The Leaders We Deserved by Alvin S. Felzenberg (Book Review)

History has the potential to be our tutor in humility. I will not claim any excellence in humility, but I will say that what humility I have is in large part due to reading history.

The Leaders We Deserved by Alvin S. Felzenberg is one of the better historical tutors as it exposes to us not only the lives and actions of our leaders but also the times, controversies, and cultures in which they led.

History can be dull and dry – because the writing makes it so, or the topics are mundane, or because we fail to see what it has to teach us. Yet history can also be exciting and insightful – history teaches us truths like:

  1. Those we judge today as scoundrels or imbeciles are oftentimes our heroes of yesterday.
  2. What seems the only way, the right way, frequently proves the wrong way with the passing of time.
  3. We are greater and worse than those who came before us – leaving us to consider, will we search out the sins of our generation and forsake them or will future generations look back at us in dismay?
  4. We repeat our past with variations. We are not the first to face such a dilemma, nor are we likely to be the last.
  5. People operate within a personal and cultural milieu; their actions are heavily weighted by their experiences and a little more listening, a little more grace, can go a long way towards understanding and appreciating the other.

Lets look at a few examples and I will share some of the lessons I learn from these historical truths:

  1. Anti-immigrant sentiment is not a new phenomenon. John Adams supported and enforced the Alien and Sedition Acts which specifically targeted immigrants. (pg. 258)
    1. Lesson: Anti-immigrant movements are not a new phenomena nor should one dismiss such movements as intellectually crippled, for great minds have supported them.
    2. Question for Consideration: Who were anti-immigration policies focused on? (Hint: Those who now proclaim themselves proudly and truly American were oftentimes the very individuals opposed in the past, e.g. the Irish)
  2. Nor is suppression of freedom of speech a new phenomenon – as John Adams used one of the laws in the Alien and Sedition acts to suppress political opponents. (pg. 258)
    1. Lesson: Freedom of speech has been threatened by great leaders in the past; it is not a new threat, nor does it being threatened mean that we are imminently facing its extinction.[1]
    2. Question: Who else in American history has constrained the rights of American citizens? (Hint: Abraham Lincoln suspended habeus corpus; under FDR during WWII we placed over 160,000 Japanese Americans in concentration camps)
  3. Under Andrew Jackson we were the perpetrators of horrific acts of human rights violations as we manhandled Native Americans.[2] (pg. 261)
    1. Lesson: While we should oppose human rights violations around the world, we should not pretend that we are above such abuses.
    2. Question: What other atrocious acts have been committed under the authority of the United States? (Hint: Look for our purposeful infection of individuals in Latin America with a horrible disease, we are talking 20th century; also some of the regimes we have supported despite their genocidal human rights violations)
  4. Ulysses S. Grant fought for African American civil rights but his endeavors were not lasting enough to offset the foundation of the Ku Klux Klan, which violently enforced segregation and subjugation. It was with 700,000 Southern African American voters that Grant won the election; but, fast forward a short time into the future and African American civil rights would again be suppressed – including the right to vote. (pg. 278)
    1. Lesson: Americans allowed slavery to endure for a lengthy period of our history and when it was ended there was hope of a new equality, but we failed to protect those who were vulnerable and ensure that might didn’t make right…it was our inaction that allowed subjugation of our fellow members of humanity to continue on.
    2. Question: What other sorts of racism surfaced later in American history? Have we seen any recently? (Hint: Look for riots not just in Southern states but Northern as well – I’m looking at you, New Jersey, for one)
  5. There is something to be learned from Ulysses S. Grant whom Felzenberg notes as the only president “to apologize in his farewell message for his personal and policy failings.” (pg. 285)
    1. Lesson: It requires a deeper dive into U.S. Grant’s personality and circumstances to determine whether this apology came from a healthy place and whether it is something to be imitated by others. At first glance, though, we behold a refreshing humility for one of our elected leaders – the ability to admit one’s own incompetence.
    2. Question: What other American leaders have apologized for their actions? What is true about the character of these individuals as opposed to those who refused to apologize or did so in a belittling manner? (Hint: John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan may be a good start)
  6. Under Franklin D. Roosevelt America placed into concentration camps (and thereby abandoned the constitutional rights of) 120,000 Japanese Americans (60%+ were American citizens). (pg. 314)
    1. Lesson: Even if our cause is right we are capable of making grave mistakes that permanently and negatively affect the lives of others.
    2. Question: Have we placed other individuals into concentration camps or otherwise significantly curtailed their liberties? (Hint: Look into the historical treatment of the mentally ill and of those who were ill with HIV/AIDS)
  7. John F. Kennedy, in some ways an astute and successful leader in foreign affairs badly bungled the American-backed invasion of Cuba (pg. 355), and his numerous dalliances with the opposite gender could have been disastrous for national security. (pg. 356).
    1. Lesson: As we consider who will be most careful with our national security it is important to remember that heroes of the past had their great weaknesses as well.
    2. Question: How was John F. Kennedy’s health while in office? (Hint: Look into the consequences of his wartime injuries [WWII] and how this was handled and hidden during his time in office)

What historical books have you read? What lessons have you learned from specific historical events? What questions have historical events raised for you?

  1. [1]Not that I am suggesting we should stop fighting for freedom of speech or be aghast at attempts to deny it, only that in historical context our doomsday predictions are usually not fulfilled.
  2. [2]Some balk at the idea of the United States mistreating Native Americans, insisting this was brought on by their own misbehavior. Even if we were to grant this premise, we would still have committed many acts of atrocious violence against Native American civilians. Sixty thousand Native Americans died traveling the Trail of Tears! (pg. 263) It may also be worth noting that this horrific behavior was opposed by individuals such as American hero, Davy Crockett. (pg. 264)

My Haul: A Short Reading List.

An Estate Sale

Today I went to an Estate Sale in Mendham, NJ. The house was set back from the street, which was a sometimes one-lane road in the middle of the countryside. It was quite beautiful…and the most beautiful part where the thousands of books lining its walls.

The former resident of the house was obviously a lover of classic/contemporary literature, arts, history, and biography. I spent a solid two hours searching the shelves and finally exited with nineteen.

I know, that is a lot of books – but when there are several hundred you want to buy and you leave with less than two dozen, one feels a certain sense of accomplishment.

So here is my haul…Perhaps it will make a fun reading list for someone who shares my interests.

Photo of Bookshelf with Lots of Old Books
Image thanks to Unsplash.

Why I Chose What I Chose

Feel free to jump down to the list itself, but for those who care (anyone?) I’d like to share the reasoning behind my choices.

  1. I focused primarily on historical and biographical books because:
    1. I don’t read much contemporary fiction.
    2. When I read classical fiction I usually use an e-text and turn it into an e-book.
    3. I consider myself too much a beginner in the arts to be able to understand much of what is said in these fields and would rather focus on learning more of the basics.
  2. I chose almost exclusively books that the former owner had read in their entirety (which was obvious by the hand-written notes, underlines, and bookmarks sprinkled throughout).
  3. My primary interests in reading are to (a) understand God and (b) understand humanity. The library was sparse in the former, so I focused on the latter.
  4. Most of these books are historical or biographical, but the way in which I read them remains constant with my primary interests:
    1. Who is God? How do we relate to Him?
    2. Who is Man and Woman? How do we relate to each other?

 

The Selections

Revolutionary War Era

World War II

Other

 

  1. [1]When we record history, we interpret it. We are not objective observers. With humility we acknowledge this and attempt to be self-reflective as we write…but sometimes the reader discovers the author has in fact (or just seems to) slipped into various biases which color the facts unnecessarily.

Man, Myth & Magic Volume 1

Perambulations

When I first venture into a new library I like to peruse the shelves and just get a feel for where everything is and what gems lie in wait for me.

Recently I visited the Mary Jacobs Library in Rocky Hill, NJ. During my perambulations[1] through their facilities I stumbled across the ten volume encyclopedia Man, Myth & Magic.

Editions

John William Waterhouse's Magic Circle (Dec. 31, 1885).
John William Waterhouse’s Magic Circle (Dec. 31, 1885).

Originally published as a series of periodicals in 1970 it was compiled into an encyclopedia in 1983 and 1985 and had further revisions in 1995 and 1997. It is to this most recent edition I refer (unfortunately, there has not been any further updates to this series).

Quality

I wasn’t sure what to expect, volumes of this sort tend to vary widely in quality. Some are reliable, academic works while others are unsubstantiated ramblings. This volume falls more in the former than latter.

Contributors

Its contributors are widely varied and a fascinating lot in and of themselves. A few names I recognized:

  • Roland H. Bainton – Professor of Ecclesiastical History (Yale); author.
  • F.F. Bruce – Professor of Biblical Criticism and Exegesis (Manchester); author.
  • William Sargant – physician in charge of the Department of Psychological Medicine, St. Thomas’ Hospital; author.
  • M.C. Tenney – Professor of Theology (Wheaton); author.

There are brief summaries regarding each author and editor in the book which I found delightful to read in and of themselves.

Bibliography

This first volume contains a bibliography-to-die-for covering the subject material of all ten volumes. A few volumes that stuck out to me at first glance as being potentially fascinating:[2]

  • E.M. Butler’s Ritual Magic (Cambridge University Press).
  • Joan Evans’ Magical Jewels of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, Particularly in England (Gale).
  • C.G. Jung’s Psychology and Alchemy (Princeton University Press).
  • J. Read’s Prelude to Chemistry: An outline of Alchemy (MIT Press).
  • J.C. Baroja’s The World of Witches (University of Chicago Press).
  • H.C. Lea’s Materials Towards a History of Witchcraft (AMS Press).
  • Margaret A. Murray’s The God of the Witches (Oxford University Press).
  • Montague Summers’ History of Witchcraft and Demonology (Routledge & Kegan Paul).
  • H.R. Trevor-Roper’s The European Witch-Craze in the 16th and 17th Centuries (Peregrine).
  • Paul Boyer and Stephen Nisssenbaum’s Salem Possessed: The Social Origins of Witchcraft (Harvard University Press).
  • John Demos’ Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Early Culture of New England (Oxford).
  • R.E.L. Masters’ Eros and Evil: the Sexual Psychopathology of Witchcraft (Penguin).
  • Aldous Huxley’s The Devils of Loudon (Harper & Row).[3]
  • St. Elmo Nauman’s Exorcism Through the Ages (Philosophical Library).
  • Paul Carus’ History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil (Open Court).
  • Richard Emmerson’s Antichrist in the Middle Ages (University of Washington Press).
  • F.R. Johnson’s Witches & Demons in History and Folklore (Johnson N.C.).
  • Jeffrey Russell’s Lucifer: the Devil in the Middle Ages (Cornell).
  • Jeffrey Russell’s Satan: the Early Christian Tradition (Cornell).
  • William Howard Woods’ History of the Devil (Putnam).
  • Reginald Thompson’s The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia (AMS Press).
  • A.L. Herman’s The Problem of Evil and Indian Thought (Orient Bk. Dist.).
  • Wendy O’Flaherty’s The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology (University of California Press).
  • Richard Stivers’ Evil in Modern Myth and Ritual (University of Georgia Press).
  • K. Amis’ New Maps of Hell (Arno).
  • R. Cavendish’s Visions of Heaven & Hell (Harmony/Crown).
  • Kaufman Kohler’s Heaven and Hell in Comparative Religion (Folcroft).
  • Jacques Le Goff’s The Birth of Purgatory (Chicago University Press).
  • John Macculluch’s The Harrowing of Hell: a Comparative Study of an Early Christian Doctrine (AMS Press).
  • Bernard McGinn’s Visions of the End: Apocalyptic Traditions in the Middle Ages (Columbia University Press).
  • James Mew’s Traditional Aspects of Hell (Gale).
  • D.L. Sayers’ Hell, Purgatory (Penguin).
  • H.B. Swete’s The Apocalypse in the Ancient Church (Macmillan).
  • Daniel P. Walker’s Decline of Hell: Seventeenth Century Discussions of Eternal Torment (University of Chicago Press).
  • David Aune’s Prophecy in Early Christianity and the Ancient Mediterranean World (Eerdmans).
  • A. Guillaume’s Prophecy and Divination among the Hebrews and Semites (Harper & Row).
  • E. Howe’s Astrology: The Story of its Role in World War II (Walker).
  • Wilhelm Wulff’s Zodiac and the Swatsika: How Astrology Guided Hitler’s Germany (Arthur Barker).
  • C.G. Jung and R. Wilhelm’s The Secret of the Golden Flower (Harcourt, Brace and World).
  • Carl Jung’s Synchronicity: an Acausal Connecting Principle (Routledge & Kegan Paul).[4]
  • F. Altheim’s A History of Roman Religion (Dutton).
  • Henri Frankfort’s Ancient Egyptian Religion (Harper & Row).
  • W.K.C. Guthrie’s The Greeks and their Gods (Beacon Press).
  • Georgia Pesek-Marous’ The Bull: A Religious and Secular History of Phallus Worship and Male Homosexuality (Tau Press).
  • L. Spence’s Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt (Harrap).
  • George W. Cox’s Mythology of the Aryan Nations (Kennikat).
  • E.A.W. Budge’s The Book of the Dead (Universal Books Company).
  • J.G. Griffiths’ The Origins of Osiris (Argonaut).
  • E.O. James’ The Cult of the Mother Goddess (Praeger).
  • H. Licht’s Sexual Life in Ancient Greece (Greenwood).
  • S.G.F. Brandon’s Creation Legends of the Ancient Near East (Verry).
  • S. Langdon’s The Babylonian Epic of Creation (Clarendon Press).
  • Joan O’Brien and Wilfred Major’s In the Beginning: Creation Myths from Ancient Mesopotamia, Israel, and Greece (Scholars Press).
  • Edward Westermarck’s A Short History of Marriage (Humanities).
  • Philippe Aries’ Western Attitudes Towards Death: from the Middle Ages to the Present (Johns Hopkins).
  • S.G.F. Brandon’s The Judgment of the Dead (Scribner).
  • John Hick’s Death and Eternal Life (Harper & Row).
  • J.M. Clark’s The Dance of Death in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance (Jackson).
  • L.P. Kurtz’s The Dance of Death and the Macabre Spirit in European Literature (Gordon Press).
  • Peter Armour’s The Door of Purgatory: a Study of Multiple Symbolism in Dante’s Purgatorio (Oxford University Press).
  • E.G. Gardner’s Dante and the Mystics: a Study of the Mystical Aspect of the Divina Commedia (Haskell).
  • R.D. Gray’s Goethe the Alchemist (AMS Press).
  • David Bindman’s William Blake: His Art and Times (Thames & Hudson).
  • Ronald Grimes’ The Divine Imagination: William Blake’s Major Prophetic Visions (Scarecrow).
  • Richard Carlisle’s (editor) The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Mankind (Marshall Cavendish).
  • R. Cavendish’s King Arthur and the Grail: The Arthurian Legends and Their Meaning (Taplinger).
  • Sabine Baring-Gould’s Curious Myths of the Middle Ages (Oxford University Press).
  • K.M. Briggs’ An Encyclopedia of Faeries (Pantheon).
  • Basil Cooper’s The Vampire: in Legend, Fact, and Art (Robert Hale).
  • Basil Cooper’s The Werewolf: in Legend, Fact, and Art (Robert Hale).
  • Paul Newman’s The Hill of the Dragon: an Enquiry into the Nature of Dragon Legends (Rowman).
  • W.F. Albright’s Yahweh and the Gods of Creation (Eisenbrauns).
  • Alexander Heidel’s Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (University of Chicago Press).
  • Donald Leslie’s The Survival of the Chinese Jews (Humanities).
  • James H. Lord’s The Jews in India and the Far East (Greenwood).
  • D.S. Bailey’s The Sexual Relation in Christian Thought (Harper & Row).
  • Lawrence Besserman’s The Legend of Job in the Middle Ages (Harvard University Press).
  • James Gaffney’s Sin Reconsidered (Paulist Press).
  • A.D. Nock’s Early Gentile Christianity and its Hellenistic Background (Harper & Row).
  • J.A. Phillips’ Eve: The History of an Idea (Harper & Row).
  • Norman Powell-Williams’ The Ideas of the Fall and of Original Sin (Longmans).
  • Bruce Vawter’s Job and Jonah: Questioning the Hidden God (Paulist Press).
  • I. Engnell’s Studies in Divine Kingship in the Ancient Near East (Allenson).
  • Heinrich Dumoulin’s A History of Zen Buddhism (Pantheon Books).
  • Mary Boyce’s (editor) Zoroastrianism (Barnes & Nobles Imports).
  • M. Anesaki’s History of Japanese Religion (Tuttle).
  • C.H. Gordon’s Ugaritic Literature (Argonaut).
  • M.P. Nilsson’s History of Greek Religion (Greenwood).
  • H.J. Rose’s Ancient Roman Relgiion (Hutchinson).
  • T.C. Allen’s The Egyptian Book of the Dead (Chicago University Press).
  • J.H. Breasted’s Development of Religion and Thought in Ancient Egypt (Peter Smith).
  • E.A.W. Budge’s Egyptian Heaven and Hell (Open Court).
  • J.C. Gibson’s Canaanite Myths & Legends (Attic Press).
  • Brian Branston’s Gods and Heroes from Viking Mythology (Schocken).
  • E.O. James’ The Ancient Gods (Putnam).
  • Gilbert Murray’s A History of Ancient Greek Literature (Folcroft).
  • Slater Brown’s The Heyday of Spiritualism (Hawthorn).
  • C.E. Hansel’s ESP & Parapsychology: A Critical Re-evaluation (Prometheus Books).
  • F. Pdomore’s Modern Spiritualism (E.J. Dingwall).
  • Morton Kelsey’s God, Dreams and Revelation: a Christian Interpretation of Dreams (Augsburg).
  • Leo Oppenheim’s The Interpretation of Dreams in the Ancient Near East (American Philosophical Society).
  • F. Fordham’s An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology (Gannon).
  • Erich Fromm’s The Greatness and Limitations of Freud’s Thought (Harper & Row).
  • E.J. Dingwall’s (editor) Abnormal Hypnotic Phenomena: a Survey of Nineteenth Century Cases (Barnes & Noble).
  • Stefan Zweig’s Mental Healers: Franz Anton Mesmer, Mary Baker Eddy, Sigmund Freud (Ungar).
  • Shane Leslie’s St. Patrick’s Purgatory (Burns and Oates).
  • J. Ancelet-Hustache’s Master Eckhart and the Rhineland Mystics (Harper & Row).
  • Edmund Beaman’s Swedenborg and the New Age (AMS Press).
  • Robert L. Moore’s (editor) Carl Jung and Christian Spirituality (Paulist Press).
  • F. Neilson’s Teilhard de Chardin’s Vision of the Future (Revisionist Press).
  • David Bakan’s Sigmund Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition (Schocken Books).
  • Ernest Bates and J.V. Dittermore’s Mary Baker Eddy: The Truth and the Tradition (Halsted Press).
  • Lawrence Foster’s Religion and Sexuality: Three American Communal Experiments of the Nineteenth Century (Oxford University Press).
  • Handbook of the Oneida Community (AMS Press).
  • H. Henson’s Oxford Group Movement.
  • Tom Driberg’s The Mystery of Moral Re-Armament (Knopf).
  • George R. Scott’s The History of Corporal Punishment: a Survey of Flagellation in its Historical, Anthropological and Sociological Aspects (Gale).
  • George H. Williams’ The Radical Reformation (Westminster Press).
  • Lynn Dumenil’s Freemasonry and American Culture, 1880-1930 (Princeton University Press).

Interesting Articles

Of the articles contained in this first volume I find the following particularly interesting:

  • Aberdeen Witches – Witches in Scotland, what is myth, what is fact, executions.
  • Agrippa – Involved in the occult.
  • Ahriman – The evil god of Zoroastrianism.
  • Aix-En-Provence Nuns – A group of nuns in the 17th century allegedly possessed by demons.
  • Alchemy – Attempts to turn base metals into gold and to perfect the individual.
  • Alexander the Great – The facts and the legend.
  • Angels – From Jewish and Christian belief.
  • Animals – All about their relationships with the spiritual – e.g., those that are sacred.
  • St. Anthony – Experienced apparent demonic attacks.
  • Aphrodite – Greek Goddess of love.
  • Apollo – Greek god, the oracle at Delphi was his.
  • Apple – It’s religious meaning goes far beyond Jewish/Christian thought.
  • Arthur: The Once and Future King – You know, King Arthur.
  • Asmodeus – A demon found in the book of Tobit.
  • Astarte – Queen of Heaven, regularly led Jews away from Yahweh, also known as Ishtar and Aphrodite.
  • Astrology – Predicting the future from the sky.

Grumblings

Overall I was happy with the Encyclopedia, but let me note two areas of disgruntlement.

The more minor involves the section on Astrology, which while decently long was still fairly confusing as far as how the system worked. I could have spent more time in it figuring it out, but I wasn’t that interested.

The more major one is the tendency of some secular historians to recast religious beliefs from their own perspective. I can’t remember where, but at least once (it may have been in angels) I noticed a significant disconnect from what those who practice Christianity would say about a belief and how it was presented.

This sort of playing loose and reinterpreting religious beliefs in a way that is outside what the practitioners of that religion would state as their belief is disconcerting. I don’t mind if it is done with a disclaimer and an explanation of how those within the religion would have viewed the matter, but when the external view is imposed without disclaimer it raises concerns for me – namely, how can I trust that you (the author) are providing me with a real account of other religions? If you cannot represent the beliefs of a major, well-known religion accurately, how do I know you have not misrepresented other, lesser-known religions?

This is a major concern – but it is something found in so many books that I can’t write the volume off for this reason alone – I simply take the article with a grain of salt…kind of like Wikipedia.

This trend seems to be most pronounced among scholarly authors (who, imho, sometimes get too big for their britches) but, thankfully, it appears to be a declining trend (from my subjective experience) – that is, academia seems more inclined to write objectively than it did for much of the 20th century when at least some authors felt the need to reinterpret instead of report.[5]

  1. [1]Yes, I used that word just because it was fun to do so. :P
  2. [2]Okay, I wrote this out largely for my own benefit…in case one day I think, “I really wish I could remember the name of that book on x I thought would be interesting to read.”
  3. [3]Okay, I’m just a sucker for Aldous Huxley.
  4. [4]If you haven’t noticed, Jung fascinates me.
  5. [5]Again, I have no issues with reinterpretation, I am interested in postmodern thought, etc., I only complain when the interpretation given is stated as if it where the de facto interpretation and thus the belief is significantly misrepresented.