Herman Wouk 1915-2019

I was saddened to hear that Herman Wouk died last week, just 10 days short of his 104th birthday.

TheCaineMutinyHis novel The Caine Mutiny (1955) has long been one of my favorites, and I have had opportunity to teach it to several high school classes.the caine mutiny I was disappointed to read a recent piece by Professor Joseph Bottum* which seems a modern example of “damning with faint praise,” suggesting that Wouk was a good “middlebrow” writer, whose work (some of it, anyway) has stood the test of time better than others in his . . . league(?).

I think, that if Bottum were pressed, he would say that he was praising Wouk, just not “over-praising him.” But when Bottum says “In general, . . . he could be counted on to write a readable book with some serious ideas in it. Or, perhaps better, a readable book with some serious ideas on it, like figures embroidered on a tapestry,” it is hard not to hear that as a snide, uncharitable comment.**

In my view, The Caine Mutiny succeeds as a novel because it draws us in to care about a handful of deeply flawed people who actually grow in self awareness. Willy gains maturity, of course, but so do Maryk and Keefer — and May. The fact that Wouk does this in a long, believable, narrative, with deft humor and across many sub genres,*** is really quite impressive.

I hope that Bottum’s review does not dissuade a single person from reading (at least) The Caine Mutiny. Wouk’s accomplishment should not be disparaged for being accessible. That seems fair, doesn’t it?


*Joseph Bottum, “Herman Wouk, 1915-2019: Remembering a master of middlebrow,” The Washington Free Beacon (May 25, 2019) [link].

**Not convinced? How about this: “No doubt, [Captain Queeg] is wonderfully drawn as a character: memorable in every way, beginning with his name. But an author doesn’t get to give us a Dickensian type, and then reverse field just to flatter readers that they’ve just had a deep thought. All they’ve had is the picture of a thought, a simulacrum of ideas, unearned by the prose. Which is perfectly fine for a certain kind of fiction. This might almost be the definition, the archetype, of the middlebrow.”

***By which I mean, non-technically, that The Caine Mutiny is a war novel, a romance (modern sense), a comic novel, an adventure story, a legal thriller, and (yes) a morality tale neatly woven into one narrative.

A mentor

One of the nicer things about working at my law firm is hearing other attorneys talking about the former members of the firm, in this case the senior partner of the firm when I first arrived. Sometimes those old stories find their way into print, as in this recent example:

small quotes blue[After clerking for Judge David W. Dyer, I returned to the private sector, and was working for Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, where] I was working on a sensitive criminal case arising out of the Kennedy Space Center. Our client, a contractor on the space program, had been accused of defrauding the government. It looked like the case might go to a grand jury for possible criminal charges. I was in charge of the day-to-day investigation. Part of my duty was to prepare for Armageddon if, heaven forbid, the company was indicted. Continue reading A mentor

A gentleman and a novelist

Walter_Sullivan_FSWI just had the experience of reading a novel written by one of my professors at Vanderbilt University.

Walter Sullivan (1924-2006) introduced me to many of my favorite books, including Brideshead Revisited, The End of the Affair, War in Heaven, and “The Four Quartets” in a class he called “Angelic and Demonic Themes in 20th Century Literature.”  We also read The Spire and, I feel certain, some Flannery O’Connor. He was a marvelous teacher who started by teaching the basics of the Bible so that the class had a common language to discuss the modern works.  I have often wished I had spent more time working on “The Four Quartets” while I had opportunity to draw on his wisdom.*

Long Long Love

It turns out he wrote three novels and last night I read The Long, Long Love [link].**

It is the story of Horatio Adams, a man strangely incapable of accepting what happiness comes his way because of the pain and fear which distracts him.

It is a moving and lyrical book:

“I wondered about that, Horatio. What happened to us? Why did things work out the way they did?”

“Why?” I said. “Nobody ever really knows why. There are a thousand reasons for every turn of every day.” I pondered this a while, knowing it was true. Thinking that not only did God know about the fall of the sparrow, but that only the mind of God could know all the reasons why the sparrow fell.

Recommended (don’t expect any tank battles).

*Thomas Howard’s The Dove Descending (2006) [link] is the best substitute I know of.

**Sullivan had written it about twenty years before I met him.  How sad that I did not read it until more than twenty years after he died.  It is still in print.

RLW 1947-2017

Robert Wears was my friend.

I am sorry, I know most of you called him “Bob,” but I met him through his wife Diane, and to me he was always “Robert.” With my wife Katherine, we four were members of a book club for the last 20-plus years. We have met more or less monthly, and read well over 200 books together.

I did not know him in his professional life, I was not a member of his family, we shared no school ties, we did not go to the same church. I interacted with him medically only once, and in that moment, as he visited me in the hospital before my abdominal surgery, he gave me permission and I threw up on him. Continue reading RLW 1947-2017

AEB 1931-2016

Alban Emerson Brooke
July 1, 1931 — November 4, 2016

Alban Emerson Brooke, 85, of Jacksonville, FL, passed away suddenly on November 4, 2016 from a head injury suffered after an accidental fall.

He was best known to the public as an attorney and judge in Duval, Clay and Nassau County from 1960 to 2002. Born in Louisville, KY, he was raised in Sandy Spring, Maryland. He attended The Citadel (The Military College of South Carolina), graduating in 1953 and served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. After his discharge, he attended the George Washington University Law School. Upon relocating to Jacksonville in the late 1950s, he became the 9,027th member of The Florida Bar, and was in private practice until 1980. He then served in the Fourth Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office under T. Edward Austin from May 19, 1980 to December 31, 1988, before he was appointed as a trial judge in Florida’s Fourth Judicial Circuit in 1988, serving for 13 years, until his retirement at the end of 2002.

He is survived by his wife of more than 61 years, Mary Grace Brooke; his children — local attorney Allan F. Brooke II (Katherine), Grace Brooke Huffman, M.D. (Steve) of Winchester, Virginia, and Peter Emerson Brooke; his grandchildren — Alban Emerson Brooke II (Marie), Philip Davis Brooke, Ph.D. (Cecilia), Priscilla Mary Brooke, Sarah Katherine Brooke, Thomas Tarlton Brooke, and Thomas Brooke Huffman; and his great-granddaughter Emerson Rose Brooke. He was blessed to have most of his family living close by.

He had been a member of the Session of Riverside Presbyterian Church and was later a deacon at First Baptist Church. He was a man of deep personal integrity, broad intellectual interests and was known for his compassion and concern. He had a great sense of humor and a nearly endless supply of stories. He read widely, enjoyed contract bridge, and was devoted to his Lord.

His devotion was characterized by his service as husband and father, as he and Mary Grace dedicated their retirement years to the care of their youngest son, Peter. He will be much missed by his family, friends and community, as he adds his voice to the chorus of praise around the throne of God.

Soli Deo Gloria.

A Memorial Service and reception will be held at 11:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 22, 2016 at Westside Chapel, 4541 Shirley Ave., Ste 8, Jacksonville, FL 32210.

In lieu of flowers, donations to The Arc Jacksonville (www.arcjacksonville.org) or Westside Chapel (www.westsidechapeljax.com) would be appreciated.

Arrangements by Naugle Funeral Home & Cremation Services, 1203 Hendricks Avenue, Jacksonville, FL (904) 396-1611.

PHD 1925-2016

G R A V E S I D E     S E R V I C E

Philip Herman Davis
October 13, 1925 — October 14, 2016
2:00 pm, October 22, 2016
Pine Bush Cemetery, Kerhonkson, New York


I think Grandpa would like it if we started with Scripture, and here the Scripture states the problem we face, from the difficult and troubling book of Ecclesiastes.

The writer of Ecclesiastes is called Qoheleth, “The Preacher.” The Preacher says:

A good name is better than a good ointment,
And the day of one’s death is better than the day of one’s birth.

It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.

Ecclesiastes 7:1-2.  It is better to go to a funeral than a wedding reception!

We stand here with the body of a man with a good name, who was held in good repute in his community, yet who lived in deep humility.  To have a good name when you die is a wonderful blessing — it leads to this group standing and considering Philip Herman Davis’s life and legacy, and speaking about him in the memorial service at 4:00.

And Grandpa would have wanted us to take to heart the reality of his death.

But this is not the last word.  

Grandpa would want us to take to heart the reality of our own deaths.

Someday some will stand at a grave for you, and consider your name and your life.  Perhaps it will be a large family like this one.  Maybe it will just be one or two acquaintances.  But your body will probably be in a container to be placed in the ground, with a word from a son-in-law or someone who knew you.

But that will not be the last word.

The end of Ecclesiastes states:

The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14.  And that is frightening, or should be, for each of us have done countless things for which we would prefer not to be judged.  We would far rather have some of the choices we have made and things we have done and words we have said be dropped from consideration, or treated as mere rehearsal or simply overlooked.  We want to cry out, “Please, measure us by our best choices.”

But Ecclesiastes says “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.”

And yet still, that is not the last word.

Jesus, when he had come to show us what God is truly like, showed both compassion and judgment, and taught and acted out a life of righteousness in joy and sorrow,
pleasure and pain, triumph and tragedy, but at the end of his short life he prayed this prayer:

Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

Luke 23:34.  And by this he did not mean that his executioners did not understand what they were doing, but that they were ignorant, and misled and deceived and Jesus asked his Father to let the punishment fall on him instead of them.

Paul said it like this:

For while we were still weak, at the right time [Jesus] died for [] ungodly [people like us].  For [hardly anyone would] die for a righteous person . . .  but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, [Jesus] died for us. . . . [We] have now been justified by [Jesus’] blood, [and certainly] saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.

Romans 5:6-10.  “Weak,” “ungodly,” “enemies.”  That’s who we are, and honestly, that’s who Philip Herman Davis was.

He would not have denied it.

But 36 years ago, in June 1980, he was reconciled to God by what Jesus did when Jesus died.  Jesus saved Grandpa from God’s judgment on his life.  Thereafter, God would judge Grandpa’s life on the basis of Jesus’ righteousness, not on the basis of Grandpa’s own righteousness.

At the end of his life — but just (mercifully) in the last couple of months of his life — Grandpa felt his body failing him.  He might have felt like Paul did, knowing he was near the end, when he wrote his protégé, Timothy:

I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.

2 Timothy 4:6-8.

And from where I stand, I completely believe that Grandpa

fought the good fight, . . .

finished the course, . . .

kept the faith . . . .

And so I believe that when Grandpa stepped across the threshold from this life, and
as he slipped out of this body that we are burying today, and when he left this earth on (as we reckon it) October 14, 2016, he heard these words:

Well done, good and faithful servant.
You have been faithful over a little;
I will set you over much.
Enter into the joy of your master.

Matthew 25:21.

And that is the last word.

May we each consider these things and live so as to hear those very words when we ourselves meet the Judge of every man and woman.