Lesson #27: The Influence of Wicked and Righteous Leaders #BCCSundaySchool2018

1 Kings 12-14; 2 Chronicles 17

Jerry BoamIn this week’s reading, the Old Testament finally enters the world of history as, for the first time, we read something in the text that we can verify, and precisely date, from an external source. This occurs in 1 Kings 14:25: “And it came to pass in the fifth year of king Rehoboam, that Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem.” We know that there was a Shishak. We know that he invaded Judah and Israel. And we know that it happened in 926 BCE

This little bit of historical detail is important, as it allows us to date–if not precisely, at least approximately–the time of the United Monarchy and the split between Israel and Judah. All of this happened in the 10th century BCE. [Read more…]

Spiritual Anchors

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.
   —Matthew Arnold, “Dover Beach”

Here are three things that I learned when I was very young and that have had an enormous influence on my spiritual life.

  1. Satan can hear every word I say but can never read my mind.
  2. If I repent and am forgiven, and then commit the same sin again, my previous repentance will be revoked.
  3. If a prophet or Church leader tells me to do something that is wrong, and I do it anyway, then I will be blessed for my obedience and the Church leader will be punished.

[Read more…]

“We Are a Nation of Refugees”: An Interfaith Call for Compassion and Positive Action

 

Note: The following statement was released this week by the Evansville Executive Interfaith Partnership–a remarkable collection of people of faith and goodwill centered in the Southwestern corner of Indiana of which I, dear reader, am a part.

An open letter to politicians and Americans everywhere: 

For most of our history America has been a safe destination for people seeking a better life.

For hundreds of years, people from all over the world have flocked to our borders to escape famine, poverty, war, political oppression, natural disasters, religious persecution, and tyranny.

We are not merely a nation of immigrants; we are a nation of refugees. America is a place of refuge, and this has become one of the most profound and important truths in our nation’s story.   [Read more…]

Saul and the Zero Tolerance Trap #BCCSudaySchool2018

Note: This is a follow up Lesson 22: “The Lord Looketh on the Heart,” which discuss 1 Samuel 9–11; 13; 15–17. Today’s post is about Chapter 14, which got lost in the cracks. It may also have something to do with a contemporary social issue, but, of course, that is purely incidental.

1 Samuel 14 explains the second of the three events that caused God to reject Saul as Israel’s king. The other two get a lot more lesson time because their morals can be easily adapted to the standard call-and-response format of the Sunday School Liturgy.

In Chapter 13, Saul is condemned for initiating a sacrifice on his own athority–thus proving that only priesthood holders can perform valid ordinances. And in Chapter 15, Saul is rejected for insufficiently destroying everything in the city of Amelek because he wanted to hold back some of the best animals for the Lord–demonstrating (just in case we needed another reminder) that “to obey is better than to sacrifice.” [Read more…]

The Immigration Debate and a Fact-Based View of the World

Swedish medical researcher Hans Rosling spent his entire career trying to convince Western nations that we have a fundamentally messed up view of everybody else in the world. In public forums, private meetings, and viral TED talks, Rosling presented comprehensive data to demonstrate that–contrary to Western opinion–most people in the world are not starving to death in rat-infested s***holes. Most people, in fact, are doing much better than they ever have.

Rosling created the data-rich, interactive web site Gapminder before he died in 2017. HIs children Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Ronnlund completed the book he was working on when he died. In April of this year, they published Factfulness in 24 different languages in the hopes of convincing global policymakers to start basing their decisions on an accurate picture of the world.

Many people need to read this book. Americans trying to understand the immigration issue need to read it twice, because the picture of the world that comes out of the data is fundamentally at odds with the assumptions underlying much of the debate. [Read more…]

How to Use the Bible to Break Democracy

 

Let me take an aside to discuss concerns raised by our church friends about separating families. Many of the criticisms raised in recent days are not fair or logical and some are contrary to law. First- illegal entry into the United States is a crime—as it should be. Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.–Attorney General Jeff Sessions

 

Poor Jeff Sessions; he just can’t buy a break. All he did was remind people that obeying the law is a good thing, and all of a sudden he is facing a firestorm of criticism about his use of a Bible passage to defend his policy of separating children from their parents at the border. What is even the point of a scripture like Romans 13 if you can’t use it to support the law?

So far, most of the reaction to Sessions has focused on the fact that the Bible also supports things like families and treating children well. Others note that the same scripture that Sessions invoked was also invoked by proponents of slavery and opponents of the American Revolution. This is all true, but it doesn’t quite get to heart of Sessions’ argument. What he actually said was even more insidious than these criticisms would suggest. [Read more…]

The “What Kind of Country Do We Want to Be?” Question

A person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it. —1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees

 

First, let us be very clear about a few things:

  1. This has nothing to do with enforcing our laws. Seeking asylum is not a criminal act. People have a right to come to the United States and make a petition. The right to seek asylum is a recognized principle of international law and has been recognized in the United States for decades. When somebody shows up on our doorstep asking for asylum, we do not have to give it to them. But we do have to consider the request and treat the people making it as fellow human beings.  They are not criminals. They have broken no laws. And they are entitled to the same due process that we must constitutionally afford anybody over whom we assert our jurisdiction.
  2. This has nothing to do with jobs or the economy. We have acute labor shortages in our agricultural sector right now, and it is getting worse. Nobody involved in the current immigration debate has asked, or even appears to care, whether or not we currently allow enough immigration into our country to meet the needs of our economy. The point is to be tough on immigrants and asylum seekers because that is politically popular–not because it is economically necessary or even fiscally responsible. Border security theatre is a political issue not a national-security concern.
  3. This has nothing to do with being a nation that espouses religious values. The current practice of separating children and their parents is wrong from just about every conceivable system of religion or morality. For those who happen to be Christian, it is a fundamental rejection of perhaps the most important religious obligation that we have: the responsibility to care for the stranger among us. And for those who happen to be Latter-day Saints, it is a rejection of the Church’s official position on immigration, the second point of which is “the importance of keeping families intact.” To tear children away from their parents at our border, we must actively reject the pretense of being a religious people

[Read more…]

Lesson 22: “The Lord Looketh on the Heart” #BCCSundaySchool2018

1 Samuel 9–11; 13; 15–17

“But the People, exorbitant and excessive in all their motions, are prone ofttimes not to a religious only, but to a civil kind of Idolatry, in idolizing their Kings; though never more mistaken in the object of their worship.”—John Milton, “Eikonoklastes”

 

Our reading this week begins with the comforting announcement that the man chosen to be Israel’s king is tall and good looking:

There was a man of Benjamin, whose name was Kish . . . . He had a son whose name was Saul, an excellent young man; no one among the Israelites was handsomer than he; he was a head taller than any of the people. (1 Samuel 9: 1-2, JPS Tanakh)

It may seem strange that the first things we hear about Saul describe his outward appearance, but the text knows what it is doing. Saul’s main qualification for being king is that he looks like a king. As it turns out, though, this is the only qualification that matters. The Israelites want someone who looks kingly. [Read more…]

Sunday Sermon: Praise the Source of Faith and Learning

Over the last ten years, I have worked for both a Catholic and a Methodist university and, in the process, have spent a lot of time attending different religious services. Lots of good things have come into my life this way. One of them has been the opportunity to hear the hymns I have known all my life sung with different words.

At first this was disorienting, but now it feels normal. There are a lot more hymns in the Christian world than there are hymn tunes, and since most hymns fit into fairly simple metrical patterns, a lot of hymn texts can be used with a lot of standard melodies. The beautiful song that Mormons know as “Be Still My Soul” is actually a melody from Jean Sibelius’s “Finlandia” and is known in much of the Christian world as “This is My Song.” And the wildly speculative LDS hymn “If You Could Hie to Kolob” is, for many Catholics, the theologically tame, “I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say.”

So, when I went to the baccalaureate celebration at our campus United Methodist Chapel earlier this month, I was not at all surprised to hear the music that I had always known as “In Humility Our Savior” accompanying the words to “Praise the Source of Faith and Learning,” our opening hymn. I nodded approvingly through the first two stanzas. [Read more…]

Are Mormons Christian? Sometimes. But Bigots Are Always Bigots

Anybody who has played the “Are Mormon’s Christian?” game knows that it is a trap. The only possible answer is that it depends on who gets to define the terms. Under some definitions, Mormons are Christian. Under others, we are not. Since Christianity does not have anything like the royal language academies of France and Spain, the only logically coherent way to ask the question is, “are Mormons whatever it is that I think that Christians are?” [Read more…]

Lesson 17: “Beware Lest Thou Forget” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Deuteronomy 6; 8; 11; 32

Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the Lord God of thy fathers hath promised thee, in the land that floweth with milk and honey.
–Deuteronomy 6:3

I was very fortunate that during my one and only trip to the Holy Land last year, I had an amazing expert tour guide: Dr. Norma Franklin of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Haifa. Norma patiently answered every question I had ever had about Israel, archeology, and the Bible. I learned more about all of these things that week that I had managed to gather during the previous 50 years of my life.

One of the questions I asked her was supposed to be sarcastic. When we reached a particularly inhospitable hilltop in the Jezreel Valley, I turned to her and said, “Is this where they keep all the milk and honey?” She looked at me quizzically and said, “you know that that was a joke, right?” I knew no such thing, so she patiently explained it with an interpretation that I had never seen before and have not been able to find since, but that fundamentally changed the way I saw the covenant of the Old Testament. [Read more…]

Don’t Just Do Something—Stand There

 

I suspect that the most basic and powerful way to connect to another person is to listen.  Just listen.  Perhaps the most important thing we ever give each other is our attention.  And especially if it’s given from the heart.  When people are talking, there’s no need to do anything but receive them.  Just take them in.  Listen to what they’re saying.  Care about it.  —Rachel Naomi Remen, Kitchen Table Wisdom

 

A few weeks ago, I met with a group of students who had some legitimate concerns about the way they had been treated at the university. It was an uncomfortable meeting but a necessary one, and by the end of it I was ready to get to work. I told them that I would fix everything—we would create some student organizations, incorporate new material into our core curriculum, revise our conduct code, and take care of the problem once and for all.

“You are missing the point,” one of the students told me when I announced these plans. “We don’t need you to fix all of this today. We need you to listen to us. We need to know that we are being heard.” [Read more…]

The Quarter-Inch Hole in My Heart

I spent the last part of this week in a design-thinking workshop, which is kind of a new thing for a guy who majored in English three times. But it was well-worth the effort. The first thing the facilitator told us was that nobody ever wants a quarter-inch drill; people want a quarter-inch hole. They ask for a drill because they think that there is no other way to get what they want.

[Read more…]

You’ve Got to Admit It’s Getting Better: Steven Pinker and “The World”

If you had to choose one moment in history in which you could be born, and you didn’t know ahead of time who you were going to be–what nationality, what gender, what race, whether you’d be rich or poor, gay or straight, what faith you’d be born into–you wouldn’t choose 100 years ago. You wouldn’t choose the fifties, or the sixties, or the seventies. You’d choose right now.
                          —Barack Obama, 2016 graduation speech at Howard University

 

51sBWhI4e9L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_Christianity is based on a narrative of decline that goes something like this: The world began as a perfect place where people walked and talked with God and lived in harmony with the natural world. But human beings sinned and were cast of paradise, where they became wickeder and wickeder until God had to destroy all but eight of them. Those eight started a new society that also became wicked, and God had to periodically destroy cities and send Assyrians and Babylonians to punish His chosen people. Then he sent his only son into the world, and we killed him. Since then, we have been getting wickeder and wickeder and, sometime in the near future, everything will be destroyed again and Jesus will come back and be king. [Read more…]

Lesson 9: “God Will Provide Himself a Lamb” #BCCSundaySchool2018

Silently he arranged the firewood, bound Isaac; silently he drew the knife. Then he saw the ram that God had appointed. He sacrificed that and returned home . . . From that day on, Abraham became old, he could not forget that God had demanded this of him. Isaac throve as before; but Abraham’s eye was darkened, he saw joy no more.  —Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Abraham 1:1, 5–20
Genesis 15–17; 21
Genesis 22

I once wrote a thing about Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac. It was a chapter in Julie Smith’s award-winning collection As Iron Sharpens Iron. Mine was the free sample, so you can read it here (but you should definitely buy the book anyway). Following the design of the volume, I wrote a dialogue between Abraham and Job, with Job asking Abraham, “why did you agree to sacrifice your son?”

The original intent of the piece was to have Job, who had lost ten of his children when God took them without asking, attack Abraham viciously for agreeing to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham would wither under this questioning and admit his error. And thus we would see that Job was right to resist God while Abraham was wrong to give in to divine bullying. That is pretty much how I saw things before Julie asked me to write the chapter. [Read more…]

Armageddon, Guns, and Walking Away from Omelas

They go on. They leave Omelas, they walk ahead into the darkness, and they do not come back. The place they go towards is a place even less imaginable to most of us than the city of happiness. I cannot describe it at all. It is possible that it does not exist. But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas. –Ursula Le Guin, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas”

 

I’ve been to Armageddon, and it’s not as bad as they say. It’s actually called Har Megiddo, and it is a major archaeological site in Israel. It is the highest place for miles, so you can always see what is coming. It has an ingenious tunnel to its water source, which shows that its inhabitants were willing to do extraordinary things to keep its people safe. And it is in a country that strictly controls access to guns for non-military use. [Read more…]

Moral Choices Are Hard Because They Are Supposed to Be Hard

 

Witches can be right.
Giants can be good.
You decide what’s right.
You decide what’s good.
—”No One Is Alone” from Into the Woods

 

As I understand it, the main point of Stephen Sondheim’s magnificent musical, Into the Woods, is that moral decision making is hard. The scripts that our culture gives us are wrong. But they aren’t always wrong, or wrong in entirely predictable ways, so we can’t just reject them and do the opposite of what they say. We have to muddle through and make our own moral decisions, even though that means we will make mistakes.

This argument resonates with me a lot because, as a Latter-day Saint, I believe that this is also the main point of the founding myth of the Judeo-Christian world—the story of Adam and Eve—and a reasonably good description of the moral universe that we inhabit. [Read more…]

On Flatterers and Friends

 

I have no need of a friend who changes places when I do and nods in agreement when I do; my shadow is better at that. I need a friend who helps me by telling the truth and having discrimination. —Plutarch, Moralia

I agree with Steve Evans’ most recent post on arguing with people you love. But even if I didn’t, I would still consider Steve to be a good friend. And that, I think, is the point of the post. Friendship doesn’t preclude disagreement, but it does structure how we choose to disagree. I would go even further and say that, in some very tangible ways, friendship requires disagreement. I’m going to quote some Greeks here, so hear me out. [Read more…]

The Omni-Political Kingdom of God

Why do the members of Christ tear one another? Why do we rise up against our own body in such madness? Have we forgotten that we are all members of one another?—Pope St. Clement of Rome

 

One of the first people I baptized on my mission was a communist. Guillermo was from Nicaragua and had supported the Sandinista government. When the United States started to fund the Contras, he fled here to avoid reprisals there.

The Ward Mission Leader, in whose home we taught Guillermo most of the discussions, was from Chile. He had been a supporter of Augusto Pinochet, the right-wing dictator who seized power and killed the country’s leftist president in 1973. I’m not sure why he came to the United States, but I always got the impression that it had something to do with politics. [Read more…]

Killing Humbaba

The story of David and Goliath is one of the Bible’s really great tales. It is exciting, easy to put on a flannel board, and it has a great spiritual message: you can always overcome your obstacles, no matter how big they are, if you just have faith in God (and a reasonably good sling shot). Goliath has become a good metaphor for problems in our lives that seem to big to tackle. This, in fact, is the theme of one of President Monson’s most well-known talks and the book in which it was collected. We must all confront our Goliaths.

But I want to talk about another great hero who killed a huge opponent–one whose story was ancient even to the people who wrote the Old Testament: the Mesopotamian proto-hero Gilgamesh. Like David (and nearly every other hero in the Ancient or Modern world), Gilgamesh makes a name for himself by killing a big thing–the semi-divine Humbaba, whose name even means “hugeness.” [Read more…]

Moses 1: A God’s-Eye View of the World #BCCSundaySchool2018

First a few items of business. Well, one item of business anyway: BCC will be blogging about the Old Testament this year. Big time. We’ve divided the world between us, and we will be following along with the Gospel Doctrine schedule, once a week, all year. Our goal is to give you the same profound, faith-driven inquiry that BCC is famous for on a schedule that can enrich your personal study and gospel doctrine discussions. [Read more…]

The Three Opposites of Friendship

 

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

—Abraham Lincoln’s First Inaugural Address

“Affection shall solve every one of the problems of freedom.”

—Walt Whitman, “Calamus”

If you want to see American democracy through the eyes of a cultivated foreigner, drop everything you are doing and read Democracy in America. But if you want to see it through the eyes of a young child on Christmas morning, read Walt Whitman. In Whitman’s eyes, America never lost its new-country smell, and democracy was always full of possibility and wonder. [Read more…]

The Faith to Leave Mountains Where They Are

Some thoughts inspired by “Move Forward with Faith,” Lesson #25 in the Teachings of Gordon B. Hinckley

 

To my knowledge, nobody has ever moved a mountain with faith. I can’t be completely sure, but that seems like the kind of thing that we would have heard about. Mountains don’t move easily. There is usually going to be some kind of trace.

But do you know what does move mountains? Dynamite, that’s what. Tons and tons of dynamite. This actually happens in West Virginia, where I lived for 11 years at the start of my career. “Mountaintop removal” is a technique for mining coal. Rather than spending the time and money necessary to dig mines, put up shafts, haul in equipment, and all of that, you just blow the top off of the mountain, dump it in a nearby valley, and Bob’s your coal-faced uncle.

In 2017, moving mountains is relatively easy. It requires no faith at all. Faith is what we exercise when we trust God enough to leave the mountain where it is. [Read more…]

The Miracle of Belief (Poems for Christmas #4)

716mY1qbPcLThe Christmas season is, among other wonderful things, one of the times that I try to inflict my taste in poetry on the unsuspecting readers of BCC. In past years, this has involved T.S. Eliot, Walt Whitman, Christina Rosetti  and W.H. Auden. This year, I turn to the Russian-American poet Joseph Brodsky, who made it a habit to write a nativity poem (almost) every Christmas from 1962 through 1995. The poems have been translated by some of the greatest poets in the English language–folks like Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott, Richard Wilbur–and published as a single volume. It is one of the most frustrating, beautiful, contradictory, profane, and sacred things that I have ever read, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. [Read more…]

December 25, 1914: The Christmas Truce

 

It did not change the course of the war, or even effect the outcome of a single battle, but the truce that broke out among French, German, and English troops on the first Christmas of World War I is one of those few grace-filled moments in history that tells us that human beings may not be as bad as we thought. [Read more…]

The Ten Virgins: A Parable of Environmental Stewardship

Back in 1995, I was serving in the bishopric of a student ward at the same time that I was teaching freshman composition at UCSB. From time to time, one of the members of the ward showed up in my class, which gave me the dual role of spiritual and academic adviser. On one such occasion, a young freshman came into my office and told men that he had changed his mind about going to medical school when he graduated because of something he heard in Church.

The reason? He learned in an institute class that Christ was going to return in, or very close to, the year 2000, and he didn’t want to go through eight years of college if Jesus was just going to show up and make everything perfect. Not knowing what to say, I told him that he should probably go to med. school anyway because Jesus was probably going to be too busy to heal everyone. [Read more…]

30 Years on Death Row: A Voice of Prophecy

When I was a college freshman in 1984, I decided that I wanted to spend the rest of my life somehow affiliated with a university. And, since then, I have been. The reason I decided this is that I loved the company, both the professors and students, but also all of the really interesting, life-changing people that regularly show up on a college campus. There is really nothing like it.

One such person came to my university tonight: Anthony Ray Hinton, an African-American many who spent 30 years on the Alabama death row for crimes he did not commit. In 1985, Hinton was arrested for a robbery and picked out of a police lineup in which he was the only person of color. When his alibi proved airtight he was charged with two counts of murder connected to other robberies committed around the same time. The only witness was the victim of the robbery that he was not charged with because he was in a warehouse full of other people when it occurred. The police produced a statement that the same gun was used in all three events. [Read more…]

Cattle in Sackcloth

 

**NB: This is a follow-up to my earlier post about teaching the lesson “Fellowship with Those of Other Faiths” in Priesthood Meeting. When I actually taught the lesson, for reasons that have a lot to do with the way that High Priest groups tend to wander, much of it ended up being about the Book of Jonah,

 

I will admit that I used to have a difficult time believing that a full-sized man—be he Jonah or Geppetto—could be swallowed whole by a “great fish” and then spewed forth alive to pick up life right where he left off. That is just not, in my experience, how things work.

It some point, however, I realized that the whole belly-of-the-whale thing was only the third most ridiculous thing that happens in the Book of Jonah. Much weirder, and much less probable, is the following passage from Chapter 3:

For word came unto the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, and he laid his robe from him, and covered him with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published through Nineveh by the decree of the king and his nobles, saying, Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water: But let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and cry mightily unto God: yea, let them turn every one from his evil way, and from the violence that is in their hands. (:6-8) [Read more…]

Mormon Ecumenism

I plead with our people everywhere to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies. We must not be partisans of any doctrine of ethnic superiority. We live in a world of diversity. We can and must be respectful toward those with whose teachings we may not agree. We must be willing to defend the rights of others who may become the victims of bigotry.
—President Gordon B. Hinckley

Tomorrow is the day that I have been waiting for since being called to teach the High Priests group in my ward earlier this year: Lesson 20: Fellowship with Those Who Are Not of Our Faith. It is something that I have been thinking about for a long time.

I started thinking about it 20 years ago, when I was in the bishopric of my student ward at the University of California, Santa Barbara. There had been a stabbing in the student enclave of Isla Vista, where our Church/Institute building was located, and a number of religious groups got together to demonstrate for better lighting. I went to the organizing meeting with a half a dozen other religious leaders, one of whom said, in the meeting, “I am so glad you are here. The Mormons usually keep to themselves.” [Read more…]

Stephen Greenblatt’s Great New Book—And What It Misses about the Mormon Adam and Eve

For reasons that are at once tantalizing and elusive, these few verses in an ancient book have served as a mirror in which we seem to glimpse the whole, long history of our fears and desires. It has been both liberating and destructive, a hymn to human responsibility and a dark fable about human wretchedness, a celebration of daring and an incitement to violent misogyny. The range of responses it has aroused over thousands of years in innumerable individuals and communities is astonishing.
—Stephen Greenblatt, The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve (pp. 5-6).

 

It would be difficult to overstate the impact of Stephen Greenblatt on literary culture. As the general editor of the Norton Anthology of English Literature, he shapes the textbooks used in about 90% of undergraduate British Literature survey and period courses. If literature is “what gets taught,” then Greenblatt is the guy who decides what literature is for the English-speaking world.

Fortunately for all of us, Greenblatt has excellent taste—and a whole lot of knowledge about the contexts in which literature is produced. His recent books for general audiences are the best examples that I know of literary criticism for real people. Will in the World, his context-heavy biography of William Shakespeare, was a surprise bestseller in 2004. And The Swerve, How the World Became Modern (2011)—a literary detective story about how Lucretius’s lost poem “On the Nature of Things” was discovered in the 15th century—won both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. [Read more…]