Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator

082802779x.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator by Gary Land
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The man who came to personify the Review and Herald over 50 years of working on it going from one of the young pioneers to elder statesmen of the Second Advent movement. Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator by Gary Land chronicles the life of this indispensable yet very opinionated man who was influential with Adventist readers around the United States.

Land quickly covers Smith’s early life in New Hampshire including the two biggest events of that time, the loss of his leg at age 12 and his conversion to Millerism. This latter event eventually led to Smith’s joining the then small Sabbath-keeping Adventists led by Joseph Bates and the Whites, the latter Smith would impress when he submitted a 3,000-line blank verse poem about the foundation, rise, and progress of the Adventist movement leading to James White offering Smith a position at the Review and Herald. Smith did everything for the magazine from typesetting to editorials during his early years before James White took a backseat, letting the younger Smith take the lead. Throughout his tenure Smith would constantly cover Adventist doctrines and how present-day events had prophetic implications especially when it came to other Christians attempting to get through Sunday legislation on various levels of government. Yet Smith flirted with controversy throughout his time at the magazine and in denominational work from Battle Creek College to the 1888 Minneapolis meeting to confrontations with the General Conference leadership and getting admonished by Ellen White.

With a text of almost 250 pages, Land is quick and concise in his writing but not in his research as seen in his chapter endnotes. While the reader does get a very informative look at Smith’s life, there seems to be a rushed feeling with the biography. Unfortunately, this seems to be a consequence of Land working between cancer treatments to complete this and two other historical works that he finished just before his death.

Uriah Smith: Apologist and Biblical Commentator is the first biography of its kind in over 35 years through with a different perspective than previous books. Gary Land’s informative and concise wording gives the reader a better look at the man whose name is known in Adventist circles but his life is not.

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times

1400030722.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Considered by some the most dangerous man to be President and others as one of their own that deserved the office, he ushered in a sea change in Washington and American politics. Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times by H.W. Brands follows the future President of the United States from his birth in the South Carolina backcountry to frontier town of Nashville to the battlefields of the Old Southwest then finally to the White House and how he gave his name to an era of American history.

Brands begins with a Jackson family history first from Scotland to Ulster then to the Piedmont region of the Carolina where his aunts and uncles had pioneered before his own parents immigrated. Fatherless from birth, Jackson’s childhood was intertwined with issues between the American colonies and Britain then eventually the Revolutionary War that the 13-year old Jackson participated in as a militia scout and guerilla fighter before his capture and illness while a POW. After the death of the rest of his family at the end of the war through illness, a young Jackson eventually went into law becoming one of the few “backcountry” lawyers in western North Carolina—including Tennessee which was claimed by North Carolina—before moving to Nashville and eventually becoming one of the founders of the state of Tennessee and become one of it’s most important military and political figures especially with his marriage to Rachel Donelson. Eventually Jackson’s status as the major general of the Tennessee militia led him to first fight the Creek War—part of the overall War of 1812—then after the successful conclusion of the campaign was made a major general of the regular army in charge of the defending New Orleans from British attack which ultimately culminated in the famous 1815 battle that occurred after the signing of the peace treaty in Ghent. As “the” military hero of the war, Jackson’s political capital grew throughout the Monroe administration even with his controversial invasion of Florida against the Seminole. After becoming the first U.S. Governor of Florida, Jackson left the army and eventually saw his prospects rise for the Presidency to succeed Monroe leading to the four-way Presidential contest of 1824 which saw Jackson win both the popular vote and plurality of electoral college votes but lose in the House to John Quincy Adams. The campaign for 1828 began almost immediately and by the time of the vote the result wasn’t in doubt. Jackson’s time in the White House was focused on the Peggy Eaton affair, the battle over Bank of the United States, the Nullification Crisis with South Carolina, Indian relations, and finally what was happening in Texas. After his time in office, Jackson struggled keeping his estate out of debt and kept up with the events of around the country until his death.

In addition to focusing on Jackson’s life, Brands make sure to give background to the events that he would eventually be crucial part of. Throughout the book Brands keeps three issues prominent: Unionism, slavery, and Indian relations that dominated Jackson’s life and/or political thoughts. While Brands hits hard Jackson’s belief in the Union and is nuanced when it comes with slavery, the relations with Indians is well done in some areas and fails in some (most notably the “Trail of Tears”). This is not a biography focused primarily on Jackson’s time in the White House and thus Brands only focused on the big issues that is primarily focused on schools instead of an intense dive into his eight years.

Andrew Jackson: His Life and Times is a informative look into the life of the seventh President of the United States and what was happening in the United States throughout his nearly eight decades of life. H.W. Brands’ writing style is given to very easy reading and his research provides very good information for both general and history specific readers, though he does hedge in some areas. Overall a very good biography.

The Twelve Caesars

0140449213.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

For the past two millennia Caesar has denoted the absolute ruler of an empire, a legacy of one man who ruled Rome and the men who succeeded him and used his name. The Twelve Caesars by Suetonius gives biographical sketches of the men who ruled the Western world for a century and a half, from the end of the Republic to the death of Domitian.

Each of Suetonius’ biographies follow the similar pattern in which the individual’s heritage, political-military career, private lives, personal habits, and physical appearance. Though the pattern is the same, Suetonius’ style is to slowly weave in elements of one section into another—except for physical appearance—thus not breaking a nice flow for the reader. As the main source of Caligula (Gaius in the text), Claudius, and Vespasian’s family history, Suetonius not only adds on top of Tacitus but covers what was lost from his contemporary’s works. Yet unlike Tacitus, gossip and innuendo features a lot in the work making this book a little bit racy compared to Suetonius’ contemporary.

The translation by Robert Graves—of I, Claudius fame—was wonderfully done and did a lot to give the text a great flow. Of Suetonius’ text the overwhelming use of portents and omens was a bit too much at times, though given the time period of the historian’s life this superstitious view was a part of everyday life.

The Twelve Caesars gives another view of the men who ruled the Western world. Suetonius’ writing style and subject matter contrast with Tacitus but only for the better for the reader of both who get a full picture of the individuals the two contemporary historians cover.

J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers

0828026629.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers by Brian Eugene Strayer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An Advent preacher when he joined the embryonic Seventh-day Adventist movement in 1852, John Norton Loughborough would spend the next 72 years as a preacher and administrator before being the last of the pioneers to pass leaving lasting legacy to the denomination only behind Joseph Bates and the Whites. Brian E. Strayer’s J. N. Loughborough: The Last of the Adventist Pioneers is the first major biography of influential preacher, missionary, and Church historian that was a little man who cast a long shadow.

Strayer begins with an impressive family history that gives background not only to Loughborough but how he was raised, including the influence his grandfather had on his spiritual life, and how in his youth he was influenced by the Millerite message. Loughborough’s resulting spiritual wandering in the years after the Disappointment before deciding to become a “boy preacher” at age 17 among the Advent Christians then his introduction to Seventh-day movement and later conversion to Sabbath were give significant time as well. Yet 85% of the book took up Loughborough’s 72 years among the Seventh-day Adventist movement covering his time as a preacher, president of numerous conferences, missionary to fields both domestic and foreign, and finally Church historian who was the last link to the “early days” for 3rd- and 4th-generation Adventists in the late 1910s and 1920s. Throughout Loughborough’s relationships with other important and influential denominational leaders was examined including Ellen White whose admonishments were welcomed by Loughborough in contrast to other Adventist leaders some of whom would later leave and attack not only the denomination and White. Strayer covered in detail Loughborough’s fight against apostacy and his role as the first Church “historian” as well has the lasting influence he had in both areas among Adventists.

Given the place in denominational history that Loughborough, Strayer used a wide range of sources to give a thorough look at his subject including what surviving letters he could find (Loughborough burned his own) and Loughborough’s own diaries (that was saved by a nurse instead of destroyed upon his death). Unlike the only other biography of Loughborough that followed the subject’s own apologetic look at Adventist history, Strayer brought a critical eye to his subject including Loughborough’s Church history books that influenced Adventist historiography for half a century.

J. N. Loughborough is a well-written, well-researched look at the last pioneer of the Seventh-day Adventist movement. Brian Strayer showed the large footprint and long shadow this “little man” had had until this very day. This is a highly recommended biography for anyone interested in Adventist history.

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush

1400067650.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Coming to the Oval Office at a critical time in foreign and domestic affairs, the Presidency of George H.W. Bush was filled with successes and failures but guided by a steady hand. Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush by Jon Meacham brings together independent historical research and interviews from the former President and numerous family members as well as political colleagues and advisories to bring the life and career of the 41st President to readers.

Meacham begins the biography with a family history of G.H.W. Bush’s father and mother showing how their lives were shaped that would influence their second son and made him the competitive though ego suppressing individual he was. Though Meacham gave overall historical background for certain situations, this was a book focusing on the life of G.H.W. Bush and what he did throughout his life from his post-war decision to forgo an easy career on Wall Street to join the oil business to Texas and being his own man in politics and not agree with everything his father Prescott believed while serving in the Senate. A political career that had as many defeats as victories, G.H.W. Bush’s path to the White House was through public service, especially throughout the 1970s especially in the diplomat sphere that would later impact his handling of foreign affairs of his Presidency. Meacham covers the Vice Presidential and Presidential terms in detail which cover over half the book before ending with the former President’s unique retirement as elder statesman and father of a serving President of the United States and an analysis of his relationship with his son during those years.

Taking roughly a decade of research, interviews, and writing Meacham presents a thoroughly well-rounded view of the 41st President, Barbara Bush, and their relationships with their children within reason. The elder Bush and Barbara allowed Meacham a free hand in written and this is evident in their attitudes to individuals being put in print and Meacham analysis of various controversies particularly Iran-Contra scandal. If there is one drawback is that at the time of publication the 41st President was still alive with several years left to live and express his views on things, but also a biography after the subjects death allows time afterwards to fully analyze their lives and that difference was evident.

Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush is a very written and thorough biography of the 41st President of the United States. Like his other biographies, Jon Meacham’s research and analysis give a vivid description of his subject and his family. This is a highly recommended biography for anyone interested in the 41st President or the particular time in the 20th Century when he was in office.

A.T. Jones: Point Man on Adventism’s Charismatic Frontier

0828025622.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_A.T. Jones: Point Man on Adventism’s Charismatic Frontier by George R. Knight
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the pivotal figures during the 1888 Minneapolis General Conference session on the debate about the Adventist view of righteousness by faith, he become one of the most influential leaders of the church for a decade before his extreme leanings lead him into apostasy. George R. Knight’s A.T. Jones: Point Man on Adventism’s Charismatic Frontier follows the life and career of one of Adventism’s most important figures for both good and ill as well as how he went from almost being General Conference President to be disfellowshipped in less than a decade.

Bringing decades worth of research and materials, Knight essentially begins his biography on Jones with his conversion to Seventh-day Adventism and the beginning of his ministerial career months later. He talent and ability got him noticed by the Whites and other denomination leaders allowing him to go to California to begin teaching at and editing denomination periodicals, including those focused on religious liberty. While in California, Jones met and studied with E.J. Waggoner forming a partnership that would last the rest of their lives during which they would oppose “the establishment” in the denomination beginning in the lead up to Minneapolis in 1888 and continuing even as they got General Conference leadership positions. After following the ramifications of the Minneapolis, Knight continued chronicling Jones’ life and career including his need to go to the extreme in his logic, arguments, and beliefs which would eventually lead to his battle against the denomination’s organizational structure that would force him against A.G. Daniells and joining the side of John Harvey Kellogg that would see both disfellowshipped from the church.

Given Jones controversial place in Adventist history, Knight was clear on which positions and theological developments that Jones championed are still with Adventists and which were too extreme officially but still have an influential strain even today. A part of this divide is how Ellen G. White reacted and corresponded with Jones on his thoughts and beliefs as well as the relationship between the two over the course of two decades. Unlike his colleague Waggoner, Jones’ family life was unfortunately not covered much but as Knight pointed out he late in his biography it was because he was never home to be a real father and husband or lived in the same state as his family during important periods in his life.

A.T. Jones gives a detailed view into the life, teachings, and career of one of the most important individuals in Adventism at the turn of the century. George R. Knight covers the ups and downs of Jones’ life as well as explaining his positions and how he developed them, but in a very readable and understandable way for lay readers without getting too technical. A highly recommended book for those interested in Adventist history.

Lewis C. Sheafe: Apostle to Black America

0828023972.01._sx450_sy635_sclzzzzzzz_Lewis C. Sheafe: Apostle to Black America by Douglas Morgan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the most effective evangelists in Adventist history was totally forgotten for over a century, let alone that he was a black man who found an audience no matter skin color. Lewis C. Sheafe: Apostle to Black America by Douglas Morgan not only reveals the life of one of the first black pastors in denomination history, how Adventism navigated the rising segregation in the Southern U.S., and why Sheafe was forgotten until rediscovered by historians within the last quarter century.

Born to two former slaves in Maryland, Lewis C. Sheafe was raised in abolitionist dominated Massachusetts with a very spiritual-minded mother. After his conversion at 15, Sheafe began searching for a denomination to join but during his search he felt the call to become a preacher. Though not as well-schooled as his eventual classmates at Wayland Seminary, Sheafe worked hard at the Washington D.C. school to graduate with honors and along the way meet is future wife Anne. The newlyweds would first go to a Baptist church in Minneapolis where they healed the recently divided congregation as well as become a major part of Black community in the city, something that would happen everywhere Sheafe would go. Sheafe and his growing family would then pastor at several Ohio churches before his health brought him to Battle Creek Sanitarium where he learned about the beliefs of Seventh-day Adventists. Within months Sheafe and his family had joined the denomination, which found Sheafe to not only be only their second black preacher but obviously the best educated minister. For around five years, Sheafe worked in Ohio, Kentucky, and various cities in the Southern States before the denomination asked him to come to Washington D.C. to help found a black only congregation as they attempted to “accommodate” the segregation of the city so as to spread the word. However, Sheafe upset the plan from the beginning by bringing in both black and white converts to the church meant only for black members. Later Sheafe began a new church that only had black member which as time progressed would eventually be a thorn in the side of the denomination with and without Sheafe for the next two decades. It was while he was at this church that Sheafe left the denomination for the first time only to return with said church before taking a position in Los Angeles where he would eventually break with the denomination again to start the Free Seventh-day Adventist denomination. But eventually Sheafe would return to the Washington church he began and spend the rest of his ministry there before his death, but never turn away from Adventist beliefs even though he had left the denomination.

The sources on Sheafe’s life were few and far between but Morgan was able to find them to bring his life to the fore. Yet Morgan also examined how the General Conference handled spreading the messaged to African-Americans just as Segregation and Jim Crow began taking hold in the Southern United States, which resulted in causing friction between the GC officials and Sheafe that only grew when many black Adventists felt they weren’t being given equal treatment with educational and health institutions constructed for their use. In fact, Morgan gives an in-depth view of the early beginnings of the Negro Department which would eventually lead to Black/African-American Conferences within the structure of the North American Division. And Morgan brings in the controversy of John Harvey Kellogg and A.T. Jones’ criticism and break away to give greater context to how the General Conference viewed Sheafe’s first break and how the situation was completely different during his second break.

Lewis C. Sheafe was until recently not a well-known name in the greater Adventist community, however Douglas Morgan found his influence strong not only with prominent black Adventists but also in denominational history for the changes his breaks resulted in making. Mixing not only Adventist history with wider American history at the time, Morgan places Sheafe in context with his times and helps explain his actions. This is a highly recommended biographical and historical book that history-minded Adventists should read.