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TAC Bookshelf for the Week of October 29

Daniel Larison, senior editor: I’ve been reading The Holy Roman Empire: A Thousand Years of Europe’s Historyby Peter H. Wilson. The Holy Roman Empire was one of the most enduring, adaptable, and significant institutions in European history, but it has had the misfortune of being treated as something of a joke or an anachronism in most modern historiography because its history was so complicated and because later nationalists had no use for it. Wilson’s magisterial work is an important corrective to the dismissive and derogatory treatment of the empire and its place in the history of medieval and modern Europe. The book is not a chronological survey of the empire’s political history, which Wilson concluded would “become unfeasibly long,” but attempts to make sense of broad themes that defined the empire over it’s millennium-long existence. Among other things, Wilson considers the empire in terms of being an imperial ideal, its relationship to Christendom, and its connections to the nations and lands that belonged to it at one time or another. The empire survived as long as it did, Wilson contends, because of the attachments to “corporate identities and rights” that provided legal protection and checked some abuses of power. The book also contains a treasure trove of maps and genealogical charts that make it worth having just for reference purposes. I am still working my way through the book, but it has been very rewarding so far.


Bradley J. Birzer, scholar-at-large: Reading has dominated my world over the past few weeks. Amen. To ready myself for the 100th anniversary of Russell Amos Kirk’s birth, I had the great and glorious pleasure of re-reading several of his short stories, including his masterful “There’s a Long, Long Trail A-Winding,” “Skyberia,” and several that first appeared in the pulp magazine, Fantasy and Science Fiction, from the 1950s and 1960s.  At his best, Kirk reached the imaginative and stylish levels of Ray Bradbury. Writing of which. . . I have also had the equally wonderful pleasure of reading Kevin J. Anderson’s newly released 3-volume collection of short fiction, Selected Stories, broken into Vol 1: Science Fiction; Vol 2: Fantasy; and Vol 3: Horror and Dark Fantasy. While the stories themselves prove delightful, the best parts of the three volumes stem from Anderson’s own biographical reflections on his life and the origins of his ideas which introduce each volume as well as each individual short story. Having written roughly 150 novels (the vast majority of them best sellers), Anderson is—to my mind—the undisputed master of the craft in 2018. At a very different level, I also had the joy of reading a number of pieces written over the past two centuries on the history of history, the writing of history, and the philosophy of history. All of this culminated in a two-day seminar of professional historians sponsored by the venerable classical liberal organization, the Institute for Humane Studies. Led expertly by Drs. Maria Rogacheva and Jonathan Fortier, 15 of us discussed the ideas of Lord Acton, Herbert Butterfield, Kurt Windshuttle, Phil Magness, Michel Foucault (blech!), and Niall Ferguson. An amazing and energizing experience.

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