"The Best Books I Read in 2011..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Friends | January 3, 2012 | Ignatius Insight"The Best Books I Read in 2011..." | Ignatius Press Authors, Editors, and Friends | January 3, 2012

http://www.ignatiusinsight.com/features2012/bestbooks1_2011_jan2012.asp

Another year, another tantalizing list of good and great books noted and recommended in this seventh edition of "Best Books I Read..." As usual, 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?" No limit was set on the number of books, and commentary was optional.



Dale 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. Chesterton.

G.K. Chesterton: A Biography by Ian Ker. The world's greatest Newman scholar argues that Chesterton is the spiritual and intellectual heir to Blessed John Henry Newman. Need I say more?
 
Toward the Gleam by T.M Doran and Looking for the King by David C. Downing. Two entertaining novels that have the Inklings as major characters. It's especially fun to compare the two.
 
CBGB Was My High School by G.K. Stritch. Who needs another coming of age memoir? Especially about girl involved in the New York club scene of the 1980's? In spite of the subject holding absolutely no interest for me, I found the book utterly compelling.
 
Banvard's Folly: Thirteen Tales of Renowned Obscurity, Famous Anonymity, and Rotten Luck by Paul Collins. John Banvard was the most famous artist of his day, and you've never heard of him. And don't forget the fame of Delia Bacon and Martin Tupper. Well, apparently you have! Fascinating book.
 
Coincidentally by George Rutler. Fr. Rutler has the driest wit on the planet and perhaps the most encyclopedic brain, and you would think that rubbing the two together would make an unpleasant scratching sound, but instead all I could do was laugh till I felt quite helpless. Consider the following: "As St. Petersburg is the Liverpool of Russia, it is intriguing to learn from philology that the local Liverpudlian accent pronounces 'hair and heir' and 'hairpieces and herpes' the same."  Every sentence in the book is like that.
 
St. Albert the Great by Kevin Vost. First biography of Albertus Magnus written in over 60 years. Did you know that he determined that earth was spherical and predicted that there was a great land mass west of Europe? Nothing compares to his accomplishments as a scientist, philosopher, theologian, preacher, and most importantly, teacher (he had a novice named Thomas Aquinas).
 
I have almost finished— but not quite—Boswell's Life of JohnsonBut I can see why it is the sort of book one can continue to read and re-read over the course of a lifetime, and maybe never finish because one does not want it to finish.
 
Oh, and I read some G.K. Chesterton. I discovered over 65 uncollected essays in London this summer, and I took in the new volume of Illustrated London News Essays (1932-34), and re-read St. Thomas Aquinas, The Ballad of the White Horse, Chesterton on Shakespeare and The Apostle and the Wild Ducks (which contains the line, "To judge Italy by the Leaning Tower of Pisa, is like judging the human race by the bearded woman at the fair.")



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.

The best new theological book I have read this year is Julian of Norwich, Theologian by Denys Turner (2011), a wonderful explanation of the profound theological thinking of a 14th-century anchoress who could not read Latin and was barely educated, but who reflected long and fruitfully on what she had seen, both as visions and intellectually, of the central truths of Christianity.
 
For anyone who would like to make a start on reading Hans Urs von Balthasar but is daunted by the huge extent of his work, Fr Aidan Nichols's A Key to Balthasar (2011) is exactly what its title says. Decades of familiarity with a very great theologian, and his own wisdom and lightness of touch make this a seriously helpful guide, for those who have studied Balthasar as well as for those who have not yet begun.
 
Story of a Secret State: My Report to the World by Jan Karski (2011) was published in 1944, then disappeared from view and has now been republished in a new translation by Sandra Smith. Karski was a young Polish lawyer and diplomat, a devout Catholic, who became a key figure in the Polish Underground during World War II. He was captured by the invading Russians in 1939, and later captured and tortured by the Gestapo. His detailed description of the highly organised "secret state" the Poles prepared for a civilised democratic future after the war is both inspiring and tragic, because this future was betrayed by the US and the UK to the Soviet Union as the war ended. Even more inspiring and even more tragic is his account of visits he made to the Warsaw Ghetto and to Treblinka when the Holocaust was in ghastly progress. Karski, with many dangerous adventures on the way, came to the west to report on Nazi treatment of the Jews. He met President Roosevelt and the British Foreign Secretary, with no result. He died a US citizen and professor, and was eventually acknowledged as a hero by both post-Communist Poland and Israel. A terrific book.
 
Tony Judt, a historian of tremendous breadth, intelligence and independence of mind, grew up in London, taught in Cambridge, Oxford and Berkeley, founded the Remarque Institute in New York University and died in New York in the summer of 2010, after months of total paralysis from a particularly cruel form of motor neurone disease. His last book, The Memory Chalet (2010), published after his death, was written, somehow, with courage and resourcefulness hard to imagine, during his illness. It is a series of essays about his own life and times, beautifully written, warm, acute and interesting on every page.
 
The great novel of the year, for me, has been Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman (in an excellent English translation by Robert Chandler 1985), written in Soviet Russia in the 1950s. The KGB thought they had destroyed the manuscript and all traces of it in the 1960s, but one copy survived. It is a panoramic story, with a huge cast of characters, of the war between Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany, centred on the battle of Stalingrad. Grossman, as a journalist on the front line, had seen it all for himself. Into scenes of terrible brutality and destruction are woven the heroism, generosity and goodness of many individual lives, and also the increasingly evident parallels between the two totalitarian ideologies locked in mortal conflict. It is the only novel I have read which thoroughly deserves to be compared with War and Peace, and it has none of Tolstoy's heavy theorising about history.



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).

2011 proved one of my best reading years, frankly, in a long time. In fact, I don't remember being able to enjoy and savor as many books since my first few years in graduate school. Amazingly enough, I didn't read a clunker throughout the year! That's got to be a first in my forty-four years of existence. As Carl dangerously gave us no limits, here I go.
 
William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1959). This book has sat next to my bed for a little over twenty years. The beds have changed, the nightstands have changed, and the locations of the beds the nightstands have changed, but this book sitting next to it has not. It's massive and a bit daunting. When my sabbatical began this August, I decided to take the plunge. Without question, this was the best book I read in 2011. At the risk of being hyperbolic in my very Birzer way, I can state that I think it one of the greatest books I've encountered. For some reason it has gained the reputation of being superficial. That would be the very last word I would ascribe to it. It's majestic in its art, astounding in its reach, and sobering in its message. For all intents and purposes, though it deals only with roughly twelve years of German history, it might as well have been a microcosm for the entirety of the 20th century. Toward the end of this massive book, Shirer very well described his theme, paraphrasing Lord Acton when he wrote: Hitler was "a power-drunk tyrant whom absolute power had corrupted absolutely and destroyed." Never afraid to voice his own views, Shirer fully blames the German people for supporting Hitler by commission and omission in nearly every way. Only when the Nazis tried to take over the film industry in the 1930s did the German people protest. Otherwise, they supported Hitler beyond comprehension until his very last days and his marriage in the Berlin bunker. In Rise and Fall, Shirer demonstrates the horrors of the Holocaust, while also noting the very few Germans—a few academics such as economist and philosopher Wilhelm Roepke and a few religious leaders (almost equally Catholic and Lutheran)—who opposed the Nazis and generally paid with their own lives. I came away from the book convinced that Count Von Stauffenberg should, at the very least, be considered for canonization, though his priest refused to give him absolution in the confessional as he'd not yet set the bomb off to kill Hitler! Whether his priest was an orthodox Thomist or a more radical Suarezite probably played a role in his views on tyrannicide. I cannot praise this book enough, and now that I've conquered the book, I'll try to write a longish review of it in 2012.
 
James R. Otteson, Adam Smith (Continuum: New York, 2011). Already recognized as a (though, the to my mind) leading scholar of the Scottish Enlightenment and classical liberal philosophy, Otteson has produced a small but packed book on the life and thought of this most important moral philosopher and economist, Adam Smith. In particular, Otteson demonstrates that The Theory of Moral Sentiments had to come before his more famous Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Far from being the mindless Social Darwinist his opponents would one day paint him as, Smith appears in the more than able hands of Otteson as a very broadminded and deep-thinking scholar, a man concerned with the most fundamental and important of questions. A meticulous scholar himself, Otteson is one of the most impressive persons I know, and I've known him since we first sat together in Intensive German our freshman year at Notre Dame, 1986. Just as Smith was both philosopher and economist, Otteson holds a double appointment—as a full professor in the philosophy as well as the economic departments—at Yeshiva University in New York.
 
Tom Wolfe, I am Charlotte Simmons. While I've read many of Wolfe's non-fiction books, I'd never read one of his novels before. As with The Rise and Decline of the Third Reich, I amCharlotte Simmons is certainly not a small book. The similarities don't end here. They're equal not just in length, but in brutality. Wolfe's insightful novel follows the life of a brilliant but innocent 18-year old from the mountains of North Carolina through her freshman year at an Ivy-League style university. According to Wolfe, his book is accurate. Certainly, I don't think we have such horrors at Hillsdale College, nor did we at Notre Dame. So, I've been spared these things in my own life in academia. But, even if 10% of what Wolfe claims goes on at larger and at most elite-ranked schools is true, our youth are being baptized in a rapacious decadence in their college years. While this book is well worth reading, be forewarned, there are no heroes in the story. Reading this book was akin to watching the aftermath of a car wreck on the highway. We crane our necks in curiosity, say a quick "Hail Mary" for the victims, and keep driving, continuing with our prayers that such things never happen to those we love. Throughout the story, we pity Charlotte for her choices, and, in the end, we find ourselves pitying our culture as a whole. Stunning cultural criticism without relief or joy.
 
The Landmark Herodotus and The Landmark Thucydides. Thanks to the graciousness of two close academic friends, Aeon Skoble and Sarah Skwire, I had the chance to participate in a Liberty Fund colloquium dedicated to the first two histories written in the world. Herodotus strove for a mythic history, taking customs and traditions at face value, while Thucydides mocked the supernatural. Both provided excellent reads—but, I'll side with Herodotus. Give me the gods any day over mere plain old pride and egoism. Free Press, by the way, produces the Landmark series. I greatly admire the craft of making books, and Free Press has outdone itself in providing maps, essays, annotations, illustrations, etc. to augment these texts. Regardless of the text (already, of course, outstanding, as proven over thousands of years), these versions of the books themselves are works of art.
 
Homer, The Odyssey (Fagels trans). This story is, of course, the story that began all others. Brilliant and moving in every way, the Fagels translation rings with beauty and immerses the reader into a world in which one cannot separate myth from legend from history. "The great Nile swelled by the rains of Zeus—and make a splendid rite to the deathless gods who rule the vaulting skies." Gods, demi-Gods, monsters, heroes, and men populate this world, overrunning it all with pride, fear, lust, and all things mischievous. While I will probably not return to this book for pleasure (as I do with The Aeneid), I'm glad to have read this as an adult. Who cannot sympathize with the man alone, separated from his wife and child, ready to return home, only to be delayed over and over again by circumstance, misfortunate, and the prickly whim of the gods? While Circe provides more intimidation than the Detroit-based TSA, at least Circe found some form of redemption for her evils.
 
Josef Pieper, The End of Time: Meditation on the Philosophy of History (1954; Ignatius Press, 1999). Did Pieper write anything that shouldn't be read? What an amazing mind in almost every way. As a professional historian as well as a lover of the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and T.S. Eliot, I'm somewhat obsessed (in a healthy way) with the notion of time, of the liturgy, of the seasons, and of the possibility of escape into eternity. Pieper explored all of these questions in a riveting manner. What is history? What is time? What is the apocalypse? Pieper understood history as an essential part of God's cosmos, central to working out the drama of the Logos. Deeply influenced by Scripture as well as by the works of Donoso Cortes, Christopher Dawson, and George Orwell, Pieper wrote "the end will be characterized by one single governmental structure equipped with prodigious power, which, however, fails to establish any genuine order. At the end of history there will be a pseudo-order maintained in being by the exercise of power."
 
Christopher Dawson, The Movement of World Revolution (1959; new edition forthcoming this year from CUA Press). In 1959, Life magazine proclaimed this book to be the book of a generation, a way to understand not only the then-present world of the Cold War but, equally important, to understand how the world had arrived at the point it had. One of the first meta-histories of the post-war era, The Movement of World Revolution is quintessential Dawson: precise where necessary, sweeping where possible, always elegantly argued and written. Dawson's argument: with the secularization of religion, populations would need to be fulfilled. Lost, population turn to ideologies and nationalisms. In the end, secularization leads to loss of all freedom and all personality, and man, through the ideological mechanism of the nation-state, will become merely a cog in a vast, grinding machine, a terrestrial hell.
 
As I mentioned earlier, I'm on sabbatical this academic year, and much of my reading has been connected to my project, exploring the Christian Humanism of Russell Kirk, especially between 1936 and 1964. To that end, I've happily reread his Randolph of Roanoke (1951); The Conservative Mind (1953); St. Andrews (1954); A Program for Conservatives (1954); and Academic Freedom (1955). I've enjoyed each thoroughly, and I'd recommend any one of these for any reader of Ignatius Insight. Sadly, only The Conservative Mind is still readily available. It should be remembered that Kirk's conservatism was not the current commoditized conservatism of moralistic government, never-ending war, and American expansion abroad. For Kirk, conservatism meant conservation of the dignity and liberty of the individual person, a protection of the personality uniquely given to each person by the Creator. Kirk's vision was the vision of John Paul II and Benedict XVI, even though he did not convert to the Catholic faith until 1964, when he was 46.
 
In immersing myself into Kirk's world of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s, I also read a number of then prominent authors. The most difficult was Isabel Paterson and her radical individualism as found in The God of the Machine. Another radical individualist who attracted me as much as Paterson confused me, though, was Albert Jay Nock, a classicist and Anglican of sorts. While I certainly found much of what he argued wrong headed or offensive (I also loved a lot of it), I have rarely encountered a writer as good as Nock. This summer, I devoured his autobiography, Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943); his two memoirs on the New Deal—A Journal of These Days (1934) and A Journal of Forgotten Days (1948)—his insightful discussion of the liberal arts, Theory of Education in the United States (1932); and most of his published letters. And, happily, most of his works are still available. I also reread a number of books by the most famous Humanists of the day, Irving Babbitt—especially Democracy and Leadership (1924)—and Paul Elmer More. Reading Babbitt, a Harvard professor of French classics, must be an acquired taste. While I gained much from him, I would never read his works for enjoyment or personal growth. The opposite is true for Paul Elmer More, a Princeton classicist. I have yet to read a thing from More I didn't take to instantly—in style and thought. In particular, I recommend his Pages from an Oxford Diary, a "Confessions" of sorts written on his deathbed. It is truly one of the most moving accounts of grace I have ever encountered. I have read it time and again, and I will continue to do so until I find myself on my deathbed.
 
One of the great joys of the year was rereading my favorite C.S. Lewis book, That Hideous Strength (1943), the last of the Ransom/Space trilogy. I never tire of this book, and I could never count how many times I've read it. It's a perfect mix of philosophy, theology, and joy.
 
I also thoroughly enjoyed Tony William's America's Beginnings (2010); and Stratford Caldecott's Beauty for Truth's Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education (2009). Each of these deserves large reviews and success.
 
And for pure entertainment in 2011: Tom Clancy's Dead or Alive (2010), Against All Enemies (2011), Locked On (2011); and Phill Brown's Are We Still Rolling (2010)?
 
In the stack, eagerly awaiting to be read in 2012: Neil Peart, Far and Away (2011); Norman Maclean, Young Men and Fire (1972); C. Bradley Thompson, Neoconservatism: An Obituary for an Idea (2010); Claes Ryn, America the Virtuous (2003); Mark Powell, Prophets and Sages: An Illustrated Guide to Underground and Progressive Rock, 1967-1975 (2010); and Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs (2011).



Mark Brumley is President and Chief Executive Officer for Ignatius Press. He is the editor of A Study Guide to Jesus of Nazareth and is editor and co-author of A Study Guide to Jesus of Nazareth Holy Week. He 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.

The Trouble with Physics by Lee Smolin. It took me a while to get around to this controversial book.  Interesting discussion of the rise of string theory and some of the problems its proponents have. Part of the trouble with physics the author doesn't address but indirectly alludes to (referring to issues involving realism)—the need for a solid metaphysics to underpin physics. The politics of recent physics is interestingly discussed in the book. That's probably what has so many people upset.
 
The Capitalist Manifesto by Mortimer Adler and Lee Kelso.  Re-read it in light of the Occupy Movement and the downturn in the economy. This book clarifies what genuine capitalism is and what the issues are regarding economic rights, their relation to political democracy, and the nature of a free economic.
 
The Resurrection of Jesus by Michael R. Licona. The new standard work.
 
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  A book club pick, with Joseph Pearce leading the discussion. Lots of fun.
 
The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne. A classic. Another book club pick.
 
The Genesis of Science by James Hannam. Take that, Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. Not that they would take the time to read this book or think about their own positions in light of it.
 
"One Teacher": Doctrinal Authority in the Church by Le Groupe Des Dombes
 
Church, State, and Society by J. Brian Benestad. A thought-provoking book misnamed as an introduction to Catholic social teaching. It isn't introductory. It's a significantly advanced text. Too much Leo Strauss lurking behind the text for my taste, but still an insightful and must-read text for those who want to think about politics and the Church's teaching. Benestad is an under-appreciated resource, in my view.
 
Everywhere and Everywhen by Nick Huggett. Philosophy of science that interacts with General Relativity. Some interesting insights but nevertheless the book begins from what I take to be an inadequate metaphysics.
 
Surnaturel: A Controversy at the Heart of Twentieth-Century Thomistic Thought edited by Serge-Thomas Bonino, O.P. Half the story, told in bits but nevertheless helpful.
 
Man and the State by Jacques Maritain. Re-read it in light of Occupy Movement. An endless source of ideas.



J. Budziszewski, who holds a Ph.D. from Yale University, is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of several books, including What We Can't Not Know: A Guide (Ignatius Press, 2011), The Revenge of Conscience, How to Stay Christian in College, and The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction.

A.G. Sertillanges, The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, trans. by Mary Ryan, with foreword by James V. Schall, S.J. (Catholic University of America Press).


Joseph M. Callewaert, Knight Commander of the French Order of Merit, was born in Belgium and educated in France. Now a U.S. citizen, he lives in Gulf Breeze, Florida, where he enjoys life as an ardent historian of St. Paul the Apostle. He is the author of The World of Saint Paul (Ignatius Press, 2011), and he has also written delightful travelogues about undiscovered France as well as Lights out for Freedom, a retelling of his youthful experiences of living in Belgium during 52 months of Nazi occupation.

I have, at home, a library consisting of a few thousand of books acquired during my lifetime, I like to re-read many of my favorites and this year 2011 was particularly interesting.
 
The Harvest of Hellenism. By F.E Peters. Simon & Schuster, 1970. 800 pp.A history of the Near East from Alexander the Great to the Triumph of Christianity. This is a masterly work of history. Eastern Hellenism has produced Gnosticism, the University, the catechetical school, pastoral poetry, monasticism, the romance, grammar, lexicography, city planning, theology, canon law, heresy and scholasticism!

Founders of the Middle Ages. By E. K. Rand. Harvard University Press. 1928. 365 pp. A classic which I consult regularly. The aim of the book is to make clear the importance of certain great men (Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Boethius, Cassiodorus and others), of certain great movements in thought and culture during the early Christian centuries, particularly the fourth, fifth and sixth, and to point out the significance of these men and these movements as precursors of certain aspects of medieval civilization.

The Aeneid of Virgil. Translated by R.F Fitzgerald. Random House, 1983, 402 pp. On my vacation in the Bahamas, I took with me the Latin edition of Virgil's Aeneid published in the "Collection BudŽ, in Paris, with the French translation with the necessary notes and explanations. I think it is the best translation in the English language.
 
I sing of warfare and a man at war
From the sea-coast of Troy in early days
He came to Italy by destiny
To our Lavinian western shore.
 
The Birth of the Modern. Modern Society 1815-1830. By Paul Johnson. Harper Collins 1992, 1095 pp. This book presents the fifteen years (1815-1830) as those during which the matrix of the modern world was largely formed. The post-Napoleonic wars saw great and rapid changes in Britain and continental Europe and still more fundamental one elsewhere. The United States transformed itself from a struggling ex-colony into a formidable nation, growing fast in territory and population. Never before had so much cheap land become available, and the hungry people of Europe were moving overseas in vast numbers to possess it. The age abounded in great personalities: warriors, statesmen and tyrants; outstanding inventors and technologists; and writers, artists, and musicians of the highest of genius are brought to the fore. The author has tried to get the men and women who lived in those days to tell the story in their own words. Those distant voices—happy and angry, shrill and passionate, cynical, frivolous, evocative always—constitute the vivifying principle of this book.
 
The Third Reich. A New History, by Michael Burleigh. Pan Macmillan, London, 2001- 965 pp. This work was read to prepare for a conference in which I had to present a paper about the Holocaust. It deals with the progressive and almost total, moral collapse of an advanced industrial society, at the heart of Europe, many of whose citizens abandoned the burden of thinking for themselves. They put their faith in evil men promising a great leap into a heroic future, with violent solutions to Germany's and modern society's problems. The consequences for Germany, Europe and the wider world were catastrophic, but no more so than for European Jews, who were subjected to a deliberate campaign to excise and expunge every one of them, which we rightly recognize as a uniquely terrible event in modern history. This extraordinary book will remain unmatched for years to come.

The World of Saint Paul. By Joseph M. Callewaert. Ignatius Press, 2011, 210 pp. I strongly feel that my book is an engaging work that reads like a novel. It recounts the story of the great Apostle to the Nations. This no dry tome or ponderous biography. It is a fascinating and well-researched work which provides a popular and informed account of this great apostle and his age. For those who know very little about St. Paul – which unfortunately includes many Christians—Catholic and Protestants alike—it is a superb introduction.



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. His "Saints of China" series, an in-depth history of the Catholic Church in China, recently aired on EWTN.


Every year I confront the same unhappy conundrum; good writing is accomplished by good reading, but writing takes time away from reading. Emerson said that, "There is creative reading as well as creative writing"; reading and writing are indispensably wed. That said, I was able to read a some good works this year, though the best books I read are the one's I haven't yet finished. Yes, I suffer from starting a good book, setting it down after marking my place, and then starting another – so that now there are books with marked pages scattered throughout my house. I agree with the oft asserted claim that the worst thing about new books is that they distract us from reading old ones, so I made an effort to read the older, and more dusty volumes, that sag my wooden shelves. But here's what I read in 2011:

By far the best book I read this year, and any year for that matter, was St. Augustine's City of God. I'm embarrassed that I haven't read this before, but at 44 I know that the old adage is correct; it is never too late. . . . Augustine's inerrable logic is refreshing, and his ability to humbly admit the impossibility, at times, of inerrable logic, is also humbling. I relished in his meditations on time, its impossibility, and God's transcendence of temporal materiality. And, yes, as I read the daily news I am reminded daily of the real, and disappointing, confrontation between the "two cities."

In keeping with my usual China theme – it is, after all, my academic discipline – I read Paul Mariani's recently-published, Church Militant: Bishop Kung and Catholic Resistance in Communist Shanghai. This is a highly-readable and compelling study of Communist-Catholic antagonisms in 1950s Shanghai. I was particularly moved by Bishop Kung's prescient assertion that, "If we renounce our faith, we will disappear and there will not be a resurrection. If we are faithful, we will still disappear, but there will be a resurrection."

I also read the short work by Pope Benedict XVI, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. Despite my resolution to avoid this year books with the word "crisis" in the title (I witness enough crisis in the news), I was nourished by the Pope's usual insights on being a Catholic in the modern world. Benedict reminds us all of Pascal's advise to, "begin with the folly of faith, and you will attain knowledge."

Back to China: Since last year marked the 400th anniversary of the death of one of history's greatest missionaries, Matteo Ricci, I read Ronnie Hsia's, A Jesuit in the Forbidden City: Matteo Ricci 1552-1610. It is indeed a pleasure to read a work that manages to combine literary clarity and scholarly enterprise. Ricci's legacy remains a testament to the prominence of Jesuit history in the Church, and the importance of cultural understanding when transmitting the Gospel to other lands.

In preparation for the book I am presently writing on the Catholic martyrs of Shanxi, I read Nat Brandt's absorbing book on the Protestant martyrs of Shanxi, Massacre in Shansi. For anyone who does not normally read books on Chinese topics, I recommend this work, which carries one along a gripping narrative of perseverance and sacrifice in the face of cruel anti-Christianism. It is also advisable for those of us who are Catholic to read works that remind us of the not infrequent holiness of our Protestant brothers and sisters.

George Santayana once wrote that, "A country without a memory is a country of madmen," and as a historian I am certain that he is correct. But now and again we who love history should read about the history of history (historiography). So, I was happy to finally read John Lewis Gaddis' delightful commentary on how historians "map the past," in The Landscape of History. I was so impressed with Gaddis' remarks that I assigned this book in one of my courses, to the unanimous appreciation of my students.

I'm not sure if this counts as "a book," but I did read through the fascinating personal memoirs of Shanghai's bishop, Aloysius Jin Luxian, who I have met several times. Yes, I have mixed feelings about a few of Jin's assertions, but I have no mixed feelings regarding his tireless efforts to restore the Church in China. These memoirs are soon to be published by Hong Kong University Press, and their historical value is such that anyone interested in Chinese Catholicism must buy and read this interesting work.

As a Church news junkie, I was raptly attentive to each page of Benedict's recent interview with Peter Seewald in, Light of the World. The Pope confronts several sobering realities in today's ecclesial context, though not without the hopefulness of a mature theological understanding of the Paschal mystery. This book is also a summons to greater attentiveness to our own actions: "Man is clearly in danger, and he is endangering both himself and the world." In his usual wisdom, the pontiff reminds us that all can still be repaired through "an encounter with God."

During Lent this year my priest recommended St. John Climacus', The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which sat for weeks on my nightstand. While largely written for the monks, most specifically of Mount Sinai Monastery, it nonetheless offers trenchant insights into the spiritual life and the ascent toward God. This work is little read today, which is a pity, as it is one of those rare classics that render timeless advice for living the Christian life. I paused when I read, "It is the property of angels not to fall, and even, as some say, it is quite impossible for them to fall. It is the property of men to fall, and to rise again as often as this may happen. But it is the property of devils, and devils alone, not to rise once they have fallen."

Does my own book count? I finally received the codex version of my book on the martyr saints of China, China's Saints, which I read through enough times to count for all ten books on this list. Writing is painstaking work; it is, as Hemingway said, a form of "bleeding." ("There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.") Authors fear that after years of writing their books are consigned to neglected shelves, ornaments that little change the world around them. So, in my final entry I commend the authors of the previous nine books on my list, and render my thanks for bleeding onto pages that, hopefully, shall change the world we share.



Dr. Eric Cunningham has been at Gonzaga since 2003. A specialist in modern Japanese history, Dr. Cunningham also teaches courses in world and East Asian history. He earned his BA in History from the University of Colorado in 1984, an MA in East Asian Languages and Literatures from the University of Oregon in 1999, and a PhD, History, also from the University of Oregon in 2004. Dr. Cunningham's other areas of scholarly interest include intellectual history, popular culture, psychedelia, postmodernism, literary critical theory, Zen Buddhism, and eschatology.

Meditations on the Tarot by Anonymous (Valentin Tomberg). In spite of its controversial title, a very holy book!

Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxis. Not the best writing in the world, but an amazing story and an amazing person—some good spiritual direction.
 
Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life by Sr. Mary Margaret Funk. Remarkable!
 
Secret History of the World: As Laid Down by the Secret Societies by Mark Booth. Scandalous, but fun and thought-provoking.
 
Beauty Will Save the World by Gregory Wolfe. A wonderful book.
 
The Book of Genesis. Illustrated by Robert Crumb.
 
How Can Mankind Find the Christ Again by Rudolf Steiner. A classic in the Steiner library.
 
China's Saints: Catholic Martyrdom During the Qing (1644–1911) by Anthony E. Clark. Great scholarship.
 
Humility by Dietrich von Hildebrand. Short and sweet.
 
Lucid Dreaming by Robert Waggoner. Maybe the most comprehensive book on the subject.
 
Meaning in History by Karl Lowith. I read it once a year at least—brilliant.



Dr. Thomas Howard is a highly acclaimed writer and literary scholar, noted for his studies of Inklings C.S. Lewis and Charles Williams as well as books including Chance or Dance: A Critique of Modern Secularism, Hallowed be This House, Evangelical Is Not Enough: Worship of God in Liturgy and Sacrament, If Your Mind Wanders At Mass, On Being Catholic, The Secret of New York Revealed, Lead, Kindly Light: My Journey to Rome and Dove Descending. He has also produced a video series, aired on EWTN, titled "Treasures of Catholicism." The Night Is Far Spent: A Treasury of Thomas Howard was published by Ignatius Press in 2007. Visit his IgnatiusInsight.com author page for a full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press.

Jesus of Nazareth. Benedict XVl. 2 vols. Reading these two volumes made one want to shout them from the housetops. Mighty vistas of theology, biblical studies, and sane spirituality are unfurled.
 
The Spirit of the Liturgy. Benedict XVl. The Bishop of Rome carries on from Romano Guardini's earlier volume of the same title, with the same breadth, depth, and sagacity that marked Guardini's work.
 
The Life of Dr. Samuel Johnson. James Boswell. This is perpetual reading for me—virtually daily. It is the best antidote against the fatuity, vacuity, and sheer ruin of modern discourse and imagination.
 
Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen. Pure delight. Language in its most finely-wrought perfection. Common sense and moral perspicacity enough to leave modern discourse in tatters.



Brian Jones is currently an MA philosophy student at the University of St. Thomas in Houston; he received an MA in theology from Franciscan University. He and his wife, Michelle, recently welcomed the birth of their first child, Therese Maria.

The Appalling Strangeness of the Mercy of God by Michael Pakaluk. Walker Percy once said that "this life is too much trouble, far too strange, to arrive at the end of it and then be asked what you make of it and have to answer, 'Scientific humanism.' That won't do. A poor show." The mysterious nature of life lay in the fact that it is continually mixed with the splendor of goodness and also the bitterness of pain. Yet, thanks to this wonderful book, we see the abundant goodness of God's mercy everywhere, especially in midst of suffering. The story of Ruth Pakaluk, Michael's first wife, is a magnificent display of sanctity in the midst of the world. I bought the book for my wife, and read it in a week before giving it to her. I just could not put it down. The portrait of Ruth's life is an inspiration for anyone who truly seeks to become a saint. As Michael mentions in the book, "heroic virtue" has become rather distorted in our day because it seems to entail that saints are only those who do the most extraordinary of things. But the true meaning of heroism, and of holiness, is to cultivate a disposition of interior openness and transparency in our hearts so that God may work through us. This is the joy of Ruth's life and, like all the saints, the greatest argument for the existence of God.

The Very Rich Hours of Jacques Maritain: A Spiritual Life by Ralph McInerny. Maritain is one of the greatest figures of the Thomistic revival inaugurated by Pope Leo XIII. The scientific rationalism that bombarded Maritain and his wife Raissa at the Sorbonne led them to the brink of despair, and ultimately a suicide pact. Yet, their journey into the Catholic faith, and their rich life of friendship is beautifully detailed. McInerny also provides insights into the real depth of the Maritains spiritual life and their integration of the intellectual life with the call to holiness. What better reminder this Christmas season than to recall the greatest tragedy of all: "not to become a saint."

Another Sort of Learning by Fr. James Schall, S.J. In reality, a book by Fr. Schall could be put on anybody's book list. McInerny once quipped that Fr. Schall is undoubtedly the Chesterton of our times. Reading tidbits of Fr. Schall each day provides a framework for gazing upon the world in true wonder and amazement. The book is really what a university education should entail, and any student worth his water ought to read Schall. Of course, the book is not merely for the university students, but for fostering what Sertaillanges called "the intellectual life." This is not some ivory tower "intellectualism," but living and experiencing the delightful joys of knowing truth, of conforming ourselves to what is.

The Death of Psychiatry by E. Fuller Torrey, M.D. Written back in 1974, Dr. Torrey's succinctly details the impending fall of the field of psychiatry. Not only has psychiatry gone awry, the current model is unsalvageable and, in Torrey's words, "must be destroyed." A view of the human person that is limited to a materialistic or biological conception cannot affect and further any real psychological integration. Anyone interested in the destructive tendencies of modern psychiatry and psychology, and how to recover what is still good in them, would be wise to read this excellent piece.

Thomism in An Age of Renewal by Ralph McInerny. McInerny provides an illuminating analysis of the gradual eroding of the Catholic intellectual tradition since (not because of) Vatican II. St. Thomas Aquinas, in most Catholic and non-Catholic circles, was (and is) seen to be rather archaic, and no longer relevant for an age anxiously wading in the waters of progress, nihilism, and egalitarianism. McInerny has shown that Thomism is relevant for all ages and cultures because it is not one philosophy among others (i.e., pragmatism, post-modernism, language philosophy), but is philosophy itself. The Church has put forth the Angelic Doctor as the model philosopher because what he taught is in fact true. Those who dismiss Aquinas do so with a biased agenda, and not because they have actually read or sought to understand him. McInerny continually calls to mind that St. Thomas has provided the best framework for the integration of the richness of faith and reason, something to which the modern world so desperately needs.



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.

Cardinal Francis George, The Difference God Makes (Crossroad)
Scott Hahn, Covenant and Communion (Brazos)
Wilfrid Stinissen, Into Your Hands, Father (Ignatius)
Nancy Klein Mcguire, An Infinity of Little Hours (Public Affairs)
John of Avila, Audi, filia---Listen, O Daughter (Paulist)
Dennis Billy, Contemplative Ethics (Paulist)
Jean Pierre de Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence(with Letters) (Ignatius)



Dr. Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College.

His books include The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan's Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007), The 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.


Father Donald Calloway, No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy. This is the best book I read in 2011. It is the remarkable, shocking story of an ex-Grateful Dead "deadhead," drug abuser, thief, and someone who imbibed in every hedonistic pleasure, only to turn himself around completely and become a remarkable man of the cloth. Every Catholic in America should read this book and pass it along to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. It is a crucial read for fallen-away Catholics and for rebellious young Catholics who think they're too cool for the faith. This book will put them in their place—a page-turner they will not be able to put down. If Father Calloway was a Protestant with a story like this, this book would have sold a million copies. Every Evangelical in America would be talking about it in their book clubs. That this book isn't a bestseller and household title among Catholics shows yet again how ill-informed and unread Catholics are when it comes to their own faith. Sorry if that's a bit harsh, but it's true—and as a former Protestant, I know what I'm talking about.
 
Joseph Ratzinger, Christianity and the Crisis of Cultures. This is a profound little book published by Ignatius Press. It is worth the price for this one nugget of wisdom alone: the West suffers from a "confused ideology of freedom," one that ultimately leads to the "self-destruction of freedom." Abortion is the single best illustration of that. When a woman exercises the "freedom" to abort, she destroys the first and most fundamental freedom of another: the freedom to exist.
 
Augustine, The City of God, with Introduction by Thomas Merton. I purchased this Modern Library edition of Augustine's classic simply for the introduction by Merton. I pulled it from a shelf at the local Barnes & Noble and couldn't stop reading the introduction. I had to own it. Merton's was one of the most gifted Catholic writers of the last hundred years, hands down.
 
Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather's Son. This is a wonderful book about a terrific man—and devout Roman Catholic—who has been horribly maligned by the secular left. His story is captivating. Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas has suffered, and he has persevered, largely because of his faith. This is another must-read. Here again, every Catholic should know about this book. If Thomas was a Protestant...well, you know.
 
Walter Eckman, Meet the Presidents. I did a Q&A with Eckman on this book. This is a fun, vivid, artfully constructed tour of our presidents, their birthplaces, and various historical sites. It is an excellent travel companion, absolutely ideal for home-schooling families. If you home school, you should get this book. If you enjoy history and historical sites, you should get this book. If you like studying our presidents, you should get this book.
 
Tim Goeglein, The Man in the Middle. This is the most redeeming book of 2011, done by the man who did outreach to faith-based groups for President George W. Bush—including outreach to Catholics. Goeglein is not Catholic, but he greatly respects Catholics and knows and reads and quotes Catholic figures better than most Catholics. Goeglein endured a humiliating fall from grace in a plagiarism incident that cost him his job. It was front-page news. This book is a candid admission of his guilt and redemption. The role of President Bush in that redemption is deeply moving. Please see my review for Catholic Exchange. You must read the amazing dialogue between Goeglein and Bush in the Oval Office. It is wonderful. You'll want to forward it to friends.
 
Steve Turner, The Band That Played On. This is a neat book on the lives of the eight extraordinary musicians who continued to play while the Titanic sunk. Cool theme, eh? We've seen this moment represented in movies, and it is indeed true. This book covers those eight lives, all the way to their mutual tragic end. As the ship went down, they calmly played "Nearer, My God, to Thee."
 
Frank Kravetz, Eleven Two: One WWII Airman's Story of Capture, Survival and Freedom. Here is a heartwarming story of a man who survived a stay in Hitler's POW camps. His name is Frank Kravetz, Pittsburgh native, Roman Catholic, alive and well at the age of 88. I had the pleasure of reviewing his book and meeting him. The Catholic elements are touching, especially how Frank pulled a loose thread from under his prison mattress and weaved it into a Rosary decade. That was the kind of thing that got Frank through the hell of Nuremberg Prison Camp. I strongly recommend this book to home-schooled youngsters. It offers an excellent historical/autobiographical narrative for teaching about life and major events from the 1930s and 1940s era, particularly WWII, of course.
 
Lee Edwards, William F. Buckley Jr.: The Maker of a Movement. I mentioned this book in my review last year, but I found myself referencing it several times again this year and cracking it open again. The material on the Catholic faith of Buckley is very interesting. Click here for my review for The National Catholic Register.
 
George W. Bush, Decision Points. Likewise, last year I mentioned George W. Bush's Decision Points, which I started reading in 2010 but really dug into and returning to again in 2011. The chapter on Bush's decision on embryonic stem cell-research alone is worth the price.



Fr. David V. Meconi, S.J., is Professor of Patristic Theology at St. Louis University, where he is also the Director of the Undergraduate Studies Program. He is also Editor of Homiletic & Pastoral Review as well as the editor of Ignatius Press' upcoming Annotated Confessions of St. Augustine, as well as a ground-breaking study, The One Christ: St. Augustine's Theology of Deification (Catholic University of America Press).

The best book I read this year was Dr. Eleonore Stump's Wandering in Darkness: Narrative and the Problem of Suffering (Oxford University Press, 2011). Eleonore is a colleague of mine here at St. Louis University and, daresay, is among the most sought-after philosophers of our age. Her work here uses the insights of St. Thomas Aquinas to address the reality of how a benevolent God can allow a human life to go terribly wrong but argues that suffering should never be easily dismissed but perhaps, just perhaps, there is an invitation to a greater love than what any evil could spoil. Throughout this work there are some of the most profound insights into intimacy, desires of the human heart, and attentive presence to others, both divine and human, which I have ever encountered on the printed page.

The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation by Hayden White (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990). While this may not be the kind of book one reads quietly before bed, it has proven very important in my understanding the recent emphasis on the importance of narrative in the humanities, especially in art and literature. Far from White's intention, his reflections here helped me to see how theology is a "story" about the ultimate Word in Whom all other stories and words find their truest meaning and this book explained how postmodernism, while making us all suspicious of over-arching narratives, has also ushered in a new cultural situation with new opportunities for real evangelization.

Oxford & Cambridge Conferences by Fr. Joseph Rickaby, S.J. (1903). Every couple of weeks another Jesuit here at St. Louis University and I go out for an ale and enjoy a "N-ox", playing off the Latin words for night (nox) and Oxford (Oxoniensis) where we met during studies. Over the year we read various texts and are now making our way through the lectures Rickaby gave to undergraduates while serving as chaplain at the Oxbridge schools. The erudition and the humanism of the early 20th century Jesuits only confirms the goodness of God's creation and how Christ is the answer for every human heart and nation.

The Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems by Wendell Berry (1999). Each Sunday I try to sit with a few of Berry's poems here and enjoy some quiet and his multi-layered invitations simply to be.

Persuasion by Jane Austen. Surely I was assigned this in high school but I am just now getting around to it for the first time and as I found myself welling up inside and at times howling outside, I came to realize why many regard this as Miss Austen's best work.

In this House of Brede as well as The Battle of the Villa Fiorita by Rumer Godden (1969 and 1963). While many of us are familiar with the first novel about a hard-headed London business woman leaving the world behind to join a cloistered Benedictine community, The Battle is an equally strong "Catholic" piece of literature where marriage and children are held sacred and the Church emerges as the guardian of all things the pure of heart desire.

Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History by Robert Hughes. Does Rome ever fail to fascinate? From Bernini to Benedict, Mussolini to Marcus Aurelius, they're all here.

Prison Writings of Alfred Delp, S.J. (Orbis Press' Modern Spiritual Masters Series). This Jesuit resistor is not too well known, but the reflections he put down while awaiting execution in Berlin's Plštzensee Prison during 1944-45 are unmatched for the forgiveness they convey and the insights into the human condition they offer.

The Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo. While I may teach the Confessions at least twice a year, this year was different as I prepared the annotated version for Ignatius Press. Going through this classic line by line and thus significantly slower than usual, the brilliance and even the humor of Augustine struck me in new and unexpected ways.



Lorraine V. Murray's latest book is Death of a Liturgist, a mystery about a groovy liturgist who meets a rather satisfying comeuppance when he tweaks the traditions at St. Rita's parish. Another recent book is The Abbess of Andalusia, the story of Flannery O'Connor's Catholic journey. In Confessions of an Ex-Feminist Lorraine writes about her own journey from faithful Catholic to rabid feminist and atheist, and back again. Murray, a religion columnist, lives in Decatur, Georgia, with her husband, Jef, a Tolkien artist, and a hamster named Ignatius. All seven of her books can be seen www.lorrainevmurray.com.

Here are my favorite books from 2011:

The Pain of Christ and the Sorrow of God. Every Lent I pull out my tattered copy of this book and marvel at these short sermons, delivered by Dominican priest Gerald Vann at Westminster Cathedral in 1947. Vann takes readers on a soul-wrenching journey that begins with Christ's agonizing night in the garden and ends between the two thieves. Along the way he probes the sacred dimension of time, and elucidates why the Act of Contrition once contained a deeply powerful thought, namely that a penitent was sorry for his sins "because they have crucified my loving Savior, Jesus Christ." Vann also explores how we can better recognize our own sins, especially our daily betrayals of others.

The Love That Keeps Us Sane. So many books about St. Therese of Lisieux paint her as a sugary-sweet, simpering soul surrounded by cloying clusters of roses. In fact, Therese herself recoiled from such overly pious portraits of saints, and I believe she would have really appreciated this book, since it explores her struggle to lead a hidden and humble life. Author Marc Foley, a Discalced Carmelite priest, shows that Therese maintained her sanity by keeping her sights set on God rather than the world's adulation, and knowing when to keep silent.

Why Catholics Are Right. Michael Coren explores in great depth and with an admirable amount of factual background the most common attacks on Catholicism. It will be a great help to anyone who has ever found himself floundering by the punch bowl at a party, somewhat startled by a remark about, say, the priest-abuse scandal, and wishing he had a few facts at hand to help dispel the errors and exaggerations that too often pass for truth when it comes to Catholicism. The chapter on the abuse scandal alone was reason enough for me to declare this book a favorite--but the author also clarifies common misconceptions related to Church history, theology, and teachings on life.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta: A Personal Portrait. As is the case with St. Therese too many books about Mother Teresa portray her as a dry and stuffy saint, far removed from us ordinary mortals. This book is a gem indeed because author Monsignor Leo Maasburg —who traveled with Mother Teresa for many years—reveals something I suspected all along, which is that she had a very vivid and delightful sense of humor. The author himself has a priceless penchant for detecting humor in difficult situations, and reveals many heretofore unknown facts about Mother Teresa. Who knew, for example, that over the years she gave out over 40,000 Miraculous Medals, including a handful to Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega?

Novelist Fiorella De Maria, author of Poor Banished Children, was born in Italy of Maltese parents. She grew up in Wiltshire, England, and attended Cambridge, where she received a BA in English Literature and a Masters in Renaissance Literature, specializing in the English verse of Robert Southwell, S.J. She won the National Book Prize of Malta (foreign language fiction category) for her second novel The Cassandra Curse. Fiorella lives in Surrey with her husband and her three children and blogs at "The Singular Anomaly".

Favourite Films watched in 2011:

Goodbye Lenin! I was given this film by a German friend and it is one of the most charming European films I have ever watched. Set in the final days of the GDR, the film begins with the hero (Alexander) being arrested by the Stasi on a protest march, causing his mother, a staunch Socialist, to collapse with a heart attack. While she is in a coma, the Wall comes down and everything she has ever worked for and believed in completely disappears. When she wakes up, Alex is warned that a shock may kill her and he attempts to hide the truth of Germany's re-unification from her by creating the GDR in her flat. A little white lie quickly gets out of control with painfully funny consequences. I laughed and cried at this tragi-comic portrayal of an epic moment in European history.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

The King's Speech


Favourite Reads of 2011:

The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. This really is a stunning, heartbreaking book set in the forgotten world of pre-First World War England where a man in his sixties, Leo Colston, remembers his loss of innocence during the first summer of the twentieth century. I am always interested in how authors deal with memory, both that of individual characters and collective memory such as a significant moment of history, and what makes The Go-Between so painful to read at times, particularly near the end, is the knowledge that the First World War will consign every detail of that society to history and that few of the male characters to whom we have been introduced will survive to old age.
 
Letters from a Lost Generation, edited Alan Bishop and Mark Bostridge. This book brought home to me more than any other book I have read on this subject, the devastating human cost of the First World War. Letters from a Lost Generation is a collection of letters between Vera Brittain, the famous British writer and four men; her fiance Roland Leighton, her brother Edward and their two close friends Victor Richardson and Geoffrey Thurlow, all four of whom were killed during the course of the war. The horror of the First World War is well-known but a book like this reveals the grief felt by millions of families whose sons, husbands and brothers were lost during those terrible years. I defy anyone to reach the end of the last letter dry-eyed.
 
One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. I re-read this book because I first read it as a teenager and Solzhenitsyn has been one of my heroes ever since. It is a truly exceptional story with a deceptively simple style, which draws the reader in right from the start and paints such a vivid picture of daily life in Russia's labour camps that it is almost palpable. I remember shivering with the cold and being so completely overwhelmed afterwards that it was days before I could speak about it because I couldn't find a way to describe the book that could do it justice. This book should be read in one sitting if possible to experience the full power of the story. It is the work of a master craftsman and an extraordinary human being.



Carl E. Olson is the editor of Catholic World Report and IgnatiusInsight.com. He is author of Will Catholics Be "Left Behind"? A Catholic Critique of the Rapture and Today’s 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, of The 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, one dog, and a few thousand books and CDs.

Many fine, even exceptional, books have been published this past year by Ignatius Press; I'll mention just one that I found to be particularly rewardingJesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection, by Pope Benedict XVI, which provides an exceptional example of how Catholics should approach, read, and contemplate the Gospels and all of Scripture.
 
Speaking of Scripture, this past year I have been teaching a weekly study of the book of Proverbs. In doing so, I have relied upon an exceptional commentary, Evangelical scholar Bruce K. Waltke's two-volume Proverbs: New International Commentary on the Old Testament (2 vols.; Eerdmans, 2004, 2005). It is certainly detailed (1400+ pages!) and even dense, but contains an amazing amount of rich observations and essential information.

As usual, ISI published several exceptional books this year, two of which have made a strong impression. Beauty Will Save the World: Rendering the Human in an Ideological Age (ISI, 2011), by Gregory Wolfe, is an important and challenging work about the centrality of authentic culture, the relationship of art and faith, and the recovery of Christian humanism. Modern and American Dignity: Who We Are as Persons and What That Mean For Our Future (ISI, 2010), by Peter Augustine Lawler, takes a long, keen look at American culture, and provides a strong and thoughtful critique of the many deep ethical and philosophical problems therein.

Along somewhat similar lines, but from a more academic, sociological perspective, The Religious Crisis of the 1960s (Oxford, 2007), by Hugh McLeod (a self-described liberal), is a thoughtful and often illuminating examination of the roots of the cultural and religious upheaval of the Sixties.
 
The Servile Mind: How Democracy Erodes the Moral Life (Encounter Books, 2010), by Kenneth Minogue, focuses more on the political realm, but digs into the meaning of he moral life, the problem of individualism, and the danger of servility that appears to be encroaching steadily and openly in the West. Also, I finally got around to reading Render Unto Caesar: Serving the Nation by Living Our Catholic Beliefs in Political Life by Charles J. Chaput (Doubleday, 2008), by Abp. Charles J. Chaput, and found it to be what I expected: erudite, engaging, exhortative, and expository. A good book to read (or re-read) in the months leading up to the 2012 elections.

Farrell O'Gorman's Peculiar Crossroads: Flannery O'Connor, Walker Percy, and Catholic Vision in Postwar Southern Fiction (LSU Press, 2004), is an informative study of two of my favourites authors, with a particular emphasis on the historical, cultural, and religious context in which Percy and O'Connor developed their thought and penned their various books, essays, and stories. The Roger Scruton Reader (Continuum, 2009), edited by Mark Dooley, brings together some of the best work of a philosopher who has tackled a wide ranger of topics—morality, politics, art and architecture, culture—with plenty of verve, combative humor, and clarity. David Bentley Hart's fine book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies (Yale, 2009), tackles the topic of the new atheists, and does so with a combination of scathing wit, literary and rhetorical flair, and impressive historical knowledge.

For whatever reason, I read several books about music and musicians this year. How the Beatles Destroyed Rock n Roll: An Alternative History of American Popular Music (Oxford, 2009), by Elijah Wald, is an impressively researched, vigorously argued work that goes after nearly every assumption and stereotype regarding popular music, beginning in the mid-1800s. Beyond and Before: Progressive Rock Since the 1960's (Continuum, 2011), by Paul Hegarty and Martin Halliwell, is occasionally bogged down by academic jargon and a stuffy sense of self-importance, but is also filled with great information about the genesis and place of progressive rock music. Is This the Real Life? The Untold Story of Queen (Da Capo Press, 2011), by Mark Blake, is well-researched and avoids the shallow hagiography that often afflict such books. Ultimately, the book shies away from the elephant in the room (Mercury's deadly hedonistic homosexuality), but the members of Queen do emerge as complex, fascinating, and flawed men who really do (or did) love music.

And while we're on the topic of complex, fascinating, and flawed musicians, James Kaplan's biography, Frank: The Voice (Sphere, 2010), emphasizes all three aspects, sometimes to a fault, yet managing to be sympathetic while completely avoiding being sycophantic. The Faber Pocket Guide to Haydn (Faber & Faber, 2009), by Richard Wigmore, is far less gossipy, providing plenty of helpful material about the great composer's life and work. Ashley Kahn's Kind Of Blue: The Making Of The Miles Davis Masterpiece (De Capo Press, 2000) is also exhaustive (but never exhausting, thankfully), presenting every detail of the creation, production, marketing, and influence of the biggest-selling jazz album of all time.

I didn't read much fiction in 2011. An exception was the thoroughly entertaining novel, Heartstone, the fifth Matthew Shardlake mystery (Penguin, 2011), written by lawyer/historian C. J. Sansom, and set in England in the 1540s.

Finally, two books that I am still reading but merit mention are Inside Scientology: The Story of America's Most Secretive Religion (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2011) by Janet Reitman, and Retrieving Nicaea: The Development and Meaning of Trinitarian Doctrine (Baker Academic, 2011), by Khaled Anatolios. The first is a well-researched and fascinating expose of one of the most bizarre and disturbing "religions" of the past century. The latter is a brilliantly argued and written work of historical theology that is especially concerned with the thought and influence of St. Athanasius, St. Gregory of Nyssa, and St. Augustine.



Joseph 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 recent books include Through Shakespeare's Eyes: Seeing the Catholic Presence in the Plays and a new edition of Solzhenitsyn: A Soul in Exile. 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.

In Defense of Sanity by G. K. Chesterton (Ignatius Press, 2011) is a selection of the great man's finest essays. In these days of dumbing down, the art of the essay is sadly neglected. As such, this new volume is doubly welcome: first, because it shows G.K.'s genius in a literary form at which he truly excelled; and second, because it will serve to introduce people to the joy of the English essay.
 
I'm delighted that Ida Elizabeth by Sigrid Undset (Ignatius Press, 2011) has been resurrected. Undset is so much more than the author of Kristin Lavransdatter. In this gritty novel, she shows her true credentials as a practitioner par excellence of Catholic realism in fiction. Few twentieth century recipients of the Nobel Prize for Literature are as worthy of the award as Undset.    
 
Having enjoyed the fiction of Sigrid Undset, a twentieth century novelist who is rightly revered and was justly rewarded for her work, I must mention the novels of Maurice Baring, a simply superb novelist who has not received the plaudits that his literary masterpieces warrant. I cannot get enough of Maurice Baring's work. Although climbing the cultural edifices that he erects can be exhausting the experience is always exhilarating. I have particularly enjoyed Robert PeckhamC and Cat's Cradle, each of which should be read regularly as a reminder of the cultural heights to which the true inheritors of Christendom can ascend. 
 
The Letters of Magdalen Montague by Eleanor Bourg Nicholson is the work of new fiction that I enjoyed most this year. This novella, published by the excitingly adventurous Kaufman Press, reminded me of the forays into fiction of the Great Decadent novelist, J. K. Huysmans. Nicholson's voice, in the persona of the troubled and troubling protagonist, resonates with an ornamentally Baroque grandiloquence that is poisoned by the cynical sneer of the nihilistically decadent dŽbauchŽ. In the finest tradition of Huysmans, Wilde, Greene and Waugh, The Letters of Magdalen Montague shows a hardened heart melted in the heat of sanctity.
 
Finally, Simone Weil's Apologetic Use of Literature: Her Christological Interpretations of Ancient Greek Texts by Marie Cabaud Meaney (Oxford University Press, 2008) is an account of a great mind's engagement with the Great Books of classical antiquity. Along with Louis Markos' From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics, and William F. Lynch's Christ and Apollo: The Dimension of the Literary Imagination, Meaney's book offers valuable insights into the pagan mind and its ripening towards final fruition in the Incarnate Word.



Edward Peters 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.


This year was a year to re-read several titles from past years (which I needn't list), either to refresh my memory of them or to bring more to my reading than I did the last time, but aside from finally getting to several of the Narnia texts (Prince Caspian, The Magician's Nephew and The Horse and His Boy), three works stand out for me: Donald Fairbairn, Understanding Language (2011); Gerhard Mźller, Priesthood and Diaconate (2002); and Urban Navarette, Structura Juridica Matrimonii (1968).



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.

Infinity Dwindled to Infancy: A Catholic and Evangelical Christology by Edward T Oakes SJ (Eerdmans, 2011). This is a 'must have' book for anyone trying to understand the territory of Christology. It begins with the Patristics and ends with all the usual suspects: Rahner, von Balthasar and Ratzinger. It also includes a treatment of the significant magisterial statements from the Second Vatican Council to the present. It comes out of the same Mundelein stable as Robert Barron's The Priority of Christ and it is dedicated to Cardinal Francis George of Chicago. In short, one can safely open it without fearing a depressing encounter with the historical Jesus.
 
Reason Fulfilled by Revelation: The 1930s Christian Philosophy Debates in France edited and translated by Gregory B Sadler (CUA Press, 2011). This book sets out the players in the 1930s Christian Philosophy debates in France and places them into the categories of: Neo-Thomist Opponents of Christian Philosophy, Thomist Proponents of Christian Philosophy and Non-Thomist Proponents of Christian Philosophy. Having explained the basic fault-lines the editor then offers English translations of significant articles by Etienne Gilson, Antonin D. Sertillanges, Bruno de Solages, Maurice Blondel, Fernand van Steenberghen, Etienne Borne, Gabriel Marcel, LŽon No‘l and Emile BrŽhier.
 
Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry by Hans Boersma (Eerdmans, 2011). Hans Boersma worships in a Protestant community but he shares much of the theological outlook of Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI. This book is an account of how the tapestry of a sacramental ontology was woven by the early Church fathers but was subsequently unravelled and "cut up" by people like Ockham and Scotus before the Reformers attempted a patch up job which had its own limitations. Boersma tries to reconnect the threads with reference to the ideas of the ressourcement theologians, principally Henri de Lubac and Yves Congar.
 
The Modern Age by James V Schall (St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana, 2011). Fr. James V Schall is in the Navy Seal class of Jesuit legends. The Modern Age is the latest collection of his occasional essays. It includes: The brighter side of hell, Judgement and Modernity, Revelation and Political Philosophy, One Hundred Years of Orthodoxy and What is Theology?
 
Person, Being and History: Essays in Honour of Kenneth L Schmitz edited by Michael Baur and Robert E Wood (CUA Press, 2011). This is a Festschrift collection on the philosophy of Kenneth L Schmitz. When Schmitz was enlisting in the Royal Canadian Air Force at the outbreak of WWII he was asked by the enlisting officer for his religion. He said he didn't have one. The officer replied: "that won't do laddie". He eventually agreed that the officer could tick the RC box. Schmitz went to war and survived and then the Canadian government had a scheme to offer tertiary education for ex-servicemen. He ended up being sent to St. Michael's College at the University of Toronto because of the tick in the RC box. It was there that he came into contact with Etienne Gilson and he ultimately became a Catholic philosopher himself. This collection of essays is a tribute to his scholarship on the philosophy of the person, on being and on history. It includes a chronological bibliography of all his publications.
 
Romance and System: The Theological Synthesis of Matthias Joseph Scheeben by Aidan Nichols (The Augustine Institute, Denver: 2010). This is in the door-stopper class of books. It runs for 537 pages. It is Nichols' Summa of Scheeben for those whose knowledge of academic German is insufficient to cope with the original, especially the original in Gothic script. It is highly valuable for students of contemporary theology but it comes with the warning that it is dense and not one of Fr Nichols' creamy English toffee books to be enjoyed with a gin and tonic. One needs to be cold sober to absorb it.
 
Johann Georg Hamann and the Enlightenment Project by Robert Alan Sparling (University of Toronto Press, 2011). Hamann was an opponent of Kant and of Frederick of Prussia so I regard him as playing on the side of the angels. This book examines the political philosophical aspects of his thought.
 
Tradition and the Rule of Faith in the Early Church edited by Ronnie J. Rombs and Alexander Y. Hwang (CUA Press, 2010). This is a collection of essays on the themes of tradition and the rule of faith in honour of Joseph T. Lienhard SJ. It's full of historical gems.
 
Learning to Love at the School of John Paul II and Benedict XVI by Livio Melina, translated by Fr. Joel Wallace (Modotti Press, Melbourne, 2011). This book is a user-friendly guide to themes in what is popularly called the theology of the body (although Benedict XVI tends to use the more literal expression "Catechesis on Human Love") written by the International President of the John Paul II Institute for Marriage and Family who was a former member of Cardinal Ratzinger's staff in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
 
The New Vichy Syndrome: Why European Intellectuals Surrender to Barbarism by Theodore Dalrymple (Encounter Books, 2010). Theodore Dalrymple is a British psychiatrist who writes opinion pieces for a number of journals including the Spectator. He argues that the source of the demise of European culture is that Europeans no longer believe in anything but personal economic security. Of course, there are still some pockets of Christian belief and practice, but Dalrymple provides an excellent analysis of the general contemporary European failure to resist new forms of barbarism.



Fr. 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 website.


My own list begins with two books of Robert Spitzer: New Cosmolocigal Proofs for the Existence of God and Ten Universal Principles. Spitzer is an unending fund of insight, genius, and pertinence.
 
I also enjoyed David Goldman's It's Not the End of the World, It's Just the End of You. Few books shoot more sacred cows.
 
A sleeper is the Belmont Abbey College Reader, as good a short collection of what one ought to read as can be found.
 
I was given The Essential Rilke, a collection with German on one page and English on the other. "Whoever has no house now will not build one anymore."
 
I was also given Little, Big: "His thick letters were consigned to this Edgewood place, and he waited for a reply until he couldn't wait anymore, and so their letters crossed in the mail as all true lover's letters do, and she saved  them and tied them with a lavender ribbon, and years later her grandchildren found them and read of those old people's improbable passion."
 
I was particularly struck by the steady profundity of Brian Benestad's Church, State, and Society and J. Budziszewski's What We Can't Not Know.
 
Finally, I was given Peanuts Treasury. Lucy looks innocently at Charlie Brown. 'Charlie Brown I want to ask you something.' To a perplexed Charlie, she continues: 'Do you think I'm a crabby person?' Charlie is honest. He tells her, 'Yes, I think you're a very crabby person.' At this Lucy yells, turning Charlie over, 'WELL, WHO CARES WHAT YOU THINK!'
 
I care about all of these books. They made me think and undermined any crabbiness I might have had.



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.

First, Transformation in Christ, by Dietrich von Hildebrand. A phenomenologist's view of the interior life. Long, detailed, sometimes heavy going—and an absolutely fascinating analysis of the dynamics of spirituality. Having read it, you'll keep it close at hand for ready reference.
 
Second, The Eustace Diamonds, by Anthony Trollope. An occasionally plodding but ultimately illuminating tale of venality and self-seeking on the fringes of the Victorian upper caste. The story features  central characters who'd be serious contenders in any competition for Most Despicable Heroine and Least Admirable Hero in English Literature.
 
Third, The Autobiography of William Allen White. Think American politics and journalism are shabby affairs today? White's informative book is a reminder of how much worse things were a century or more ago, when politicians were routinely bought and owned by moneyed interests and nobody thought it odd that a Kansas newsman like White should double as an upfront, unapologetic party hack.



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?

Top of my list is Pope Benedict XVI's second volume of his trilogy, Jesus of Nazareth (Vatican/San Francisco, 2011), devoted to Holy Week. It is an astonishing achievement at every level: academic, theological and, especially, spiritual.

Finola Kennedy's life of Frank Duff, A Life Story (London/New York, 2011) was an eye-opener for me. Kennedy's carefully researched objective portrayal of the founder of the Legion of Mary affords her readers a genuine insight into the human greatness, spiritual depth and theological originality of this man of God—and one of our greatest contemporaries.

Michael Burleigh's Earthly Powers (London, 2005) is a fascinating, historical account of the interaction of religion and politics covering the period stretching from the French Revolution to the Great War. Among other insights, it shows how, in the process of secularization, politics in Europe itself took on the guise of a religion— inevitably with tragic effects.

Considering the present plight of the Church in Ireland, George Weigel's The Courage to be Catholic (New York: Basic Books, 2002), written in response to what might be called the meltdown of Catholicism in the USA resulting from a series of exposures in 2002 of clerical sexual abuse and episcopal negligence, was an inspiration and a source of hope.

Finally, The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshim Hamid (London: Penguin, 2008) raised profound religious and moral issues by way of fiction. This short novel allows the reader to gain insight into how Western prejudices could turn a Western-educated Muslim of secular sympathies into what seems (to Western eyes) to be a fundamentalist, while at the same time it raises questions about those very prejudices.



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.

God and Other Minds by Alvin Plantinga. The former Notre Dame philosophy professor's seminal work on his version of the ontological argument.  The text is inarguably dense, evidence of Plantinga's meticulous use of analytical philosophy.  Yet, his findings in the later chapters are surprisingly accessible, so long as the reader keeps to the method of inquiry.  On a side note, Plantinga was very gracious and a gentleman in answering some questions from me on his first few chapters.  

Ransoming the Time by Jacques Maritain. Of particular note in this collection is Maritain's discussion of anti-Semitism and its relation to Christophobia.  In the shared pathology binding these two maladies, Maritain exposes, in almost Augustinian fashion, the inherent divisions that are the root of human conflict.  Maritain was especially noteworthy in his keen perspective on anti-Semitism, which he witnessed and assessed in his own time, thus without the benefit of the erudition of hindsight.



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