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The Book of Books

By Melvyn Bragg
December 2011 | Review by Paul Brown


The King James Bible has often been called the Book of Books both in itself and in what it stands for. Since its publication in 1611 it has been the best selling book in the world, and many believe, had the greatest impact. The King James Bible has spread the Protestant faith. It has also been the greatest influence on the enrichment of the English language and its literature. It has been the Bible of wars from the British Civil War in the seventeenth century to the American Civil War two centuries later and it has been carried into battle in innumerable conflicts since then. 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. It was integral to the abolition of slavery and it defined attitudes to modern science, education and sex.

  • Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
  • ISBN: 978-1-444-70515-7
  • Pages: 376
  • Price: 20.00
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Book Review

Among the many books written on the King James Bible this year it may come as a surprise to see one by Melvyn Bragg (Baron Bragg of Wigton in Cumbria), the well-known writer and broadcaster. Some may have seen his programme on the same subject on television, or read a recent article of his, ‘My first steps back on the road to faith’. For several reasons, therefore, it is likely that some readers of Evangelical Times will also read this book. It must be borne in mind, then, that it is not written by one who is a Christian believer. He says himself: ‘The whole idea – God, Genesis, Christ, Resurrection – is now to me a moving metaphor, a poetic way of attempting to understand what may forever be incomprehensible.’ But he adds: ‘When I was six it was the truth about all of life.’

      The book is inevitably like the proverbial curate’s egg, good in parts. There is much that is interesting and informative, and sometimes surprising. The twenty-five chapters are divided into three main sections: ‘From Hampton Court to New England’; ‘The Impact on Culture’; ‘The Impact on Society’. Quite rightly he emphasizes the contribution of William Tyndale in the production of the early English Bibles: ‘As for his English it reads like a rare, perhaps transcendent gift.’ Bragg is good, as would be expected, on the literary quality of the King James Bible and its enormous influence on nearly all the major English speaking literary figures right up until quite recently. He even has a chapter on Richard Dawkins, who does not impress him.

      However, although he recognizes the immense influence for good that the Bible has been over the past four centuries – the abolition of slavery, the rise of democracy, even its influence on science – he nevertheless sees it as a mass of contradictions. He also seems to me to attribute to a translation what actually belongs to the Bible as Bible. We must be deeply grateful for a translation used to change so much in the world, but it is the fact that it was the Word of God that was translated that is vital. The worst chapter in the book, in my opinion, is entitled ‘The Bible and Sex’: ‘The modern secular world has reached back to the classical world and the waters have closed over certain unsustainable prejudices in the Bible.’ And is the modern secular world the better off for it? Surely not!

      If he sees contradictions in the Bible there is also a fundamental contradiction in his book. Granted that the Bible has been misunderstood, misapplied and misused by fallible humans, it is nevertheless a contradictory position to maintain that a book as flawed as he sees it to be can actually be such an agent for good as he shows that it has been. I cannot recommend this book to the average Christian reader but I do pray for its author.


Paul E Brown,

Halton, Lancaster




Paul E Brown,

Halton, Lancaster


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