Ten Prayers That Changed the World: Extraordinary Stories of Faith That Shaped the Course of History
Ten Prayers That Changed the World: Extraordinary Stories of Faith That Shaped the Course of History by Jean-Pierre Isbouts is an intriguing book. Being a college professor (teaching both writing and history) I'm a sucker for both a well written book and a book that gives fresh perspective on historical events. What I am not is a Christian. At least, not in the sense I believe Christ is the only path to redemption. I tend, frankly, to be more Buddhist. So, I admit, as intriguing as the book seemed, I was afraid I might run into a road block with this book--it might be preachy or too "Jesus-y."
However, Isbouts is a renowned historian with several books to his credit as well as a few films. While I'd never read anything by him before, I can certainly see myself looking out for his other works because Ten Prayers That Changed the World: Extraordinary Stories of Faith That Shaped the Course of History is the sort of book that Christianity (and all faiths) need today. Isbouts writes of ten highly influential prayers in history and tells the story of each (how the praying of the prayer came about and what outcome the prayer had) in a manner that very much follows the ancient tradition of history as a story. Personally, a storytelling approach to the ten narratives is one of the biggest selling points of the book for me-- it's not simply a lot of stuffy factual academic writing meant to impress other historians.
Writing means a lot to me-- I have an MFA in creative writing after all-- and while I can and sometimes do read academic historians, it's sometimes not very pleasant to do! Isbouts has a storyteller's gift, though, and while we know that parts of what he writes are fictionalized (he can't know exact dialogue in most cases) the gist of what he tells are true stories.
Now, before anyone gets too outraged and says "WAIT! Jesus is mythology!" I'd just say, nothing in history is 100%-- it's a highly subjective medium. There's a line in Don Henley's "The Garden of Allah" that goes, "there are no facts, there is no truth/Just data to be manipulated/ I can get any result you like/What's it worth to ya?" History is more objective than it once was, to be sure, but it can never, ever, be entirely objective. And Isbouts goes about the work of historian as it once was and is meant to be-- that of storyteller.
And these are fascinating stories-- from the prayer of Abraham to Gandhi's prayer for peace-- all are worth reading just as historical episodes. Isbouts does better than that, however, he ends each story with a section where he discusses why this prayer is significant, why it changed history, how it had positive impact. Personally, I found the chapter on Jesus' Prayer to Abba (no, not the band) to be one of the most profound things I have read in a long time. Even though I'm not Christian, I suddenly understand this prayer in an entirely different way.
I'd recommend this book-- it's got Jews, Protestants, Catholics, even a Hindu and I would recommend it without reservation. Well, let me amend that, if you are a narrow minded Christian who believes only your brand of Christianity will go to heaven, you might forego it. It's not a hellfire and brimstone kind of read. It's a book that looks at the role of spirituality in history and the impact it can have.
If I had anything negative to say, I might say it seems disappointing that a book by National Geographic has photos and images of the people who said the prayers but they aren't in color. That's a SMALL quibble and one that I think is really just nit picking on my part. I had the same ridiculous complaint years ago when I read another book by them. So, just overlook that as my nuttiness!
I'm grateful to National Geographic for providing me a copy of this book and to TLC Book Tours for making me a stop on the virtual tour. This is a book I went into with some trepidation but came out on the other side pleased to have been allowed to review it and I look forward to exploring the work of Isbouts further!