Book Reviews

In addition to lengthier book reviews, I will now be offering shorter takes on other titles I’ve finished. Here is the first batch:

“All Shall Be Well” by Jane Cavolina
(Berkley, paperback, 224 pages)

If you are unfamiliar with the Saints, or are overwhelmed with the number of biographies on them, “All Shall Be Well” provides a good primer. This book collects quotes from Saints and other great Catholic thinkers throughout history. From Therese to Aquinas, Francis to Michelangelo, contemplatives to Popes, you’ll find a diverse introduction to Catholic wit and wisdom.

I read a couple pages from this book each day as a part of my morning devotionals. Slowly reading these words set a contemplative tone for the rest of my day. And beyond, through the book, I’ve discovered many new Saints to befriend.

“Thomas Aquinas In 90 Minutes” by Paul Strathern
(Ivan R. Dee, paperback, 93 pages)

St. Thomas Aquinas is one of the greatest thinkers in Church history. More than 25 Popes have lauded Aquinas as the Church’s preeminent theologian. His most well-known work is his hefty “Summa Theologica”, which includes arguments for the existence of God, his understanding of man’s nature, and his writings on virtue and sin.

But while many are familiar with Aquinas the theologian, few people know Aquinas the man. Three of my favorite theologians have written great biographies of Aquinas—G.K. Chesteron, Fr. Robert Barron, and Fr. Aidan Nichols—but each is a more advanced study of Aquinas’ life. “Thomas Aquinas In 90 Minutes”, however, offers a shorter, more accessible look at this brilliant, holy man. The book begins with a quick overview of Thomas’ childhood, then quickly moves into his thought and impact on scholasticism. Written with a light, humorous approach, the book really can be read in 90 minutes.

Read this book for a brisk, easy introduction to Aquinas’ thought and impact.

(If you’re interested in St. Thomas’ “Summa Theologica” but find it too intimidating, I recommend Peter Kreeft’s “Shorter Summa” or “Summa of the Summa” as good overviews.)

“The Divine Hours” by Phyllis Tickle
(Doubleday, paperback, 688 pages)

With the revival of many classic spiritual disciplines–along with the encouragements of the Second Vatican Council–praying the Liturgy of the Hours is quickly becoming vogue. But after seeing the traditional prayer books, many are too daunted—or too frugal—to employ the official texts. Phyllis Tickle’s “Divine Hours” collection, however, presents a great alternative.

The collection includes three separate books: Springtime, Summertime, and Autumn and Winter. Unlike the traditional set of prayer books, Tickle’s collection doesn’t require multiple books per prayer set. For example, during the entire summer season, you only need one book, which is read through linearly–no tabs, ribbons, or awkward page flipping.

Each book features prayers for Morning, Mid-Day, Evening, and Compline, with each set of prayers taking between 5-15 minutes based on your level of contemplation. Each prayer set includes Scripture readings, a handful of Psalms, and often hymns or poetry, each pathways to prayer and worship. The texts would be acceptable to both Protestants and Catholics–Tickle is an Episcopal herself–though some Protestants may feel uncomfortable with the poems venerating the Virgin Mary.

“The Divine Hours” is a cheap, simple way to begin the ancient spiritual practice of ‘praying the hours’.

(On a side note, if you are planning to use this as a regular prayer manual, carrying it with you throughout the day, I strongly recommend getting the hardcover version. My paperback version fell apart after only a few weeks of use. Also, instead of purchasing all three, buy one first and see how you like it.)