the Rev's Recent Reading


“Sing to me of the man, O Muse

the man of twists and turns..

Launch out on his story, Muse, daughter of Zeus,

start from where you will,

Sing for our time too”

-Homer, the Odyssey, (trans R. Fagles)


Whatever else may be my faults, it has to be said that I’m an easy person to buy a gift for. Yes, my Dear & Familiars all know that the easiest way to make the Old Rev happy is to give him a book. And if it’s a book that has anything to do with History, then they know that they’re on a winning ticket.

And so it has come about this Xmas season that, despite my protestations I want nothing, I’ve ended up with a truly great haul of reading material. Surely, to have received such abundance, I must be Truly Blessed with a circle of people who love and care for me deeply.

And thankfully also no-one’s been crass enough to give me a kindle or e-book reader or any of that sort of new-fangled nonsense.

I don’t want a Data download, I want a BOOK goddammit! I want something I don’t have to plug in or recharge or upgrade. I want something I can hold and feel and SMELL (mmm, new book smell!). I want something with a fine cover, and an elegant font that I can linger over at my leisure, dreaming over the illustrations, falling asleep with it on my lap like a favourite cat.. And when I’ve read it I want to put it on my bookshelves where I can look at it and gloat over it and refer to it and show it off to friends. The book remains as a tactile artefact in which the Experiance of reading it is forever embodied.

Now I’m not a Luddite and oh yes, the Internet’s a fine place for accessing information quickly and easily, (Wikipedia for example is one of the Modern Wonders of the Technological World), but I can only take so much of looking at a screen, most of my digital reading is in the nature of necessary research. The screen is better adapted for viewing audio-visual content like U-Tube than ploughing thru miles of eye-watering text. Thus most of my recreational reading via the screen is pretty minimal.

For example, I don’t have a copy of Pliny‘s “Natural Histories” so I’m glad I can access it on the Net when I need to, but by the Gods! If I had the choice, I’d so much prefer to actually own a good, hard-cover, leather-bound, ten volume set. (Devotees note;You can take that as a hint if you like).

So anyhoo, I was ecstatic this year with my new acquisitions. (Thank you everyone who cared!!).

Let me share with you the fabulous titles now gracing my shelves.

In no particular order we have:

* “BLENHEIM; Battle for Europe” by Charles Spencer (Phoenix press, Great Britain, 2004)


*”THE LOST BATTLE” by Jonathon Jones

(Simoin & Schuster, Great Britain, 2010)


*”LIVY: The Early History of Rome” by Titus Livy (Penguin, Great Britain, 2002)


*”i am alive and you are dead: a journey inside the mind of philip k dick” by Emmanuel Carrere

(Bloomsbury, Great Britain, 2006)


*”UBIK” by Phillip K. Dick (Gollancz, Great Britain, 2006)


*”THE ODYSSEY” by Homer (Translated by Robert Fagles) (Penguin, Great Britain, 2006)

A great selection indeed. Lets have a closer look at them..


Charles Spencer, better known as “Lady Di“‘s brother has produced a rather good military history of the bloody Battle of Blenheim in 1704, where John Churchill, aka the Duke of Marlborough ended France’s expansionist dreams and helped launch Britain itself on a century of military supremacy.

Spencer believes that Marlborough has unfairly received bad press over the years (Swift called him a “bubble raised by the breathe of kings”), and seeks to redeem his reputation, both as a brilliant strategist and a skilled diplomat, a talented patriot rather than a social-climbing butcher.

Spencer doesn’t just analyse the battle itself with forensic detail (though he does do that to every battle-nut’s satisfaction), but also looks at the logistics that made it possible, the diplomatic wrangling, the international politics and character sketches of the clashing wills and egos of the Ages’ most Powerful Personalities. A fascinating and thoroughly readable book, it is recommended especially to players of Total War‘s popular PC game “Empire” as a tactical manual.



The Lost Battles by Jonathon Oates, on the other hand despite its name, is not really a military history at all, though sieges and weapons of mass destruction do enter into it. Rather, it is an examination of the life-long personal and professional rivalry between Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci. In the process we get an interesting look at the High Renaissance, its culture, politics and personalities. Inevitably also the author feels compelled to speculate on the “mystery” of the Mona Lisa. If nothing else the illustrations confirmed my opinion that while Michelangelo was a genius as a sculptor, as a painter he couldn’t really draw for nuts. Take the Sistine Chapel for example; all those ugly blobby meat people and all his women look like men.

Look at them..they’re all men! Weird.


Speaking of the Weird, we leap now from the Past into the Future with Grand Old Weirdo Philip K Dick’s disturbing science fiction novel “UBIK“. Classic Philip K Dick territory really. Paranoia, conspiracies, shifting layers of reality, sly jokes and some really interesting offbeat speculative ideas abound. Dicks’ unstable universes with alternate realities only a membrane away are the spiritual progenitors to a hundred star-trek episode plots and most of David Cronenberg’s movies, amongst others. Like Lovecraft, Phil had his own distinct brand of paranoia and we see it time and again in such stories and movies as Total Recall, Minority Report and Thru a Scanner Darkly.

The accompanying volume, “i am alive and you are dead”, by Emmanuel Carrere is a well researched and sympathetic biography of the late writer. It is a portrait of a deeply flawed visionary, a creative speculative writer with a bottomless well of Paranoia (exacerbated no doubt by his years of amphetamine guzzling), who ended up, like a character in one of his own novels, ultimately lost between different universes, never quite sure which was the real one. Ah well, at least he made enough money to be comfortable before he died.



The Penguin “Early History of Rome” comprises the first five books of Livy‘s magisterial history of the Roman Republic. Augustus’ favourite imperial historian takes us all the way from Rome’s legendary foundations, when Romulus killed Remus, down to about 390BCE when the fledgling republic was battling for its life against marauding Gauls. Drawing on the work of earlier historians whose works are now lost, as well as sketchy temple records, myths and family fables, Livy’s fascinating account, while often historically suspect, at least shows what the Romans liked to think their history was, which often amounts to the same thing. Ah, as the Poet (me) once wrote,

“For the Past provides a mirror cracked

for presidents and kings,

or a sort of portrait polished by

their tribes of tame historians.”


Well, all these books just discussed were gratefully received and are welcome additions to my library, but I must admit it was my Personal Assistant’s handsome gift of a Penguin Classics deluxe edition of “The Odyssey“, superbly translated by Robert Fagles, that got me most enthused.

The Odyssey and I have a long acquaintance. Before I went to school or could read even, I knew all about Achilles and Troy and the wooden horse and Odysseus and the Cyclops. For, one of my earliest memories is that of a long,hot summer where, each afternoon I would sit on my mother’s lap and listen intently while she read through the entire Iliad and the Odyssey.

I don’t know what edition she was reading from, or why on earth she was reading me such violent, blood-filled tales, but the vivid images from these ancient classics from the dawn of Western Literature were imprinted forever on my young mind.

So it was with great joy that I received this recent translation of the Great Epic, even though I already possessed E.V. Rieu‘s classic 1946 translation. Why? Because Rieu’s translation, whilst possessing a certain grace and clarity, was nonetheless, in the end, a prose version. The Odyssey may be Western Literature’s first novel, but it is also Poetry and it bugged me whenever I read Rieu’s Odyssey that the story was being told in everyday language when somewhere in the back of my head I knew it should be singing. I already had Mr Fagles’ stunning poetic version of the Iliad, so I knew it could be done.

Well, my Personal Assistant must have got tired of hearing me whinge about the subject for now I have the sequel to the Wrath of Achilles; the struggle of the wily Odysseus to defy the gods and return to his home ten years after the Trojan War which forms the Iliad’s backdrop.

Robert Fagles has done a magnificent job in making Homer’s winged words fly once more, 2,000 years later in a strange language. Here is the magic that captured my imagination when I was four years old, skillfully re-told in a formal but fluid poetic style that draws you forever onwards, through all the twists and turns, slowly building momentum as events draw to their inevitable conclusion.

I read all the other books first, saving Homer for last so I might savour this Epic at leisure and immerse myself properly in his world, so I have as yet but dipped my toe in its wine-dark sea. Nonetheless, I believe I can already quite confidently say that Mr Fagles has given us in the modern language, a version of the Odyssey as close to the spirit and form of the original Homer as it is possible to get. A great achievment.

Well, bye for now. I have some reading to do..


“Many cities of men he saw and learned their minds,

many pains he suffered, heartsick, on the open sea,

fighting to save his life and bring his comrades home.

But he could not save them from disaster, hard as he strove-

the recklessness of their own ways destroyed them all,

the blind fools, they devoured the cattle of the Sun,

and the Sungod wiped from sight the day of their return..”

reverends library(north wing)


Plant6 the talk



The Reverend Hellfire, practising Performance Poet and an ordained Minister of the Church of Spiritual Humanists AND the Church of the Universe.

No cash or drugs kept on the premises.


~ by reverendhellfire on January 6, 2013.

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