Remembering Hugh Nibley

It is perhaps a bit unorthodox to review a book before receiving and reading it, but this one is so exciting, I cannot resist. Not that the contents are unfamiliar. Substantial excerpts have been posted regularly by The Interpreter Foundation in their online journal, Interpreter, A Journal of Latter-Day Saint Faith and Scholarship ( and for someone who was greatly influenced by Nibley, they are a delight. Paperback and Kindle versions are available now, but I am holding out for the hardbound, due out by June.

I first became aware of Professor Hugh Nibley as a high school student, a youth who loved history, mythology, and all things ancient. His articles in The Improvement Era magazine each month were eagerly anticipated. A few years later I was a freshman at Brigham Young University trying to decide whether to continue in Archaeology or switch to something else. Wandering around in an unfamiliar building, not quite in a fugue state, I looked up and saw that I was in front of Hugh Nibley’s office!

I knocked, he answered, and I went right in, asking about his work and advice concerning what I should study, as if he would know. Walls were lined with old books and desks were covered with ancient papyri he had been working on, work which I had interrupted. He was kind and patient, not particularly talkative, no doubt thinking about something Egyptian and wondering what this silly student was doing in his room and how to get rid of him. I don’t remember what was said, but after a short visit departed, thrilled by my brief contact with greatness.

We met two or three times more over the ensuing years, usually in the company of my late wife, who as a starving student had done housework for the Nibley family. She was very fond of them and they chatted of old times and about her great grandfather, inventor of the paperback book, a point of interest to the professor, who had read some of them during the twenties and thirties. We walked across campus together, two students and an aged teacher, he with his trademark rumpled hat, trench coat, and classic leather attaché case (a souvenir of World War II, captured from a fleeing Nazi officer when the youthful Sergeant Nibley was in army intelligence).  I did not say much on those occasions, hoping he did not remember me as the freshman who had barged into his office.

As for the book in question, Hugh Nibley Observed, it is filled with recollections such as these, only much better because they are from close friends, family, and colleagues, as well as a classic autobiographical sketch by the professor himself. There are reappraisals of his many scholarly contributions, of course, but the main focus is on his personality (delightfully witty and insightful), character (determined to do what is right, no matter what), and faith (humble and unswerving).

Professor Nibley was quite possibly the most intelligent man of our time, certainly one of the most—his IQ was estimated at something over 200, on a par with Aristotle. My scheduling was such that I never actually took a class from him for credit, but have watched or listened to recordings of his Book of Mormon and Pearl of Great Price courses dozens of times, as well as other talks, so I count myself as one of the thousands of students he influenced. His delivery was rapid and articulate, reciting from memory quotations in Hebrew or Greek or Latin or Arabic or any of a half dozen other languages. He usually, not always, provided translations. I also have read nearly everything he ever published, always well written, always informative and always interesting. His collected works fill two shelves in my office and related books much of a third. Now I eagerly await the arrival of this latest volume. The bookshelves will have to be rearranged.


Defending America


In 1993 Newt Gingrich produced a wonderful video course called Renewing American Civilization. My wife and I had the privilege to serve as local representatives of the course, persuading two local public TV stations to broadcast it (one of them re-broadcast it six times). We felt this was quite an accomplishment, especially in liberal Portland, Oregon. The course is still available from Amazon and well worth reviewing:

Now Professor Gingrich has created a new online course, Defending America. I have not worked through the course yet, but it promises to be a thoughtful, timely, and useful update on the state of our beloved country, the “culture wars”, and how best to preserve all that is true, good, and beautiful in our civilization. The six lessons are titled “Poisoning The Melting Pot”, “Faith Under Attack”, “Destruction of Opportunity”, “Thought Police Run Amok”, “Defending the 2nd Amendment”, and “Draining the Swamp”. The titles alone say, “This is going to be good!” Find out more here:


Best Wishes!

Hoaka Delos Reyes, Master Stone Carver



The interaction of great artists with their chosen medium is the stuff of lore and not a little mystical. Michelangelo spoke of seeing the figure in a block and carving away stone to free it. Similarly, Hawaiian artist Hoaka Delos Reyes is quoted  as saying about his learning of the craft, “The stone started to shape me, not the other way around.” It all started many years ago when his son asked him to make a stone poi pounder for him, an easy request for a man who was a builder in stone and cement. Then came the condition, his son wanted it to be genuine, made the old way, no modern tools. What followed is related in the article, “The Stone Caller” by Shannon Wianecki in the February/March issue of Hana Hou!, the inflight magazine of Hawaiian Airlines.

It is the story of a man responding to a calling, for Hoaka soon found there was only one man who knew the old way of working stone, George Fujinaga, a crusty old  stone carver who looked askance at young men who naively wished to learn the art in a weekend. It proved to be a schooling of many years. That meant learning the types of stones, learning to recognize their spirits, learning how to work them and with them, how to “listen to them”, how to call to them and hear their answer. In the process the artist comes to know himself as well.

The day came when the apprentice’s skill exceeded his master’s. Not long after that, George passed away, but not before asking his wife to tell Hoaka that “he had been waiting for you all his life. Now he can go to sleep, knowing that you will carry on the work.” It is an inspiring story of diligence, faith, and hard work. Read more at the following links:




Best Wishes!

Rules For Writers

It is generally good for a laugh to say that a professional writer has no rules. It’s not true, of course, and a number of great writers have made lists of rules which they follow with varying degrees of faithfulness. The lists might be summed up by saying that the One Great Rule of Writing is to communicate clearly. Therein lies the rub, for communication involves much more than conveying data from one brain to another; a laundry list can do that. Writers, especially fiction writers, have a host of associations connected to those data, ranging from subtle or not so subtle implications to the deepest emotions, and conveying those is a real challenge.

Available tools for that deeper and broader communication vary with the language, which partially accounts for the difficulty of translation. English has an especially wide vocabulary and variety of idioms to aid in the task (and to confuse the foreign learner). This is reflected in differences in style and usage from one English speaking country to another, American versus British for instance, and in changes over time; the writing of Hawthorne is strikingly different from Hemingway, or even Twain, though all worked in American English. Quite different products, each well communicated.


I recently ran across an excellent discussion of the uses and abuses of language, specifically referencing political writing, authored by none other than George Orwell, one of the best writers of the 20th century. He includes some egregious examples which may evoke great groans of laughter. A link to his essay is below, but first, his list of rules:

  1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
  5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

Good rules. Let us pledge to follow them more fully. And here’s that link:


Best Wishes!

Education vs. Schooling


Years ago I published a quarterly newsletter called The Kithara. An article there pointed out the great damage done by Dewey and others when they changed education (satisfying the need of the individual for knowledge and understanding, thus creating useful and productive members of society who could think for themselves) into schooling (indoctrinating children in the current “progressive” dogma, thus creating obedient citizens who let their leaders think for them). The difference is profound.


An Ideal Home Library

From time immemorial, education has been the responsibility of the family and basics were taught by parents, including reading as well as principles of successful living, moral uprightness, and work.  This was supplemented with tutors and schools as opportunity and resources permitted. Reading and writing were recognized as necessary for communication and to have access to the scriptures, newspapers, and literature. An educated American in the 18th and 19th centuries was expected to be familiar with The Bible, Plutarch’s Lives, and Shakespeare. This system worked well enough that literacy rates at the time of the American Revolution are estimated at over 90%, and nearly 100% in Boston.

Education was a necessary precursor for the success of the American experiment in self-government. Recognizing this fact and the need to create good citizens, local governments instituted schools to better provide for children of families without the means to hire tutors or private schools; these were the public schools. They also functioned quite well for a long time, eventually becoming nearly universal, taking over many of the educational functions of families, and displacing private teachers. Despite the best efforts of generations of devoted public school teachers to aid and protect their pupils, politicians and ideologues recognized almost from the beginning that public schools with their naïve, captive audiences could be effective tools for indoctrination and social experimentation. In the process they necessarily devoted less and less time and resources to the actual acquiring of basic knowledge and useful skills. Alas!

1924 schoolroom

Elementary School About 1924

Chester Finn, a tireless champion of school reform for many years, recently wrote a fine article about the failure of one of those social experiments that started in the late 1980s and which even now corrupts discourse on the subject. It is well worth looking at:


Best Wishes!