by John Julius Norwich
Knopf, 389 pages, $30
John Julius Norwich is a good storyteller and Byzantine history is filled with lively tales of palace intrigue, nepotism, treachery, assassinations, arranged marriages, perfidious ambassadors, ambitious generals, sieges of cities and naval battles, and other political, diplomatic, and military events. As Norwich observes, “Happiness and harmony were rare visitors to Byzantium.” Unfortunately the narrative is so preoccupied with the foibles of the emperors and the wiles of their advisors that the reader gets little feel for Byzantine society and culture as a whole, and especially for life outside of the city of Constantinople. As for the religion of the Byzantines, it is not a topic that interests Norwich greatly.
—Robert L. Wilken
Religion and the Rise of Western Culture
by Christopher Dawson, foreword by Archbishop Rembert Weakland
Doubleday, 242 pages, $10
When Christopher Dawson first published his popular account of medieval society and religion in 1950 he had more than historical questions in mind. His thinking was attuned as much to the ongoing significance of Western culture as to the ideas, events, and institutions of medieval Christian society. In his final chapter he asks: “What have we done with this inheritance?” and answers: “At least we have had it. It has been part of our own flesh and blood and the speech of our own tongue.” Now forty years later the question is not what we have done with the inheritance, but whether the inheritance is still ours to possess. Like all good books Dawson’s Religion and the Rise of Western Culture is at once prescient and hopeful and deserving of a careful rereading, or for that matter, a first reading.
A Pioneer of Reform
by Patrick W. Collins
Liturgical Press, 287 pages, $19.95
Father Weigel was an impresario of American Catholic ecumenism in the years before the Second Vatican Council, where he also served as a theological adviser and an aide to Protestant observers. A man of large human sympathies and mordant wit, “Gus,” as he was universally known, died in 1964 in mid-Council, and is buried near his great friend, John Courtney Murray, in the Jesuit cemetery that is all that is left of old Woodstock College. This biography was first written as a doctoral thesis almost twenty years ago and still bears the telltale stylistic marks of dissertationitis. Its hermeneutic of Vatican II is firmly locked into the simplicities of the Xavier Rynne school of good guys and bad guys. On the other hand, Father Collins has found interesting connecting threads in what even Father Weigel’s close friends regarded as a somewhat frenetic life. An index would have made these connections more readily discernible. In sum, a book to be read for its evocation of a wonderful man and a good priest, rather than for any deep insight into the history of American ecumenism or of the early stages of the Second Vatican Council.
The Consuming Fire:
A Christian Introduction to the Old Testament
by Michael Duggan
Ignatius Press, 670 pages, $29.95
This book is a serviceable introduction to the Old Testament aimed at the average layperson. For the most part the book conveys standard insights culled from the results of modern exegesis. In addition to this there are occasional forays into decidedly Christian readings of the Bible for those portions of the Old Testament that are explicitly picked up by New Testament writers (e.g., the promise to Abraham, Ps. 8, 22, 110). Each section closes with a set of questions for group discussion.
—Gary A. Anderson
A Nation of Victims:
The Decay of the American Character
by Charles J. Sykes
St. Martin’s Press, 288 pages, $22.95
This latest book by the author of ProfScam details how we Americans have become a nation of whiners, therapy addicts, and, worst of all, plaintiffs in lawsuits. Alas, it is not very deep or original, consisting largely of rehashes of other recent works (Illiberal Education, The Litigation Explosion) on the same topics. For a funnier, more arresting treatment of Mr. Sykes’ themes, read instead Florence King’s With Charity Toward None: A Fond Look at Misanthropy, also from St. Martin’s Press.
Reparative Therapy of Male Homosexuality:
A New Clinical Approach
by Joseph Nicolosi
Aronson (Northvale, NJ), 355 pages, $40
A straightforward and highly readable argument by a psychologist with extensive experience in helping “non-gay homosexuals.” It is an important argument that, under pressure from homosexual activists, is unwisely and unfairly excluded from many discussions of these questions today.
What the Homeless Crisis Tells Us
by Richard W. White, Jr.
Institute for Contemporary Studies, 332 pages, $24.95
Weary of shrill advocacy in the absence of “solutions,” the media turned away from “the problem of the homeless” by the end of 1991. ‘Tis a pity. In what may be the very best study of the subject, White explains how a more thoughtful response to the homeless crisis could help heal some of our cultural and political divides.
The Tragedy of American Compassion
by Marvin Olasky
Regnery Gateway, 299 pages, $21.95
The University of Texas author contends that both government and voluntary associations have today forgotten the wisdom of the “warm hearts and hard heads” of the nineteenth century. The dignity of the poor and the chances of their becoming non-poor, says the author, would be greatly enhanced if “compassion” were joined to communities of sustained caring and spiritual concern. A persuasive argument joined to concrete recommendations for thinking and acting today.
Sports Ethics in America:
A Bibliography, 1970-1990
by Donald G. Jones with Elaine L. Daly, foreword by Thomas H. Kean
Greenwood Press, 291 pages, $49.95
A comprehensive listing of books, articles, and monographs dealing with the larger social significance of sport as a sphere that both reflects and forms character, for better or worse. It covers, among many other subjects, the idea of “play,” the cultivation of virtue and the potential corruptions in competition, cheating, violence, big business and sports, gambling, women in sports, and the moral dimensions of physical exertion. A must for all interested in sports ethics, this book will be bought by many libraries and (its hefty price notwithstanding) more than a few individuals.
Further Reflections on the Revolution in France
by Edmund Burke, edited by Daniel E. Ritchie
Liberty Fund, 343 pages, $25
A collection of seven essays that deepen and extend the analysis of Burke’s famous Reflections on the Revolution in France. A worthwhile and nicely presented volume of interest to students of Burke in particular and of political philosophy in general.
“Be Fertile and Increase, Fill the Earth and Master It”:
The Ancient and Medieval Career of a Biblical Text
by Jeremy Cohen
Cornell University Press, 375 pages, $16.95
In an exemplary exercise of historical attentiveness, Cohen traces the “career” of Genesis 1:28 through Jewish and Christian sources up to the Reformation period. Although it is not his chief purpose, he decisively debunks the claim that the passage has through the centuries been understood to justify the domination (meaning abuse) of nature.
The Social Teaching of the Christian Churches
by Ernst Troeltsch
Westminster/John Knox Press, 1,019 pages, $29.95
Everyone who works seriously in the field of religion and culture has been influenced greatly, whether directly or indirectly, by Ernst Troeltsch. The Soziallehren continues to attract lively intellectual interest, and Westminster renders a signal service by making it once again so readily available.