, the mundane, and allows you to see life from a completely different aspect.  The door is open and you are free explore.

I’m looking forward to reading more of Merton’s work.  He examines so many fascinating ideas in so many different areas, and really gets me thinking.  And I actually finished my Classic Club Spin #5 so I’m going to celebrate!  Yay!

A Preface to Paradise Lost by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis does it again.  Not only does he supply enlightening commentary to accompany a reading of Paradise Lost, but he touches on a number of other books and subjects, conveying fascinating information in an extremely accessible narrative.

A Preface to Paradise Lost is a compilation of Lewis’ Ballard Matthews Lectures, which he gave in 1941 to students at the University College of Northern Wales. Lewis’ expertise was Medieval and Renaissance literature, and while reading this book, it is apparent that he is in his element, as he covers not only Paradise Lost but also gives the reader an introduction to the genre of epic and insights into how to read it.

Lewis’ initial chapters — more than one-third of the book — cover epic poetry, both primary and secondary, and he provides numerous examples contrasting the two, from The Odyssey, The Iliad, Beowulf, The Aeneid and, of course, Paradise Lost, to further the readers’ understanding.  Next, in a lecture titled, The Unchanging Human Heart, he deals with how to read a poem (or book), which is perhaps my favourite lecture of all.  How do we deal with the gulf between our era and the author’s?  Do we read only for what is relevant to us, or do we attempt to engage with the author?  Lewis deals with both approaches:

“A method often recommended may be called the method of The Unchanging Human Heart.  According to this method the things which separate one age from another are superficial ……. if we stripped [off the superficialities] …… we should find beneath … an anatomy identical with our own ….. we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate.   

I held this theory myself for many years, but I have now abandoned it.  I continue, of course, to admit that if you remove from people the things that make them different, what is left must be the same, and that the Human Heart will certainly appear as Unchanging if you ignore its changes ……. [thus] our whole study of the poem will then become a battle between us and the author in which we are trying to twist his work into a shape he never gave it, to make him use the loud pedal where he really used the soft, to force into false prominence what he took in his stride, and to slur over what he actually threw into prominence ……….. I do not say that even on these terms we shall not get some value out of our reading; but we must not imagine that we are appreciating the works the old writers actually wrote ……

Fortunately, there is a better way.  Instead of stripping the knight of his armour you can try to put his armour on yourself ………. I would much rather know what I should feel like if I adopted the beliefs of Lucretius than how Lucretius would have felt if he had never entertained them.  The possible Lucretius in myself interests me more than the possible C.S. Lewis in Lucretius …… 

To enjoy our full humanity we ought, so far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times, and on occasion to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed …….. Only thus will you be able to judge the work ‘in the same spirit that its author writ’ and to avoid chimerical criticism.  It is better to study the changes in which the being of the Human Heart largely consists than to amuse ourselves with fictions about its immutability ……….”

Finally Lewis delves into Paradise Lost, but instead of summarizing the chapters, Lewis concentrates on expounding on particular characters and certain themes.  He explores the poem’s theology, hierarchy, Satan, Satan’s followers, the angels, Adam and Eve, unfilled sexuality, and the Fall. Addressing some of the controversies over the poem, Lewis deals with the difficulties with his typical logical summations and a sprinkling of dry wit.  And while mostly praising Milton’s achievement, he does not hesitate to point out perceived flaws in the work, and while doing so, gives the reader a more profound comprehension of the challenges of Milton’s task.

While amazingly thorough, Lewis’ writing is simple, clear and understandable.  His lectures encourage the reader to read critically, and his explanation of Milton’s worldview is not only helpful, but necessary, to gain a good understanding of the poem.  While being very readable, this guide is the definitive “go-to” book for tackling Paradise Lost for readers who want to go in-depth with their study.

Paradise Lost Review

The Story of the Ancient World – Check-In #1

Part One – The Edge of History

In this part we are introduced to the Sumerian king list and the start of their civilization, in essence, how and why kingship was formed.  The various floods stories are covered and how cities grew and formed after this event.  Kings slowly earned the right to rule because of blood ties instead of based on their power and ability.  We learn about the two kingdoms of Egypt and the unification of the two by Narmer (and possibly earlier by The Scorpion King).  In India, around the Indus valley, villages grew into towns.  The first king we know about is wise King Manu, however there are also warnings that the civilization would go into a strong decline.  Around the Yellow and Yangtze Rivers in China, rice was planted, houses grew into villages, establishing four main cultures in the area.  A number of kings invented helpful implements.  There is also evidence that rule here was not dependent on bloodlines, as kingship could pass to peasants or by-pass direct lineage.

Egyptian Pharaoh
source Wikipedia

I am so enamoured of Susan Wise Bauer’s style of writing.  Her prose perhaps lacks an academic finish yet it is so readable and she always inserts grains of interest that set certain historical events in the reader’s memory. Her thoughtful reasoning and dry wit also shine through with comments such as:

” …… historians too often tried to position themselves as scientists:  searching for cold hard facts and dismissing any historical material which seemed to depart from the realities of Newton’s universe …….. But for the historian who concerns herself with the why and how of human behaviour, potsherds and the foundations of houses are of limited use.  They give us no window into the soul.  Epic tales, on the other hand, display the fears and hopes of the people who tell them —– and these are central to any explanation of their behaviour.  Myth …….. is the “smoke of history.”  You may have to fan at it a good deal before you get a glimpse of the flame beneath; but when you see smoke, it is wisest not to pretend that it isn’t there.”

“…… In any case, we should remember that all histories of ancient times involve a great deal of speculation.  Speculation anchored by physical evidence isn’t somehow, more reliable than speculation anchored by the stories that people choose to preserve and tell to their children.  Every historian sorts through evidence, discards what seems irrelevant, and arranges the rest into a pattern.  The evidence provided by ancient tales is no less important than the evidence left behind by merchants on a trade route.  Both need to be collected, sifted, evaluated, and put to use.  To concentrate on physical evidence to the exclusion of myth and story is to put all of our faith in the explanations for human behaviour in that which can be touched, smelled, seen, and weighed:  it shows a mechanical view of human nature, and a blind faith in the methods of science to explain the mysteries of human behaviour.”

” ……  I have chosen to use the traditional designations BC and AD for dates.  I understand why many historians choose to use BCE and CE in an attempt to avoid seeing history from a Judeo-Christian point of view, but using BCE while still reckoning from Christ’s birth seems, to me, fairly pointless.”

So far, an excellent approach and a good overall execution!  I am certainly taking notes!

Source Wikipedia

A Non-Fiction Adventure

Found on Howling Frog Books and hosted by Michelle, this is the perfect challenge for me.  Like the Classics Club, this challenge is over a 5-year period so my challenge dates are December 22, 2013 to December 21, 2018.  You can check out my non-fiction book list on the sidebar.

Here are the guidelines:

  • choose 50+ non-fiction books
  • books must be non-fiction, ie. biography, autobiography, history, memoir, cooking, travel, science, etc.
  • list them at your blog (or on Goodreads or another social media site)
  • choose your completion goal date five years in the future and make not of it with you list of titles
  • come back here and post the link to your list in the linky below
  • write a review (or a short summary) on the book when finished and link it to the title in your list
  • there will be pages posted at the top of the blog for you to link your reviews
  • when you have completed the challenge, come add your link to the COMPLETED CHALLENGES page
  • there will be a blog roll in the sidebar where I will list you/your blog linked to your lists
  • grab the button in the right sidebar and link it back to this blog
  • check out this PAGE which contains links to various online sources with lists of reading ideas
  • this challenge can be crossed over with any other challenge
  • it is mandatory that your list be made in advance so you have something to work towards.

Why is this the perfect challenge?  Because I have a number of non-fiction books that are sitting on my shelves and, although I am interested in reading them, I often tend to default to fiction.  This challenge will get me focussed on an area that I really need to address.  Perhaps this is the perfect challenge for you too!


Day 26 – A Book That Changed Your Opinion About Something

This book really opened my eyes with regard to world politics …… how governments of industrialized nations proclaim they have people’s best interests at heart, but in actuality are driven by power, greed and monetary gain.  While millions of people are being slaughtered in Rwanda, Belgian forces pull out of a school where they are protecting Tutsi people and the people are then massacred; U.S. forces remain stationary at the airport because they do not have orders to leave; and French forces let hundreds of Hutu murders pass through the borders into the Congo …….  Hindsight is twenty-twenty, but one wonders how there was so little action taken to stop this atrocity.  An incredibly sad read.