By Daniel Jonah Goldhagen
Harvard scholar Goldhagen, author of the bestselling and controversial "Hitler's Willing Executioners," turns to a question left unanswered in his earlier work: to what extent are Catholics and the Catholic Church morally culpable for the Holocaust? As in his earlier book, Goldhagen pulls no punches. In the second paragraph he writes, "Christianity is a religion that consecrated... a megatherian hatred of one group of people: the Jews." The story of this hatred, which Goldhagen views as a betrayal of Christianity's own moral principles, has been told many times and, most recently, in the works of Susan Zuccotti and Michael Phayer. In contrast to these accounts, Goldhagen offers not an objective history of the Church's role in the Holocaust but, as the title promises, a moral examination.
Goldhagen makes no apology for engaging in a sustained ethical inquiry and rendering judgment. (In fact, much of the book is either a direct or indirect defense of his much-criticized first work.) Goldhagen demands material, political and moral restitution but ends questioning whether the Catholic Church can "muster the will" to undertake these actions. There is little new information here; a definitive history of this dark chapter must await the opening of the Vatican archives. Readers should not skip the extensive and detailed endnotes, which contain a wealth of fascinating material.
The Vatican's Women: Female Influence in the Holy See
By Paul Hoffman
How do women influence the inner workings of the male-dominated Roman Catholic Church when the door to priesthood remains closed to them? To find out women's impact on the Vatican, Hoffman, a former Rome bureau chief for The New York Times, conducted interviews with more than 40 representatives of the church's distaff side and did historical research aided by two of the Vatican's women professionals. He learned that although they are barred from many official positions of authority, women have managed to exercise persuasive power at the Vatican into the present day. Indeed, some of Hoffman's strongest examples are of women who wielded great power while assuming traditional and even subservient roles. Chief among these was Mother Pascalina, a Bavarian nun who spent more than 40 years attending to the personal needs of Pope Pius XII, and who had so much influence that she was referred to by some as "the popess." This book is as much about the Vatican as it is about women and is full of interesting, gossipy tidbits drawn from the author's years of working and living in Rome. Although such details make for interesting reading and will certainly attract readers with a taste for scandal and rumor, their inclusion detracts from what otherwise might have been a more serious study of the role of women in the church.
by St. Francis of Assisi
Shambhala, which has been broadening its line to include classics of Western as well as Eastern spirituality, offers a beautiful new series merging spiritual poetry and the art of calligraphy. In Canticle of the Sun: The Spirit of Francis of Assisi, the saint's prayers and excerpts from writings about him are complemented by facing-page calligraphy in bold colors. Alongside Francis's prayers of gratitude for Sister Moon, Brother Wind and Sister Water, for example, are the corresponding Latin praises, beautifully rendered by calligrapher Frank Missant.
Among the other three volumes in Shambhala's series is "Perfect Harmony: Sufi Poetry of Ibn `Arabi," which pairs the poetry of the 13th-century Sufi mystic with contemporary calligraphy by Hassan Massoudy. In a moving afterword, Massoudy explains how he became involved in calligraphy as a child, and how his work is inspired by poetry.
The Pope and the Heretic: The True Story of a Man Who Dared to Defy the Roman Inquisition
By Michael White
What is remarkable about Giordano Bruno (1548-1600) is less his execution for heresy by the Catholic Church than the philosophy that led to his death. White, who has written biographies of Galileo, Newton and Leonardo, offers a fast-paced account of the development of Bruno's thought and the reasons why the Church considered these ideas heretical. As White points out in an account that is part history of philosophy, part biography and part church history, Bruno drew on the atomistic philosophy of Democritus, the ancient occult rituals of Egypt and other magi, and the teachings of Jesus to develop a philosophical system that challenged traditional Christian doctrines. Drawing threads from each of these disparate traditions, Bruno became the first modern pantheist, contending that every individual is a part of God and that God is in every individual. He argued that individuals could use mnemonic occult rituals to discover this unity. Bruno also believed that the universe was infinite and filled with inhabitable worlds. The philosopher was so convinced that his ideas would allow individuals to seek God that, as White demonstrates, he was mystified at being charged with heresy. Bruno influenced numerous thinkers from Galileo, Leibniz and Spinoza to Coleridge and Hegel. Although White's tightly focused study offers a nice overview of the conflict between religion and philosophy in the Renaissance, Frances Yates's splendid "Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition" remains the standard account of Bruno's life and work.
The Legend of Saint Christopher
By Margaret Hodges, illus. by Richard Jesse Watson
Hodges ("Saint George and the Dragon") masterfully adapts William Caxton's 15th-century translation of The Golden Legend to serve up a saint's tale with strong folkloric elements. Offero, a strong man who works as a bearer (porter), wants to serve the greatest king in the world. When he discovers that the king fears the devil, Offero concludes the devil is mightier, and serves him until he learns that the devil fears Christ. Offero's search to serve Christ teaches him that his own inner grace is even stronger than his physical prowess. Watson's ("The High Rise Glorious Skittle Skat Roarious Sky Pie Angel Food Cake") artwork achieves a startling blend of the ancient and the timeless, the archetypal and the particular he paints narrative elements in representational oils, reserving the backgrounds for abstract patterns that hint at the mythic roots of legend.
By Lesley Harker
Though adapted from the same source, Harker's ("Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star") journey on the ark is stylistically worlds away from Jerry Pinkney's. In this chipper version, young Annie scampers throughout the sailing vessel to tend to the animals, per the directions of "Grandaddy Noah" and other relatives. All the while, Annie hopes to find some peace and quiet amid the clatter and confusion on board. Annie's wish is closer to being granted as the rain finally ends and everyone dances for joy at the sight of the rainbow ("I knew it was a present... just for me!" Annie exults, not naming the donor of the "present"). The rainbow, like the raindrops on the jacket, is laminated; the shiny surfaces, along with the cheery watercolors of bright-eyed critters creating a rumpus and the sweet countenances of Annie and her family, are sure to prove inviting to very young readers.
By Jerry Pinkney
Pinkney ("The Ugly Duckling") unfurls some of the finest illustrations of his career in this lush, not-to-be-missed version of the perennially popular Bible story. In unfettered, graceful prose, Pinkney relates Noah's faithful work in building the ship and gathering the animals. He enhances the smoothly rendered plot with simple, evocative detail ("The strong wooden beams embraced the clouds"; "[The animals] followed him into the ark, and God closed the door behind them"). The watercolor-and-pencil animal tableaux delicately hued, vigorously executed are stunning in their artistry. Realistically drawn creatures flap, leap, lumber and slither about under the watchful, hopeful eyes of a kind-faced, gray-bearded Noah and his family. These crowded but never chaotic scenes, as well as those depicting whales in implicit comparison with the ark, will help children grasp the magnitude of the story's message of faith, stewardship and obedience.
The Festival of Bones/El Festival de las Calaveras: The Little-Bitty Book for the Day of the Dead
By Luis San Vicente, trans. by John William Byrd and Bobby Byrd
Originally published in Mexico, this bilingual primer on the Day of the Dead may be best suited to those already familiar with the festival. For the uninitiated, an afterword explains that Mexicans celebrate el d¡a de los muertes from October 31 to November 2.