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Liberal Arts and Community: The Feeding of the Larger Body
by marion montgomery
louisiana state university press, 170 pages, $27.50 

Graceful and erudite essays aimed at recovering the liberal arts for the sustaining of community that is formed by an understanding of the good. As for subjects treated, almost everything under the sun is here. The professor emeritus of English at the University of Georgia has produced a book of wisdom, a companion and guide for those prepared to follow the form of thought that becomes meditation. 

A Thief in the Night: The Mysterious Death of Pope John Paul I
by john cornwell
simon and schuster, 366 pages, $21.95

John Paul I died only thirty-three days into his pontificate, and rumors almost immediately circulated that dirty work was afoot. The rumors were exploited in a sensationalist manner in several books, notably David Yallop’s In God’s Name, suggesting that the pope had been murdered. It’s a juicy story, and English journalist Cornwell is not above indulging gratuitous breathlessness in telling it, but A Thief in the Night is a carefully researched book that convincingly lays fantastical rumors to rest. His depiction of pettiness, intrigue, and mendacity in the Vatican will, and should, trouble those in positions of church leadership. 

The Imperative of Modernity: An Intellectual Biography of Jose Ortega y Gasset
by rockwell gray
university of california press, 424 pages, $29.95

When he died in 1955 at age 72, Ortega was recognized throughout the Western world as one of the leading liberal humanists of the twentieth century, but he was uncertainly at home in his native Spain. In books such as The Revolt of the Masses readers encountered literary splendor and freshness of expression, although many were left unsure whether anything substantively new had been said. Mr. Gray’s is a model of intellectual biography, sympathetically yet critically limning the self-consciousness of a thinker who knew that he did not belong to the time to which he had been born, and found solace in the belief that such is the fate of all who live seriously the life of the mind. Ortega’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof, continue to be a matter of controversy. From the present work one infers that he lived “a-Catholically” more as a subtle but powerful protest against the Francoist version of Catholic Spain than as a necessary consequence of his beliefs. 

Splitting the Difference: Compromise and Integrity in Ethics and Politics 
by martin benjamin 
university press of kansas, 195 pages, $12.95

A calm and civilized argument for the proposition that, in the political task, compromise is not morally compromising. Benjamin is persuasive in saying that a demand for “moral purity” can end up with leaving the political task to the morally indifferent or unscrupulous, but his treatment of compromise comes dangerously close to relaxing the public pressure rightly applied to politicians who, in any case, will usually end up by compromising. To his credit, the author takes on the hard question of compromise in the conflict over abortion. Not all readers will share his admiration for New York’s Governor Mario Cuomo as a master of conscientious compromise on that question. 

How Does America Hear the Gospel?
by william a. dyrness 
eerdmans, 164 pages, $11.95 

A popular cultural analysis treating the ways in which American traits, such as individualism and optimism. hinder the hearing and living of the Christian message. Social gospeller Walter Rauschenbusch and today’s television preacher Robert Schuller are employed as instructive case studies.

A Cry for Justice: The Churches and Synagogues Speak       
edited by robert mcaffee brown and sydney thomson brown
paulist press, 223 pages, $8.95 

A useful summary of statements on “economic justice” issued by Christian and Jewish bodies in recent years. The statements are uniformly redistribution is t in import, and the twelve commentaries on the statements, by the editors and others, typically argue that they “do not go far enough.” A reader not familiar with the sociology of mainline/oldline religion might be astonished by the insularity of the essays in both tone and substance. That the views propounded are so far removed from current economic thought may, as several writers insist, indicate the “prophetic” nature of religious pronouncements. That claim might be more persuasive if the statements and the commentaries on them gave some hint of familiarity with alternative arguments and evidence. If A Cry for Justice is to be believed, it would seem that institutional religion is the last defender of social and economic ideas that almost the entire world is enthusiastically abandoning in favor of democracy and economic freedom. 

by jerome l. himmelstein
university of california press, 290 pages, $25

A professor of sociology at Amherst, who apparently does not deem himself a conservative, offers a self-consciously “balanced” account of conservatism from 1950s marginality to 1990s mainstream. Nothing dramatically new, but a workmanlike analysis, concluding that there is now a “Republican edge,” but that it represents gains without a fundamental realignment. The treatment of “the religious right” is fair, if unremarkable.