To be honest, when I first pulled the brand new ESV Clarion Reference Bible in brown calfskin out of its box, I experienced a bit of a let-down feeling. I think that my disappointment was mostly a result of over-anticipation. I’d been waiting for this Bible, in some senses, for years; as my anticipation mounted, I practically expected it to have a halo hovering over it with an angelic choir humming a Greek paean every time I opened the box.
After living with it for the past couple of weeks, though, I can say that I have come to absolutely love this Bible. I’ve put it through its paces and, while there are no singing angels in the box, this Bible manages to be beautiful and handy, traditional and progressive, all at once. Let’s take a look.
For those of you wondering whether or not to purchase this Bible, the best place to start is by making comparisons to other options; in this case, the most obvious starting point is the Crossway ESV Personal Size Reference Bible (PSR), which is sort of the prototype for the Clarion Reference Bible.
Some people prefer to have the references on the inside, as per the PSR, but I think that should be a non-issue. The inner margins are generous enough that the text doesn’t slip into the gutter—which is the only real concern with putting the references on the outside. Other than that minor concern, it seems to me that pushing the marginalia to the outside, rather than squeezing it into the center, is more natural, more functional, and more aesthetically pleasing. Also, while the Clarion is a bit larger on the outside, the font inside is also larger and much, much easier to read. This compact readability is the real wonder of the Clarion and, conversely, the real Achilles’ heel of the PSR.
To illustrate, I’ll move on to another equally important comparison: How does the Clarion compare with your standard, mid-sized reference Bible? I pulled out three ESV Bibles with mid-size fonts—the ESV Study Bible, the ESV Minister’s Bible, and the ESV New Classic Reference Bible; I found that, despite being the smallest of the lot by far, the Clarion Reference Bible had the largest font size. Even the New Classic Ref., which doesn’t have extra helps and material, is larger than the Clarion, and even the Minister’s Bible, made for use in the pulpit, has a smaller font. This is truly remarkable. There is also another, often overlooked, advantage that the Clarion has over other mid-sized reference Bible competitors: it has 15 beautiful full color maps with a complete map index–standard for Cambridge. The others have maps, but they’re not as good, and they don’t have a map index. Maybe most people don’t use the maps, anyway, but I find that the maps are very helpful when I want to sit down and work my way through an extended section of narrative.
The Clarion does have, however, a proverbial chink in its armor. The paper is incredibly thin. For the most part, I don’t find this terribly problematic; the clarity and size of the font is more than enough to compensate for the ghosting. The most annoying side-effect of the thinness, however, is the paper’s tendency to curl at the edges, especially towards the middle of the Bible. This isn’t a huge problem for me either; a little bit of use has already curtailed this nasty habit, and I expect the curling to stop after a few months of regular use. Yet I know that there are others out there who can’t stand this sort of curling, so I found it necessary to mention the issue. Personally, I wouldn’t mind having a Bible that is slightly more stout with more opaque, less curl-prone, paper, but this minor quibble is not enough to detract from the Clarion’s overall beauty. While I’m on the subject of the paper, it’s worth noting that the art-gilt edging (where the page edges are died red before the gold is applied) is just beautiful on this Bible.
THE CALFSKIN CASING
This particular edition has one of Cambridge’s new/old calfskin covers. If you want a brown edition, this is a nice option. The end boards don’t seem to be as stiff as those on the ESV Pitt Minion, so you won’t have to work as hard to break the cover in. It has a trademark Cambridge quality about it, as is to be expected, and it is much nicer than the “genuine leather” Bibles so common today. And it smells lovely. Having said that, if you don’t have to have brown, I’d recommend going with one of the other editions available. If your primary concern is cost, you’re probably better served shopping around for a good deal on the calf-split edition, the lowest priced of the three; by all accounts, this leather is also nicer than the“genuine leather” covers common on Bibles these days. If the quality of the leather is your primary concern, I’d say the goatskin is worth the higher price. Not only is the goatskin nicer and thicker than the calfskin (assuming it’s like the goatskin on my Pitt Minion), the goatskin cover on the Clarion is edge-lined with a super flexible polyurethane lining. I’m not saying that the calfskin is cut-rate. The calfskin is quite nice, and I quite like it myself. But, Cambridge’s goatskin is in a league of it’s own. Of course, since I was only sent a review copy of the calfskin, this advice is tentative; but I doubt I’d say anything differently if I had all three editions to scrutinize.
All in all, the Clarion is an excellent little Bible. I think that those who have waited for it will find that it is definitely worth the wait. In the Clarion, Cambridge has managed to bring together readability, portability, trademark Cambridge quality and utility, and an attractive single column format, making the Clarion Reference Bible uniquely qualified to fill the role of that one all-around Bible.