"The Best Books I Read in 2007..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Staff | January 1, 2008
We've once again asked a number of Ignatius Press editors, authors, and staff for their picks for the best books they read during the past year (see last year's list). The books didn't have to be published in 2007 (and many weren't), nor did they have to be about a particular topic. Simply, "What were the best books you read in the past year?" 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.
Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI. A lifetime of learning comes together in the most important subject of all. I savored each page.
The Bridge of San Luis Rey, by Thornton Wilder. I read this after the collapse of the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis (near my home). This passage captured much of the feeling here: "The moment a Peruvian heard of the accident he signed himself and made a mental calculation as to how recently he had crossed by it and how soon he had intended crossing by it again. People wandered about in a trance-like state, muttering; they had the hallucination of seeing themselves falling into a gulf."
Lost Treasures of Britain, by Roy Strong. Among other things it gives an honest assessment of the how the dissolution of the monasteries and the destruction of shrines and images cost England most of its culture.
A bunch of P.G. Wodehouse, probably six or eight books, which can be consumed like peanut butter cups, but are even more satisfying. The laughter lingers long afterwards.
Danny Gospel, by David Athey. An entertaining and moving first novel by a Catholic writer published by a Protestant publishing house [Bethany House]. How he snuck it by them, I don't know, but even more mysterious is why he couldn't get a Catholic publisher to publish it.
The Order of Things, by James V. Schall, S.J. A book that takes everything apart and puts it back together.
The Myth of Hitler's Pope, by Rabbi David G. Dalin. A Jewish scholar defends Pope Pius XII against the ridiculous charges that he did not do enough to help the Jews being persecuted by Hitler.
Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, by Christopher Dawson. A glorious study of Medieval civilization. A book that should be read by everyone even remotely connected to education.
Third Ways: How Bulgarian Greens, Swedish Housewives, and Beer-Swilling Englishmen Created Family-Centered Economies—and Why They Disappeared, by Allan C. Carlson. An author who is a non-Catholic and understands Catholic social teaching better than most Catholics do.
Those Days, by E. C. Bentley. A memoir by G.K. Chesterton's best friend, with a wonderful glimpse of the young Chesterton.
The Offbeat Radicals: The British Tradition of Alternative Dissent, by Geoffrey Ashe. Shows how Chesterton influenced Gandhi.
Speaking of Chesterton, I re-read The Man Who Was Thursday, Christendom in Dublin, All I Survey, Sidelights, Chaucer, All is Grist, Four Faultless Felons, Come to Think of It, and The Resurrection of Rome. Plus a lot of uncollected essays. He's a pretty good writer. One of these days I'm going to get serious and read more by him.
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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I never quite know how to list my reading for the year when Carl asks me to do so. Do I include Ignatius Press books or not? Many of the Ignatius Press books published in the year I read in manuscript form. They are books and I read them, but it still seems odd listing them here. So I have elected not to do so this time.
That Hideous Strength, by C.S. Lewis. Re-read. Upteenth time. Better than ever.
Silas Marner, by George Eliot. Read it for our book club, but since we have not yet met to discuss it, I will withhold comment.
Praeambula Fidei: Thomism And the God of the Philosophers, by Ralph McInerny. I would take issue with certain points regarding de Lubac, but this is still an interesting overview of issues related to natural theology by one of the great Thomists of the late 20th century and early 21st century.
The Keys of the Kingdom, by A.J. Cronin. Interesting novel. Ahead of its time. Some problematic theology here and there but on the whole a good novel.
Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. I had never read it before. Loved it. Would read it again at the drop of a hat.
The Jesus Legend, by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd. Good rebuttal to the Jesus Seminar, and the other revisionists.
Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI. Superb. What else can one say?
Magisterium, by Avery Cardinal Dulles. Probably will become the standard text.
Can We Trust the New Testament? by Mark D. Roberts. Good popular apologetic for the historical reliability of the gospels.
The Missing Gospels, by Darrell L. Bock. Good overview of the "alternative gospels" by a leading Evangelical New Testament scholar.
The Day Without Yesterday: Lemaitre Einstein, And the Birth of Modern Cosmology, John Farrell. A great primer on Lemaitre and his contribution to the Big Bang Theory. A little harsh regarding certain hierarchs but generally sympathetic to the faith and reason dialogue.
There Is A God, by Anthony Flew, Roy Abraham Varghese. An intellectual autobiography by one of the twentieth century's leading philosophical atheists. Despite the controversy over the extent tot which Varghese and others may have influenced the final text, it is clear that Flew's perspective is accurately represented and that his ideas have changed. It is not clear whether he is truly a deist or an uncertain theist. However, it is clear that Flew is no longer an atheist.
The Dawkins Delusion, by Alister McGrath. A nice rebuttal to Richard Dawkin's embarrassing demonstration of his philosophical and theological incompetence in The God Delusion. I say "nice" because McGrath, a leading Evangelical historical theologian, is a "nice" guy in his response to Dawkins, although McGrath does a good job of marshalling his arguments.
The Infinite Book, by John D. Barrow. A fun book on the nature of infinity by a leading physicist and popular science writer.
The Priority of Christ, by Robert Barron. A fascinating read by an up-and-coming theological and spiritual writer.
The Thrill of the Chaste, by Dawn Eden. Dawn's "on point", "right now" take on what's wrong with "Sex in the City".
Misquoting Truth: A Guide to the Fallacies of Bart Ehrman's Misquoting Jesus, by Timothy Paul Jones. Good popular work on textual criticism and Ehrman's attack on biblical Christianity based on his claims about textual variants.
I know I read some other more offbeat stuff but either I don't want to divulge the truth to the world and risk "fanboy" cracks or I have forgotten what I read, which probably means it shouldn't be included here.
Journalist and architect Moyra Doorly is the author of No Place For God: The Denial of the Transcendent in Modern Church Architecture, a critique and examination of the banality and ugliness that is evident in so many modern Catholic parishes and cathedrals.
The best books I read in 2007 were, in no particular order:
Status Anxiety, by Alain de Botton. He claims that modern societies are geared to material achievement and induce fear and rivalry in their citizens. The meritocratic ideal is intolerant of those who fail to achieve and brands them as losers, an attitude quite unknown in the Middle Ages. Whatever the problems of the Medieval peasant, they could not compare with the anguish of the unsuccessful American.
Marking the Hours: English People & their Prayers, by Eamon Duffy. Since the Middle Ages is the most maligned period in history and implicit in that view is a criticism of the Medieval Church, I welcome any study of the period which demonstrates that Catholicism in pre-Reformation Europe was vibrant, thriving and loved by the general population. This is a wonderful follow-up to Duffy's The Stripping of the Altars.
The Crisis of Civilization, by Hillaire Belloc. This indictment of the Capitalist system came as something of a surprise, a welcome surprise.
Story of a Soul, by St Therese of Lisieux. This was the first account of the spiritual life that had me laughing out loud with delight. It was also interesting to read that St Therese was not taken to Mass until she was considered old enough. Even at age five she was still too young to attend May devotions.
The Chamber, by John Grisham. This novel about a man on death row whose grandson becaomes his atorney was brilliant and harrowing at the same time. In fact I read twelve John Grisham books in 2007, one after the other. I just couldn't stop.
Catherine Harmon is the managing editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review and Catholic World Report.
The Confessions of St. Augustine. I'm sure I'll be rereading this one for the rest of my life.
Howard's End, by E.M. Forster. Much of Forster's early 20th-century critique of both cultural liberalism and conservatism still rings true today.
The Portrait of a Lady, by Henry James. An all-time favorite.
The Children of Men, by P.D. James. Skip the goofy movie, read the amazing book.
Aborting America, by Bernard Nathanson. As someone born and raised in the post-Roe v. Wade U.S., I was interested in Nathanson's inside-look at the pro-abortion movement, as well as the story of his eventual change-of-heart.
The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Joseph Ratzinger. Everyone on every side of every liturgical debate should read this book.
Introduction to the Devout Life, by Francis de Sales. A much-needed spiritual kick-in-the-pants.
The Regensburg Lecture, by James V. Schall. Very helpful in wading through all of the hype and outrage surrounding the Pope's controversial speech.
Dr. Thomas Howard is a highly acclaimed writer and literary scholar, noted for his studies of Inklings C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams as well as books including Chance or Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism, Hallowed be This House, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament, If Your Mind Wanders At Mass, On Being Catholic, The Secret of New York Revealed, Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome and Dove Descending. He has also produced a video series, aired on EWTN, titled "Treasures of Catholicism." The Night Is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard was published by Ignatius Press in 2007. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.
The Stricken Deer, by Lord David Cecil. His amazing, elegant, and exquisitly sympathetic life of poor William Cowper, the 18th century poet and hymnologist, written when Cecil was 29. It caused something of a sensation.
Two Quiet Lives, by Lord David Cecil. Cecil's sketches of Dorothy Osborne, and Thomas Gray (the Gray's "Elegy" poet), wonderfully worth reading even if you don't know who the two subjects are. Cecil was Goldsmith's Professor of English at Oxford, and a friend of C. S. Lewis and company. Very amusing man. Member of the astonishing Cecil clan.
The Lyttleton--Hart-David Letters. A 3-vol. collection of letters written between 1955 and 1962, between the publisher Rupert Hart-Davis, and his former Eton "beak" (master) George Lyttleton, of the gold-plated Lyttleton family. Gloriously literate, clever, urbane, flashing letters. The best sort of bedtime reading.
The Coasts of the Country: A Treasury of Mediaeval English Devotional Literature, edited by Clare Kirchberger. A splendid collection of thirteenth to fifteenth century prayers and spiritual writings, very readable and helpful to modern readers—almost, shall we say, required reading? A good, bracing tonic for those whose prayers are flagging.
The Desert Fathers, by Helen Waddell. Her famous small collection of writings from the Egyptian desert hermits of the fourth century. This is very rough and searching stuff. One feels called on the carpet as one reads what these saints have to say.
Dr. Paul Kengor is a professor at Grove City College and the executive director of the College's The Center for Vision and Values. He is also a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University. Kengor is a frequent television political commentator and opinion page contributor, as well as the author of several best-selling books. He is the author of God and Ronald Reagan, God and George W. Bush, God and Hillary Clinton, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, and co-editor with Peter Schweizer of Assessing the Reagan Presidency. He is the co-author, with Patricia Clark Doerner, of The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand
Books that I've enjoyed in 2007, some of which I read for the second or third time, and not all of which I've finished, include:
America's Bishop: The Life and Times of Fulton Sheen, by Thomas C. Reeves (Encounter, 2001).
Life of Christ, by Fulton J. Sheen.
The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton.
A Century of Violence in Soviet Russia, by Alexander Yakovlev (Yale University Press, 2002).
Whittaker Chambers, by Sam Tanehaus (Random House, 1998).
Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio, by Pope John Paul II.
The Apostles, by Pope Benedict XVI (Our Sunday Visitor, 2007).
As a curveball (pun intended), I've also enjoyed a baseball book, Leigh Montville's Ted Williams (Broadway, 2004).
Finally, I've just begun M. Stanton Evans' long-awaited, extraordinary re-examination of the life of Senator Joe McCarthy, Blacklisted by History. The book will be dubbed revisionist history, but it is necessary to revise what so many got wrong in the first place. McCarthy certainly was not perfect, but he is nowhere near the raving demon portrayed by leftist journalists and historians. He was also, from what we can tell, a committed Catholic.
For the record, the only book published in 2007 that I actually finished in 2007 was one that I happened to write (with Patricia Clark Doerner), which, yes, is an embarrassingly transparent plug for our book, The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press). Seriously, here's a secret: not every book an author writes is special to the author. This one, however, is.
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 Descartes, 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.
The only two really great new books I read in 2007 were (a) Michael O'Brien's new novel, Island of the World, and (b) Anne Rice's novel Jesus of Nazareth: Out of Egypt.
Michael's book was predictably good, perhaps his best one yet, an intergenerational, long, yet exciting read about the Catholic heroes of Croatia. Michael is spinach.
Anne was a competent trashy novelist, then got converted to the full Catholic faith, and wrote one of the most remarkable books I've ever seen. Like the movie Life is Beautiful, a plot summary sounds absolutely impossible and ridiculous. It is a book supposedly written (or thought) by Jesus Himself as a kid! Yet it works, remarkably well. There is not an inauthentic note in it. I'd rank it third on the all-time list of Jesus fiction, only the third time anyone has successfully written a piece of fiction about Jesus (the first being Dostoyevski's "The Grand Inquisitor" and the second being Lewis's Narnia chronicles (they should be called the Aslan Chronicles).
One movie stands out as memorable: a grainy, almost minimalist pro-life love story, Bella. If you want eight more book titles, they would be classics I read before but read again in order to teach them: Tolstoy's "Death of Ivan Ilyitch" and Confession. Beckett's "Waiting for Godot" (yes, that atheist manifesto; it either bowls you over with laughter or sends you screaming into the arms of the Church), Chesterton's St. Thomas Aquinas, Lewis's Till We Have Faces (his very greatest book), Augustine's Confessions (Sheed translation) for the umpteenth time. as well as Plato's "Gorgias" (I think that is Christ's favorite Platonic dialog). If that's only seven, let's add Dinesh D'Souza's The Enemy Within, an unusual, challenging, disturbing, a bit over the top, but wonderfully non-liberal perspective on Islam.
Read Part Two of "The Best Books I Read in 2007..."
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