With summer fully, oppressively upon us, it’s time once again for the Crisis Magazine Summer Reading List. We’ve asked writers, staff, and friends to share with us some books they’ve recently enjoyed and what they recommend to while away a muggy afternoon.
Their picks cover everything from classics to new favorites, fiction to history to theology — something for every interest. Have a look at their suggestions, and then add your own in the comments.
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At the turn of the 20th century, popular reading was dominated by biographies and novels about the great captains of industry and the lessons they can teach. People attended the World’s Fair in droves. We loved the merchant class and all they did to build civilization. We saw them as models of hard work, good values, and financial success. We wanted to know all about inventions, marketing, the competitive process, the heroic sacrifices undertaken to achieve greatness in finance, industry, and trade.
Today, it is different. For no good reason, the merchant class is derided and denounced. Public policy harasses and robs them, and popular culture shows very little interest in the art of entrepreneurship. I consider this tragic, even dangerous for civilization.
As a corrective, I would suggest three absolutely fantastic novels about finance and industry by one of the most popular writers and celebrators of America from the 1920s: Garet Garrett. My favorite novels of his are The Driver (about the railroads), Cinder Buggy (about the marketing of steel), and Harangue (about banking and failed socialist experiments). All three are brilliant and exciting from start to finish. They even teach history as well! The characters in each book are so real that for years I’ve considered them to be friends or even family.
Another great book from 1901 is How They Succeeded by Orison Swett Marden (recently republished by the Mises Institute). It consists of brilliant profiles of the great men and women of the gilded age. What a picture of a time and a generation it creates; I’m in awe of all the people profiled in here. They can serve as great inspirations for all of us.
Jeffrey Tucker is the editorial vice president of the Mises Institute, editor of Mises.org, author of Sing Like a Catholic (2009) and Bourbon for Breakfast (2010), adjunct scholar of the Mackinac Institute, faculty member of Acton University, managing editor of Sacred Music magazine, and a daily contributor to the New Liturgical Movement blog.
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Bound by prejudice and self-absorption, as well as good taste, I’d instinctively recommend my own two latest: Coincidentally, which has a waterproof cover suitable for the beach, and Cloud of Witnesses, which is so light in weight and content that it would be easy to pack in a suitcase. But, forced to acknowledge the works of others, there are two very big books: Edward Short’s Newman and His Contemporaries (T & T CLark), which is a definitive study, beautifully written, and replete with quotations new to me even after many years of writing on the subject; and Richard Shawcross’s official biography, Elizabeth the Queen Mother (Vintage), which, at 1,168 pages, should occupy a whole summer delightfully.
The Rev. George W. Rutler is the pastor of the Church of Our Saviour in New York City. His latest book, Cloud of Witnesses, is available from Scepter Publishing.
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Leftism Revisited, by Erik von Kuenhelt-Leddihn. A brilliant analysis of the political philosophy of evil by a man with a deep understanding of our civilization and our faith. This book shows that Christian personalism is much more compatible with traditional political forms and a free economy than with statist, centralist ideologies such as socialism, fascism, or modern liberalism.
Pope Paul’s New Mass, by Michael Davies. If you are wondering why traditionalists get so exercised about “mere” externals of the liturgy such as kneeling for Communion or the Second Eucharistic Prayer, this marvelously readable book by a deeply faithful and charitable Catholic apologist is for you. Davies writes with the clarity and humor of Chesterton, and his fidelity was lauded by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger at the author’s death in 2004.
The Flight from Woman, by Karl Stern. This ground-breaking critique of modern philosophy and the pretentions of scientism was penned by a Freudian Jewish psychiatrist who converted to Catholicism. Combining psychological insight and a deep literary culture, Stern offers a unique perspective on what’s wrong with the way we think and live today. Put much too briefly, it’s a Marian critique of Descartes and Sartre.
Domestic Tranquility: A Brief against Feminism, by Carolyn Graglia. Wondering why so many women nowadays are both busier and more miserable than their mothers once were? This philosophically sophisticated refutation of the core tenets of feminism shows how that ideology rests on a rejection of femininity and an embrace of degraded, post-Christian masculine values.
John Zmirak is the author of The Bad Catholic’s Guide to the Seven Deadly Sins and is Writer-in-Residence at Thomas More College in New Hampshire. He writes weekly for Crisis Magazine.
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Embarrassment at not having read Pride and Prejudice before in no way lessens the pleasure I’m finding in reading it now. There is so much to praise here — Jane Austen’s economy of words, her subtle humor, her psychological shrewdness. Reading this book is like listening to chamber music played in an intimate setting with great skill and exquisite taste. If you don’t already know Miss Bennet, Mr. Darcy, and the rest, or you want to refresh your acquaintance with them, there’s no time like the present.
Russell Shaw is the author of Catholic Laity in the Mission of the Church (Requiem Press), Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication, and Communion in the Catholic Church (Ignatius Press), and other works.
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The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope. A Victorian soap opera complete with greed, political corruption, sexscandals, and celebrities. Sound familiar? Plus ça change... But is there any author who has captured so pellucidly and satirically the human condition?
The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt, by T. J. Stiles, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. I have often though that we should jettison reading biographies of U.S. politicians and government officials and study what really makes and made America tick — the great entrepreneurs who made the United States what was, and may still be again: a producer of wealth for its citizens. So give me Franklin, Edison, Rockefeller, Carnegie, Gates, and Jobs, and perhaps the greatest of them all, Commodore Vanderbilt, a true “rags to mega-riches” story that changed America over the span of almost 70 years.
Rev. C. J. McCloskey III is a Church Historian and a research fellow of the Faith and Reason Institute in Washington, D.C. Visit his website at www.frmcloskey.com.
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Mistress of the Monarchy: The Life of Katherine Swynford, by Alison Weir. Every woman of a certain age has surely plucked Anya Seton’s Katherine (1954) from her grandmother’s bookshelf. The fictionalized story of Katherine Swynford, a convent-raised orphan married to a minor knight in the service of the Duke of Lancaster dwarfs any fairy tale I know.
Alison Weir’s beautifully written biography of Katherine and her lifelong love affair with (and eventual marriage to) the duke adds enormous detail and historical perspective. These 14th-century lovers are the direct progenitors of every English monarch since, including Queen Elizabeth II.
Hannah Coulter, by Wendell Berry. Berry was known to me as a poet and advocate of localism — the care for the local economy and community. At the behest of Father Schall, I read Berry’s novel Jayber Crow. Now on to Hannah Coulter, a novel that celebrates life as it is lived when one marries a man, a community, and a plot of ground. It is a story of love in its many guises, a deeply satisfying marriage, and of second chances for wandering souls.
Mary Jo Anderson is a Catholic journalist and speaker whose articles and commentaries on politics, religion, and culture have appeared in a variety of publications and radio programs, Catholic and secular.
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Every American should pause to re-read the Declaration of Independence. It’s only around 1,800 words in length, and you can skip the long list of grievances against King George III in the middle of the document. Read the first two paragraphs and the last two paragraphs, which matter the most. This is a profound piece of political philosophy. If you don’t know or understand why, then start reading — and thinking.
I also recommend a book released in 2009, which hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves: Clarke Forsythe’s Politics for the Greatest Good. This is a masterfully researched work on the importance of the forgotten virtue of prudence, not only to the American Founders but to modern political/moral battles like the fight against abortion. Forsythe is senior counsel at Americans United for Life, and he has been in the trenches battling the culture of death. This book shows how practicing the virtue of prudence can help us immensely in the long haul to protect the sanctity and dignity of human life.
Paul Kengor is professor of political science at Grove City College. His books include The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism and the newly released Dupes: How America’s Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.
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Doubly Chosen: Jewish Identity, the Soviet Intelligentsia, and the Russian Orthodox Church, by Judith Deutsch Kornblatt. A brief, readable exploration of the reasons many Soviet Jews in the dissident movements converted to Russian Orthodoxy, and the way their paths diverged after the fall of Communism. There’s theological depth here, and a really fascinating story of how people can come to believe that two identities that most Americans consider completely opposed to one another in fact mutually reinforce each other.
Eve Tushnet is a writer in Washington, D.C.
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Summer reading is normally said to be on the lighter side of things. Thus, if someone has not read P. G. Wodehouse, he should definitely read almost any Wodehouse, if for no other reason than to check his sanity.
I have begun but not yet finished Brian Benestad’s Church, State, and Society. It is the clearest and most judicious review and insight into Catholic social thought that I have seen. Benestad has a genius of seeing the whole picture.
I also just finished Michael Coren’s Why Catholics Are Right. This book is well worth a careful read. One of the delights about being Catholic is that we can really understand the quality (or lack thereof) of the arguments used to disprove or disbelieve in its revelation and good sense. Coren’s account is refreshing and true. Not to be missed.
Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., teaches political science at Georgetown University. His latest book, The Mind That Is Catholic, is published by Catholic University of America Press.
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Marco Polo: From Venice to Xanadu, by Laurence Bergreen. I have been curious about Marco Polo’s Silk Road adventures for some time, and Bergreen’s book didn’t disappoint. He chronicles Polo’s incredible journey from Venice to the court of Kublai Khan, as well as his introduction of Asia’s fascinating cultural riches to Europe. A compelling read.
The Wise Man from the West: Matteo Ricci and His Mission to China, by Vincent Cronin. Although Cronin’s book is now out of print, you can still find copies on Amazon and in secondhand bookstores — and I recommend that you do. Ricci was an amazing man and a courageous priest, one of the first missionaries ever to set foot in China. While little was known about his amazing journeys during his 28 years abroad, Ricci wrote an autobiography on the order of his superiors before his death. Cronin’s story of Ricci’s life draws heavily on that original work, deftly illustrating not only Ricci’s personal virtue and incredible story but also his innate understanding of inculturation well before anyone knew the term.
Zoe Romanowsky is the development coordinator for Crisis Magazine.
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Eifelheim, by Michael Flynn. In one of the greatest science fiction — or just plain fiction — books I have ever read, Flynn confects a marvelous and heartbreaking First Contact story in which a well-educated German priest, living on the eve of the Black Death, encounters an alien race called the Krenken, whose ship has crashed near his village. Flynn, who has forgotten more about medieval Catholic life, philosophy, culture, and theology than most people will ever know, brings his world alive with creative power. In the process, he explodes the notion that medievals were nothing but superstitious obscurantists. Here is a tale to break your heart and fill you with amazement.
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke. Imagine Jane Austen writing a fantasy novel, and you’ve got something like this delightful, strange, and creepy novel about the last two practicing magicians in England and their tormented relationships with one another and their arts as they help king and country during the Napoleonic era. A pleasure and a creepy thrill from start to end.
Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He is a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and a columnist for Crisis Magazine. Visit his blog at www.markshea.blogspot.com.
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The Last Boy: Mickey Mantle and the End of America’s Childhood, by Jane Leavy. We all need a hero, but where have they gone? Leavy uses the world of sports to teach us that people are more complex than we imagine, and that something very sad happened in American culture when we allowed the failings of human nature to completely destroy men. Gone are the days when we gave little boys icons to admire; now, we give our children sensational sound bites of fallen virtue. The heart is mysterious, and our innocence is gone. Leavy leaves us with the hope that adolescence could once again be as magical as childhood.
Dawn Carpenter currently serves as a Senior Vice President at a major Wall Street firm and is a leading authority in financial management for nonprofit corporations.
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Cleopatra: A Life, by Stacy Schiff. A brilliant and highly readable account of one of history’s most elusive and mysterious women. Readers will come away not only having encountered a rich and complex character but with a radically revised mental map of Egypt as well.
Imperium, by Robert Harris. This beautifully researched novel of ancient Rome traces the political career of Cicero, the great orator and wily legislator. Besides the fascinating biographical details of this statesman’s life, the author provides a portrait of Roman social and political life in all its glorious corruption.
Burmese Days, by George Orwell. Although written almost 80 years ago, this early comic novel by Orwell is a gem. Drawing on his five years as a junior civil servant in Burma, the author paints a scathing picture of both the colonials and the colonized. The novel also offers clues to the political evolution that took place later in Orwell’s life.
Kevin Ryan founded the Center for the Advancement of Ethics and Character at Boston University, where he is professor emeritus. He has written and edited 20 books.
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After reading Anthony Everitt’s excellent biographies of Cicero and Augustus, I couldn’t very well pass up his latest offering, Hadrian and the Triumph of Rome. Unlike the other two figures in the series, Hadrian has yet to hit the Hollywood big time — part of the problem being, of course, that there is significantly less in the historical record about Hadrian than his forbears. He may have been one of the greatest rulers of the Roman Empire, but today we know him almost exclusively for that wall.
That information gap means Everitt can’t capture the man as completely as he does Cicero and Augustus, but he still does an excellent job presenting what is known and filling in the rest with what is probable, while providing context for the character with fascinating sketches of Roman life at the time. Anyone new to Everitt’s work should definitely start with Cicero or Augustus, but Hadrian is a worthy follow-up.
Margaret Cabaniss is the managing editor of Crisis Magazine.
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The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, by David McCullough. The Americans competing in this year’s Tour de France certainly weren’t the first in their desire to head to the Champs Elysees after a long journey. Morse, Twain, Holmes, and other American icons were drawn to Paris where they honed their skills, profession, and relationships. A superb read.
Car Guys vs. Bean Counters: The Battle for the Soul of American Business. Written by the no-nonsense, last-of-the-breed car guy Bob Lutz, this is a quick read full of “why the hell did they do that?” moments. It’s a bit lighter than a “serious” business book, but also a quicker read and full of lessons.
Last Night at the Lobster, by Stuart O’Nan. I came to O’Nan only recently, but after reading his books, I can’t help but marvel at his treatment of the ordinary — not to make it “extraordinary,” but rather to highlight the depths in the commonplace. When I was a teenager and working during the summers, I spent too many nights emptying grease traps, busing tables, fetching doggy bags…and witnessing a lone manager trying to make things work in spite of his employees. O’Nan is known as the “bard of the working class”; this short novel shows why he’s earned the title.
Laurance Alvarado is a senior director with a prominent New York-based international turnaround and restructuring firm and the board chairman of the Morley Publishing Group.
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The Giver, by Lois Lowry. A book all about the ways in which we may come to find joy in the midst of suffering. It has been one of the most influential books of my life.
A Grief Observed, by C. S. Lewis. Not just for those grieving the death of someone, this book is for anyone grieving any loss at all — loss of innocence, a relationship… It is a book about love, attachment, detachment, selfishness, selflessness, despair — and in the end, hope.
Orthodoxy, by G. K. Chesterton. I love nearly every sentence in this book. Chesterton, unlike many theological writers, is never preachy, tired, or worn out and repetitive. You read his words like you would a romance — because that’s what Christianity is to him, and what it ought to be. I don’t know of another writer who explains Catholicism better and more beautifully.
Elizabeth Hanna is a third year philosophy student at the University of Georgia.
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Omeros, by Derek Walcott. This modern epic poem by Nobel Prize winner Derek Walcott transports you to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia and into the lives and loves of the island’s people. Paralleling Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Walcott tells a tale of love, tragedy, history, culture, pride, and grief — a story of the universal human experience. After reading Walcott’s epic poem, you won’t look at the Caribbean as merely a vacation destination again.
Christina Jopson is the associate editor of Crisis Magazine.
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South Africa’s Sarah Ruden is a rare combination: A first-rate classicist, an accomplished translator, and an award-winning poet. With her riveting Paul Among the People: The Apostle Reinterpreted and Reimagined in His Own Time, we can add scriptural commentator to the list. By situating Paul in the first century Mediterranean world and comparing his views with those of secular writers of the same era, Ruden shows the apostle was far from the unenlightened misogynist described in today’s Religious Studies departments.
Brian Saint-Paul is the editor of Crisis Magazine.