02 October 2012

131 Christians Everyone Should Know

I was really looking forward to reading this book which consists of 131 mini-biographies of famous Christians throughout Church History. In retrospect I suppose I was hoping for more than the book had to offer, because I ended up fairly disappointed.

The preface to the book states that the short 2-pageish bios are intended to be a first step on the road to getting to know and study some of these famous men and women in more depth. Unfortunately, if this is the stated goal, it fails. There are no resources, footnotes, or pointers as to where to go for more info. It would seem that, having done the research, the editors could at least have listed a single good biography at the end of each profile for further study. As it is, all the reader gets is a short, unfootnoted glimpse into a person’s life.

Another problem with the lack of footnotes is that there were some “facts” in the book which I knew to be untrue. The very first sentence in the book which begins the bio of St. Athanasius says that his enemies referred to him as “the black dwarf.” While his short stature was mocked in one or two sources, I happen to know that it was Justo Gonzalez in a 1984 Church History book who coined the term “black dwarf”. It was never used by his enemies in ancient times. Likewise I caught a faux-quotation in the section on Erasmus, and an error on Dante. If I, who am by no means the most educated person in the world, can find these few errors, how many might there be that I didn’t catch? The answer is that I can’t know because the authors didn’t include footnotes or references that I can check out. This lack of sources for further study prevents the reader from being able to check up on the authors and prevents the reader from having any direction for further study.

Finally, the book is arranged according to category. Theologians occupy one section, Movers and Shakers another, Martyrs yet another, etc. In my opinion, it would make more sense to have arranged the book chronologically. There were times near the end of the book when I would run across a person from the early centuries of Christianity and have to trek back through the book to find his or her contemporaries. How much better it would have been to have the entire book arranged like a timeline and have the individual categories as a tab at the top of each bio.

For these reasons, I can’t recommend this book as a good source for information about Church History. It may be nice for casual reading, but it’s not a good jumping off point for teachers or students as the preface claims.

2/5 stars

No comments: