Roman Empire

A startling new book on the distribution of wealth in early Christianity

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History as Fantasy

Vanished Kingdoms: The Rise and Fall of States and NationsBy Norman Davies (Viking, 830 pp., $40)  There is a well-worn story that is told in one form or another in all European history textbooks. In 824, ten years after the death of Charlemagne, Agobard, Archbishop of Lyon, hailed a new Christian imperial ambition to unite all the peoples and lands of the Western Holy Roman Empire by reformulating Galatians 3:28: “There is now neither Gentile nor Jew, Scythian nor Aquitanian, nor Lombard, nor Burgundian, nor Alaman, nor bond, nor free.

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Early Enlightenment

The Abacus and the Cross: The Story of the Pope Who Brought the Light of Science to the Dark Ages By Nancy Marie Brown (Basic Books, 310 pp., $27.95) A study of twenty member states of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (recently re-named the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, or OIC—the international body that represents Ummah al Islam, with a permanent delegation to the United Nations) found that between the years 1996 and 2003 those countries spent 0.34 percent of their GDP on scientific research, one-seventh of the global average.

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Stoicism and Us

Marcus Aurelius: A Life By Frank McLynn (Da Capo Press, 684 pp., $30) A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy By William B. Irvine (Oxford University Press, 314 pp., $19.95)   Barbara Ehrenreich’s latest book, Bright-Sided, offers a damning indictment of the ideology of positive thinking, which she sees as the fundamental flaw in American life.

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The End of Empire: Attila the Hun and the Fall of Rome By Christopher Kelly (W.W. Norton, 350 pp., $26.95) Empires of the Silk Road: A History of Central Eurasia From the Bronze Age To the Present By Christopher I. Beckwith (Princeton University Press, 472 pp., $35) The extraordinary reputation of Attila and his Huns requires an explanation, because they had so much competition.

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Hope's Mistakes

  Living Together, Living Apart: Rethinking Jewish-Christian Relations in the Middle Ages By Jonathan Elukin (Princeton University Press, 193 pp., $24.95)  ALL HISTORIES have their sorrows,but those of Jewish history are more studied than most. The chronicles of Israel’s sufferings—the groaning under Pharaoh in Exodus, the Lamentations over lost Jerusalem, Isaiah’s consolations for her captivity—have helped the countless faithful of numerous religions explain God’s puzzling tendency to afflict his followers on earth.

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"Here once the embattled farmers stood And fired the shot heard round the world."  —Hymn sung at the completion of the Battle Monument, Concord, July 4, 1837   The claim in Emerson's line is expansive. Can it be true that the shot was heard round the world—when there were no satellites, no television, no radio, no telephone? Let us see. It then took from five to six weeks for news to cross the Atlantic.

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