Archive for May, 2018

Fatal Discord: Erasmus, Luther and the Fight for the Western Mind

Thursday, May 24th, 2018

By Michael Massing

The Short Take:

This exceptionally lengthy book is well worth the time. It focuses on the Dutch humanist Erasmus and Martin Luther, who was first inspired and later repelled by Erasmus’ writings. It also delves into 1500 years of Christian theology and philosophy, providing readers with exceptional context.


Massing brings a journalist’s in-depth reporting skill and approachable language to what could be an overwhelming subject. That’s especially true for someone like me who had no idea who Erasmus was (though the name sounded familiar) and knew not much more about Martin Luther (beyond the 95 theses nailed to a church door).

Not only did I learn about these two prolific and original writers/thinkers, I was exposed to the people and works that inspired them, the forces arrayed against them, and the other religious reformers they influenced. Massing also writes about the deadly repercussions that arose as a result of their writings, from the individual deaths of heretics to the 100,000-plus peasants who died fighting for a freedom inspired by Luther’s writings.

Massing displays the warts as well as the wisdom of both men. Luther consistently showed the courage of his convictions, but was vile in his written attacks on those who disagreed with him. Erasmus would too often equivocate out of fear for his life. Both had personal habits and complaints that were not admirable. But what great minds!

And, in Massing’s skillful hands, what a great history of Christianity’s first 1500 years as well as the fatal discord between these two titans!

A Little Plot:

That doesn’t really apply here. The book largely alternates its chapters between Erasmus and Luther, taking events in largely chronological order. It also briefly covers how their influences impacted religious belief (and more) up to the present.


What’s with the Proofreading?

Saturday, May 12th, 2018

I cannot remember the last time I read a new book devoid of errors — often glaringly bad ones. Have publishing companies quit hiring proofreaders? What is going on?

I’m not the most careful reader in the world, but I constantly spot mistakes. I’m actually a notoriously poor proofreader (especially of my own writing so no kibitzing about any mistakes you see here) so if I can spot the errors even a casual proofreader should be able to do the same.

I’m not talking about self-published or ebooks either. Even massive best sellers like Dan Brown’s Origin have their share of errors. The publishers don’t need to cut corners on big sellers like that.

So, what’s the excuse? Have the shortcuts in texting somehow had an influence on book editing? Are a certain number of mistakes considered acceptable in a book, rather like the FDA’s acceptance of a certain amount of foreign matter in food? Is it simple laziness? Indifference?

Whatever it is, I know one thing it isn’t: you can’t blame this one on millenials.



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May 2018