Books

The mechanics of courage

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COURAGEOUS RESISTANCE: THE POWER OF ORDINARY PEOPLE
By Kristina E. Thalhammer, Paula L. O’Loughlin, Myron Peretz Glazer, Penina Migdal Glazer, Sam McFarland, Sharon Toffey Shepela and Nathan Stoltzfus
Palgrave Macmillan, 210 pages, $26.95

Human history is “not only a history of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage,” says historian Howard Zinn. Amid the chronicles of our binges in destruction are countless examples of people behaving, as Professor Zinn puts it, “magnificently.”

Ignorance: The new national threat

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THE AGE OF AMERICAN UNREASON
By Susan Jacoby
Pantheon Books, 356 pages, $26

One of the biggest threats to the American way of life might not be the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism, but rather the insidious erosion of learning and rationalism in the United States, a place where “just us folks” live. American students score 24th in the world in mathematical ability, two-thirds of Americans between 18 and 24 can’t locate Iraq on a map, and one out of four public school teachers believe that dinosaurs and humans lived side by side.

This is the America that Susan Jacoby dissects in her new book, The Age of American Unreason.

The amazing complexity of religious belief

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DISCOVERING GOD: THE ORIGINS OF THE GREAT RELIGIONS AND THE EVOLUTION OF BELIEF
By Rodney Stark
HarperCollins, 484 pages, $25.95

Is a religious movement best characterized by the teachings of its founder, the principles of its sacred writings, or the beliefs of people who call themselves its adherents? What if all these things have changed over time? What if this diversity is characteristic of the movement today?

Ask enough of these questions and one may conclude that it’s impossible to say anything definitive about any religious movement. Yet it’s important to explore the differences within a major movement, such as Christianity, and any of its subgroups, such as Catholicism. And preparations for such tasks as the upcoming Vatican-Muslim dialogues illustrate the importance of trying to understand such diversity on the world religious stage.

A Catholic conscience against the war

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A STUPID, UNJUST AND CRIMINAL WAR: 2001-2007
By Andrew Greeley Orbis Books, 215 pages, $19

Fr. Andrew Greeley’s place in history is secure as the priest sociologist whose groundbreaking work brought to the surface truths about the Catholic community that many would have preferred to remain hidden. Against that note of biography, then, it wouldn’t be surprising if his latest book, A Stupid, Unjust and Criminal War: 2001-2007, a collection of his newspaper columns opposing the Iraq war, received limited notice. Fr. Greeley, after all, is not on the circuit these days as a political or foreign policy expert.

He ought to be. In his role as columnist for the Chicago Sun-Times, Greeley stands out as that rare, high-profile Catholic voice in the culture who uses the rich traditions of Catholic social justice teaching and the just-war tradition to call the U.S. action in Iraq into question. It is significant that he is no new convert to that position, persuaded because of the failure of the war effort. He was against the war and writing in opposition to it from the very start.

The dark side of American generosity

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THE SECRET HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN EMPIRE: ECONOMIC HIT MEN, JACKALS, AND THE TRUTH ABOUT GLOBAL CORRUPTION
By John Perkins Dutton Adult, 384 pages, $25.95

John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man was a wake-up call for many, an insider’s account of doing dirty work for giant global companies in league with the U.S. government and international financial institutions. Though activists, investigative reporters and academics have been writing about many of the same aspects of global capital’s ugly underside for years, Mr. Perkins’ tell-all, breezy narrative helped the book read like a snappy spy thriller rather than a footnote-clogged tome. On The New York Times bestseller list for more than a year, it reached a wide audience of readers eager to answer the perennial post-9/11 question “Why do they hate us?”

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In This Issue

January 13-26, 2017

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