Archive for Reinhold Niebuhr

2008 Reading Project

Posted in Reading List with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2017 by jaclemens

I joined Goodreads in April 2008 and began adding titles right away to my to-read shelf. These titles were the books I most wanted to read, foremost on my list, and yet some of them can still be found lingering in to-read limbo today. I realized that if I did not rectify this situation in 2017, I will be lamenting – not celebrating – my 10 year anniversary next spring!

Looking back on that first year, I read 44 books, many of them formative for my development as a book buyer. Three books by Michael Chabon (not my first, but it cemented his place as one of my favorite authors); three by Brandon Sanderson (ibid); The Book Thief; American Gods; Wicked; Reinhold Niebuhr and Isaac Bashevis Singer; and The Stress of Her Regard (one of my top ten favorite books), among other great reads. It was a tremendous year of reading for me, so it’s no slight on the books I didn’t get to in 2008.

Since then I have read plenty of books and added plenty more to my to-read list. From 2009 to 2011, I managed to move 20 more of my 2008 books from to-read to read (past tense), so it isn’t as if I forgot about the books that had earlier caught my eye. However, I have made no progress on that subset of books since re-reading The Stress of Her Regard in 2011. I wouldn’t say that I lost interest after three years – or that more appealing books intervened – but, for one reason or another, those books did not fit into my immediate reading plan.

In 2017, I will be reading 1-2 books each month from my 2008 list in order to finish the remaining 18 that have gone neglected for the last six years. I started my project in February with a pair of timely titles: 1984 by George Orwell and The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis. I plan to read a larger amount of new releases combined with other books that haven’t languished as long on my to-read list, but the 2008 books will provide the basis for my reading this year. I don’t anticipate writing a review for every book I read in 2017, but hopefully working through the books I wanted to read back then will help recapture some of the magic of buying and reading books in 2008!

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Holding History in My Hands

Posted in Recommendations with tags , on November 6, 2008 by jaclemens

book-clubThis picture shows me (on the right) talking to my uncle Peter (on the left) about books last summer.  If you look closely, you’ll see that I am holding a copy of The Irony of American History by Reinhold Niebuhr.  Peter studied Eastern European history before becoming a doctor and was already familiar with Niebuhr, so I loaned my copy to another relative at this gathering.  I have already reviewed the book on this blog (see post on 5/6/08), but, in light of the recent historic election of President-elect Barack Obama, I saw fit to recommend it once more!

The Irony of American History review

Posted in Recommendations, reviews with tags , , on May 6, 2008 by jaclemens

I already had on file most of the quote from Reinhold Niebuhr which I used in my last post when I came across The Irony of American History (University of Chicago Press, $17.00) in a spring catalog, so my interest was already piqued. Sagely seizing on that interest, my venerable sales rep Henry J. Hubert sent me a copy to review. I’m glad I chose to order it before I reviewed it, because I can add it to our staff picks shelf immediately.

This is a timely reissue of a book originally published in 1952. Due to Barack Obama identifying Niebuhr as one of his favorite philosophers, attention has once again been directed to the writings of this once influential theologian, and rightfully so. Niebuhr’s purpose in identifying the ironic forces at play in American history is to increase awareness of them, as awareness of irony dispels it. The book collects a pair of lectures Niebuhr delivered in 1949 and 1951 regarding the danger of American polemics which elevated American democracy by vilifying communism. Niebuhr does define the evil traits of communism, but the focus of his lectures was a clarion call to American policymakers to forsake the Messianic complex that developed along with the opposition to communism.

In the one and only creative writing class I took in college, I wrote a short story that involved the Russian mafia presence in Miami. My classmates could have pointed out any one of the multiple flaws and failings of that story, but instead their comments were limited to the fact that the Cold War was over and I needed to update my antagonists from Russians to terrorists. If that was the feeling in the late 90s, how could a Cold War-era book on communism be timely today? Niebuhr deems communism, though officially atheist, as functioning as a fanatical religion, and treats it accordingly. One need only substitute the term terrorism for communism and The Irony of American History comes across as a new release rather than a re-release.

The similarities are uncanny: the folly of a preemptive war, the misguided notion of spreading democracy in totalitarian agrarian nations, and the delusions of a powerful nation believing it is the master of its own destiny are all discussed. In the wake of 9/11, Niebuhr’s speculation that a skyscraper could symbolize the Tower of Babel and thus become a target for destruction is downright eerie. In the book’s introduction, Andrew J. Bacevich refers to Niebuhr as a prophet, and hindsight would seem to concur. Bacevich’s statement that The Irony of American History is the “most important book ever written on U.S. foreign policy” struck me as hyperbole, as it comes in the second paragraph of the introduction, but, although I still wouldn’t agree with it, it wasn’t as much of a sticking point for me after I read the book. It is unfortunate that our current administration is still operating under the influence of ironic forces, but that may change with the next administration, and that is encouraging.

Quote of the Day

Posted in Quote of the Day with tags on May 2, 2008 by jaclemens

“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we must be saved by love. No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or foe as it is from our standpoint. Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”

Reinhold Niebuhr, The Irony of American History