The Song of Roland
Published between 1040 and 1115
4000 lines of Poetry
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
The Song of Roland is a French Epic Poem that depicts the Battle of the Pass in 778 between the Spanish Muslims and the Franks.
The story begins in a Mead Hall where Charlemagne is drinking with his knights. There, he explains that he has plans to declare war on the Muslims, and invade Spain unless the Moors convert to Christianity. The messenger, who has to go to the king of the Moors, is embarking on a suicide mission, as the news is likely to enrage the Caliph. All the knights volunteer to go, and even fight amongst themselves over the right to go on the suicide mission. Finally, a knight is chosen, and goes to the Muslim king. He gives the Muslims an ultimatum: convert to Christianity and receive half of Spain, or die by the swords of the Christians. Predictably, the Caliph is enraged, kills the messenger, and war between the Spanish Muslims and Christians begins.
Roland and several other knights, including an Archbishop who apparently fights on a horse, go to an area north of Marseilles to confront the Muslim army. There, they make a last stand defending a pass, and get utterly annihilated. When they realize that the battle is futile, they wonder whether to blow into a horn and alert Charlemagne, but face dishonor or not blow the horn and condemn Charlemagne to death. They compromise, and decided to blow the horn, but fight to the death. Charlemagne and his trips find the bodies of Roland and the others, then annihilates the Muslim.
I learned a lot and enjoyed reading the poem. Most importantly, I learned that Medieval Christians basically behaved like Klingons.
However, I found the language and translation to be incomprehensible without reading the Wikipedia page and using other online resources. It is a very difficult read, and for that reason, I recommend just reading the cliff notes instead.
by the Prophet of God, Mohamed
Published in 632 AD
Thibault’s Score: 5/5
The Koran is essential reading for anyone who wants to understand Muslims and Islam.
A lot of things surprised me about it. First, I didn’t realize how similar it was to the Old Testament of the Bible. The Koran mentions Abaraham, Adam, Jesus, and many other biblical figures. The style of writing is also very similar, at least in the version I read which was translated into English.
Many details shocked me. First, I was surprised the belief in Genies was enshrined in the Koran. There are numerous passages that make it clear that not only do Muslims believe in Genies, but these Genies can go to hell or heaven just like humans.
A lot of things in the Koran seemed very strange to me, a modern reader. For example, there are laws specifying how many vaginal periods a woman must wait before remarrying after a divorce (4) or how many she must wait before remarrying after her husband’s death (3).
Despite what a lot of conservative right wing Western authors have written, I didn’t find the content of the Koran to be particularly more barbaric than the content of the Bible. Like all Abrahamic religions, the focus of Islam is horrible people doing horrible things to good people. The main difference is that Islam preaches self defense of violent survival by any means to its followers, which I think is a good ideal to have.
The Koran has many verses praising the virtues of warriors. There is a quote that roughly translates as “men who displease God and do not fight will be replaced by other men more loyal to God.” The demographic changes in Europe make a lot of sense in this light: weak European men who are afraid of kicking out the Muslims by force are being replaced by Muslims who are strong and unafraid.
I appreciated the ruthless nature of the Koran, and have learned a lot about Islam. I recommend that everybody who is interested in Islam, Muslims, or the Middle East read the Koran and also read accounts of Mohamed’s life written by his followers to put the text into context.
by Frank Viola and George Barna
Published in 2012
Thibault’s Score: 2/5
After reading the first 2 chapters, I put the book down, and quit reading it.
I expected this book to be similar to the many other historical books I had read: focused on a specific historical narrative. Instead, this book is a religious text written by authors who have fringe religious views.
The book’s purpose is not to illustrate a moment in history, and let the reader draw their own conclusions. Instead, it is written with the intention of promoting a Christian cult and “the organic church.”
The author argues that many Christian rituals are adapted from Paganism, and thus shouldn’t be practiced by true believers.
Finally, I noticed that this book had been classified under “Religion and Spirituality” on iTunes instead of “History.”
The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages 400 - 1000
by Chris Wickham
Published in August 2010
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Chris Wickham wrote “The Inheritance of Rome” to create a broad historical overview of the history of Europe and the Mediterranean during the years 400 AD - 1000 AD. As Wickham points out in the first chapter, due to the lack of sources and lack of modern scholarly interest, no other books surveying that period had been written in decades. The Inheritance of Rome is truly broad in scope. It covers everything from life in the late Roman Empire, to the barbarian invasions, to the rise of Islam, to Charlemagne, to the Vikings.
Although I learned a lot from the book, and find the period being studied to be fascinating, I don’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t deeply curious about the period. I found the work to be both too general and broad in scope, but also too specifically focused on addressing the critiques of other modern scholars. Wickham spends a lot of time refuting grand historical theories that I haven’t heard of. For example, he devotes a lot of ink to refuting the notion that the barbarians completely rewrote and “Germanized” Europe. I would have preferred if he would have spent less time refuting other scholars and theories, and more time expanding his own.
The book is incredibly long, as any book covering this period should be. It got quite dull at times, and I found myself frequently lost in the endless tangles of faceless Medieval kings and bishops.
This book also does a great job at covering time periods that are extremely obscure. For example, I enjoyed reading about the rise of Charlemagne. Wickham makes it very clear that Charlemagne was not unique, and was walking in the footsteps of the reformers and conquerers that preceded him.
My most important takeaway from this book is that the series of events that has been labeled as “the fall of the Roman Empire” wasn’t really a fall. There was no clear breaking point with the past. Instead, Roman society slowly evolved into Medieval Europe, and the people living at the time had no conception or realization that the Roman Empire had fallen until Charlemagne attempted to artificially revive the empire.
Overall, I don’t recommend this book to anyone who isn’t specifically a scholar of the period being studied. Combined with my prior knowledge of the period, I enjoyed Wickham’s attention to following the continuity of institutions across the ages. Few books that I have reviewed can so easily be classified as a “3/5,” falling right in the middle of the pack.
In addition to reading books, I also listen to podcasts. Recently, I’ve completed all current episodes of the massive British History Podcast: https://www.thebritishhistorypodcast.com/
But I don’t review podcasts, I review books. So after finishing the podcast, I decided to read three of the Middle Ages texts mentioned by the host: History of the Ruin of Briton, by Gildas, History of the Britons, by Nennius, and The Life of King Alfred the Great by Asser.
I recommend listening to the podcast, then reading these three books. You will gain a very complete picture of the early Middle Ages in Britain, just as I did.
On the Ruin of Britain
Published in the 6th Century AD
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
You can find the complete text of the book here for free:
Gildas is a very readable author (by ancient standards). His text helped give me a clear picture of what kind of knowledge someone inhabiting sub-roman Britain would have of the Roman Empire. It also is one of history’s best remaining sources of history for this period of Britain.
History of the Britons
Published in 828 AD
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
Free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/history-of-the-britons-historia-brittonum-by-nennius/
This book can be seen as an attempt by a later author to copy Gildas and expand on his work. Some segments of the text are clearly paraphrased from Gildas, however this book continues where Gildas left off.
This book also gives an account of King Arthur, who would have, around the time when Gildas lived, have attempted to fend off the Anglo Saxons. It is interesting to note the degree by which Romans has become a legendary figures by the time of Nennius.
The Life of Alfred the Great
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
Free audiobook download: https://librivox.org/alfred-the-great-by-asser/
I found Asser, unlike Nennius and Gildas, to be very difficult to follow. The many names, places, and events I was unfamiliar with confused me. Furthermore, the year by year nature of the events made tying cause and effect very difficult for me. This may have entirely been because I listened to the entire audiobook immediately after I finished Nennius and was getting tired.
Cop Under Fire: Moving Beyond Hashtags of Race, Crime, and Politics for a Better America
by Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr.
Published in February 2017
Thibault’s Score: 3/5
This book is written for conservatives with a circle jerk mindset who are excited at the idea that somewhere there is an African American law enforcement officer who agrees with them on everything. People with less plebeian tastes will likely prefer many of the other books that I have reviewed here on this blog.
The book is ghostwritten by Nancy French. Nancy French (who has a website you can find here: https://www.nancyfrench.com/) has ghostwriter books for all sorts of celebrities such as Sarah and Bristol Palin, some Christian guy who appeared on reality TV show The Bachelor, and Stacey Dash (who is an actress on CSI who gave a speech at CPAC in 2016). Cop Under Fire also hass a foreword written by Fox news daytime host Sean Hannity, who is the most generic milk toast conservative pundit imaginable. Finally, the author is Sheriff Clarke, a former Sheriff in Milwaukee who gave a speech at the RNC in support of Donald Trump.
Clarke starts by telling the reader about his early childhood experiences, and gives many analogies about his hardass Vietnam veteran father. Clarke credits his father with preventing him, despite living in a poor neighborhood, from turning to a life of crime and instead graduating college. Over time, Clarke decided to pursue a career in law enforcement, and slowly rose up the ranks. His experiences as a police officer gave him a strong law and order mentality, and turned him into a reluctant republican.
Eventually, he came to control all of the law enforcement officers in Milwaukee County. During his time at the helm of the force, several racially charged protest movements erupted, criticizing the force’s lack of attention and perceived brutality towards minorities. This allowed Clarke to assert his leadership skills, and help the police force deal with the PR crisis. He never backed down, and always protected his officers.
He also relays his tough attitude towards inmates and prison reform. Under his tenure, he streamlined the local prison. He also began improving inmate discipline by withdrawing more appealing food as punishment, and instead forcing inmates to eat nutraloaf. He also made controversial pro gun ownership educational videos where he urged his constituents to buy guns.
The rest of the book details Clarke’s political positions on a wide range of loosely law enforcement issues ranging from single motherhood, to the welfare state, to the death penalty, and several other issues. As I am writing this review, only days after I finished the book, I have already forgotten the specifics because of the banality of the presented arguments.
I was both pleasantly surprised and thoroughly disappointed. The quality of the writing was surprising considering the initial endorsement by Sean Hannity and the ghostwriting by Nancy French. However, the content was disappointing. I was hoping there would be a lot more specific examples of cases where Sheriff Clarke relayed his experiences as a police officer. Instead, I found a lot of very basic arguments which could have been made much better by the CATO Institute.
The Wisdom of Psychopaths
by Kevin Dutton
Published in September 2012
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
Kevin Dutton does a great job at explaining what a psychopath is and outlining the many circumstances where psychopaths outperform their neurotypical peers.
The brains of psychopaths are structured very differently than the brains of other people. They do not feel the same emotions that neurotypicals feel, and the emotions that they do feel are highly attenuated. This is both a blessing and a handicap.
Psychopaths struggle with finding a sense of morality, and can, if pushed, turn to violence and criminality. This is why many serial killers are psychopaths.
Just because nearly all of the most violent murders and rapists are psychopaths doesn’t mean that the majority of psychopaths are dangerous. Most psychopaths live completely normal and productive lives.
Psychopaths tend to cluster towards society’s extremes: they are both the most dangerous and poor people, along with the most helpful and productive. The world’s top CEOs, surgeons, lawyers, soldiers, and law enforcement officers tend to score high on many tests indicating sociopathy. Their jobs require nerves of steel and a cool unflinching focus.
A lot surprised me about this book. Major religious figures, such as saints, often display sociopathic tendencies. The most focused buddhist monks’ brains look like he brains of psychopaths on MRI scans - they may have, through meditation, turned themselves into benevolent psychopaths.
There is much that we can learn from psychopaths, and Kevin Dutton does a fantastic job of showing what and how we can learn from these incredible individuals.
This is an absolutely fantastic book. It is eye opening, and a must read, especially for people who have experienced anxiety or trouble with emotional control.
Defending the Undefendable
by Walter Block
Published in March 1976
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
I read this book many years ago in high school, and found it to be very interesting. I reread it with my girlfriend while listening to the audiobook on a road trip, and we found it to be educational and amusing.
I have had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Walter Block on several occasions, and have shared many great experiences with him.
Walter Block systematically defends a wide variety of professions commonly looked down upon in modern society from heroin dealers to prostitutes to capitalist pigs to crooked cops. He does a great job at systematically analyzing the following professions from a libertarian perspective with an attention to detail characteristic of autists. Each chapter covers a profession, and can be read without reference to any other chapters in this book.
Some of Walter Block’s defenses annoyed me a little bit because I thought he was ignoring key very convincing arguments. For example, on the chapters defending drug dealers prostitutes, he doesn’t include a preface clarifying that its possible to judge prostitution as immoral without wanting it to be illegal. For example, I personally find heroin dealers, heroin users, prostitutes, and the customers of prostitutes to be morally repugnant and socially undesirable. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that its best for me personally and society as a whole if these activities are legal, and kept behind closed doors out of my sight. There are no laws against cheating on one’s spouse, nor would it be desirable to enact laws against cheating on one’s spouse, however that behavior is rightfully viewed as socially unacceptable. There are ways of discouraging activities through non state means.
The author, Walter Block, doesn’t believe in intellectual property. As a result, readers can freely copy paste whatever they like out of this book and is it for their own ends. This makes Defending the Undefendable excellent for sending isolated chapters to convince family and friends about specific topics. For example, a good friend of mine thinks that drugs should be illegal, so I found the free version published online by the Mises Institute, and sent them the chapter in question.
Link to free online version which includes both the audiobook and full text:
I recommend this book to all highly argumentative libertarians.
One last side note: even though the book is available for free, I have heard that Dr. Walter Block is in a financially precarious situation. If you enjoy the book, please consider buying the audiobook on Audible of buying a physical copy on Amazon to support Dr. Block.
The Trial and Death of Socrates
Published between 399 BC and 348 BC
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
The Trial and Death of Socrates is a collection of dialogs allegedly written by Plato recounting the moments before Socrates trial, the key points Socrates made during his trial, the encounters he had with his followers in prison while awaiting his execution, and his final philosophical thoughts, hours before his death.
Like nearly all ancient texts, it appears to have been altered over time, and written by many authors. The writing style changes abruptly. Some sections are written like a play, with the names of the speakers followed by their dialogs. Other sections are written with third person narrative accounts. Yet other sections are out of context quotes from Socrates. Many modern historians believe that Plato and Socrates are fictional characters, and the events described should not be taken literally.
Instead of reading this text as a historical narrative, it is more important to understand the greater truths being presented by Plato and Socrates.
The arguments made by Socrates and his opponents are timeless and universally applicable. They deeply explore the questions of freedom of speech, mortality, and the obligations one has with his community.
Socrates, despite being an old and haggard man, displays an incredible amount of heroism. He boldly stares down his accusers, and refuses to back down to save his own life. Instead, he chooses to defend reason with his own life. When his dedicated disciples concoct a plan to bribe the guards and sneak him out of prison, he refuses, and argues that remaining in good standing with the law is the morally correct and reputable thing to do.
I really enjoyed reading the Trial and Death of Socrates, and left feeling both culturally enriched and inspired by Socrate’s humble act of bravery.
by Tim Newark
Published in 1985
Thibault’s Score: 2/5
This book is a 1980s Middle School textbook about the barbarian kingdoms that preceded the fall of the Roman Empire. I didn’t really enjoy it for several reasons, although I did finish it.
Barbarians is a non-systematic overview of seemingly randomly selected groups. The descriptions of each groups are all cursory, and rely on historical stereotypes rather than facts. No words of caution are given regarding the authenticity of the sources.
The fact that this passes for a history textbook is a clear sign of the decaying educational system. I read several other Middle School history textbooks from the 19th century which I reviewed elsewhere on this blog, and the level of the discourse has significantly decayed.
Writing a book about “Huns, Arabs, Vikings, and Mongols” is a bit absurd as these groups are unrelated. When children aren’t presented with a clear narrative of history, it gnaws at their ability to create a logical sequence of events that they can understand.
What makes it more of a shame is that the writing style is decent. Sentences are clear, and there isn’t a lot of superfluous text.
The quality of the writing is good, but the content is bad.
Most of my articles are book reviews, but I also write about many other topics.