Author: William Dean Hamilton
Publication Info: Crosslink, 2013
Never judge a book by its cover. Would You Do What They Did? has a pretty decent cover. Unfortunately, the content doesn’t live up to a promising first impression.
I wasn’t far into the book – only the introduction, in fact – when I began to worry. While I admired the author’s purpose in writing it – “to make the stories readable, and the characters come alive” and to help readers “see Christ in [a] diverse array of people” – I took issue with a couple of his statements. One, he has “very serious doubts about anything miraculous outside of [the Bible]”. How can this be if Jesus (God) is the same today as He was yesterday and as He will be forever (Hebrews 13:8)? Two, Hamilton “tried to write the truth” but “decide[d] what to include based on what [he]…decided the truth to be.” What? He decided what the truth was? Isn’t the truth the truth? Finally, his comment that he “tried to include the most famous Christians, but… [ran] out of room in [his] book is humorous. He writes about four well-known Christians – St. Francis of Assisi, Thomas Becket, John Wesley and Martin Luther, spending about 44% of the book on Assisi, 26% on Becket, 12% on Wesley and 17% on Luther. The remaining 1% is introduction, conclusion and bibliography. Perhaps if he’d taken up fewer pages on the first two of his subjects, he might have written about twice as many individuals.
I wanted to like this book; really I did. I was interested in knowing more about great Christian leaders from our past and in answering the question, would I do what they did? I wanted to know what it was they had done that made them so unusual.
In exchange for receiving the book free of charge from the publisher, I promised an honest review. An honest review you shall have.
It was clear that the author had neither a critique group nor an editor to assist him in his endeavour. The writing was poor and the book was filled with wrong word choices (for example, “pallet” for “palate” on page 126), typos (e.g. page 47 “The Bishop Guido wore an outfit of red and a large red cap. Under the cat was a man in his late thirties…”), spelling errors (e.g. “He wondered towards Castle Church”, p. 271), and backwards and dropped quotation marks.
Let me give you an example of the poor writing. All I need to do is give you the first couple of words in each paragraph on a single page. My sample comes from page 24:
You see what I mean: lots of repetition, lots of subject-verb paragraph beginnings. To keep a reader interested and engaged, you need to vary your sentence structures. In dialogue, it’s useful to begin with a couple of tags, but then to let these fall away and let the conversation take over. It should be obvious who is speaking. If Hamilton didn’t have access to a critique group or editor, at least he could have read the book aloud to hear what it sounded like. This practice is very helpful in catching errors and words that are too frequently repeated. The author ought also to have proofread the book (preferably a proof copy from the printer) before multiple copies made it into the marketplace. An excellent guide for writers is the book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne. I encourage Hamilton to read it and apply what he learns.
Given the quality of the writing, it was difficult to read the stories. There were knowledge gaps and flaws in the author’s logic, but I persisted.
Would I do what Francis did and live a life of poverty and service to others? I don’t believe that everyone is called to renounce money and material possessions and to treat themselves as harshly as it seems Francis did. Money and things are problems only if we see them as more than the tools they are, and if we are not good stewards of the resources God gives us. I do my best to serve others, though there is always room for improvement.
Would I do what Becket did and defy a king to stand up for the church? I didn’t find a lot of spirituality in the version of Becket that Hamilton presented. He seemed overly concerned with his position and land holdings as well as with church rules and regulations, rather than in loving God and serving people. There was no evidence of a prayerful life and only at his end do we hear him calling upon the name of the Lord. As for me, I hope that I would love God well, serve people, and speak the truth when and where God gives me a platform.
Would I do what Wesley did? He discovered that salvation comes by faith and not by works, then preached this to the people in opposition to what other church leaders were teaching. We live in a society in which God’s Word has been watered down and there is pressure not to speak the truth. I am interested in discussion and in voicing what I know to be true according to Scripture, but I also consider whether or not my hearer is actually interested and open (Matthew 7:6).
Further on Wesley, I’ve always understood that his mother, Susanna, was a powerful Christian force in the lives of her children and led by prayerful example. At one point in the book, she comments “I didn’t teach you about the Bible, theology, and the classics from the time you were five so you could sit around…” (p. 225), but as a young man the author has him wonder “what it meant to be a Christian”. Hamilton doesn’t make clear why Wesley wouldn’t know what it meant to be a Christian when his mother was a woman of prayer and his father, Samuel, was a rector. (As a side note, this story is also the only one in the book to have titled chapters. The others all have breaks identified by the hashtag symbol. For consistency, the author ought to have stuck with one or the other.)
Would I do what Luther did and try to reform the church from within? Would I have the courage and ability to speak to church leaders and authorities, and be willing to stand up for what I knew to be true even if it meant I was no longer accepted in my faith community? Luther was learned in the Scripture and someone like that would be far more able to debate with other trained theologians than I would be. That being said, separation from fellowship is far better than separation from God. Better to stand alone than to follow those who are misleading His flock.
I’d assumed that Crosslink was a self-publisher – i.e. would print what the author submitted in exchange for money. A visit to the website, however, indicates that this wasn’t the case. The author pays nothing, and receives royalty payments based on sales. Crosslink says that among their services, they “[p]rofessionally edit [the] manuscript” and “provide final electronic author proof copy.” If this is true, I can only assume that there was a serious breakdown in the system, since it is evident that this book received no editing at all. If a proof copy was given to the author, he could not have been in a position to proofread his own work. Considering that the author blurb on the back of the book tells us that Hamilton “has published over 1,000 articles, short stories, and poetry in magazines, websites and literary journals” and “has written biographies” of two celebrities, I expected much better work.
Would you do what I did (and pick up this book)? Thanks to this review, you won’t have to.