Metaxas’ literary giftedness was one of the things that made this book such a great read. He is creative and original without being bombastic; he finds the right balance of writing “freely” but not self-consciously so. In other words, he doesn’t overdo it, as talented writers are often tempted to. The book reads like a novel and each chapter ends on a dramatic note. The sections describing Hitler and the horror of Nazism are particularly gripping. I learned loads of new words, words like “magus” (356), “ineluctably” (360), “perfidious” (398), and “ersatz” (439). There are many more like these. They don’t seem forced, either. He’s just very comfortable with the English language.
Here are some favorite sentences. Comparing Berlin and New York City in 1930:
“If Berlin exemplified the Old World-weary sophistication of the actress just past her prime, New York City seemed to exhibit the crazy, boundless energy of a bright-eyed adolescent in his full growth spurt: the whole island seemed to be bursting at the seams in every direction, grinning as it did so” (100).
Describing a Time magazine article on Harry Emerson Fosdick:
“The flattering portrait painted of Fosdick suggested the son of Galileo and Joan of Arc, and the article managed to take a few potshots at the unwashed fundamentalist hordes whom the ruddy shepherd boy Fosdick was bravely fighting with his slingshot and Rockefeller’s millions.”
On Bonhoeffer’s vision of the obedient life:
“It was not a cramped, compromised, circumspect life, but a life lived in a kind of wild, joyful, full-throated freedom” (446).
On the German military leaders ineffective opposition to Hitler:
“Like some Houdini from hell, Hitler again wriggled free. But how? As usual, it was the fumfering inaction of the German army officer corps, bound and gagged by their misplaced scruples. In time the bloodthirsty devils with whom they were playing patty-cake would strangle them with the guts of their quaint scruples” (306).
But best of all are his descriptions of Hitler. On his political savvy: “having sniffed the political winds with typically canine sensitivity, he would bound ahead of the situation” and act with “typically lupine ruthlessness” (230). A speech is described as Hitler “belch[ing] diabolical aphorisms of perfectly circular logic” (382). Or a meal with his generals: “as the famously vegetarian Reich leader indecorously bolted his meatless mush, the horrified aristocratic generals around him indulged in polite conversation” (427). The writing helps you feel not only how evil Hitler was, but from a certain perspective, how preposterous he was.
This book helped me love words and sentences more. It was a joy to read.