Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Something For The Long Winter Nights

Well, the winter is coming, and with the prospect of dark evening we might be thinking of some books to read.  If there is one thing the Year of Faith teaches us it is the necessity of reading and learning about our faith.  I haven't written a post on good books to read in a while (if I have ever!), so I thought I might do so as a few new books have caught my attention and they may well be worth reading.
The first has to be John Allen's new book, The Global War On Christians.   Intrigued by a conversation with Cardinal Dolan in 2009, Allen went off to do some research on the present persecution of Christians.  He uncovered some startling facts.  It seems, for example, that in the first decade of the 21st century eleven Christians were being martyred every hour.   It seems to be a fact that Christianity is the world's most persecuted religion, some of it being carried out by Muslims and some by secularists in the West.  For more information on this book see CNA's interview with the author.   And here is an article by Allen on the subject of his book.
Another book which has caught my attention, and one I have ordered, is Ben Urwand's The Collaboration: Hollywood's Pact with Hitler.  The Alive! newspaper here in Ireland did a review of the book (see page 10) and it was this review which caught my interest.  Hitler, the Nazis and the Second World War continue to fascinate, and every year new books are published about the various figures and examining various dimensions of that awful period.  According to the author Hollywood executives collaborated with the Nazi regime in the 1930s, shaping movies to meet Nazi propaganda roles.  It is well known that various figures in the US and elsewhere had deep admiration for Hitler and given that Hitler was, at the start, improving the plight of many Germans and rebuilding the country that admiration may be understandable in part.  Though Hitler's ideology was loathsome, some will put such things aside for pragmatic reasons - human beings have often endorsed dreadful things to achieve certain goals as we have seen all too clearly here in Ireland in recent times.
Apparently Urwand details how Hollywood executives persecuted Jewish employees in order to curry favour with the Nazis.  Now I have yet to read the book (it's on order), but we will have to see how that actually happened because many of those who ruled Hollywood were Jews themselves, many of them refugees from Eastern European pogroms.
Finally, a book series for you: C. J. Sansom's Matthew Shardlake series.  I have just finished reading the series so far and I can highly recommend them.  The books are historical detective fiction, the protagonist  being a Tudor lawyer, Matthew Shardlake, who finds himself in the middle of various murders, political intrigues and religious disputes.   Set during the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in England we see the effects of the English Reformation on the people of the time. 
Sansom is both a lawyer and a historian and he has done his research so as to present as accurate a picture as possible of the time.  He is not Catholic, nor does he completely accept some of the conclusions new Reformation historians like Eamon Duffy are coming to, so his narrative is not influenced by a "Catholic revisionism" and that is good because when he exposes the negative fallout of Henry VIII's break from Rome you see he does not have an axe to grind.  And what fallout!  As the monasteries are dissolved, the properties and possessions are usurped by the King and his cronies and the poor and sick, once cared for by the monks and nuns, are turfed out onto the streets of London and other cities and demonised as leeches.  These books can serve as an interesting introduction to Reformation history and I would recommend you dipping into Eamon Duffy and Jack Scarisbrick afterwards for further reading.
Quite apart from this insight into Reformation England, the books are a cracking good read.  The first is Dissolution and while a little like The Name of the Rose it lacks Eco's brilliance but also his ideological slant.   Dissolution is Sansom's first novel so we give him space, but to be honest not much is required because the characters and plot draw you in.  The second novel is Dark Fire and the third is Sovereign which is set against Henry VIII's northern progress in 1541 and the romantic intrigues beginning to surround his then wife, Queen Catherine Howard.  Revelation is the fourth and this one is addictive, you won't be able to put it down: it deals with a Tudor serial killer set against Henry's wooing of the just widowed Catherine Parr.  And the fifth is Heartstone which is set against the failed French invasion of England in 1545 and again it's addictive.  Sansom has indicated that more Shardlake novels will be forthcoming, but no word yet of the next instalment.  But if you are looking for some good crime fiction which will get the historical juices going, then curling up with a Shardlake novel on a cold winter night might just be the thing.  And lest you think I'm on commission I'm not.
Any books you would like to recommend?  If so, you are welcome to leave a review in the combox.


  1. Hello Father ,
    Just finished reading 'A Path To Healing a Nation' by Frances Hogan
    Well worth a look.
    God Bless and thak care.
    Paul Brennan

  2. Father, just regarding C J Sansom. I haven't read his Tudor detective series, but I have read "Dominion" which was a best seller last year. I found it a very anti-Catholic book in which he presents the Church as willing and vehement supporters and allies of Hitler and the Nazis. I couldn't really recommend that book.

  3. Thanks for your comments gentlemen. Regarding what you say about Sansom's novel "Dominion", I cannot disagree with you, Joe. I have read the book and it is an excellent read. However Sansom, usually a good researcher, has taken John Cornwall's book "Hitler's Pope" as one of the main sources of his research into the Catholic Church and her relationship with the Nazis, as he admits at the end of the book.

    As we know Cornwall's book is the product of ideology, opinion and poor research and it is sad to see that Sansom has failed to read it with a critical eye and look at the research that has been done in recent years exposing Cornwall's faulty thesis. Now he does say that he has read a number of sources and it seems they all agree with Cornwall's thesis, so Sansom seems not to have read widely. And given that "Dominion" was published in 2012 he cannot claim that rigorous, evidence-based objections to Cornwall's book were not available. Unfortunately we have to accept that there are many scholars who accept the Nazi-Catholic Church alliance with blind faith and will always refuse to look at the evidence which undermines that opinion.

    The only defence I might offer for Sansom is that while researching the novel he was quite ill and was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and so he may have taken his eye off the ball. That said his lack of an objective historical approach to the Church during the Nazi era is disappointing.

    I have not yet read his Spanish Civil War novel, "Winter in Madrid", Lord knows what he says about the Church there. But so far his Shardlake novels are fair-ish enough, though seeing that "Winter in Madrid" and "Dominion" have been written since the last one, I wonder if he will be harder on the Catholic Church in his next Tudor adventure. We shall see.