Sunday Afternoon Bookworm: Thomas Becket: Warrior, Priest, Rebel (John Guy)
SouthernGospelBlog.com periodically features book reviews on Sunday afternoons. So that the home page can remain focused on Southern Gospel news, just click the story title or the “read more” button to read the review.
Thomas Becket was a 12th-century politician and church leader who was instrumental in the debate over the church’s independence from state control. He became Chancellor to King Henry II, the second most powerful position in England’s government. He became close friends with King Henry during this time, but after his elevation to Archbishop of Canterbury, they would clash and ultimately become bitter opponents.
The book’s style leaves the distinct impression that the author intended for it to read like a novel. Some elements of this attempt are successful; the prose is engaging and accessible. But it fails in the most distinguishing aspect of modern novelistic technique, creating suspense. It seems Becket’s murder is referenced every few pages; throughout the book, there is no question how his story will end. This, I think, is a mistake; Becket’s story is so far removed from modern consciousness that it need not be assumed that readers would be familiar with it. (In all fairness, this is a United States perspective; the author, though, is a university professor in England, and perhaps Becket’s story is on the tip of everyone’s tongue in the British Isles.)
The book contains far fewer profanities than many modern biographies, largely because Becket lived in a different era, and the author had fewer profanities to work with. Nevertheless, a few manage to find their way in.
The author also inserts speculation about whether assorted characters in the story were homosexual. By and large, with the exception of one or two bit players in the story, these musings are utterly gratuitous and have no historical basis.
History is the study of what has happened; historiography is the study of the study of history. The author slips into historiography at many points, discussing the reliability of competing historical accounts. Perhaps, with a figure this far in the past, this is necessary; to his credit, he presents these historiographical discussions in a relatively accessible fashion.
Although the book is a fascinating read, its weaknesses outweigh its strengths, and it regrettably cannot be recommended for a conservative Christian audience.