Spirituality and Religion
Notre-Dame: A Short History of the Meaning of Cathedrals by Ken FollettWhat it is: an impassioned and atmospheric chronicle of the cathedral Notre-Dame de Paris, from its centuries-long construction to the fire that devastated it in April of 2019.
Read it for: Pillars of the Earth author Ken Follett's deep knowledge of cathedral construction, which reminds readers that a cathedral is always a work in progress; an engaging examination of the power of large-scale, culturally rich buildings to move us.
Religion As We Know It: An Origin Story by Jack MilesWhat it is: a scholarly and thought-provoking look at how the place of religion in Western society has evolved over time, and how those changes created the field of religious studies.
About the author: A Pulitzer Prize winner and fellow of both the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundations, Jack Miles is also the author of God: A Biography and edited the most recent edition of the Norton Anthology of World Religions.
Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt by Alec RyrieWhat it's about: the long history of doubt, agnosticism, and atheism in the Christian world; the emotional motivations behind religious belief (or lack thereof), with a special focus on the power of anxiety and anger.
Why you should read it: Alec Ryrie argues that atheism in Christian Europe dates from long before the Enlightenment, painting a portrait of notable doubters that reaches back to the church's early days.
Is it for you? Although books about Christian history aren't always written with believers in mind, this one is, so Ryrie's analysis should be interpreted in that context.
Becoming Eve: My Journey from Ultra-Orthodox Rabbi to Transgender Woman by Abby Chava SteinWhat it is: an emotionally resonant memoir that details the early life and coming of age of trans woman (and former Hasidic rabbi) Abby Stein, and her final break with the insular community she grew up in.
Why you might like it: Stein's personal narrative is grounded in her years of Torah and Talmud study, which permeate all aspects of her unique story.
Who it's for: anyone who has ever felt like an outsider in a tight-knit community or has struggled to reconcile the seemingly incompatible parts of their identity.
Family Papers: A Sephardic Journey Through the Twentieth Century by Sarah Abrevaya SteinWhat it’s about: the international journey of the Levy family, Sephardi Jews known for their multi-generational presence in the publishing industry, and the forces that have dispersed them from their origins in the Ottoman (now Greek) Jewish community where their story begins.
Read it for: the thorough research, which is rooted in the remarkable collection of papers and correspondence that Levy family members have collected over the years; the unique first-hand accounts of Jewish life in the Ottoman Empire and the individual effects of major historical events.
Confessions: A New Translation by Augustine, translation by Peter ConstantineWhat it is: a new translation of Augustine of Hippo's most well-known work by noted translator Peter Constantine (who has also translated Rousseau, Machiavelli, and Chekov).
What sets it apart: Constantine takes great pains to present Augustine's theological points with clarity and puts Augustine's candid, erudite reflections into a contemporary voice that makes Confessions more accessible to general readers.
Dorothy Day: The World Will Be Saved by Beauty: An Intimate Portrait of My Grandmother by Kate HennessyWhat it is: a richly detailed and intimate biography of radical reformer, candidate for sainthood, and founder of the Catholic Worker movement Dorothy Day, written by her granddaughter Kate Hennessy.
Don’t miss: the candid exploration of Day’s sometimes contentious relationship with her daughter Tamar, the author’s mother.
Why you might like it: Hennessy’s access to people, places, and papers that might otherwise be off-limits to a traditional biographer provide invaluable details that create a portrait of Dorothy Day that is as human as her work was revolutionary.
Martin Luther: Renegade and Prophet by Lyndal RoperWhat it is: a thought-provoking new biography of Protestant reformer Martin Luther, published in 2017 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of the posting of his 95 Theses at All Saints' Church in Wittenberg, Saxony.
Why you should read it: Historian Lyndal Roper presents a comprehensive narrative of Luther's life that doesn't shy away from the theologian's uncompromising nature and antisemitism, and manages to balance thorough research with an approachable, engaging readability.
Paul: A Biography by N.T. WrightWhat it is: Combining solid scholarship of what is known about the apostle Paul with a careful reading of the writings he left behind, Anglican bishop N.T. Wright provides both a biography and an examination of Paul's intentions.
Reviewers say: Written "not for the skeptic but for the believer" (Kirkus Reviews), this is a thought-provoking analysis that will inform interested readers and likely prompt debate.
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