Reviewed Elsewhere [Vol. 2, #14]

April 3, 2009


ERB Editor Chris Smith reviews
Diana Butler Bass’s  A PEOPLE’S HISTORY

When I was a child my mom used to read me stories of Christian martyrs from an Anabaptist history book called Martyrs Mirror. As I have returned to these often gruesome stories at various stages of my life, I find in them an alternate version of church history that contrasts with the history taught in many churches and schools.

Similarly, in A People’s History of Christianity, Diana Butler Bass has spun another alternate history of the church. Taking inspiration from Howard Zinn’s book A People’s History of the United States, which offers a new slant on U.S. history, Bass presents here a fresh version of church history that stands in contrast to the militant Christianity she calls “Big C” Christianity, in reference to the key elements of that history: Christ, Constantine, Christendom, Calvin, and Christian America.

Read the full review:

Diana Butler Bass.

Hardcover: HarperOne, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $21 ]  [ Amazon ]

Alan Jacobs reviews   The Arcadian Friends:
Inventing the English Landscape Garden

For Books and Culture

Gardening marks, as clearly as any activity, the joining of nature and culture. The gardener makes nothing, but rather gathers what God has made and shapes it into new and pleasing forms. The well-designed garden shows nature more clearly and beautifully than nature can show itself. And this can be a model of politics: people left to their own devices can run riot, make themselves and their environment “ruin’d” and “disorder’d”; properly governed, though, they can flourish, they can become their best selves and make the most of their environment.

But the governor’s hand, like the gardener’s, can fall too heavy. If we grant that Richard has been careless and thoughtless, has failed to govern, has allowed weeds to overwhelm “our sea-walled garden,” we may also suspect this gardener, who is quick to appoint an “executioner” and is perhaps overly enamored with “evenness” in his realm. We need governors as we need gardeners; but not all forms of government are equally wise or equally beautiful.

These are among the themes of Tim Richardson’s delightfully expansive book The Arcadian Friends: Inventing the English Landscape Garden. Richardson explores in apt detail the most eventful and meaning-rich period of English landscape gardening, from the Glorious Revolution of 1688—during which the English and the Dutch collaborated in governing and gardening alike—to the middle of the next century, when Lancelot “Capability” Brown strode onto the scene and made an impression that still dominates our sense of the English made landscape.

Read the full review:

The Arcadian Friends:
Inventing the English Landscape Garden

Tim Richardson.
Paperback: Bantam Press, 2008
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

The NY TIMES of William Julius Wilson’s

When the nation’s first black president took the oath of office, surrounded by the grandeur of the National Mall, it was easy to forget that one of the country’s most isolated and impoverished black ghettos was a few short blocks away. The poverty, violence and hopelessness in America’s inner cities have become increasingly dire in the four decades since the height of the civil rights movement. But as Barack Obama’s victory suggests, racial prejudice is less severe today than ever before. Why haven’t the problems of the ghettos improved along with race relations generally?

Conservatives have a ready answer. Racism is not the problem; instead, a pervasive culture of instant gratification, violence and loose morals — think gangsta rap — keeps poor blacks from enjoying the American dream, not white racists. Liberals have a more charitable, but unfortunately more obscure, rejoinder. Poor blacks today suffer from covert racism, unconscious racism, institutional racism, environmental racism and a host of other theoretically abstruse “racisms” that don’t involve cross-burning white supremacists or crude Archie Bunker-style bigots — and may not even involve racial animus or discrimination. Each side has little patience for the claims of the other. Conservatives reject the idea of structural and institutional racism as an intellectual’s way of playing the race card. Liberals attack any emphasis on the dysfunctional culture of the poor as “blaming the victim.”

In “More Than Just Race,” the Harvard sociologist William Julius Wilson recaps his own important research over the past 20 years as well as some of the best urban sociology of his peers to make a convincing case that both institutional and systemic impediments and cultural deficiencies keep poor blacks from escaping poverty and the ghetto.

Read the full review:

Being Black and Poor in the Inner City

William Julius Wilson

Hardcover: Norton, 2009.
Buy now: [ Doulos Christou Books $20 ]  [ Amazon ]