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A long time ago (but not in a galaxy far away), Baltimore’s St. Paul Latin High School had us reading six or seven books every summer. I confess that I never finished some of them; Thackeray’s The History of Henry Esmond comes immediately to mind. Others continue to give me (re)reading pleasure many decades later. Let me begin with two of those:

I must have read Evelyn Waugh’s novel Scoop a half-dozen times, and this brilliant skewering of journalistic foibles never ceases to satisfy. Waugh’s comic genius is at its most pungent as he pillories his fellow scribblers while they lurch about the African hinterlands, befogged by disinformation and making things up as they go along. Read Scoop as a satirical antidote to media distortions that daily drive us to distraction.     

A Distant Trumpet, Paul Horgan’s novel of the last struggle between the U.S. Army and the Apaches for control of Arizona, is another antidote: in this case, to the woke rewriting of history in which any encounter between white settlers and indigenous people locates all nobility in the latter and every imaginable perversion in the former. Horgan offers a just, honest, and ultimately poignant description of cultures in conflict, in which the author’s Catholic sensibility is always present, but not obstreperously. (Do not confuse the novel with the movie, which makes a hash of Horgan’s characters and plot.)   

As for books of more recent vintage:

Walter Russell Mead’s weekly column in the Wall Street Journal is essential reading for anyone thinking seriously about the current world disorder. The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel, and the Fate of the Jewish People prompts from me a rare agreement with the New York Times, whose reviewer aptly described Mead’s book as “a sweeping and masterfully told history.”  

In this Olympic summer, I heartily recommend Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. It’s a touching (and sobering) portrait of America during the Great Depression, an inspiring story of athletics as an art form and spiritual discipline, and a tale of male friendship without a scintilla of pride flag homoeroticism. And how can you not like a book that ends with a group of politically naïve Yank twenty-somethings enraging Hitler on his home turf? 

You may have noticed that we’re in the midst of a presidential election campaign. Or perhaps not, as you’ve tuned out the cacophony for the sake of your sanity. In either case, David Roll’s Ascent to Power: How Truman Emerged from Roosevelt’s Shadow and Remade the World is a reminder that we were once governed by adults, in a country with functional political parties that were more than fundraising machines. That the Democratic leadership knew that FDR would not make it through a fourth term and had the sense to swap out Henry Wallace for Harry Truman on their 1944 ticket was one of the most critical political moves in our national history. As to its contemporary relevance, I forfend from commenting.

Ever and Soren Johnson lead an imaginative New Evangelization initiative in support of families, the Trinity House Community in northern Virginia. Heaven in Your Home offers their spiritual and practical insights into making the family, the “domestic Church,” a reflection of the communion of persons that is the Triune God. 

“Social justice” has long been an unexamined, indeed undefined, mantra in U.S. Catholicism. Thomas Sowell demonstrates that he’s still “got game” at age ninety-three in Social Justice Fallacies, a penetrating, empirically grounded examination of how good intentions filtered through ideological blinders can lead to public policies and social experiments that make matters worse, not better, for the poor. 

Seventy-five years ago, English Catholic historian Christopher Dawson gave the prestigious Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh. The result, Religion and the Rise of Western Culture, can be profitably read alongside Tom Holland’s more punchy Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. Together, these marvelous books offer a convincing correction to secularist culture’s nonsensical narrative about how we became who we are.

On the war in Ukraine: nothing better than Yaroslav Trofimov’s Our Enemies Will Vanish. In a world in which the headline “Italian trans man found to be pregnant before hysterectomy can appear in the Times of London: nothing better than Ryan Anderson’s When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment. And on today’s U.S. Church: nothing better (or more encouraging) than Francis X. Maier’s True Confessions: Voices of Faith from a Life in the Church. I’m proud to call Anderson and Maier friends and colleagues.

George Weigel’s column “The Catholic Difference” is syndicated by the Denver Catholic, the official publication of the Archdiocese of Denver.

George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of Washington, D.C.’s Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he holds the William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.

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