A Long Way Behind

Yale’s Little Histories represent an admirable project, whereby true experts perform the exceedingly difficult task of summarizing a large field of knowledge in a short space, and in an accessible manner.  Ideally, the resulting book offers a good introduction for the novice, while even the most knowledgeable reader will gain some new insight.

Even within this scheme, Richard Holloway has tackled a truly vast subject—not even Christianity or Islam but religion, all of it—and his book has some good qualities.  Holloway is clearly a decent person sympathetic to human spiritual cravings, and his writing is usually clear and concise.  To that extent, he fulfills the role of the friendly guide who leads the pupil through the thickets of knowledge, while dividing the material into 40 bite-sized chapters certainly makes the reader’s task easier.  Having said that, the book has many disappointments, and it is often startlingly credulous and even fundamentalist, because the author simply is nowhere near up to date with current scholarship.  Nor does Holloway ever get close to the heart of the matter.

Holloway’s own background is relevant to understanding the book.  Born in 1933, he became a cleric in the Scottish Episcopal Church, a small but historically significant body that among other things had a mighty influence...

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