Books

Personal stories of World War II Europe make the horrors more real


DIARY OF A WITNESS, 1940-1943
By Raymond-Raoul Lambert
Translated by Isabel Best
Ivan R. Dee
Copyright (2007)
288 pages $27.50

To understand a period as complex as World War II and the Holocaust we need to read both trained historians and ordinary men and women. Historians provide a broad overview and an understanding of context but it is only individuals who can communicate the intimate details of what it is like to endure the suffering of mind, body and soul that is the reality of war.

Personal narratives can elicit the empathy and identification that move the reader to compassion and insight. The two books under consideration, while not among the central Holocaust narratives, are important in fleshing out our knowledge of those terrible years.

The conversion of a president

 | 

JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters
by James W. Douglass
Orbis Books, 544 pages, $30

This week, Orbis Books publishes one of its most significant books in years, a labor of some 15 years work by Jim Douglass. JFK and the Unspeakable: Why He Died and Why It Matters tells the painful, hopeful story of John F. Kennedy's efforts to save us from nuclear war, his decision to pull out troops from Vietnam, and his call for nuclear disarmament, a vision that animated shadowy forces in the U.S. government to do away with him and his vision.

I consider Jim one of the world's leading theologians of Christian nonviolence. His brilliance is reflected in his powerful books, The Nonviolent Cross, Lightning East to West, Resistance and Contemplation and The Nonviolent Coming of God (all recently republished by Wipf and Stock).

Changing a feudal church

 | 

AS IT WAS IN THE BEGINNING: THE COMING DEMOCRATIZATION OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
By Robert McClory
Crossroad, 240 pages, $19.95

In the tradition of Hebrew prophets who protested the present more than foretold the future, Robert McClory’s As It Was in the Beginning is a prophetic work. The author is hopeful, present evidence to the contrary, that the democratization of the Catholic church must surely come, like the triumph of truth, no matter how delayed.

Mr. McClory is certainly not naive about the challenges. He sees the Catholic church as “the last deeply rooted feudal system in the Western world.” And yet he is fully confident that the original vision of an inclusive and participative community of all the baptized “presses on to fulfillment.” He is consoled that “fierce resistance to change is often the last hurrah of a faltering regime.”

Missionaries and mystics

 | 

THEY COME BACK SINGING: FINDING GOD WITH THE REFUGEES
An African Journal by Gary Smith
Loyola Press, 226 pages, $14.95

Two kinds of specialized spiritual writing nourish the larger church: Mystics go inward to probe the core truths of the faith; missionaries go outward to explore its growing edges. In They Come Back Singing: Finding God with the Refugees, Jesuit Fr. Gary Smith offers us a remarkable mix of the two. With letters and journal entries written during his six-year sojourn with Sudanese refugees in northern Uganda, he unveils the human face of Christian faith in one of the most desolate mission outposts in the world.

Yunus walks the talk on poverty

 | 

CREATING A WORLD WITHOUT POVERTY: SOCIAL BUSINESS AND THE FUTURE OF CAPITALISM
By Muhammad Yunus
Public Affairs, 261 pages, $26

Muhammad Yunus was looking forward to a career as an economics professor when he became curious about why so many people in his native Bangladesh were mired in poverty.

He had encountered a woman who turned to a local moneylender whenever she needed cash for materials to make stools. The moneylender required that she sell him everything she produced at a price he would determine, a system Mr. Yunus equated with “slave labor.” Mr. Yunus then began lending money out of his own pocket to poor women and eventually founded Grameen Bank to provide small, low-interest loans to people with no credit history and no collateral.

Grameen (the word means village) has since opened 2,500 branches across Bangladesh, lending money to millions of poor people who otherwise would have no access to credit. Skeptics said impoverished borrowers would never repay their loans, but in fact the repayment rate has been close to 99 percent. As a result, microcredit has become a growing worldwide phenomenon.

The mechanics of courage

 | 

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

 | 

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

 | 

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

 | 

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

 | 

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?”

Pages

300x80-lighthope-web-ad.jpg

NCR Email Alerts

 

In This Issue

May 19-June 1, 2017

NCR_5-19.jpg