Part Two of "The Best Books I Read in 2007..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Staff | Part One
Sandra Miesel is a Catholic journalist, medieval historian, and co-author of The Pied Piper of Atheism and 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.
Magic and Superstition in Europe: A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present, by Michael D. Bailey. Accurate and up-to-date as well as concise.
Witches and Witch-Hunts, by Wolfgang Behringer. Best recent survey of the subject.
The Mouse and His Child, by Russell Hoban. A richly philosophical children's classic.
The Philosophy of Tolkien, by Peter Kreeft. A spoonful of Middle-earth sugar makes the philosophy go down.
An Experiment In Criticism, by C.S. Lewis. An admirable model for critics.
Preface to Paradise Lost, by C.S. Lewis. An excellent antidote to Philip Pullman.
The Place of Enchantment: British Occultism and the Culture of the Modern, by Alex Owen. Good cultural history from a feminist perspective.
Planet Narnia, by Michael Ward. An exciting and persuasive new interpretation of the Chronicles in terms of planetary symbolism.
Away From Her
Into Great Silence
The Lives of Others
George Neumayr, the editor of Catholic World Report.
I picked up this year Malcolm Muggeridge's two-volume autobiography, Chronicles of Wasted Time, and enjoyed it very much. It is a consistently funny and perceptive account of the twentieth century's intellectual and moral misadventures, many of which Muggeridge either directly observed or joined. His critics thought two volumes a lot of space to devote to wasted time, but they are worth it: his "wasted time" contained moments of epiphany and experience that compounded over the decades and culminated in his conversion to Catholicism.
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.
Before I Go, by Peter Kreeft (Sheed and Ward, 2007). Meditations and whimsical insights compiled as a kind of legacy of mind, heart, and soul to the author's children and grandchildren...and to the coming generations.
Virtuous Leadership, by Alexandre Havard (Scepter Press, 2007). The author is a French-Russian jurist and professor of Law, a devout Catholic. In this book he applies principles of Catholic ethics and spirituality to the public life—business and politics, indeed any position of authority.
Private Revelation: Discerning with the Mind of the Church, by Dr. Mark Miravalle (Queenship Publishing, 2007). A clear, concise, and urgently needed tool for discerning mystical phenomena within the Church.
The Three Ys Men, by Joseph Pearce (St Austin Press, 1998). A delightful tale of three spirits and an author in Sussex, whose various perspectives reveal the lost gifts of the past, the choices we face in the present, and possibilities for the future. The Pearceonian wit and literary acrobatics give a freshness and immediacy to the compelling insights.
The Bridge on the Drina, by Ivo Andric, a novel that chronicles the "life" of a bridge and a town in Bosnia, including its Serb, Croat, Muslim, Turkish, Jewish, and Austrian residents. First published in 1946, this book has become a classic, beloved by (amazingly) all peoples of former Yugoslavia--and throughout the world.
Some old and beloved favorites re-read this year:
The Pied Piper, a novel by Neville Shute.
Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Gentle, thoughtful, wise meditations on life, motherhood, womanhood, time.
Russia and the Universal Church, by Vladimir Solovyev.
A Century of War: Anglo-American Oil Politics and the New World Order, by William Engdahl (revised edition 2004). I've reread this book three or four times during the past few years. It has reshaped my understanding of recent history, and much that is occurring in current international conflicts and global economy.
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, 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.
Like Mark Brumley, I also hesitate to list Ignatius Press books. However, a few that stand out to me from 2007 (many of them, alas, only partially read) are Lovely Like Jerusalem, by Aidan Nichols, O.P., Ronald Knox As Apologist by Milton Walsh, Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age by D. Vincent Twomey, In The Light of Christ, by Lucy Beckett, Chance or Purpose? by Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, and Jesus, The Apostles, and the Early Church, by Pope Benedict XVI.
Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI. Anyone wishing to know more about Jesus and the mind and heart of the Holy Father should start here.
The Priority of Christ: Toward a Postliberal Catholicism, by Robert Barron. An impressive and engaging book that contains many edifying insights into theology, spirituality, and Scripture.
Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice, by Francis J. Beckwith. A thorough, judicious work that reveals the numerous philosophical flaws within the entire spectrum of pro-abortion arguments.
Culture Counts, by Roger Scruton. As a I wrote in a review for Saint Austin Review, Scruton's book "is a work that vigorously addresses the essential points and draws emphatic, but careful, lines in the sand."
Small Is Still Beautiful, by Joseph Pearce. A book that dares to ask questions about the meaning of life, politics, and economics that few dare to ask, let alone address, and does so with Pearce's usual clarity and effortless style.
A Different Kind of Teacher, by John Taylor Gatto. A former public school teacher, author of Dumbing Us Down and other books, offers more evidence for the failure of public education and arguments for approaching learning in ways that are both new and traditional.
An Unsuitable Job For a Woman, by P.D. James. My first James novel, but certainly not my last.
There Is A God, by Antony Flew, with Roy Abraham Varghese. An intriguing combination of memoir and apologia, especially helpful for those who want a good introduction to the key issues in the debates between theism and atheism.
The Rough Guide to Jazz, by Ian Carr, Digby Fairweather, and Brian Priestley. Not as thorough or consistent as the Penguin Guide, but filled with great info and written from the perspective of musicians, not critics.
A Student's Guide to Music History, by R.J. Stove. Part of the ISI Guides to the Major Disciplines series, this is pithy (135 pages), rollicking, and informative, concentrating on classical music.
The Old House of Fear, by Russell Kirk. I've read numerous books by Kirk but this is the first work of his fiction that I've picked up. A fast-moving combination of Gothic, mystery, and thriller.
Reasons for Our Rhymes: An Inquiry into the Philosophy of History, by R. A. Herrera. A very well-written and fascinating overview of different philosophical perspectives on the meaning of history. Worth reading just for the chapter on Joachim of Fiore.
Sovereign, by C.J. Sansom. Set in Tudor England, 1541, this mystery/historical novel offers a tense and well-researched journey into the deadly challenges faced by Catholics (and others) under Henry XIII.
Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels, by Craig A. Evans. A helpful guide to the world of modern biblical scholarship, written by a leading Evangelical professor of New Testament studies. Three other fine books along the same lines are Reinventing Jesus, by Komoszewski, Sawyer, and Wallace, The Jesus Legend, by Paul Rhodes Eddy and Gregory A. Boyd, and Misquoting Jesus, by Timothy Paul Jones.
Sanctifying the World: The Augustinan Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson, by Bradley J. Birzer. I just started reading it a few days ago, but am already impressed this well-researched and much needed book about one of the finest Catholic historians of the past century.
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.
The Thrill of the Chaste: Finding Fulfillment While Keeping Your Clothes On, by Dawn Eden (Thomas Nelson, 2006). The title says it all! Dawn Eden exposes the naked truth of sexual secularism.
God is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins, by Thomas Crean O.P. (Ignatius, 2007). A superb exposé of the ignorance and bigotry of Dawkins and his ilk.
Londonistan, by Melanie Phillips (Encounter Books, 2006). Demolishes the myth of mutli-culturalism and highlights the Islamo-menace that threatens to engulf England.
The Tower of Shadows, by Drew C. Bowling (Ballantine Books, 2006). An exceptional debut novel in the Tolkienian mode by a promising young author.
Very Good, Jeeves!, by P.G. Wodehouse (Overlook Press edn., 2005, originally published in 1930). Wodehouse is a delight and I concur with the jdgement of Belloc and Waugh that he is perhaps the finest comic writer in the English language. The British television dramatisation of some of these stories starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie is also hilarious.
Island of the World, by Michael D. O'Brien (Ignatius, 2007). O'Brien continues to astonish me with the sheer genius of his imagination. Another exceptional novel from his gifted pen.
The Evolution of Tolkien's Mythology, by Elizabeth A. Whittingham (McFarland and Company, 2007). A good and solid addition to the burgeoning field of Tolkien studies. Whittingham doesn't plumb the depths, nor does she offer many incisive new insights, but she does reiterate much that needs reiterating!
J.R.R. Tolkien Encyclopedia, edited by Michael D. Drout (Taylor and Francis, 2006). A solid and much needed addition to the above-mentioned burgeoning of Tolkien scholarship. Eight hundred pages on all aspects of the man and his work. A must for any serious Tolkien scholar, though at nearly $200 it requires a great pecuniary sacrifice to add it to one's library!
The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Volume 3, edited by Walter Hooper (HarperCollins, 2007). The third volume of Lewis's letters. An invaluable resource for Lewis scholars but also a sheer enjoyment to read for fun, as is everything from the pen of Lewis.
Jacobean Shakespeare, by Peter Milward S.J. (Sapientia Press, 2007). Father Milward is a former student of C.S. Lewis at Oxford, and it shows! Milward's critical approach to Shakespeare's plays is often provocative and always thought-provoking.
The Life and Times of William Shakespeare 1564-1616, by Hildegard Hammerschmidt-Hummel (Chaucer Press, 2007). This book has all the full-colour visual panache of a coffee-table book and all the solid gravitas of exceptional scholarship. A bibliophile's dream!
John Gerard: The Autobiography of an Elizabethan, translated from the Latin by Philip Caraman S.J. (Family Publicaitons, 2006). Family Publications are to be warmly congratulated for republishing the autobiography of Father Gerard, one of the heroes of the Jesuit underground which fought so heroically to save England's soul from the debauch of the Reformation.
Edmund Campion: Memory and Transcription, by Gerard Kilroy (Ashgate Publishing, 2005). This reads like a scholarly tract, which is to say that it sputters along falteringly and does not make for easy reading. Nonetheless, a new book on the great Jesuit martyr is most welcome.
The Coasts of the Country: A Treasury of Medieval English Devotional Literature, edited by Clare Kirchberger (Roman Catholic Books, 2007). A real treasure chest of the best of English medieval Catholicism.
Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought, Social Science, and Social Policy (2 vols.) edited by Coulter, Krason, Myers & Varacalli (Scarecrow Press, 2007). The second encyclopedia on my list but I make no apology for the apparent aridity of my selection. This two volume gem is a veritable ediface of Catholic scholarship; a must for anyone who really wants to understand the social teaching of the Church.
The Night is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard, by Thomas Howard (Ignatius, 2007). Perhaps I've saved the best for last. I can't get enough of Thomas Howard and this treasury of some of his best work is a real treat.
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.
Here is my list of Top 12 books I've read this past year:
Eugenics and Other Evils (1922), by Chesterton.
The Early Liturgy (1949), by Jungmann (Brummer trans.)
Becket ou l'Honneur de Dieu (1958), by Anouilh.
What is Marriage? (1982), by Mackin.
De Sanctionibus in Ecclesia (1986), by de Paolis.
Consecrated Phrases: a Latin theological dictionary (1998), by Bretzke.
"The Story of Human Language" (CD lectures, 2004), by McWhorter.
El Derecho de la Iglesia: curso basico (2005), by Cenlamor & Miras.
Linguistics of American Sign Language (2005), by Valli.
And the Journey Begins (2005), by Axelrod.
Medieval Church Law and the Origins of the Western Legal Tradition (2006), by Müller & Sommar.
Life Issues, Medical Choices (2006), by Smith & Kazor.
Personally, I encourage intellectuals to keep, and publish, a list of works studied year by year. Here is mine as an example.
Russell Shaw is the author of eighteen books 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 Sepulchre of Jerusalem, the father of five and the grandfather of nine. He is the co-author, with Fr. C. John McCloskey, of Good News, Bad News: Evangelization, Conversion and the Crisis of Faith.
The three best books I read in 2007 were Father and Son by Edmund Gosse, Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, and a collection of short stories by Anton Chekhov.
Gosse's memoir of growing up a religious fanatic is a beautifully written account of his relationship with his father, a decent, intelligent man who also happened to be a member of a fundamentalist sect whose doctrines he was intent on imposing upon his son. By implication, it is also a remarkably astute chronicle of the early post-Christian age in the West.
By coincidence, I read Waugh's novel just before reading Pope Benedict's encycical Spe Salvi. It was excellent preparation for the Pope's discussion of the crisis of hope in the West. Published in 1930 and one of Waugh's early, pre-Catholic works, it concerns the frantic and absurd doings of England's Bright Young People in the years between two World Wars. Beneath its brilliant, seemingly frivolous surface, it is a profoundly serious portrait of people without hope.
It would be pointless to praise Chekhov's tales. A story like "The Duel" is a work of genius—and, like the books by Gosse and Waugh, a stunning picture of modernity.
Fr. D. Vincent Twomey, S.V.D. holds both a Ph.D. in Theology and is Professor Emeritus of Moral Theology at the Pontifical University of St. Patrick's College, Maynooth, Ireland. A formal doctoral student under Joseph Ratzinger, Twomey is the author of several books, including Pope Benedict XVI: The Conscience of Our Age (A Theological Portrait), and his acclaimed study of the state of Irish Catholicism, The End of Irish Catholicism?
Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI (New York, Doubleday, 2007). This is a book that inspires and informs. It brings the reader close to the mystery of God-made-man by being faithful to the text of Scripture, and by interpreting each text within the context of the entire Bible and against the background of the entire history of scriptural interpretation, which is judiciously used. The author, it seems to me, achieves a kind of Copernican revolution in the field of exegesis by integrating the best of modern exegesis of individual texts into a method that is close to that of the Fathers of the Church, one that is ultimately based on a basic trust in the sacred texts themselves and their many layered meaning.
Spe Salvi, by Pope Benedict XVI (Vatican City: LEV, 2007). This encyclical not only describes the virtue of hope, it gives hope. At the same time, it offers a radical critique of that perversion of hope which underlies modernity, namely belief in earthly progress. The final section is perhaps one of the most spiritual documents ever to come from the pen of a Pope, where Benedict XVI offers three concrete ways for us to deepen the virtue of hope: prayer, suffering, and contemplation of the "last things".
Christianity and Classical Culture: A Study of Thought and Action from Augustus to Augustine, by Charles Norris Cochrane (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944). This book was on my list of books to be read for some years. This year I finally got to read it, and realized what I had missed all these years. The author has a firm grasp of the world of late antiquity, its achievements, and its underlying thought patterns—as well as its greatness and its basic flaws. He eloquently demonstrates how it ultimately took the genius of St Augustine to resolve the insights and the inner contradictions of the Classical mind by transcending them on the basis of the Trinitarian faith, thereby forging a new synthesis, one that in time forged the great Western European civilization.
The Way of the Lamb: The Spirit of Childhood and the End of the Age, by John Saward (Edinburgh: T & T Clark: 1999; Ignatius Press, 1999). For anyone concerned with pro-life issues but tending to be discouraged because of the prevalence of the culture of death, this book is a "must read". It provides a theological antidote to the contemporary political, scientific, and medical attacks on children at their earliest stage of development and, on the basis of the writings of St Therese of the Child Jesus, C.K. Chesterton, Charles Péguy, Georges Bernanos and Hans Urs von Balthasar, it offers the key to a contemporary spirituality to match one's political involvement. It helps the reader to recover that spirit of childhood that alone can overcome the power and principalities of this world of spiritual arrogance and death.
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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That Hideous Strength, The Great Divorce, The Abolition of Man, and The Discarded Image, all by C. S. Lewis.
Lepanto, by G. K. Chesterton.
Culture Counts, by Roger Scruton.
Revolutionary Characters, by Gordon Wood.
The Regensburg Lecture, by Fr. James Schall S.J.
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