Published December 11, 2019
George Weigel's weekly column The Catholic Difference
Resist the twitterization of thought—give books for Christmas! The following titles will delight, instruct, edify (or all of the above):
Churchill: Walking with Destiny, by Andrew Roberts (Viking): There seems to be no end to the making of books about Winston Churchill. I own 17 and have no hesitation in saying this is the best Churchill biography ever, written with a narrative drive that sustains your interest through even the familiar bits. It’s also a treasure trove of witticisms, including this rapier-quick Churchillian riposte to Charlie Chaplin’s announcement at a Chartwell dinner party that his next movie role would be Jesus Christ: “Have you cleared the rights?”
In Oceans Deep: Redemptive Suffering and the Crucified God, by Eduardo Echeverria (Lectio Publishing): A powerful reflection on the mystery of evil from a fine theologian and insightful commentator on matters ecclesiastical, written while he was mourning the death of a two-year-old granddaughter.
Land of Hope: An Invitation to the Great American Story, by Wilfred M. McClay (Encounter Books): The antidote to the damage caused by Howard Zinn’s wretched People’s History of the United States. Give it to every millennial on your Christmas list.
Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War, by Tim Bouverie (Tim Duggan Books), and 1941: The Year Germany Lost the War, by Andrew Nagorski (Simon & Schuster): Two powerful reminders that pretending totalitarians don’t mean what they say makes matters worse.
The Day Is Now Far Spent, by Robert Cardinal Sarah in conversation with Nicolas Diat (Ignatius Press): Cardinal Sarah is a radically converted Christian disciple whose love for Christ impels him to speak without euphemism about Catholicism’s contemporary challenges. Some may find the cardinal’s reading of the signs of the times apocalyptic; the same people would likely say the same thing about St. Augustine.
The Guarded Gate: Bigotry, Eugenics, and the Law That Kept Two Generations of Jews, Italians, and Other European Immigrants Out of America, by Daniel Okrent (Scribner): A chilling exploration of how WASP prejudice married to crackpot “science” warped American politics and law—and a preview of how the same cocktail of nonsense (and some of the same people) helped advance the abortion license.
Last Testament, by Benedict XVI with Peter Seewald (Bloomsbury Continuum): Forty-five minutes with the Pope Emeritus in October easily rank among my most bracing conversations of 2019. This interview-style memoir ought to (but likely won’t) clear up some misconceptions about a brilliant and holy man, as it ought to (but certainly won’t) put a stop to lurid speculations about the reason for his abdication.
Touched with Fire: Morris B. Abram and the Battle Against Racial and Religious Discrimination, by David Lowe (Potomac Books): An overdue celebration of a man of conviction and courage and a useful reminder that not so long ago “liberal” meant something much better than “crazy leftist.”
George Marshall: Defender of the Republic, by David L. Roll (Dutton Caliber): Hard as it may be to imagine these days, giants once walked the earth along the Potomac littoral. As U.S. Army Chief of Staff throughout World War II, then postwar Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, George Catlett Marshall didn’t get everything right; no one does. But he was the antithesis of those who crave distinction from high office instead of bringing distinction to it, and his example continues to inspire.
Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, by Mary Eberstadt (Encounter Books): Anything Mary Eberstadt writes is worth reading—and doubly so when her latest exploration of our wounded culture worries a New York Times columnist.
Why Celibacy?: Reclaiming the Fatherhood of the Priest, by Father Carter Griffin: A powerful explanation of an ancient tradition’s relevance for 21st-century Catholicism, which should have been a reference at the Amazonian synod but wasn’t. Especially useful for seminarians but important reading regardless of your state of life in the Church.
The Gifted School, by Bruce Holsinger (Riverhead Books): A delicious send-up of bulldozer parents in a progressive town, but also (and perhaps unintentionally) a stark evocation of lives without God.
How Catholic Art Saved the Faith: The Triumph of Beauty and Truth in Counter-Reformation Art, by Elizabeth Lev (Sophia Institute Press): Liz Lev not only makes you see things you never saw before in a painting or a sculpture; she brilliantly explicates the meaning of what you’re seeing afresh.
And (if I may): The Irony of Modern Catholic History: How the Church Rediscovered Itself and Challenged the World to Reform (Basic Books): I hope you and those on your gift list enjoy reading it as I enjoyed writing it.
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.