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"The Best Books I Read in 2006..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Staff | January 7, 2007

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Last year's "Best of 2005" list was popular among Ignatius Insight readers, so we've again asked a number of Ignatius Press editors, authors, and staff for their picks for the best books they read during the past year. The books didn't have to be published in 2006 (and most weren't), nor did they have to be about a particular topic. Simply, "What were the best books you read in 2006?" Commentary was optional. Here are their answers.

Dale Ahlquist,
president and co-founder of the American Chesterton Society, author of acclaimed books on Chesterton, including G.K. Chesterton: Apostle of Common Sense and Common Sense 101: Lessons From G.K. Chesterton, as well as 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.

Seeing With the Eyes of G.K. Chesterton An interview with Ahlquist
Recovering The Lost Art of Common Sense | An excerpt from Common Sense 101

I made the wonderful discovery of Alice Thomas Ellis this year. She is an English writer who died just a couple years ago. A Catholic convert, mother of seven, and a great cook, she wrote on food, family, and faith, with an incredible caustic wit that is a sort of combination of Jane Austen with a stiletto and Attila the Hun without the soft parts. I read her novels, The Inn at the Edge of the World, The Sin-Eater, Birds of Desire, The Summer House, and The 27th Kingdom, and two books of her Catholic essays, A Cat Among Pigeons and God Has Not Changed, which were no-holds-barred attacks on modernism. Savage delights.

Small is Still Beautiful, by Joseph Pearce, should be required reading by every student of economics, politics, and social sciences. It is an insightful revisiting of E.F. Schumacher's Small is Beautiful, and one of the best explanations of the Catholic idea of subsidiarity, something about which most American Catholics are clueless. Another thing I liked about the book: small chapters.

Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, Islam, by The Cardinal Formerly Known as Ratzinger (with Marcello Pera) could hardly be more timely, as is turning out to be the case with everything that Pope Benedict XVI wrote before he took his present job.

Of interest to Minnesota readers (and maybe a few enlightened folks elsewhere) is Dial M: The Murder of Carol Thompson, by William Swanson, an account of the most notorious murder (and murder trial) in Minnesota history. In 1963, a criminal lawyer named T. Eugene Thompson was convicted of arranging the murder of his wife in their nice suburban home while their four kids were at school. He was sentenced to life in prison, but was paroled after twenty years. Still denying his guilt after he got of prison, he was subsequently invited one evening to his daughter's home, where his four children privately put him on trial again for their mother's murder. What happened? Why should I tell you?

I also read a bit of G.K. Chesterton this year, mostly uncollected pieces, of which there are only a few thousand. But a re-reading of his book on Charles Dickens was a divine treat. His description of Dickens' "innocent love of living and ignorant love of learning" describes Chesterton himself. I wish it described me.

Fr. Kenneth Baker, S.J. is author of the best selling Fundamentals of Catholicism (three volumes) and of the popular introduction to the Scripture, Inside the Bible.

He has been editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review for over thirty years.

Here are my best choices of 2006:

Politically Incorrect Guide to Science, by Tom Bethell

Christ, The Ideal of the Priest, by Blessed Dom Columba Marmion, OSB

Christ, The Life of the Soul, by Blessed Dom Columba Marmion, OSB

Evolution and Other Fairy Tales, by Larry Azar

The Heresy of Formlessness: The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy, by Martin Mosebach

In The Light of Christ: Writings in the Western Tradition, by Lucy Beckett

The first five I reviewed in Homiletic & Pastoral Review.The last one willbe reviewed in the spring of 2007 in Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

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.

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The Philosophy of Democratic Government, by Yves Simon. A classic work for anyone who wants to think about political society.

Great Expectations, by Charles Dickens. Dickens creates another outstanding set of characters and a superb story.

Ecumenism and Philosophy, by Charles Morerod, O.P. An intriguing discussion of the philosophical underpinnings of ecumenism.

God is Love, by Benedict XVI. The Holy Father's first encyclical. Must-reading for all Catholics, of course, but also for non-Catholics.

Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures, by Joseph Ratzinger. A powerful analysis of the situation of western culture, includingprofound reflections on the Enlightenment, the right to life and the abortion battle, and the nature of faith. Includes a foreword by Marcello Pera, the former President of the Italian Senate.

Values in a Time of Upheaval, by Joseph Ratzinger. Those who want to think clearly about the relationship of morality, religion, and the political order must read this book.

Without Roots, by Joseph Ratzinger, Marcello Pera. This is a valuable contribution to the discussion regarding the Christian foundations of Europe and the significance of secularization on the one hand and the rise of Islam in Europe on the other. Includes an exchange of letters between Cardinal Ratzinger and Marcello Pera.

The Limits of a Limitless Science, by Stanley L.Jaki. Outstanding essays on science, philosophy, and theology by one of the great historians of science.

The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis. Umpteenth reading. Ever ancient, ever new.

Socrates Meets Sartre, by Peter Kreeft. A volume in a series of fictional dialogues between Socrates and other philosophers. This work considers, among other things, whether Sartre can be seen as a covert agent for Christianity.

Lord of the Elves and Eldils, by Richard Purtill. A tremendous volume on the fantasy fiction and philosophy of Tolkien and Lewis. I can't emphasize enough how great Purtill is. You may think you've read enough on this subject, but unless you have read this book, you haven't.

The Spirit of Early Christian Thought, by Robert Wilken. A good introduction and overview of the ideas and writing of the early Christians.

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. His essay, "Is Dialogue with Islam Possible? Some Reflections on Pope Benedict XVI's Address at the University of Regensburg," was one of the most popular IgnatiusInsight.com pieces of the past year.

I didn't get a chance to read much. But here are a few books on Islam that I thought were useful:

America Alone, by Mark Steyn.

The Force of Reason, by Oreanna Fallaci. (Or something like that. I read the Italian: La Forza della Ragione.)

Eurabia, by Bat Y'eor.

The Sword of Islam, by Serge Trifkovic.

Jeff Grace is the managing editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.

Quicksilver, by Neal Stephenson. Vol. 1 of the 3 volume Baroque Cycle. "Science Fiction" that is set in the 17th and 18th centuries. Stephenson is always worth reading but he needs a better editor. In the words of Ambrose Bierce: "The covers of this book are too far apart."

Warped Passages, by Lisa Randall. Here's an excerpt from the New York Times Book Review, "Lisa Randall's chronicle of physicists' latest efforts to make sense of a universe that gets stranger with every new discovery makes for mind-bending reading. In 'Warped Passages,' she gives an engaging and remarkably clear account of how the existence of dimensions beyond the familiar three...may resolve a host of cosmic quandaries. The discovery of extra dimensions...would utterly transform our view of the universe."

Dawkins' God: Genes, Memes and the Meaning of Life, by Alister McGrath. Highly recommended. He does a good job of showing just how silly Richard Dawkins' theology is.

The Resurrection of Jesus, by N.T. Wright and J.D. Crossan in dialogue. Really good exchange between Wright and Crossan, but only for those who can read Crossan without blowing a gasket!

Fabricating Jesus,by Craig A. Evans. Just starting to read this, but a quick scan has me convinced this is an excellent book.Good treatment of higher biblical criticism.

The Dialectics of Secularization: On Reason and Religion, by Joseph Ratzinger and Jurgen Habermas. Just starting this one as well, but need I say more?

Reasoning and the Logic of Things, by Charles S. Peirce.This is a collection of lectures delivered by Peirceas the Cambridge Conferences Lectures of 1898. It's a summation of his philosophy and supposedly geared to be accessible to non-mathematicians. It helps me to read this right before going to sleep...

The Mind of the Universe, by Mariano Artigas. Excellent treatment of the relationship between science and religion. Fr. Artigas is a professor of natural science as well as theology (and Dean of the Ecclesiastical Faculty)at the University of Navarre, Pamplona, Spain.

What I Believe, by Anthony Kenny. From a major Thomistic philosopher who is also a self-designated agnostic. Interesting read, especially where he debunks Dawkins.

Hypathia of Alexandria, by Maria Dzielska. Short and sweet historical treatment that gets behind the veil of legend to provide an historically founded account of the life of the female neoplatonist master of the late 4th and early 5th century Alexandria.

Religion in the Making, by A.N. Whitehead. Philosophical treatment of religion from the father of modern process philosophy. I promised myself to re-read this after having read more of Aquinas, so I am.

Four Ages of Understanding, by John Deely. Huge, heavy, massive tome; a post-modern history of philosophy from the Thomistic master John Deely, out of The University of St. Thomas in Houston.

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, was published by Ignatius Press in 2006. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.

The Lord, by Romano Guardini. I read this almost yearly. It is the best book since the Bible.

Liturgy and Personality, by Dietrich von Hildebrand. Vintage Guardini; inexpressibly profound. Renders almost the entire self-scrutiny industry otiose.

Introduction to the Devout Life, by St. Francis de Sales.The best of this genre--ever. One reads this over and over.

The Theology of the Body, by John Paul II, translated (this is crucial) by Michael Waldstein. A magnificent translation of the Holy Father's epochal study.

The Spirit of Catholicism, by Karl Adam. Indispensable. Magisterial. Unanswerable.

The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevski. What can one say in the face of a tornado?

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). In addition to Socrates Meets Sartre, Kreeft's most recent Ignatius Press books include You Can Understand the Bible, The God Who Loves You, and The Philosophy of Tolkien. See his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for full listing if his Ignatius Press titles.

No one book stands out in my memory but one movie does. It is a movie I did not see in 2006, and that is the point.It is Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, and the point is that after seeing it once, when it first came out, I felt no need to see it again, as I do with my other favorite movies (I think I have watched A Man for All Seasons twenty times) because every scene continued to be completely unforgettable and more real than any movie image.

Karl Keating is the founder and president of Catholic Answers. He had been working as an attorney for several years when, on leaving Mass one Sunday, he found anti-Catholic tracts on the windshields of the cars in the church parking lot. He wrote his own tract in reply and distributed copies of it at the Fundamentalist church responsible for the anti-Catholic tract. That was the start of what has become the country’s largest lay-run apologetics and evangelization organization. Catholic Answers was incorporated in 1982, and in 1988 Karl left the practice of law and went into apostolic work full time. That year marked the publication of his Catholicism and Fundamentalism, the first book to deal extensively with challenges posed by "Bible Christians." Other books followed: What Catholics Really Believe, Nothing But the Truth, The Usual Suspects, and Controversies. Read more about his books on his IgnatiusInsight.com author page.

Holy War, Just War, by Roberto De Mattei. I confess I'm biased on this one: I wrote the introduction.The authorcontrasts Christian holy warwith Muslim jihad and shows that they differ in key ways.

Peace in the Promised Land edited by Srdja Trifkovic. A collection of essays that, taken together, offerthe most realisticproposals for an equitable solution that I have seen.

A Traveler in Italy, by H.V. Morton. Nearly all of Morton's travel books are outstanding. This just happens to be the latest one I read, in preparation for a trip last month to Italy.

Inside Hitler's Bunker, by Joachim Fest. A competent and brief account of the last days of Hitler; it is saidto bethe book on which the movie Downfall was based.

June 1941 by John Lukacs. Similar to other books Lukacs has written on World War II--lots of intriguing insights.He brings a Catholic andconservative perspective to the conflict.

The Third Man by Graham Greene. Actually written as a treatment for the movie of the same name, starring Orson Welles and Joseph Cotton. The final screenplay is more polished, but the book offers a different look at the characters.

Sprezzatura by Peter D'Epiro. The title refers to things that are difficult yet exquisitely done. The subtitle is 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World, whether in politics, art, literature, or technology.

City Secrets: Rome by Robert Kahn. Not your standard travel guide but recommendations by artists, writers, and scholars tonot-often-visited places in the Eternal City.

From Berkeley to Berlin and Back by Dale Vree. Long out of print, this is the story of how the future editor of The New Oxford Review entered and left Marxism.

How to Read a Poem by Burton Raffell. I started this one years ago but finished it only in 2006, so I think it qualifies for this list. There aren't many who, on finishing this primer, won't bring down from their shelves several poetry books that they've been meaning to read for years.

Trent's Last Case by E.C. Bentley. Detective story aficionados call this a landmark book in the genre. Maybe so. I just thought it was a pleasurable read.

Read Part Two of "The Best Books I Read in 2006..."


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