By PHIL FOLLETY, parishioner
Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years by Diarmaid MacCullough (2009) Viking, is a formidable 1,162 page tome (now available in paperback), that adorned my bookshelf. Upon my retirement, I decided to tackle it in a schedule of serial readings. Covering the ancient history of Greece, Rome and Israel before Christ, its cumulative narrative follows the ascendency of the Church from the Apostles through medieval times, the Renaissance, the Reformation, Counter-Reformation, to the present. Written by the son of an Anglican clergyman, it is a fair-minded and balanced view of the Latin Church, describing the spread of Jesus’ Word throughout the Roman Empire and how the New Testament was formed. Detailed multi-faceted coverage includes the separation of Roman Catholicism from Greek orthodoxy, the Jewish foundation and tradition, the rise of Islam, Protestantism in its several manifestations, dissention in the Catholic Church and the battles between the papacy and European monarchies. The book documents the continuing tapestry of the Church’s propagation of Western civilization through its philosophical contributions, monastic traditions and movements, universities, charities, and hospitals. It is a thorough exposition of Christianity worldwide, including its spread and reintroduction into Africa and Asia and keeps Catholic readers engaged with a close up view of the struggles among traditional and modernist trends, the view of recent Popes toward Vatican II and other assorted culture wars. Turning from the text to its easy-to-find notes with further explanations, MacCullough also includes a generous chapter by chapter guide for further reading. Written with authoritative verve and good humor, this book is a valuable addition that should weigh down any bookshelf for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
The Greeks: A Global History, by Roderick Beaton (2021) Basic Books, is a sweeping history that goes beyond the foundation of modern science, the arts, politics, and law associated with Athens and Sparta to cover the formation of remarkable civilizations within the Greek speaking world over 3,000 years. Beaton, an emeritus professor at King’s College London and Commander of the Order of Honor of the Hellenic Republic, details the full impact and influence of Greeks far to the west and east of the Hellenic peninsula. Starting off with the Minoans of Crete and the Hittites, the author takes us on a fascinating journey from Greek legend to the first World Wars of the classical age, the cultural capital of Athens, Constantine and the spread of Christianity (whose foundational texts were in Greek) in the Roman Empire as far east as Byzantium (with in-depth coverage of the Byzantine Empire), Syria and Phoenicia, south to Egypt, and west to Venice, Sicily and Rome and, ultimately, the loss of Constantinople to the Turks. The survey, written in clear, highly accessible language, takes us through to the 18th Century Greek Revival to today’s Greek nation. There are copious notes and a helpful guide for further reading.
Maverick: A Biography of Thomas Sowell by Jason L. Riley (2021) Basic Books, is a compelling intellectual biography of one of the most brilliant thinkers of our age by the Wall Street Journal columnist. Thomas Sowell, a black orphan born in rural North Carolina who went on to graduate from Harvard, and began his authorship in 1971 with introductory textbook noted for its clarity for undergrads called Economics; Analysis and Issues. He has written over 30 books since on economic history, social philosophy, race, migration and culture. Sowell’s forthright, unsentimental criticisms of liberal orthodoxy and political correctness, including discussions on the pitfalls of affirmative action and racial preferences, receive a lucid, extended hearing in this informed and elegant book which showcases his most significant writings. (To get a quick review of the wit and wisdom of Thomas Sowell, visit some of his appearances and discussions on YouTube.)