"The Best Books I Read in 2008..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Staff | January 2,
2009 | Ignatius Insight
"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.
Lorraine V. Murray, Ph.D., is the author of Confessions Of An Ex-Feminist, and the religion columnist for
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She also writes an award-winning column for The Georgia Bulletin and is the author of Grace Notes, Why Me? Why Now?, and How Shall
We Celebrate? Murray lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband.
Below is a list of books that were my favorites in 2008, in no particular order:
Beginning to Pray, by Anthony Bloom. A great book for people who still
believe, as I do, that there is some mysterious formula necessary to pray
"correctly." Bloom reminds me that it is really quite simple.
What's Wrong with the
World, by G.K. Chesterton. His
section on feminism is especially chilling, illuminating quite brilliantly what
is still wrong with the world today.
The Habit of Being, by Flannery O'Connor. Her letters reveal that she
was a true defender of Catholicism and a refreshingly down-to-earth model of
Bridget Jones's Diary, by Helen Fielding. A reliable cure for the blues.
The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. Some letters are especially relevant
for people who suffer through the Marty Haugen version of the Mass, because
they remind us that the devil is most active at the foot of the altar.
The Practice of the
Presence of God, by Brother
Lawrence. Wonderful tips on encountering God in all moments in life, even while
singing Marty Haugen's maddening hymn "Enter the Journey."
Divining Divinity, by Joseph Pearce. Poignant, powerful, and
perceptive poetry, along with lyrical and lovely illustrations! (Disclaimer:
The artist is my husband, Jef).
Letters from Father
Christmas, by J.R.R. Tolkien.
Letters from Tolkien to his children, along with his very endearing drawings.
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. His most recent novel is Island
of the World: A Novel, which is set in the Balkans.
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've read a lot of books this past year, but those which stand out are a mix of old
and new works:
Cry The Beloved Country, by Allen Paton.
One of the most profound tales about hatred and forgiveness I have ever read.
The characters live and breathe and have much to reveal to readers about the
human journey and its perils. Though often characterized as a political novel
about South Africa , it is universal in significance.
The Children of Hurin, by J. R. R.
Tolkien — Tolkien! Need I say more?
The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini.
Magnificent, magnificent, magnificent and utterly enthralling. A modern classic
that will last long beyond our times.
Testament, by R.C. Hutchison. A novel set in World War I and
the Russian Revolution. Published many years ago, it is about the dilemmas of
human conscience, love, friendship in a time of maximum fear and confusion. All
Hutchison's novels are Dostoevskian, probing deep issues in human nature, but Testament is his best known. Also, his A Child Possessed is perennially interesting.
Revelation: Discerning with the Church,
by Dr. Mark Miravalle. Much needed clarity on this controversial subject. A
book that should be read by every bishop, pastor, spiritual director (and a
host of laymen too!)
Bratt Farrar, by Josephine Tey, the British mystery-story writer. Though I'm not much
of a fan of the genre, Josephine Tey always grabs my interest and sustains it,
because her books are really about the mystery of human "destiny" and
character. I've read them all and reread them. There is a deep humanity in her
authorial eye, realism and empathy, whimsy and goodness—with neither
sentimentality on one hand nor crass cynicism on the other. So very refreshing,
realism without sleaze.
I Surf, therefore I Am, by Peter Kreeft. As always, Kreeft teaches even as
he plays; or plays even as he teaches. This delightful and instructive book is
a small gem. And so is Before I Go,
his alternately earthy and sublime reflections on fatherhood and marriage.
In the Shadow of the Faithful, by Corban Klug, a relatively unknown young
Christian novelist from Virginia. This beautifully written, very moving "diary"
of a woman's life, seen from her perspective as a 90 year old, begins with a
horrifying childhood trauma and ends with healing and the wisdom of a
sanctified old age. A story about divine providence and many other matters of
heaven, hell, and the unique mystery of every person's life.
And finally, a re-reading of Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton's great masterpiece (among his
many). First published in 1908, this timeless Christian classic is as pertinent
a century later as when it was written—perhaps more so. If the reader
finds himself a little lost in the forest of references to sociopolitical and
religious figures of the first decade of the 20th century, he might substitute
the names of a number of our contemporary world figures, who all these years
later continue to charge forward into the "glorious future" with the
seemingly inexhaustible determination (and disregard for human dignity)
exhibited by social revolutionaries of every age. The names have changed; the
dynamics remain the same.
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,
Da Vinci Hoax: Exposing the Errors in The Da Vinci Code (Ignatius,
2004). Carl writes for several Catholic periodicals, pens a weekly Scripture column for Our Sunday Visitor newspaper, and is a contributing editor for This Rock magazine.
A former Evangelical Protestant who entered the Catholic Church in 1997, he has a Masters in Theological Studies
from the University of Dallas. Carl lives in Oregon with his wife, two children, two cats, and some books and CDs.
I read parts and pieces of nearly everything published by Ignatius Press
in 2008 but, like Mark Brumley, will leave those books out of my list.
Magisterium: Teacher and Guardian of the Faith, by Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J. A clearly written
work by the recently departed dean of American theologians that is ideal for
anyone—professor, student, lay man—wanting to understand both the
big picture and the details of that mysterious thing called the Magisterium.
Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, by Tracey Rowland. Succeeds in illuminating
essential features and nuances of Ratzinger's thought while masterfully
explaining the historical, theological, and cultural context of his work.
Theological Highlights of Vatican II, by Joseph Ratzinger. Fascinating stuff from the
young Ratzinger, written during his time as a theological expert at the
Council. The section on Gaudium et Spes (discussed quite a bit by Rowland) is especially compelling.
Vatican II: Renewal Within Tradition, edited by Matthew L. Lamb and Matthew Levering. I've not yet read all
twenty-two essays—by Dulles, Romanus Cessario, Francis Cardinal George,
and others—but I've read enough to know this is a significant work that
will, hopefully, receive proper and deserved attention.
The Omnivore's Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. I don't agree with all of
Pollan's philosophical premises, but I'll also never look at food the same way
again. Nor, more importantly, will I have quite the same diet as before.
The Seven Sacraments: Entering the Mysteries of God, by Stratford Caldecott. Beautifully written and
Revelation, by C.J.
Sansom. The fourth historical novel/murder mystery featuring Matthew Shardlake,
a lawyer in mid-sixteenth-century London. Sansom's treatment of the complicated
religious and political turmoil of the time is both stark and sympathetic.
The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays, by James V. Schall, S.J., and Not With a Bang
But a Whimper: The Politics and Culture of Decline, by Theodore Dalrymple. Two stellar collections of
essays by two of the finest essayists writing today. The American priest and
professor Fr. Schall is well-known to readers to Ignatius Insight (and this
collection contains an essay from this website). Dalrymple is an atheist and an
English doctor, now retired in France. Both are brilliant wordsmiths and keen observers of humanity.
The Love of Learning and the Desire for God, by Jean Leclercq. This highly regarded study of
monastic culture is a nice antidote to many of the silly notions about monks
and the "Middle Ages" that prevail in today's popular imagination.
Jesus, The Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology
and the Origin of the Atonement, by
Brant Pitre. One of the most challenging books I've read this year; in fact,
I'm still reading it. Pitre, who is a professor at Our Lady of the Holy Cross
College in New Orleans, proffers arguments that make sense of apocalyptic
passages in the Gospels that have often been ignored or handled dismissively by
many Scripture scholars.
Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic, by Francis J. Beckwith. Gracious, thoughtful, and
honest, this is the sort of "reversion" story that should give both Catholics
and Evangelicals plenty to think about.
The Drama of Atheist Humanism, by
Henri de Lubac; The Irrational Atheist: Dissecting the Unholy Trinity of
Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens, by
Vox Day; and The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and Its Scientific Pretensions, by David Berlinski. Three books about atheism by
three very different authors. De Lubac's work (yes, published by Ignatius
Press--but not in 2008) is dense, scholarly, measured. Day, who is
an Evangelical and libertarian, is polemical, often witty, and steeped in pop
culture. Berlinski, who is French and an atheist, is also polemical, but also
often philosophically devastating, and with flair.
A Program for Conservatives, by
Russell Kirk. I first read this book (which was first published in 1954) in the
mid-1990s, then re-read it recently. It may well be Kirk's best book, a
beautifully written work that shines with the author's eccentricities, brilliance,
and Catholic sensibilities. The title, by the way, is surely ironic; Kirk had
little patience for political and social programs.
Participatory Biblical Exegesis: A Theology of Biblical
Interpretation, by Matthew Levering.
Dr. Levering, a young and prolific Catholic theologian, examines biblical
exegesis in light of mistaken notions of history, and suggests ways to recover
and develop better means of reading and interpreting Scripture. Heavy but
The Gospel of John, by the
Apostle John. I taught a weekly study of the Fourth Gospel through most of
2008, and it was immensely rewarding. There are so many fascinating and unique qualities to the Gospel of John. Highly recommended!
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. His most recent book is The Quest
for Shakespeare. Pearce 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. He is also the editor of the Ignatius Critical Editions.
Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com
author page for more about his work and a full listing of his books
published by Ignatius Press.
The most enjoyable new novel
I read during 2008 is Exiles by
Ron Hansen (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008). It was inspired by Gerard Manley
Hopkins' sublime poem, "The Wreck of the Deutchland", and weaves the
events narrated in the poem with the life of the poet himself. The action
switches from the storm-blasted ship to the seemingly tranquil life of the
Jesuit poet, weaving the theme of exile, in the sense in which it is evoked in
the salve regina. For those who like their novels to be unproblematically
"Catholic", this fits the bill perfectly.
Two of my favourite
Christian writers of the past century, C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox, are brought
together in Milton Walsh's Second Friends: C. S. Lewis and Ronald Knox in
Conversation (Ignatius, 2008).
Father Walsh has done a great service to students of the Catholic literary
revival in bringing together the incomparable Knox and the indomitable Lewis in
a way that enables us to understand both of them better.
Last year, I listed The
Night is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard (Ignaitus, 2007) as one of my favourite books, this
year it gives me great pleasure to list a treasury of James V. Schall among my
favourites. Schall's The Mind that is Catholic: Philosophical and Political
Essays (Catholic University of
America Press, 2008) is a joy and a revelation. Farther Schall's inestimable
knowledge, irrepressible enthusiasm and indefatigable pen are simply
irresistible, especially when they are given free rein to wax lyrical on the
Great Minds of western civilization. The Mind that is Schall on the Mind that
is Catholic is quite simply a meeting of minds made in heaven.
I'm pleased that Stratford
Caldecott's excellent book on Tolkien's spiritual vision has been published in
the United States. Originally published in the United Kingdom under the title, Secret
Fire: The spiritual vision of J.R.R. Tolkien (Darton, Longman and Todd, 2003), it's made its way
across the Atlantic under its new title, The Power of the Ring: The
Spiritual Vision Behind The Lord of the Rings (Crossroad Publishing, 2005). Caldecott combines cogency with
accessibility and brings Tolkien's Catholic vision to life in easily digestible
Lorraine V. Murray's Confessions
of an Ex-Feminist (Ignatius, 2008)
was a real joy to read. The author writes so well and her expos of the dark
underbelly of feminism and its hideous consequences represents a devastating
critique of the culture of death.
Although I wrote the
introduction to Bradley J. Birzer's Sanctifying the World: The Augustinian
Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson (Christendom Press, 2007) I refuse to allow that to preclude me from extolling
its praises as one of my favourite books of the year. Birzer is a fine writer
and an excellent scholar and his latest offering can only enhance the
reputation he earned for his earlier book, J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying
Myth (ISI Books, 2003).
This year saw the death of
the great Alexander Solzhenitsyn, one of the true heroes of the twentieth
century. It was, therefore, gratifying that two of the world's leading Solzhenitsyn
experts, Alexis Klimoff and Edward E. Ericson, Jr., should publish The Soul
and Barbed Wire: An Introduction to Solzhenitsyn (ISI Books, 2008). Everyone should know something
about Solzhenitsyn and this is an ideal place to start.
As I continue my own studies
into Shakespeare, I remain impressed with the work of the Jesuit Shakespearean
scholar, Peter Milward. The latest of his books to be published is Elizabethan
Shakespeare (Sapientia Press, 2008),
an engaging guide to the Catholic dimension of several of Shakespeare's early
I'll end, as an Englishman,
by urging all Americans to discover, or rediscover, one of the great classics
of American literature. I refer to Henry W. Longfellow's long, narrative poem, Evangeline:
A tale of Acadie (Goose Lane
Editons, 2004). After we named our newborn daughter "Evangeline
Marie", my wife and I decided that we should read Longfellow's poem. What
an unexpected joy! Not only is it a great poem, and a great story, but it's
incredibly Catholic! Longfellow may not be a Catholic but his eponymous heroine
is nothing less than a Catholic saint, and an icon of idealized femininity
worthy to stand in the company of Homer's Penelope, Dante's Beatrice and
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.
Ten interesting books I read
in 2008, arranged by date of original publication:
The Right to Privacy, by Janet Smith (Ignatius Press, 2008)
My Grandfather's Son, by Clarence Thomas (2006)
Silent Witness: Terri
Schiavo's Death, by Mark Fuhrman
A Natural History of
Latin, by Tore Janson (2004)
Latin Paleography, by Bernhard Bischoff (1986)
Ecclesiology of Vatican
II, by Bonaventure Kloppenburg
First Vatican Council:
The American Experience, by James
De Regulis Iuris Canonici, by Vittorio Bartoccetti (1955)
The Vatican Council and its Definitions, by Henry Cdl.
The Gift of
Infallibility: The Official Relatio on Infallibility of Bishop Vincent Ferrer
Gasser at Vatican Council I, by
Vincent Gasser , Rev. James T. O'Conner trans. (Ignatius Press 2008)
James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.
He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture,
and literature including Another
Sort of Learning, Idylls
and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning,
The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006),
The Sum Total of Human
Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007).
His most recent book from Ignatius Press is
The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and
Political Essays, is now available from The Catholic University Press. Read more of his essays on his
The two outstanding books,
intellectually speaking, in the past year are Robert Sokolowski's Phenomenology
of the Person and David Walsh's The
Modern Philosophical Revolution.
Both are published by Cambridge University Press, both are professors at the
Catholic University of America, both are profound.
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?
on my list is Lucy Beckett's In the Light of Christ: Writing in the Western
Tradition. The breath and depth of
this overview of western literature from Aeschylus and Sophocles via Augustine
and Shakespear through Czeslaw Milosz and Pope John Paul II makes it one of the
most rewarding books I have ever read. Inspired by von Balthasar's theology,
Beckett not only situates each writer in their historical and cultural setting
but also gives the reader an insight into their main spiritual, or rather
transcendent, preoccupations. In doing so, she helps recover the significance
of tradition as outlined by Alasdair MacIntryre, so that the reader can once
again place his trust in tradition, as "a collaborative achievement of coherent
intellectual effort with a long history still accessible, that confirms our own
experience of what we have found [...] to be good, true and beautiful." This is
a book to treasure—and to return to regularly.
the same author is the novel of the Reformation, The Time Before You Die, which weaves together the lives of an ex-Carthusian
monk, a convert to Lutheranism, and that of Cardinal Reginald Pole, cousin of
Henry VIII and, under the Catholic Queen Mary, Archbishop of Canterbury. The
climax of the novel is the personal encounter of the Lutheran ex-monk, a
prisoner of the Catholic Bishop of London, and the Cardinal at Lambeth Palace.
Beckett, herself a convert to Catholicism, manages to engage the reader's
sympathy for the ex-monk's embrace of Lutheranism as well as our horror at the
methods used by both Catholics and Protestants to achieve their ends. In doing
so, she gave this reader at least a new insight into the complex human and
spiritual issues behind the doctrinal controversies of the Reformation.
year saw the publication of a number of important contributions to the theology
of Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, such as Joseph Murphy's Christ Our
Joy: The Theological Vision of Pope Benedict XVI, which presents the Ratzinger's theology from the
perspective of joy, the mark of being Christian and, for Ratzinger, the object
of the Church's mission, namely to bring God's joy into the world. It is a most
rewarding read. Another was Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict
XVI by Tracey Rowland. This book
offers the reader a succinct, systematic and sympathetic overview of the Pope's
theology under seven different headings, which encompass his main theological
concerns. A pleasure to read.
Natural Law by A.P. d' Entreves is one
of the classical works on the subject, considered primarily (but not
exclusively) from a jurisprudential point of view. Refreshingly brief and to
the point, it combines a philosophical and an historical analysis into the
nature of natural law and its continual re-interpretation down through the
centuries. Of particular interest is the author's engagement with the rise of
theoretical jurisprudence and positivism in the nineteenth century and its
nadir after Nuremburg. Though outdated in some respects, it is still an
outstanding introduction to the topic.
greatly enjoyed C. S. Lewis's essay, The Abolition of Man, once again—always repays a reread. It remains
one of the most convincing rebuttals of moral relativism ever written.
Ireland at least, it is rare to find a poet who treats religious topics
objectively yet sympathetically, and so it was something of a surprise to find
by accident the collection of poetry by Tim Cunningham entitled Kyrie. These superbly crafted poems find their inspiration
in Catholic culture, both Irish traditional and (in all its brokenness) modern.
The poet interprets life in terms of Catholic liturgy and Catholic liturgy in
terms of everyday life. They inspire and move the reader. Like all true art
that expresses the universal in the particular, they will find an echo beyond
the shores of Ireland.
Tangents is a collection of short, pithy
essays and reflections by Martin Henry, one of the world's foremost authorities
on Nietzsche's friend, the anti-theological theologian, Franz Overbeck. Unlike
Henry's scholarly work with its massive critical apparatus, this collection is
minimalist in presentation. Economy of expression is only matched by subtlety
and depth of thought. These essays into every conceivable theological subject
are inspired by the author's conviction that "the truth can only be
approached, if at all, obliquely, not directly". Familiar topics are given
unfamiliar treatment to stimulate reflection and, occasionally, to shake the
reader out of his or her lazy assumptions about things theological. A
chastening "must" for practitioners of theology and for preachers of
the incomprehensible Word.
Finally, I must mention the
beautifully presented, privately published, little book entitled The New
Windows in St Teresa's Church Clarendon Street by Nicholas Madden, ODC. It is an introduction to a
series of windows by the Irish stained-glass artist, Phyllis Burke for the
popular Carmelite church near Grafton Street, the most trendy street in Dublin.
The illustrations are magnificent. The commentary by Nicholas Madden, a
patristic scholar, poet and painter in his own right, is itself a work of art.
The windows depict the great saints of the Carmelite tradition from Elijah to
Edith Stein in a style that is refreshingly modern and richly symbolic of each
saint's personality, history and spirituality. Fr Madden enables the reader to
appreciate every nuance of the artist's singular achievement.
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.
Search for IgnatiusInsight.com articles by Dr. Jose Yulo
What's So Great About
Christianity, by Dinesh D'Souza
Soldier Boy, by Ray Dennehy
On the Mind that is
Catholic, by Fr. James Schall, S.J.
10 Books That Screwed Up
the World, by Benjamin Wiker
A Man for
Others: Fr. Maximilian Kolbe,
by Patricia Treece
Liberal Fascism, by Jonah Goldberg
The Well and the Shallows, by G.K. Chesterton
Also, a shout out to 1966's A
Man for all Seasons. What a
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