"The Best Books I Read in 2010..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Friends | January 1,
2011 | Ignatius Insight
"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 PŠrt, 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.
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.
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, Sophia House, and Island
of the World: A Novel. His most recent work is
Theophilos: 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 Ignatius Insight author
page for a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.
The Octave of All Souls, by Robert Eady, a wise and ironic novel set in small town
Canada, narrated by an 80-year-old women who during each octave of the feast of
All Souls prays for those who have died during the previous year--the good, the
bad, and the ugly, and everyone in between. Her candid reminiscences are at
times hilarious, and reveal the hidden greatness of an "ordinary" soul who is
insignificant in the world's eyes. Imagine Flannery O'Connor goes north. Though
not quite as dark, not quite as stark, Eady always gives us radical honesty
about our fallen human condition in its many manifestations.
The Well of English by Blanche Mary Kelly, and The Sudden Rose: an
Essay on the Unity of Art by
the same author. These two insightful books, first published in the 1930's, are
priceless. Out of print now, they can still be found from time to time through
used-book searches. I would place them on par with Etienne Gilson's Painting
and Reality and Jacques Maritain's Creative
Intuition in Art and Poetry. No, wait, Kelly
has a quality distinct from the philosophers; she expresses ideas in a style
that incarnates her themes.
Faith of the Fatherless, by Paul C. Vitz. The reknowned psychologist examines the
role of the absent father in the lives of major influential atheists in our
times, and also the role of indifferent or abusive fathers in the lives of
other atheists and agnostics who have played roles in reshaping contemporary
culture. As Vitz warns that we have become "a nation of practical atheists", he
also probes the causes and remedies—most especially the rediscovery of
Avatar at Night, by Tal Brooke, a completely engrossing spiritual odyssey, the account of
Brooke's personal quest for "enlightenment," embodying a generation's spiritual
lostness, the search into the mysterious East with its beguiling symbology and
sometimes paranormal manifestations. Highly readable, compassionate, radically
honest, witty, it offers a stark portrayal of the ways human consciousness can
be deceived by mystical phenomena. This is a very important book for several
reasons, not least of which is the exposure of the deceptions and corruption at
the heart of the Indian avatar Sai Baba, who calls himself God. The enormous
world-wide personality cult surrounding him surely needed unmasking. However,
the book is a crucial study on other levels. In the end it witnesses to Jesus
Christ's victory over the "powers and principalities" of darkness—a
darkness that masquerades as light. It is a warning about how vulnerable we are
to manipulation, a warning also about the times we live in, with its
proliferating false messiahs.
The End of Time,
by Josef Pieper. The ever-lucid Pieper offers meditations on the philosophy of
history, including such subjects as Kant and the idea of progress, optimism and
pessimism, nihilism, the survival of man, and the correct understanding of the
Anti-Christ. An excellent companion piece to Josef Pieper: An
Anthology (both from
The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. The
title says it all. I hasten to add that this is a highly intelligent,
beautifully written analysis of the e-cultural revolution that is affecting
nearly everyone, not just in the content of our minds, but in the very structure
and function of our mind/brain processes. The author's arguments are fully
backed up by copious references to scientific and sociological studies. One of
the most crucial books I've read since...well, since I first learned to read.
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, three children, two cats, and some books and CDs.
I'll quickly note, at the start, a few
Ignatius Press books that I read (or re-read) this year, and benefited from
very much, in differing ways. Looking For the King: An Inklings
Novel (2010) by
David C. Downing was a delightful escape into the world of C. S. Lewis and
company. Light of the World (2010), the now rather famous book-long interview by Peter
Seewald of Pope Benedict XVI, is filled with wisdom, intelligence, holiness,
and a few surprises. Leisure: The Basis of Culture (orig. 1952; 2009), by Josef
Pieper, is a book that I'll return to often, a challenging reminder of the
nature of authentic culture. Credo: Meditations on the Apostles'
Creed (2000), by
Hans Urs von Balthasar is an excellent introduction to both von Balthasar and
the basics of the Catholic Faith. In Soft Garments: Classic
(orig. 1942; 2010), by Monsignor Ronald Knox is a master class in both
apologetics and essay writing.
I help lead a monthly men's theological reading group, and
once again we made our way through several outstanding books. One of them was Holy
People, Holy Land: A Theological Introduction to the Bible, by Dr. Matthew Levering and Dr.
Michael Dauphinais; (Brazos Press, 2005), which I highly recommend for anyone
seeking an accessible, theologically rich overview of Scripture and salvation
history. Another was Fr. James V. Schall's recent collection of essays, The
Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008), which is marked by
Schall's usual insight, wisdom, and great breadth of learning. In recognition
of the beatification of John Henry Newman, we also read Apologia
Pro Vita Sua (1864),
which is surprisingly personal and (not so surprisingly) absolutely brilliant.
Shame on me for not having read it sooner!
Three politically-oriented books that caught and held my
attention were Dupes: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated
Progressives for Centuries (ISI, 2010), by Paul Kengor; The Character of Nations:
How Politics Makes and Breaks Prosperity, Family, and Civility (Basic Books, 2009), by Angelo M.
Codevilla; and Soft Despotism, Democracy's Drift: Montesquieu,
Rousseau, Tocqueville, and the Modern Prospect (Yale University Press, 2009), by Paul A. Rahe. All
three are impressively researched and argued; all are bursting with examples of
the power of ideas—good, bad, and ugly—put into action, and how the
idea of power (and the desire for it) drive politicians, ideologues, and
intellectuals, all too often toward the wrong ends and with bad consequences
along the way. Along those same lines, I greatly enjoyed the collection, Steps
Toward Restoration: The Consequences of Richard Weaver's Ideas (ISI, 1998), edited by Ted J.
Smith III, which brought an even deeper appreciation for the thought of Weaver,
whose writings I've long admired.
The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual
Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis (ISI, 2010), by Robert R. Reilly, is an essential
guide to making a sober assessment of the serious
difficulties still be faced when it comes to Islam.
On a lighter note, The Wine Trials 2011 (Fearless Critic, 2010), edited
by Robin Goldstein, Alexis Herschkowitsch, and Tyce Walters, was an
entertaining and educational polemic (yes, a wine polemic!), fresh from the
vine, that alerted me to a number of fine wines under $15 a bottle. Some of
that wine, in turn, was my companion in enjoying one of the best books on jazz
I've yet read, The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to the 21st
Hill Book, 2009; Seventh ed.), by Joachim-Ernt Berendt and GŸnther Huesmann
(translated by Jeb Bishop), an impressively thorough, balanced, and thoughtful
book that is a must have for anyone who loves jazz.
One more work of fiction: Heartstone: Shardlake Goes
to War (Mantle,
2010), by C. J. Sansom, is the fifth book in the Shardlake mysteries, set in
England during the 1530s and 40s. A very good mystery, this is also a superior
historical novel as well as a good study of English religion and culture during
a bloody and trying era.
Catholic Controversies: Understanding Church Teachings
and Events in History
(Moorings Press, 2010), edited by Stephen Gabriel, is a rich collection of
apologetic essays, including pieces by Stephen M. Barr, Mark Lowery, Thomas
Madden, James Hitchcock, Fr. John Hardon, Mark Shea, J. Budziszewski, Avery
Cardinal Dulles, and many others—including one essay by yours truly (but
don't let that keep you from reading the book!).
Finally, while the excellent Light of the World generated the most press and controversy, I have to
say that my favorite papal work this year is Verbum Domini, the Holy Father's apostolic
exhortation on the Word of God in the life and mission of the Church. For more
of my thoughts on this exceptional document, see my essay, "A Symphony of the
Word" on Ignatius Insight.
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
Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the
Plays. 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.
Looking for the King by David Downing (Ignatius Press, 2010) and Death of a
Liturgist by Lorraine V.
Murray (Saint Benedict Press, 2010) were the two most enjoyable new works of
fiction that I've read in the past year. The former is a masterfully told
mystery story, which weaves in and out of the world of Tolkien, Lewis and the
Inklings; it's a must-read for all lovers of Tolkien and Lewis, and for all
lovers of well-written and well-woven thrillers. The latter is a simply
delightful satire, masquerading as a murder mystery, on the nonsensical world
of liturgical modernism.
Apologetics for the Twenty-First Century by Louis Markos (Crossway, 2010) and More
Christianity: Finding the Fullness of the Faith by Fr. Dwight Longenecker (Ignatius Press, 2010) are
the two most dynamically engaging works of apologetics that I've read recently.
The former engages with the wit and wisdom of Chesterton and Lewis to shed
light on the challenges faced by Christianity in our secular fundamentalist
age. The latter takes Lewis's Mere Christianity as its starting point but leads the reader to the
"more Christianity" to be found in the Catholic Church. Father
Longenecker writes with a sublime simplicity that is simply sublime.
The highlight of the year, for me, was the Beatification of John Henry Newman
by the Holy Father in September. In commemoration of this momentous event, Ignatius
Press published Blessed John Henry Newman: Theologian and
Spiritual Guide for Our Times by Keith Beaumont (Ignatius Press, 2010) and The
Heart of Newman, a selection of Newman's
writings edited by (Ignatius Press, 2010). Taken together, these two volumes
should be in every Catholic's library. The first serves as the perfect
introduction to Newman's life and work, the second is an excellent synthesis of
some of his finest writing.
In last year's selection of my favourite books I mentioned Roads
to Rome by John
Beaumont (St. Augustine's Press, 2010), a book for which I had written the
preface but which had not yet been published. It is now available from St.
Augustine's Press. I cannot recommend this particular book highly enough. It's
a meticulously researched compendium of hundreds of prominent English Catholic
converts stretching right back to the Reformation. As a reference work, Roads
to Rome is indispensable for anyone wishing
a deeper knowledge of the history of the Catholic resistance and revival in
An entirely different sort of Roman road is the subject of Roads
and Ruins: The Symbolic Landscape of Fascist Rome by Paul Baxa (University of
Toronto Press, 2010). This intriguing and fascinating work demonstrates how the
fascist ideology radically changed the historic landscape of the Eternal City.
My final choice is Christianity and Literature: Philosophical
Foundations and Critical Practice by David Lyle Jeffrey & Gregory P. Maillet (IVP
Academic, 2011), a work which I've read in manuscript but which will not be
published until the spring. It's a penetrating and panoramic engagement with
the great works of western literature from the salient and sapient perspective
of two fine Christian literary critics.
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, including Annulments and the Catholic Church: Straight Answers to Tough Questions and
Excommunication and the Catholic Church: Straight Answers to Tough Questions (both from Ascension Press), and is the translator of the English
edition of The
1917 Pio Benedictine Code of Canon Law.
His canon law website can be found at www.canonlaw.info.
Benedict XVI,Light of the World (2010)
Brian Ferme, History of Sources of Canon Law (2007)
John Ray, The Rosetta Stone (2007)
Raymond Arroyo, Mother Angelica (2005)
Joseph Koterski, "Natural Law" (Teaching Co, 2002)
Joseph Ratzinger, Called to Communion (1996)
Peter Jugis, Analysis of humano modo in Can. 1061 (1992)
Jacob Neusner, Invitation to the Talmud (1973)
John Merryman, The Civil Law Tradition (1969)
Pietro Gasparri, Catechismus pro adultis (1931)
Tracey Rowland, Dean of the John Paul
II Institute for Marriage and Family in Melbourne, Australia, author of Culture
and the Thomist Tradition: after Vatican II (Routledge: London,
2003), Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI (Oxford University Press, 2008), Benedict
XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (T & T Clark: London, 2010), Patron of the Australian Catholic Students Association,
part-time cat butler, and wife of Stuart Rowland.
How the West was Lost by Alexander Boot (I.B. Tauris: London, 2006). Boot is a
Russian ŽmigrŽ who divides his time between London and Burgundy. How
the West was Lost offers a social and
intellectual history of the successive defeats of Catholics in the culture wars
since the 16th century. Boot uses the labels Modman Nihilist,
Modman Philistine and Westman to describe the protagonists. His main point is
that Modman Nihilist and Modman Philistine work together to defeat Westman.
They couldn't do it own their own. The nihilist needs the philistine, the
philistine needs the nihilist.
I Drink, Therefore I am: A Philosopher's Guide to Wine (Continuum: London, 2009) by Roger Scruton. Scruton
is definitely a Westman by Boot's standards. If you have ever been to a
restaurant where different foods are paired with particular wines, then you
will understand the format of this book. Instead of pairing food with wine, it
pairs philosophers with wines. Two philosophers however, for whom Scruton
could find no wine, were Karl Rahner (more commonly classed as a theologian)
and his teacher, Martin Heidegger. Scruton remarked that the only writers that
are more reliably obscure than Rahner are those who set out to explain what
Rahner says. Scruton's advice is, 'don't go there: life is too short'.
Street Saints: Renewing America's Cities by Barbara J. Elliott (Templeton Foundation Press, 2004).
This book is a great antidote to the kind of despair that can overwhelm Westman
when he feels completely out-numbered by Modman Nihilist and Modman Philistine.
The title of the book comes from chapter 58 of the Book of Isaiah: Your people
will rebuild the ancients ruins/And will raise up the age-old foundations/You
will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
The sections on Henri Nouwen and Mother Teresa towards the end of the book were
The Theology of Benedict XVI: The Christocentric Shift (Macmillan, 2010) by Emery de
Ga‡l. Father Emery de Ga‡l's work is indispensable for anyone who wishes to
understand the Christocentric shift in the papacies of John Paul II and
Benedict XVI and in contemporary theological anthropology generally. It
is the deepest analysis of the topic currently available and one of the many
good things that has come out of Cardinal George's Mundelein stable.
The Pope and Jesus of Nazareth edited by Adrian Pabst and Angus Paddison (Veritas,
2009). This is a collection of fifteen scholarly essays on Pope Benedict's Jesus
of Nazareth. They represent a wide variety
of theological positions. Even the ones that are not by members of the BXVI fan
club are fun to read.
The Theology of Hugh of St. Victor: An Interpretation by Boyd Taylor Coolman (Cambridge
University Press, 2010). Until I read this book the Victorines were a
fascinating species of medieval monk whose works I knew to be important but I
hadn't really found my way into them. This was a great introduction and a
really beautifully written book. My favourite section was on memory practices
and the significance of the liberal arts for memory and biblical exegesis.
Diotima's Children: German Aesthetic Rationalism from Leibniz to
Lessing by Frederick C.
Beiser (Oxford University Press, 2009). Beiser is just brilliant in the field
of early modern German intellectual history. In this work he explicitly
rejects the idea that anything, even soup cans and urinals, can be classified
as art. He wants to re-establish the 'intimate connection between beauty,
truth and goodness, the necessity of rules, the importance of taste, and the
cognitive dimension of aesthetic experience'. The central thesis of his book
is that we need to recover the aesthetic tradition before Kant.
The Political Problem of Religious Pluralism: and Why Philosophers
Can't Solve It, by
Thaddeus Kozinski. (Lexington: 2010). Kozinski's book offers the best
juxtaposition of the ideas of Rawls, MacIntyre and Maritain I have read. It
carries a foreword by the irrepressible James V Schall SJ.
Faith and Reason: From Hermes to Benedict XVI (Leominster: Gracewing, 2009) by
Aidan Nichols OP. This book offers a bird's eye view of the different ways in
which the faith-reason relationship has been construed in Catholic scholarship
over the past couple of centuries. Nichols concludes that Benedict XVI seems
to desire to unite 'philosophy and theology in a single, internally
differentiated but also internally cohesive, intellectual act'. What one finds
in Benedict's many publications is a 'convergence of the mainly philosophical
disclosure of logos with the chiefly theological revelation of love'. 'Love and
Reason', he writes, are the 'twin pillars' of reality. This in turn gives rise
to a theological anthropology which pays equal attention to the head and the
heart, to objectivity and affectivity. Conversely, Nichols summarises the
Christianity of the Hermesians (Catholic Kantians) as 'morally serious and
dialectically engaged', 'distanced from popular piety, sceptical of liturgical
richness' and 'filled with a Kantian sense of duty'. He suggests that it could
be considered as 'the ecclesial version of the ethos of the Prussian state
official'. This book should be read alongside John Milbank's essay: 'The New
Divide: Classical versus Romantic Orthodoxy' (Modern Theology January 2010).
Newman and his Contemporaries by Edward Short (London: Continuum,
2010). Newman and His Contemporaries is
hot off the press from Continuum. It reads like a Victorian Dance to
the Music of Time, except the characters
are all real historical figures. Anyone interested in Newman or, more
generally, Victorian Catholic England, will love it.
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), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007),
and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008).
His most recent book from Ignatius Press is
The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age,
is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his
Several books that I read last
year particularly moved me. One was Christopher Morley's 1918 The
Haunted Book Shop,
which is really a detective story but has such insight into books and
especially, a favorite topic, used bookstores. Its companion volume, Parnassus
on Wheels, is
especially charming. I owe these books to Monica See who thought that I needed
something to distract me during recovery. She also sent me William Saroyan's
novel The Human Comedy which I quite liked also.
Robert Reilly's Closing of the Muslim Mind, is a most necessary read for
The book that was most moving to me was George Weigel's second volume on John
Paul II, The End and the Beginning. I did a long comment on it, "The Greatest of
Men" at Ignatius Insight. This book was given to me by Anne and Bill
Burleigh just in time for a stay in the hospital which gave me time to read it.
I also liked very much Robert Spitzer's New Proofs for the
Existence of God. It is
a demanding read, but well worth it. A young teacher at one of the local high
schools who is interested in fairy tales sent me George Macdonald's The
which I quite enjoyed. Professor David Walsh at Catholic University gave me his
Irish mother's book of charming short stories, Chance Encounters:
Short Stories & Poems by
Another student gave me Charles Schulz's My Life with Charlie Brown, which is a collection of talks
and writings of Schulz on his most famous characters. Mary Keys' book, Aquinas,
Aristotle, and the Promise of the Common Good, was quite enlightening. Still another student found
somewhere a 1915 John Lane edition of Poems by Chesterton, a book I have only
begun to look at. And finally I should like to mention Aidan Nichols' wonderful
book, G. K. Chesterton, Theologian, and Tracey Rowland's Benedict XVI: A Guide for
the Perplexed, both of
these books are worth considerable attention.
Russell Shaw is the author and co-author of numerous books,
including Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the
Catholic Church, and is the former information director of the National Conference of
Catholic Bishops/United States Catholic Conference and Knights of Columbus. He is also a member of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre
of Jerusalem, the father of five and the grandfather of nine.
Picking out the best of the best is easy for me this year. It
was Tolstoy's magnificent novel Anna Karenina, which I found to be simply the
most honest, compelling, and in its own way uplifting examination of
the man-woman relationship in all its mysterious complexity that I've ever
Other books--very different--that I enjoyed included Cardinal
Francis George's The Difference God Makes, America's Bishop (about Fulton Sheen) by Thomas
C. Reeves, and Henry Morton Robinson's 1950 bestseller The Cardinal, which provides a fascinating
look into aspirations, anxieties, and self-image of American Catholics in the
middle years of the last century. How times have changed!
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, The End of Irish Catholicism?
The Pope's interview with Peter Seewald, Light of the World (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010) tops my
list of best books read in 2010. Like his previous two interview-books with the then-Cardinal Ratzinger, Seewald shows
his skill as a superb journalist by the way he gets the Pope to discuss in some depth many of the controversial issues
affecting Church and society. In addition, Seewald coaxes from his interviewee various insights into the Pope's personal
life, which reveal the real man I've had the privilege to knowing for some forty years. Reading the book reminded me of
the relaxed and stimulating colloquia and seminars our former professor held with us, his doctoral and postdoctoral
students, when he would enter into a discussion with great openness to the opinions of others and then lead the
discussion to a yet higher level, always seeking the truth, always attempting to be fair to the opinions of others.
Every intervention of his was noted for its clarity, its depth and its eloquence. The same applies to every page of this
book that is so easy to read and has a superb forward by George Weigel.
Lucy Beckett's second novel, A Postcard from the Volcano. A Novel of Pre-War Germany (San Francisco:
Ignatius Press, 2009), is quite an extraordinary achievement. Starting with the outbreak of World War I and ending on
the eve of World War II, this beautifully crafted and finely written novel has as its central character a young German
aristocrat, who comes alive in the pages. No only does the author give us a real insight into the coming of age and
young manhood of Max von Hoffmanswaldau and into the various characters sucked into the maelstrom of war-ravaged Eastern
Europe, she also explores the complex philosophical, theological and political questions that paved the way for the
holocaust. At times, her dialogues on philosophical and theological questions are almost Platonic in their form. Her
insights into the souls of the characters and their spiritual struggles are invariably very moving. My only reservation
concerns the ending, which at times seems to be marked by an undeservedly negative impression (common in the Anglo-Saxon
world) of the attitude of the Catholic Church in Germany to the rise of Nazism.
While in Berlin doing supply work in a parish there, some friends gave me a present of a book of memoirs, Beim
Namen gerufen. Erinnerungen (Munich: Ultstein, 2000, 6th impression), by Baroness Elisabeth zu Guttenberg, a
relative of the leaders of the German resistance to Hitler, most of whom (including her brother-in-law) were executed by
the Nazis after the failed coup in July 20th, 1944. It was originally written (in English) at the request of the
American officers who camped in their castle in Bavaria during the occupation. This is an expanded German version,
which, regretfully, is no longer in print. It deserves reprinting. This is a unique perspective on Nazi Germany and on
the rebuilding of Germany after the War, by someone who played a not insignifcant role in both. The German resistance to
Nazism gets little attention. It deserves more. The author tells her own story with frankness and devoid of all
sentimentality. A convert, her faith was her mainstay as it was for her relatives, the Guttenbergs and Stauffenbergs.
Theirs is a story of lived faith and heroic courage.
Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P., writes so many outstanding books that it is difficult to keep up with him. Two recent works I
should like to mention: The Realm. An Unfashionable Essay on the Conversion of England (Oxford: Family
Publications, 2008) and G.K. Chesterton. Theologian (Manchester, NH, 2009). The first is a wide-ranging
discussion on such diverse topics as "culture and civilization, history and literature, ethics and philosophy, and even
politics and economics" (to quote from the Preface). In his discussion he proposes Catholic Christianity, as it puts it,
as "a form for the public life of society in its overall integrity". Its relevance is not limited to England. I used the
"unfashionable essay" as a discussion text for a circle of young Irish clerics and laity, who found much in the book to
inspire us in our concern about the conversion of Ireland. His book on Chesterton, apart for providing a most wonderful
selection of quotable quotes, highlights the significance of Chesterton as a theologian in his own right.
Within the field of moral philosophy, the most simulating book I read was Animal Rights and Wrongs, Third
Edition (London: Metro Book in association with Demos, 2000) by the English, secular philosopher Roger Scruton.
The author's own affection for, and understanding of, the animal world shines through this thoughtful essay on the close
relationship between man and the animals that does justice to the precise nature of the radical difference between them.
But the book's title does not do justice to its content, which, among other things, is illuminating about the role of
sentiment/intelligent emotion/the passions in the moral life. Exploring this, the "animal" side of our humanity, the
author make a major contribution to our understanding of virtue ethics.
I should like to mention very briefly two books by the eminent American moral theologian, William E. May,
Marriage. The Rock on Which the Family is Built, Second Edition (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2009) and
Theology of the Body in Context. Genesis and Growth (Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2010). At a time
when the traditional family based on marriage is under attack throughout the Western World, May uses reason and
revelation to show how marriage is foundational for the family, for the authentic formation children and for the well
being of society. This edition contains two new chapters (on the theology of the body and Pope Benedict's teaching on
marriage), which enrich the original book. In his second volume, May develops in greater detail John Paul II's
inspirational theology of the body with great clarity and understanding. What is so impressive is the way May has
incorporated a more spiritual dimension to his already rich, developed moral theology.
I almost forgot to mention one of the most extraordinary books I have ever read: Danube by Claudio Magris,
translated from the Italian by Patrick Creagh (London: The Harvill Press, 2001). Magris is Professor of Modern German
Literature at the University of Trieste since 1978. In this book, Magris traces the River Danube from its (disputed)
source (or sources) in the Black Forest to its estuary in the Black Sea in order to explore the historical events,
personalities, and culture that make up central Europe, most of which is unknown to Western readers. The erudition of
the author is immense, his powers of observation astute, while his judgement on the peoples, cities and nations that
crowd around the basin of this majestic river can at times be disturbing. It all makes for a fascinating read. It is a
major contribution to what nineteen-century educated Germans called "Bildung"--that broad and accurate insight into
history and culture in all its manifestations which they expected the educated person should have. What a rare
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.
Scholasticism and Politics, by Jacques Maritain. An erudite discussion on the
nature of democracies that exist without legitimate authority. Maritain
thankfully pointed out that American democracy, in contrast to those on the
continent, was more influenced by Locke than by Rousseau.
Saint Thomas Aquinas, by G. K. Chesterton. Chesterton's examination of
what Aquinas had to argue against, contained in the teachings of Siger of
Brabant, is as illuminating now as it was then. The temptation to believe
in the possibility of multiple truths inevitably leads to via untruth to no
truth at all, as Aquinas keenly perceived.
The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown, by G. K. Chesterton. In
"The Eye of Apollo," Chesterton's sleuth-priest timelessly assessed
of pagan stoics that they "always fail with their strength."
Few truer conclusions based on human nature were ever established.
The Declaration of Independence, by Thomas Jefferson. This is read in class
every semester. Much confusion in American political theory arises when
one does not carefully read Jefferson's first few paragraphs in which he
establishes where rights come from, how these unalienable rights build on each
other, and what government's proper role regarding these rights should be.
Previous Editions of "The Best Books I Read...":
"The Best Books I Read in 2009..."
"The Best Books I Read in 2008..."
"The Best Books I Read in 2007..."
"The Best Books I Read in 2006..."
"The Best Books I Read in 2005..."
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