There are some books that one wants to read, and there are others that one reads because they feel an obligation to do so. When I picked up my copy of The Book of Books by Melvyn Bragg it was a case of the latter. I was terribly mistaken. This is a book that any one who calls himself a student of history absolutely needs to read.
The book if fast paced and easy reading and covers a broad spectrum of world history from the late 1400’s to the present detailing the impact that the Bible’s publication in English had on major events of history. Bragg’s specific focus is on the impact of the King James Bible. And the impact is huge.
From the start, the reader is left reeling at the number of major world events that were impacted by men and women who read this specific English translation of the Scriptures and were empowered, either by the Holy Spirit or the sheer beauty of the poetry and prose, to make the world a better place. Sometimes these people’s actions were misguided, as when Biblical references were used to promote war and martyrdom for the state. At other times, though, true good resulted from an individual’s reading of the King James text.
Bragg even points out how the Bible, especially the King James, is being used today by the New Atheists. He spends an entire chapter attacking particularly Richard Dawkins as sorely misrepresenting the impact of the Bible on English speaking people’s. In fact, in so many words, Bragg says that Dawkins is less enlightened than products of the Enlightenment. Apparently, even if Bragg is not himself a Christian, he has very little use for those who try to belittle something that others hold near and dear.
Another interesting thing about the book is that it is not simply a list of dry facts. The book is actually an appeal to return to the King James Bible as the translation of choice for the English speaking world. Bragg has nothing but good things to say about the King James Bible, even when he mentions places where the translation is not the most accurate to the original languages. For Bragg, the beauty and elegance of the language and its accessibility far outweigh translational accuracy because it was through that language that the Bible has been viewed as authoritative by generations of English speaking people.
This book is, as I stated above, a must-read for students of history. But it is also a book to read for any one who says they love the Bible. As important as more easily grasped and understood translations of the Scriptures are, we need to be careful that we don’t take the King James Bible for granted. And we need to be careful that we don’t throw it out in exchange for lesser works. Bragg makes this appeal countless times in the book. If we love the Bible, we will respect its history and we will also respect the work that has gone into earlier translations of the text into our native tongue.
Note: I was indeed asked by the publishers to review this book, but was in no manner coerced into giving it a positive review. I did that of my own choice based on the merits of the book itself.