The first question people ask about the new book 131 Christians Everyone Should Know (Broadman & Holman) is, "Why 131?" I could try to make up something profound and mysterious, but basically the book began as 13 categorical top-10 lists, then it picked up a straggler along the way. Second question: "How does she know that?" Well, as the book proclaims on the cover, it's "From the Editors of Christian History Magazine."

Yes, those tireless editors of CH (or rather ex-editors, as both Mark Galli and Ted Olsen now work for Christianity Today) have produced, just in time for the holiday shopping season, a handy compilation of short biographies in that journalistic style you all know and love. In fact, you've already read one entry—the July 28 Christian History Corner on J.S. Bach was (as we say in the trade) "repurposed" from (as we say in the office) "the 131 book."

In the book Bach appears in the "Musicians, Artists, and Writers" category along with such varied characters as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and C.S. Lewis. The other categories are: Theologians, Evangelists and Apologists, Pastors and Preachers, Poets, Denominational Founders, Movers and Shakers, Missionaries, Inner Travelers (mystics and devotional writers), Activists, Rulers, Scholars and Scientists, and Martyrs.

With 131 biographies in 363 pages, this book has more breadth than depth. Even so, each bio packs a lot of information: a brief timeline, a quote, a quick narrative with anecdotes, and sometimes a portrait image. The brisk pace also introduces some interesting juxtapositions: Holiness leader Phoebe Palmer next to existentialist Soren Kierkegaard, early church father John Chrysostom followed by Puritan preacher Richard Baxter, astronomer Nicholas ...

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