Wicked Splendid

For the reader who writes (or for the writer who reads), certain authors are a gold mine.  With a bracing vocabulary, a precision of thought, and a way with a sentence that manages to be both wise and witty, David Bentley Hart has a perspective on the world that requires a careful reading  — that is well-rewarded.

In A Splendid Wickedness, a collection of fifty-two occasional essays, I recorded a list of twenty-four completely unfamiliar words, not including all those that I recognized but have only admired from afar.  Although I prefer a traditional book to my Kindle for most reading, e-readers might have been invented for this caliber of writing because of their ready access to a dictionary.   Since I had to look up my new words the old-fashioned way, I will treat you to my five favorites:

  • autochthonous — indigenous; formed in the place where it is found
  • bedizen — to dress or adorn gaudily
  • sidereal — of our relating to stars or constellations
  • orgulous — proud
  • eidetic — marked by extraordinarily accurate and vivid recall

(You’re welcome.)

The journey through A Splendid Wickedness covers terrain as diverse as the virtues of idleness, capital punishment, baseball, book reviews, and a series of philosophical ponderings delivered in a warm and furry tone by Hart’s dog, Roland.

The title track (Essay #23) examines literary characters Don Juan and Don Quixote, and wonders aloud why the figure of Quixote has been “borne aloft by his beautiful and mysterious timelessness,” while Juan has become passé.  Swerving from literary to cultural criticism, Hart concludes that because we have, in our time, lost our appreciation for a transcendent good, and because “our culture is not subject to the torments of immutable moral laws,” there can be “no such thing as splendid wickedness, simply because, if we do not see ourselves in the light of the Good beyond being, nothing in our nature can be cast in sufficiently striking relief.”

It is this sort of cogent thinking that shows up in Hart’s thoughts on various topics:

“The wonderful thing about holiness, when you really encounter it, is that it testifies to itself.”

“All that is needed to make even the most outlandish theory seem plausible to the truly doctrinaire materialist is that it come wrapped in the appurtenances of empirical science.”

” . . . the worst fate that could befall America, one far grimmer than the mere loss of some of its fiscal or political supremacy in the world, would be the final triumph of a true cultural secularism.”

Having read straight through all fifty-two essays, my impulse now is to put the book on my nightstand (with Amy Carmichael, Luci Shaw, Madeleine L’Engle, and Elisabeth Elliot) for a slower read — a take-one-weekly-for-a-year-prescription for an infusion of fine writing and sharp thinking.

In my favorite essays, the author shinnies out onto some of the shakier limbs of his family tree, finding there a practicing pagan (complete with sacrifices to Janus on a marble altar); a bronzed, severed left thumb (a relic from a chance amputation in a formal duel); and a metaphysical materialist who was obsessed with death.  As for me, my ancestral roots run all gnarly into Northern Maine and the Canadian Maritimes, a people who expressed themselves in ways both understated and forceful.  After an aspirated pause, I’m sure they would have pronounced Hart’s book to be “wicked splendid.”

And they would have been correct.


This book was provided by William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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41 thoughts on “Wicked Splendid”

  1. Oh… this looks interesting! I love discovering new things to read and I’ll have to check this out! This quote is a keeper: “The wonderful thing about holiness, when you really encounter it, is that it testifies to itself.”” Great post 🙂


    1. Thanks, Karen. I approached this book with just a little bit of trepidation, but it was so worth the effort, and I do plan on going back through it at a slower pace as sort of a vocab building/writing style enhancement course.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good morning, friend! I still wonder where you find the time to read all these books and so thoroughly delve into their pages … and then share with us your findings!

    And live your life and love your family and minister God’s grace to others. You’re amazing, for sure …

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Michele, this post and the vocabulary words you shared brought back wonderful childhood memories. In school, we were asked to have a black marble notebook in which we were required to keep 10 new words and their definitions, which we had to look up in our dictionary. I loved keeping this notebook and still have one saved 🙂


  4. Michele, one of my pastors that I had the pleasure of working with for a couple of years was a big fan on learning a new word each day. He subscribed to a service that emailed him a new word from the dictionary each day and then he would try to work it into as many sentences as possible. It was definitely a challenge to be his assistant and understand what he meant! Unfortunately, church members did not appreciate it much when he inserted them into his sermons! (Most people don’t like to think … )

    I definitely ought to send him a link to this book!

    I so appreciate your delving into books and sharing with us. My reading time is very limited and your recommendations carry a lot of weight with me.


  5. Essays…yes, I’ve just been thinking I need to read more of this sort of thing because really writing a blog is rather like an essay but without the intimidation blog posting has come to hold for me….(if that makes sense). Thanks for sharing your review and let me know if you have any other essay collections to recommend!


    1. There’s a collection of essays (5) on racial reconciliation that I’m working on right now. I’m not qualified to write on that topic, but I can certainly read about it and become more comfortable with it (I hope). I’ll keep you posted . . .


  6. Michele, I love this review! Your description of this author reminds me so much of Dr. Rosalie de Rosset at Moody Bible Institute. Here is the link to her bio… http://www.moody.edu/edu_mainWF.aspx?pageid=103973&id=104428
    I’ve heard many interviews with her on Moody Radio, and she always makes me want to read more…just like your description of this author, she has “a bracing vocabulary, a precision of thought, and a way with a sentence that manages to be both wise and witty…” Thanks for another great review! Many blessings to you ❤️


  7. Michele, what an interesting sounding book! Your review certainly made me want to read it (though I think I would have had some trepidation about reviewing it, too). I found myself admiring the way you approached it.

    I always enjoy hearing about your Maine/Canadian roots. Even though God is His sovereignty has taken me all over the country, my mother’s family came from the little town of South Berwick and my paternal grandparents immigrated from Canada.

    One of these days I hope my husband and I can travel to your beautiful state. The only 2 trips I’ve made there during our marriage were made without him because of my father’s health and shortly before He died (he moved back home shortly before) . I think my mother yearned for home more this time of year than any other. I remember my grandmother mailing her orange and yellow leaves carefully folded into her weekly letters.

    Blessings, friend!


    1. Oh, such a bittersweet thing to receive those lovely leaves in the mail. We’re just beginning to see some color around the edges of trees right now, Donna. It’s so fun that we have that Maine connection in common!


  8. Thanks for letting us know your thoughts on this great read, Michele. In high school I had to learn many vocabulary words that were not part of the average vernacular, especially of other high school students. But over time, I found myself inserting them into my conversations rather naturally–often leaving others thinking I was some highbrow snob or frustrated that they needed a dictionary to understand me! In those days, dictionaries were not close at hand either, as you might already know! I do so admire your desire to read and review these books, especially ones of this caliber and share with us your thoughts! You do us a great service, my friend!


  9. Visiting from What to Read Wednesday – wow that sounds like some deep reading! I probably couldn’t even handle something like that right now since I’m just over here trying to figure out WordPress. 😉 My brain is officially fried!


  10. Michele, I love the title of this book, and especially admire your tenacity to keep reading when it takes some work! It sounds like it was worth it, though. The unfamiliar words remind me of the packet of vocab homework my daughter brings home every weekend. She’s a word girl, too, and seems to really enjoy using the new words she’s learning in every day conversation with me. So fun! The quotes you included are profound but as a fellow writer, my favorite part of this post is your second-to-last paragraph (about the family trees, etc.) … that’s some great writing, right there! 🙂


    1. I still remember some of the great words I learned in high school vocab. Love that your daughter is also a word-nerd! I’ve got to go back and re-read that second-to-last paragraph! Thanks for your positive feedback!


  11. Michele, thank you for including the five words. I’ve never seen them used before, I think. Your review caused me to quickly open another tab and check the book out and put it in my Amazon cart to order with a new e-reader. Thank you for sharing this review with Thankful Thursdays.


  12. That book sounds so interesting. I too love when I come across new words. When I was a teen I even had a subscription to Reader’s Digest for the Word Power column! I write in a real casual, informal way, but I love to soak in deep writing at times. Great review!
    ~Sherry Stahl


  13. So yet another lovely read to add to my list… I love writers who weave substance carefully into every phrase, making you stop and savour the thoughts and lines! So glad I read your post today, Michele. I wouldn’t have known about this gem otherwise. And you listed your other faves… sounds like we’re book-kindreds 🙂


  14. This is not a book I would have willingly picked up based on the title or cover, but you have definitely made it sound compelling! Thanks for linking up this week at Booknificent Thursday on Mommynificent.com! Great to have you!


  15. What an interesting, though challenging, sounding book, Michele! I love beautifully crafted writing and may have to gather the courage to read this one. 🙂


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