Oxford Press’ Very Short Introduction series continues to interest and somewhat discourage me.
It is interesting because the idea of getting a short introduction to a particular subject in about 150 or so pages by someone that is well known in the field is a great idea.
The problem is that about half of the books I have read from the series just do not live up to the promise. A Very Short Introduction to African History has the same basic problems as A Very Short Introduction to the Bible. It is a lot about the academic practice of African History, the problems of doing history with predominantly non-literate cultures, in a geography that tends to short term structures, that has been very altered by climate change over the past 10,000 years and with a subject as diverse as an entire continent that is separated by language, culture, racial characteristics and that contains a huge diaspora.
All of those academic concerns really are interesting, but they do not tell me much about actual African History. And I think most people that pick up the book, probably are interested more in the actual African History than the problems of the academic study of African History.
I think the editors seem to have missed much of the promise of the series. Although some of the books I have read really shine. Mark Noll’s Very Short Introduction to Protestantism was excellent. He actually talked about the broad history of Protestantism, the characteristic of what made Protestants and the future prospects. I think that is what most people that would pick up the book are actually interested in.
I thought initially that it was a great idea to have significant scholars in the field do the writing of these books. But maybe when you are involved in the minutia of a field, you have a hard time seeing what might be interesting for those that know almost nothing about it.
Or maybe when a series has more than 300 books in it, it is inevitable that some of them are not any good. And I have picked up a couple of the not very good ones.
- God and Race in American Politics: A Short History by Mark Noll
- Very Short Introduction to Protestantism by Mark Noll (Highly Recommended)
- Very Short Introduction to the Bible by John Riches (not recommended)
- Very Short Introduction to the Reformation (Recommended)
- Very Short Introduction to Augustine (Recommended)
- John Knox for Armchair Theologians
- Aquinas for Armchair Theologians
- Calvin for Armchair Theologians