Chanticleer, A Line in the Sand, and The Mormon People

Today I have only awesome books to review for you.

Chanticleer and the FoxChanticleer and the Fox by Barbara Cooney

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a treasure of a book! This made it to our house because it is on the Ambleside Online Year 2 free reading list. I can’t think of a better way to introduce my seven-year-old to a bit of Chaucer. Maybe it’s just that I remember my own foray into chicken-keeping so fondly, but I was enchanted by this story of a proud, beautiful rooster who learns a lesson about trusting to flattery. The lovely illustrations really make the book. They are charming, evocative, and reminiscent of the art of the time period. I hope my children like it as much as I did.

A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-1948A Line in the Sand: The Anglo-French Struggle for the Middle East, 1914-1948 by James Barr

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Consummately researched history meets great storytelling in this fascinating book about one of the main causes for the current conflict in the Middle East. In college I took a class on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and I remembered the various contradictory promises made by the British to Arabs and Jews during the Palestine Mandate period. What I didn’t understand before reading Barr’s book was the motivation behind those British actions (and even T.E. Lawrence’s heroics!). A bitter, long-standing rivalry drove British and French policy in the Middle East, from North Africa to the Mesopotamian oil fields, and this book lays bare the whole ugly story.

It was particularly poignant to me to read about the French’s final reluctant abandonment of Syria, since the descriptions of bloodletting and civil strife in Homs and Damascus sounded all too much like current headlines. Barr’s analysis of the British mismanagement of the Jewish and Arab nationalists in Palestine is also pregnant with 21st century consequences.

This is a riveting book for anyone interested in the modern Middle East and its disastrous origins in French and British colonial ambitions.

The Mormon People: The Making of an American FaithThe Mormon People: The Making of an American Faith by Matthew Bowman

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you’re looking for a good, readable synthesis of current scholarship on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, this is your book. Bowman covers 180 years of Mormon history, culture, and theology, from its beginnings with Joseph Smith right up to Mitt Romney’s presidential bid and the current “Mormon moment.” I especially enjoyed the way Bowman contextualized Mormon history within the broader framework of religious movements within the United States. Subtitled “The Making of an American Faith,” this book is really the story of how Mormons went from being a small, marginalized, and persecuted group to a well-established and rapidly growing faith that sees itself as the epitome of traditional American moral and patriotic values.

Bowman dedicates The Mormon People to Richard Bushman, the author of the 2005 biography, Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. The two books read very similarly, although one is a 300-page, two century overview and the other a 700-page biography. Bowman also includes a useful annotated bibliography for those who’d like to dig deeper.

Whether you’re Mormon and want an introduction to more in-depth history than the Sunday School manual provides, or non-Mormon and curious for a peek at the origins and growth of this extraordinary faith, I highly recommend this book.

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photo credit: Moroni