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    Tom Holland (the author of this book) is simply a brilliant writer. Want to know something about Europe around the year 1000 without having to feel you're learning history and thinking of dates, etc? Then this is the book for you. It reads like a thriller and Holland makes it sound as if he was there at the time and saw it all right before him. Not only is it a masterly attempt to put us right in the picture, it is also stunningly well written - you might just like to have a dictionary handy when you're reading it. Like all of his books (the ones about The Romans, and another about The Persions, etc.) they are brilliant masterpieces, so that having read any one of them you're shouting for more and feel compelled to read anything written by this expert at making history live, big time.



    Any reader wishing to explore the possibility of perfection, i.e. living life to the fullest possible, whether such a reader is simply curious or considers himself experienced in the spiritual life, knows nothing until he has opened this wonderful book. This is not a book to toboggan through. It requires the reader to think in a way he's generally not likely to be accustomed to; to lay the book down in mid-sentence and think about the words just read.
    Merton doesn't hedge his bets; he comes swiftly to the point, however unappetising. This is not a book for the faint-hearted; it is no hyped-up, turbocharged rhetoric; rather is it a sort of kicking away of one's spiritual ladder. In many ways, this is not a comfortable read. It is an experiment in self-dismantling, yet at the same time, a book that is at once awe-inspiring, faith-restoring, written in simple terms yet demanding everything from those who would have the courage to let go and take the author seriously. There's nothing airy-fairy in the book, not an otiose word throughout, and is laced with a bracing dose of common sense.
    Merton takes us through the various stages of our inner life, betimes urging us on and taking care that we observe the pitfalls. It is clear that he was a man a (Trappist monk) who had experienced the pain of reaching out to God, and asks us to do the same. Nor should we seek to come to know God for what there might be in it for us; such an approach is hopelessly misguided and will only lead to severe disappointment. In workmanlike manner he teaches us to abandon the gold of our imagination and trawl for the lead of reality. This is a book to read over and over again, and cannot fail to move the reader even if the target he proffers seems unattainable. He shows us the way to have courage....even to fail.