Five Cities that Ruled the World: How Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London, and New York Shaped Global History by Douglas Wilson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was just jolly fun (fun comes from the Anglo-Saxon, enjoyable probably from Latin, which I know thanks to this book). It takes Jerusalem, Athens, Rome, London and New York and traces the impact that they've had (and are having) upon the world. I was actually quite surprised to find that London and New York (but especially London) were my favorite chapters. I'm typically an ancient history kind of guy, with the cynical and un-Chestertonian theory that anything not here now must have been more interesting than all the stuff that is here now (but I'm getting better). However, the glance through the Puritans, the founding of baseball, the constant fires, et al, was just delightful.
A few of the more priceless snippets:
(On the subject of the ten-year or fewer exile imposed by Athens on various citizens) "When we think of such a brutal custom, and we look at the range of prominent persons in our day who could perhaps benefit from this process, it fills us with a strange combination of civilized disapproval and pagan wistfulness."
"A leading figure in this philhellene movement was George Noel Gordon--the poet Lord Byron. When he came of age, he began leading a seriously dissipated life. This lifestyle had a number of results, but one of them was to create a deep desire to do something worthwhile."
"Abraham Lincoln's great phrase 'of the people, by the people, and for the people' is actually from Wycliffe."
"Those who believe that God predetermines everything are the most likely to think that the king or Congress doesn't predestine anything."
"This is not to say that the war (of American independence) was over purely religious issues. It is to say that religion in that day was understood in such a way as to permeate all issues much more completely."
"One of the comforting things is that in the long run, stupidity doesn't work."
And these are just his. Wilson has so prodigious a knowledge of random sayings and quotations from everyone, Ambrose Bierce to Robert E. Lee, Winston Churchill to Hannibal Barca, that you can count on getting dozens of great little sayings with which you may first impress your enemies, then bore your friends until they also are enemies that you may impress. Unless your friends are like me, in which case they'll listen with rapt attention, copying down the quotes that they might steal them at a later date.
So this book was solidly between a four and a five star read, what with the origins of baseball, the delights of long quotes of Milton, several of Churchill's juicier tidbits, and so, so, ever so much more. Reading this book solely for information would be like attending church for the central heating. It is a delight, and I highly recommend it.
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