Tuesday, December 31, 2002

Books For The New Year

Darwin’s God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil by Cornelius Hunter. A slender volume of brilliant analysis contending that Darwinism is predicated upon theological rather than scientific grounds, reversing the order it currently occupies in the public mind. Heavily footnoted, it grounds readers in the often-overlooked aspect of theodicy in Darwin’s approach to his work, within the purlieus of Victorian England.
The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man by J. Budziszewski. As a former nihilist the author doesn’t engage in empty theorizing, rather he walks the reader resolutely through the pathologies that flow from the repression of moral knowledge, personally and corporately. Tackling the twin subjects of politics and Original Sin he writes with remarkable clarity on conscience vis-à-vis Natural Law, reminding us of “the things we can’t not know”.
A Refutation of Moral Relativism: Conversations With An Absolutist by Peter Kreeft. Using Aristotelian logic and the Socratic method of dialogue Dr. Kreeft creates an imminently readable defense of “the good, the right and the ought” through fictional interviews with a Muslim scholar by a black feminist interlocutor. His books create some of the best portable classrooms around and this is a volume to read and reread.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison. Ellison crafted, for seven years, one of the superb novels America has ever seen. His stylish prose and Dostoevsky-like insight into the human psyche give his characters a rare depth. The nameless protagonist gives us his life in words and the adventure is as varying as the landscapes Ellison paints; from a stint at a black college for the promising young man to the Communist ladder-climber being used by the American Reds as a tool for propaganda. The straight storytelling sans the ideological bent of this tome is refreshing after reading socialist or narcissistic rants of contemporary black authors. As Stanley Crouch would say this man is "immoderately soulful", and possibly the great American novelist, with this, his finest work.
Othello by William Shakespeare. Of all the tragedies Shakespeare penned, Othello stands out in its bold message for modern audiences. A black man of high repute marries a white woman against her father's wishes and goes off to battle with his best friend constantly speaking in his ear about his wife's infidelities with his second-in-command. Eventually driven mad by jealousy he kills her and, after learning that his motives were false and she was pure, himself. Everything that makes Shakespeare endure in the English pantheon is here: love, betrayal, murder, jealousy, loyalty, and honor. (I recommend the Complete Study Edition that includes the original text, expert commentary, and a dictionary for those dankish earth-vexing words.)
A Confederacy Of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. This is a stunningly good, funny novel with richly drawn characters and a cornucopia of pop culture and medieval philosophy; a vortex of language with dishonorable, misanthropic, paranoid, lying scalawag, Ignatuis Reilly, at the center of it all. Buy it for a friend and you may just arrive home to incoherent answering machine messages as they try to compose themselves amidst effusive laughter.
Hollywood Worldviews: Watching Films with Wisdom & Discernment by Brian Godawa. With the keen eye of an insider, and the heart of a passionate didact, the author peels away the layers of movies to reveal that all are established on a particular view of the world. By recognizing that, and that the story is a dramatic argument for a worldview, he shows how he can start to intelligently engage it’s message; to reflect, evaluate and critique it. Along with Reel Spirituality, this is the best work I’ve found dealing with the nexus of faith and the cinema.

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