Saturday, May 14, 2022

Montreal - Toronto - Louisville - Ellicott City

May 14, 2022 Peace and Good, This has been another couple of weeks of extensive travelling. One of the friars from Montreal drove us to Toronto via a place called Kashube (which is a lakeside resort that the friars run in northern Ontario). In Toronto, we visited the various apostolates run by the friars. Last Saturday we flew to Louisville. Sunday I celebrated the Mass at Mount St. Francis. It is great to celebrate with lay people, because most of the time I am involved with itnernal ministry to the friars. fr. Carlos was driven to Gethsemane, the monastery where Thomas Merton lived, for a week of prayer. I flew to Ellicott City for some dental care (a root canal, some oral surgery). I also used this time to get my second booster shot. Today I fly back to Louisville for the opening of the provincial chapter of Our Lady of Consolation Province on Monday afternoon. I will be there with fr. Carlos until next Saturday when we fly back to Baltimore for the opening of the chapter of Our Lady of Angels Province. I finished some reading: The Republic of Finland by Charles River Editors This is an account of the development of Finland from being a province of Sweden and Russia to being an independent nation. It especially deals with the Winter War, a war provoked by the Soviet Union in which Finland, although the loser, managed to bloody the Soviet Union so much that Hitler saw them as an impotent opponent, leading to his invasion of the Soviet Union later that year. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and the Republic of Turkey by Charles River Editors This is a short biography of the father of the modern Turkish nation. It covers his rise from a rather insignificant army officer to the president of the nation who led Turkey into modernity (even if he did so with an iron fist at times). 20 Great Military Disasters of the Middle Ages by Anthony Holland This is a short account of twenty of the worst defeats experienced by various nations and peoples during the Middle Ages. None of the accounts are that profound, either for the causes of the war or the conduct of the war or its consequences, but the accounts do give enough information to get a general sense of what happened. Burying the Dead in Ancient Egypt by Charles River Editors Unlike most of Charles River Editors’ books, this one is an extensive coverage of the burial customs (the mummification, the tombs, the gods worshipped who were associated with death and the afterlife, etc.) in ancient Egypt, from its earliest days to the Roman period. It has enormous amounts of information, almost too much if one is not interested in diving into the topic profoundly. Michelangelo by Hourly History This is a relatively short biography of the artist Michelangelo, part of a series of artists by Hourly History. It gives an overview of his career as a sculptor and painter (a role that he never really wanted). The book does not go all that deep into his person and psychology, but it is a good overview. 1942: the Year that Tried Men’s Souls by Winston Groom In the beginning of 1942, the allies were losing the war all over the place. By the end of the year, the allies had scored their first victories and the axis powers were beginning to retreat (e.g. the Battle of Midway, North Africa, etc.). Groom has a good way of telling a story, including many stories of individuals within the context of the larger narrative. St. Theresa of Avila by Hourly History This is quite a pleasant biography of St. Theresa. While mentioning the doubts concerning her ecstatic phenomena, the author admits that we cannot be sure and that one’s final judgment is often determined by one’s starting point. I found the book informative and respectful. Critical Mass by Sara Peretsky This is the story of a family that started out as Jewish inhabitants in pre-war Vienna, and how a great scholar escapes to the US after the war. Her secrets are stolen by a man who makes a fortune off her ideas which lead to an early computer. The detective, V.I Warshawsky, has to sort through layers of identities and lies. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Ellicott City - San Antonio - Chicago - Syracuse - Montreal

May 3, 2022 There will be a lot of travelling these next few months. I was in San Antonio for the blessing of an addition to the house of studies there. The friars who were behind the construction did a great job. It provides added space for the program which is badly needed. I met the Minister General there, fr. Carlos. We then flew up to Chicago for the provincial chapter of St. Bonaventure Province. It went very well. The friars were in great spirits. We heard the reports, met in small groups to discuss the province and its future, and then elected the definitory (counsel). The Minister Provincial had already been elected by postal ballot. Then on Saturday fr Carlos and I flew to Syracuse to visit the friars there. They have a good parish which also has a soup kitchen, a good pantry, a medical service, etc. There are tons of volunteers, and in fact the parish is an intentional parish for those interested in social action. On Monday we drove up to Montreal so that fr. Carlos could visit the friars of the custody here (who serve Polish immigrants). The friars here take care of three parishes (two Polish and one a mixture of Polish and English), as well as three Polish parishes in the US. We will be here til Thursday when we drive to Toronto to visit the friars there. I finished some reading: Thomas Merton on Prayer This is a series of tapes made by Thomas Merton himself. It comes down to a stream of consciousness of his various thoughts. I can’t say that I really liked it. It tends toward the dogmatic in which he sees himself to be the judge of all practices and ideas around him (something that I have noticed in a number of his writings). The best part is a conclusion which is compendium of the ideas presented throughout the tapes. The Mongol Empire by Craig Benjamin This is a rather long (24 lectures) overview of the history of the Mongol empire. It especially deals with the great emperors Genghis Khan and Tamerlane. It also speaks of the culture and religion of this people. It speaks of their predecessors on the Mongolian Plain, as well as the ultimate importance of the empire and its conquests. It is well done, although probably containing a bit too much information for those who are terribly interested in the fraternal wars of succession. Jewish Comedy: a Serious History by Jeremy Dauber This is a overview of Jewish Comedy throughout the ages by a University professor. In spite of the fact that he gives a detailed overview of the topic, he manages to do it in a respectful and entertaining manner. It is interesting how he speaks about the self-hating (or at least self-complaining) of much of Jewish humor, and also the response of the Jewish world to persecution with a joke and a laugh. The humor tends to be quite earthy. He carries the topic to the 20th century with an overview of Jewish comics, especially those who appeared in Las Vegas and the Borst Belt on New York State. Typee by Herman Melville This is a book that I had wanted to read for a long, long time. It deals with a sailor who jumps ship in the Pacific Islands near Tahiti and who eventually is taken in by a tribe of natives who, even though they have a reputation for being cannibals, nevertheless treat him with great care and concern. The difficulty is that once they have adopted him, they never want him to leave them. Melville, who was a sailor, describes the natives with great respect, almost admiration at times. This book was the first introduction for many Americans in the 19th century to the South Seas. American’s Musical Heritage by Anthony Seeger This is a joint Audible/Teaching Company production on the distinctive musical heritage of the United States. Anthony Seeger is the nephew of Paul Seeger, from Peter, Paul and Mary fame. He is also the curator of the Smithsonian collection of American music. In these lectures, he draws upon the expertise of other scholars of American music. The course is well done. The Civil War by Christopher Collier and James Lincoln Collier This book is part of a longer Audible Productions series on US history, written in a way that does not overwhelm the reader/listener with unwanted details. The authors managed their task quite well, producing a relatively short, but very informative volume on this topic. The Golden Triangle by Bertil Lintner This is an audible production of the history and difficulties of the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia (Laos, Thailand and Myanmar). The book is especially centered upon the complicated politics and ethnicity of the area, and the fact that it is a major producer of opium. A Burial at Sea by Charles Finch This is a novel of a member of parliament who is also a part time detective and his trip to Egypt on one of her Majesty’s navy ships. Two members of the crew are murdered, and he is asked to investigate the cases. The language is quaint, but enjoyable. There is also a side story of his responsibilities in Egypt (official and hidden). Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Rome - Ellicott City

April 21, 2022 Peace and Good, I travelled from Rome to Ellicott City on Easter Sunday. I would have like to travel the next day, but the US requires a covid test within 24 hours of one's trip (and it would have impossible to obtain it in Rome on Easter Sunday). It is getting easier to travel, though, and the flights are more and more full. I have been in Ellicott City for a couple of appointments (eyes and teeth). As is common at my age, this has caused another couple of appointments in a month or so. I am surprised at how much cooler Baltimore is compared to Rome where it is high Spring. Rome was packed with tourists for Easter, and most of them are foreigners. These days I have been able to finish two major reports and do two weeks of daily reflections. That was very good, for tomorrow I head to San Antonio and I will be one the road for the next couple of months. I have finished some reading: The Luddites by Charles River Editors This is an historical outline of the movement in England during the 18th and 19th century of people who opposed the modern machines in the cloth mills that put so many people out of work and which created an environment of oppression for many of the workers (e.g. the small children who worked in those mills and were often horribly injured by the machines). The term Luddite is still used today to signify someone who opposes modernization. The French Revolution by Hourly History This short account speaks of the major events of the French Revolution and its significance in Europe and around the world. It deals well with the mob violence which killed thousands, and the fact that the original idealism of many of the participants was crushed under the gradual degradation of the movement until it all ended with the rise of Napoleon. The Maccabean Revolt by Charles River Editors This is an outline of the Maccabean rebellion against the forces of the Seleucid Empire, especially those of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The author points up that at times this was more of a civil war between the traditionalists of the Jewish faith and those who were willing to accommodate themselves to new, Greek ways (even when they opposed some of the major tenets of the faith). The Battle of Stalingrad by Hourly History This is a short description of the rise of Nazi Germany, it opposition to Communism, its attack on the Soviet Union, the battle for Stalingrad and the importance of that particular city (symbolic and material). Because of the length of the book, the author could not go into great detail, but this particular volume of the productions of Hourly History is well done. Foxglove Summer by Ben Aaronovitch I truly like all the books I have read by Ben Aaronovitch. His stories are about an older detective who trains a young detective in the arcane area of magic. He heads a special unit that investigates and responds to magical occurrences. The younger detective is the main figure in this volume about a kidnaping of two young girls and their eventual return (although even this is filled with mystery and odd facts). If one likes modern detective/magical stories, then there should certainly be on one’s list. Understanding Russia: A Cultural History by Lynne Ann Hartnett This is one of the Great Courses with 24 lectures on Russia. The emphasis tends to be on the period before the fall of the Romanov dynasty. The lecturer is informative and insightful. I especially liked the lectures on cultural issues. I could recommend this, as well as most other Great Courses series, for anyone who wants more knowledge about this topic. The Pilgrims’ Way by John Adair This is a short overview of many of the most important (and a number of more obscure) pilgrimage sites in Great Britain and Ireland. Many of the shrines were sadly desecrated either in the time of Henry VIII or of the Puritanical movement, but the author describes what was there and what still can be seen. Mr. Lincoln’s High-Tech War by Thomas and Roger Allen This is the story of how President Lincoln and the Union and Confederate forces used new technology during the Civil War. This includes the telegraph, the railroad, ironside boats, submarines, new types of firearms, etc. The author presents Lincoln who was fascinated with new inventions, much like Churchill during the Second World War. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, April 11, 2022

Rome - La Verna - Rome

April 11, 2022 Peace and Good, We started our definitory a week ago Saturday, and then on Sunday we headed up to La Verna for our annual retreat. La Verna is in Toscany, and it is a site on a mountain side. This is the place where St. Francis received the stigmata a couple of years before his death. The OFM friars have a beautiful shrine there, and this is the third time that I have had a retreat there. The friars have done one very good thing - they have begun to heat the rooms so that they are no longer uncomfortably cold. In the past one froze outside and inside the friary. Now it is much better. When we arrived there was still snow on the ground, but over the course of the week it melted (even if the weather remained cloudy and windy). We have two different retreat presenters, one of our friars who is the rector of the Basilica in Padua and one of the friars from La Verna who lives in the hermitage there. Saturday we returned to Rome and this afternoon we will begin our definitory again. It will go until Wednesday evening, and then we will spend the Triduum in prayer. Sunday I head back to the States where I will be travelling from one city to the next until the beginning of June. I have finished some reading: The Butchering Art by Lindsey Fitzharris This is a biography of the life and career of Joseph Lister and his crusade to establish antiseptic conditions in his operating rooms. He surprisingly faced much opposition, including in the United States. Yet, the success of his procedures in comparison to those of others became obvious over time, and by the time of his death he was recognized as a pioneer in the practice of antiseptic surgery. Roman Hispania by Charles River Editors This is a history that speaks of the lands of Spain and Portugal under the local Celtic tribes, under the Greeks and the Carthaginians, and then finally under the Romans until the land was conquered by Visigothic invaders and later by Islamic invaders. The author necessarily covers the career of Hannibal who began his invasion of Italy from Spain. Rules of Prey by John Sanford This is a novel about a serial killer in Minnesota and how a brilliant policeman is slowly able to track him down, more by accident than anything. The detective is presented as a flawed individual whose relationships with women are damaged (both due to him and to them). He is also the friend of a nun who helps him to sort out the profound dimension of what the killer was doing (as she and some others play the computer games which the detective had developed). Beginner’s Mind by Yo-Yo Ma This is a short audible book which speaks of how Yo-yo Ma learned to play the cello, and especially how he developed his talents so that his playing might be an honest communication of culture. He especially emphasized the need to work with fellow musicians in a partnership. The book is well done, showing how the background and studies of Ma became the raw material of his artistic endeavors. Revelations by Elaine Pagels This is an investigation into the content and the effect of the Book of Revelation. Pagels is an expert on Gnostic Literature, and she brings some of that knowledge into this study. She has a very strange theory concerning those whom the community opposed (positing that they were fellow Christians of the Pauline variety and not the pagans and Gnostics of that era). Yet, some of her treatment of the eventual reception of the book by the community is very well done. King, Kaiser and Tsar by Catrine Clay This is an overview of the lives and actions of King Edward VII of England, Kaiser William of Germany, and Tsar Nicholas of Russia. Only the first survived the disruptions of World War I. The three were cousins who often communicated, especially in light of their descendance from Queen Victoria. William is presented as an unbalanced autocrat who desperately needed good advisors but did not have them. The Age of Tyrants by Charles River Editors This speaks of the tyrants of ancient Greece. Today we use the word for cruel autocrats, and a few of the ancient tyrants were in fact this. But most of the tyrants were individuals who seized power to displace the autocrats who normally ruled Greek cities. They were opposed by those autocrats because they threatened their privilege. The Search for the Green River Killer by Charlton Smith and Tomas Guillen This is the account of the mass murderer known as the Green River Killer (in the state of Washington). It speaks of the attempts of the police to discover who was killing so many women and leaving their bodies in isolated fields. The killer was eventually discovered, although almost by accident. This investigation gave rise to many of the reforms in police departments and the FBI to use more scientific means of discovery. Gunpowder by Charles River Editors This is a history of the invention of gunpowder and then of instruments in which it could be used (fireworks, guns, canons, etc.). The book speaks of the spread of knowledge about this substance from China to the Arab world and then to Europe. May you have a prayerful Holy Week. Shalom fr. Jude

Friday, April 1, 2022

Louisville - Ellicott City - Rome

May 1, 2022 Peace and Good, Well, I am back in Rome. I stopped off at Ellicott City for a couple of days for the re-dedication of Carrollton Hall, a house built by Charles Carroll of Carrollton (the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence) for his grandaughter. It dates to 1830, and the friars obtained it in the 1920's. It has at times been neglected, and fr. James, the provincial, worked with a committee to raise funds to renovate it. It will be used as a museum of Catholicity in Maryland, a meeting center, etc. On Tuesday I flew out of Dulles and arrived in London ahead of schedule. That is when the difficulties started. There was no gate open for us, and we waited on the tarmack so long that I missed my connection to Rome. They booked me for the next flight, but then the computer system for British Air crashed (I wonder if the Russians had anything to do with it). I was originally set to arrive in Rome around 3 PM, but didn't get in until around 10:30 PM. The weather here is rainy and windy, but not really all that cold. From what I have been told, this has been a dry winter, so the farmers really want as much rain as possible. On Sunday I will be going up to La Verna, the place where St. Francis received the stigmata, for our annual retreat. It should be about a three hour ride. We will be coming back a week from Saturday. I finished some reading: Leonardo da Vinci by Hourly History This is a short biography of the famed artist and scientist who was part of the Renaissance in Italy. The book speaks of his life and his works. It is a bit to insistent on praising him for whatever he did. John Wycliffe by Hourly History This is a short biography of the proto-Protestant preacher who translated the Bible into English and who attacked the abuses practiced by the Catholic hierarchy. While doing this, he also attacked some of the dogmas of the faith, especially those concerning the Eucharist. The Tonkin Gulf Incident by Charles River Editors This is an overview of the attack on American ships by the forces of North Vietnam. The events are somewhat questionable even now. It is not clear that there was an actual attack. Furthermore, the North Vietnamese had been attacked by South Vietnamese forces in the area in those days, so the North Vietnamese might have thought that they were defending themselves. Whichever, President Johnson used the event as the excuse for expanding the war. Congress went along with his efforts, passing the Tonkin Gulf resolution which abdicated their responsibility to declare war. Istanbul by Thomas Madden This is an extensive account of the city known as Constantinople or Istanbul. It deals with the early era of the city before the emperor Constantine, then the Byzantine period up to 1453, and the city after its conquest by the Turks and its becoming the capitol of the Ottoman Empire. The author presents an entertaining picture with enough information without becoming tedious. Midtown Manhattan’s Most Famous Buildings by Charles River Editors This is an overview of some of the most famous landmarks of New York City such as the Rockefeller Center, the Chrysler Building, and the Empire State Building. The author of this particular volume gives a lot of information about the construction of these sites and also about the reaction of critics and the public to them. Unfortunately, containing so many accounts makes the book a bit tedious at times. Vincent van Gogh by Hourly History This is a short account of the life and work of Van Gogh. There are not any spectacular discoveries in the book, but it does present a good overview of his tortured life and how it affected the art that he produced. The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World: From Marathon to Waterloo by Edward Shepherd Creasy This is a classical study of battles throughout history. It is weighted toward the British (for the author is British). A while ago I read a study by Keegan on battle, and specifically referenced this volume. It is good, but a bit Victorian in its writing style. The Sixth Extinction by Richard Leakey and Roger Lewin Leakey is the son of the famous archaeologist Richard Leakey senior. He and his co-author deal with the five natural extinctions throughout the history of life on Earth. They speak of the coming extinction, due to over population, loss of environment, change in climate. One of the most important details was the study of how one species depends on another for an acceptable environment, so that if one animal or plant disappears, others are affected adversely. The book is well done, but runs on a bit long. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Louisville, KY - Albuquerque, NM - Angola, IN - Carey, OH - Louisville, KY

March 23, 2022 Peace and Good, I have been travelling in these days to finish off the visitation to Our Lady of Consolation Province in the Midwest. One of the trips in these days was to visit fr. Charles McCarthy who works at Laguna Pueblo, a native American reservation, in New Mexico. He takes care of a number of small churches in the immediate area. I was very impressed with his ability to know the local culture without becoming obsessed with knowing everything. At times, knowing what the boundaries are and respecting them is a very important part of dealing with others. We, fr. Wayne and myself, visited the National Shrine of Our Lady of Consolation in Carey, Ohio. It is a parish church with a statue of Our Lady of Consolation which draws people from all around, especially during the summer. I will be heading off to Baltimore this coming Saturday for a re-dedication of Carrollton Manor, a house built by Charles Carroll of Carrollton as a wedding present for his niece. Carroll was the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his cousin was the first bishop in the country. The building has been refurbished to bring it back to some of its original beauty, and it will serve as a museum, meeting hall, etc. I have finished some reading: The First World War by Peter Simkins, Geoffrey Jukes and Michael Hickey This is an account of the war from the beginning to the end. It is written by British authors, so it is heavily bent in their favor. It does a good job on the Western front, a little less so on the Eastern front, but a disastrous job on the war around the world (e.g. the Pacific, Africa). The British Bulldog and the French Poodle in Africa by Charles River Editors In spite of the title of this short book, it is a quite good account of the grab for colonies in Africa, especially during the 19th century. Both colonial powers were looking for a continuous line of colonies from one side of Africa to the other (the British from north to south, the French from east to west). Obviously, only one of them would win. The final breaking point was the encounter between the French and British in an out of the way place named Fashoda. The account also deals with the invasion of Egypt by Napoleon. Raphael: Painter in Rome by Stephanie Storey This is an entertaining historical fiction account of the artist Raphael (along with his rival Michelangelo). The author is playful in the presentation of dialog and of the artists quirks (as well as those who surrounded the papal court). When I first started the book, I was worried that it might be too colloquial, but it is the type of book that deals with important issues without allowing itself to be bogged down with facts and details). The author has written other books about the era which I now intend to read. The Eternal City by Ferdinand Addis This is a very fine book that covers the city of Rome from ancient times up to the present day. It deals with some topics of which I had heard but had never received much information about. The tone of the book is respectful, even when dealing with issues such of the papacy during the very bad years in the Middle Ages and even the Renaissance. I would recommend this book. American Ulysses: A Life of Ulysses S. Grant by Ronald C. White This is a well written, comprehensive biography of General/President Grant. It deals with his successes and his failures. It shows Grant to be a humble, simple man with his flaws like anyone else. He was often underestimated by those around him, which was a big mistake. The author does not cover up the disastrous corruption during his presidential administration, nor his bankruptcy in the following years. I especially enjoyed the author’s treatment of the period in which Grant wrote his memoirs (which were then published by Mark Twain). The Great American Rascal: The Turbulent Life of Aaron Burr by Noel Gerson This is a biography of a man who was both a hero and a villain. He was incredibly ambitious, but not always cognizant of the folly of his outlandish plans (e.g. to conquer Mexico and make it his own personal empire). He was the Vice-President under Jefferson, but even that he handled so poorly that there was a permanent enmity between the two men. He was the model for the short story, “The Man Without a Country,” for after he was tried for treason, he fled to England (followed by Sweden, then Germany, then France, then back to England). He borrowed money wherever he went, rarely paying it back. He was certainly a man who moved to his own drummer, a drummer who was often out of beat of the rest of society. Edgar Allen Poe: Master of Horror by Mark Canada This is a production of the Teaching Company in collaboration with Audible Books. It is the product of a professor of literature who has studied Edgar Allen Poe extensively. I found a couple of his theories strange, but overall the course gives a good insight into this strange man and author. His greatest fame for his poetry, mystery novels and even detective novels came after his death. He is seen to have been a terribly tortured man who man self-destructive choices (and not only with his use of drink and drugs). The Hubble Space Telescope by Charles River Editors This is one of the productions of Charles River Editors who produce short but thorough presentations on particular topics. In this case, the book is about the Hubble Space Telescope. Besides the history of the telescope itself, there is a mind-numbing catalog of its discoveries and of various astronomical theories. I really can’t say that I would recommend this book except to someone who is desperately interested in the topic. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude

Monday, March 14, 2022

Ellicott City, MD - Rome - Louisville, KY

March 14, 2022 I was back in Rome for the meeting of our General Definitory. These meetings usually go about a week, and they are held in Italian. At them we speak about the situation of the Order all throughout the world. Obviously this time Ukraine became one of the larger considerations. Our friars in Poland and Romania are working a lot to take care of refugees who have fled the county (mostly women and children). The friars in Ukraine itself and working to feed the internal refugees and to serve the spiritual needs of the traumatized people. The weather in Rome is that of early spring. The friars there tell me that it did not rain all that much throughout the winter, so they would actually love to see more rain. The situation is slowly transforming from covid to post-covid. I returned to the States last night to conclude my canonical visitation to the mid-western province of Our Lady of Consolation. Wednesday fr. Wayne and I will fly down to Albuquerque to visit a friar working with the Navaho, and then we will visit Carey, Ohio where there is a shrine to Our Lady of Consolation. On the 26th I head to Baltimore for the re-dedication of one of the buildings on our property that was built by the Carroll family (as in Charles Carroll of Carrolltown, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence) in 1830. Then on the 29th I head back to Rome. I finished some reading: Hollywood’s 10 Greatest Actresses This is a series of short biographies of ten famous actresses: Katharine Hepburn, Betty David, Audrey Hepburn, Ingrid Bergman, Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Judy Garland, Marlene Dietrich and Joan Crawford. It is amazing how many of them lived unhappy lives. They were used for their talent, and then disposed of. There is no question that each of them was also an ambitious person (with a self-destructive tendency in most of them). The Impeachment and Trial of Andrew Johnson by David Miller DeWitt This is an account of the trial of Andrew Johnson, the first president to be impeached (but not convicted by the Senate). Some of what he was accused of doing was purely political, for he was a Democrat (although a Union Democrat who supported the Union during the Civil War) and the majority in the Congress were Republicans (with a number being what was called Radical Republicans). Yet, part of the reason for his being impeached was the fact that he favored the cause of the whites in the South, allowing them to oppress the African Americans in the years following the Civil War. Great American Bestsellers: Books that Shaped America by Peter Conn This is an overview of many of the best sellers in America throughout its history and the importance of the books in shaping (or at least responding to) its culture. The author, which being a scholar of literature, is very balanced in his theories. He does not need to prove anything, which is often not the case with many literary critics. It was produced by the Teaching Company and includes 24 lectures. Writ of Execution by Perri O’Shaughnessy This is a novel about a young woman, a widow with a child, wins a jackpot at a casino. Her father-in-law persecutes her because he believes that she murdered her husband. A lawyer gets involved who is able to solve the mystery and rescue the woman from her persecutors. A side tale is the fact that there is a man who planned to take the jackpot himself because he had inside information about when the machine would strike it big. The book is OK, but not great. The Invention of Surgery by David Schneider This is a long and at times tedious account of some of the key moments in which surgery was invented and developed. It is written by a surgeon himself and therefore inside information that is helpful. The end of the book deals with the implant revolution which has changed the form and cost of medicine forever. Then the last chapter deals with an almost dystopic view of the future concerning genetic engineering and cerebral implants. Francis of Assisi: In His Own Words, ed. Jon Sweeney This is a short collection of the writings of St. Francis. The editor translated them himself, and he provides a useful introduction to each of the writings. These are not all of the works of Francis, but the ones chosen were said to give one a good idea of the rest. A Plague of Lies by John Lescroat This is a rather long murder mystery that involves questions about family members and the question of the drug trade and its true cost. The police and the lawyers are generally shown in a favorable light. This is the second book that I have read by Lescroat, and I can say that I wouldn’t mind reading others (although they would probably be on my “B” list, and not the “A” list). Maimonides by Charles River Editors This is one of the short biographies by Charles River which one can obtain for free in Kindle the first day of their publication. I have to say that this is one of the best that I have read in the series. It deals with a Jewish scholar from the Middle Ages who struggled to reconcile Jewish life and law with philosophic principles. Maimonides also produced a useful compendium of Jewish law. He also earned a living as a doctor, serving in this role for the leader of Egypt. The Life of Ed Sullivan by Charles River Editors This is an interesting biography of the famous showman Ed Sullivan. He was a jack of all trades and was an author of plays, a celebrity gossip newsman, a TV star producing a variety show, etc. He himself did not have all that much talent, and his speech was often confused and jumbled. Yet, he was able to produce a show on TV that was loved by many in the nation. He also was one of the first producers to invite African American musicians and stars upon his show. Furthermore, he was essential in the growth of fame of stars such as Elvis Presley and the Beetles. Nelson Mandela: The Life and Legacy of the Father of South Africa by Charles River Editors This is a biography of the famous opponent of Apartheid in South Africa. Thrown into prison for decades, he did not allow himself to fall into cynicism and vengeance. Rather, he all but miraculously led his nation to freedom and equality without tremendous violence (which almost everyone expected). He was not perfect either as a president nor as a man, but he was the right man for the right time. Have a good week. Shalom fr. Jude