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In one of the most unique parlays in human history, Lew Wallace was not only a significant Union General during the Civil War, he also wrote one of the best selling novels in all of literature.   After the war, posted to a deadly dull Western fort, Wallace began writing to fill the empty hours.  Prompted by a casual discussion about the life and times of Jesus, he set this great story of revenge against the backdrop of Christ's mission.

Judah Ben-Hur is a Jew of Jerusalem.  Arriving at manhood, he has become estranged from his childhood friend Messala, a Roman noble.  The two exchange bitter words and when Ben-Hur later accidentally dislodges a roof tile which strikes a Roman official, Messala has him sent to the galleys and his mother and sister, Tirzah, sent to a leprosy infested prison cell.    As he is being led to the ship on which he will be enslaved, Ben-Hur is offered a drink of water by an unforgettable stranger.  Onboard ship, Ben-Hur befriends the Roman admiral Arrius and, after saving his life, is made his heir and a citizen of Rome.

Several years later, wealthy and well educated, Ben-Hur returns to Judea to look for his mother and sister and wreak his revenge on Messala.  Vengeance comes when he vanquishes Messala in a chariot race, but his family, freed from their squalid cell and suffering from leprosy, hide from him.  Meanwhile, Christ has come to Jerusalem preaching to increasing crowds and Ben-Hur, recognizing the kindly stranger who once helped him, becomes a leader of a group of armed guards bent on protecting him.  His devotion becomes all the more complete after Christ heals Tirzah and his mother.  But when the time comes, Ben-Hur heeds Christ's wishes and does not intervene.   He does manage to return the long ago favor and give Christ a drink and remains to bear witness to the crucifixion.  The story concludes with the increasingly wealthy Ben-Hur using his riches to fund the catacombs of Rome from which Christianity would emerge to conquer the Empire.

It is no mystery why this is one of the most beloved of all American novels.  The savage revenge theme, worthy of The Count of Monte Cristo, intertwines with the story of Christ to produce a story that is thrilling, uplifting and timeless.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Historical Fiction
Book-related and General Links:
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA: Your search: "lew wallace"
    -The General Lew. Wallace Study:  The Ben-Hur Museum (Crawfordsville, Indiana)
    -AITLC Guide to Major General Lew Wallace (The ACCESS INDIANA Teaching & Learning Center)
    -Monocacy National Battlefield:  Known as "The Battle that Saved Washington" the Union forces were commanded by Major-General Lew Wallace
    -Indiana Historical Society - Manuscripts & Archives  LEW WALLACE COLLECTION
    -BIO:  Lewis "Lew" Wallace (Civil War Indiana)
    -Lew Wallace and the Indiana Zouaves, 11th Indiana Regiment Infantry
    -STATUE: General Lew Wallace
    -ESSAY: How Came I to Write Ben-Hur?  By General Lew. Wallace (Originally published in The Youths Companion, February 2, 1893)
    -ESSAY : The Curse of Lew Wallace (William P. Barrett, Crosswinds)
    -Lew Wallace. (The Cambridge History of English and American Literature)
    -ETEXT: The Project Gutenberg Etext of Ben-Hur:  A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace
    -Concordances - Wallace, Lew - BEN HUR   Text and Search Word Indexes of Classic Books
    -REVIEW: James M. McPherson: Generals in Politics, NY Review of Books
        Jefferson Davis and His Generals: The Failure of Confederate Command in the West by Steven E. Woodworth
        Abandoned by Lincoln: A Military Biography of General John Pope by Wallace J. Schutz and Walter N. Trenerry
        Damned Yankee: The Life of General Nathaniel Lyon by Christopher Phillips
    -REVIEW: Robert M. Adams: On the Trail of Santa Fe, NY Review of Books
        New Mexico: A Guide to the Colorful State for the American Guide Series by the Writers' Program of the Works Project Administration
        New Mexico: A New Guide to the Colorful State by Lance Chilton, Katherine Chilton, Polly E. Arango, James Dudley, Nancy Neary, and Patricia Stelzner
        Enchantment and Exploitation: The Life and Hard Times of a New Mexico Mountain Range by William deBuys
        Mercedes Reales: Hispanic Land Grants of the Upper Rio Grande Region by Victor Westphall
        Four Leagues of Pecos: A Legal History of the Pecos Grant, 1800-1933 by G. Emlen Hall
        New Mexico: A Bicentennial History by Marc Simmons
        Along the Santa Fe Trail essay by Marc Simmons and photographs by Joan Myers
        Haunted Highways: The Ghost Towns of New Mexico by Ralph Looney
        Four Fighters of Lincoln County by Robert M. Utley
    -REVIEW: of THE LINCOLN COUNTY WAR A Documentary History. By Frederick Nolan (Paula Mitchell Marks, NY Times Book Review)
    -A Novel Idea: Michael Enright talks with critic Bruce Meyer about Ben HurÝ(THIS MORNING - CBC Radio)

    -#36 on the AFI Top 100
    -REVIEW: of the Silent Version  Ben-Hur: a Tale of the Christ (Sheryl Stinchcum, Silents Majority)