Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Book Review: The Life and Times of James Ussher


Archbishop James Ussher (or was it Usher?) is the man who is famous (or infamous) for the dating of creation to the 23rd October 4004BC, using the genealogies contained in the Scriptures. But there's more to the man than just this. One of the first students at the newly founded Trinity College, Dublin, Ussher finished as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland from 1625-1656, having helped write the Irish Articles of Faith in 1615 - the foundation for the work of the Westminster divines as they crafted the Westminster Confession of Faith (which impacted on subsequent Reformed Confessions).

All in all, it appears that he was a remarkable man. The author sets out his aim early on in the book: 'The present volume is an effort to place the Irish Primate before the reader as he was in his day - a great ecclesiastic, a profound scholar, and a much-tried Churchman.'

Sadly that's about all I can tell you about Ussher, or even about the book. Consider this not so much a book review as a Kindle format review.

In theory, the Amazon Kindle is a wonderful invention. The ability to carry around with you a thousand books or more in something that fits into your pocket is amazing. A world of possibilities opens before you, of reading and accessing a multitude of books, wider than your regular genres, at a hopefully reduced price. Even better, the range of older books which might be out of print or out of copyright, suddenly re-released to the wider world as their texts are digitised and optimised for consumption.

This is one such volume. First published in 1895 by James Anderson Carr, the work has recently been republished in several hard copy versions (all very expensive), but appeared on the Kindle store for just 77 pence. A bargain! Buyer beware - you get what you pay for.

This Kindle edition hasn't been optimized for the Kindle at all, with the end result being a jumble of text and extensive footnotes all gathered together. It was simply impossible to read the book, as you were never quite sure which bits were the book and which were the notes. While most books with footnotes will have them available at the end of the chapter or the end of the book (with a handy link if you want to read the note), this one obviously tries to recreate the original text with its footnotes at the bottom of the page - except it doesn't work on a Kindle, or where footnotes carry on beyond a page themselves!

The price of the book was small, but the impossibility of the format means I'll not be able to read the book at all. Don't be caught out like I was! Here's the link to the Kindle version. A much better book would be The Irish Puritans: James Ussher and the Reformation of the Church.

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