Reviews for ‘What Abigail Did That Summer,’ ‘The History of Christianity II,’ ‘Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon, and ‘Thinking about Religion and Violence’

What Abigail Did That Summer

This is a novella in the ‘Rivers of London’ series. At 230 pages long, it’s a pretty lengthy novella. In this, the recurring character Abigale goes on an adventure, trying to solve a spate of missing children cases. As she’s a child herself, there’s an element of danger to this problem. To address this problem, she has friends: Simon, a special ed kid, and a team of talking foxes.

This is good. It has no massive flaws in pacing, characterization or anything like that. I enjoyed the worldbuilding. But I must admit I didn’t love this. This was no flaw in the book itself, but mine: this book felt like it was targeted to a younger age group than I am a member of. It reminded me of a Diana Wynne Jones book, which is a complement because I like Jones’ books. So if you’re a fan of this series, and you’re in the mood for a low-key story, give this a read.

The History of Christianity II

This is an audiobook lecture series on the history of Christianity. It covers all the major schisms starting with the Reformation and going until the present day. In particular, I enjoyed all the modern lectures- everything from about 1900 onwards. The parts mentioning the Cold War and the modern American/Western Culture Wars was particularly insightful.

Living the French Revolution and the Age of Napoleon

This is another lecture series, but this time on the topic of the French Revolution. It starts before the revolution, in the waning years of the Renaissance, up through the beginning of the Republic revolution, through the overthrow of the Bourbons, into Robespierre’s rain of terror, through the Thermadorian backlash, through the Directory, the downfall of the Republic, France’s difficult relationship with slavery and colonialism, into Napoleon’s two Imperial attempts, and finally the reestablishment of the Bourbons as monarchs of France. I personally enjoyed the discussion of social/cultural upheavals discussed within.

I thought this was simply fascinating. This felt both broad and deep in nature. This might be the longest lecture series I’ve listened to, topping out at 48 half hour episodes. This expansiveness gave the lecturer time to really dive into the topics and explain every factor of the era at least a little. I especially liked the in depth discussion on France’s complicated relationship with colonialism and slavery. France owned the slave state of Haiti, and when the French Revolution happened the slaves were able to argue that France could not really be a place of Liberty so long as slavery was legal. So, eventually, slavery got outlawed… only for that outlaw to be slowly clawed back, as the French government took rights away from people of color, and finally re-legalized slavery under Napoleon. It just goes to show that the past can be as hypocritical as the present.

Thinking about Religion and Violence

This is a 12 hour long lecture series on the topic of the interlinking of the topics of religion and violence. This covered a broad spectrum of topics, from modern and ancient cults, to how political disaffection leads inevitably to extremism, to specific topics like violence in America, India, Israel/Palestine, and al-Qaida in the light of the aftermath of colonialism.

I liked that the lecturer provided a nuanced discussion of the topic, citing that often economic and cultural reasons are the real cause behind religious violence. As demographics change in a nation, people can use trumped-up religious fears as an excuse to discriminate- for example, how people in India who grew frustrated against British rule would take out their frustrations against their neighbors of other religions. However the lecturer is also not afraid to cite how religion itself can sometimes be a source for conflict- for example in the US today, the topic of abortion has at it’s core a purely religious objection.

Similarly, I liked how the use of violence was not always cited as being a wholly evil thing. For example, violence used in defense of a greater good- like the abolition of slavery- can be morally justified (at least in some moral worldviews). While at other times religion was used for the opposite reason; slave holders frequently used religious doctrine to add authority to their slaveholding.

If I were to criticize this, I’d say that the lecturer frequently cited that Buddhism does not frequently support terrorism and violence. I would have liked if the lecturer explored the topic of Buddhist violence more deeply, perhaps going deeper into self-immolation and how the Japanese empire used Buddhist doctrine to support their troops.

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