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Part Two of "The Best Books I Read in 2010..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Friends | Part One | Part Three | Ignatius Insight
Anthony E. Clark, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Asian History at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington.
He completed his doctoral studies at the University of
Oregon, where he studied Chinese history, literature, philosophy, and religion.
His current research centers on the history of the Church in China, and he has
recently finished a book on the Catholic martyrs saints in China. His other
interests include East/West religious dialogue, especially between Catholic and
Buddhist ideas of faith and salvation. Dr. Clark has written several academic
books and articles on the topic of Chinese history and has been a guest on
"EWTN Live," "Catholic Answers Live," and Relevant Radio to talk about
Catholicism in China. He is also a contributing editor for This Rock magazine.
I have had an active year of reading,
despite the rigors of an unusually hectic academic year. In fact, much of my
reading was done on the go or in bed before slipping off into blissful
reminiscences of worthy reading. But there were some rare harmonious afternoons
when I was free to read in a warm circle of light—as Longfellow
commented, "The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet
serenity of books."
Surprised by Joy, by C. S. Lewis. It was about time I made time digest
Lewis' candid autobiography. This book is a penetrating confession of a
brilliant intellect as it moves from uncertainty and suspicion into peace and
faith. There are some passages that resonate with the trained academic, who is
taught that skepticism should reign over any conclusions. Lewis has overcome
C. S. Lewis. All right, I admit it—this was not my favorite Lewis book,
but out of respect for the master I've put it on my list. Lewis's vermicular
prose unnecessarily obscures a good point, namely, that God's hand does in fact
unexplainably interrupt the explainable processes of the material world. At
best, this book challenges the most convinced materialists to rethink their
stubborn insistence that all phenomena are "scientifically explainable"; at
worst, it merely recapitulates old Scholastic arguments. But since more people
read C. S. Lewis than St. Thomas Aquinas, Lewis' redundancies are forgivable.
Generation of Giants, by George Dunne, S.J. For those wishing to read about my favorite
subject, the history of the Church in China, Father Dunne's classic study is
both a shinning example of scholarly rigor and eminently readable prose. He
writes about the history of great Jesuit pioneers in China as a Jesuit worthily
following in their footsteps. This book is the best work I know of that offers
a concise survey of the earliest missionaries into China, such as Matteo Ricci,
SJ, Adam Schall, SJ, and Ferdinand Verbiest, SJ.
The Heroine of Pe-Tang, by Henry Mazeau. This hard-to-find biography of Sister
Helene de Taurias, of the Daughters of Charity, is has consuming narrative.
Mazeau's book recounts experiences of Sister Taurias while she and 3,000 other
Catholics were trapped inside of Beijing's North Cathedral as an army of Qing
troops, Boxers, and Tibetan monks besieged the church. Few people have read
about the harrowing attacks on the Catholics in 1900, and this book tells the
story with exceptional clarity.
Imagined Communities, by Benedict Anderson. Okay, yes, I did read several books
shunned by some—critical theory, or postmodernism—but Anderson's
study of how the notion of "nation" and nationalism arise in the wake of print
culture is an outstanding example of scholarly effort. Overlooking his belief
that Christianity is an "imagined community" (Anderson should read Pascal!),
this book offers cogent insights into some of the problems that result from
Xiaoshuo xuan (Selected
Short Stories), by Lu Xun. I finally finished a long-term project to
get through Lu Xun's (China's greatest modern writer) small vignettes. Lu's
Chinese prose is an incisive critique of human apathy and selfishness. His
"Kuangren riji" (Diary of a Madman) is one of the most skillfully written
short-stories I have ever read—through the diary of a "madman," Lu
questions who is truly mad, the story's protagonist who suffers from apparently
paranoid delusions, or the society he fears.
Shusaku Endo. This may be one of the best books I've ever read! It is about an
apostate priest in Japan, Christian martyrdom, and questions that every
Christian should ask him or herself. I'll say no more—read this book.
by Shusaku Endo. This also may be one of the best books I've ever read! Endo, a
Japanese Catholic, conjures questions that any Christian who is Asian, or has
lived extensively in Asia, inevitably asks—can Christianity really be
grafted onto Asian society, or does it become something entirely different.
Indeed, Endo asks an ever more powerful question—what is Christianity?
The Catholic Church and the Bible, by Peter Stravinskas. This is a small book, and
most of what is considers appears in other works. But, as a primer on the
historical foundations of the Bible and the Biblical foundations of the Mass,
this is an excellent book. I've read several other studies on scripture and
liturgy, and this is the best introduction today.
Jesus of Nazareth, by Pope Benedict XVI. I know, I'm a little behind; it
seems like everyone else has already read Jesus of Nazareth. As ever, B16 is brilliant, insightful, informative,
and transformative. This book is the Holy Father at his best – pointing
the way to God, to his son, and to life. Now I have to admit something –
I'm not quite finished with the book, but 2010 is not quite over as I write
this list. But, it's on my nightstand, and if you haven't started it yet
yourself, it should be on yours as soon as possible.
Fr. Thomas Crean, O.P. is a Dominican friar of the Priory of St. Michael the Archangel, Cambridge. He was educated at Oxford University
and took a licence in theology at the Toulouse, with the Dominicans there. He is the author of the widely praised book God Is No Delusion: A Refutation of Richard Dawkins and, most recently,
of The Mass and the Saints.
Smith and Hall's English-Latin dictionary. This could seem a strange choice, but it is an
invaluable aid for any Anglophone wishing to write Latin. It was written
in the 19th Century, and contains 754 pages in small type, three
columns per page, of translations into Latin of English words, phrases and
idioms. All that it lacks are words for things invented since 1870!
The Greatest Hoax on Earth?, by Jonathan Sarfati. A reply to Richard Dawkins' The
Greatest Show on Earth.
Catherine Harmon is the managing editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review
and Catholic World Report.
I am a chronic re-reader – there are
more than a couple books that I re-read at least every few years, and several
that I enjoy reading every year. But my New Year's resolution for 2010 was to
only read books I'd never read before. I was pretty faithful to this resolution
– I finally got to several books that had been in my mental "To Read"
queue for years.
I mean to continue my new-reads streak into 2011 – but
a couple old favorites will likely get read as well (how long can I really be
expected to go without Brideshead Revisited
or Kristin Lavransdatter, after
Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis I've been meaning to read this since college
at least – and I'm so glad I finally did! The earlier chapters of the
book, in which Lewis details his education, were particularly interesting to me
– how very different his notion of a well-rounded education is from what
passes for a good education today.
of Siena, by Sigrid Undset
Catherine of Siena is my favorite saint, and Undset is one of my favorite
authors, so how could I not love this book? Undset conveys Catherine's incredible
sanctity and searing insight, but you never feel like you're reading the back
of a holy card. Undset also introduces the reader to several of the more
colorful figures in the 14th-century Church – Bridget of
Sweden is one stand-out.
Postcard from the Volcano, by Lucy
Beckett This may be my favorite of the year, really. The story is engrossing
and the characters very compelling – this book had me in tears at multiple
points. While I was reading it, and a good two weeks later. Not that it is a
gloomy read – but Beckett's characters are so real you can't help but
care about them.
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, by Muriel Spark A good friend
has been urging me to read this for years. I finally did, and loved this dark,
quirky, hilarious book just as much as she thought I would. I also watched the classic 1969 movie, and
enjoyed it as well, although it glossed over several of the key themes of the
book and watered down many of the most interesting characters. But I won't be
able to read the book again without picturing Maggie Smith in the title role!
My Life in France, by Julia Child Like about a bazillion other 20-something
women, I saw the movie Julie
& Julia, and loved Meryl Streep's portrayal of Julia Child so much I
was inspired to read the great chef's memoir. A fun read, but not on an empty
Anna Karenina, by Leo Tolstoy I probably started this classic half a
dozen times over the last ten years, but never managed to get through it. I was
determined to finish it this time, even though it meant schlepping all 1,000
pages of it across the country this summer. It was absolutely worth it!
Home-Alone America, by Mary Eberstadt The always-interesting Mary
Eberstadt plunged head-first into the mommy wars with this 2004 book, subtitled
"The Hidden Toll of Day Care, Behavioral Drugs, and Other Parent Substitutes."
Eberstadt challenges for mothers, fathers, and policymakers on all sides of the
political spectrum to put aside self-interest and take a hard look at the
effects cultural trends in parenting and family life are having on the most
vulnerable in our society – the kids.
of the World, by Pope Benedict XVI
and Peter Seewald Another close contender for the single best book I read this
year. Thought-provoking, insightful, at times almost poetic, Pope Benedict
discusses with great candor many of the most critical issues and events
affecting the Church today. He also offers moving reflections on the Christian
life and how it can be lived in the 21st century. Oh yeah – in
one passage, about 200 words in length, he mentions condoms. But there's so
much more there.
Rev. Mr. James Keating, Ph.D., is Director of Theological Formation at the Institute
of Priestly Formation at Creighton University, Omaha. Before joining the staff of the IPF Deacon Keating taught
moral and spiritual theology for 13 years in the School of Theology at the
Pontifical College Josephinum in Ohio. He has given over 400 workshops,
retreats and days of reflection on the Catholic spiritual/moral life. In the
field of his professional research, the interpenetration of the spiritual and
moral life, Deacon Keating has authored or edited ten books and dozens of
essays for theological journals.
1. Ralph Martin, The Fulfillment of All Desire
2. Hans Boersma, Nouvelle Theologie and Sacramental
3. Hans Urs von Balthasar, Love Alone is Credible
4. Ruth Burrows, The Essence of Prayer
5. Marie-Dominique Phillipe, O.P., The Mystery of
6. Raymond Studzinski, O.S.B., Reading to Live: The
Evolving Practice of Lectio Divina
7 Peter John Cameron, O.P., Why Preach
8. Dietrich von Hildebrand, The Heart
9. Scott Hahn, Covenant and Communion
10. And my perennial favorite which I return to every year:
Hans Urs von Balthasar, Prayer
I cant help but mention Benedict XVI, Verbum Domini; it will change the way we study
scripture, at least for those who have ears to hear!
Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College.
The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press,
Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism,
God and Ronald Reagan, and the newly released Dupes:
How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, among others.
In truth, I mostly read old reports
and declassified documents from Soviet archives, KGB files, the Senate
Judiciary Committee, the House Committee on Un-American Activities, and several
fascinating declassified FBI files, especially on Frank Marshall Davis (Barack
Obama's mentor), Howard Zinn, and even Lucille Ball. That's my (unique) life.
That said, I did have time to read, or reread, or partially read, or continue
to read from the year before, a few more conventional books. Here you go:
George Weigel, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul
II—the Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy. This is George's sequel to Witness
to Hope. It's a gem of primary-source
material that only George Weigel can provide. Who else could cite "Interview
with John Paul II" in their footnotes?
George Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral. I finally read it cover to cover, using it in my
Major European Governments course at Grove City College. A very important book
on the rot in Europe. Demography is destiny.
Scott Hahn, Signs of Life. An indispensable survey of forty
things—from sacraments to sacramentals, and more—that every
thinking Catholic should know about the faith.
Donald Calloway, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy. I just started this book this
week. It won't take long to finish. A real page-turner, breathtakingly honest,
shocking but ultimately redeeming. This could be one of the most significant
conversion books by a layman-turned-religious since Thomas Merton's The
Seven Storey Mountain.
Donald DeMarco and Benjamin Wiker, Architects of the
Culture of Death. I
dipped into this remarkable work again this year, specifically for the chapters
on Ayn Rand and Margaret Sanger, which every American ought to read.
Thomas Merton, Life and Holiness. A brief 1962 book, which I found
tucked away at the church library. Profound insights. Merton at his best. It's
often said by many conservative Catholics that Merton beginning going off the
deep-end by the 1960s. Quite the contrary—read this book.
Teresa of Avila, The Interior Castle. A classic, with nothing more
that needs to be said. You read it a page at a time, a day or week at a time.
Francis De Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life. Likewise, a classic. I'm ashamed to admit I'm only
reading it now. Then again, I only came into the church in 2005. (That's my
George W. Bush, Decision Points. Better than a typical
presidential memoir. It's structured around 14 decision points that occurred
during Bush's presidency. It reminds me of Richard Nixon's first memoir, Six
Crises. If you want the inside story as to
why George Bush did what he did or responded as he did, from Iraq to Katrina to
the financial meltdown, read this book.
Thomas Paine, Common Sense. This book helped set in motion
the American Revolution. It's a gem on the American Founding, and very much
worth reading right now as the "progressives" advance their agenda in
Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson. A brilliant explication of free-market
thinking. It ought to be read aside the Church's economic teachings, especially
subsidiarity, or while consulting the website of the Acton Institute,
particularly the writings of Robert Sirico and Sam Gregg.
Milton Friedman, Capitalism and Freedom. A book that many decades ago
foresaw the communist collapse.
Click here for my recent review.
Karl Marx, Communist Manifesto. A short, awful, incredibly (and
tragically) influential book that every American should read and understand.
All one needs to do is actual read the Manifesto to see how and why communism killed so many people.
For my recent review, click here.
Laurence Rees, World War II Behind Closed Doors. A superb expose of the horrors
perpetrated by Stalin and the Soviets (especially in Poland) while they were
"allies" of the United States. I strongly encourage the video documentary
series that accompanies the book. It's chilling.
Peter Robinson, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life. This was written over a decade
ago. I re-read it this year for an event I did with Peter Robinson. It's a
moving, entertaining, uplifting book. The wise Catholic will discern in the
narrative Peter's instruction and ultimate conversion into the Catholic Church,
an underlying current in his presentation.
Lee Edwards, William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement and Jeremy Lott, William F. Buckley, are books I
reviewed for Catholic World Report and National Catholic Register; each addresses the neglected and misunderstood (but
deep) Catholic faith of William F. Buckley, Jr., conservative icon. The Catholic
World Report review has not been published yet. Click
here for The Register article.
Fr. David V. Meconi, S.J., is Professor of Patristic Theology at St. Louis University and
Editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review.
Here are the books, reads and re-reads, I most enjoyed in 2010:
The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century, by Alan Brinkley
The Betrothed, by Alessandro Manzoni (trans., Bruce Penman)
Kristin Lavransdatter (The Trilogy), by Sigrid Undset (trans., Tiina Nunnally)
The Comforters, by Muriel Spark
P.G. Wodehouse: A Life, by Robert McCrum
The Diary of a Country Priest, by Georges Bernanos (trans.,
Till We Have Faces, A Myth Retold, by C.S. Lewis
Why Mahler?: How One Man and Ten Symphonies Changed Our World, by Norman Lebrecht
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.
Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics and Devotion in
Medieval Europe. Ed.
Martina Bagnoli, et al. Yale UP, 2010. Beautiful catalog of an exhibit about to
open at the Walters Art Museum which gives extensive background on the
Catholic cult of saints and relics.
Benedict XVI, Light of the World: The Pope, the
Church, and the Signs of the Times. Ignatius, 2010. How does a former German academic manage
to communicate Truth so clearly and
John L. Brooke, The Refiner's Fire: The Making of
Mormon Cosmology, 1644-1844. Cambridge UP, 1994. A survey of the mystical/magical roots of Mormonism,
showing that that they are far, far odder than one might have supposed.
Ronald Hutton, Blood and Mistletoe: The History of the
Druids in Britain.
Yale UP, 2009. Historian Ronald Hutton demolishes fanciful ideas, establishing
that almost all information is wrong despite the neo-Druids' best efforts at
____.The Druids. Hambledon Continuum, 2007. A shorter, simplified
version of the above.
Douglas Charles Kane, Arda Reconstructed: The Creation
of the Published Silmarillion.
Lehigh UP, 2009. Forensic investigation of J.R.R. Tolkien's posthumous book,
analyzing the impact of Christopher Tolkien's editorial choices and additions.
The Ring and the Cross, ed. Paul E. Kerry. Fairleigh Dickinson UP, 2010.
Anthology of scholarly articles about Tolkien and religion.
Donald Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the
Imagination of C.S. Lewis.
Harvard UP, 2009. A quantum leap in Narnia studies, proposing that medieval
planetary lore frames each novel in the series.
___.The Narnia Code. Tyndale, 2010. Simplified version of the above for
a popular audience.
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert
The Secret of Kells
Toy Story 3
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Bad Day at Black Rock
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Quiet Man
Metropolis (the newly restored version)
Sherlock Holmes (Masterpiece Mystery series)
Lorraine V. Murray, Ph.D., Lorraine V. Murray's latest mystery is Death of a Liturgist, a wild romp through a
traditional parish that is hijacked by a liturgist who wants to get everyone
grooving on Sunday. Her other (more staid) books include The Abbess of
Andalusia, a biography of Flannery O'Connor, and Confessions of
an Ex-Feminist. Murray is a religion
columnist with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Georgia Bulletin. She lives in Decatur,
Georgia, with her husband, Jef, and a hamster named Ignatius. Her web site is www.lorrainevmurray.com.
I know this sounds strange,
but there are some books I wish were made of chocolate, so I could devour
them—and then truly digest their wisdom. Search for Inner Peace by Jacques Philippe is one of these. No
matter how often I read about worrying and its tendency to wreak havoc with the
soul, this habit stalks me mercilessly and tends to get the upper hand.
fretting in spiritual perspective, and suggests down-home ways to conquer it.
The book serves as an appealing appetizer for another wonderful work by the
same author, Interior Freedom.
Another of my favorite books is tattered and torn from so many readings. It is
Walker Percy's The Moviegoer,
which always amuses and astonishes me. This is a truly Catholic novel, although
many readers might miss the Christ-centered message, as they did with Flannery
O'Connor's works. Binx and Kate, each wounded in their own way, seem to be an
unlikely couple until it becomes clear that their love for each other
ultimately will redeem them. There is also the unforgettable, albeit minor,
character of Lonnie Smith, a severely handicapped boy who possesses a fierce
and beautiful faith in the power of the Eucharist.
A dear friend, a
priest, gave me Confidence in God, a
rather unobtrusive, bright yellow pamphlet bearing the subtitle "Words of
Encouragement." The book weaves together quotes from the letters and retreat
notes of Father John Considine, an English Jesuit who died in 1928. These
moving meditations provide a sumptuous feast for readers who battle
melancholia, which sometimes results from a childhood image of God as an angry,
dart-throwing giant in the sky. "If God has ever shown me any love, he must
love me still" is one quote I've underlined. And here's another delectable
morsel of wisdom: "Don't waste time being discouraged. Get up and go to God."
The last book on my list, The Hidden Power of Kindness, truly satisfies my soul's hunger.
Although most folks, myself included, cherish an image of themselves as
inherently kind, let's face facts: It can be all too easy to fall prey to
horrible habits, which may include acting cruelly to people we claim to love.
If you've ever suspected that you might be falling short in the "love your
neighbor as yourself" department – and who hasn't? – I highly recommend
this book, which explores in delicious detail every aspect of kindness,
including the ways it shapes our attitudes, our words, and our actions.
Part One | Part Three
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