What I Read in 2021

In the Library by John Watkins Chapman (1832-1903)

With 2021 about to give way to 2022, I had the idea of doing a review of all the books I have read throughout the year. In this article I shall go through each book I have read this year, roughly in chronological order, giving each book my own rating out of five, with zero being the lowest and five being the highest, along with a succinct but hopefully informative review and then a link to purchase the book if one can be provided. I am quite excited for this, so without further ado, here they are:

The Life of Thomas More by Peter Ackroyd

Having started RCIA in September of 2020, I chose St. John Henry Newman and St. Thomas More as my confirmation saints. To grow closer to these two saints, I decided to read about them. I had already read More’s Utopia before (though I would like to read it again) so I decided to go with a biography on him. After doing some research, I decided upon Peter Ackroyd’s biography. This was a good decision. Ackroyd gives a vivid, detailed, and accessible account of More’s life, painting the martyr as a brilliant and interesting man who was very active in the political and religious spheres of his time. Additionally, Ackroyd devotes time to some of the main characters of the world during More’s time, including Erasmus, King Henry VIII, and Martin Luther, all whom More had contact with. Describing the world in which More lived is essential to knowing him as a figure and to understanding his thought, so I found Ackroyd’s book to be very well done and incredibly informative. I went into the book knowing, frankly, very little about More besides his martyrdom, and I came out with much greater knowledge and appreciation for the man, his spirituality, his life, and the world in which he lived. Before I read the book I mostly chose More as my patron because he is the patron of statesmen and I, being a political science major, found him fitting. After reading the book, I was even more certain of him as a patron because of his profound love for God, the Church, his family, and his country. St. Thomas More is a model for us today, and Ackroyd does him justice.

You can buy the book here. I find it interesting how buying the hardcover is half the price of a paperback. Quite rare!

Apologia Pro Vita Sua by St. John Henry Newman

After finishing the biography on More, I set out to learn more about Newman. I chose him as my other patron saint because I relate to his English background (I was Methodist and can trace my father’s side back to a ship arriving in Virginia in the mid-seventeenth century from England) and his motivations for converting, namely, the early Church and Church history. While I did buy Ian Ker’s magisterial biography of Newman, I also bought Newman’s own Apologia. With Ker’s biography being so large, I decided to read Newman himself, which I do not regret at all. In the Apologia, Newman goes through the history of his religious opinions from boyhood to his conversion and shortly afterwards. He wrote the book as a defense against accusations that he was dishonest and a flip-flopper. In classic Newman fashion, the book indulges in some controversy and has some humorous language. At times, it reads like a stream of consciousness, which I personally enjoyed. The book gives a lot of insight into Newman as a figure, and I found myself relating to some of his experiences (like his views on the extreme Marian devotions in Italy, or his investigation into the Early Church leading to a Catholic conclusion). Much like with More’s biography, I finished the Apologia with a far stronger appreciation and devotion to my patron. Oh, and, by the way, Newman believed angels were the causes of “motion, light, and life, and of those elementary principles of the physical universe.” You can read more on his belief about angels (which he never retracted) at the Newman Reader in Chapter 1. Just use find-on-page to search “angel” and go down to the 8th instance.

If you would like to buy a copy, I recommend the Penguin Classics edition here.

An Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine by John Henry Newman

Perhaps the work for which Newman is now most known, and the work of his which is most misunderstood, is his Development of Doctrine. I read the book as part of a reading group at my University and I have to say, the modernists and the Protestants who misconstrue the work to be something it is not are frustrating. On the one hand, the modernists attempt to use the essay as justification for total doctrinal change to the point of contradicting tradition and past statements. On the other, some Protestants say that Newman is just doing mental gymnastics to justify the Catholic Church’s departure from earlier statements or beliefs, or its adoption of supposedly novel ones. Newman says none of this, of course, and directly refutes both those claims. In the Apologia Newman states that he wrote the essay as an exercise to see if Catholicism met one of his criteria of being in line with Antiquity. Newman believed there were two essential qualities of the One True Church, a claim to Antiquity and the claim of being truly Universal. He ruled out the possibility that the Church of England had a claim to being a Universal church, but he still believed it had a stronger claim to Antiquity than the Roman church. However, after studying early heresies, he started to believe the Roman church may have a stronger claim than he believed. Therefore, he began writing Development of Doctrine to see whether the Roman Catholic Church had the strongest claim to Antiquity. In his own words: “at the end of 1844, I came to the resolution of writing an Essay on Doctrinal Development; and then, if, at the end of it, my convictions in favour of the Roman Church were not weaker, of taking the necessary steps for admission into her fold.” He goes on to say “I had begun my Essay on the Development of Doctrine in the beginning of 1845, and I was hard at it all through the year till October. As I advanced, my difficulties so cleared away that I ceased to speak of “the Roman Catholics,” and boldly called them Catholics. Before I got to the end, I resolved to be received, and the book remains in the state in which it was then, unfinished.”

Newman says in the introduction that “I concede to the opponents of historical Christianity, that there are to be found, during the 1800 years through which it has lasted, certain apparent inconsistencies and alterations in its doctrine and its worship” (emphasis added by myself). He asks what these apparent inconsistencies mean and how they came about. Directly after this, he denounces the view that Christianity changes with the times (contrary to the claims of the modernists), saying, “it is difficult to understand how such a view is compatible with the special idea of revealed truth, and in fact its advocates more or less abandon, or tend to abandon the supernatural claims of Christianity; so it need not detain us here.” He then condemns the Anglican and general Protestant view that there was, at some point, a corruption of the Western and Eastern Churches. According to Newman, his central claim is that “from the first age of Christianity, its teaching looked towards those ecclesiastical dogmas, afterwards recognized and defined, with (as time went on) more or less determinate advance in the direction of them; till at length that advance became so pronounced, as to justify their definition and to bring it about, and to place them in the position of rightful interpretations and keys of the remains and the records in history of the teaching which had so terminated.” In no way does this imply that Newman believes or entertains the idea of any departure or change. Quite the opposite. But, alas, I have written too much. Perhaps I shall write a longer essay on the subject.

If you would like a copy of Newman’s Development of Christian Doctrine, I suggest the Aterna Press edition. I have had good luck with this publisher, and it is quite affordable.

Dorothy Day: The World Will be Saved by Beauty by Kate Hennessy

This book was written by the granddaughter of Dorothy Day and, frankly, was a little disappointing. If you are looking for a book that goes into depth about Day’s faith, spirituality, and beliefs, I suggest just reading The Long Loneliness. If you are looking for a book primarily about Day’s personal and family life as well as the Catholic Worker, then this book will be more for you. I do not want to fault the book for focusing on this. Instead, my main issue is with the presentation, Hennessy’s lack of exploration into Day’s faith and spirituality in detailed way (since that is kind of a huge part of understanding Day), and how Hennessy frequently goes off on tangents. The book is roughly in chronological order though it winds and winds at times. I was often thinking to myself “I wish she would just get back to Dorothy” while reading. It was not a horrible book though. Certain passages were very gripping, and I found the actual writing itself to be engaging and exciting. Ms. Hennessy is certainly a good storyteller. If you read this book, just keep in mind that it does not delve too deep into her faith and can go on tangents at times.

You can buy this book here.

Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre

When I bought this book, I did not expect it to be anything crazy, though I did notice the introduction by Scott Hahn and Brant Pitre’s credentials online. However, when I started reading it, I fell in love. This book is eye-opening; it felt as if I was being shown secrets of the Old Testament that had been locked up my whole life. I already had a strong belief in the Eucharist as the Body and Blood of Christ; indeed, it was one of the reasons for my conversion. But my belief was based primarily on the fact the early Church believed so strong in it and that John 6 and Paul both support the Catholic doctrine. I had no idea that the Eucharist being the real flesh and blood of Christ would be something that was also supported by the Old Testament Jewish beliefs, traditions, and practices, and made even more radical by them. If you are a Catholic and want to deepen your understanding of the Eucharist and the Old Testament, I could not recommend this book more. If you are a Protestant, I strongly suggest that you read it. I know my Protestant brothers and sisters believe strongly in the Bible and are students of the Old Testament in a way many Catholics are not. After all, I was one. I also know a common criticism of Catholic beliefs is that the Bible does not support them. However, this book presents a compelling and Biblical case for the Catholic doctrines surrounding the Eucharist. It is also very easy to read, written in layman’s terms, and not long at all. My own mother read it and enjoyed it as a Methodist.

If you would like a copy of this wonderful book, visit Ignatius Press.

The Lamb’s Supper: The Mass as Heaven on Earth by Scott Hahn

Scott Hahn’s book is a good companion to Pitre’s, though The Lamb’s Supper does not have as strong and exact a focus on the Eucharist. It is more concerned with the various parts of the Mass and how they can be seen in the Apocalypse of John. Now, to my still-sometimes Protestant brain, this thesis seemed rather bizarre. How could John’s book have anything to do with the Mass? Isn’t it all about the End Times and Second Coming of Christ? In classic Catholic fashion, the answer is yes, and. Now, I will admit, I did not find this book as convincing as Pitre’s, but I do think it can deepen piety and also lead to a better understanding of both the Mass and John’s Apocalypse. Some of the parallels that Hahn tries to draw seemed a bit strained to me, and he admits that some of his opinions are not the mainstream opinions of scholars. I do not think this should necessarily be counted against him, as healthy scholarship can and should allow for differing interpretations (as long as one does not go off into heresy and heterodoxy), but it is something you should be aware of as a reader. This is a solid book and I recommend it if you are interested, but I do not think it is quite on the level of Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist.

You can buy The Lamb’s Supper here.

The Worlds of Medieval Europe by Clifford Backman

This book is mediocre. I read it in its entirety for a Medieval History class and found it to be somewhat opinionated now and then, though at times it devolved into downright conjecture. For instance, the author very strongly believes that Charlemagne was just using the Church and that the Church was essentially his tool, powerless compared to him. Thankfully the book does not try to paint the Middle Ages as a ‘Dark Age’ as the Enlightenment did. Backman certainly gives it a much fairer treatment than some modern authors have, and I will grant him that. The book is broad where it needs to be broad and specific where it needs to be specific. It is not written in a super academic way, so if you’re just a casual reader, this probably would not be a bad overview of the Middle Ages. If you’re looking for a more formal, detailed, and scholarly history of the Middle Ages, you can do better.

You can buy the book here.

The Philosophy of Horror, or, Paradoxes of the Heart by Noel Carroll

In the spring semester I took a class called “The Philosophy of Horror” with a special emphasis on film, and this book was the main textbook we used. I read all and was thoroughly surprised by how much I enjoyed both the class and the book. Seldom have I been in classes that have stimulated me and made me as eager as this one. In The Philosophy of Horror Noel Carroll puts forward the idea of “art-horror” and what exactly distinguishes it as a genre. He defines art-horror most succinctly and completely on page 35 as “an emotional state wherein, essentially, some nonordinary physical state of agitation is caused by the thought of a monster, in terms of the details presented by a fiction or an image, which thought also includes the recognition that the monster is threatening and impure.” He then deals with two questions, the first being how we are frightened by things we know are not real, and then why we enjoy the genre of horror despite its unpleasant nature. I grew up in a household where I never watched a scary movie, though in the past few years I have been watching many YouTube videos analyzing horror movies and their meanings, which has given me a greater appreciation of the genre. After reading Carroll’s book, I appreciate it even more and see it as something profoundly artistic and human. The only downside to the book is that it can be dry at times by modern standards. If you can stand to read something that doesn’t go out of its way to be exciting or “easy to read” and if you are interested in horror as a genre and artform, I highly recommend this work. It is one of a kind and highly acclaimed.

You can buy it on Amazon, though it is unfortunately expensive.

Lovecraft: The Classic Horror Stories by Oxford Classics

This is just a compilation of some of Lovecraft’s most well-known works into one volume, including The Call of Cthulhu, The Color Out of Space, and The Dunwich Horror among others, so the review is less about the actual book and more about Lovecraft’s writing. I read these three stories as a part of the class I mentioned above. Of the three, The Color Out of Space was actually my favorite. I know it may make some people rather angry, but I think The Call of Cthulhu is overrated. I did not like it as much as I thought I would. Maybe it is my fault, but it is what it is. Lovecraft is a must read though, as he essentially created his own subgenre of horror, that is, cosmic horror. People throw around words like “Lovecraftian” even if they are not really familiar with his stories, so he has had a lot of influence even in mainstream culture, especially with the HBO series Lovecraft Country. I would like to give a more lengthy and substantial treatment of Lovecraft in 2022. As far as the physical book itself goes, it is fine, affordable, and contains the essentials. I would recommend buying the Canterbury Classics Tales of Horror volume though, which I also own, as it is a far superior book physically. It has a beautiful leatherbound cover, gilded and thin pages, and a bookmark. There is also the cheaper Canterbury Classics Word Cloud Classics edition which, though a step down from the leatherbound volume, is still nicer than the Oxford Classics edition and is more affordable than both.

You can buy the Oxford Classics edition here, the Canterbury Classics Leatherbound edition here, and the Word Cloud Classics edition here.

The Benedict Option by Rod Dreher

I was really conflicted on what score to give this book. To be honest, when I read it, I thought it was the best thing since sliced bread. But now, after having read a lot more, I am not sure. I do not think it has been represented fairly by many on the post-liberal right, but at the same time, Dreher has been siding more with the right-liberals as of late to the point where it calls into question his book. Moreover, I think the book, while it can be helpful, can also give the impression that the war is already lost. It also fails to mention how exactly we got to where we are in society religiously and politically. His main claim is that we live in a post-Christian America, that churches are shrinking, and believers are increasingly becoming estranged from established religion. He believes that Christians need to be more intentional about the way they live and consolidate. The main criticism of the Benedict Option is that Dreher is calling for a total retreat from the world. Having read the book, this is false. What he does advocate for is for Christian parents to take their kids out of public schools (which I think far more people on the Right, even moderates, are beginning to agree with considering the rise of CRT), for Christians to seek each other out and live near or with one another, and work with one another and employ one another. He also calls for Christians to distance themselves from consuming pop-culture media, refuse to conform to distorted views of sex and marriage, and even give up jobs if necessary.

One issue with the book is that he does not talk much at all about how we arrived at the circumstances we find ourselves in. If you read the book, you may get the impression that things just suddenly got bad. Of course we know the sexual revolution and stuff, but what conditions allowed for this to take place? There must have been some ideology, some set of values and ideals which brought about these calamities. Maybe…you know, Liberalism, individualism, secularism, rationalism, etc. But Dreher does not really touch the sacred cow of Liberalism and instead says that if we just had more religious freedom, everything would be fine. Another issue is that St. Benedict of Nursia was not a monk living in the height of a depraved pagan world. Rather, he was living after its fall, and during the rise of Christendom. The Benedictine monks were not successful because they were little pockets of Christianity living amongst a bunch of heathens, but because they were little pockets of ultra-devoted and educated men living in a Christian society and supported by the Church. They preserved the culture and were complimentary to the rest of society. They were an integral part of Christendom as a whole. Moreover, Dreher seems to view political action as mostly a lost cause. I do not subscribe to such pessimism, nor do others on the Right. Indeed, it was Constantine, a Roman Emperor, who finally ended the persecution of Christians by conversion and imperial decree. It was the Roman Emperor Theodosius who made Christianity the official religion of the Empire. It was Charlemagne who helped strengthen the Church and usher in a thoroughly Christian society, giving the Church the backing of the State and using it to spread and strengthen the faith. We may not be winning every political battle, but they are not in vain. We should also not fall into a lost-cause mindset. Overall, I think this book makes some compelling arguments and points at times, and some of its recommendations are worth pursuing, but I think it is incomplete without addressing the root causes of society’s ills and without showing what can be done to advance the Christian agenda politically.

If you would like to buy The Benedict Option you can do so here. You can also visit the website if you want to learn about it without reading the book.

Letters to a Young Catholic by George Weigel

In this book, George Weigel talks about different aspects of the Catholic faith while taking the reader on a sort of journey to different Catholic landmarks. This book is made for young Catholics, though I think it could also be helpful for converts and non-Catholics. To me, the most valuable part of this book is Weigel being a cradle Catholic and explaining many of Catholic practices that come from being culturally Catholic. With me not being a cultural Catholic, it is helpful to learn these small details and mannerisms that I don’t know much about. The book talks about the dangers of liberal religion, liturgy and worship, and suffering, among many other things. This was an easy read but still informative and helpful, especially to me as someone who had only just a few months prior actually been confirmed. It does a good job of showing what it means to be thoroughly Catholic today. If you are in the market for a simple sort of introductory book on Catholic practices and beliefs, especially in the modern age, I think this would be a good read. It would also be good to give to a Catholic teen or young adult who may be lukewarm, or who shows interest in deepening their faith but doesn’t know how.

You can buy Letters to a Young Catholic here.

Republic by Plato

I read the C.D.C. Reeve translation of the Republic. While it was not bad, I am sure there are better translations out there. Additionally, the book itself just has an awful and irrelevant cover. You can do much better. My only critique of Plato himself is that the only halfway decent character is Thrasymachus because he offers the most thought out, direct, and substantial opposition to Plato of any of the side-characters. All the rest either just agree with everything Plato says or give a very weak challenge, to the point of it being a meme. Apart from that, the Republic is necessary reading for anyone who claims to have an interest in political philosophy and, really, philosophy in general. If you haven’t read this, you need to. I did a more in-depth reflection on the Republic here, so I won’t go into the book any further.

As far as what I would recommend you buy, I suggest the Benjamin Jowett translation which you can buy through Amazon for a low price.

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

I had the misfortune of reading the Wordsworth Classics of World Literature abridged version which I bought some time ago at a used bookstore because it was dirt cheap (like $2 I think) and in perfect condition. I know I did not get the fullness of de Tocqueville’s work in this edition, but I do not want to mark the book down for this because while it is incomplete, his thought itself is good and I don’t want someone to see a low score and either think Democracy in America is bad or that I did not like it. In fact, I loved it. De Tocqueville is truly a prophet and visionary. He predicted the course of American society and politics with such accuracy that it is as if he had visited our own day and gone back to his own time to report back. This is one of those books that every American should read at some point in their schooling, whether it be k-12 or college, and one which every historian and political scientist dealing with America must read and understand. In this book, de Tocqueville presents America as the model of a democracy in the modern age, though he does not at all believe the United States to be perfect. In his mind, we live in an age of democracy, and it is not going away, so the best thing to do is to figure out how to do democracy well. With the French Revolution and French Republic being such failures, and with Europe experiencing turmoil and chaos, the United States stood out as a stable, prosperous, and admirable democratic experiment. He makes incredible observations about the American system, its culture, and its trajectory. His prediction of race relations and the North-South divide is particularly harrowing, as most of it has come true to the letter. This was one of my favorite books of the year, and easily one of my favorite books about American culture and politics. I will be writing more extensive articles about it this coming year.

Here I have linked what seems to be the one of the best translations of Democracy in America if you would like to buy and read it.

Strong Towns: A Bottom-Up Revolution to Rebuild American Prosperity and Confessions of a Recovering Engineer: Transportation for a Strong Town by Charles Marohn

These two books have greatly influenced my thought and introduced me to a whole new field of study and politics that I did not know existed before this summer. I always had a prejudice against suburbs, strip malls, sprawl, and road expansion, but I never knew why. I knew, through intuition, that the way our cities were functioning was not right. In the spring I had enrolled for a fall class called Introduction to Urban Studies, but I honestly did not think anything of it because it was just a class my advisor was teaching and recommended I take for my major. During the summer there was a local political issue that arose where I live and it had to do with roads. Since I love local politics and government, I wanted to do research. Somehow I stumbled upon the YouTube channel ‘Not Just Bikes’, where I was introduced to the study of urban planning. This led me to Strong Towns. I decided to buy the book and see what all this was about. Little did I know that this book would have such a profound impact on me and make me fall in love with urban planning and urban studies. It put my intuition into words and opened my eyes to the issues surrounding our cities and urban planning methods. I was hooked. The premise of Strong Towns and Confessions is that the urban planning methods and policies we have had for many decades now are actually unsustainable and harmful to our cities. Strong Towns talks more about the urban planning side of things like zoning, spending, and housing while Confessions focuses in on infrastructure and transportation. The two are complimentary and go hand in hand, which is why I just included them in one review.

These books are both easy to read and meant to be read by those who probably have little experience in the field. They would not take long to finish. If you’re a really dedicated reader, you could knock these out in a couple days, easily. If you know nothing about urban planning or infrastructure but are interested in knowing more, these are the books for you. If you want to find out ways to make your town or city better, these books are for you. If you want to try and influence a local politician, these books is for them. I highly recommend both, and I am very thankful to Charles Marohn for writing them and introducing me to the field, and to New Urbanism.

You can buy both Strong Towns here and Confessions here. You can also visit the Strong Towns website and learn more about the movement and even become a member. I am a monthly donating member.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

This book is an absolute necessity if you want to understand the New Urbanist movement and learn more about urban planning. Jane Jacobs, who lived in New York City, published this book in 1961 as a reaction to and critique of the orthodox urban planning policies of the 1950s, embodied by Robert Moses. This book is harsh on the conventional planning policies of the day and even those we continue to see in our own time, with Jacobs outright saying that “This book is an attack on current city planning and rebuilding.” She wastes no time explaining that she believes these policies destroy cities and that only by reversing them and implementing better policies can we bring our cities back to life. In the book Jacobs discusses sidewalks and their significance, the role of parks, city neighborhoods, violence, and the automobile. Her solution to the poor state of our cities today is made up of four points: mixed primary uses, short blocks, buildings with differing ages and styles, and high density. Now, it should be noted that Jacobs is exclusively talking about big cities in this book. She explicitly states that nothing in it should be misapplied to smaller cities and towns, as they are of a different nature than large cities. I think this was wise of her, considering a lot of urban planning thought tries to find a one size fits all formula. When reading this you will occasionally notice its age, although the vast majority of the time you could not tell it was written 60 years ago. A few of the things she says are a bit outdated, some of the language is distinctly from that period, and urban planning theory and solutions have progressed quite a bit since its publication. However, this work is foundational for New Urbanism, and the activists and thought leaders who are pushing our cities in a better direction are building on what Jacobs started.

If you would like a copy of this fantastic book, you can click here.

The Community in Urban Society by Larry Lyon

This is one of the textbooks we used for my Urban Studies class. This is probably one of the best, most concise books on the history of urban studies and urban planning. I learned a lot from this book. It is sort of a textbook but not really. It goes through four main approaches to the study of communities: typology, ecology, systems theory, and conflict theory. He discusses at length Ferdinand Tonnie’s ideas of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft which, for me, were my main takeaways. Gemeinschaft he defines as “sentiment, tradition, and common bonds as governing forces. The basis for this natural will is in either the family or the ‘soil’ (i.e., living and working in a common place).” This social order usually exhibited in rural villages and pre-industrial society, whereas Gesellschaft is characterized by “little or no identification with the community, affective neutrality, legalism, and segmental conceptions of other members of the community” and is associated with industrial capitalist society. These two distinctions are not absolute; not every community in industrial society is thoroughly Gesellschaft, nor is every community in pre-industrial society necessarily Gemeinschaft. They are simply archetypes which are helpful for distinguishing the shift in social relations and community life. Much of urban theory is built on these distinctions and have served as goals for what a community ought to look like. The Garden City movement, for instance, sought to move back to Gemeinschaft, which it saw as superior. I would recommend this book for those who are interested in urban theory and the history of it.

You can purchase it here.

Dignity: Seeking Respect in Backrow America by Chris Arnade

Somehow, when I first published this article, I completely forgot this wonderful book. It is a shame, too, because this was one of my favorite books of the year. I bought it online alongside a few others, on a whim really, and had no intention of reading it right away. However, one night, after it had arrived in the mail, I decided to take a look at it and see what it was about. I opened up to the first page and started reading…and I finished it that same night. I started around 8pm, took a break around 10pm-12am, and then finished it by 2am. Let me just say, this book is powerful. I cried multiple times, found myself enraged at others, and smiled yet still. I also wrote a longer piece on the book, Reflecting on Chris Arnade’s “Dignity: Seeking Respect in Back Row America”, so I will not spend too much time on it here. All I will say is that this book was very impactful to me and very well written. It reads more like a set of stories than an essay or thought piece, because that is exactly what it is. Arnade sets out to tell the stories of what he calls back row America, the less-educated, poorer, marginalized groups in this country, people who are often down on their luck and living in depressed and forgotten areas. I could not recommend this book more and I sincerely hope you get around to buying it, as I think it is one of those books people need to read.

You can buy the book here. Arnade also wrote a piece in First Things entitled “Back Row America” if you would like to read that before buying the book.

A Primer on the Right: The Challenge of the Modern Right and How It Relates to the Contemporary Left by Robert E. Salyer

This book is more like a pocketbook in size, and just at 100 pages in length. I met the author and he said he wrote it to be about as long as the Communist Manifesto, which I found humorous. In his book, Salyer, a practicing lawyer who has argued in front of the Supreme Court, discusses the principles of the Right, or more specifically, the new, post-liberal Right. He identifies a few key principles of this New Right: a belief in objective truth and values, a belief in hierarchy, nationalism, loyalty, and that conquest and domination are natural, historical facts that cannot be avoided nor feared, simply accepted. He also identifies the principles of the modern Left, though unfortunately I forgot them all and do not have the book with me at present to consult. Nevertheless, he identifies both and, in my opinion, does so accurately. He does not argue in favor of the Left or Right in the book, it is simply descriptive, though he is firmly on the Right and makes some allusion to that in the end of the book. He said he set out to present a steelman argument of both the Right and Left, and then to give the Right’s best response to the Left. This makes it a worthwhile read because you can learn, in less than a day, the core principles of both the Left and the New Right. My main critique is that he does not substantiate his claims and gives very few sources. He does not mention many Right-wing thinkers, whether it be current thought leaders or philosophers who have influenced the movement. Ultimately this is acceptable, as there is probably not a more accurate and succinct description of the New Right in print. It is what it sets out to be, and it accomplishes its goal.

If you would like to buy this book, it is only $8.99 on Amazon.

The Early Church was the Catholic Church by Joe Heschmeyer

I started reading this book about two weeks ago and finished it before Christmas Day. Joe Heschmeyer is a Catholic Answers writer and apologist, and in this book he argues, obviously, that the early Church was the Catholic Church. Now, this book is not written to be academic or to be the most full and comprehensive treatment of the early Church out there. If that is what you are in the market for, this is not for you. His intention is to address certain Protestant arguments concerning the early Church and the Catholic Church in an accessible but strong way. He focuses on the first two centuries (though he does use some later Fathers when necessary) with the main intention of showing, first, why we should care what the early Christians said and believed, then that we can trust them, and finally that they were Catholic. He does so through four specific issues of faith: baptismal rebirth, the eucharist and the mass, the episcopacy and church governance, and finally the four Gospels. He does an excellent job with each, showing what the early Christians believed and then answering Protestant objections. I think his strongest chapter is on the four Gospels because Sola Scriptura is the core Protestant belief and framework through which every other issue is viewed. Only by first addressing Sola Scriptura can you then move on to the other matters, and I think the chapter on the four Gospels does this. If I was Mr. Heschmeyer, I would have put this chapter first, followed by the other three in their current order, that way the main Protestant doctrine is addressed. This is the type of book that would be great to give to a Catholic who wants to learn more about the early Church or who may not know a lot about the beliefs of the early Church, a Protestant who believes the early Church is either untrustworthy or not Catholic, or a person inquiring about the Catholic faith who is already a Christian. I had a lot of fun reading it and it was a nice refresher, since the early Church is one of the central reasons I converted.

You can buy this book at the Catholic Answers website.

The Decadent Society: America Before and After the Pandemic by Ross Douthat

If you are on the Right, you know that Douthat’s idea of decadence is well known and referenced frequently. At this point it is part of the jargon among the top writers and thinkers of the New Right in America. He defines decadence as “economic stagnation, institutional decay, and cultural and intellectual exhaustion at a high level of material prosperity and technological development.” He says it “describes a situation in which repetition is more the norm than innovation; in which sclerosis affects public institutions and private enterprises alike; in which intellectual life seems to go in circles; in which new developments in science, new exploratory projects, underdeliver compared to what people recently expected. And, crucially, the stagnation and decay are often a direct consequence of previous development.” Another very important point that Douthat makes about the decadent society is that it is quite stable and comfortable. If the decadent society were chaotic, violent, inconvenient, or overtly oppressive, then it would quickly fall. This is not the case for the West, as we live very comfortably (on average), with quick and easy access to basic needs and entertainment (compared to past times). I believe this idea of society being decadent, as he defines it, is a good and true description of the modern state of things. I especially like his discussion of declining birth rates, the numbing effect of modern society, the “pink police state”, and the panopticon.

The writing itself is by no means impressive and you can tell it was written by a journalist, not a philosopher or sociologist, as good a thesis as it may be. In fact, Douthat fully admits that his thesis is not original, and that “my diagnosis of our condition is a journalist’s.” He acknowledges that he is getting inspiration from people like Francis Fukuyama and Peter Thiel, among others, and references other thinkers throughout the book. It is a good introduction to this line of thought, especially for those who have never heard or read such claims before, but I definitely want to read the source material and go more in depth. Other than at times being shallow, the repeated talk of Trump got annoying fast. In classic New York Times columnist fashion, Douthat just can’t help but mention Trump at every possible moment. Sometimes this is warranted, such as when he shows Trump as running against the decadent trend. Other times it is not and comes across as being out of place and even a little obsessive. We need not dwell on the orange man at every possible moment or try and get in some cheap shots against him. I am not arguing in Trump’s favor, but I am criticizing Douthat’s inability to just…not be an annoying right-liberal columnist sometimes. The writing style and Trump are why I made it a 4. It’s a very easy and quick read (I finished it after 5 sittings), and it is a relevant work that is part of the current dialogue, especially on the Right. I recommend it.

If you would like to purchase the book, you can go here.

Well, that concludes my 2021 Book Reviews! I hope you enjoyed reading them. In the next week I hope to publish a post about the different websites and thinkers that most influenced me in 2021 (and which I recommend to our dear readers). I also hope to publish a post detailing my plans for The New Utopian in 2022, as well as what books I plan to read next. If you liked this post, consider checking out the others and subscribing! Thank you and Happy New Year!

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