Category Archives: Review

Review: Books Read in 2018

One of the (now annual) features of this blog is my review of the various books I’ve read in the previous year.  For the past few years now, I’ve kept track of the new-to-me books I read in the previous year, and have included short reviews of them for your edification.  As even a cursory skim of the titles below would reveal, many of the books are unrelated to apologetics or other branches of theology. That said, I find that people are often interested in what other people read, and would love pithy little reviews of what they are reading.  


No?  That’s just an obsession of mine?  


Well, anyway, I’m posting the list with my comments for my sake, if not for the rest of the Internet.  


You might recall from last year’s review (here and here) that my goal for this year was to read all of the books my wife and I own by people we know personally which I had not yet read.  When I posted last year’s review, I was excited that, by the end of the first week in February, I had read six books, including three written by people we know.  I planned on plowing ahead, especially during the summer months.


But I ran into a literary brick wall: two massive, 500+ page books.  That slowed my reading to a crawl, and thus I was unable to finish ALL of the books by people we know that we own.


But I did read several of them, and I have indicated below which ones were from that list.  




Dragon Teeth by Michael Crichton – Written prior to the the release of Jurassic Park (one of my all-time favorite books!) but never published, this newest from Crichton (who died a few years ago) is a historical novel looking at the 19th century dinosaur bone wars between Cope and Marsh.  It is good, a really fast read, but it does feel like a draft work, like something that could have been expanded into something more like Crichton’s other works.  Still, I recommend it, especially if you like dinosaurs.


The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis – I read this one as a challenge to my students.  I regularly assign book reviews for my religion students, and this year was no exception.  They picked the topic of the book, and I picked the title. So we have Lewis’ short collection of lectures on the moral crisis of our day, which became even more abundantly applicable in light of the #MeToo movement.  Men have ceased to be men (hence their abolition) because we have given them free rein to do whatever they desire, but then attack them for doing what we allowed them to do. Lewis wrote decades before the Sexual Revolution, but he saw even in the 1940s the risk of the morality that would flourish in the 1960s.  If only we had listened to his warnings.


The Glory of the Crusades by Steve Weidenkopf – The first of the “by people we know” books, this volume traces the history of the major medieval crusades and argues that they were not horrific attacks against helpless Muslim populations but were something more spiritual.  Weidenkopf was a professor of mine in graduate school and directed my MA thesis, and this book feels like his courses. The work surveys some of the best scholars in crusade-studies from the past few decades, and his copious notes refer to noted historians like Jonathan Riley-Smith and Thomas Madden.  A good work for those who hope to better understand the history of the crusading movement, especially in response to those who use the crusades as ammunition to attack the Church.


The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander –  I read this with my wife, Sarah.  The 1985 Disney cartoon of the same name does not do the book (or Alexander’s fantasy realm) justice, despite being a pretty good movie.  Adventure! Bad guys! Gurgi! I wish I had been introduced to this series as a kid.


Death and Immortality in Middle Earth edited by Daniel Helen – This was one of the “by people we know” books.  Remember back in 2016 when Sarah and I gave talks at the 2016 Tolkien Seminar in Leeds, England?  Do you want to see what you missed out? Well, now you can, with this great little book, containing essay versions of the talks given at that conference.  Mine starts the book, as my talk did the Seminar, and Sarah’s is about midway through it. All of them are good reads. Get yourself a copy!


One Man Perched on a Rock: A Biography of Dr. Warren H. Carroll by Laura Gossin – I’m including this in the category of “books by people we know” even though we don’t personally know the author.  However, we do know, or knew, the subject of the book. This is the only substantial biography of Warren H. Carroll, founder of Christendom College.  It draws largely upon an unpublished autobiography by Carroll and interviews with people who knew Carroll personally and were involved with the creation of Christendom College.  If you want to introduce someone to the work of Warren H. Carroll, I would actually recommend giving them this book, and then introduce them to his historical writings. [Side note: I am quoted in the book!]  The book shys away from analyzing Carroll’s thought from a historiographical perspective (it is more put in context of his biography); if you want a short, amazing [he says humbly] introduction to Carroll’s thought as a historian, check out my essay in the most recent issue of The Catholic Social Science Review.  


The Real Story of Catholic History by Steve Weidenkopf – Another one of the “books by people we know,” and again, another by this former professor of mine.  This is a wide ranging work, looking at a lot of different historical questions and topics. Each chapter, so to speak, responds to a question/objection to the Catholic Church rooted in her history.  Weidenkopf then explains why opponents of the Church hold this position, citing various anti-Catholic and anti-religious works, and then responds by referring to the historical record. More often than not, the response requires simply presenting the real story behind the objection (hence the title of the book).  A good vade mecum for historical apologetics.


Marry Her and Die for Her by Costanza Miriano – St. Nicholas brought this book and its companion, Marry Him and Be Submissive, for my wife and I last Christmas.  While this book is, outwardly, directed towards men, it is just as much, if not more so, directed to women.  The chapters are letters to friends of the authors who are going through relationship/marital/parenting issues.  Good, insightful, funny.


Did Jesus Really Rise from the Dead? by Carl E. Olson – I read this book as a reviewer for Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  Rather than writing out a new review here, I simply direct readers to their website and give this brief recommendation: This is a comprehensive examination of why the historical, physical Resurrection of Jesus really did happen.  Get it. Read it. Share it with others.


Rediscover Jesus by Matthew Kelly – I read this book as spiritual reading during Lent, and it definitely helped me understand why Matthew Kelly is so popular as a contemporary spiritual writer.  Kelly provides forty short reflections on Christ’s life, inviting his readers to draw into a relationship with Christ, not simply to learn about Him. That was an important point for me, as too often I turn my spiritual reading into an academic exercise, rather than a chance to build my relationship with God.  Kelly’s short book helped me refocus on Him this year.


Angels and their Mission by Jean Danielou – I read this in conjunction with another book report given to my students.  This was a fascinating study, examining angels as discussed in both scripture and the writings of the Church Fathers.  Since I do not know enough about angels, this little book was a welcome read this year.


The World’s Last Night by C. S. Lewis –  I read this with my wife, Sarah.  A collection of essays by the master Christian apologist ranging from topics as varied as prayer, education, Faith, and, as the title would suggest, the end of the world.  A good short read, whether as spiritual reading or for fun.


No Turning Back by Donald H. Calloway – Another book by someone we know.  Fr. Calloway served his diaconal year at my parish right in the midst of my early teen years.  He was no ordinary seminarian, as he had a conversion and vocation story like no other. You know how St. Augustine had a troublesome youth?  Calloway’s was (dare I say) more troublesome. If you want to hear the compelling, Divine Mercy-filled story of how this rebellious, intoxicated Dead Head (he still has the tatoo) went from being a teenaged gang member to travelling the world, sharing the love of Christ, read this book.  If I could get every student I teach to read one contemporary theological book, this would be it.


The Castle of Llyr by Lloyd Alexander – The third of the Prydain Chronicles series, I read this with my wife, Sarah.  This book has a our heroes encountering a giant cat (and his oversized master), a bumbling prince, a scheming Chief Steward, and an evil previously thought vanquished.  Read it with your kids!


The Church: Understanding the Church from the Teachings of Vatican II, Lumen Gentium by Mark A. Pilon – This book, unfortunately, does not seem to be available for purchase online anywhere.  That makes sense, since I think the author, a priest from the Arlington Diocese who recently passed away, wrote the book as a textbook for high school students at Bishop O’Connell High School (where I teach).  It does provide a good overview of ecclesiology and a thoughtful reflection on Lumen Gentium, the Vatican II document on the Church. I had Fr. Pilon as a professor in graduate school, so this book falls in the “books by people we know” category.  


How to Do Apologetics by Patrick Madrid – I read this book because we were incorporating it as a required text for the apologetics course we offer at O’Connell.  Madrid brings together decades of experience in the field of Catholic apologetics in this short, accessible book. The work does not just give talking points for when engaging objectors to the Faith (“if your opponent says X, you say Y”), but rather looks at how to use logic in argumentation, as well as how to approach different audiences.  Informative as well as instructive.


The Best of Triumph edited by Christopher Briggs (?) –  I have a question mark here for the editor because the book does not actually list an editor; I am drawing this information from a footnote in Warren H. Carroll’s The Crisis of Christendom (which I reviewed before on this blog).  This is a MASSIVE book (650+ pages) that includes only a fraction of the essays, articles, book reviews, and editorials from the nine-year run of Triumph Magazine.  It includes several essays by people Sarah and I know/knew (Warren H. Carroll, Anne Carroll, William H. Marshner, and Mark A. Pilon) and other key figures in mid-twentieth century Catholic thought (L. Brent Bozell Jr., Frederick Wilhelmsen, Michael Lawrence, among others).   Reading the section surrounding the promulgation of Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae vitae was helpful when writing my own reflections on the encyclical this past year.  If you want to explore the key ideas of orthodox Catholic thought in the United States, you should read this book.  


Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten – This may surprise you, but this was not a book of deep theology (get it?).  With the movie adaption of this book coming out in 2018, I had hoped to read the novel first, and, finding it in a bookstore, I bought it and read it really quickly.  It was fun, a bit silly, with plenty of giant-shark-eating-people action that you would expect from a novel about a living Megalodon shark going on a people-eating rampage.  


The First Society: The Sacrament of Matrimony and the Restoration of the Social Order by Scott Hahn – Another book I reviewed for Homiletic and Pastoral Review.  As I noted in my review, this book is revolutionary in its radicalism.  Radicalism here doesn’t just mean intense; it also means getting at the root of something.  Hahn’s solution to much of society’s issues is fixing the “first society,” that is, the family.  


Seventy Years of the Communist Revolution by Warren H. Carroll – I read this as one of the “books by people we know.”  This is the first edition of Carroll’s The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution, which is his massive work tracing the history of international communism from its ideological roots to its collapse in the 1990s.  This first edition, however, does not go so far forward or backward in time (the book came out a couple months before the fall of the Berlin Wall).  This book’s scope is still wide reaching, covering all of the major places where Communism extended its tentacles. What was really interesting (and really nerdy on my part) was comparing some passages in Seventy Years with the matching passage in The Rise and Fall, and how the information changed and developed even in the short (less than five years) span of time between the two editions.    


Rejoicing in the Truth: Wisdom and the Educator’s Craft by Christopher O. Blum – Another book by someone we know, this collection of essays on education comes from a former history professor of mine at Christendom College (who is now with the Augustine Institute).  I highly recommend this book for teachers who are seeking ways of reevaluating their curriculum to reflect a Catholic vision of academics. There is even an essay that might help mathematics teachers teach in light of the Church’s intellectual tradition.  


The Shadow of the Bear by Regina Doman – I read this with my wife, Sarah.  It is technically written by someone we know (kinda) but this wasn’t a book we own, so I don’t know if it counts towards my goal.  I guess not (technically). This is the first of Doman’s “fairy tales retold” series, and it goes through the story of Snow White and Red Rose, updating the setting to modern New York City, rather than the Teutonic woods.  The bear isn’t a bear, but is Bear, a heroic gentle beast of a man. There is adventure, there is romance, there is (a little too much) girly talk, and a healthy splash of Catholicism.


The Third Spring by Adam Schwartz – This was by one of my history professors at Christendom College, adapted from his dissertation.  Here, Schwartz examines the lives of four notable British converts to Catholicism (G. K. Chesterton, Graham Greene, Christopher Dawson, and David Jones) and how their life and work fits into their contemporary intellectual and cultural historical setting.  The recurring theme was how these men found in Catholicism an intellectual and spiritual rebellion against the spirit of modernity. A fascinating book, although it was a bit challenging to get through (it is, after all, his dissertation).


A Popular History of the Catholic Church by Philip Hughes – This was a book on tape.  No, I mean it. I listened to a cassette tape version of this book.  The book succinctly traces the story of the Church from the days of the Apostles through the first half of the twentieth century (Hughes composed it just before the Second Vatican Council convened).  An enjoyable, informative read, this was more than just a list of names and figures, and yet at the same time was accessible and beautifully written.


The Encyclopedia of New and Rediscovered Animals by Karl P. N. Shuker – Again, another (seemingly) strange addition to this list, but not so strange to those who know me.  I love animals, and I love cryptozoology, and this book is a fascinating mix of the two. The book chronicles many (but obviously not all) of the animals discovered or rediscovered since 1900.  They range from fantastic (like the megamouth shark, the coelacanth, the Komodo dragon, and the okapi) to the obscure yet important (including at least one new phylum of invertebrate). I read it all the way through, cover to cover, which is probably not how you should read it.  However, it is definitely a good pick for animal lovers, especially those who seek something new and exciting, awaiting discovery out there.


Certain Sainthood: Canonization and the Origins of Papal Infallibility in the Medieval Church by Donald S. Prudlo – This was the last of the books by people that we know and the last book I read in 2018.  Both Sarah and I know Don Prudlo, but for very different reasons (he is a friend of her older brother, and I had Don as a professor in graduate school).  I thought this book was going to be a difficult read, but I was wrong. It was very engaging, especially as its topic was how the Church’s understanding of papal infallibility as defined at the First Vatican Council really stems from the theological wars against heretics in the High Middle Ages.  Central to the book is how canonizations by popes became a doctrinal litmus test to determine someone’s orthodoxy. Did they accept saints canonized by the pope as legitimate saints? Was it because they rejected the idea of saints, or the authority of the pope, or was it that they just didn’t like the saint?  You’ll have to read the book to see how that all irons out.


Thus the review of books past.  Now to look forward to the future.  


Call it a New Year’s Resolution.  Call it an attempt to be more productive, or professional, or anything like that.  Call me crazy.


Whatever you call it, here are my goals for this year (and yes, they include goals for this blog and for reading)


  1. Read at least 40 new-to-me books before January 1, 2020.  This would break my personal record for most books read in a year (since I started keeping track).  There are several books I would like to read this year, but I am not binding myself to particular titles.  
  2. Post at least once a month on the blog.  I feel like I have neglected this place in recent months (years. . . ), and I mean to make amends.  They might not all be the greatest posts ever, but they will exist, and that’s got to count for something, right?  
  3. Submit at least one paying article per month.  I often write articles for Catholic Exchange and similar sites, but am looking into writing for other publishers as well.  
  4. Complete the roughest draft of a book-length manuscript.  I have several I am currently gestating, none of which are near completion.  Let’s see what 365 days gives us!


In closing, here is a picture of Elijah Charles Rose, my third son, born just as 2018 was ending (specifically December 28). 



God is good!  

Tagged , , , , , ,

Review: Books I Read in 2017 (“The Others”)

Books Read 2017 (part 2)

Image may contain: 1 person, sitting

This is me reading.  It is not me reading one of the books on this list.  Actually, its not even from this past year.  Make of it what you will.  


My last post was the list of books I challenged myself to read (and succeeded, I might add) in 2017.  Check out the post to see just how crazy I am. 


This essay lists all of the books that were not from “The Big Ten,” but that I read anyway.  I’ll call them “The Others.”  


“The Others” (also in no particular order)


  1. The Silmarillion by J. R. R. Tolkien – I assign my freshmen a book report assignment in the second and third quarter.  In solidarity with them (because a teacher should not assign an assignment that he isn’t willing to do himself) I did the report on a book of my choosing from the list.  I chose this posthumously published collection of sagas from the Middle-Earth before The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien spent the majority of his life working on these stories, rewriting, adjusting, simplifying and expanding them.  Some are better than others (the creation account is amazing, but you would have to read my wife’s essay from the 2016 Tolkien Seminar for more on that), and it isn’t as much of a continual story, more a collection of stories from the time before the events of The Hobbit.  Overall, I enjoyed it immensely.  


  1. Charmed Life by Diane Wynn Jones – My wife and I read this together.  I had not read any Diane Wynn Jones books prior to this one (I just didn’t read a lot of fiction as a child).  It was great, featuring an interesting fantasy world of real life Britain mixed with magic.  I look forward to reading more Jones books. 


  1. The Church & the New Media by Brandon Vogt – Another book I read in solidarity with my freshmen. This one featured several essays by a variety of notable Catholics involved in the New Media.  Some looked at more spiritual or theological aspects of discussing the Faith on the Internet, while others were more advice driven, explaining how Catholics and Catholic organizations can use the New Media to reach more people and expand their ministries. 


  1. Real Love by Mary Beth Bonacci – Another book I read in solidarity with my freshmen. Bonacci answers real questions from real teens who have real relationship problems.  The answers aren’t mere “Here’s the Church’s teaching” type answers; the majority of the answers invoke statistical evidence, making the book approachable for those outside the Church.  The book was a great help for me as a high school teacher, as I often get similar questions inside and outside of class.  


  1. Scripture Matters by Scott Hahn – Scott Hahn is one of the most recognizable Catholic Scripture scholars.  This collection of essays, covering a wide range of Scriptural topics, looks less at particular interpretations of specific passages, but rather at Scriptural exegesis as a whole.  Overall, the book is a good introduction to the Church’s study of Sacred Scripture. 


  1. On the Passion of Christ According to the Four Evangelists by Thomas a’Kempis – This was my spiritual reading during Lent.  Drawing from the Passion accounts in the Gospels, the mediation, which was a portion of a larger work on the life of Christ, walks with Jesus along his path to the cross.  Even though it was clearly written for those in religious communities (there are explicit references to life as a religious brother, to your religious superior, and to regularly praying the Divine Office), anyone can read it and draw deeply from a’Kempis’ spiritual well.


  1. One Heart Full of Love by Mother Teresa – This collection of speeches and interviews by St. Teresa of Calcutta is, shockingly, my first real introduction to the saint’s public addresses. I grew up knowing the greatness of this woman (I was 11 when she died), but I hadn’t read or heard any of her talks.  This collection shows the depth of Mother Teresa’s love for the poor and the neglected, as well as for Christ.  You feel her heart in every line, every word, in the collection. 


  1. Angels (and Demons) by Peter Kreeft – Written in question & answer format, this book (an easy read, I might add) delves into the theological and philosophical tradition about angels (and demons). Humor infuses Kreeft’s reflections, as do references to literature (Kreeft posits that the best depiction of angels in literature lies in the opening section of The Silmarillion, which I had read just prior to this book) and the writings of various saints. 


  1. The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander – My wife and I read this together. This is the first of the Prydain Chronicles, a fantasy-adventure series that I, in my majority non-fiction reading youth, hadn’t encountered before my marriage (I had seen Disney’s The Black Cauldron, which is sort of based on the series).  Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper under the care of the enchanter Dallben, goes on an adventure against an evil lord Arawn.  Along the way, he meets an increasingly interesting cast of characters, the kind he will want by his side in his other adventures.  [Side note: My favorite memory of reading this book wasn’t as much the plot or characters, but my wife’s reading it.  Her version of Gurgi, the man-beast that befriends Taran, is adorable!]


  1. Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis – I read this book during Adoration over the span of a couple months. Rather than reflecting on each individual Psalm, Lewis examines themes and doctrines found in the Psalms, connecting them to literature, history, and philosophy, as well as the rest of the Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition. 


  1. Rising Sun by Michael Crichton – I’m a big Michael Crichton fan.  I had read almost everything of his except this book.  Now I have.  Corporate corruption abounds in this murder mystery/crime drama, with Japanese businesses essentially controlling the economy of the United States.  The novel follows our hero as he tries to follow conflicting leads and questions less than helpful suspects, all the while trying to make it through the night alive.  Enjoyable, but I still stand by my view that Crichton was at his best when writing sci-fi novels.  


  1. Surprised by Truth, edited by Patrick Madrid – A collection of conversion stories from a variety of converts with an equally wide range of backgrounds. Some big names are in here, as well as more obscure ones.  Quite the emotional roller coaster; more than once the convert would be so close to the Church, then take a sharp left, and I, way too invested in stories to which I already know the conclusion, would scream in my head “You’re so close!  COME IN!  The Tiber’s great!”  Anyway, I liked it.  


  1. Ablaze! by Colleen Swaim – This is the first of TWO books by someone I know personally on this list (the other is directly below). I teach with Colleen (she’s one of the greatest teachers I know) at Bishop O’Connell, and when I became chairman of the religion department, with her joining the department at the same time, I decided I needed to get to know her a little better.  So I read one of her books.  She wrote this book and it’s companion, Radiate, years before she came to O’Connell.  Both of the books contain short biographies of saintly teens written for teens.  I must admit, I learned a lot from the book. 


  1. The Demon Maelstrom by Nicholas Mason – My wife and I read this together. I’m friends with the author from our time at Christendom College.  This is the second book in his Subversion Trilogy, which is set in a dystopian future Washington DC area.  Filled with crisp action scenes and thought-provoking dialogue, the story rushes towards a dramatic conclusion that sets the stage for the final installment.  Central to the drama of this series is the dignity of the human person; outside of our heroine and the rebels she fights with against the corrupt central government, the whole society, in true “theology of the body” fashion, disregards human dignity on a societal and personal level.  It is a dark precognition, one that feels more likely each day.    


So, that’s what kept me so busy during 2017.  Altogether, I began and finished 24 new-to-me books. 


This year, I plan to do something different.  In my living room, my wife and I have a bookshelf; friends and professors of ours wrote the books that inhabit the first two shelves.  Many of them I’ve read at some point, but a substantial number remain unread at the dawn of 2018.  Therefore, my reading goal this year is to read ALL of the books by people I know that I have not yet read by the start of the year.  As of now, there are a little more than a dozen books on the list.


I’m off to a good start too!  As of this posting, I’ve finished SIX new-to-me books, including three from this list of books by people that I know. 


Want to know what I thought of them? 


You’ll have to read my post on them next year. 


Tagged , , , , , ,

Review: Books I read in 2017 (“The Big Ten”)

These past couple of years, I have kept a tally of the books I’ve read that were new-to-me, ones that I read for the first time that year.  In 2015 and 2016 I tried to read as many books as I could, trying to reach my personal goal of reading forty books.

I still have yet to reach that goal. 

This year, I did something different.  Readers may remember that my 2016 book list essay, posted at the dawn of 2017, included a list of ten books that I was determined to read before the end of the year.  I would also keep track of additionally books that I read. 

I’ll divide my reviews into two posts, one on “the Big Ten” and the other on the others.  

“The Big Ten” (in no particular order)

  1. Witness to Hope by George Weigel – The first part of Weigel’s monumental biography of Pope St. John Paul II, Witness to Hope came out in 1999, before John Paul II’s 2005 death.  The book is enormous (over 900 pages, and I read the first edition, not the one with a new Preface and Afterward), but essential if you want a complete picture of John Paul the Great.  One of the best biographies I have ever read.  Well worth the work that went into reading it. 
  1. The End and the Beginning by George Weigel – This is the sequel to Witness to Hope, but it is more than a sequel. Yes, it covers the life of John Paul II from 2000 (where Witness to Hope ended) through his death in 2005, but it also reexamines John Paul’s war against communism, or rather the communists’ war against him, thanks to the opening of Soviet archives.  The communism section is part one and the rest of John Paul’s biography is part two.  The third part offers Weigel’s reflections on the successes and failures of John Paul’s papacy.  Engaging and informative.  
  1. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi – This one is written for younger readers, but it was exciting nonetheless.  I won’t spoil anything about the plot, but I will quote you the opening sentences, just to whet your appetite: “Not every thirteen-year old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty.  But I was just such a girl. . .”  Grabs ya, no?  I wasn’t too fond of how the book ends, but the rest of it was great!
  1. The Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology by Michael Newton – Anyone who knows me knows that I have a not-so-secret love for cryptozoology (the study of hidden animals, like Bigfoot, Nessie, sea serpents, animals that should be extinct but are reported to be alive, etc).  This is the most encompassing book I’ve ever found on the topic.  In addition to at least a short entry on most of the important creatures, locations, or people associated with cryptozoology, the book also has appendices listing movies, novels, and television shows featuring cryptozoological storylines.  There is also a comprehensive bibliography, for further reading.  
  1. Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard – The first of O’Reilly and Dugard’s collaborations on the end (“Killing”) of famous people and institutions. An exciting read, filled with details I did not know about the Lincoln Assassination plot and the final days of the Civil War, it was a little frustrating for me for personal reasons.  My family might be distantly related to Mary Surratt, who was executed in connection with the assassination.  For all the detail put into researching the book, the treatment of Surratt’s role seemed cursory in comparison, following the standard narrative. 
  1. The History of the Catholic Church by James Hitchcock – I had previously thought of using this one-volume history of the Church for a high school Church History course. While it won’t work well in that regard (a little challenging for a textbook), it is a fantastic introduction to Catholic History.  Every page contained stories and facts I had never learned, and it approaches its story, not surprisingly, from a person-centered viewpoint.  
  1. The Life You Save May be Your Own by Paul Elie – Having majored in English and History, I have a special place in my heard for literary biographies. Paul Elie’s volume, which examines the life and work of Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy, does an excellent job not only examining the lives of these writers and their important role in mid-twentieth century Catholic intellectual history, but also how their lives and writings intertwined, and how one would influence the other.  It is a compelling read.  It really made me want to read the authors’ works, which is probably the ultimate goal of all good literary biography.   
  1. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe – Many people read this emotional novel in their high school literature courses. I did not; I feel glad I didn’t, though, because I feel that high school me would not have appreciated the depth of this mediation on African paganism’s reaction to European Christian colonialism.  Of “the Big Ten,” this one in particular sparked in me a desire for conversation.  The beauty of the imagery, the emotional pull of the story, the complexity of the characters.  All of it came together in a masterpiece of not just African literature, but of the human creative experience. 
  1. The Poem of the Cid by Anonymous – Years ago I bought a bilingual version of this book (not that I can read Medieval Spanish; it was the only version that I could find at the time) because I thought I would need it for a history course at Christendom College (turns out I had an outdated book list so I didn’t have to read it).  It was quite the epic, very similar to other medieval epic poems like The Song of Roland (which I did read for school).  Lots of battles and loot-getting.  Check it out if you haven’t yet.   
  1. Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt – I must admit, this was my least favorite of the books I read this year (that includes the books not on “the Big Ten” list). The major parts of McCourt’s autobiography are compelling and emotionally charged, beautifully using Irish dialects and standard English to paint with words.  Yet I found the book to be too sexual.  [Related note: I’m beginning to have mixed feelings about reading memoirs, since the majority (at least what I’ve read, outside of conversion stories) include too much detail about the sexual exploits and desires of the author].  McCourt’s story begins when his parents, both newly arrived in America, met each other and had casual sex in a pub, which led to little Frankie’s conception, and ends with him having a one-night-stand with a girl at a party upon returning to America.  See?  It’s symmetry!  Sigh. 

That’s “the Big Ten.”  Next time, I’ll talk about the other books that I read in 2017. 

And, of course, someday soon, I’ll ACTUALLY post a Q & A essay.   

Until then, keep reading!

Tagged , , ,

Review: BOOKS READ IN 2016

I love to read. 

You know how people ask you about your hobbies?  Mine is reading (and writing, like for this blog!).  Pretty much always has been. 

In 2015, I tried to read as many books as I could during the year (including books read with my wife Sarah, of course).  I kept track of the books, which had to be books which I had never read before. 

I read thirty-eight, almost thirty-nine (so close).

This year, I tried again to read as many books as I could.  I also kept track of each book’s length, so I could see how many pages I read by the end of the year.  The list of books is below, with a little review for each.   

This past year was an adventurous one, what with my wife and I both delivering talks in Leeds, England about J. R. R. Tolkien in July, and with me delivering a talk about Pope Francis at Franciscan University of Steubenville in November.  My Tolkien talk was entitled “Tolkien and the Battle of the Somme” and the Pope Francis talk was called “Memory and the Family: Pope Francis’ View of History.”  I’ve indicated which books were read in the process of researching for these talks, in case people would like to read more about the topics. 

  1. Biblical Reflections on Crises Facing the Church by Raymond E. Brown – 121 p – Fr. Brown’s take on several of the big “issues” in the Church today. Made me frustrated a few times. 
  1. Unless Some Man Show Me by Alexander Jones – 155 p – Collections of columns written about Scripture interpretation for a Catholic newspaper in England. Very useful. 
  1. The American Catholic Almanac by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson – 408 p – Read for a review for Homiletic and Pastoral Review. A story from American Catholic history and culture for every day of the year.  I learned a lot!  I only wish there was a Bibliography so I could dig deeper. 
  1. Christ in His Fullness by Bruce Sullivan – 222 p – Conversion story and refutation of the major arguments that had held this former Church of Christ minister from entering the Church.  A very quick read. 
  1. Why Johnny Doesn’t Behave: Twenty Tips and Measurable BIPs by Annemieke Golly and Barbara D. Bateman– 122 p – A book on teaching for a change. It focused on how to deal with misbehaving children and implementing Behavioral Implementation Plans (BIPs)   . 
  1. The Ten Commandments by Charles Pope – 80 p – Short but sweet overview of the Decalogue and the Church’s teaching on the commandments.
  1. The Crown of Sorrow by Alban Goodier – 156 p – My Lenten spiritual reading this year. Slowly moves you through the passion account, beginning and ending with the Scriptures, to draw you into Christ’s Passion.  It worked well as a daily Lenten meditation. 
  1. Harry Potter & the Order of the Phoenix by J. K. Rowling – 870 p – Read this with my wife. Harry is a whiny teenager, people start gathering to fight the evil guy and someone dies (da da DA!)
  1. J. R.R. Tolkien: His Life, Work, and Faith by Raymond Edwards – 88 p – Little Bio about Tolkien. Read to help prepare for the Tolkien talk in England. 
  1. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline – 374 p – Part dystopian novel, part love letter to the 1980s. Had a predictable ending and parts that I really didn’t like (the full page apologia for touching yourself was not appreciated). 
  1. The Broker by John Grisham – 422 p – The only John Grisham novel I’ve read. Guy from Washington DC gets a pardon set up by the CIA and lives on the run in Italy. 
  1. Harry Potter & the Half-Blood Prince by J. K. Rowling – 652 p – Read this with my wife. Harry’s less whiny.  Good mystery in this one. 
  1. Tolkien and the Great War by John Garth – 313 p – Read to help prepare for the Tolkien talk in England. About Tolkien’s early life and his time in World War I.  Very interesting. 
  1. Golden Apples of the Sun by Ray Bradbury – 364 p – Collection of stories by the master of science fiction short stories. Included the story that inspired the film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
  1. Prove It: You by Amy Welborn – 125 p – Book on morality written for teens.
  1. Why Be Catholic by Patrick Madrid – 230 p – Read for a review for Homiletic and Pastoral Review. Good reflection on why it’s great to be Catholic.  The book weaves in personal stories about each topic. 
  1. Francis: Pope of the New World by Andrea Torinelli – 180 p – Short biography about Pope Francis written soon after his election. Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows by J. K. Rowling – 759 p – The last Harry Potter book. It is the climax.  Anyone else feel like Rowling was inspired by C. S. Lewis while writing this one, especially by The Great Divorce?
  1. 2201 Fascinating Facts by David Louis – 376 p – Fun trivia facts on basically everything. A little dated (it was published in the late ‘80s).
  1. The Big Grey Man of Ben MacDhui by Affleck Gray – 178 p – The only book on Scotland’s hairy biped (like Bigfoot). Purchased in Scotland.
  1. Black Priest/White Church by Lawrence E. Lucas – 270 p – About overcoming racism in the Catholic Church during the 1960s and 1970 (when the book was written). I didn’t agree with all of the priest’s points, but it did make me think about what I can do to help race relations in my own experiences.  
  1. Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer – 227 p – Historical fiction for middle schoolers. Actually a pretty fun read. 
  1. On the Family by Pope Francis – 120 p – Pope Francis’ Wednesday Audience reflections on the family from 2015. Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. A Song for Mary by Dennis Smith – 374 p – Memoir of growing up as a Catholic poor kid in New York.
  1. McGinty’s Dead by Agatha Christie – 247 p – My first Agatha Christie novel. I won’t tell you how it ends.
  1. The Mystery Science Theater 3000 Amazing Colossal Episode Guide by the Writers of the Series – 207 p – The title pretty much says it all. The only problem is that it was over too soon!
  1. Doctor Who: Big Bang Generation by Gary Russell – 238 p – An adventure based on the TV show characters. Lots of fun when you hear the actors’ voices in your head while reading the story. 
  1. Pope Francis Speaks to the US and Cuba by Pope Francis – 175 p – All of the homilies, talks, and interviews Pope Francis gave during his visit to America in 2015. Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. Amoris Laetitia by Pope Francis – 225 p – The controversial Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis on the Family. Lots of good stuff, but the confusing parts are legitimately confusing.  Read to help prepare for the Pope Francis talk at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
  1. Creation, Evolution, and Catholicism by Thomas L. McFadden Sr. – 138 p – Independently published. Argued that you cannot be a Catholic and hold that evolution, even theistic evolution, is true.  Lots of insults against Jesuits in this one.  Not too fun of a read. 
  1. Liturgical Question Box by Peter J. Elliott – 189 p – Adapted from the author’s column in an Australian Catholic newspaper
  1. Poor Richard’s Almanac, etc by Benjamin Franklin – 130 p – Little book of “advice” from Poor Richard. . . I mean Benjamin Franklin
  1. The Enchanted World: Dragons by the editors at Time-Life – 130 p – Part of a series of books published by Time-Life. Lots of fun stories and pretty pictures. 
  1. Irish Saints Robert T. Reilly – 169 p – Lots of short lives of great Irish saints (and some saints to be?).
  1. A Father Who Keeps His Promises by Scott Hahn – 293 p – Dr. Hahn presents the story of Salvation in an interesting, entertaining, and spiritually enlightening way. I’ve already begun incorporating material from this book into my lesson plans. 
  1. J. R. R. Tolkien: A Biography by Humphrey Carpenter – 277 p – The official biography of the great author. Very interesting read.  I read parts of this for the Tolkien talk, and I read the rest of it later in the year. 
  1. Catholics in America by Russell Shaw – 149 p – Short bios of key figures in American Catholicism. Really made me want to read more about these people. 
  1. Catholicism and Fundamentalism by Karl Keating – 340 p – This work of apologetics helped launch a revival of Catholic apologetics (which this blog is hopefully a small part). Very informative, looking at Fundamentalist arguments and answering them with the Church’s teaching. 
  1. Narrative Poems by C.S. Lewis – 186 p – Of the four poems in this book, only the first one, Dymer, was published in Lewis’ life. Good, quick read. 

And for those that weren’t keeping track, that’s 10,279 pages read in 2016. 

For 2017, I’m doing something different (again).  First, again I’m trying to read as many books as I can (my goal is forty).  Secondly, and different for this year, I have picked ten books that I have been meaning to read for a while (in some cases, over a decade).  The goal is to read all ten of them before the end of the year.  I own them all, so getting my hands on the book is the easy part.  The order of me reading them doesn’t matter, which hopefully will make things easier. 

Anyway, here’s that list (in no particular order):

  • Witness to Hope by George Weigel
  • The End and the Beginning by George Weigel
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi
  • The Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology by Michael Newton
  • Killing Lincoln by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard
  • The History of the Catholic Church by James Hitchcock
  • The Life You Save May be Your Own by Paul Elie
  • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe
  • The Poem of the Cid by Anonymous
  • Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

In other words, it’s looking like 2017 is shaping up to be a great year for reading!  Expect a short review of each of the ten, and every other new book I read this year, in January 2018.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Review: The Crisis of Christendom by Warren H. Carroll

This is something new for Quidquid Est, Est.  Book Reviews.  As mentioned, I will be reviewing books, some old and some new, that might be of interest for readers of this blog.  They will have their own special category and will be (generally speaking) unrelated to other posts prior to or succeeding them.

And it is my honor to review, for the inaugural Book Review, a work that I have been awaiting probably more than any other person on Earth.  The book is the sixth volume in the late Warren H. Carroll’s History of Christendom series, The Crisis of Christendom (published this year by Christendom Press).  To give you an idea of how long the wait has been for this particular volume, the fifth book of the series, The Revolution Against Christendom, came out in 2005.  The author, an esteemed Catholic historian known worldwide for his devout recounting of key events in Christian history and his role as founder and first president of Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia (my alma mater), died in 2011.  At the time of his death, news releases from ChristendomCollege assured fans of the series that the volume was near completion, and that its publication would be in June 2012.

June 2012 came and went, and it seemed for a year the publication date of the book pushed forward a month at a time.  I was going crazy.

But I have it now (it came out in July 2013), and have read it, and can say with confidence that it was well worth the wait.

The book contains a Forward written by Carroll’s widow, Anne Carroll, who is the co-author of the last two volumes of Carroll’s history.  She notes that the volume covers the years between 1815 and 2010, a time of immense historical events.  Mrs. Carroll notes, “It is not possible to cover these years with the thoroughness of most of his [Warren Carroll’s] earlier volumes.  But Dr. Carroll had selected the topics he wanted to cover, out of all the events that could have been discussed, and it is those topics that are presented here” (p. ix).  As a result, the structure of this volume differs from earlier volumes.  Whereas the chapters in Volumes I-V covered several events within a set time frame, often switching from one topic to another without clear delineation, Volume VI includes subtopic headings, helping the reader know the main focus of that section.  It is a welcome addition which adds to the book’s value as a reference text.

Volume VI opens where Volume V closed, in Europe following the final defeat of Napoleon Bonaparte.  It traces the historical attempts to reunite and restore a broken Europe from the ashes of Napoleonic conquest.  The major historical players are discussed, kings and queens from throughout Europe.  Carroll then discusses the seeds of a new revolution in the writings of Karl Marx.  Later chapters in the volume will examine in great detail one of Carroll’s favorite historical topics: Communism.  The birth of Communism is documented, and rightly so.  Carroll, however, does not leave the story dark, for great light shone in Europe during the 19th century, namely visitations of Mary (during what Carroll calls the “Marian Century”), the pontificate of Bl. Pope Pius IX, and the climactic meetings of the First Vatican Council.

Also discussed are the trials and victories of the New World, especially in the United States of America.  Carroll devotes an entire chapter to the abolition of slavery in the USA, including a brief examination of the American Civil War (1861-1865).  Carroll also devotes space to examining the results of the Industrial Revolution in America and Europe, deflating the belief in a “Gilded Age” in late 19th-century America.

Then the story of Christendom turns dark again.  The chapter appropriately entitled “The Ditches of Death” recounts the horrors of World War I, while several chapters (from “The Ultimate Revolution” through “The Last Crusade”) recount the takeover of Communism in Russia and throughout Eastern Europe, the spread of eugenics in Europe and America, and the beginnings of Fascism in Germany and Italy.  The main focus of Volume VI is the evils of these totalitarian governments, the history-makers who guided those evils, and those brave men and women who fought valiantly against them.  Carroll adapts much of the material dealing with the 20th century from three of his earlier works: his first book, 1917: Red Banner, White Mantle; his book-length study of the Spanish Civil War, The Last Crusade; and his monumental work, The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution, which presents a penetrating investigation of international Communism from its beginnings to its fall in the early 1990s.  This current Volume borrows heavily from those works.  Many of the same players appear here.  Vladimir Lenin, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Mao Zedong, and Pol Pot appear as mankind’s enemies, those who made the world-wide revolution, villains worse than any Disney monster.  Winston Churchill, Bl. Karl of Austria, Carl Gustaf Mannerheim, and Ronald Reagan stand as those who defied their totalitarian adversaries, heroes to their dying days.

And as with all volumes of Carroll’s History, the popes play a central role in the fight for the Church.  Already mentioned was Bl. Pope Pius IX.  His successors Leo XIII, St. Pius X, Benedict XV, Pius XII, Bl. John XXIII, Paul VI, and Bl. John Paul II each play an important part in the history of Christendom.  The key to interpreting the course of the 20th century, Carroll holds, is a vision granted to Pope Leo XIII.  In the vision, God allowed Satan to unleash his worst upon the world for one century, a century which Satan could claim as his own.  The vision went on to show that Satan chose the 20th century as his century.  Carroll uses this vision as a constant refrain throughout this Volume to help explain how men committed the evils that occurred during the past century.  The heroic popes mentioned above all stood against such evil.

Carroll also includes the stories of heroic saints, especially martyrs who stood against the evils of Communism and Fascism and the holy visionaries of Mary.  Saints form an essential part of any study of Catholic history, as Carroll notes in one of the appendices to the Volume.  Also featured is a detailed chapter on the Second Vatican Council and the heresy of Modernism, both of which are greatly misunderstood in the Church today.

Carroll concludes the book with a chapter devoted to the dignity of the human person, a fitting end as both Communism and Fascism attacked this dignity, as did all socially abusive movements in the 20th century, such as the anti-worker laws, the eugenics movement, and, of course, the abortion movement.  There is no happy conclusion to this Volume, as much work is needed in the fight to save Christendom.  Carroll hoped that, in the words of his widow, “each reader of this volume would work to build the culture of life in whatever sphere he can” (p. xi).

This Volume features something unique in the canon of Warren H. Carroll works: Appendices.  There are four appendices at the end of this book, each one echoing, in a sense, Carroll’s hope for this Volume.  The first, “Mission,” is an autobiographical memoir discussing Carroll’s life prior to his founding ChristendomCollege, in particular his education and his conversion to the Catholic Faith.  It is enlightening because it provides readers with an introspective look as to how God worked in Carroll’s life to bring him home, in particular the role his wife Anne played in his conversion.  It is also a brief first-hand account of some key moments in 20th century intellectual and cultural history, such as the conservative movement in the mid-20th century and the work of Triumph magazine (a late-20th century Catholic magazine that had a major impact on Carroll and other Catholic intellectuals during that era).

The second, “Principles for Writing Catholic History,” provides six principles for Catholic historians writing today.  Most are logical: ‘Accepting and Hailing the Supernatural’ (a favorite topic of Carroll’s, as noted in this essay), ‘Seeing All History as Religious and/or Political’ (again, a favorite position of Carroll’s is that history is made by men and women, not social/economic forces), ‘Acknowledging that the Popes Act in History’ (not only that, but the biographies of popes are often good sources for contemporary historical research, especially the multi-volume histories of Horace Mann and Ludwig Von Pastor), ‘Seeing the Impact of the Saints’ (holiness attracts, as one professor of mine would say, and thus holy people have an important historical impact), ‘Eliminating Bias’ (historians should not always write history like hagiography), and ‘The Legacy of Triumph Magazine’ (which Carroll, a former contributor to the magazine, says holds that “the teachings of the Catholic Church alone can explain modern history and culture” [p. 822]).

The third appendix is “Having Done All, To Stand: The Epic of Malta,” a printed version of a lecture Carroll had given at ChristendomCollege several years ago (I was there; it was my first time meeting him).  The essay chronicles the island of Malta’s stand against Turks, Napoleon, and Hitler.  There is passion in Carroll’s chronicle of Malta’s epic history, a passion rarely seen in historical works today.

The fourth appendix is the most unique, an unfinished poem of Carroll’s entitled “The Ballad of the Reconquista: Pelayo at Covadonga.”  It is an epic-style poem reminiscent of G. K. Chesterton’s The Ballad of the White Horse.  Here is another way of teaching history, one ancient, yet ever new: through poetry.  I had never read or heard Carroll’s poetry before; after reading this incomplete poem, I wish there was more of it.

The feature of the Volume that struck me the most was how personal Carroll made it.  Other volumes in the series provide digressions and comments by Carroll in the footnotes of the work, though these comments are usually in the third person (i.e., “the author’s work”) rather than first person (i.e., “my work”).  In Volume VI, not only are references to Carroll’s previous works referred to as “my/mine,” but other comments by Carroll in the text of the history, not in the footnotes, are in first person.  This gives the reflections a more personal aspect, as if Carroll is speaking directly to readers about something close to his heart.  It is good to hear from him again.

Above all, this is a labor of love, the result of over thirty years of historical study and research, the fruit of a lifetime of conversion and conversation.  This is more than a volume of history.  It is more than the story of men and women in the “accursed twentieth century,” as Carroll refers to the past century.  It is Carroll’s final work, and it is his lasting literary legacy.

For More Information:

The Crisis of Christendom is available from Christendom Press and from Amazon.

Press Release from Christendom College concerning the book’s publication.

A short biography of Carroll from the Christendom College website.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: