"To Be Read" Book Review Column

Dave Eggers. "What Is the What: The Autobiography of Valentino Achak Deng; A Novel." | 06/27/2007 John E. (Jack) Becker Autobiography or novel, this is the harrowing story of Deng's flight from the holocaust in Sudan, under constant threat of bombings, beasts, and human murderers, struggling to survive on whatever he could find to eat.

Christopher Tyerman, "God's War: A New History of the Crusades" | 03/20/2007 John E. (Jack) Becker Tyerman lays out the New Testament tradition at the beginning of his treatise on the Crusades, raising the immediate question: how did Crusaders manage to square war with the New Testament?

Ian Buruma, Avishai Margalit. "Occidentalism: The West in the Eyes of its Enemies." Rashid Khalidi. "Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East" | 10/01/2004 John E. (Jack) Becker Should we have gone to war with Iraq? Having gone, were we at all prepared for the reception we got? What do we need to do when what we are doing seems to make no sense at all? We need what these two books, each in its own forceful and important way, help us to do. We need to step back, look into the past, and see how we got into this mess.

Andrew Greeley, "The Catholic Revolution: New Wine, Old Wineskins, and the Second Vatican Council" | 06/01/2004 John E. (Jack) Becker Andrew Greeley reappears now at a moment when I, and I suspect others, really need him, addressing a question that has been bothering me for some time. Just what became of the Second Vatican Council, anyway?

Anne Matthews, "Wild Nights: Nature Returns to the City" | 03/01/2004 John E. (Jack) Becker This is an environmental jeremiad with a difference. No complaining here, no direct appeal for a harmony between humankind and nature. Matthews’s eye is cold and clinical. Nature, she tells us, is everywhere--and nature is not at risk. We are.

Stephen Jay Gould, "Rocks of Ages. --The Hedgehog, the Fox, and the Magister's Pox" | 01/01/2004 John E. (Jack) Becker It seems a good idea to distinguish science and religion as two separate, mutually non-interfering teaching authorities. Popular science writer Stephan Jay Gould (1941-2002) suggested this approach in a 1997 article for Natural History Magazine. He later expanded the idea in his book Rocks of Ages.

David Sloan Wilson, "Darwin's Cathedral" | 12/08/2003 John E. (Jack) Becker Religion, I think most of us would say, isn't about much if it isn't about belief in a personal God... Religion is founded on the assertion that human beings are not living out a massive and dreary accident. We live and make our choices because an infinite creator chose to create us. That belief is the first and fundamental belief.

Andrew Bacevich, "American Empire," Amy Chua, "World on Fire" | 11/03/2003 John E. (Jack) Becker Bacevich argues that America is an empire on the basis of the events of recent decades. His narrative argument is nicely complemented by Chua’s thoughtful evidence of the impossible task confronting an American imperium. The satisfying clarity of the argument in both cases leaves us wondering if, being an empire, we understand our limits, or whether there can ever be an empire which understands its limits.

Roger Scruton, "The West and the Rest" | 10/01/2003 John E. (Jack) Becker Scruton contrasts the structure of Western political life with Islam. Islam then becomes his paradigm for “the rest.” In the West, he says, religion and the state remain essentially distinct. Thus diverse groups can live together peacefully under the secular rule of law. But as for "the rest," they see all law, social identity, and loyalty as coming from a religious source, and therefore cannot truly become part of Western political culture.

Jonathan Bate, "The Song of the Earth," Lawrence Buell, "Writing for an Endangered World" | 09/01/2003 John E. (Jack) Becker Is there an environmental role for nature writing whose aim is primarily esthetic? Is there a role, in other words, for esthetic experience in the life of a dedicated environmentalist? The difference I see between the two books under review is that Buell doesn’t confront this question and Jonathan Bate does.

Philip Kitcher, "Science, Truth, and Democracy" | 12/02/2002 John E. (Jack) Becker Kitcher cuts a clear path between those who worship science as a religion and those who fashionably insist that science is merely a set of arbitrary constructs masking power and greed. Against the universal skepticism of post-modernism he argues that science does, indeed, produce knowledge.

Paul Woodruff, "Reverence" | 11/01/2002 John E. (Jack) Becker Woodruff doesn't lament the absence of reverence in our life; he asks us to discover it where it already is. We could not live in society unless we had already taught ourselves reverential patterns of civility and unless we felt some nostalgia for lost traditions.

Mark Lilla, "The Reckless Mind: Intellectuals in Politics" | 10/01/2002 John E. (Jack) Becker "Lilla's book summarizes the thought of some of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century, some of whom are well known but others of whom are new, at least to me. His book is exciting. Ideas leap out from the page."

Thomas Cahill, "Pope John XXIII" | 09/02/2002 John E. (Jack) Becker Cahill tells two stories, the story of the papacy and the story of John XXIII. The first gives context to the second. And that context--the two-thousand-year-old sweep of papal history--makes John XXIII look very much like a saint.

Stephen E. Ambrose, "Nothing Like It in the World", David Howard Bain, "Empire Express" | 08/01/2002 John E. (Jack) Becker Reading the story of the transcontinental railroad, looking back at the relentless advance of European immigration across the North American continent, it seems that the forces at work are beyond morality, beyond the power of choice of any individual or group of individuals.

Charles Taylor, "Sources of Self", Ruth Abbey, "Charles Taylor" | 07/01/2002 John E. (Jack) Becker "Abbey's book is an excellent introduction for those who have not read Taylor and a fine retrospective for those who have been following his thought over the years. Taylor revives one's faith in philosophy. And Ruth Abbey helps us to see him whole."

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