The Biography

Fredrick Zydek has put together a wonderful narrative in 24 chapters that can best be described as a celebration of the life of Charles Taze Russell. His admiration for Russell is clearly evident, although he does not present him as being perfect. He remains professional in his approach to the narrative throughout the book.

Zydek has chosen to tell the story in the present tense voice which has the effect of making the reader feel like an observer on the scene as each event unfolds. He also does this by weaving in references to what is happening in the political, economic, social, religious, and sometimes literary world as he moves through each year of the narrative. It begins with some family background and his birth and proceeds chronologically, concluding with his funeral services and burial. The early chapters generally span five years, but as the activities of his life increase, the chapters span shorter and shorter periods of time. The last several chapters cover only one year each, not the least reason for which is his inclusion of the details of Pastor Russell’s amazing travel itineraries.

The book chronicles Russell’s association with others prior to 1879 and his founding and the subsequent growth of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society after that date. He repeatedly points out the innovations Pastor Russell introduces to evangelistic work and his application of business principles and practices learned while working with his father in the haberdashery business.

Integral to the narrative are explanations of what Pastor Russell believed and taught, and how and why he came to believe that way. Zydek has been very skillful in constructing these explanations and no reader should misunderstand the unusual (unorthodox), and often unique, interpretations of the Scriptures presented by Pastor Russell in his writings and preaching.

Zydek handles the controversies, so-called (by the popular press of the day) scandals, rumors of impropriety, and the divorce objectively and even-handedly. In the main, he stays with the hard facts that can be known and avoids editorializing or giving opinions. He repeatedly notes how Pastor Russell was so focused on the mission he felt called by God to do that he ignored his detractors, refusing to waste time defending himself at the cost of effort spent telling the good news of the Kingdom of God, both its heavenly and earthly phases. He contrasts the graciousness of Pastor Russell toward those who disagreed with him, with the often vicious attitude of those who attacked him. He notes how Reverend White referred to Pastor Russell during their 1908 debates as his “opponent,” while Pastor Russell referred to Reverend White as “our Brother.”

Readers will learn some interesting, and sometimes surprising, information, such as the fact that the same year (1879) that Charles married Maria Frances Ackley, his widowed father, Joseph, married Maria’s sister Emma. That made Emma both Charles’ sister-in-law and step-mother, and Joseph both his father and brother-in-law. Readers will learn, as already pointed out in A. O. Hudson’s history of the Bible Students in Britain, that Pastor Russell suffered a severe heart attack while in London in 1913. Readers will also enjoy the photos and illustrations that appear in the middle of the book.

Pastor Russell died on October 31, 1916, while traveling by train through Texas on a speaking tour.  Some readers may wish that the book would tell the subsequent story of the worldwide Bible Student fellowships he founded, or explain the story of those who took control of the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society after Pastor Russell's death,  changing doctrines and, in 1933, the name they apply to themselves--Jehovah's Witnesses.  Those stories are interesting, but there is no end to those stories and they are not the subject of this book.  It ends, as it should, with the end of the life of the one whose story it tells—and tells well