Prospects for a Common Morality
edited by Gene Outka and John P. Reeder, Jr.
Princeton University Press, 302 pages, $47.50 cloth, $16.95 paper
Eleven distinguished ethicists weigh in on the question of whether there is a universal morality, relevant to all cultures and traditions by virtue of the universal structure of reason and conscience in human beings everywhere. The answer to this question, the editors point out, bears significantly on contemporary issues of human rights. Some of the essays in this volume take as their starting point the Enlightenment faith in a common morality accessible to all rational persons—affirming, modifying, or rejecting the Enlightenment model in various ways. Aimed at advanced students in ethics, the readings more than repay the effort. In addition to the editors, who have also written essays, the contributors include Robert Merrihew Adams, Annette Baier, Alan Donagan, Margaret Farley, Alan Gewirth, David Little, Richard Rorty, Jeffrey Stout, and Lee H. Yearley.
The Schocken Guide to Jewish Books: Where to Start Reading about Jewish History, Literature, Culture, and Religion
edited by Barry W. Holtz
Schocken, 357 pages, $25
The chapters, written by various contributors, provide a wealth of bibliographic references presented in user-friendly essay form, not just as a stark listing. This book will be a most valuable resource for research into any number of Jewish topics: Bible, Talmud, the American Jewish Experience, the Holocaust, Mysticism, Yiddish Literature, and so forth.
The World Crisis
by Winston S. Churchill
Scribners, 866 pages, $35
Artillery of Words: The Writings of Sir Winston Churchill
by Frederick Woods
Leo Cooper (London), 184 pages
The World Crisis is Churchill's own one-volume condensation of his multivolume history of World War I, its origins, and its aftermath, with the author right at the center of things. (Lord Balfour called it “Winston's brilliant autobiography, disguised as a history of the universe.”) The return of this abridged edition, first published in 1931 and out of print now for many years, is most welcome. Churchill's more famous history, his memoirs of The Second World War, is but a continuation of The World Crisis, the two conflicts constituting a single story, “another Thirty Years' War,” as the author himself put it. Impressive in its breadth of vision, color, and drama, this book, with its echoes of Gibbon, is irresistible. Chapter 1, with its biblical title, “The Vials of Wrath,” begins as follows: “It was the custom in the palmy days of Queen Victoria for statesmen to expatiate upon the glories of the British Empire, and to rejoice in that protecting Providence which had preserved us through so many dangers and brought us at length into a secure and prosperous age. Little did they know that the worst perils had still to be encountered and that the greatest triumphs were yet to be won.” For those who are interested, Churchill's mastery of the seemingly lost art of political rhetoric (in the best sense of the word) is given a lively and incisive treatment in Artillery of Words: The Writings of Sir Winston Churchill by Frederick Woods.
American Catholic Arts and Fictions
by Paul Giles
Cambridge University Press, 547 pages, $65
This scholarly study in culture, ideology, and aesthetics underscores the ways in which Catholic sensibilities (typically exercised by ex-Catholics) have powerfully shaped, and are increasingly shaping, American arts and letters. A needed corrective to standard accounts of our culture.
Jesus in Global Contexts
by Priscilla Pope-Levison and John R. Levison
Westminster/John Knox Press, 232 pages, $17.99
A husband and wife team offers a once-over-lightly survey of liberationists, feminists, and others who “do Christology” by construing Jesus according to cultural context. The book would have been more interesting had the authors asked why—in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and elsewhere—the Jesus that is preached with manifest effect is a Jesus relatively uncomplexified by their anxieties about cultural imperialism.
A Dictionary of Biblical Tradition in English Literature
edited by David Lyle Jeffrey
Eerdmans, 960 pages, $80
A mammoth new reference work, certain to be a standard and invaluable resource, this “dictionary” contains hundreds of articles on biblical figures, motifs, concepts, quotations, and allusions—both in their scriptural context and as they have been used and understood by English-speaking writers and scholars since the Middle Ages. There are longish, but still concise, essays on such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Jesus, and shorter pieces for quick checks on Abishag, Absalom, Amalakites, Gog and Magog, or Mammon. As well, there are articles on expressions that have worked their way into the fabric of our language and culture—“ashes to ashes,” “children of light,” “gates of hell,” “lion lies down with the lamb,” “stranger in a strange land,” “what is truth?” and so on. Though the diversity of contributors makes for some unevenness in quality, the overall result is impressive. This is an essential volume for anyone studying the Bible as literature or the Bible's influence on culture and thought.
Salt, Leaven, and Light: The Community Called Church
by T. Howland Sanks
Crossroad, 251 pages, $21.95
A professor at the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley proffers a “liberating” ecclesiology of the “consciousness” of the Church as “ourselves” and our service to the world.