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.
TO THE 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)
- 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.
- 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?
- 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.
- 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!