Books Uncommon and Offbeat

Short reviews of Predestination, The Spartacus War, and How Rome Fell.
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Whatever your views on predestination, you will profit greatly from this thoughtful book by a historian of American religion. Peter Thuesen brings fresh perspectives to bear on this much-contested subject—most notably in tracing the tension not between predestination and free will but between what he calls "predestinarianism" and "sacramentalism." Thuesen writes that, as a historian, he does not "seek to advance a particular theological position." Yes and no. My sense is that ultimately, he affirms predestination as "a mystery before which one trembles and is fascinated, or a mystery that simultaneously repels and attracts."

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The Spartacus War
Barry Strauss


Yes, that Spartacus, the one played by Kirk Douglas in a memorable movie almost 50 years ago, the gladiator who led a daring slave rebellion in Roman Italy between 73 and 71 b.c. Barry Strauss, a historian who writes superbly for the general reader, tells the story in a fast-paced narrative that is deeply informed by scholarship but that never loses its momentum. Christian readers will be provoked to think about Spartacus in the light of another rebel, one of a very different kind, who won victory by submitting to crucifixion.

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How Rome Fell: Death of a Superpower
Adrian Goldsworthy


Adrian Goldsworthy doesn't have Barry Strauss's gift for taut narrative, but he is a historian with many virtues (as readers of his recent biography of Julius Caesar will attest), not the least of which is resolute common sense. It has been the fashion lately in some Christian circles to argue for strong parallels between ancient Rome—figuring here as the embodiment of ruthless imperial power and hubris—and the present-day United States. Goldsworthy's book offers a ...
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