The book of books : the radical impact of the King James Bible, 1611-2011

by Melvyn Bragg

Paperback, 2011



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London : Hodder & Stoughton, 2011.

Media reviews

Often in this wide-ranging book, Bragg strikes a triumphalist note; but he finally concedes that his project is nostalgic. He admires what he calls the "gallantry" of 21st-century churchgoers; in the face of rampant secularism, they "hang on". In the end "the whole idea – God, Genesis, Christ,
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Resurrection – is… a moving metaphor". Yet while The Book of Books may conclude elegiacally, it demonstrates energetically that this metaphor, as realised by a committee of Jacobean scholars, has exerted an astonishing magnetism.
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User reviews

LibraryThing member FergusS
I really enjoyed this book, produced for the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

Although Bragg is not a Christian, and he clearly says so, he not only personally values aspects of his Christian heritage, he also wants those who have dismissed the impact of a Christianity mediated through the
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widespread adoption of the KJV to think again.

The three sections of the book tell you what to expect. The first is a history of the English and then American experience with this translation, as it is conceived, accepted, adopted and promoted. The second section examines a range of cultural impacts on science, language and literature (most interesting, and a little out of the more irenic character of the rest of the book, is the chapter on Dawkins). Finally, there's a section on social impact which examines slavery, education, gender issues and social movements.

It's a popular book, with few notes, if any, a short bibliography for further reading and an index. Each chapter typically has one or two main companions (eg Christopher Hill: The English Bible and the Seventeenth-Century Revolution in a couple of the early chapters) who have guided his thoughts and with whom he interacts to present his interpretation. It is well written and, with each chapter encompassing a fair swathe of history, one gains an overview quickly. All this makes the book very accessible for the reader.

At times, I wondered if he was speaking more about the impact of evangelical Christianity per se, rather than just the particular Bible version, but I then realised that the point he was making is that KJV was THE Bible of the English speaking world, and so the influence on all these areas.

I heard him speaking in Australia at some function that was televised, and I was taken by his clear and engaging presence, so bought the book. I'm glad I did. I don't agree with his theological and faith perspective, and occasionally I find his conclusions irksome to my own, but I really appreciated the straightforward acknowledgement of the genuine historical and social impact of the Book of Books.
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LibraryThing member lothiriel2003
The history of the KJV was interesting, but there was not enough of it. The author seemed to be suffering from a split personality. On the one hand, he couldn't say enough about the power of the Bible to change lives and the culture and even the course of history. On the other hand, he kept
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repeating that nobody actually believes in the Bible in these enlightened times (at least he doesn't) and can't keep a bit of a sneer out of his 'voice' when mentioning people like Milton, Wilberforce, Carey etc. who did believe the scriptures contain truth and was a guide for their life. I felt that the book would have been much better if he'd cleared up his own conflicts about faith before writing it -- or left out the commentary altogether.
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LibraryThing member paulstalder
An interesting book, full of details. He starts with the Tyndale and Geneva bibles as forerunners to the King James Version (AV), and then goes on to show the impact the AV had on literature, language, society, politics etc. in the English speaking world. Especially the beginning of democracy,
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women's rights, end of slavery were interesting and stimulating reading. He mentions authors like Shakespeare, John Bunyan, John Steinbeck, and Toni Morrison.

He takes the position that being Christian is being religious, and so believing in no God is not religious. A position I very much doubt. I believe that there is a God or that there is no God. I believe that I am created by God or I believe that I evolved out of something else. Religion gives answers to where I come from, where I am going to, and what I should do in between.

He misinterprets the Onan story: Onan was not condemned because he did spill his semen on the ground, he was condemned because he refused to make his dead brother's wife pregnant.

He also takes New Testament apocrypha and argues with those texts - despite the fact that these texts were not in the King James Version.

A very detailed book, worthwhile reading when being aware of his presuppositions.
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LibraryThing member KarenDuff
This was an interesting read and Bragg does make a good case for the King James Version of the bible being one of the most influential books ever written.
The King James Version was the book that influenced many of the social movements of the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly those aimed at
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ending poverty.
It was also the book that helped to convice William Willberforce, among others that slavery was wrong although quite why they would need any book to tell them this I don't know.However during the American Civil War both sides would use the King James Version to justify their position, and it was also used to attempt to control people by telling them how they should live their lives especially when it came to sex.
As for Bragg's book, while it is an enjoyable read if I could have I would have given it two and a half stars instead of three. This is for two reasons, firstly given that he claims that this version of the bible is one of the most influential books of all time he gives very few pages to the actual creation of this book and secondly there were some, lets be charitable and call them typos, that really should have been picked up on before the book went to the printer - the most obvious one being when George Eliot changes sex within the space of a few sentences.
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LibraryThing member Steve_Walker
In the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the KJV Bible comes a book that starts out well then loses steam. Melvyn Bragg is a well known author, tv/radio presenter, and personality in the UK."The Book of Books" is really a long essay on the history and cultural impact of the KJV. Bragg starts
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off strongly with a history of how the KJV came to be. The first serious problem with the book is the lack of footnotes. It would be nice to know what he read. He alludes to several authors in the various chaptes but one is left guessing as to the book. There is also the lack of understanding of the impact of the KJV on the local church since Bragg is not a professional historian, anthropologist, or believing Christian. Some chapters are down right wishy-washy, example the chapter on Richard Dawkins. This could have been a very good book if the author had invested more time in research and reading. It has the feeling of being rushed, like an essay due the next day. Too bad.
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