Part Two of "The Best Books I Read in 2006..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Staff | Part One
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. 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 late husband John raised three children.
Books I read in the past year and recommend for others, in no particular order.
The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern (University of Chicago Press, 2004) and The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England, both by Alex Owen (University of Chicago Press, 1989). Disregarding their feminist jargon, the case histories in these books offer ample evidence as to why we should stay far away from spiritualism.
Knowing the Enemy, by Mary Habeck. A chilling guide to the sources of radical Islamicism.
Europe At Home: Family and Material Culture, 1500-1800, by Raffaella Sarti. A fascinating survey of everyday life in Early Modern Europe.
Witches and Witch-Hunts, by Wolfgang Behringer (Polity, 2004). An excellent overview tracing the phenomenon to modern times, by a noted authority on witch trials.
The Making of the New Spirituality: The Eclipse of the Western Religious Tradition, by James A. Herrick (InterVarsity Press, 2003). Good guide to the roots of modern occultism and New Age errors.
The Remarkable Life of John Murray Spear: Agitator for the Spirit Land, by John Benedict Buescher, (University of Notre Dame Press, 2006). Witty exploration of a nineteenth century spiritualist.
Marking the Hours: English People and Their Prayers, 1240-1570, by Eamon Duffy (Yale University Press, 2006). Lavishly illustrated examination of laypeople's devotions.
In the Beginning: Bibles Before the Year 1000, ed. Michelle P. Brown. (Smithsonian P, 2006). Exhibition catalogue from a blockbuster show at the Freer and Sackler Galleries of the Smithsonian, with scholarly articles.
Icons from Sinai: Holy Image, Hallowed Ground, eds. Robert S. Nelson and Kristin M. Collins (Getty Publications, 2006). Gorgeous exhibition catalogue from the Getty Museum in Los Angeles with much background on St. Catherine's Monastery and the spirituality of icons.
The Plot: The Secret Story of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, byWill Eisner (Norton, 2005). Last book by a great cartoonist, skillfully using the graphic novel for to refute the cornerstone of modern anti-Semitism.
Finally, Martin Scorcese's The Departed is the most profane film I've ever seen but it's superb: crackling script, excellent performances, and a somber moral thanks to the director's remaining Catholic sensibility.
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.
I haven't read many recently published books this past year, but have greatly enjoyed the following "golden oldies":
Prague Notebook: The Strangled Revolution, by Michel Salomon, published in English in 1971, a history of the short-lived move toward democracy in Czechoslovakia (1967-68) crushed by the Soviets.
If This is a Man and The Truce, by the Italian Jewish writer Primo Levi, memoirs of his imprisonment in Auschwitz as a young man, published in Italian 1958, in English 1969.
The Eighth Day, by Thornton W. Wilder, a novel published in 1967, in rich and innovative prose Wilder (author of Our Town and Bridge on the San Luis Rey) examines the effects of a murder on the lives of several people in small-town America, notably the family of a man who is unjustly convicted of the murder. A gripping exploration of human character and divine providence.
Peace Like a River, a novel by Leif Enger, a young American Evangelical Christian, published two or three years ago. Faith permeates the book, but it's not sweet piety of the shallower sort. It's that rare phenomenon, a truly Christian novel that is also a work of literature. The dramatic story (again about murder and repentance) presents to us a superb portrait of Christian fatherhood (indeed of manhood), the struggle with personal sin, injustice, humiliation. There's plenty of pathos, hilarious humor, a dramatic plot, and all embodied in an outstanding writing style that's a joy to read. As an added bonus, it actually has depth!
The Fall of a Titan, by Igor Gouzenko. This novel by the famous Russian defector, dramatizes the radical devaluation of human life and the devastation of conscience under Stalin. The "titan" of the title refers to a thinly fictionalized Maxim Gorky, the writer who for a time served the Bolshevik revolution only in the end to be disillusioned and destroyed by it. First published in 1954. Cautionary note: this dark, dark, dark tale is inherently moral yet portrays much moral degradation, thus I suggest it's not for young readers.
Four Arguments for the Elimination of Television, by Jerry Mander, first published 1978. If you have a visceral knee-jerk reaction against this title, as I did before I cracked the cover, you might want to consider that the reaction could be symptomatic. This is a highly readable book, not lunatic fringe paranoia--the insights are backed up by plenty of sociological, psychological and scientific studies. It is best read in conjunction with Neil Postman's three important critiques of technological-man: Amusing Ourselves to Death, The Disappearance of Childhood, and Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology.
The Triumph of God's Kingdom in the Millennium and End Times, by Fr. Joseph Iannuzzi, OSJ. first published 1999. This slender book is a healthy anodyne to the various millennialist theories and heresies arising in our times. Solid biblical scholarship, drawing primarily on the early Church Fathers and documents of the Church.
The Antichrist, by Fr. Vincent Miceli, SJ, first published in 1981, a book I've reread many times, always learning something new from it. A rich and solid presentation of this often confusing subject, drawing on Fathers and Doctors of the Church, and augmented by sober reflections by the author. There's a lot of wildly differing material available on this subject, even within Catholic circles. This one is reliable, in no way inflammatory. Call it an essential reference work for the "end times."
The Flight From God, by Max Picard, first published 1934. The Swiss Catholic philosopher probes the consciousness of modern man with a philosophical/poetic style that I find altogether unmatched by other writers addressing the same theme. It is more than philosophy, more than an essay on Man or a meditation on the implicit atheism of modern consciousness. This is spiritual insight of the highest order. Sadly, the English edition of the book is out of print, but doubtless the dedicated biblio-trufflehunter will be able to find a copy. I also strongly recommend Picard's The Hitler Within Ourselves and The World of Silence.
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 Todays 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 to 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 two children.
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Christianity and The Crisis of Cultures and Values In a Time of Upheaval, by Joseph Ratzinger. He packs more theological knowledge, erudite wisdom, and untrammeled truth into one page than most authors can manage in an entire book. And, of course, you don't want to miss Deus Caritas Est, his first encyclical as Pope Benedict XVI, a profound reflection on the Christian belief that "God is Love."
Dove Descending, by Thomas Howard. A great poem, T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, is treated with the learned respect it deserves. No deconstructionist blathering or nonsensical post-modern interpretations here--just marvelous insight from one of the few writers who has the vocabulary and vision to do Eliot justice.
Penguin Guide to Jazz (7th edition), by Richard Cook and Brian Morton. No, I haven't read all 1,725 pages, nor have I listened to all of the thousands of CDs listed. But one can always dream. An indispensable guide for anyone serious about collecting and hearing the best jazz.
Compendium to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. A handsome and welcome distillation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Recommended for anyone wanting to learn the basics of the Catholic Faith.
Brother Cadfael Mysteries, by Ellis Peters. I wish I had discovered these marvelous mystery novels sooner--and that I had time to read more of them. They are a delightful blend of mystery, history, and romance (in the old and best sense of the word).
The Rough Guide to Frank Sinatra, by Chris Ingham. An excellent guide to the messy life and marvelous music (not to mention various movies) of Francis Albert Sinatra, marked by a pleasant balance of objectivity and opinion.
America Alone, by Mark Steyn. The witty and often caustic writer has created controversy with his examination of demographics, Islam, and the future of the West. Yet his ideas aren't so much original (his comments about Europe and Christianity often echo those of a certain Cardinal Ratzinger) as they are unflinching and politically incorrect, delivered with an inimitable humor.
Islamic Imperialism: A History, by Efraim Karsh. The head of the Mediterranean Studies Programme, King's College, University of London, has penned a history of Islam that is long on facts and analysis and thankfully short on polemics. His central (and obviously controversial) thesis is that Islam, from the start, has been mostly consumed with personal and political domination, not spiritual or religious truth.
Darwinian Fairytales, by David C. Stove. Atheist and philosopher Stove takes on many of Darwin's key theses in a rollicking and unique polemic that has something to offend and entertain nearly everyone.
Lost in the Cosmos, by Walker Percy. I first read "the last self help book" ten years ago. A second reading this past year gave me even more appreciation for Percy's often surprising and always engaging apologetic for theism in general and Christianity in particular. It's the only "self help" book you'll ever need.
Our Culture, What's Left of It: The Mandarins and the Masses, and Life at the Bottom: The Worldview That Makes the Underclass, by Theodore Dalrymple. An agnostic British doctor who spent many years working among prisoners and the poor offers penetrating and often disturbing analysis of the human condition, all delivered with exceptional style and wit.
Mystery and Manners, by Flannery O'Connor. For my money, the best book by a Christian about the meaning and art of writing fiction. The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers is also superb, but I keep coming back to O'Connor's collection of essays because (just as in her fiction) she cuts to the quick like no one else and provides concrete, hard-nosed advice.
The Life of the Mind, by Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. Sure, I'm biased, having posted numerous essays by the great Jesuit professor on this website. But here's the bottom line: I never, ever tire of reading his books and essays. Enough said.
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.
In the Light of Christ: Writings in the Western Tradition, by Lucy Beckett (Ignatius, 2006). A much-needed panoramic overview of the Western literary canon. Ideal for those exploring the wonders of Christendom for the first time, or for those wishing to revisit some of their favourite writers. Heartily recommended!
The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, by Elizabeth Kantor (Regnery, 2006). In some respects this is similar to the previous book, but in other respects is very, very different. Like Beckett's volume, Kantor's is a panoramic overview of the literary canon; unlike Beckett's volume, it is gutsy and gritty and goes on the attack against the iconoclastic Philistines who purportedly "teach" literature in the modern academy. This book is truly offensive in the best sense of the word. It takes no prisoners and pulls no punches. For those who like to discuss literature over a cup of tea with Austenesque decorum, Beckett's book would be an ideal gift; for those who prefer a pugilistic approach, brawling with the brainless denizens of modernity, Kantor's Guide will add power to your punches!
The Solzhenitsyn Reader, edited by Edward E. Ericson, Jr. and Daniel J. Mahoney (ISI Books, 2006). The finest contribution to Solzhenitsyn studies for several years. Since Solzhenitsyn is the most important writer in the world today, this volume of "new and essential writings", edited by two leading and long-established experts, is most welcome. It is ideal for those seeking an introduction to the great Russian and his enduring legacy.
Dove Descending: A Journey into T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets, by Thomas Howard (Ignatius Press/ Sapientia Press, 2006). Sublime. There is no other word to describe Thomas Howard's wonderful, and wonder-filled, journey into Eliot's finest poem. Since the poem is in every respect a holy place, the journey is also something of a literary pilgrimage. Thomas Howard is a truly gifted and learned guide on such a pilgrimage. As the Dove descends, love ascends towards its source, leaving the reader closer to Heaven. Take the pilgrimage!
The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot's Contemporary Prose, edited by Lawrence Rainey (Yale University Press, 2005). Rainey's journey into Eliot's other great poem is not as sublime as Howard's, not least because the former's secularism obscures his vision of Eliot's profoundly Christian inspiration. If not sublime it is nonetheless solid as a work of scholarship. This book is certainly not the last word on the subject but it does represent a good launching pad into the Waste Land.
Hopkins: Theologian's Poet, by Aidan Nichols (Sapientia Press, 2006). If Howard on Eliot is a marriage made in heaven, so is Nichols on Hopkins. Fr. Nichols is one of the finest theologians in the English-speaking world and, as such, is uniquely qualified to guide us through the deep theology of Hopkins' poetry. This book is essential for those seeking a greater understanding of the Jesuit genius who revolutionized modern poetry with the radical power of Tradition.
The True and Only Wealth of Nations: Essays on Family, Economy and Society, by Louis de Bonald; translated by Christopher Olaf Blum (Sapientia Press, 2006). Christopher Blum, a professor at Christendom College in Virginia, is to be congratulated for bringing the hugely important political thought of Louis de Bonald to the English-speaking world. Reacting healthily against the insipidly insidious secularism of the French Revolution, de Bonald's thought remains relevant to the problems facing the world today, and retains its potency as a rebuttal of, and riposte to, secular fundamentalism.
The Eyewitness: An Anthology of Short Stories, by Hilaire Belloc; edited by Matthew Anger (Self-published, 2006). A most welcome anthology of some of Belloc's finest short stories and satirical essays.
Common Sense 101: Lessons from G.K. Chesterton, by Dale Ahlquist (Ignatius, 2006). As a champion of the Chestertonian, there is none to match Dale Ahlquist. Irrepressible, indefatigable and full of the same rambunctious joie de vivre as his hero, Ahlquist romps through Chesterton's world of wit and wisdom with gusto and carefree abandon. He is such fun, and writes and reasons so well, that one is almost as exhilarated by his presence as by Chesterton's, though of course, and as he would be the first to admit, it is the genius of GKC that brings the words of Ahlquist to life.
From Lebanon to California: A Marriage of Two Cultures, by Henry J. Zeiter (Xlibris, 2006). This autobiography is a real gem. Written by a man of high culture and profound insight, the book serves as an exposition of "every good thing our Christendom brings" (to misquote Belloc). Dr. Zeiter reminds me very much of Belloc's and Chesterton's great friend, Maurice Baring, in his cultivated cosmopolitanism (in the best sense of that much-maligned word). The whole book is an introduction to the best the West can offer. The book's author is himself a living monument of the civilization that only the Church can save. Everyone should get to know Henry Zeiter, and this book is the best way of doing so.
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 most recent book is Excommunication and the Catholic Church (Ascension Press, 2006. Read IgnatiusInsight.com interview here.)
His canon law website can be found at www.canonlaw.info.
Summa on Marriage, by Raymond of Peñafort (1241).
The Diary of a Young Girl, by A. Frank (1944).
The Psalms are Christian Prayer, by T. Worden (1961).
Germans against Hitler, by T. Prittie (1964).
Contraception, by J. Noonan (1965).
The Battle of the Little Bighorn, M. Sandoz (1966).
Abortion, byJ. Connery (1977).
The Holocaust, by M. Gilbert (1985).
Language in Motion: the Nature of Sign, by Schein et al. (1995).
The Unmasking of Oscar Wilde, by J. Pearce (2000).
"Natural Law and Human Nature", by J. Koterski (2002) on tape.
The Bible and the Constitution, by J. Pelikan (2004).
Dr. Jose Yulo teaches courses on philosophy, western civilization, United States history, and public speaking at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. He has a Doctorate in Education from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on the philosophy of education. He also holds a Master's degree in political communication from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a Bachelor's degree in the classical liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD. Originally from Manila in the Philippines, his research interests lie in Greek philosophy, the histories of Greek and Roman politics and warfare, and the literature of J.R.R. Tolkien. He is a regular contributor to IgnatiusInsight.com.
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Here are some titles for 2006 in no particular order from my humble, green, Hobbitt library.
Germania, by Tacitus.
The Abolition of Man and The Screwtape Letters, by C. S. Lewis.
Slouching Towards Gomorrah, by Robert Bork.
Aeneid, by Virgil.
The Rise of the Roman Empire, by Polybius.
The Punic Wars, by Adrian Goldsworthy.
An Intelligent Person's Guide to Modern Culture, by Roger Scruton.
The Roots of American Order, by Russell Kirk.
50 Questions on the Natural Law, by Charles Rice.
How to Think about the Great Ideas, by Mortimer Adler.
The Da Vinci Hoax, by Olson and Miesel.
The Force of Reason, by Oriana Fallaci.
God and the World, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.
Memory and Identity, by Pope John Paul II.
Ivanhoe, by Sir Walter Scott.
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