Thomas P. Harmon
assistant professor of theology at the University of St. Thomas in Houston.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives,
by Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict
XVI: Each of the three volumes of Jesus of Nazareth
are gems. The final installment is no
exception. The Holy Father brings his vast erudition to bear on Jesus’
origin, pointing out that the question, “Where are you from,” which Pilate asks
in John’s Gospel is the perennial question about Jesus. The answer begins
in Bethlehem but ends with God the Father. The Infancy
helps the reader to uncover a
little bit about Jesus’ divine origin and in doing so sheds light on the great
mystery of the Incarnation, in which eternity and time are brought together and
the divine is mingled with the human without abandoning divinity. My
longer review of this book was
published recently on the CWR site.
Church, State, and Society: An Introduction to
Catholic Social Doctrine
, by J. Brian Benestad: Benestad offers a thorough presentation of the
social doctrine of the Church, a fruit of long years of reflection.
Benestad cuts through many of the acrimonious and convoluted disputes about the
various policy applications of CSD to illuminate what Catholic Social Doctrine
is, why it was developed, what relationship it has to past Church teaching on
the relationship of Christianity and the political order, and what is required
in order to understand the social doctrine of the Church. The answer to the
latter is, quite a lot. Fortunately, we have Benestad’s introduction. The
book is a work of hefty scholarship, so it’s best not to expect beach reading.
by St. Augustine, trans. F.J. Sheed, edited with notes by Michael Foley: Most
readers of CWR
won’t need to be
convinced that Augustine’s great book should be on everyone’s list. I mention
this edition because Michael Foley has done a terrific job with his notes and
glossary. Not everyone can just jump into an ancient text, even one with as
much universal appeal as the Confessions
. Foley’s well-written, insightful notes help the reader to get the
most out of the book.
The Birth of Philosophic Christianity
, by Ernest L. Fortin: Father
Fortin was a master essayist and herein are contained the best of his essays on
faith and reason, the encounter between Jerusalem and Athens, and a variety of
other, related topics. A provocative book, there will be more mind-blowing
moments per page in this book than in almost any other comparable volume.
The Modern Age
, by James V. Schall: Modernity has been a problem for the
Church since its inception. But just what it is an what its origins are is
pretty controversial. Fr. Schall tackles these questions with his usual wit
and wisdom, drawing on his decades of reading and thinking about political
philosophy and theology. Along the way, Schall leads us in a conversation with
some of the best minds who have thought about what modernity might be: Jacque
Maritain, Eric Voegelin, Leo Strauss, Pope Benedict, Etienne Gilson, and G.K.
The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis
, by Leon Kass. Leon Kass is best
known as the inaugural president of President Bush’s Council on Bioethics.
He’s also a medical doctor, a renowned teacher of the great books in the
University of Chicago’s Committee on Social Thought, and the finest philosophic
mind to attempt an interpretation of the whole book of Genesis in the 20th
century. Kass brings with him an unsurpassed sensitivity to the way texts are
written and attention to detail born out of a deep respect for the text of
genesis and the wisdom it contains. Genesis, says Kass, is addressed to the
one who seeks wisdom. Kass is able to draw out a remarkable amount of it by
asking great questions of the text: how can there be plants before the sun is
created? Why is it significant that Adam and Eve sew themselves girdles after
the Fall? Why is Abel’s sacrifice pleasing to God, but Cain’s isn’t? What is
the nature of sacrifice in Gensis in the first place? Why do shepherds seem to
find favor with God, but farmers and townsmen do not? Why does Abraham stop at
ten when he asks God whether he will spare Sodom if he finds enough good men
present there? What’s the deal with Joseph’s embalming in Egypt? A lengthy
read, but quite accessible.
The Great Divorce
, by C.S. Lewis: If you haven’t read it, or haven’t
read it in a while, do yourself a favor. A short book, funny, but chock full
of spiritual insights, centered around a bus ride from hell to heaven. The
question is: why doesn’t everyone get to heaven? The chilling answer: because
not everyone wants to be there. It turns out that Hell is locked from the
inside and it takes both wisdom and will to begin to acquire the taste for
solid but startling reality of heaven. Most of the time, we want to be
satisfied with shadows of our own choosing rather than the really real. As a
theologian, I especially appreciate the presence of the Episcopal Ghost, who
would rather lead a theological book club in Hell than to serve in heaven.
Catholicism in America: Challenges and Prospects
, edited by Matthew L. Lamb: A
collection of essays on the place of the Church in America, the particular
challenges she faces in staying true to her mission because of hr American
context, and what the Church offers America to moderate her faults and bring
out what is best in her politics and culture. The list of contributors reads
almost like a who’s who of broadly conservative Catholics who have thought
seriously about Catholicism in America from ecclesiastical figures like
Cardinals George and Levada and Archbishop Chaput, to political philosophers
like Daniel Mahoney and Peter Augustine Lawler, theologians like Matthew Lamb
and Marc Guerra, philosophers like Thomas Hibbs, and public intellectuals like
George Weigel and Michael Novak. The range of opinions runs from those like
Cardinal George who strongly emphasize the challenges and incompatibility of
Catholicism and American politics and culture, to the more sanguine approach of
Michael Novak, and the middle position of Daniel J. Mahoney, who argues for a
prudent accommodation of the Church to America. Fascinating essays about a
Hark! A Vagrant!
By Kate Beaton: Switching gears here quite a bit. I had to
include this book because it’s been a while since I’ve laughed this hard.
Beaton’s an indie cartoonist who riffs on historical topics and literature,
whose eye for the absurd and the incongruous is matched only by her skill with
simple line drawings. Read here about hipsters throughout history, the
hilarious haunting of Nero by Aggrippina, what happens when multiple
Shakespearian crazies occupy the same play, Suffragettes in the City (Susan B.
Anthony may not approve!), and more. My favorite sequence was her series of
cartoons exploring Edward Gorey’s book covers, which often seem to have little
to do with the contents of the book. Beaton’s challenge: to unfold in three
frames, based on the cover, what the book must really be about.
Night Train to Rigel
, by Timothy Zahn: Looking for some mostly frivolous
relaxation reading? Zahn’s your man. Fun marriage of detective fiction and
science fiction, with space-age swashbuckler, plot twists galore, some clever
banter, and a galaxy-wide conspiracy! This is the first book in a series of
five. The sci-fi conceit: a galaxy-spanning railway operated by mysterious
aliens provides the necessary faster-than-light travel gimmick and
simultaneously imposes the technological limitations that are necessary in
order for the sci-fi elements not to get out of control and also lets Zahn
imitate his noir
source material even in
other solar systems.
Zita the Space Girl
, by Ben Hatke: I’m not a fan of graphic novels, but
I make an exception for Zita. My pre-schooler loves Hatke’s book, which is
clever, funny, wholesome, and enjoyable. And I concur. Zita
has a sequel, too, which I’ll enjoy reading with my daughter in the new year.
Dr. Thomas Howard
is a highly acclaimed writer
and literary scholar, noted for his studies of Inklings C.S. Lewis and Charles
Williams as well as books including Chance or Dance: A Critique of Modern
Secularism, Hallowed be This House, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of
God in Liturgy and Sacrament, If Your Mind Wanders At Mass, On Being Catholic
The Secret of New York Revealed, Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome
and Dove Descending
He has also produced a video series, aired on EWTN, titled
"Treasures of Catholicism."
The Night Is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard
was published by Ignatius Press in 2007.
Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word.
Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis (Br. Simeon).
A perfect harmony of searching exegesis and very rich food for the inner man.
Entirely readable for the ordinary laity.
Jesus of Nazareth (
all three volumes). Benedict XVl. There are no words to
do justice to this achievement. It is
from the Well of Bethlehem for all who have been parched by the ravages of
modern biblical literary-critical techniques. Vastly heartening, coming as
it does from the Vicar of Christ in Rome.
Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought.
Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. Very
heady stuff; but, believe it or not, accessible to any reasonably educated
laity. Bite-sized sections allay any misgivings one might have about
The Early Christian Fathers.
Henry Bettenson, ed. & trans.
Should be required reading by all modern Christians, harried as they are by the
tumultuous cross-currents that clutter the Faith in our time. Here is that
Faith, articulated and interpreted by the generation of men immediately
following the Apostles themselves.
The Life of Samuel Johnson.
James Boswell. Here is the strongest
and best antidote to all woolly thinking, muddy prose, and nonsense. Pure
delight--hilarious, actually. Should be perpetual reading by anyone wishing to
re-discover what conversation, discourse, and clarity of thought were like
before the noisome effluvium of modern "education" did its lethal
work. A splendid purgative.
An Experiment in Criticism.
C. S. Lewis. Archetypical Lewis
stuff. Astounding and invigorating in its perspicacity. One comes away a better
man for having sat under this tutelage.
King Lear, Henry IV, Part 1, Henry V, Hamlet,
etc. These chestnuts will never lose
their glory. One who leaves them on his shelf undusted is a man to be pitied.
At least two per year might be a salvific dosage.
an MA philosophy student at the University of St. Thomas in Houston; he
received an MA in theology from Franciscan University.
Aristotle. There is simply nothing quite like reading Aristotle. I read this
ancient classic during the 2012 election, which made it all the more
insightful, and dare I say, alive. Here are just a few points of Aristotle's
genius, practicality, and wisdom that our society must recover: 1) Democracy,
as a pure regime, is a bad constitution for the fact that, in Aristotle's
experience, it so often lead to tyranny; 2) Good regimes, ones rooted in
citizen-wide virtue, entail that citizens actually participate in the order of
politics at a substantial level; 3) Finally, while politics is a great and
noble good (not the result of the Fall), it is the contemplative order that is
supreme, for it alone is sought for its own sake and most in accord with human
nature. If this is forgotten, or rejected, then politics cannot achieve its
good and, ultimately, something inhumane results.
Man and the State
by Jacques Maritain. This is a tremendous work to
continuously re-read, for Maritain's insights have such an intellectual depth
to them that is combined with a unique practicality that is rarely witnessed.
While his view of democracy and rights has some definite weaknesses to it, he
nevertheless shows himself to be a genuine reformer, and not simply a critic of
cultural and politics.
The Mind that is Catholic: Political and Philosophical Essays
by Fr. James Schall. While he will no
longer have his teaching duties at Georgetown, can anyone imagine Fr. Schall
taking "his boots off" to retire? His writing projects (essays and
books) will surely continue, and we ought to be so grateful. He often says some
of the following things about his favorite authors (Chesterton, Johnson,
Belloc, Schulz, Maritain, Pieper, Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas):
"they are such a delight to read"; "in them is found a complete
liberal education"; "they are our greatest guides towards
truth." All of these phrases can be said of this Schall classic, as well
as the rest of his encyclopedic output. It is truly delightful to read, and it
lifts the soul because it actually helps one to see the truth of things. There
is no greater vision than to be able to see everything in its proper order;
through Schall, much like his heroes, we can simply affirm that the truth is
Philosophy of Democratic Government
by Yves Simon. Another timeless classic that all serious students
ought to read. Much in the line of Maritain's work mentioned above; in fact, I
would highly recommend reading them together in order to see their great
complementarity and wisdom. Simon is certainly much more prudent than Maritain
in his appraisal of modern democracy and whether it is the best regime today.
His chapters on "Sovereignty," "Authority," and
"Technology" are filled with such clarity and insight that one is
half-tempted (or fully) to buy copies for his local politicians. Perhaps they,
like Augustine, would then hear that soul-wrenching phrase: "Tolle
How Science Enriches Theology
Benedict Ashley O.P. and John Deely. This book is nothing short of a gem.
Post-moderns, as well as many Catholics, hold a rather separationist
relationship between faith, science, and reason. To claim that sacra
has no intimate and necessary
relationship not only contradicts the teaching of two great doctors (St. Albert
and St. Thomas Aquinas), but it also distorts and corrupts both disciplines in
themselves. Ashley and Deely create a marvelous synthesis whereby we actually
can allow and encourage the discoveries of modern science to flourish and
respond to the irrational atheistic presuppositions, while also enabling us to
more intimately see how this gives greater strength to the light of faith. This
is a great book for an intro theology or philosophy class (also good for
advanced undergraduate and graduate courses). Both authors have provided a real
gift for theologians, philosophers, and scientists.
lawyer, independent scholar, and Catholic convert who lives in Brooklyn, New
York. He is the author of The Tyranny of Liberalism: Understanding and
Overcoming Administered Freedom, Inquisitorial Tolerance, and Equality by
(ISI Books, 2008).
The most valuable current book I read this past year was
Christopher Ferrara's Liberty, the God That Failed.
Catholics need to rethink our role in
political life, and Ferrara’s well-researched polemic counter-narrative raises
issues we need to consider.
In general, though, this has been the year I discovered the
e-reader and public domain books. There are a lot of them out there, and these
are good times to reconnect with what’s been thought and felt in the past. With
that in mind, here are some highlights from my wanderings:
The New Atlantis,
by Francis Bacon. A prophetic vision of the technological state by one of its
founding fathers. The vision is an alarming one if you read between the lines
and think about the powers of the Solomon's House research institute that basically
seems to run Bacon’s utopia. They can create illusions at will, for example.
History of the City of Rome in the Middle Ages
, by Ferdinand Gregorovius. The
saga of the greatest of cities, as told by the (unfortunately non-Catholic)
nineteenth century historian. Popes, passions, and politics, they’re all there,
together with other aspects of the life of the citywhich quarter the
Greeks lived in, how things stood with learning and the arts, which ancient
buildings were used for what, and so on. It's 3200 pages long, so you don't
have to read the whole thing at a go. (I've only reached the year 1000 or
The Thousand and One Nights, Commonly Called the
Arabian Nights' Entertainment,
translated by Edward William Lane. Surprising adventures, strange
transformations, stories within stories, the arbitrariness of fate and human
decision, and the ultimate omnipotence of God. That can seem a lot like real
life, at least in some moods.
Four Arthurian Romances
, by Chretien de Troyes. More everyday realism: you
go into a room, incomprehensible rules apply, something happens, everything
changes, you have to pass some strange test, and so on. The main takeaway:
remember to hear mass before you set out on your next strange adventure.
Leaves from the Golden Legend
, by Jacobus de Voragine, chosen
by H. D. Madge. A selection of the lives of the saints from the medieval best
seller. You need to know these stories!
Moving from traditional tales to a twentieth century holiday
from reality: A Damsel in Distress
, by P. G. Wodehouse. One of the best of the pre-1923 (and
therefore public domain) books by the great master of comedy and English prose.
His earliest stories are mostly about golf or cricket and don’t really show his
mastery, but by the time he wrote this one he had hit his stride.
Dr. Paul Kengor
is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include
The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand
Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism
God and Ronald Reagan
, and Dupes:
How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century
, among others.
Brian Latell, Castro's Secrets.
This is a fascinating look at the
crimes committed by Fidel Castro over the last 50 years, written by a CIA
insider. Castro’s many ignominious episodes include possible prior knowledge of
the assassination of President John F. Kennedya real blockbuster, for
Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy, The Presidents Club
. Written by two senior writers at
magazine, this is an
extremely interesting look at the many relationships among living ex-presidents
and the president currently governing at the time. If you ever wonder what’s
really being said and thought among, say, Bill Clinton and the current Bushes,
or, 50 years ago, among Eisenhower and Truman and Hoover, this book gives you the
scoop. It’s terrific history.
Tim Goeglein, The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith
and Politics in the George W. Bush Era
. Tim Goeglein served President George W. Bush faithfully
for seven years, but then suddenly found himself guilty of a major lapse of
judgment: plagiarism. This is the story of how Goeglein survived that ordeal
and of the extraordinary grace of the president he served. President Bush
forgave him, and the way in which he did so is extremely movingenough to
bring tears to the angriest Bush basher. This is a story of personal redemption
for Goeglein, but it is also an illuminating account of the character of our
last president, who, despite whatever faults, is a thoroughly decent man.
Mark Kriegel, Pistol: The Life of Pete Maravich
. Pete Maravich, a local boy from
my neck of the woods in Western Pennsylvania, became the most prolific scorer
in the history of college basketball. The path started with his father, who
rose from the steel mills of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. It ends with a retired by
still young Pete Maravich collapsing on a basketball court with some Christian
friends, dying at a young age. This is a tale not only of a basketball star but
a man who found Christ.
David Kupelian, How Evil Works
. This is a book that takes a largely secular look at
evil and its power and influence in American society. It is a political book,
not a theological one, though it certainly has a spiritual root.
M. Stanton Evans and Herb Romerstein, Stalin's Secret Agents
. These two Cold War veterans have
just produced this masterful look at communist penetration into FDR’s
administration and American government in the 1930s and 1940s. The new
information on Alger Hiss at Yalta alone is worth the price of the book.
Joseph Martin, PhD,
teaches Graphic Design at Hampton University in Virginia, where he keeps an eye
on students' leading and kerning as well as the Atlantic surf. His completed
his doctorate at Regent University with the dissertation, "Lingua Franka:
An Examination of the Frank Sheed's Apologetic Rhetoric of Faithful
Persuasion." Prior to his arrival at Hampton, Dr. Martin was Creative
Director of Accelerator Graphics in Norfolk, VA. His work has been commissioned
by Walt Disney Studios, Paydirt Records, and Paramount Pictures, and his review
work crops up occasionally on assorted web pages where it’s read by people who
read that sort of things.
Maxx Barry’s Syrup
is a fun read.
Amy Welborn’s Wish You Were Here
is an emotionally effecting one.
David Maine’s The Preservationist
, a novel on Noah, is so good it helps banish
unwanted residual memories of the banal “Evan Almighty.” On the subject of
cinema, “Premium Rush”
is for my
money what more movies should
be likeentertaining and
mindless, mostly inoffensive fun. Musically, personal quirks battled my
critical instincts in 2012, and so I found myself downloading Brit Nicole’s Gold
(where she girlishly channels
Lorenzo Scupoli) and country crooner Don Williams’ unassuming So
Audrey Assad’s Heart
, J. Medeico’s The Rockies,
and Van Morrison’s Born to
. Dial-surfing I
was also alternatingly struck by Big & Rich’s “That’s Why I Pray” and
smitten by Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Sweetie.”
Most of my year was spent completing
research on the rhetoric of famed apologist Frank J. Sheed. The
Church & I
autobiography, remains an infectiously buoyant, prosaically pungent book
deserving more fans. An unexpectedly galvanizing effect also came from sitting
under the light emitted by the constellation of authors orbitting around his publishing
firm of Sheed & Ward. It’s a stargazing exercise I’d recommend to anyone.
Fr. Cuthbert’s God and The Supernatural
, C.C. Martindale’s The
Faith of the Catholic Church
, Ross Hoffman’s Restoration,
and Hubert Von Zeller’s Old
Testament portraitures were all good.
Sheed’s wife Maisie Ward wrote several
ought to be classics herself, foremost among these a couple of thick
biographies of her English Catholic Recusant family. The Wilfrid
Wards and the Transition
and Insurrection or Resurrection
tell the story of the Catholic
Church in the days of Wiseman, Chesterton, and Newman, and offer fascinating
first hand glimpses of personalities including Alfred Loisy, Bernard Shaw, and
Tennyson. The figure of John Henry Newman was a pivotal influence on the Wards:
Maisie’s father Wilfrid Ward composed a large two-volume authorized Life
of the Cardinal that still reads
easily, and his Last Lectures
offer accessible insights into JHN’s complex
thought. A generation on Sheed’s son could still joke to friends that Newman
was “just a [family ghost] who lives at our place.”
In seeming confirmation Maisie published her
inspiring Young Mr. Newman
, a worthy prequel to her father’s opus
hinting that the ecumenical influences that later
surfaced through the initiative Evangelical and Catholics Together were no mere
late-blooming nineties novelty. That intuition receives further confirmation in
Christopher Dawson’s Spirit of the Oxford Movement
. Turning to Newman as a primary
source, it has been an arresting experience to wrestle with his sermons (Confederacy
) and the Grammar of
and realize that
the challenges posed by the New Atheists and Secularists are anything but new.
Another theological book that I confess made me fist bump my bookshelf gargoyle
was the always excellent Ralph Martin’s Will Many Be Saved?
This is an even-handed
exploration that will gratify Rob Bell haters even as it irks the JPII
Can-Do-Know-Wrong crowd. Finally, in the aftermath of the election I found Carl
to be a helpful Rx
soothing my anxieties as we approach a new year.
Fr. David Vincent Meconi, S.J.
teaches patristic theology at Saint Louis University and is also the
editor of Homiletic and Pastoral Review
. He is the author of
works on Catherine Doherty, Frank Sheed and Maisie Ward (Orbis), and is also
the author of the new critical edition of Saint Augustine's Confessions
(Ignatius); he is the co-editor, along with Carl E.
Olson, editor of CWR
, of a
history of Catholic deification, Called to be Children of God
(in process), as well as co-editor of The
Cambridge Companion to Augustine
University Press). He is busy preparing two other monographs on Augustine, a
new biography as well as a study into how Augustine understands the concept of
Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of
Eleonore Stump. This book is not for the intellectually lazy but it is worth
every moment of pondering and prayer. In these pages (full disclosure) my
colleague here at Saint Louis University, Dr. Stump, offers a Thomistic defense
of the problem of evil. Using biblical narratives to show how the Lord is
unshakably faithful to his people and to his promises, she argues that God can
use evil in his longing for us to flourish here on earth (versus the
"stern-minded" who think of heaven alone) as well as to be with him
(and one another) forever in perfect peace.
by Paul Elie. For my senior seminar in theology this
coming spring on Twentieth Century Catholicism, I re-read Paul Elie's The
Life You Save May Be Your Own
his work on Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, Walker
Percy, and Dorothy Daywhich led me to picking up his new book on Bach.
This was a fortuitous move, in that this traditionally Lutheran composer never
looked so quintessentially Catholic!
Lost Icons: Reflections on Cultural Bereavement
by Rowan Williams. When Rowan
Williams announced he was "resigning" as Archbishop of Canterbury
this year, I saw one of my Jesuit brothers reading this book and wondered what
Williams had to say. I found this short work on how postmodern culture has
affected how we think of ourselves (chapters on childhood, charity, remorse and
being culturally rootless) well worth the time.
Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead
by Paula Byrne. Evelyn Waugh's
masterpiece on Catholic culture and conversion did not spring unawares, but
arose from his own circumstances and encounters with the various manifestations
of English Catholicism around him. Here Byrne chronicles as well as she can
how real places, people and events came to shape Charles, Sebastian, Julia and
Gustav Mahler's Letters to His Wife,
ed., Henry-Louis De La Grange.
Mahler's life has fascinated me for some time now and I have tried to read a biography
each year since. This collection of letters reveals the intimacy and true love
Mahler had for his wife Alma; like his symphonies they are simultaneously
exhilarating and excruciating to encounter.
Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane
by Andrew Graham-Dixon. Little
did I realize how brash and brawling an artist of the late 16th and 17th
centuries had to be. Reproducing and employing his most famous paintings, this
beautifully-written biography takes us through the gritty details of one of the
most influential artists the Church and world have known.
The Tigress of Forli
by Elizabeth Lev. This was just given to me at
Advent and I could not put this biography of Caterina Medici (d. 1509) aside.
They're all herethe eager Pope Sixtus IV, Machiavelli, and the Borgias,
all wrapped around this one woman's finger!
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
by Pope Benedict XVI. My year
was appropriately crowned by the Holy Father's presenting Pontius Pilate asking
Jesus, "Where are you from?" (Jn 19:9). From that question of
origin, we are brought back to Bethlehem...and beyond. Wonderful!
is is the co-author of the best selling The
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing
the Errors in The Da Vinci Code
. She holds masters’
in biochemistry and medieval history from the University of
Illinois. Since 1983, she has written hundreds of articles for the
chiefly on history, art, and hagiography. She regularly appears in
magazine and is a columnist for the diocesan paper of Norwich,
Sandra has spoken at religious and academic conferences, appeared
and given numerous radio interviews. Outside the Catholic sphere,
she has also written, analyzed, and edited
Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the
Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity in the West, 350-550.
A gracefully written, magisterial
survey of economic conditions and social attitudes in the Patristic era by the
foremost historian of Late Antiquity.
Jason Fisher, editor, Tolkien and the Study of
wide-ranging collection of source-hunting essays by major Tolkien
Peter Heather, The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New
History of Rome and the Barbarians.
An accessible, even witty study of the Decline and Fall, emphasizing the
military and economic aspects, implicitly refuting moral degeneracy as an
Barbara Newman, editor, Voice of the Living Light: St.
Hildegard of Bingen and Her World.
A fine collection of essays on the fascinating saint's context.
Tim Powers, Hide Me Among the Graves
. Powers' latest fantasy novel is
a sequel of sorts to The Stress of Her Regard,
but set among
the Pre-Raphaelites instead of the Romantics.
Tim Powers, The Bible Repairman and Other Stories
. A collection of Powers'
horror/fantasy short fiction featuring soul-swapping.
. Pulp, but splendidly executed pulp.
Beasts of the Southern Wild
. Magic realist weirdness in the
The Dark Knight Rises
. A satisfying and redemptive finale to the Batman
. Brilliant acting and superb period atmosphere.
Christopher S. Morrissey
is a professor of philosophy
at Redeemer Pacific College, the Catholic liberal arts college at
Trinity Western University in
Langley, British Columbia. He is a member of the Board of Directors of
the Gregorian Institute of Canada. His translation of Hesiod’s
Prometheus myth is
available from Talonbooks
Kevin Miller's documentary movie Hellbound?
heated up the debate last year among Christians about heaven and hell. Catholics may be familiar with the debate
due to Hans Urs von Balthasar's excellent book, Dare We Hope That All Men Be Saved?
(Ignatius Press, 1988). Ralph Martin carried on conversation last year with
his Will Many Be Saved?
(Eerdmans, 2012). But because it takes up the crucial topic of purgatory (the very issue highlighted with acuity by
Benedict XVI in Spe Salvi
, nn. 41-48) and deals so well with it, my commendation goes to Brett Salkeld, Can Catholics and Evangelicals Agree about Purgatory and
the Last Judgment?
(Paulist Press, 2011). I am grateful
that it came to my attention last year; if you haven't read it yet,
please let me bring it to yours.
is author of Poor
, was born in Italy of Maltese parents.
She grew up in Wiltshire, England, and attended Cambridge, where she
received a BA in English Literature and a
Masters in Renaissance Literature, specializing in the English
verse of Robert Southwell, S.J. She won the National
Book Prize of Malta (foreign language fiction category) for her
second novel The Cassandra Curse
. Fiorella lives in Surrey with her husband and children and blogs at
"The Singular Anomaly"
Man's Search for Meaning
, by Viktor E Frankl. I read this book after hearing Frankl
quoted during a lecture on end-of-life care and I cannot recommend this
magnificent work too strongly; it should be on every school syllabus. Viktor
Frankl was a Viennese Jewish psychiatrist who developed the theory of
logotherapy, essentially the theory that human fulfillment is driven
notas Freud mistakenly believedby sex drive but by the need to
find a sense of purpose in life. He also endured three years of intense
personal suffering in concentration camps including Auschwitz, and lost all
those he loved - his parents, brother and pregnant wife.
Man's Search for Meaning
memoir, part exploration of logotherapy and its application in the modern world.
Frankl writes candidly and compassionately without a hint of bitterness, anger
or self-pity. What shines through the pages of this harrowing work is Frankl's
extraordinary humanity and the hope he offers that human beings never lose the
freedom to make the right choices. As he writes: "It was men who built the
gas chambers of Auschwitz, but it was also men who entered those gas chambers,
heads held high, with the words of the Shema or the Lord's Prayer on their
lips." If you only have time to read one book in the coming year, let it
be this one. It is a testament to man's inherent dignity in the face
of the greatest evil the world has ever witnessed.
by Ian McEwan. I have mixed feelings about Ian McEwan (I loved A Child in Time
, but found First Love
, Last Rites
so offensive and disturbing I stopped reading after the first few short
however, is a stunning, if depressing, evocation of 1930s England. We are
introduced to Briony, a conceited 13-year-old girl who tells a lie which tears
her family apart and destroys the lives of two people. Like The Go
(the novel which apparently inspired McEwan) Atonement
looks at the subject of childhood guilt and the way
in which memories are preserved and reconstructed, but it goes much
further than that. It explores the moral dangers surrounding fiction
writing with such force that, as an author, I felt personally challenged to
justify the purpose of creative writing. An unsettling but compelling read.
Carl E. Olson
is the editor of Catholic World Report
He is author of Will Catholics Be "Left
Behind"? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today’s Prophecy Preachers
Press, 2003), recognized by the Associated Press as one of the best
religious titles of 2003, and co-author, with medievalist Sandra Miesel,
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code
2004). Carl writes for several Catholic periodicals, pens a weekly Scripture column for Our Sunday Visitor
newspaper, and is the co-founder of the music blog, Progarchy.com.
A former Evangelical Protestant who entered the Catholic Church in
1997, he has a Masters in Theological Studies
from the University of Dallas. Carl lives in Oregon with his wife,
three children, two cats, one dog, and a bevy of books and CDs.
2012 was the Year of Reading in Fits, Starts, and False
Starts for me. For every book I finished, there were countless that I merely
scanned, skimmed, read in part, or some combination thereof. But here are some books
that I either completed, or nearly completed, and think worthy of reading in full.
The Complete Thinker: The Marvelous Mind of G. K.
Press, 2012) by Dale Ahlquist. If there is a better guide to Chesterton than
Dale, I’ve not met him. Lucky for me, I’ve had the pleasure of spending time
with Dale, and he is as Chestertonian as they come: witty, deep, thoughtful,
hilarious, insightful, and graceful. The perfect introduction to one of the
greatest minds of the past hundred years, with observations on every possible
After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy
(ISI Books, 2012) by Chilton
Williamson, Jr. A bracing, sobering, and challenging read, one that every
serious citizen should take up in order to better understand where we’ve been,
where we are, and where we might well be heading. An erudite lesson in history,
political philosophy, and current events.
The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War
2012) by Jonah Goldberg. Goldberg has long been one of my favorite political
pundits, in part because of his great sense of humor, but also because he is a
very good thinker and writer who avoids empty, banal clichés. Or, in this case,
tears them to shreds, with delightful and occasionally surprising results.
Christianity, Islam, and Atheism: The Struggle for the
Soul of the West
Press, 2012) by William Kilpatrick. Another bracing and challenging read, as
politically-incorrect as it is badly needed. Kilpatrick presents the big
picturehistorically and culturallyalong with plenty of
substantiating details. A warning shot that demands attention.
The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age
(St. Augustine’s Press) by Roger
Kimball. The talented Mr. Kimball could write essays about snowboarding or
advanced geometry and I’d read them; he is one of the finest essayists writing
today. Fortunately for us, he writes about literature, art, religion, politics,
and other meaty fare.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
(Image, 2012) by Pope Benedict XVI.
The third (and final volume) in the Jesus of Nazareth series is short, but long
on insight and wisdom. The tone is more conversational and accessible than the
two earlier (and much longer) books. To read this is to sit at the feet of a
humble man who has spent his entire life pondering the Bible and its central
Dreamers of Dreams: Essays on Poets and Poetry
(Ivan R. Dee, 2001) by John Simon.
This was one of many wonderful finds in the local St. Vincent de Paul stores.
Simon is a brilliant and caustic critic. I don’t agree with his low assessment of
T. S. Eliot, but I found his thinking challenging and his writing delightful.
The Constitutions of the Second Vatican Council
(1962-65). We have been reading and discussing these
in our monthly men’s reading group, and they have led to much fruitful, thoughtful
discussion. My favorite remains Lumen Gentium
, which I think is
the cornerstone document of the Council.
For the Life of the World
(St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press,
1963, 1973) by Alexander Schemann. This relatively short book by the great
Orthodox priest and theologian is simply brilliant. But more than brilliant, it
is challenging in every good way. It contains some of the most piercing
insights into the sacramental and modernity ever penned.
Style: The Art of Writing Well
(Harriman House, 2012; third
edition) by F. L. Lucas. I’m still making my way through this classic book on
writing, and it is like sitting down to a gourmet dessert each time I open it.
A delightful and opinionated book that is delightful in large part because it
is so opinionated. A must read for writers. And readers.
Pity the Beautiful: Poems
(Graywolf Press, 2012) by Dana Gioia
and New and Collected Poems
(Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1988) by Richard Wilbur. The
aforementioned John Simon urges authors to read poetry, as it expands their
vocabulary, construction, and sense of rhythm. Among modern American poets, you
cannot do better than Gioia and Wilbur, whose poems often leave me stunned,
breathless, and moved.
The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire
(Oxford University Press, 2012)
by Ted Gioia and Citizens of Hope and Glory: The Story of
2012) by Stephen Lambe. Yes, Ted Gioia is the brother of the poet Dana; he is
also a leading jazz critic and historian whose detailed insights into jazz
tunes are nearly as lyrical as his brother’s poems. The book by Lambe is a must
read for anyone curious about progressive rock. My detailed
review of it can be read
on the Progarchy.com site.
PART ONE | PART THREE