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"The Best Books I Read in 2008..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Staff | January 2, 2009
The tradition continues. Several Ignatius Press editors, authors, and staff were asked to offer their picks for the best books they read during the
past year. The books didn't have to be published in 2008--in fact, most of them 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.
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.
The Seal: A Priest's
Story, by Timothy Mockaitis. An
amazing account of how a jailhouse confession was
secretly taped in a capital crime in Oregon and the subsequent
ramifications. A blend of theological treatise and courtroom drama and the personal hell
that the priest himself went through.
Secret Hiding Places, by Michael Hodgetts. A fascinating, matter-of-fact study of the design and
locations of priest holes used to hide priests in Elizabethan England.
Belinda, by Hilaire Belloc. A novel that reads like Dickens.
The Death of America, by Samuel Nigro. A prophetic book, written in 1974
by a child psychologist who shoots straight from the hip, laying bare the social problems created by
the legalization of abortion.
The Lobotomist, by Jack El-Hai. A biography of Dr. Walter Freeman,
who advocated and performed thousands of lobotomies as a treatment for mental illness.
Unchristian: What a New
Generation Really Thinks about Christianity...and Why it Matters, by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons. A report of
extensive research conducted by the
Barna Group. Mainly aimed at Protestant Evangelicals, but very
interesting. Guess what. We don't live in a Christian society. And guess what
else: Christians are not highly regarded by the rest of society.
North Star Country, by Meridel Le Sueur. Written in 1945, a history of "ordinary people"
in the Upper Midwest, based on interviews with people who still had first-hand
accounts of the pioneer days.
Cain, Where is Your
Brother? by Francois Mauriac. Social criticism written in 1962. Mauriac, like
Chesterton, saw it all coming. Chesterton saw it first. In fact, Mauriac says
Speaking of Chesterton, I re-read The Everlasting Man (out
loud for an audio book), Orthodoxy (it was the centennial of that great book this
year), The Judgment of Dr. Johnson (a play), Fancies vs. Fads, Sidelights on New
London and Newer York, and read a bunch of uncollected essays that will
thrill you as soon as we get them published.
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.
Search for IgnatiusInsight.com articles by Mark Brumley
My interests and my work
lead me to read a lot. Here is a list of the best books I read in 2008. It
does not include books I read for Ignatius Press publishing purposes. When I
say "best" books, I mean most important, thought-provoking, notable books I
read. I don't necessary mean to suggest I agree with these books in all
details or even in the thrust of their main theses. I'm sure I left something
out but that's okay.
The Suspended Middle, by John Milbank. Those who know de Lubac and
Balthasar well generally say Millbank gets both wrong on some key points,
especially Balthasar, but there is enough that is correct to make the book
worth reading, even apart from its value in the contemporary debates about de
Lubac, nature and grace, and the proper interpretation of Thomas Aquinas and
the commentatorial tradition.
Return to Rome, by Francis Beckwith. The reversion story of the
former head of the Evangelical Theological Society of America and a noted
Evangelical writer and thinker. Oh so much that could be said here. Every
thoughtful Catholic should read this book. It says so much about why people
leave the Catholic Church and why some come back
Defending Life, by Francis Beckwith. Lays out the prolife case
using superb philosophical and legal reasoning. Surely it will become a
standard point of departure in the right life debate.
Einstein and Religion, by Max Jammer. Explodes the myth of Einstein as
atheist or tacit atheist that some of the new atheists try to peddle on
unsuspecting readers. Catholic philosophers and theologians would quibble and
argue about this or that. But in general I think they would find Jammer's
Einstein interesting and helpful, notwithstanding his shortcomings—which
when it comes to a depth of knowledge of philosophy and theology are
considerable. In the debate with Dawkins, Einstein is definitely an ally for
the theistic position, although Dawkins makes noises as if this were not so.
Render Unto Caesar, by Charles J. Chaput. A good primer on Catholic
political responsibility, especially in the American context. Every Catholic
college student or high school senior should be required to read it.
Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger. A terrific first novel by Enger.
The wide acclaim of the book is well-deserved. A great coming of age story,
with real life, family-style adventure, Christianity and, if you worldview will
allow, miracles. Make of it what you will.
A Study in Scarlet, by Arthur Conan Doyle. The first Sherlock Holmes
novel. I had not read this book since high school. We reread it for our
little reading group. Lots of fun. Lots I never saw. Mormons, however, are
likely to find it appalling, not appealing.
Exiles, by Ron Hansen. A novel about Gerard Manley Hopkins
and how the sinking of the Deutschland and the deaths of five nuns with it led
the Jesuit poet back to writing.
Philosophy of Mind, by Edward Feser. Billed as one of entries in the
Beginner's Guide series, the book is readable enough for the beginner, but by
no means an oversimplification of the subject matter. Indeed, experts on the
subject would benefit from the volume.
The Last Superstition, by Edward Feser. A refutation of the new atheism
and its philosophical underpinnings. Good. Some are apt to find the book a
bit too polemical here and there but it is a very helpful response to the
arguments of the new atheists.
The Mystery of the
Supernatural, by Henri de Lubac,
updated edition, 1998. This is essentially Rosemary Sheed's translation, but
the Latin texts quoted by de Lubac have been translated—unlike in the
original 1968 English edition. The 1998 edition has an introduction by David
Ratzinger's Faith, by Tracey Rowland. A good overview of Ratzinger's
theological vision. Probably the best short overview on the subject.
Far and Away, by Anthony Boucher. A collection of short stories
by one of the greats of the Golden Age of science fiction. Boucher—a Bay
Area writer—was a Catholic and theological elements frequently factor
into his stories. Also, I read The Complete Boucher. Even better because it has more stories.
Star Trek and Philosophy, ed. By Jason T. Eberl and Kevin S. Decker. It
seems as if every year I read at least one book with a title that features some
aspect of popular culture conjoined to philosophy or science or some specific
science, usually physics or biology. This year I read a few of them,
including Superheroes and Philosophy and The Physics of Superheroes. However, the best such book I read was Star Trek and Philosophy. Not all of the philosophical conclusions are
solid, nor are all of the philosophical analyses correct. But the book is fun
for Star Trek fans who want to think a bit more about what they watch and perhaps
who want to learn to watch a bit more intelligently.
Einstein and Aquinas: A
Rapprochement, by John F. Kiley. An
older work. Interesting thesis but heavy going in some parts. Presupposes a
fair amount of knowledge in physics and philosophy. Essentially, argues for a
basic confirmation of Aquinas' realism and sees this view, as a matter of
metaphysics and epistemology, was implicitly underpinning the process by which
Einstein's theory of relativity came to be. Difficult for the non-expert like me
to assess. Also, historians of science may quibble with Kiley on particulars
when it comes to how Einstein came to formulate his ideas. Still, the basic
premise of the book seems sound.
A World Without Time: The
Forgotten Legacy of Goedel and Einstein, by Palle Yourgrau. Goedel and Einstein contra mundum when it came to realism. Einstein didn't like
wearing socks with his shoes. Goedel didn't like screen windows because he
claimed they interfered with his breathing. Goedel developed theorems that showed
complete consistency in formal systems cannot be had. He also tried to show
that the "intuitive" sense of time (as opposed to the relativistic sense of
time) was unreal. And he developed an ontological argument for God's existence
that he never published because he feared what being regarded as a theist would
do to his reputation in a professional environment that he regarded as
Catherine Harmon is the managing editor of
Homiletic & Pastoral Review and Catholic World Report.
Benedict XVI: An Intimate
Portrait, by Peter Seewald: Seewald
gives the fascinating back-story of his book-length interviews with
then-Cardinal Ratzinger, framing key moments in Benedict's early pontificate
within the context of the pope's biography and intellectual life.
Parenting, Inc.: How We
Are Sold on $800 Strollers, Fetal Education, Baby Sign Language, Sleeping
Coaches, Toddler Couture, and Diaper Wipe Warmers—and What It Means for
Our Children, by Pamela Paul: I spent
most of 2008 pregnant, so much of this year's reading was pregnancy,
childbirth, or newborn-related. This book was a much-needed dose of common
sense about how well-meaning parents are manipulated into spending a mint on
their babies, thanks to toy manufacturers, parenting magazines, and
"scientific" studies about childhood development.
Peace Like a River, by Leif Enger: A very moving novel about family, the
miraculous, and the Midwest.
The Assassination of
Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, by Ron Hansen: OK movie, great book.
The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne: I reread this book, this
time with my husband. It's better than you remember from your freshman American
Gunnar's Daughter, by Sigrid Undset: While not my favorite of Undset's
novels, this is a short but engrossing tale of honor and revenge in medieval
Pope Benedict in America: I had the good fortune to be able to attend the
Holy Father's Mass at Nationals Ballpark in D.C., and like everyone else,
watched all of his U.S. speeches on television. While capturing the excitement of the
pope's visit, this book allows for deeper reflection on Benedict's profound
message to the U.S., and the introduction by Father Schall is excellent.
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.
Jesus of Nazareth, by Benedict XVl.
Magisterial. Glorious. Heartening. Bang on. Hurrah.
The Spirit of the Liturgy, by Benedict XVl. Should be Required Reading for every
bishop, priest, religious, and layman in the global Church.
The City of God, by St. Augustine. It
gets better with every reading.
The Stricken Deer, by Lord David Cecil.
Thetenderest, most exquisite biography (of the l8th century hymnwriter
William Cowper) ever written.
The Twelve Caesars, by Suetonius. Sheer good reading, about those titanic
The Warden of Barset, by Anthony
Trollope. The best bedtime reading ever.
The Diaries of James Lees-Milne. Positively
the most unput-downable, and utterly engaging, books I've read for a very long
time. Vastly civilized, droll, self-effacing.
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
The Last Secret of Fatima (Doubleday, 2008), by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
This book is superb for getting the facts on Fatima, and from a truly
Veritatis Splendor ("The Splendor of Truth," August 6, 1993), by Pope
John Paul II. I'm rereading this encyclical yet again. During his visit to
America this spring, Pope Benedict was clearly reiterating this message. Here's
a piece I wrote for National Catholic Register on that point
The Seven Storey Mountain (Harcourt Brace, 1998 edition), by Thomas Merton. I
believe I mentioned this book last year as well. Okay, I'm a slow reader!
Really, I put the book down, only reluctantly because of certain obligations
and deadlines, and just picked it up again. The spiritual component of the book
comes on strong only toward the later chapters. This memoir is a classic for
good reason. I recommend it most emphatically for young men discerning the
priesthood and grappling with the vices of our modern culture.
Surprised by Truth (Basilica Press, 1994), edited by Patrick Madrid. I
read this back when I was considering converting to the Catholic Church. It was
one of the most influential books in my conversion. I dug it out this fall as
the featured book for our apologetics class at our local parish. I run the
class, which includes roughly twenty cradle Catholics. This book is a
tremendous eye-opener for them. It is also a masterpiece of apologetics. This
book is teaching them how to respond to the litany of attacks they've endured
from Protestants for decades.
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression
(HarperCollins, 2008), by Amity Shlaes. We still have not learned the right
lessons of the Great Depression, and we may now be destined to repeat them
again. This book has it right. Those who do not remember the past are condemned
to repeat it.
Washington's God (Basic Books, 2006), by Michael Novak and Jana
Novak. This is the book on the
faith of George Washington. The research is superb.
Operation Solo: The FBI's
Man in the Kremlin (Regnery, 1996),
by John Barron. This is an incredible story on the single most crucial American
spy during the Cold War: Morris Childs. Would you believe that the number two
man at Communist Party USA (CPUSA)—so close to the Kremlin that the
Soviets loved him like a brother—was an FBI agent? Few people know the
stunning, unknown story of this forgotten America. Here's a review I recently
wrote on the book: "Remembering an Unknown Hero: Morris Childs, America's
Greatest Cold War Spy".
Miesel is a Catholic journalist, medieval
historian, and co-author of The Pied Piper of Atheism and the best-selling
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.
Here's my list, in no particular order of merit:
El Greco to Velazquez:
Art During the Reign of Philip III,
by Sarah Schroth and Ronni Baer. The catalog of a fine exhibit from the Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston.
Cooking and Dining in
Medieval England, by Peter Brears. A
fascinating and detailed look at this most basic aspect of everyday life.
Spiritualism and Women's Rights in Nineteenth Century America, by Ann Braude. The irrational underside of
Victorian society was more influential than previously supposed.
Silk Art Embroidery: A
Women's History of Ornament and Empowerment, by Donna Cardwell. A gorgeous look at craft and context that is, needless
to say, more wholesome than spiritualism.
Last Call, by Tim Powers. The myth of the Fisher King is
played out in Las Vegas via Tarot cards.
Magic and Superstition in
Europe: A Concise History from Antiquity to the Present, by Michael D. Bailey. An excellent, up-to-date
Smith of Wooton Major, by J.R.R. Tolkien (extended ed. Verlyn Flieger).
Tolkien's loveliest short fiction, with extra goodies and the original Pauline
Perilous Realms: Celtic
and Norse in Tolkien's Middle-Earth,
by Marjorie Burns. Burns analyzes mythological themes from both of Tolkien's
Tolkien's The Lord of the
Rings: Sources of Inspiration,
edited by Stratford Caldecott and Thomas Honegger. This collects papers from a
2006 Oxford Conference on Tolkien.
Transcendence for the Contemporary Mythmaker: The Spiritual Dimension in the
Works of J.R.R. Tolkien, by
Christopher Garbowski. Spirituality in the legendarium gets a sophisticated and
Tolkien: A Cultural
Phenomenon, by Brian Rosebury. Good
analysis using tools of formal literary criticism.
Movies and DVDs:
Bleak House. The Gillian Anderson version of Dickens' novel for
Masterpiece Theater, glossier than the one with Diana Rigg.
The Dark Knight. Stunning visuals plus moral questions.
Mongol. The early life of Genghis Khan, splendidly filmed in
Persepolis. Minimalist animated cartoon about a girl growing up
in Revolutionary Iran, adapted from a graphic novel of the same title.
The Red Shoes. Love versus art in the world of ballet, still a
visual treat 60 years after its debut.
WallE. Pixar's quirkiesteffort, where unlike The
Red Shoes, love and life triumph.
Read Part Two of "The Best Books I Read in 2008..."
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