First Things - Religion and Public Life Donate to First Things
Login forgot password? | register Close

Briefly Noted

Boswell’s Enlightenment by robert zaretsky harvard, 288 pages, $26.95 When James Boswell met Voltaire, he was not content to pass on after a few pleasantries. Sitting in the French philosophe’s chaletin Ferney, Boswell pressed him to declare whether he believed in immortality and eternal life. . . . . Continue Reading »

What We've Been Reading—7.31.15

I am in the first 50 page of Midcentury, a 1961 novel by John Dos Passos. Dos Passos (born 1896, died 1970) is largely forgotten today. He doesn't even appear much on syllabi in undergraduate American literature courses. There are two reasons for that. One is Dos Passos' politics. Like so many others, he started out as a writer on the left, in the 30s flirting with the Communist Party and joining Hemingway in Spain to help in the fight against the Fascists. The murderous conduct of Stalinists in Spain turned him off of communism, and further world events pushed him farther right during and after the war. The more he came to despise collectivism, even to the point of briefly supporting Joe McCarthy, the less the literary world favored him. The other reason Dos Passos has disappeared is literary. (Randy Boyogoda's essay in the current issue of First Things directly relates to this point.) His fiction comes out of an era in which the novel was a great carrier of history and ideas. Continue Reading »

A Gallery of American Dreams

Though only the first act of Denis Johnson’s Angels takes place in transit, the book has the feel of a road novel—specifically, an American road novel. The story is straightforward: Two people, Jamie Mays and Bill Houston, meet aboard a Greyhound. One is in flight from an unfaithful . . . . Continue Reading »

What We've Been Reading (and Watching)

Austen Ivereigh reports that when Jorge Mario Bergoglio was at the helm of the Colegio Máximo—a Jesuit seminary in the San Miguel region of Buenos Aires—he piloted with “a charismatic personalist style of leadership, the kind Latins (and especially Argentines) respond naturally to, yet which Anglo-Saxons can regard as suffocating or demagogic.” Continue Reading »

Statesmanship by Committee

Two questions underlie this study of the months leading up to the American Civil War: 1) At what point, if any, was Abraham Lincoln morally justified in fighting the Confederacy? and 2) Could an agreement have been reached that would have prevented the Civil War? Continue Reading »

The Screen and the Book

Books are solid. This is at once a physical description and a metaphysical one, and it is on this metaphysical solidity that we ought to ground our loyalty to the book over and against the allure of the ever-changing screen.A book is solid in the warm way a friend is solid: direct, dependable, . . . . Continue Reading »

In Praise of Irrelevant Reading

When I moved to England to start a Masters degree in theology, I knew I wanted to study St. Paul’s letter to the Romans. Like many of my counterparts in the Reformed theological orbit, I was enthralled with questions of law and grace, election and final judgment. During my first year of undergraduate study, I’d sat out on the front lawn of the college green, sweating in the spring sunshine, reading N. T. Wright’s What Saint Paul Really Said. I was certain that the most important questions I could write about in my postgraduate study would have something to do with Jews and Gentiles in Christ in those dense later chapters of Paul’s Romans. Continue Reading »

Briefly Noted

The Moral Arc: How Science and Reason Lead Humanity toward Truth, Justice, and Freedom by michael shermer  henry holt, 560 pages, $32 The world was a dark and gloomy place until the Enlightenment came along, after which people began to think for themselves and break free from the shackles of . . . . Continue Reading »

Filter Tag Articles