History Lesson

Doc: A Novel, by Mary Doria Russell (Random House, 2011)


The Doc Holliday of legend is a gambler and gunman who appears out of nowhere in 1881, arriving in Tombstone just in time for the gunfight at the O.K. Corral. In Doc, Mary Doria Russell casts a fuller story of this “scared, sick, lonely boy, born for the life of a minor aristocrat in a world that ceased to exist at the end of the Civil War, trying to stay alive on the rawest edge of the American frontier.” 

Born to a prosperous Georgia family, classically educated and musically trained, John Henry Holliday (1851-1887) earned the degree of Doctor of Dental Surgery before he was 21. When he developed tuberculosis, the disease that had claimed his mother’s life, he knew exactly what kind of death he faced. In the vain hope that his health would improve in the hot, dry climate of the West, he left Atlanta and everything he loved in 1873 to encounter characters like Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson and gain an indelible place in American folklore.

Historical fiction, if well written, can take a reader inside a character in a way that works of “regular” biography or narrative history simply can’t. The power of the author’s imagination enables the reader to understand and experience the character’s emotions, attitudes, and thoughts as well as actions, so that the character “comes alive” for the reader. Known for her meticulous research and narrative drive, Mary Doria Russell writes historical fiction exceptionally well. The scene near the end where Doc plays Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto on a dance hall piano in Dodge City moved me to tears.

—Rex Matthews
Professor in the Practice of Historical Theology and Wesleyan Studies

Mapping Exile and Return

Beth Corrie, associate professor in the practice of youth ministry and peacebuilding, calls Mapping Exile and Return: Palestinian Dispossession and a Political Theology for a Shared Future by Alain Epp Weaver a “watershed book.” As someone who cares deeply about the impact theology has on the world, Corrie says she was particularly impressed with how the author found a way to draw on theology to address one of the most difficult and intransigent religious and political issues today: justice and peace in the Holy Land.

The Wisdom of PsychopathsJames T. and Berta R. Laney Professor in Moral Leadership Robert Franklin has been reading Kevin Dutton’s “insightful, quirky, and humorous” The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success. Franklin’s class on moral leadership entertains two questions posed by the book: Do the saint and the psychopath somehow constitute two transcendental sides of the same existential coin? And why do people follow toxic leaders? Dutton answers from his perspective as a research psychologist, offering a look into the nature of irrationality and leadership.

Our KidsWall Street Journal review spurred M. Patrick Graham to read Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis by Robert Putnam. The Margaret A. Pitts Professor of Theological Bibliography and director of the Pitts Theology Library reports that the book uses portraits of representative individuals to analyze the current American landscape of societal fragmentation along lines of class. The issues of income inequality and waning possibilities for upward economic mobility “will be of interest to all who see responsibilities for the church in these areas,” he says.

The World of St. Patrick“I am just finishing a small but wonderful book called The World of Saint Patrick,” says Arun Jones, Dan and Lillian Hankey Associate Professor of World Evangelism. The book, edited by Philip Freeman, contains some of the earliest Christian writings of Ireland, including accounts of Saints Patrick, Brigid, and Brendan. Noting that he picked up the volume in his pursuit to read more literature in world Christianity, Jones says that he “found the collection a great delight, as well as a source of personal edification.”

The Hidden History of Women's OrdinationAssociate Professor of New Testament Susan Hylen found The Hidden History of Women’s Ordination by Gary Macy a compelling read. “Most of us have the idea that ordination of women is entirely a modern phenomenon, but Macy’s thesis—which he says surprised even him—is that women were ordained for the first twelve hundred years of Christianity,” she says. Macy draws on a wide range of historical evidence including liturgies, literary references, letters, and inscriptions to suggest that the suppression of women’s ordination emerged in the 11th and 12th centuries. “Accessible and intriguing,” the book reshapes our image of the early church and its relationship to women. 

Being MortalThanks to modern medicine, we are living longer than ever before—but the end of life is still inevitable. When it nears, do current medical practices help or hinder us? That’s the topic addressed in Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, recommended by Dean Jan Love. “My husband and I are at the stage where we’re thinking about end of life issues, both for ourselves and our aging family members,” she says. “This book helps readers focus on what really matters at the end.”

LilaDavid Pacini, professor of historical theology, has been diving into the works of Marilynne Robinson, the acclaimed author who recently visited Candler to participate in the “Prophetic Voices” conference. He recommends her most recent novel, Lila, as well as its companion volume, 2005’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Gilead. “Deep theological thinking often appears in stunning literature,” he says. These two works are exemplars of that. Marilynne Robinson's lyrical, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate).

The Language of HousesAlison Lurie may be better known as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, but it’s a nonfiction book that captivated Ellen Echols Purdum, assistant dean of student life and spiritual formation. She recommends Lurie’s The Language of Houses: How Buildings Speak to Us. Purdum says the book is more about formation than architecture, as “Lurie persuades the reader that the exterior and interior details of buildings—from apartments to grade schools to houses of worship—affect how we feel, behave, relate to others, and grow as human beings.”

A Visit from the Goon SquadJacob Wright, associate professor of Hebrew Bible, calls Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the Goon Squad “stunning.” The cast of interconnected characters with alternating voices, fluid treatment of time and place, and stylistic experimentation are all noteworthy, but Wright was fascinated by something else. “What makes Egan’s writing so compelling is the tension between the said and the unsaid—what I find to be the most important aspect of writing in general and something that makes the narratives of the Hebrew Bible so compelling,” he says.