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"The Best Books I Read in 2005…" | Ignatius Press Authors and Editors | January 2, 2006

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Regular readers of IgnatiusInsight.com know that books, authors, and the printed word are the main focus of the site. And so we thought it would be interesting for readers of IgnatiusInsight.com to find out what some of the people associated with the site and with Ignatius Press have been reading this past year. So we asked Dale Ahlquist, Mark Brumley, Fr. Joseph Fessio, Thomas Howard, Peter Kreeft, Sandra Miesel, Michael O’Brien, Carl Olson, and Joseph Pearce to tell us the titles of some of the best books they read last year.

The books didn’t have to be published in 2005, nor did they have to be about a particular topic. Simply, "What were the best books you read in 2005?" Here are their answers.

Dale Ahlquist,
president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society, author of G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense, and associate editor of the Collected Works of G.K. Chesterton (Ignatius). He is also the publisher of Gilbert Magazine, author of The Chesterton University Student Handbook, and editor of The Gift of Wonder: The Many Sides of G.K. Chesterton.

The best books that I read in 2005 that weren’t by Chesterton were God and the World by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, The Miracle of the Bells by Russell Janney, and Monsters from the Id by E. Michael Jones.

I also re-read Chesterton’s Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, and The Ball and the Cross and they were better than ever. If you don’t read Orthodoxy once a year it is like denying yourself food and drink.

Mark Brumley
is President of the Board of Directors of Guadalupe Associates and Chief Executive Officer for Ignatius Press. He is associate publisher of IgnatiusInsight.com. He also oversees magazines for Ignatius Press, is project coordinator for the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, and is editor of Ignatius Press's Modern Apologetics Library. Mark is also the author of How Not To Share Your Faith, and a contributor to The Five Issues That Matter Most. Mark lives in Napa, California with his wife and five children.

Here are the best books for me that I read in 2005. I have to say I may have left something off the list. Really. Also, those listed are given in no particular order. They exclude lots of Ignatius Press books I was tempted to include. And they may include books I read part of in 2004.

The Cube and the Cathedral
by George Weigel. Weigel "nails it". Europe's problem and the solution to it are there.

Sophia House
by Michael O'Brien. A moving "prequel" to Father Elijah and a worthy way to complete the Children of the Last Days series. One question remains: What next?

by Hilaire Belloc. This was a delightful bit of satire, respectfully rendered, on some forms of 19th century romance novels. I regret not having read it until 2005.

On the Way to Jesus Christ
by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. A series of essays on Christology. The "Popular Jesus" isn't necessarily the "real Jesus". Only the "real Jesus" saves. Some great insights regarding the "Jesus of history" and the "Christ of faith" discussion. Must reading. 

by C.S. Lewis. I've read this book umpteen times before; it was a delight to read it again, as it will be in the future. The Great Dance is profound. The exchange between Ransom and Weston is insightful and at times frightening. Of course the planetary science about Venus is all wrong. So what? I hope someone has the talent and drive to create worthy screenplays for Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength. I'm afraid, though, what might be done with the Green Lady in Perelandra

by Joseph Ratzinger. Another delightful re-read. Get to know the new pope by reading the first part of his memoirs. This is really a great introduction to the man.

The Philosophy of Tolkien
by Peter Kreeft. Kreeft on Tolkien. What more need be said?

Literary Giants, Literary Converts
by Joseph Pearce. I know. It looks like I'm padding the list with Ignatius Press books. But I'm not. Look at all the Ignatius Press books published in 2005 that I left off my list. That doesn't mean I didn't read them or didn't like them. Anyway, Pearce is always a treat. Some of the essays in this book are just good. Others are great. None are uninteresting. Even when treating someone I've never been able to get excited about–such as Roy Campbell–Pearce is always worth reading.

Scripture and Metaphysics
by Matthew Levering. Good discussion of contemporary Trinitarian theology and Aquinas. Okay, I have some reservations re: his essay on Balthasar, but I still highly recommend the book. Lots to learn from here. It is certainly more than textbook Thomism recast in contemporary jargon. There are some real insights here.  

The Meaning of It All
by Richard Feynman. Revealing social essays by one of the top physicists of the 20th century. They reveal how right and how wrong an insightful scientist can be on social, ethical, and religious matters.

The Fabric of the Cosmos
by Brian Greene. A good and a relatively accessible discussion of String Theory and the search for a Theory of Everything. A follow up to the author's popular, The Elegant Universe. Some overlap but not as much as you might think. 

Ender's Game
by Orson Scott Card. Yes, I know. Everyone else on the planet has already read it. So I've been busy. Give me a break.

by Orson Scott Card. See comment on Ender's Game.

Children of the Mind
by Orson Scott Card. See comment on Ender's Game.

Love Alone is Credible
by Hans Urs Von Balthasar

Lead Kindly Light
by Thomas Howard. Still a great conversion story.

Fr. Joseph Fessio, S.J., Th.D.
is Provost of Ave Maria University and Professor of Theology. He is the Founder and Editor of Ignatius Press. He also founded the St. Ignatius Institute of the University of San Francisco and Campion College before coming to Ave Maria University. He has taught both philosophy and theology courses at several schools. Fr. Fessio wrote his dissertation on the ecclesiology of Hans Urs von Balthasar under the direction of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. He holds the degrees of B.A. and M.A. from Gonzaga University; M.A. from the Fourvière Jesuit Faculty of Theology in Lyons, France; and Th.D. from the University of Regensburg in Germany.

From Aristotle to Darwin and Back
by Etienne Gilson (Out of print, hopefully to be reissued by IP)

The Spirit of the Liturgy
by Joseph Ratzinger (Read for the third time).

The Truth of the World
(Theologic, vol I) by Hans Urs von Balthasar

Cento Domande sull'Islam
by Khalil Samir Khalil (being translated for Ignatius Press)

La Forza della Ragione
by Oreana Fallaci

Die Haeresie der Formlosigkeit
by Martin Mosebach (being translated for Ignatius Press)

On the Divine Names
by Dionysius

The Consolation of Philosophy
by Boethius

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 and Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome. He has also produced a video series, aired on EWTN, titled "Treasures of Catholicism." Dove Descending, his study of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets, is being published by Ignatius Press this year. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.

Lives of the English Poets
by Dr. [Samuel] Johnson

by Ronald Knox

Ronald Knox
by Evelyn Waugh

The Seven Ages of Man
by Christopher Hollis

A Spiritual Aeneid
by Ronald Knox

Autobiography by Lady Diana Cooper

Roxburgh of Stowe
by Noel [Lord] Annan

by David [Lord] Cecil

Persons and Places
by George Santayana

Half a dozen of Josephine Tey’s murder mysteries (bedtime reading)

Peter Kreeft, Ph.D.,
is a professor of philosophy at Boston College. He is an alumnus of Calvin College (AB 1959) and Fordham University (MA 1961, Ph.D., 1965). He taught at Villanova University from 1962-1965, and has been at Boston College since 1965. He is the author of numerous books (over forty and counting) including, most recently, The Philosophy of Tolkien, You Can Understand the Bible, The God Who Loves You, and Socrates Meets Sartre. See his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for full listing if his Ignatius Press titles.

The Cost of Discipleship
by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Theology of the Body Explained
by Christopher West

Sex and the Secular City
by Stephen Kellmeyer

Sophia House
by Michael O'Brien

Sandra Miesel
is a Catholic journalist, medieval historian, and co-author of the best-selling The Da Vinci Hoax. She holds masters’ degrees in biochemistry and medieval history from the University of Illinois. Since 1983, she has written hundreds of articles for the Catholic press, chiefly on history, art, and hagiography. She regularly appears in Crisis magazine and is a columnist for the diocesan paper of Norwich, Connecticut. Sandra has spoken at religious and academic conferences, appeared on EWTN, and given numerous radio interviews. Outside the Catholic sphere, she has also written, analyzed, and edited fiction. Sandra and her husband John have raised three children.

The Rage and the Pride
by Oriana Fallaci. Islamism denounced with inimitable panache

by Robin McKinley. Clever adult contemporary fantasy involving vampires and a coffee shop clerk

Salt of the Earth
and God in the World by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Graceful, lucid explication of Catholic belief in conversation with a journalist

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
by J.K. Rowling. Surprisingly better than the two previous novels in the series

Europe at Home: Family and Material Culture 1500-1800
by Raffaella Sarti. The fascinating panorama of Early Modern everyday life

Searching for Ancient Egypt: Art, Architecture, and Artifacts,
edited by David P. Silverman. Catalog of choice items from the University of Pennsylvania collection with exceptional text

Islam and Dhimmitude: Where Civilizations Collide
by Bat Ye'or. Islamic suppression of infidels, numbingly chronicled

Saints and Their Symbols: Recognizing Saints In Art and Popular Images
by Fernando and Gioia Lanzi. Pretty coffee table book surveys traditional legends and the cult of sainthood

Michael O'Brien,
born in Ottawa, Canada, in 1948 is a self-taught painter and writer. Both his written work and visual art have been reviewed and reproduced widely. He is an author of several books, notably his seven volume Children of the Last Days series of novels, including Father Elijah, A Cry of Stone, and Sophia House. He is also the author of A Landscape With Dragons, an examination of the phenomenon of contemporary pagan influence in children's culture. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.

The Medium and the Light: reflections on religion
by Marshall McLuhan. McLuhan is widely lauded as the great teacher-visionary of media in the modern age. It is not so well known that he was also one of its strongest critics. A convert to orthodox Catholicism, in this collection of letters and interviews he brings his prodigious intellect to bear on the condition of modern society and its attitude towards religious truth.

The Flying Inn by G.K. Chesterton. An old favorite, a slender tale which offers the reader a good deal of sheer fun integrated with layers of significance. When a puritanical Islamic state rises in England and pubs are made illegal, a stalwart yeoman resists with a mobile clandestine pub.

A Century of War
by William Engdahl. Engdahl is an economist. Generally I find the subject of economics mind-numbing and never read about it. However, I couldn't put this book down. It has been highly praised by world economists for its analysis of the economic and historical factors in the emergent modern era, with a particular focus on Anglo-American oil politics. Solidly referenced and utterly fascinating, this book was for me an eye-opener.

Technopoly: the surrender of culture to technology
by Neil Postman. Brilliant, hard hitting, and wide-ranging in its analysis of the radical shift in consciousness brought about by the media revolution. A sober warning that builds upon the insights Postman presented in Amusing Ourselves to Death.

The World of Silence
by Max Picard. A Swiss philosopher and orthodox Catholic, Picard wrote a number of books, most of which (if not all) are presently out of print in the English language. They are extraordinary gems, and this one is the most personally meaningful for me. It could be called a work of philosophy or a prose-poem or a meditation. Well, it's all three, and more.

The Judgment of the Nations
by Christopher Dawson. Considered to be one of the finest historians of the 20th century, often referred to as a "cultural historian," Dawson was much more far-seeing than this strict definition implies. A devout Catholic, in this collection of essays he moves beyond his usual approach and offers insights that are no less than prophetic – and which have become even more urgently needed in the 21st century.

Finally, a rereading of Fydor Dostoevsky's The Idiot. I will say no more about this classic, but would suggest to anyone who loves the book, or who would like to read it for the first time, that you should obtain a DVD copy of the 8-hour long film version recently produced by Russian State TV. It comes with English subtitles. If you order it online, take care to choose the 4-disc version directed by Vladimir Bortko, not the 1951 Alan Bridges film. The new Bortko film (starring Evgeny Mironov as Prince Myshkin) is almost word-for-word true to the novel, and brings it alive in an unprecedented way (perhaps especially helpful for the non-Russian reader).

Carl E. Olson
is the editor of IgnatiusInsight.com. He is author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today’s Prophecy Preachers (Ignatius Press, April 2003), recognized by the Associated Press as one of the best religious titles of 2003, and co-author, with medievalist Sandra Miesel, of The Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (Ignatius, 2004). Carl has written for numerous Catholic periodicals and is a regular contributor Our Sunday Visitor and National Catholic Register. A former Evangelical Protestant, he has a Masters in Theological Studies from the University of Dallas. Carl lives in Oregon with his wife and daughter.

Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in a Postmodern Age
by Roger Kimball. Kimball’s The Rape of the Masters is more recent and more caustic (and quite humorous), but this book is more substantial, with perceptive observations about T.S. Eliot, Muriel Spark, Nietzsche, Sartre, and Josef Pieper, to name just a few.

Modern Culture
by Roger Scruton. Provides much helpful context for understanding "culture" in general and modern culture in particular. Sometimes eccentric, never dull, and always thought provoking. Worth it alone for the chapter on Derrida and deconstructionism (aptly titled "The Devil’s Work").

The Theology of Joseph Ratzinger: An Introductory Study by Aidan Nichols, O.P. I bought and read this between the death of John Paul II and the election of Benedict XVI. Was it prescience? No, I just finally found a used copy at a reasonable price — and I'm happy I did. A helpful guide to the life and work of a great theologian written by another very fine theologian.

The Revelation of John: A Commentary on the Greek text of the Apocalypse
by Stephen S. Smalley. I have about thirty-five commentaries on The Apocalypse, and this new work from InterVarsity Press ranks in the top three. Smalley’s work is scholarly and detailed, but he isn’t afraid to go against the contemporary grain: he carefully argues that the Apostle John indeed wrote the last book of the Bible and that he did so "just before the fall of Jerusalem" in A.D. 70.

The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe
by C.S. Lewis. Yes, I finally read it. And, of course, thoroughly enjoyed it. It’s rather interesting to compare it to Lewis’s space trilogy; I re-read Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra early in 2005. The range and imagination of Lewis are remarkable.

by Tim Powers. A Cold War thriller with a supernatural twist that sometimes reminded me (in content, not style) of the novels of Charles Williams. The detail is stunning, but never detracts from a gripping plot, masterfully imagined and written.

Turning Toward the Lord: Orientation in Liturgical Prayer
by U.M. Lang. A clear, comprehensive explanation of the historical and theological basis for "facing east" (or, "facing God") in liturgical celebration. Cardinal Ratzinger wrote, in the Foreword, "I wish the book a wide and attentive readership." So what are you waiting for?

Between War and Peace: Lessons from Afghanistan to Iraq
by Victor Davis Hanson. A professor of classics and expert on military history brings a historical perspective to current events in the Middle East that is not often heard in the usual media din and spin.

Sinatra! The Song Is You: A Singer's Art
by Will Friedwald. Forget the mob, the affairs, and the arrogance. Meet Sinatra the singer, musician, and artist. A fascinating and well-researched consideration of what set "The Voice" apart from his peers and his imitators.

The Mass and Modernity: Walking to Heaven Backward
by Fr. Jonathan Robinson. What do Kant, Hegel, Comte, and Hume have to do with Mass at the local parish? Probably much more than most Catholics would think, although the connections are hardly obvious or always direct. A valuable study of how culture affects worship – and what can be done about it. (Read an interview with Fr. Robinson here.)

The Truth About Tolerance: Pluralism, Diversity and the Culture Wars
by Brad Stetson and Joseph G. Conti. Two Evangelical professors of social ethics write an accessible study and sophisticated critique of tolerance: what it is, what it isn’t, and how to know the difference.

A Different Kind of Teacher: Solving the Crisis of American Schooling
by John Taylor Gatto. He won city and state "Teacher of the Year" awards and worked in the public school system for thirty years. Yet Gatto persuasively and passionately argues that public education is not only a complete bust but also a horrible mistake (at best) and a radical experiment (at worst) that is destroying authentic learning.

by G.K. Chesterton. I’m reading it (in a theological reading group) for the fourth time and enjoying it more than ever. The first time I encountered this classic book, in 1993, I realized Christianity was much larger than I had ever imagined. It now helps me appreciate that Christianity is far more joyful than I could ever explain. Thankfully, Chesterton explains it very well – and I never tire of reading it.

Joseph Pearce
has firmly established himself as the premier literary biographer of our time, especially in interpreting the spiritual depths of the Catholic literary tradition. He 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. He 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 Review and the Editor-in-Chief of Sapientia Press. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for more about his work and a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.

I enjoyed reading Clare Asquith's new book on Shakespeare's Catholicism, Shadowplay: The Hidden Beliefs and Coded Politics of William Shakespeare. Very well researched and well reasoned – and sufficiently provocative on a provocative subject! And, for the most part, she's right! And, on the subject of Shakespeare, I thoroughly recommend Fr Peter Milward's new book Shakespeare the Papist (Sapientia Press 2005).

The Myth of Hitler's Pope
by Rabbi David Dalin (Regnery Press 2005) is an excellent demolition of the lies and distortions of Cornwell, Goldhagen et al, which was met with an embarrassed and embarrassing silence by the New York Times and other citadels of secular fundamentalism whose motto should be "If the truth hurts, hide it!"

I recently re-read several of the Narnia books, which retain their freshness. The final thirty pages of The Last Battle must rank amongst the finest expositions of mystical theology ever written – and it's in a children's book!

The other two books that caught my attention are not yet published but are earmarked for publication in the very near future.

From Lebanon to California: A Cultural Journey
is a fascinating autobiography by Henry Zeiter, a man so learned, erudite and awash with wisdom that I basked in his presence as I read the pages. It's published by Libris (I believe) and should be out in February or March.

Dove Descending
by Thomas Howard (Ignatius Press, Spring 2006). A wonderfully captivating journey into T.S. Eliot's masterful poem Four Quartets written and reasoned in Thomas Howard's charming and inimitable way. A delight!

Edward Peters 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 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.

Thomas Wolsey Late Cardinall, Lyffe and Deathe (1588) by G. Cauendishe

Roll Me Over: An Infantryman's World War II
(1997) by R. Ganter

The Greek Way
(1942) by E. Hamilton

Celibacy In The Early Church
(1997) by Stephan Heid

The Supreme Court and Religion in American Life
(2004) by James Hitchcock

The Vision of Matthew
(1979/1991) by J. Meier

The Concept of Sin
(1977) by Josef Pieper

Guide to Thomas Aquinas
(1952) by Josef Pieper

Saint Bernadette Soubirous
(1954) by F. Trochu

The Secret Man: Watergate's Deep Throat
(2005) by B. Woodward

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