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“We Are Lincoln Men”: Abraham Lincoln and His Friends.
By David Herbert Donald.
Simon & Schuster. 269 pp. $25.

David Herbert Donald, an eminent historian and the author of a splendid 1995 biography of Abraham Lincoln, has published an eloquent and absorbing reflection on Lincoln and his friendships, with chapters on Joshua Speed (Lincoln’s best friend in early manhood), William Herndon (his law partner), Orville Browning (an Illinois political colleague), William Seward (a presidential rival and then Lincoln’s secretary of state), and John Hay and John Nicolay (Lincoln’s private secretaries during his presidency). All of these relationships are subtly analyzed by Donald, but perhaps the most interesting friendships were with Hay and Nicolay. These two intelligent and able assistants were very close to and completely trusted by Lincoln throughout the Civil War, and they were aware early on of Lincoln’s greatness. Lincoln spoke with them often about the larger meaning of the momentous struggle to save the Union. Hay recorded that Lincoln told him at one point: “I consider the central idea pervading this struggle is the necessity that is upon us, of proving that popular government is not an absurdity. We must settle this question now, whether in a free government the minority have the right to break up the government whenever they choose. If we fail it will go far to prove the incapability of the people to govern themselves.” Donald stays close to the available evidence ”of which there is not all that much: as Herndon put it, Lincoln was “the most shut-mouthed man.” And when Donald engages in speculation, he does so in a manner that is invariably thoughtful, restrained, and free of distracting psychological jargon. This book takes the generally neglected subject of friendship and skillfully uses it to illuminate Lincoln’s life and character.

” Gregory J. Sullivan

The Song of Songs: Interpretations by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators.
Translated and edited by Richard A. Norris, Jr.
Eerdmans. 325 pp. $40.

This is the first volume in a monumental and most welcome project. Under the general editorship of Robert Louis Wilken of the University of Virginia, the series (titled The Church’s Bible ) makes available to scholars, preachers, and the general reader a strikingly fresh way of understanding the Scriptures: the way they were read in the first millennium of Christian history. The Song of Songs, traditionally attributed to Solomon, is an intensely erotic poem that is something of an embarrassment to the modern Christian mind. Many, if they read it at all, wonder what it is doing in the Bible. To the early Christian interpreters of the Bible, however, it was an endlessly delightful invitation to explore the mysteries of the faith. A great merit of Norris’ compilation is that it provides not just snippets but substantial excerpts from these early commentaries, some of them translated into English for the first time. Here are Augustine, Jerome, Ambrose, Gregory of Nyssa, Richard of St. Victor, Bernard of Clairvaux, and other notables playfully, insightfully, hungrily, reverently mining every word and trope in demonstrating that the text belongs not to antiquity but to the living Church. Serious students of the Bible will want to consider subscribing to the entire series, which holds the promise of powerfully enriching and recasting scriptural study in the twenty-first century. All those associated with this ambitious project, including the publisher, have put us in their debt.

Christ Is My Life.
By Marcial Maciel.
Sophia. 287 pp. $19.95.

A book-length interview with Marcial Maciel, the eighty-three-year-old founder of Regnum Christi and the Legionaries of Christ. These movements are as sharply criticized by self-styled Catholic progressives as they are enthusiastically celebrated by others. Regnum Christi is a lay movement aimed at helping people to fulfill their vocations in the world, while the Legionaries have been astonishingly successful in recruiting young men to the priesthood. The organization has 550 priests and 2,500 seminarians, and is now moving in a major way into Catholic higher education, most recently with a new university in Sacramento, California. Maciel’s story, from a young man in Mexico who received a vision of what might be to the leader of a worldwide insurgency in fidelity to the Church’s teaching, is affectingly told.

In the Trenches with Jesus and Marx: Harry F. Ward and the Struggle for Social Justice.
By David Nelson Duke.
University of Alabama Press. 305 pp. $39.95.

Almost forgotten in the last two decades of his life and completely forgotten today except by students of American religious history, Ward was a nationally prominent radical in the early twentieth-century tradition of Walter Rauschenbusch’s Social Gospel movement. By the 1940s, he was marginalized by the “Christian realism” of his colleague at New York’s Union Theological Seminary, Reinhold Niebuhr. Though Ward was a Communist and apologist for the Soviet Union even after the worst was known, his biographer asks the reader to admire his “idealism” and “deep convictions.”

Words to God’s Music: A New Book of Psalms.
By Laurance Wieder.
Eerdmans. 186 pp. $25.

These are not translations but 150 poetic reflections prompted by the Psalms. To the objection that this is not what a psalm actually says, the response is that this is what a psalm suggests, at least to Laurance Wieder, who is acutely attentive to inspired suggestiveness.

Damn Senators.
By Mark Gauvreau Judge.
Encounter. 170 pp. $25.95.

This book is about the author’s grandfather, who played first base, about the only year the Washington Senators won the World Series, about the city that Washington was and is now, and about an America that seemed to have a firmer hold on what matters. Why it should be given a notice in a journal of religion, culture, and public life is a question that makes no sense to the baseball nuts on our editorial staff. Also, Mr. Judge, who writes regularly for the Wall Street Journal , Crisis , and the Washington Post , is a contributor to these pages.

What Price Better Health? Hazards of the Research Imperative.

By Daniel Callahan.
University of California Press. 329 pp. $29.95.

Callahan has been a tireless crusader against the technological hubris and frequent fraud that drives more of medical research than we want to believe. The delusion of immortality and the claim that a few billion dollars more will “help find a cure” for this ill or that sustains a research industry that is as prone to exploiting desperate hopes as to engaging in experiments of dubious morality.

Will Catholics be “Left Behind”?.
By Carl E. Olson .
Ignatius. 394 pp. $15.95 paper

A detailed and effective Catholic critique of sundry forms of “Bible prophecy,” millennialism, and other excitements about the End Time. More than that, Olson provides a compelling and orthodox vision of time, eternity, and the Last Things. A useful work of popular apologetics.

Listening to the Past: The Place of Tradition in Theology.
By Stephen R Holmes.
Baker. 166 pp. $17.95 paper.

Addressing Protestants who think sola scriptura makes the history of reflection on Scripture superfluous, an Anglican theologian argues for the indispensability of disciplined interpretation, invoking figures as various as Anselm, Jonathan Edwards, Coleridge, and Barth.

Marriage and Modernization.
By Don S. Browning.
Eerdmans. 386 pp. $28 paper.

A wise professor of ethics at the University of Chicago delivers on the subtitle of this book, “How Globalization Threatens Marriage and What to Do About It.” Employing research on the worldwide drift of men from parental responsibility, Browning examines social, moral, religious, and economic dynamics that are weakening the family, and proposes both practical and theoretical resources for strengthening the institution of marriage.