Some suggestions for Christmas giving, in the form of books that amuse, inspire, educate or all-of-the-above:
Prison Journal, Volume 3 – The High Court Frees an Innocent Man, by Cardinal George Pell (Ignatius Press). The vindication of Cardinal George Pell by Australia’s High Court in April 2020 was an unalloyed joy amidst Plague Time. With this third volume, Ignatius Press completes the publication of Cardinal Pell’s remarkable prison diary, which has become something of a modern spiritual classic, even as it has introduced the real George Pell to a world audience bombarded for decades by media caricatures of the man. Cardinal Pell bears no animus against his persecutors, but because one of my oldest friends is a better man than I am, I have a few things to say in the book’s Afterword about those who covered themselves in ignominy by persecuting him, or by failing to support him in his time of need.
Journeys with a Tin Can Pilgrim, by Lynda Rozell (St. John’s Press). Part memoir, part insightful reflection, part how-to manual, and part travel guide along roads both material and spiritual, this distinctive book recounts a return to Catholic faith that transformed a hard-driving and well-compensated corporate lawyer into a peripatetic pilgrim, traveling the country in an Airstream trailer and doing the New Evangelization retail in campgrounds around the country. It’s a story of delight in the love of God, coupled with reflections on maintaining spiritual and mental health in the practice and sharing of the faith. Quite unusual, and often quite moving.
The Universe Behind Barbed Wire: Memoirs of a Ukrainian Soviet Dissident, by Myroslav Marynovych (University of Rochester Press). Dr. Marynovych, another man I am honored to call a friend, spent years in a different sort of campground: Perm Camp 36, the most notorious of the Soviet GULAG labor camps. His crime? Circulating bulletins about the abuse of human rights in the workers’ paradise that Senator Bernie Sanders visited on his honeymoon. Yale’s Timothy Snyder nicely described the life trajectory of this contemporary martyr-confessor in these terms: “When [Marynovych] was arrested at 28, he was an agnostic. When he was released a decade later, he was a Christian ethicist and political thinker. His memoir is a humble, and humbling, account of a man maturing in hell.” Myroslav Marynovych now puts that maturity to work in building a free, democratic, and decent Ukraine, through his work as Vice Rector for Mission at the Ukrainian Catholic University in L’viv and in several parallel enterprises dedicated to fostering solidarity among the Ukrainian, Polish, Jewish, and Crimean Tatar communities in his hard-pressed country. His book deserves a wide readership — not least in the Vatican’s Secretariat of State and the papal diplomatic corps.
The Road Less Traveled: The Secret Battle to End the Great War, 1916-1917, by Philip Zelikow (Public Affairs). As if there were not enough reasons to dislike elitist, racist, anti-Catholic Woodrow Wilson, now comes a striking re-examination of Wilson’s diplomacy (or lack thereof) at a moment when he and his consigliere, Edward House, might have brokered a rational settlement to World War I. That they failed to do so was in part due to their incompetence and in part because of the machinations of the “Welsh Wizard,” David Lloyd George, keen to become British prime minister. Had the opportunities Zelikow describes been seized, there would have been no Lenin or Soviet Union, no Hitler or Nazi Germany, and quite possibly no Great Depression and no World War II. A sad, instructive tale.
Why We Are Restless: On the Modern Quest for Contentment, by Benjamin Storey and Jenna Silber Storey (Princeton University Press): The Storeys make intellectual history come alive in an engaging and accessible way for everyone, as they explain our current cultural and political discontents while making creative suggestions for addressing those cankers. An especially good gift for any young (or older) Catholic integralist who imagines that dismantling the liberal political order is the answer to renewing the culture.
Before Amoris Laetitia: The Sources of the Controversy, by Jarosław Kupczak, OP (CUA Press). As the Church ponders its post-Pope Francis future, this careful examination of one of the great controversies of the present pontificate should help all reflective Catholics think more clearly about the stakes in the battle over the character of Christian marriage.
And, if I may: In a season of small-bore public personalities, my Not Forgotten: Reminiscences of, and Elegies for, a Diverse Cast of Characters, Most of Them Admirable (Ignatius Press) may be an encouraging reminder that giants walked among us, not so very long ago.