So many books! So little time!

Monday, December 13, AD 2010

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).

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Burleigh Defends the Pope

Friday, September 17, AD 2010

My second favorite living historian, Michael Burleigh, who has written stunningly original works on subjects as diverse as Nazi Germany, religion and politics in the last two centuries,  terrorism, and morality and World War II,  has taken up the cudgels against the despicable attitude of many Brits of the chattering classes regarding the visit of the Pope to the Island next to Ireland.

Under normal circumstances, one might say “welcome” rather than “receive”. But the multiple sexual scandals that have afflicted parts of the Catholic Church have created a window of opportunity for sundry chasers of limelight – including human rights militants, crusading gays, Islamist fanatics, and celebrity God-botherers – to band together to “arrest” the Pope under laws so obscure that few knew they existed. Because child abuse is involved, rather than the more widespread phenomenon of homosexual predation on young men, these manifestations will receive much media attention, especially from the BBC, to the guaranteed perplexity of a less involved general public in a nominally Protestant country. It will require some effort of mind to tune out this noise to hear what the Pope will be saying.

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Reading Michael Burleigh

Tuesday, July 28, AD 2009

Despite a semester overseas in England and mandatory schooling in the subject, it is to my great regret that I neglected to pay much attention to European history in college. What I did study a decade ago I’ve barely retained — something I’ve been compensating for in years since, by way of a 45 minute subway commute that provides just enough time to get a few chapters in.

The British historian Michael Burleigh is one whose work I’ve discovered recently and have benefited greatly from reading. Earlier this year I finished Earthly Powers (“The Clash of Religion and Politics in Europe, from the French Revolution to the Great War”) and am now working through the sequel: Sacred Causes (“The Clash of Religion and Politics, from the Great War to the War on Terror”). Both volumes are fascinating studies of European history, through the prism of church-state relations and the myriad attempts of each to assume the role of the other.

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6 Responses to Reading Michael Burleigh

  • Christopher, Burleigh is one of my favorites of the current crop of historians. His recent book Blood and Rage on terrorism is must reading. Here is a link to a review by Andrew Stuttaford.

    Here is a link to his blog.

    Burleigh is immune to the problem that afflicts most historians today, a tone deafness when it comes to religion. Burleigh understands that much of politics since 1914 really cannot be understood unless we realize that a fair amount of it, especially in the totalitarian states, was a search for substitute religions.

  • Burleigh is generally excellent. But I have one quibble with him – he seems to have a blind spot where the Irish are concerned. In “Sacred Causes,” he is not just very hard on the IRA (they are entirely fair game in my book), but on the Irish people and culture as a whole. I do not have a drop of Irish blood and I thought he was being unfair. Paul Johnson, who wrote a short history of Ireland, is much more evenhanded.

  • Thanks you for sharing your thoughts on this. I too enjoy Burleigh’s work, also enjoying his frequent contributions to Standpoint ( Also, for any who enjoy the Hoover Institution’s presentations (many of which are available to download, for instance, through iTunes), Burleigh somewhat recently gave a great speech there, definitely worth checking out.

  • I too found his take on Ireland a little odd. His chapters on Spain and Ireland in this century certainly seem to contradict the assertions of some that a focus on moral issues is particularly Protestant or Calvinist, since ultra-Catholic governments also engaged in such practices. I found both Earthly Powers and Sacred Causes very interesting, and I wish they could have been longer – there was nothing on secularization in Scandinavia, which I thought would have made for an interesting comparison with Britain.

  • Sounds interesting. I’ll have to look at these.

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