George R.R. Martin wrote in his book A Dance With Dragons: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
I constantly read and because I try to imagine what I am reading so that in a way I live it. I have been to places that have never traveled to before and on entering them I know exactly where everything is and what happened there. I remember leading a group from my Army chapel in Wurzburg Germany to Wittenberg, where Martin Luther began the Protestant Reformation. As I lef d the group through the town a couple of people asked me how many times I had been there. I told them, “physically, never until today, but I have been here a thousand times before because of books. I saw Wittenberg in my minds eye before I ever saw the city.” They were surprised and both said that it seemed like I had been there many times.
I have had the same thing happen other places that I have visited, and again, it is because I read, and as I read, I imagine and occasionally dream.
I have a huge number of my books in my office most dealing with the history, especially the American Civil War and Reconstruction, the World Wars, and the insurgencies and counter-insurgency wars of the past seventy or so years. I have a lot of biographies, books on American history, military theory, sociology, philosophy, psychology related to war and PTSD, and a few theological works, though most of my theology books are at home because I don’t have room for them in the office.
Coupled with mementos of my military career, other militaria, artwork, and baseball memorabilia the sight and smell can be both overwhelming and comforting at the same time. I hear that a lot from my visitors, including those who come in for counseling, consolation, or just to know someone cares. They tell my visitors volumes about me without them ever asking a question or me telling them, and occasionally someone will ask to borrow a book, and most of the time I will lend them the book, or if I have multiple copies even give it to them.
In a sense my books are kind of a window to my soul, the topics, and even how I have them organized, and they are not for decoration. Many times while I am reflecting on a topic, a conversation, or something that I read in the news I peruse my books and pull one or more out to help me better understand it, or relate it to history.
Likewise my memorabilia is there to remind me of all the people in my past who I have served with. I don’t have all my medals, honors, and diplomas up for everyone to see, instead I have pictures and collages, many signed by people who made a difference in my life. When I see the signatures and often all too kind words on them I am humbled, and in some cases a tear will come to my eye, but I digress…
I always try to read a decent amount everyday. I in the past couple of weeks I have finished reading a number of very good books dealing with different historical dramas. I read Stephen Sears’s Lincoln’s Lieutenants which deals with the high command of the Army of the Potomac during the American Civil War. Sears is a great historian and I really enjoyed the book even when I had a different evaluation of several of the men that he wrote about, but that is one of the fascinating things about history. Historians can evaluate the same literature and come to different conclusions about people or events. In my case with Sears it was with his evaluation of people, not his conclusions about different battles.
I love complex characters, people who may be heroes and at the same time scoundrels. I like the contradictions and the feet of clay of people, because I am filled with my own, and truthfully saints are pretty boring.
I also finished Mark Bowden’s new book about the Battle of Hue, Hue 1968: A Turning Point in America’s War in Vietnam. This was a fascinating read for me because I have read other book about the subject and know a decent number of men who fought in that battle. It too is well worth the read. Before that I read James Robertson’s After the Civil War: The Heroes, Villans, Soldiers and Civilians Who Changed America. This is a good wavetop biographical history of many of the people whose lives were impacted by the war, and who through their heroism or cowardice on the battlefield or off, moral courage or failure, and contributions they made to science, literature, politics, social justice, industry, technology, military art and science were important in making the country that we know. As with Sears’s work I didn’t always agree with his conclusions about certain people, but it is worth the read for anyone desiring to know a bit about a wide range of characters.
With this being the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War I have decided to re-read Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August and Max Hastings’ Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War. I figure that both are good reads with which to reflect on what is happening in our world today, and wondering if world leaders will allow hubris, arrogance, greed, and pride to drag the world into another catastrophic war. Sadly the American President doesn’t read and doesn’t learn from history and for that matter his ignorance is very much a reflection of our culture.
But books are important, far more important than anything that is shouted at you from the television. Barbara Tuchman wrote:
“Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. Without books, the development of civilization would have been impossible. They are engines of change (as the poet said), windows on the world and lighthouses erected in the sea of time. They are companions, teachers, magicians, bankers of the treasures of the mind. Books are humanity in print.”
But anyway, I was late getting this out. So have a great day and a better tomorrow.