regular contributor to Catholic World Report
who writes from
Caesar and Christ
by Will Durant. Durant was one of the last century's
greatest historians. His treatment of ancient Rome and the dawn of Christianity
is not only highly entertaining and informative, it shines a bright light on
our current situation. The often amazingly close parallels between what caused
the implosion of ancient Rome and things we see happening in our own times are
by Daniel Sargent. Published in 1937, this book ought to be
back in print now that Kateri is a saint. While never engaging in moral
equivalency, Sargent went to great lengths to really understand Native American
culture and that of the French with whom they interacted. He gives a poignant
account of why evangelization proved so difficult and often provoked the sorts
of violent reactions that led to the martyrdom of St. Isaac Jogues and Companions.
All of this provides the context for St. Kateri's story.
The Private Life of Chairman Mao
by Li Zhisui. The author served as Mao's personal
physician from the early 1950s through the chairman's death in 1976. His
account of those years leaves the reader with a keen understanding of how
tragedies such as the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution occurred.
It reveals Mao in all his banality, weakness, and megalomaniacal glory.
Interestingly, Li does not make himself a hero. Rather, he shows his own
partial complicity in Mao's sins, born of fear for his life, as well as
appreciation for the comforts he was afforded and the suffering he knew he
could avoid by staying close to Mao. A fascinating read.
The Red Book of Chinese Martyrs
, by Gerolamo Fazzini. The title says it all about
this sad, compelling, and highly readable book.
Blessings in Disguise
, by Alec Guinness. The great actor's biography sent me to
my Netflix account to order as many films by him as I could find. He comes off
as a decent, likable guy, one whom I'd have liked to have had a beer with. His
recounting his conversion to Catholicism is worth the price of admission alone.
In parts, it's a little slow and occasionally tedious, but by and large, the
book pays off.
Ashenden (or the British Agent),
by W. Somerset Maugham. My only familiarity with
Maugham before this was The Razor's Edge
and that only because I saw the film version with Bill Murray in the lead role
as a high school freshman, and I remember liking it. This novel made me want to
read more of Maugham work. Loosely based on his own service as a British spy
during World War I, the pace is brisk, and it only gets dull when the author
attempts to depict that this is sometimes how the life of an agent is.
Reportedly, this book was required reading for British spy trainees for many
Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters
, by Jane Austen and Ben H.
Winters. If you like dry, dark, British humor and think mixing that with Jane
Austen would be a hoot, then this is your book. I finished it very quickly and
often found myself laughing, either at the droll wit of the writer(s) or the
incredibly inventive ways the sea monsters of the title find to devour their
prey (us humans). My 13-year-old son found it scary (which I didn't see at
all). His slightly older brother, however, agreed with my assessment.
Dedication and Leadership
, by Douglas Hyde. In 1948, Hyde left his position as editor
of London's communist newspaper to enter the Catholic Church. In this book,
while he makes clear that Marxism's goals and aims are antithetical to human
dignity and the rights of the individual, that's not the focus. Instead, he
makes a fairly convincing case for the excellence of communist training methods
and how the Church would benefit from them. This is a great book for any
pastor, catechist, evangelist, bishop, or anyone in a leadership position who
wants to motivate and instill more dedication in those they lead.
Journal of a Soul,
by Bl. John XXIII. This book actually took me roughly four years to finish
reading. It's a big book! That's all right, though, because I was in no hurry
for it to end. It was so loaded with such a treasure trove of gems that I
didn't want to simply get through it. The book is comprised of the notes and reflections
Pope John made during retreats from his time as a seminarian until his death.
It also has the intensely beautiful prayers he composed to the Sacred Heart of
Jesus, Our Lady, St. Joseph, and more. The most refreshing thing I found about
this truly satisfying work was how closely his own spiritual struggles mirrored
my own. That gave me great comfort, because he was a man of obvious holiness.
And while he struggled with this or that thing, he kept working to overcome his
shortcomings so he could become a saint. Furthermore, he did it all for a truly
edifying love of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Reading it, therefore gave me hope that
if he could overcome his faults, there's a chance for me, as well. If you're a
traditionalist who doesn't like Pope John because he called Vatican II or some
other reason, don't let that stop you. Remember: He was a holy man, and he will
help you become holy, too. You won't regret reading this book. No one will.
George W. Bush. I thought I'd be more impressed by the book than I was. It's
not that it's a bad book or not well written. I guess I was expecting more
Peggy Noonan, and this is more pedestrian than that, just like the former
President's way of speaking is, I guess (and, no, I'm not making judgments on
the intelligence of a man who graduated from Yale and has an MBA from Harvard
and won two national elections; far from it). Indeed, his ghost writer got his
plain spoken "voice" just perfect. In any case, his memoir does make
for interesting reading, and I found myself either better understanding certain
things or reconsidering others. It has some humor, and I also liked that he
never hesitates to admit fault when he believes such an admittance is
warranted. When he doesn't, he explains why. I liked him before. That
assessment was confirmed by this book. If you hate him or at least disagreed
with most of his decisions, I don't know what impact it will have on you, but I
think you will find this worth reading.
The Day Christ Was Born
, by Jim Bishop. Bishop was the editor of Catholic
back in the 1950s, and I picked this
book up at the church rummage sale because I thought it would be as good as his
The Day Christ Died
, which is
just magnificent. This book fell short of that mark. It's decent, it's
readable, but it's not like his previous work. Still, it did its job, I
suppose, in that it provoked some good Advent meditation.
The Road to Serfdom
, by Friedrich von Hayek. Like the aforementioned Caesar
, this book shines a highly
illuminating (and thus often depressing) light on our own times. We have the
recipe of what not
to do right
here, and we did it anyway.
by Stephen Ambrose. This is pure Ambrose. Yes, it's occasionally tedious, and I
found myself thinking, “OK, got it. Let's keep moving,” but that's Ambrose. He
likes detail, sometimes mind-numbingly so. The payoff is that he often gives
you such vivid stories and anecdotes and puts you right there in the action.
Not as good as D-Day
, but then, what is?
Rewrites: A Memoir,
by Neil Simon. I picked up this because it was part of a Reader's Digest
anthology that was lying on a table for the taking,
along with the aforementioned book by Ambrose, an interesting work on how the
minivan saved Chrysler, and a compelling, occasionally gut wrenching, always
poignant memoir of an Eastern European woman who lived through World War II
(the word "Amber" is in the title, but I can't remember what it is;
very interesting book though). Simon largely leaves his politics out and focuses
on how various plays that are still in the public lexicon got made and became
great hits (The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park,
and others). Simon is a funny man, and that fully
comes across in his autobiography. He also is so good at accurately depicting
the difficulties writers encounter in putting pen to paper and turning out
something that isn't total garbage. The aspect I appreciated most about his
story, however, were not these things. Rather, it was the story of his awesome
and touching love affair with his wife, Joan, (Spoiler Alert!
whose dying from cancer closes the book. The way he wrote the final pages, I
felt like I was in the quiet limousine with him, his mother-in-law, and two
daughters on their way home from the cemetery. He's a master and a great
self-described “former, ex-Catholic,” holds an M.A. in theology and a
bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He has been a regulator with the
Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management for 24 years and has been
writing on Catholic issues (most especially the Catholic perspective of
ecology) in his blog
the Rhode Island Catholic
since 2004. He has recently completed his first book Catholic Ecology: Its
Place in Orthodoxy, a Culture of Life, and New Evangelization
. He is currently working on two others: Sacramental
and The Basics of
B16: Five Things Every Catholic Should Know about Pope Benedict XVI
. In November, Patenaude was invested into the
Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
My graduate advisor, Dr. James Keating, introduced me to
Christopher Dawson. Having since read many of his works, I began looking for
more about the causes and consequences of the West’s rejection of its Christian
roots. This led me to David L. Schindler’s Ordering Love: Liberal
Societies and the Memory of God
(William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company). This book (which
I am still pouring through) is a targeted compellation of Schindler’s many
essays and papers. As woven together, they help one navigate the chaos that
many today consider culture.
I have also found Alasdair MacIntyre’s Whose Justice?
(University of Notre Dame Press). It’s a dense textbut delightfully so.
MacIntyre presents millennia of Western thought with precision and refreshingly
broad strokes. His flight through history is reminiscent of Dawson.
I have also appreciated Louis Dupré’s Passage to Modernity:
An Essay in the Hermeneutics of Nature and Culture
(Yale University Press) and Grant
Kaplan’s Answering the Enlightenment: The Catholic Recovery of
(Crossroad Publishing Company). I found both in their own ways to be in dialogue
with Pope Benedict XVI, which has helped me better appreciate the challenges
confronting the pontiff and the Church.
I’ve occasionally returned this year to The Mind that
is Catholic: Philosophical & Political Essays
(The Catholic University of America
Press) by James V. Schall, S.J. A most moving and helpful essay within it is
“Aristotle on Friendship.” This overview of a Greek study of human
relationships illuminates what it means to say that, while fallen, we are made
in the image and likeness of the Triune God Who is Love.
A watershed experience in early spring was reading Jame
Schaefer’s Theological Foundations for Environmental Ethics:
Reconstructing Patristic & Medieval Concepts
(Georgetown University Press). This work eviscerates
any suggestion that the appreciation of nature is new to Catholic thought.
Thank you Dr. Schaefer!
I must also highlight the entire Winter 2011 edition of Communio:
International Catholic Review
. Its theme, “Toward a Human Ecology: Person, Life, Nature,”
is of particular interest to me. In it, I especially appreciated Mary Taylor’s
essay “A Deeper Ecology: A Catholic Vision of the Person in Nature.”
Winter 2010 edition
(A Symposium on Caritas in Veritate
) includes a stirring introduction to Ferdinand Ulrich
in Stefan Oster’s wonderful “Thinking Love at the Heart of things. The
Metaphysics of Being as Love in the Work of Ferdinand Ulrich.”
My year ended with an Advent reading of St. Teresa of
Ávila’s Interior Castle
(a terribly humbling experience that I must return to as I
am stuck in the first mansion of this spiritual journey) and Pope Benedict
XVI’s beautiful blending of faith and reason in Jesus of Nazareth:
The Infancy Narratives
(which blessed me with new insights into the mystery of the incarnation).
Lastly, I should add one motion picture. 2012 was not the
first time I watched this film, but for a number of reasons I have returned to
it this year. Director Joe Johnston (one of Hollywood’s best) captures with
primal beauty the biography of Homer Hickam in the 1999 film October Sky.
It is based on Hickam’s story of
growing up in a coal-mining town in West Virginia, winning a national science
fair, and becoming an engineer at NASA. October Sky
captures with breathtaking visuals two great urges
within the human person: to retreat inwardlyas did Homer’s dad, who
managed a faltering coal mine and who found it difficult to return his son’s
affectionor to reach outward and thus ascend, as did Homer and his
friends, who trusted and loved each other and built and launched increasingly
sophisticated model rockets in post-Sputnik America. The final scenes says in a
few moments what is at the heart of the Holy Father’s call to better know and
share the good news of the God Who is self-revealing, self-giving, transcending
loveand what that means for our relations on earth.
is the author
of acclaimed biographies of G.K. Chesterton, Oscar Wilde, Hilaire Belloc,
and J.R.R. Tolkien, and books on English literature and literary converts. His recent books include
Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the
and a new edition of Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile
. Pearce is Writer-in-Residence and Associate Professor of Literature at Ave Maria
University in Naples, Florida, and is the Co-Editor of the St. Austin
and the Editor-in-Chief of Sapientia
. He is also the editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions
My favorite book from Ignatius Press’s illustrious catalogue
of titles published in 2012, is My Brother, The Pope
by Georg Ratzinger and Michael
Hesemann. It offers an intimate portrait of Pope Benedict's childhood and
chilling accounts of his life during the tyrannical reign of Hitler. For those
of us who do not reside in the inner sanctum of the Vatican, there can be few,
if any, better ways of getting to know the Holy Father personally than through
the reading of this book.
In the wake of a year that saw the sickening rise of secular
fundamentalism, we need the wisdom to be found in the Church's teaching on
subsidiarity. One noble contribution to the cause of disseminating the wisdom
of the Church's social vision was the publication of The Hound of
selection of essays edited by Richard Aleman (American Chesterton
As my own work with the Ignatius Critical Editions (http://www.ignatiuscriticaleditions.com
and Catholic Courses (http://www.catholiccourses.com
will testify, I am passionate about the restoration of civilization through the
teaching of the liberal arts. This being so, I have been encouraged and
edified by the publication of Literature: A Student's
Markos (Crossway), Christianity and Literature
by David Lyle Jeffrey and Gregory
Maillet (InterVarsity Press), and Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the
Foundations of Education
by Stratford Caldecott (Angelico Press), each of which takes a
tradition-oriented approach to the restoration of liberal learning.
As the editor of the St. Austin Review
a Catholic cultural journal published since 2001, I am privileged to be able to
promote the Catholic literary and artistic revival in the twenty-first century.
This includes an increase in the quantity and quality of Catholic fiction,
which Ignatius Press has been in the vanguard of promoting. Less
recognized but no less significant is the renaissance in Catholic poetry. I
have been steeping myself in the best of contemporary Catholic poetry and would
recommend the following: The Gods of Winter
by Dana Gioia (Peterloo Poets)
and four volumes of verse published by the excitingly courageous Kaufmann
Publishing: A Sudden Certainty: Priest Poems
by Dwight Longenecker, In
the Saguaro Forest: Sonnets and Lyrics
by Mark Amorose, Wind Among the Leaves
by William Dunn and Reading
Philip C. Kolin. Other new volumes of verse by excellent Catholic poets include
A House Rejoicing
by Pavel Chichikov (Grey Owl Press), Psalter: A
Sequence of Catholic Sonnets
by William Baer (Truman State University Press), and Reflections
by Ruth Asch (Saint Austin
has doctoral degrees in canon and civil
law. He currently holds the Edmund
Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit,
Michigan. He has authored or edited several books, including Annulments and the Catholic Church:
Straight Answers to Tough Questions
Excommunication and the Catholic Church: Straight Answers to Tough Questions
(both from Ascension Press), and is the translator of the English
edition of The
1917 Pio Benedictine Code of Canon Law
. His canon law website can be found at www.canonlaw.info
This was a lighter-than-usual year, reading-wise. Several
months in Europe will do that to you. Still, I managed a few especially fine
Raymond Burke, Lack of Discretion of Judgment: Recent Rotal
Michael Wrenn, Catechisms and Controversies
Bernard Nathanson, The Hand of God
Ralph Martin, Will Many be Saved?
Matthew A. Rarey
a journalist and education consultant who writes from Chicago.
For me, 2012 started with a dog and ended with God, both
literally and literarily.
While on a journalistic assignment to Rome in the fall, my
most important assignment turned out to be myself. I experienced a gentle yet
profound conversion. Such a spiritually clarifying reorientation to the good
will doubtless happen again, though it may differ in degree from those which
can be expected to follow in order to plough through this life with straight
furrows. Because conversionturning fully back to God, to whom our backs
so easily turnis a process demanded by our poor human nature. It takes
only our desire, trust, and humility to let the Lord illuminate our lives, even
if struggling through a spiritual murk is God’s way of testing our mettle.
I attribute that Roman conversion to the intercession of a
saint to whom I have prayed over the yearsa saint who teaches us to see
the infinite in the finite and perceive the profound glory that comes from
sanctifying everyday life. He is St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei.
One late November evening I prayed at his tomb, located beneath the altar of
Our Lady of Peace Prelatic Church of Opus Dei. Afterward I enjoyed conversation
and espresso with a member of Opus Dei studying at the Pontifical University of
the Holy Cross: a Brazilian named Augusto Silberstein, descended from Holocaust
survivors. Earlier he gave me a tour of the church and the museum dedicated to
After departing I roamed for hours through dark streets,
getting lost a couple times and walking till a blistered foot reduced my gait
to a trudge. But my spiritual step was light; I was gliding with joy and peace.
I had an encounter with a saint who also inspired a friendship in Augusto, whom
a priest had introduced to me earlier that fall. I’d asked St. Josemaria to
pray that God grant me what I need, and I am convinced that the prayers of that
Spanish saint hacked through a snarl of loneliness and spiritual self-absorption.
Friends in Heaven and on earth ignite a theoretical appreciation of divine love
into a burning reality.
So for books I would recommend anything by St. Josemaria
Escriva. In my coat pocket I carry a copy of Christ Passing By
, a collection of his homilies.
Randomly opening this little book and reading a passage never fails to lift one
toward God. For example, I just opened it to the chapter “Christ’s Presence in
Christians” and read this:
“We must love the world and work and all human things. For
the world is good. Adam’s sin destroyed the divine balance of creation; but God
the Father sent his only Son to re-establish peace, so that we, his children by
adoption, might free creation from disorder and reconcile all things to God.”
How’s that for ordering one’s day?
To say that 2012 had a dogged start is no mark against man’s
best friend, however.
I began reading Alan Lazar’s Roam: A Novel with Music
late Christmas Eve 2011 and
finished it early Christmas morningthe best gift I got that year. I am
including it among my favorite books of last year because its literary paws
followed me into 2012.
This novel is about a young mutt named Nelson who strays
from his owner’s homea woman he calls his “Great Love”to see what
lies beyond the yard. But he gets lost and spends the next eight years trying
to find her. That a book I finished Christmas morning actually ends on a
Christmas morning lent it a meaning that is hard to chalk up to chance.
It’s an adventure story of canine courage and devotion. It
offers poignant insights into human nature as well as the natural world we
seldom sniff around with the perceptivity of a dog. Little Nelson crisscrosses
the countryalone, with another dog he dotes upon and protects from
coyotes, and with people who take him in. These well-drawn characters include a
trucker, himself a roamer struggling with lost love, and an old widower on his
last legs. Nelson also spends a season with a pack of wolves until getting the
drift that he is not one of them. Lucky for him, since staying would have meant
death at the fangs of near relatives who tire of the perpetually puppy-like
behavior of a domesticated dog.
That long night’s read had me putting down Roam
time and again to savor moments of pure joy and,
yes, shed tears. No book since Watership Down
has been so cathartic.
Yet despite being a sentimental sort myself and easily given
to sensitive responses, Roam
maudlin romp in anthropomorphism. It is a book about a dog that can draw one
closer to God through its portrayal of virtue in quest of higher goods. This
may come as a surprise to its author, a composer who has enjoyed much success
in Hollywood. (Roam
accompanied by a soundtrack he composed.) From what I have been able to tell
from interviews with him, he is not a Christian, perhaps not a believer at
The book does have a drawback in its nonchalant portrayal of
premarital sex between several of the human characters. It does, however, paint
in terrible hues the pain of adulterous betrayal. Before Nelson begins his
odyssey, his Great Love’s unfaithful husband (a torn man, not an unsympathetic
stock character) and his mistress think nothing of cavorting while Nelson is
around and the wife is out of the house. But the dog perceives something is
very wrong between the once happy husband and wife who bought Nelson on their
honeymoona purchase that, unbeknownst to them, saved Nelson from an
early death he would escape many times later during his long life.
So I would not recommend it to children, though a prudent
read-aloud by an adult would be wholesomely in order. No mature Catholic will
leave the experience of reading Roam
without joy, however. For we all roam at times in our lives, hopefully finding
peace in returning home to God and, in my book, a good and faithful dog, too.
, Dean of the John Paul
II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, Australia, author of Culture
and the Thomist Tradition: after Vatican II
2003), Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI
(Oxford University Press, 2008), Benedict
XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed
(T & T Clark: London, 2010), Patron of the Australian Catholic Students Association,
part-time cat butler, and wife of Stuart Rowland.
My Top 10 books of 2012:
1. Jens Zimmermann, Incarnational Theology: A
Philosophy of Culture for the Church in the World
(Intervarsity Press, Illinois, 2012).
I read this book on a seven hour flight from Melbourne to Singapore and the
time literally flew by. It brings together the realms of Christology and the
theology of culture. The author shows that if we get Christology wrong then we
will have no hope of understanding secularism. There are a few small points where
I would take a different view, for example, while I have respect for
Bonhoeffer, I can't say that he would be my favourite moral theologian, but on
the whole this work is great for gaining an understanding of the relationship
between Christology and culture.
2. Brad S. Gregory, The Unintended Reformation: How a
Religious Revolution Secularised Society
(Harvard University Press, 2012). This is a London Times Literary
book of the year. It is highly
recommended for those interested in the intellectual history of the implosion
of Christian culture in the West.
3. Joseph Ratzinger, The Infancy Narratives: Jesus of
Editrice Vaticana, 2012). Like the first two Jesus of Nazareth
books, this is a case study in Catholic scriptural exegesis.
4. Robert Louis Wilken, The First Thousand Years: A
Global History of Christianity
(Yale University Press, 2012). Chapter titles include:
Constructing a catacomb, Origen of Alexandria, Cyprian of Carthage, The Council
of Nicaea, Monasticism, The Sacking of Jerusalem, Architecture and Art, Music
and Worship, the Birth of Hospitals, the Rise of Islam, Christians under Islam,
Charlemagne and Christianity among the Slavs.
5. Logos et Musica
edited by Horst Seidl et.al (Peter Lang, 2012). This
is a collection of essays in honour of Benedict XVI with particular attention
given to the topics of reason and music. Some of the essays appear in German
and others in English.
6. Aidan Nichols, The Poet as Believer: A Theological
Study of Paul Claudel
(Ashgate, 2011). Fr Aidan Nichols
OP on one of the greatest Catholic poets of the 20th century.
7. Roger Scruton, The Face of God: The Gifford
2012). Scruton rose to prominence in the 1980s as the editor of the English
Conservative journal The Salisbury Review
, then famous for its publication of the ideas of persecuted Central
and Eastern European anti-Communist intellectuals. The Gifford Lectures are an
extremely prestigious series of addresses delivered at the Scottish
universities on an annual basis since 1888. Former Gifford lecturers include
Alasdair MacIntyre, Karl Barth, John Haldane and Christopher Dawson.
8. Dee Nolan, A Food Lover's Pilgrimage to Santiago
de Compostela: Food, Wine and Walking along the Camino through Southern France
and the North of Spain
(Lantern Books, 2010). This has
been out for a couple of years but at first its market price put it out of the
reach of many. Now it has reduced in price it may become a Catholic family
classic. It is a coffee table style of book but each page contains Catholic
cultural trivia from the villages of southern France and Northern Spain as well
as recipes and travel tips for those making the pilgrimage to Compostela.
9 Frank Millard, The Palace and the Bunker: Royal
Resistance to Hitler
(The History Press, 2012). It is well known that many of the aristocratic
families of Germany and Austria regarded Hitler as a common thug and worked
against him. Archduke Otto von Hapsburg declined several invitations to dine
with him and in retaliation Hitler code-named his take-over of Austria
'Operation Otto". This work contains many great stories of royal and
aristocratic resistance to one of the greatest psychopaths of the 20th century.
10. Adam Zamoyski, Chopin: Prince of the Romantics
(Harper Press, 2011). This work
includes a wealth of information on the cultural centers of Poland and France
and musical circles in the 19th century.
is a Jewish convert to Catholicism and best-selling author of Salvation Is From The Jews
editor of Honey From the Rock: Sixteen Jews Find the Sweetness of Christ
The best book I read this year was The Price to Pay
(Ignatius Press) by Joseph
Faddell, which is the first-person account ("witness testimony") of a
virulently anti-Christian Muslim aristocrat, "Joseph Faddell", who
became a passionate Catholic willing to (and almost actually doing so) die for
the true Faith. Three reasons for the pick: (1) Witness testimonies are always
enjoyable and powerfully faith-strengthening (hence Honey from the
Rock: 16 Jews Find the Sweetness of Christ
and the more distant the convert is from the Church prior to the conversion,
the more dramatic the story. (2) The behavior of Joseph's loving family
members, who first have him brutally tortured in an unsuccessful attempt to get
him to recant, and then follow him from country to country trying to kill him,
reveal much about Islam, about current events in the Muslim world, and most
tellingly, about the spiritual entity behind the religion. The personality of
the Spirit behind a religion tends to be reflected in the personality and
behavior of an adherent to that religion. Ideally, true Christians reflect
some of the personality and behavior of Jesus; here Joseph's siblings reflect a
personality dominated by pride, anger and vengeance (hmmwho could that
be?) (3) It is not only a very edifying and informative book, but an exciting
and entertaining read, simply in the drama and suspense of the events as they
unfold. Highly recommended.
is the author and co-author of numerous books,
including Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the
, and is the former information director of
the National Conference of
Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference and Knights of
Columbus. He is also a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy
of Jerusalem, the father of five and the grandfather of nine.
Two titles stand out for me in my 2012 reading: Bonhoeffer:
Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
Eric Metaxas (Thomas Nelson) and F. Scott Fitzgerald's This Side of
in all truth a less than perfect biography. It's too uncritical of its subject
and distractingly quirky in its prose. Even so, Dietrich Bonhoeffer emerges in
these pages as a remarkably compelling figure, thanks at least in part to the
many substantial excerpts from his writing that appear in the book.
The version of the Christian message preached by this
Lutheran pastor and theologian whom the Nazis executed for plotting against
Hitler is as powerful now as it ever was--a badly needed antidote to the
weak-kneed, watered-down liberal Christianity so common today among Catholics
as well as others. Bonhoeffer
required reading for anyone tempted by the illusory doctrine of "cheap
This Side of Paradise
Fitzgerald's first novel, was wildly popular when it appeared, but its picture
of spoiled rich kids indulging themselves, though no doubt sensational in the
1920s, is not terribly interesting now. It remains worth reading, however, as
the early work of a writer of genius starting to find his voice.
Of particular interest, too, is the book's very sympathetic
treatment of Catholicism, along with its strong awareness of the reality of
personified evil. Fitzgerald was hardly an exemplary Catholic, and when
visiting his modest grave (in a small cemetery next to a Catholic church in
suburban Washington, D.C.), I confess I've asked myself whether he really
belonged in that hallowed ground. This Side of Paradise
obliges me to think again. Next time I'm in that little
cemetery, I intend to say, "Welcome home, Scott."
Mark W. Sullivan
is the co-author of St. Monica and the Power of Persistent Prayer
with Mike Aquilina. The book is scheduled for publication by Our Sunday
in March. He has also written about
music, literature, and a variety of other subjects pertaining to Catholic
culture for Catholic World Report
and Our Sunday Visitor Newsweekly
since 1994. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and two children.
Abandoned: The Untold Story of the Abortion Wars
by Monica Migliorino Miller (St.
Benedict Press 2012). Before I read this book, I thought I was pro-life and
knew all I needed to know about abortion. After reading this book, my wife and
I decided to start a pro-life group at our parish. This is the first personal
history written by anyone involved in the early days of the pro-life movement.
It chronicles her experience participating in rescues and the time she spent in
jail because of her participation. Most importantly, the book is very well
written. You’ll stay up all night reading it.
by Walker Percy (1960). Long live books that can be
entertaining and Catholic! I wasn’t the only one longing for good fiction this
year. Ignatius launched a web-site dedicated to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien
and a new publisher dedicated to publishing Catholic fiction came on line
called Tuscany Press.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to English And
by Elizabeth Kantor (Regenery Press 2006). This book made me a born again English
major. I dug my Norton Anthologies
from college out of the basement and started to read William Wordsworth and
Mothers of the Church: The Witness of Early Christian
by Mike Aquilina and Christopher
Bailey (Our Sunday Visitor 2012). John Lenin used to say with much exaggeration
that before Elvis Presley there was nothing. Can we say before Mike Aquilina,
the Church Fathers didn’t exist? In co-authoring a book with Mike this year I
got an inside look at what it takes to make the Church Fathers accessible,
which he’s been doing brilliantly for the last 15 years. This book is one of
his latest and has a bit of a twist by focusing on the Mothers of the Church.
Yoakam (Warner Music Nashville 2012). For me, part of the attraction of Dwight
Yoakam is he reminds me of the somewhat red-neck small town I grew up in the
1970s and 80s, which was at the time rural western New Jersey. The other
attraction is he’s a brilliant singer, songwriter, and performer. 3 Pears
is the perfect guitar pop album. There is barely anything country on it. He’s
also funny, which in these troubling times is much appreciated.
The Guitar Song
Jamey Johnson (Mercury Records 2010). It took me two years to realize how good
this album is. Johnson is the only exciting thing happening in country music. I
would add all of popular music. Johnson writes about human weakness, sin,
contrition, and redemption better than anyone.
(Mercury 1976). The guy who sits across the aisle from me at daily mass has the
album cover tattooed on his arm. He didn’t really want to talk about it, but I
listened to this album about 20 times this year driving around in my car. Once
I got tipped off that the members of Rush have a good sense of humor, it all
came together for me. As a guitar player, I’ve been kicking myself for not
listening to Alex Lifeson sooner.
is a popular Catholic blogger, writer, and speaker. He is the author of The Church and New Media: Blogging Converts, Online
Activists, and Bishops who Tweet
(Our Sunday Visitor).
[Editor’s note: We’ve listed Brandon’s choices, but without
his detailed commentary on each. You can read that
commentary on his website
This was a relatively slow reading year for me. After
knocking out 87 books last year and 108 two years ago, I only finished 54
titles this year. Granted, 2012 brought many wonderful diversions: our third
child, Augustine, was born; I studied hundreds of hours for the Professional
Engineering exam (which I passed!); I had several new writing and speaking
commitments; and I worked on two large book projects. Considering all that
activity I’m actually surprised I read as much as I did.
Yet 54 books still provide plenty of options for an annual
favorites list. As with prior lists, these are my
fifteen favorite books, not the most acclaimed, the most timeless, or
the best-written. They're simply the ones I liked the most, the ones I kept
thinking about well after finishing. Only about half of these books were
published in 2012. But as C.S. Lewis says, novelty isn't always good;
newer books haven’t passed the test of time. Regardless, some of these older
books may be unfamiliar to you and therefore “new” in the best sense of the
word. So with that, here are my favorite titles from 2012 (in descending
, St. Augustine of Hippo, translated by R.S. Pine Coffin
(Penguin Classics, 1961)
14. The Seven Big Myths about the Catholic Church:
Distinguishing Fact from Fiction about Catholicism
, Christopher Kaczor (Ignatius
13. My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with
the Help of the Saints
Dawn Eden (Ave Maria Press, 2012)
12. In Defense of Sanity: The Best Essays of G.K.
Chesterton, collected by Dale Ahlquist, Aidan Mackey, and Joseph Pearce
(Ignatius Press, 2011)
11. Theology for Beginners
, Frank J. Sheed (St. Anthony
Messenger Press, 1982)
10. Answering the New Atheism: Dismantling Dawkins’
Case against God
Scott Hahn and Benjamin Wiker (Emmaus Road, 2008)
9. Tolkien: Man and Myth, a Literary Life
, Joseph Pearce (Ignatius Press,
8. From Willow Creek to Sacred Heart: Rekindling My
Love for Catholicism
Chris Haw (Ave Maria Press, 2012)
7. Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing
and Following Jesus
Sherry Weddell (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012)
6. How to Defend the Faith Without Raising Your Voice:
Civil Responses to Catholic Hot Button Issues
, Austen Ivereig (Our Sunday Visitor, 2012)
5. Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
, Pope Benedict XVI (Image, 2012)
4. Will Many Be Saved?: What Vatican II Actually
Teaches and Its Implications for the New Evangelization
, Ralph Martin (Eerdmans, 2012)
3. Steve Jobs,
Walter Isaacson (Simon & Schuster, 2011)
2. C.S. Lewis Books: Chronicles of Narnia, Miracles,
That Hideous Strength, The Great Divorce, The Weight of Glory, Till We Have
1. Treasure in Clay: The Autobiography of Fulton J.
Fulton Sheen (Image, 1982)
At the Heart of the Gospel: Reclaiming the Body for
the New Evangelization
(Image, 2012) by Christopher West
Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for
Sunday Visitor, 2012) by Helen Alvare
Catholic Teaching on Homosexuality: New Paths to
Maria Press, 2012) by Fr. Lou Cameli
The Catholics Next Door: Adventures in Imperfect
Books, 2012) by Greg and Jennifer Willits
Catholicism Pure and Simple
(Stauffer Books, 2012) by Fr.
The Duty of Delight: The Diaries of Dorothy Day
(Image, 2012) edited by Robert
Holiness for Everyone: The Practical Spirituality of
St. Josemaria Escriva
(Our Sunday Visitor, 2012) by Eric Sammons
Love in the Ruins
(Dell Publishing, 1972) by Walker Percy
The New Evangelization: Responding to the Challenge
(Gracewing Publishing, 2012) by Archbishop Rino Fisichella
Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
(Thomas Nelson, 2012) by Michael
in New York City. He is the co-author of the forthcoming Beyond the
Catholic Culture Wars
Adam and Eve After the Pill: Paradoxes of the Sexual Revolution
(Ignatius Press), by Mary Eberstadt.
Eberstadt sees very clearly just what the last half-century of supposed sexual
liberation has wrought us. In an age where women are supposedly freer than
ever, they have instead become slaves to the very thing that was supposed to
liberate them: artificial contraception. Coincidentallyor perhaps,
providentiallythis book was released weeks after the Obama
administration announced there would be little compromise on the HHS mandate
requiring Catholic hospitals, schools, and other organizations to provide
insurance coverage for contraception and abortifacients. A must read for anyone
looking for proof that the birth control pill has been bad for women, men,
children, and society at large.
Anatomy of Injustice: A Murder Case Gone Wrong
(Knopf), by Raymond Bonner. A riveting
real life story about a small town murder (in my home town!) and the accused
murdererwho spent over twenty years on death row for a crime he almost
certainly did not commit. The haunting thought that this man was almost
executed gives further support to the Catechism’s reasoning that capital
punishment should be “very rare, if not practically nonexistent.”
Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak for Themselves
(Our Sunday Visitor) by Helen Alvaré.
Full disclosure: Helen Alvaré is one of my heroes. Her courageand her
finessein defending pro-life causes over the past few decades should put
her on the fast track to sainthood one day. In response to the HHS mandate, she
teamed up with friend and neighbor Kim Daniels and wrote an open letter to the
Obama administration protesting both the mandate and the claim that the likes
of Sandra Fluke and Kathleen Sebelius speak for all women. While they initially
circulated the letter to friends and family in late February 2012, over 33,000
women have now signed the letter. Breaking Through
is a compilation edited by Alvaré of testimonials
from nine women who are standing up for themselves as Catholic women to address
pressing questions on faith, marriage, family life, dating, and vocation.
The Patient as Person
(Yale University Press), by Paul Ramsey. In August of
this year, I joined my colleagues at the Center for
Bioethics and Culture
for a weekend gathering to revisit and discuss
Ramsey’s The Patient as Person
, the book
form of a series of lectures Ramsey gave at Yale in 1969. Considering the
increased reliance on biotechnologies, Ramsey’s work remains timelessand
probably more necessary than everas we work to build a culture that
protects life and human flourishing.
(Free Press), by Ross Douthat . For Ross Douthat, the youngest ever New
op-ed columnist, “America’s
problem isn’t too much religion, or too little of it.” Bad religion, according
to the author, is “the slow-motion collapse of traditional Christianity and the
rise of a variety of destructive pseudo-Christianities in its place.” Chock
full of telling anecdotes and history, Douthat surveys the rise and decline of
mainline Protestantism in the United States, as well as the golden era of
American Catholicism that reached its peak in the 1960’s. For Catholics and
Protestants alike, much of the twentieth century was defined by an individual
or a family’s commitment to their particular faith tradition, which had a core
understanding of orthodox beliefs and practices, dubbed by C.S. Lewis as a mere
Christianity. The problem today, however,
is that most Americans are losing that center. Douthat’s Bad Religion
is an attempt to diagnosis this problem, and in
doing so, he offers some helpful remedies to what ails religion in America.
What is Marriage? Man and Wife: A Defense
(Encounter Books), by Sherif Girgis,
Ryan T. Anderson, Robert P. George. In the aftermath of four states failing to
defend traditional marriage at the ballot box in November, these authors aim to
reframe the debate by examining what
marriagea prior and more fundamental question that must be understood
before determining who
This book will long be held as one of the most important books in defense of
traditional marriageand we owe our gratitude to these authors for their
clear and winsome arguments.
PART ONE | PART TWO