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"The Best Books I Read in 2010..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Friends | January 1, 2011
The ancient and venerable tradition (six years and counting!) 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 2010--no need to limit great authors and books--nor did
they have to be about a specific 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.
by G. J. Meyer. Fascinating and complete account of the ruling family who
screwed up Western Civilization.
Defence of the Seven Sacraments, by Henry VIII. Luther was a blowhard, but so was
Three Days to Never, by Tim Powers. Mark Brumley read it last year. I read it
this year. You read it next year.
The Glory of Thy People, by Fr. M. Raphael Simon. Autobiography of a Jewish
psychiatrist who became Catholic and then became a Trappist monk.
Toward a Truly Free Market, by John Medaille. Best book ever written on Distributism.
And this could serve as an economics textbook in any school. In fact, it will
be the economics textbook at Chesterton Academy next year!
The Church and the Libertarian, by Christopher Ferrara. There is no longer any
excuse for Catholics to defend Von Mises.
The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, by Theodore King. Entertaining
and well-argued and not very reassuring. Smoke 'em if you've got 'em.
The Church of the Kevin, by Kevin O'Brien. Even though it's only 55 pages long, it
The Elusive Father Brown, by Julia Smith. A biography of Msgr. John O'Connor, the
priest who was Chesterton's friend and was the basis for the fictional
detective that Chesterton created. A much more interesting and influential
figure than most people have imagined.
The Holiness of G.K. Chesterton, edited by William Oddie. Papers from a scholarly
conference at Oxford, from such luminaries as Fr. Ian Ker, Fr. John Saward, and
Fr. Aidan Nichols. This excellent and profound volume will help pave the way
for Chesterton's beatification.
And speaking of Chesterton, I re-read St. Francis of Assisi,
What's Wrong with the World, The Defendant, and a bunch of essays from The Daily News the New Witness G.K.'s Weekly, and the Illustrated London News. Chesterton
keeps getting better.
British author Lucy Beckett lives in Yorkshire. She as educated at Cambridge University and taught English, Latin and history at
Ampleforth Abbey and College for twenty years. She has published books on Wallace Stevens, Wagner's Parsifal, York Minster and
the Cistercian Abbeys of North Yorkshire, as well as a collection of poems, two novels, The Time Before You Die and
A Postcard From the Volcano: A Novel of Pre-War Germany (Ignatius Press, 2009),
and In the Light of Christ: Writings in the Western Tradition (Ignatius Press, 2006).
She is married, with four children.
Here are three wonderful books, two new and one old, providing
excellent, wise ammunition for anyone wanting to counter the secular debunking
of Christian tradition, high culture, the mind, the soul, God, so often met
nowadays, particularly in universities:
The Disinherited Mind, by Erich Heller (Bowes and Bowes, 1952, 4th edition 1975).
God, Philosophy, Universities, by Alasdair MacIntyre (Rowman & Littlefield, 2009).
Absence of Mind, by Marilynne Robinson (Yale University Press, 2010).
Bradley J. Birzer holds the
Russell Amos Kirk Chair in American Studies, Hillsdale College, Michigan, and the author of
American Cicero: The Life
of Charles Carroll (ISI, 2010); Sanctifying the World: The
Augustinian Life and Mind of Christopher Dawson (2007); and J.R.R. Tolkien's Sanctifying Myth (2003).
When it comes to reading and writing, American and western culture, to my way
of thinking, seems to be flourishing even as it experiences pangs and concerns
about the changing nature of print and book technologies.
Not only are great new works being produced (one only has to give a cursory
examination of the book lists of such publishers as ISI Books or Ignatius to
see the obvious proof of this claim), but the technology to write as well as to
read has been changing not only over my lifetime, but dramatically even in the
previous calendar year, especially with the overwhelming popularity and
adoption of such reading devices as Apple's iPad and digital reading devices.
Far from experiencing the death of the written word, western culture seems to
be moving toward a re-emergence of an intimate and true alliance of the word
and the image—tangible and, if pursued properly, sacramental. In many
ways, books will evolve over the next several years to resemble something akin
to the stain-glass windows of medieval Christendom. But, this is another
matter, for another time.
Much of the joy I experienced this past calendar year came from revisiting
Old Delights: Tolkien, The
Lord of the Rings
(1954-1955). Though I've been repeatedly reading Tolkien since grade school
(in the late 70s), I'd never experienced The Lord of the Rings in this fashion: I read it to my children, the
oldest being age 11. Reading Tolkien out loud puts a whole different light on
his writing. The songs come alive (even with my horrible singing voice) as
critical to the story, and Tolkien's playing with aspects (slowing, speeding
up) of time come to the front. And, of course, Tolkien's famous writing style
and variations in tone and cadence leap from each page. Reading the trilogy to
my children will always rank as one of the single greatest experiences of my
life. We're (my children and I) currently reading The Wind and
the Willows and the Ballad
of the White Horse.
Virgil, The Aeneid.
Second only to my love for The Lord of the Rings is my love of Virgil's Aeneid. Several years ago Claes Ryn, a most impressive Catholic University
philosopher, teased me that by loving the Aeneid I must also love empire. Not true, Professor Ryn!
But, I can see why Dante chose Virgil as his guide through the Inferno and
Purgatorio. The Aeneid has
everything a story could offer: sacramentality, love, betrayal, brutality,
mysticism, defeat, and hope. After re-reading Fagel's masterful translation
this fall, I followed it up with the first two books of the Divine
Cicero, On the Laws (54-51BC). And, just to prove Ryn wrong (in this matter
only), I also had the privilege of reading the greatest republican in history:
Senator M.T. Cicero. A defender of the eternal republican Cosmopolis (a pagan
forerunner to St. Augustine's City of God) as well as the internal republic of the individual soul, Cicero could
write like no other. A dialogue regarding the origins of Natural Law, On
the Laws sees the Roman discussants debate
the nature of the human person, God, and poetry.
Russell Kirk, Program for Conservatives (1954). As with the first two
books in this list, I could never count how many times I've read and re-read
Kirk's Program. Sadly, it's been
out of print for over half a century, though I think it's Kirk's best book.
What does the conservative conserve, a thirty-something Kirk asked in the mid
1950s? Should he revere his ancestors and his God, as true men always do, he
will conserve the highest of all things, the virtue of love. Though still a
nominal Protestant when he wrote this book, Kirk could've easily and justly
been mistaken for a Gabriel Marcel, a Romano Guardini, or a Christopher Dawson
in his theological anthropology. Each chapter, though, comes from individual
lectures given at the University of Detroit while he was also receiving
Catholic instruction from a Jesuit. Kirk would wait, however, a full decade
after writing Program for Conservatives to enter the Catholic Church.
J.F. Cooper, Last of the Mohicans (1826). Again, how many times have I read and
taught this book over the past two decades? I have no idea. Though often
criticized for being too romantic (hence, Rousseauvian) in his views, Cooper
offered a vision of the American republic—the nature of citizenship, of
Christianity, and of Natural Law and Natural Rights—that has been equaled
in the arts, to my mind, only by Willa Cather.
And, of course, I met many new and wondrous works as well in 2010.
New Delights Joseph Pearce, Through
Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays (2010). This is the more than
worthy successor to Pearce's biography of Shakespeare. Every Catholic should
regard Pearce as one of the greatest treasures of Christendom. Few can enter
the mind and soul of his subjects as can Pearce. May God grant the author
many, many more years of writing. Through Shakespeare's Eyes should be on the reading list of every person who
loves and appreciates the best of western and Catholic culture.
Samuel Gregg, Wilhelm Roepke's Political Economy (2010). Gregg, a senior scholar
at the Acton Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, has one of the most
penetrating minds I've ever encountered. I feel the same way about Wilhelm
Roepke. This is a book of the two scholars speaking to one another, a delight
in every way. Roepke, an economist and self-proclaimed Christian Humanist,
always sought the humane in economic and public policy. It would be difficult
to find a non-Catholic thinker more in line with Catholic social doctrine than
Roepke. Gregg, also an expert on Catholic social, political, and economic
doctrine, engages the deceased Swiss economist in every meaningful way. The
result: a work of high, intelligence and wisdom.
Tom Engelhardt, The American Way of War (2010). Never an expert (by any
means!) on American foreign policy, I just always saw myself as a midwestern
Reaganite (maybe a Tom Clancyite?)—strong defense, well-trained special
ops, low and reluctant usage of our military forces overall, huge and swift
retaliation, and immense intelligence. While this book didn't change my views,
it certainly opened my eyes to the radical progressive view of American empire
as espoused by the previous four (post-Reagan) administrations. A must read
for any one who believes in Augustinian and Thomistic just war theory and the
republican ideals of the Founding generation.
Richard M. Reinsch II, Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a
(2010). "Chamber affirmed that in brokenness man comes to find his" final
purpose, the author movingly explains. Reinsch, a lawyer and Fellow with
Liberty Fund in Indianapolis, seems to possess the qualities of Pearce and
Gregg in this stunning biography of one of the most important defenders and
critics of western civilization, Whittaker Chambers. Reinsch, a tenacious
thinker, digs deeply into the psyche of Chambers, noting the mutually-enforcing
influences of personality and thought in the human person.
Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought, The Transformation of
(2007). Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History, Howe's comprehensive look at
the so-called Jacksonian period in American history serves as one of the best
books of its kind. Howe's greatest strength is the uncanny ability to
unify seemingly disparate things. A wide variety of fascinating and eccentric
personalities—the mad John Randolph of Roanoke, the dancing and
womanizing Henry Clay, the orating Daniel Webster, the brilliant and wily John
C. Calhoun, the black nationalist David Walker, the tiresome Ralph Waldo
Emerson, and the ever mutating Orestes Brownson–populate the
period. Would it be possible to find another period of history in which
so many eccentrics clashed? Probably not.
Future Delights I eagerly await to devour! G.L. Gregg, The Iona Conspiracy (2010); John J. Miller, First
Robert R. Reilly, The Closing of the Muslim Mind (2010); Kenneth L. Deutsch and
Ethan Fishman, eds., The Dilemmas of American Conservatism (2010); Michael O'Brien, Theophilos (2010); Benedict XVI, Light
of the World (2010).
Misc. Delights I don't think I
could describe my favorite reads of 2010 without mentioning my favorite blogs:
Imaginative Conservative (fight on, Winston and Barbara Elliott!); Insight
Scoop (Go, Carl!); Pileus (especially Jim Otteson); Tory Anarchist; Catholic
Vote; Front Porch Republic (God bless, Patrick Deneen); NRO; The American
Culture; Mark Shea; Matthew Anger; Forbes (especially blogs by Art Carden);
MacWorld (especially posts by the ever witty Christopher Breen); Andy Ihnatko's
Celestial Waste of Bandwidth; and the Dutch Progressive Rock Page. A special
mention must go out to my friend, Bill Chellis, as well. And, to Larry Reed,
the best poster (is this the correct term?) on Facebook.
Finally, my favorite music of 2010: Kevin McCormick, Songs of the
and Americana guitar); anything by Gazpacho, but especially Night and Missa Antropos (post-rock); Spock's Beard X (prog rock); Arvo Pärt, In
(classical); The Cure, Disintegration (20th anniversary
edition, rock); Natalie Merchant, Leave Your Sleep (eclectic); Lunatic Soul II (post-rock); Frost*, Philadelphia
rock); Big Big Train, The Underfall Yard (prog rock); and Nosound, A
Sense of Loss
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 and his wife live in Napa, California, and have five children.
These are the non-Ignatius Press titles I
read, found most interesting, and remembered finding most interesting. I
may have read other things as interesting or more interesting than the titles
below, but I don't have time to try to remember what they were. And I may
have read IP titles or mss that will become IP titles that were more
interesting than the books below, but in keeping with my usual practice, I have
not included them.
Murder in the Vatican: The Church Mysteries of
Sherlock Holmes by
Ann-Margaret Lewis. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson meet Leo XIII
and Father Brown. A lot of fun.
Concepts of Mass in Contemporary Physics and
Philosophy, by Max
Jammer. A survey of different aspects of modern ideas about mass.
Some math helpful but not required.
The End and the Beginning, by George Weigel.
Weigel's conclusion to his biography of John Paul II. Since it's
Weigel, it's superb.
In This House of Brede, by Rumor Godden. A classic novel about a
successful English business woman who enters the convent.
The Grand Design, by Stephen Hawling and Leonardo Mlodinow. This is an
important book because of the media coverage it has received and its
fundamentally-flawed thesis, which will be rehashed as having scientifically
proved that the cosmos is self-existent and that therefore God is irrelevant as
a causal explanation for it. There are some outrageous historical claims
and bad philosophizing (about, for instance, the end of philosophizing). But
thoughtful people who want to follow the latest scientistic claims and
their allegedly rational basis should read this book.
New Proofs for the Existence of God: Contributions of
Comtemporary Physics and Philosophy, by Robert J. Spitzer. An engrossing study of what
contemporary physics has to say about the traditional cosmological
argumentation for God's existence. By "traditional cosmological
argumentation", I mean a line of argument running from some
feature or features of the cosmos or the cosmos's existence as a
whole to God as the cause of the feature, features, or existence of
the cosmos as a whole. Father Spitzer looks at arguments from design,
metaphysics, unrestricted intelligibility (Lonergan), and finitude of past time
(Kalaam argument). A major contribution to the discussion.
Christians as Political Animals, by Marc D. Guerra. A
revisiting of the so-called "theologico-political problem". Lots of
Leo Strauss, James Schall, Ernest Fortin. A good Augustinian balance to
the boundless optimism of some philosophical and theological proponents of
democracy. I'm not convinced by certain of the author's arguments;
there seems to be a predisposition to oppose the modern at work in how
some of the arguments are framed. I don't mind opposing the modern when the
modern is wrong. But I don't start from the premise of "guilty until
proven innocent", so I am suspicious when an argument seems to do
so. I am also suspicious of the Straussian approach to texts, which at
times strikes me as succumbing to the elephant-behind-the-tree method
of exegesis. Nevertheless, the author raises some important issues. Since
many people start from the presupposition that "modern" means
"good" and "ancient" (and certainly "medieval")
means "bad", it's helpful to have someone argue in ways that
challenge that presupposition.
The Great Dialogue of Nature and Space, by Yves Simon. I wish I
could listen in on a conversation with the Yves Simon of this book, the Jacques
Maritain of The Degrees of Knowledge,
Mortimer Adler of The Conditions of Philosophy Stephen Hawking of The Grand Design Stephen Barr of Modern Physics and
Ancient Faith, Richard Dawkins, Edward
Feser of The Last Superstition,
Father Robert Spitzer and John Polkinghorne. Maybe a few others,
too. What a great conversation that would be. Meanwhile, we can
read their books.
Augustine: A Life, by Henry Chadwich. Short and sweet.
The Historical Jesus: Five Views, edited by Paul Rhodes Eddy.
The Philosophy of Space and Time, by Hans Reichenbach. Not an easy
read but worthwhile.
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G.K. Chesterton. I
read it again. It was better this time than the upteen times before. But
then that's Chesterton.
Chris Burgwald holds a Doctorate in Sacred Theology from the Pontifical University of St.
Thomas Aquinas in Rome and has been the Director of Evangelization & Adult
Catechesis for the Diocese of Sioux Falls in South Dakota for the past eight
years. He and his wife have four children.
Here are some of the best books I read this past year:
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What Internet is Doing to Our Brains. I've been online in one form or
another since 1992, and particularly over the last ten years or so—as
high-speed broadband has become ubiquitous—I've noticed a negative shift
in my ability to read in a sustained, deep fashion. In his book, technology
journalist Nick Carr (no Luddite, he) offers empirical evidence for what I've
seen in myself: using the internet (particularly with a high-speed connection)
extensively over a long period of time actually changes the way we read and
think, in generally (but not completely) negative ways. I love modern
technology, but Carr's book prompted me to shut down the browser and open a
book more often.
Andrew Bacevich, The Limits of Power. Bacevich is a (Catholic) retired
Army colonel who now teaches at Boston University and has written several books
over the last few years lamenting the militarism which he finds to be rampant
in American society and culture, but from a conservative political perspective.
In this book he argues against the trends in American foreign policy which have
been dominant—regardless of which party is in power in
Washington—over the last several decades, contending that they have
served to sustain American appetites which are in fact unsustainable.
Particularly because he writes as a conservative, I found his critiques to be
incisive and thought-provoking.
Susan Wise Bauer, The History of the Ancient World. This is the first in a projected
four-volume world history series written by Wise Bauer, and I must say, I
thoroughly enjoyed it. She has a way of writing history which is very engaging.
Even though the text clocks in at 777 pages (not counting endnotes), this is a
very readable book, helped by the fact that the chapters are relatively short
(often only 8-10 pages in length). The second volume on the Medieval era was
published this year, and I'm looking forward to diving into it as well
Pope Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini. The Holy Father's post-synodal apostolic
exhortation on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church is a
fantastic magisterial text. It's clear that he is simultaneously summarizing
and synthesizing the work done by the synod fathers—Peter speaking on
behalf of the Twelve, as it were—but in his own key and with his own
emphases. As with most papal documents, it deserves a far wider read than it
has thus far received.
Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, Light of the World. This was easily the best read of
the year for me. The Holy Father has such a gift for communicating the deep
truths of our faith in a clear and inviting manner. I was particularly
struck—once again—by his emphasis on the centrality of Jesus
Christ. In an age when many Catholics are yearning to learn more about their
faith, Pope Benedict reminds us that at the heart of Catholicism is not merely
doctrinal truths, but the One Who is Truth: Jesus of Nazareth.
Finally, on a far lighter note, this year I also read Max Brooks' World
War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War, and I have to say, it was quite an enjoyable read (it was
recommended by Joe Carter in a post at the First Things website). Brooks actually manages to make the
specter of a zombie apocalypse thought-provoking in numerous ways.
Part Two | Part Three
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