8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on 6 October 2011
Any book on a religious theme will always have two polarised 'opinion camps': those unquestionably in favour, and those unquestionably not in favour.
However, this book is a revelation because whilst it concerns itself with the Bible, it also encompasses the origin of why it was published, the opposition to its publications (perversely, by the Religious Establishment, who did not want the 'comman man' (or woman) to be able to read, and form their own opinions, but wanted everyone to accept their dogmatic statements).
A most enjoyable read, not just for its religious contents, but for its socialogical study of medieval England, and Europe.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 21 August 2011
I have just finished reading this book (library copy)and have straightaway ordered two copies as presents for close friends. I was completely riveted to the book, which held me as a reader in the evenings and occupied my thoughts in the day. Melvyn Bragg manages to communicate ideas and attitudes, experiences and feelings in his accessible, honest style of writing in good northern English, which stayed with me as a reader. Some of what he wrote is familiar,and rang bells. He also gave me the chance to consider ideas in fresh ways. The King James Bible has been part of my life from childhood. I'm going on for seventy and it still is. I thought I knew quite a lot about it. Melvyn Bragg has given me more, and I'm grateful for that. I can recommend this book.
64 of 69 people found the following review helpful
on 12 April 2011
In its 400th anniversary year, the King James Bible has enjoyed plenty of attention already. Others have given us the extraordinary story of how it was translated into English, analysed in depth the richness, origins and impact of its vocabulary, and even attempted to put the whole, 4,000-year history of the Good Book itself into context.
The King James Bible, argues Melvyn Bragg in his tribute, is a triumph of translation by committee, and he's not just talking about their turns of phrase. It has often been called the Book of Books both in itself and in what it stands for; and since its publication in 1611 it has been the best selling book in the world, and many believe has had the greatest impact on not only literature in general but in particular the Protestant faith.
Bragg asserts that its influence on social movements - particularly involving women in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries - and politics was profound. It was crucial to the growth of democracy and was integral to the abolition of slavery and it defined attitudes to modern science, education and sex.
For his thesis, Bragg's uses, as one example, Mary Wollstonecraft, who in the late 18th century scandalised polite society with her unconventional living arrangements and radical views, was fired not by the intellectual flames of the Enlightenment, with its belief in the supremacy of reason and rejection of the divine, but by her Christian faith. Moreover, as a lifelong churchgoer and the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women, she found her inspiration, Bragg suggests, in the King James Bible.
The Book of Books is aimed at the general reader, be he Christian, non-Christian, of some other religion, or none at all. It contains a feast of information and persuasive argument in support of Bragg's claim that it is the most influential book to be published in the past 400 years. Highly recommended.
32 of 35 people found the following review helpful
I have really enjoyed getting to know this book; I was interested in getting acquainted with it after hearing Melvyn Bragg talk about it in one of his radio programmes.
The book takes you through the background of the original translations and the work of such pioneers as Bede, Wycliffe and most importantly, William Tyndale. The idea of a vernacular bible was incredibly revolutionary at the time because it took the word of God out of the hands of the priesthood and ruling classes and put it in the ears and hands of congregations directly. In 1611, it was produced (largely from Tyndale's words in the first half of the 16th Century) as a way of imposing some kind of religious orthodoxy. However, as Bragg's book attests, it has a seismic effect on the culture, politics, language and social attitudes of generations over the subsequent 400 years in the English speaking world and also in the areas colonised by the English speaking world.
The language of the King James version of the Bible is so ingrained into our culture with so many frequently used idioms and phrases having been taken from this version of the Bible. Bragg has traced this language in many great works of literature created since the Bible. It is not just the language, it is also the subject matter of the works created.
Melvyn Bragg also traces the effect of immersion of the bible in thinking driving the protagonists in both the English and American Civil Wars. He looks at the Enlightenment, feminism, abolition of slavery, philanthropy, socialism, education, capitalism, industrialisation and many other intellectual and historical movements and links them to the production and use of the King James version of the Bible.
I was very interested in his chapter in which he looked at Richard Dawkins' brand of atheism. He expresses admiration for Dawkins' intellect but considers his atheism to be unjustified. He is also highly critical of Dawkins' approach in seeking to discredit belief by choosing the most outlandish proselytisers of faith rather than the more reasonable intelligent approaches by people of faith.
This book is not a cold intellectual exercise but a highly opinionated and thoroughly entertaining journey through history and I recommend it highly.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 6 February 2012
Bragg's "History of the King James Bible" is a fascinating, meticulously researched piece of writing. My problem is that the language he uses often dams the flow of reading and obscures the meaning.
Let me quote you an example: "Above all, above anything, it could not only be argued about, this Book of Books, it could and did embolden argument against itself." (p 86)
Now I understand what he means, but I had to stop and interrogate the text, thus slowing the pace and affecting the flow.
I wonder what audience he had in mind when he wrote it.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
The year 2011 marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible (KJV), and a number of books have been published as a consequence. In this book, Melvyn Bragg provides a chronology of the development of the KJV, and its impact on culture and society. This is done in three parts: the journey of the KJV from its commissioning to the present day.
Part One `From Hampton Court to New England' is broadly chronological: it places the KJV into its historical context and acknowledges earlier translations, especially the translation by Richard Tyndale which was published in 1526. Melvyn Bragg discusses how the KJV was commissioned, planned and then delivered. Mr Bragg discusses the KJV's journey: across the Atlantic with the `Mayflower'; its use during the English Civil War and then the Restoration; and the Great Awakening in America.
I found Part Two, `The Impact on Culture', the most interesting. The journey of the KJV is extended to encompass language, literature, political thought and science. Melvyn Bragg writes about the influence of the KJV on those who formed the Royal Society in 1660. The KJV is seen as great literature in its own right, has contributed to present-day idiom, and has influenced many writers.
`It all but beggars belief that after all the pounding it has taken, the King James Version is still a source for such great imaginative writers today.'
Melvyn Bragg discusses how the KJV has survived attacks by philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes and David Hume during the Enlightenment, and this leads him to make a case for how the KJV will survive the so-called New Enlightenment attack by Richard Dawkins and others. This section of the book ends with an account of the KJV's influence on some notable individuals - such as Mary Wollstonecraft and William Wilberforce.
In Part Three, `The Impact on Society', the journey encompasses slavery and the Civil War in America, and its political consequences. From a global perspective, the KJV is seen as an important force in education, especially for the first two centuries of its existence. As well, the text is seen as influential in the development of social attitudes: to sex, the place of women and in the development of democracy.
`Democracy, as it took root and developed in Britain and then in America in the seventeenth century, owed an essential debt to the Reformation and to the King James Bible. This could be its greatest achievement.'
This is a compelling read: while there are other aspects (and people) who could have formed part of Melvyn Bragg's discussion, the breadth of the discussion is interesting and informative.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a well written and enjoyable look at the impact the King James Bible had on society in the English speaking world, and beyond, over the last 400 years, through making widely available a beautifully written and translated English language version.
The book is split into 3 sections: the first section dealing with the development of the King James Bible and the effect that having a widely available English translation had on the ability of people to engage with Christianity directly, rather than through priestly intermediaries. Bragg shows clearly how this promoted literacy, debate, democracy, and a powerful impetus for social change.
The second and third sections deal with the Bible's impact on culture and and society in such areas as sex, language, education, poor relief and the abolition of slavery and the development of human rights.
But this book is no one sided peon of praise. Bragg also looks at what many would view to be negative impacts of the uses of the King James Bible where it has been used to find a source of support for those who would, and did, justify their actions in colonisation, denial of women's rights, homophobia, and even the continuance of slavery.
Bragg skills fully shows that the Bible has been used for a wide range of purposes by those would seek to support their views through its pages. For example, both sides of the American Civil War, which was fought to keep or abolish slavery, sincerely believed that they were right - and used the King james Bible to support that belief. They each prayed using the same book and believed that they would be supported.
This book will be of great value to those interested in modern history and the development of societies. Christians, followers of other faiths, and indeed atheists will find something here to learn and to enjoy. So a well balanced and at times personal review of the impact of the King James Bible. My only quibble is the 2 chapters on the effect of the Bible on literature - i didn't find that interesting - but if you would then you may well want to add another star.
24 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on 27 November 2011
This is classic Melvyn Bragg : a charming meander through narrative history which requires no justification. But this genre does not suffice for the claims he makes in this book about the Bible, and more specifically for the King James Version of the Bible. What he offers is a fond eulogy in which he claims huge impact for the KJV, usually a highly positive impact. He claims that the Bible is `one of the fundamental makers of the modern world' which `walks with us in our life today' and `can teach us day-to-day morality' (p5). He seems content that American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have its verses engrained in their gun sights. He suggests that particle research at CERN derives from Biblical principles.
He gives pre-eminence to the King James Version over older and newer versions, despite that being due to the legal monopoly imposed by James 1, which was only lifted in 1905. He even makes the extraordinary claim that decline in church attendance is due to the replacement of the KJV by more modern versions (p129), describing a version in modern English as a `misguided decision' (p83) although of course it was a decision made on the same basis as the KJV ie to render the Bible readable. `Would other versions have had the same impact' he wonders (p230). This is one of his few assertions which is capable of empirical test, which it evidently fails.
His best section is his 17th century coverage, since this relies on Christopher Hill's magnificent `The English Bible and the Seventeenth Century Revolution', in which Hill brilliantly makes the case that the Bible's prophetic content on social justice led to the regicide of 1649.
He makes the wide claim that we owe the richness and depth of English language to the Bible, whose words have fed Shakespeare, Milton, Bunyan, Defoe, Swift, Blake, Eliot, Melville, Hawthorne et al. This is true in one sense, but mistaken in another - the Bible did not give rise to the English language, but the language of Chaucer and others gave rise to the English Bible. Even the Enlightenment is subservient to the Bible - `where would the Enlightenment have been without it ? (p182) ; the Enlightenment failed to sweep away the KJV (p193). It `authorised the work of ...early modern scientists' (p111). He would do well to read Roy Porter's excellent `Flesh in the Age of Reason' to see just how devastating the Enlightenment was to Bible concepts. After a brief onslaught on Richard Dawkins, Bragg then gives us a list of social movements - abolition of slavery, education, colonisation, sexual ethics, women's rights, social reform, and democracy - all of which apparently owe their inspiration to the King James Version of the Bible. This is fond speculation, based on a flawed methodology which identifies prime movers in each movement, and claims that they were Bible friendly. Today's younger educated elite is almost Bible illiterate. The great myths and stories are unknown to them. I happen to regret this, but claiming otherwise does not help to rectify it. What merit can be ascribed to a Bible which is highly ambiguous on the issue of slavery, an ambiguity which fed the American civil war which cost over 600,000 lives? Bragg fails to mention the impact of the Judaic Bible on modern Zionism, which inspires the exclusion and persecution of Palestine by the state of Israel, and figures as one of today's worst moral failures.
On page 122, Bragg quotes Alister McGrath writing `In 1407,Thomas Arundel, Archbishop of Canterbury, banned the Bible in English'. It is ironic then that Lord Bragg is a member of a legislature which in 2011 bans the reading of the Bible at civil weddings in the UK. The Church of England, the Bible Society, and the Evangelical Alliance, are all complicit in this ban. It would be eminently fitting in the 400th year of publication of the Bible in English, to revoke this contemporary censorship of the Bible.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
A detailed and imaginatively wide-ranging yet wonderfully readable account of the author's perception of the wholesale influence of the King James Bible.
Bragg has a very relaxed style of writing which can make it easy to underestimate the volume of research which has gone into finding evidence to support the arguments he puts forward. While there are definitely occasions where he stretches a point in the claims he makes for the influence of the KJB upon social change, for example, his arguments are generally very well made.
All in all, I would see this book as a great starting point for the inquisitive layman, as it achieves the balancing act required to set the history of religion into a fascinating wider historical context. It provides a worthy spur to go back to the original text with an informed eye.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 13 June 2013
Until now I've only read fiction by Melvyn Bragg, but this book was recommended by a friend. I have barely reached halfway through it, yet, but am glad I got it and am enjoying it, though slowly.
It gives a thoroughly detailed history of the agonising determination of those responsible for producing the first translation of the Bible into English, against massive opposition from the Monarchy (at first) and "The Church" (as always!) who preferred to keep the lower classes in ignorance, and thus retain their appalling power over them. While interesting and informative, this is not a particularly easy read. I need to be in the right mood, as there's much to learn here, and parts are rather heavy-going.