So many books! So little time! And, unfortunately, not enough to afford them all. Erasmus’ motto, “When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes” worked during college, but is hard to get away with once you’re married with children and have a spouse to answer to. =)
We’ve heard much lately of Pope Benedict’s interview with Peter Seewald: Light of the World: The Pope, The Church and The Signs Of The Times, regarding which Ignatius Press’ Carl Olson has been doing a magnificent job rounding up reviews and discussion across the web; and George Weigel’s “sequel” to his reknowned autobiography of John Paul II: The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, and Patrick W. Carey’s biography Avery Cardinal Dulles, SJ: A Model Theologian.
Here are a few more on the horizon that might be of interest to our readers (and which are definitely on my “to read” list from 2010).
From , Peter J. Leithart, Presbyterian minister and theologian, challenges popular conceptions in: Defending Constantine: The Twilight of an Empire and the Dawn of Christendom:
“We know that Constantine issued the Edict of Milan in 313; outlawed paganism and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire; manipulated the Council of Nicea in 325; exercised absolute authority over the church, co-opting it for the aims of empire[.] And if Constantine the emperor were not problem enough, we all know that Constantinianism has been very bad for the church. Or do we know these things? Peter Leithart weighs these claims and finds them wanting. And what’s more, in focusing on these historical mirages we have failed to notice the true significance of Constantine and Rome baptized. For beneath the surface of this contested story there emerges a deeper narrative of the end of Roman sacrifice – a tectonic shift in the political theology of an empire – and with far-reaching implications. In this probing and informative book Peter Leithart examines the real Constantine, weighs the charges against Constantinianism, and sets the terms for a new conversation about this pivotal emperor and the Christendom that emerged.”
As expected, the book is already causing quite a stir. As First Things‘ Matthew Millner observes, the usually cantankerous, “rhetorically violent” Stanley Haurwaus gave it a surprisingly-welcome review, concluding: “As a pacifist I could not want a better conversation partner than Peter Leithart. God is good.”
On the pro-life front, Ed Feser alerts us to the publication of The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice (Routledge Annals of Bioethics), which the publishers call “the most comprehensive case against the choice of abortion yet published”:
David Boonin, author of A Defense of Abortion, calls it “one of the very best book-length defenses of the claim that abortion is morally impermissible.”
Natural law theorist J. Budziszewski says that the book “replies to the most difficult objections to the pro-life position, many of which have not been adequately addressed by previous authors.”
Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews calls it “the most complete, the most penetrating and the most up-to-date set of critiques of the arguments for abortion choice presently available.”
Don Marquis, author of the widely anthologized article “Why Abortion is Immoral,” calls it “essential reading.”
I’ve mentioned my interest in historian Michael Burleigh on this blog before, with reference to Earthly Powers and Sacred Causes — the latter two a sweeping chronicle of the clash between religion and politics, from the French Revolution to the present day. This was followed by Blood and Rage: A Cultural History of Terrorism (2009) and finally, in 2010: Moral Combat – A History of World War II, a counterpart to his “magisterial” treatment The Third Reich: A New History (2001). From the publishers:
Literature on the Second World War is voluminous. In Moral Combat, however, Michael Burleigh achieves what few historians can claim to have done; by exploring the moral sentiment of entire societies and their leaders, and how this changed under the impact of total war, he presents readers with an entirely fresh perspective of this conflict. Opening with the ‘predators’ – Mussolini, Hitler, Prince Hirohito of Japan – and moving onto appeasement (a popular policy or a ‘wrong’ policy?), the rape of Poland, Barbarossa, the role of Churchill, and the Holocaust, Burleigh analyses the moral dimension of the Second World War’s most important moments. More than merely a history of ‘great men’, however, Burleigh also examines the moral reasoning of individuals who had to make choices under circumstances difficult to imagine. Stressing the maxim that the past is used to make sense of the present world we live in, he takes us right up to today’s war on terror – a war of competing ideas. What, in the end, will constitute its victory? Burleigh’s fascinating and deeply engaging exploration refuses to draw lessons from the past for the future, remaining instead firmly focused on the on-the-spot decisions that came to define the conflict.
The book has yet to be released in the States (although a few copies are available on Amazon), but the reviews from the UK are by and large positive.
One thing noticeable about Burleigh’s books is that they number in excess of 500 pages. I’m amazed at how he finds the time to write at least one of these tomes a year and remain a regular contributor/editor to the British cultural-political monthly Standpoint.
Finally, for those equally fascinated by history AND the ocean, we have Simon Winchester’s Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms, and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories:
Blending history and anecdote, geography and reminiscence, science and exposition, the New York Times bestselling author of Krakatoa tells the breathtaking saga of the magnificent Atlantic Ocean, setting it against the backdrop of mankind’s intellectual evolution.
Until a thousand years ago, no humans ventured into the Atlantic or imagined traversing its vast infinity. But once the first daring mariners successfully navigated to far shores—whether it was the Vikings, the Irish, the Chinese, Christopher Columbus in the north, or the Portuguese and the Spanish in the south—the Atlantic evolved in the world’s growing consciousness of itself as an enclosed body of water bounded by the Americas to the West, and by Europe and Africa to the East. Atlantic is a biography of this immense space, of a sea which has defined and determined so much about the lives of the millions who live beside or near its tens of thousands of miles of coast.
Amazon.com carries a great interview with the author, who makes his case for choosing his subject:
… the Atlantic is not the biggest; it is not the prettiest; it is not the most benign. But it does possess the greatest concentration of the marker-events of human history. And if, as seems unarguable, the Mediterranean could once fairly be said to have been the inland sea of classical civilization, then surely the Atlantic Ocean, by virtue of this huge concentration of ideas, events, inventions and developments, has become, and unarguably also, the inland sea of modern civilization. No other ocean comes close to filling this role – which is why the Atlantic rises, head and shoulders, above all of its taller, prettier and calmer maritime cousins.
Of course, if that’s not enough, 2011 promises to be a good year with the release of Pope Benedict XVI’s long-awaited sequel, Jesus of Nazareth: Part Two, Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection (coming in March).