I Like Boring Books

I like to read history books. My college education gave me the great gift of learning to read and appreciate and enjoy “boring” books. I don’t do it as often as I would like, but when I’m not too busy, too tired or too lazy to pick up a good non-fiction, non-theological/devotional book, I love reading history. Specifically American history (although, as you’ve seen, Irish history always piques my interest).

My favorite professor in undergrad gave us the opportunity (actually, he forced us) to read good American historians who took and take their jobs seriously enough to not give in to political bandwagons or patriotic fairytale-isms. I appreciate authors and researchers who guard against their own biases.

If you’re curious, here are two of my favorite American historians and some of their books:

David Hackett Fischer. I’ve read a number of his books, and can whole-heartedly recommend them. Sometimes you forget you’re reading non-fiction.

  • Paul Revere’s Ride. This was one of the first books I read in college, and it changed the way I felt about history classes and their “textbooks.” So worth it.
  • Champlain’s Dream. This one is my favorite (probably of any historical books), hands down. I read it after graduation upon the recommendation of my aforementioned favorite professor, and wow. Just wow. I never enjoyed the history of exploration until this book.

Joseph Ellis. For writing style, I think Ellis is my favorite. He has a very personal and engaging tone in his books that makes whatever he’s writing about interesting.

  • Founding Brothers. This book is amazing!! Basically, it’s a compilation of true short stories about various founding fathers, like the duel between Hamilton and Burr (got milk?).
  • His Excellency. A biography of George Washington. I’ve not read other biographies of Washington, but Ellis just has a funny and fair way with words that makes me fairly confident this would be my favorite.
  • American Sphinx. A biography of Jefferson. Full disclosure: I’m only sixty pages in. But so far, it’s great. I love Ellis’ candor and sense of humor.

There’s my list! Enjoy!

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The Literacy of the Irish

There’s no other way to talk about my other favorite part of How The Irish Saved Civilization than just to quote Thomas Cahill extensively. So here are some the best sentences of the whole book:

“Like the Jews before them, the Irish enshrined literacy as their central religious act. In a land where the old literate civilizations were sinking fast beneath successive waves of barbarism, the white Gospel page, shining in all the little oratories of Ireland, acted as a pledge: the lonely darkness had been turned into light, and the lonely virtue of courage, sustained through all the centuries, had been transformed into hope (p 164-65).”

And more:

“The Irish received literacy in their own way, as something to play with…Within a generation the Irish had mastered Latin and even Greek and, as best they could, were picking up some Hebrew. All this was fairly straightforward, too straightforward once they’d got the hang of it. They began to make up languages. The members of a far-flung secret society, formed as early as the late fifth century (barely a generation after the Irish had become literate), could write to one another in impenetrably erudite, never-before-spoken patterns of Latin…not unlike the languages J.R.R. Tolkein would one day make up for his hobbits and elves… (p 164)”

It just seems that they loved literacy, words, and writing so much that they couldn’t help themselves but to embellish, creating some of the most famous and beautiful written works of literature. And when I say beautiful, I don’t mean well-structured sentences. I mean beautiful — like decorative. Go look up the famous “Chi-Rho” page in the Book of Kells.

I thoroughly enjoy hearing about these funny, country scholar-monks going about their copy work with such gusto. I wish that I was always as enamored with the written word as they were.