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The Official Kresta in the Afternoon Summer Reading List

By Kresta in the Afternoon

Ann Arbor, Michigan, 11 June 2021 / 7:15pm

As summer begins to set in (for some reason it has already hit the 90s here in Ann Arbor), many of us wander the halls of our local book store or library in search of something to read. In case you are having trouble finding something on their shelves, the Kresta in the Afternoon team decided to share with you their book recommendations for the summer of 2021.

Now, obviously you should read the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church, but those are not really summer reads in the sense that you can sit back, relax, and enjoy them as entertainment. And unless you like to study ontological arguments for the existence of God, theological treatises by the saints or theologians have generally been left off this list as well. This list is meant to be accessible to most who are looking to be entertained, informed, and inspired.

(Image: Young Clergyman Reading by Martinus Rørbye – 1836)

Al Kresta’s picks

The Lord and His Prayer – N. T. Wright

In this book of pastoral reflections N.T. Wright explores how the Lord’s Prayer sums up what Jesus was all about in his first-century setting. Wright locates the Lord’s Prayer, clause by clause, within the historical life and work of Jesus and allows the prayer’s devotional application to grow out of its historical context. The result is a fresh understanding of Christian spirituality and the life of prayer. This deeply devotional book will refresh and stimulate the heart and mind of any reader.

Why do I recommend it? I checked this out of curiosity because I knew Wright as one of the greatest living New Testament scholars and defenders of the Resurrection of the Son of God. But, as it turns out, he is also a compelling writer on prayer and the interior life.

Live Not by Lies: A Manual for Christian Dissidents – Rod Drehr

In Live Not By Lies, Dreher amplifies the alarm sounded by the brave men and women who fought totalitarianism. He explains how the totalitarianism facing us today is based less on overt violence and more on psychological manipulation. He tells the stories of modern-day dissidents–clergy, laity, martyrs, and confessors from the Soviet Union and the captive nations of Europe–who offer practical advice for how to identify and resist totalitarianism in our time. Rod, sadly left full communion with the Catholic Church and affiliated with the Orthodox Church after his journalist work on the abuse scandal made him numb to institutional Catholicism.

Why do I recommend it? He urges us to adopt a radical form of Christian community and discipleship.

Daughters of Cain – Colin Dexter

It’s light detective fiction. Morse’s department discovers a corpse inside a North Oxford flat. A single stab wound in the stomach, no weapon, no suspect, no motive but within days Chief Inspector Morse and Detective Sergeant Lewis uncover startling new information about the life and death of the victim, Dr. Felix McClure, late of Wolsey College, Oxford. When another body is discovered Morse finds himself juggling too many suspects and no coherent story. Then he receives a letter, a letter containing a declaration of love.

The Puritans: A Transatlantic History – David Hall

Why couldn’t good Puritans and Anglicans get along? Their best spiritual writers show great insight into the interior life but politics kept them from appreciating one another. The Puritans saw themselves as the young turks of their day. They were not the repressive, joyless tyrants of caricature. But they did, sadly, despise Catholicism. In 1647, Massachusetts Bay even banned Jesuit priests as blasphemers and idolaters on penalty of death. Without the guidance of the Holy See, the mystical element in Puritanism eventually declined into liberal Protestantism.

The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament within Its Cultural Contexts – Gary Burge and Gene Green

This completely revised and updated second edition of The New Testament in Antiquity skillfully develops how Jewish, Hellenistic, and Roman cultures formed the essential environment in which the New Testament authors wrote their books and letters. Understanding of the land, history, and culture of the ancient world brings remarkable new insights into how we read the New Testament itself.

Why do I recommend it? Understanding the land, history, and culture of the ancient world brings new insights into how we read the New Testament is important. The non-Catholic orientation of the authors doesn’t negate the immense value of this work. It isn’t a work of theology but Bible background.

A Catholic Introduction to the Bible: The Old Testament – Brant Pitre and John Bergsma

Although many Catholics are familiar with the four Gospels and other writings of the New Testament, for most, reading the Old Testament is like walking into a foreign land. Who wrote these forty-six books? When were they written? Why were they written? What are we to make of their laws, stories, histories, and prophecies? Should the Old Testament be read by itself or in light of the New Testament?

Why do I recommend it? I know nothing quite like this from a Catholic perspective. Both men are committed to the Faith, are familiar with all the critical literature and they know how to write.

It is Right and Just: Why the Future of Civilization Depends on True Religion – Scott Hahn and Brandon McGinley

Contrary to what political commentators and activists say, religion is not only relevant to justice and law, but is necessary for civilization to thrive. Recover the public nature of true religion, It Is Right and Just argues, and watch as a revolution unfolds.

Why do I recommend it? I wrote a strong endorsement of the book not because it is perfect but because it forces an issue that cultural warriors too often cast aside.

A Church in Crisis: Pathways Forward – Ralph Martin

There is no better inventory of the problems we face as Catholics in 21st century America. When I wrote Dangers to the Faith: Catholicism’s 21st Century Opponents, I said to myself that my next book would have to look at Catholicism’s 21st Century opponents who remained in the Catholic Church and refused the work or reform, renewal and revival. Ralph has written that book. Too often when Catholics meet the enemy we meet ourselves.

Supernatural: What the Bible Teaches about the Unseen World and Why It Matters – Michael Heiser

Who were the “sons of God”? Who were the Nephilim? Where do angels fit into the supernatural hierarchy? Why did God find it necessary to have the Israelites destroy the populations of entire cities-man, woman, and child? What relation does Jesus bear to the rest of the supernatural world? Dr. Michael S. Heiser tackles these questions and many more in his books Supernatural and The Unseen Realm.

Why do I recommend it? I haven’t thought through all the theological implications of the angelic combat that he describes so I would suggest you read critically. Of one thing I am sure: After reading,  the invisible world will feel much closer and more real.

Unexampled Courage: The Blinding of Sgt. Isaac Woodard and the Awakening of President Harry S. Truman and Judge J. Waites Waring – Richard Gergel

What did desegregation of schools in the Jim Crow south have to do with the blinding of a WWII black military veteran?  Isaac Woodard was a decorated African American vet on his way back home from the Pacific theatre in WWII. When he was removed from a Greyhound bus in Batesburg, South Carolina, Woodard challenged the bus driver’s disrespectful treatment of him. Woodard, in uniform, was arrested by the local police chief, Lynwood Shull, and beaten and blinded while in custody.

President Harry Truman was outraged by the incident, established the first presidential commission on civil rights and had his Justice Department file criminal charges against Shull. In July 1948, following his commission’s recommendation, Truman ordered an end to segregation in the U.S. armed forces.

But the story continued in the conscience stricken mind of Judge J. Waties Waring. Waring described the trial of Shull as his “baptism of fire,” and he began issuing major civil rights decisions. Waring’s judicial reasoning was adopted in the famous Brown v. Board of Education which overturned the Plessy v. Ferguson legal doctrine of “separate but equal.” And that’s how a blind, black veteran helped desegregate the schools of the south. It’s a story of “unexampled courage” and probably more important to the history of African-Americans than the 1955 murder of 14 year old Emmet Till. 

Bryant Schoenle’s picks

A. Lincoln – Ron White

Everyone wants to define the man who signed his name “A. Lincoln.” In his lifetime and ever since, friend and foe have taken it upon themselves to characterize Lincoln according to their own label or libel. In this magnificent book, Ronald C. White, Jr., offers a fresh and compelling definition of Lincoln as a man of integrity–what today’s commentators would call “authenticity”–whose moral compass holds the key to understanding his life.

Why do I recommend it? Arguably the best single-volume Lincoln biography out there. Offers oceans of detail in an easily-readable format.

Franklin and Winston: An Intimate Portrait of an Epic Friendship – Jon Meacham

Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were the greatest leaders of “the Greatest Generation.” In Franklin and Winston, Jon Meacham explores the fascinating relationship between the two men who piloted the free world to victory in World War II. It was a crucial friendship, and a unique one—a president and a prime minister spending enormous amounts of time together (113 days during the war) and exchanging nearly two thousand messages. Amid cocktails, cigarettes, and cigars, they met, often secretly, in places as far-flung as Washington, Hyde Park, Casablanca, and Teheran, talking to each other of war, politics, the burden of command, their health, their wives, and their children.

Why do I recommend it? Meacham brings these two titans of the 20th century to life in an intimate way, highlighting the relationship that helped defeat Hitler.

The Devil and Karl Marx – Paul Kengor

Two decades after the publication of The Black Book of Communism, nearly everyone is or at least should be, aware of the immense evil produced by that devilish ideology first hatched when Karl Marx penned his Communist Manifesto two centuries ago. Far too many people, however, separate Marx the man from the evils wrought by the oppressive ideology and theory that bears his name. That is a grave mistake. Not only did the horrific results of Marxism follow directly from Marx’s twisted ideas, but the man himself penned some downright devilish things. Well before Karl Marx was writing about the hell of communism, he was writing about hell.

Why do I recommend it? Who was the man who inspired one of the most destructive ideologies of our time? Paul Kengor helps you get to know him better than you ever would have liked.

The Priest Barracks: Dachau 1938-1945 – Guillaume Zeller

At the Nazi concentration camp Dachau, three barracks out of thirty were occupied by clergy from 1938 to 1945.  The overwhelming majority of the 2,720 men imprisoned in these barracks were Catholics—2,579 priests, monks, and seminarians from all over Europe. More than a third of the prisoners in the “priest block” died there.

Why do I recommend it? We all know the story of St. Maximilian Kolbe, but few know of the more than 2500 priests and monks imprisoned in Dachau. Learn their stories in this gripping account.

Conscience Before Conformity: Hans and Sophie Scholl and the White Rose Resistance in Nazi Germany – Paul Shrimpton

Conscience before Conformity tells the story of German students who dared to speak out against Hitler and the Third Reich, and died for their beliefs. Operating under the name of the White Rose, they printed and distributed leaflets condemning Nazism and urging Germans to offer non-violent resistance to the ‘atheistic war machine’.

Why do I recommend it? A story that is not nearly as well-known as it should be: two members of the Hitler Youth who eventually gave their lives fighting the Nazis.

The Picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

Wilde’s only novel, first published in 1890, is a brilliantly designed puzzle, intended to tease conventional minds with its exploration of the myriad interrelationships between art, life and consequence. From its provocative Preface, challenging the reader to belief in ‘art for art’s sake’, to its sensational conclusion, the story self-consciously experiments with the notion of sin as an element of design. Yet Wilde himself underestimated the consequences of his experiment, and its capacity to outrage the Victorian establishment. Its words returned to haunt him in his court appearances in 1895, and he later recalled the ‘note of doom’ which runs like ‘a purple thread’ through its carefully crafted prose

Why do I recommend it? One of my favorite novels ever. There is no escaping or hiding from the effects of sin.

The Cross and the Switchblade – David Wilkerson

David Wilkerson was just a young preacher in the Pennsylvania hills when he was stunned by a new calling from God: go to New York City to speak to seven young gang members on trial for murder. 

Why do I recommend it? I read it in middle school; one of the first books I read that really impacted my life. Good book for parents to read with young teens. (content advisory)

Grace from the Rubble: Two Fathers’ Road to Reconciliation after the Oklahoma City Bombing – Jeanne Bishop

In what was to become the deadliest attack on American soil since Pearl Harbor, the Oklahoma City bombing was one in a long line of violent attacks that have left communities across the nation searching for healing and hope. With the soaring message of the power of love to conquer evil, Grace from the Rubble tells the intertwining stories of four captivating individuals: Julie Welch, a young professional full of promise, and Tim McVeigh, the troubled mind behind the horrific event; Bud Welch, a father whose only daughter (Julie) was murdered, and Bill McVeigh, the father of her killer. 

Why do I recommend it? We all know the story of the killer. We would be wise to learn the stories of those he affected.

Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust – Immaculee Ilibagiza

Incredibly, Immaculee survived the slaughter. For 91 days, she and seven other women huddled silently together in the cramped bathroom of a local pastor while hundreds of machete-wielding killers hunted for them. It was during those endless hours of unspeakable terror that Immaculee discovered the power of prayer, eventually shedding her fear of death and forging a profound and lasting relationship with God.

Why do I recommend it? “Forgiveness is all I have to offer” says Immaculee when she met the man who murdered most of her family a few months after the Genocide.

I’ve Seen the End of You: A Neurosurgean’s Look at Faith, Doubt, and the Things We Think We Know – W. Lee Warren, MD

Dr. W. Lee Warren, a practicing brain surgeon, assumed he knew most outcomes for people with glioblastoma, head injuries, and other health-care problems. Yet even as he tried to give patients hope, his own heart would sink as he realized, I’ve seen the end of you. But it became far more personal when the acclaimed doctor experienced an unimaginable family tragedy. That’s when he reached the end of himself.

Why do I recommend it? A challenging, thoughtful read – how does a Neurosurgeon reconcile the God he knows works miracles with a cancer that has a nearly 100% kill rate?

Matthew Handley’s picks

Morte D’Urban – J. F. Powers

In this 1962 dark comedy, J.F. Powers tells the story of Father Urban, a man of the cloth and a man of the world.  Fr. Urban is a nationally known speaker and has big plans.  These hopes are dashed however when his provincial assigns him to a retreat house in rural Minnesota.  He attempts to makes the best of his situation, but his tribulations mount and in the end, his greatest success proves to be a setback from which he cannot recover.

Why do I recommend it?  It shows the hard decisions that priests (and laity) must face when presented with two options: what do I want and what does God want?

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

On November 15, 1959, in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, four members of the Clutter family were savagely murdered.  There seemed to be no motive and no clues.  In this true story, Truman Capote reconstructs crime and follows the killers through their capture, trial, and eventual execution.  (Not suitable for young audiences)

Why do I recommend it?  The truth is stranger than fiction.  Capote’s In Cold Blood demonstrates this.  If you’re a fan of true crime, this story is for you.

The Green Mile – Steven King

Paul Edgecombe has seen his share of oddities working on death row at the Cold Mountain Penitentiary.  But he’s never seen anything like John Coffey, a man with the body of a giant and the mind of a child, condemned for a crime terrifying in its violence and shocking in its depravity.  In this place of ultimate retribution, Edgecombe is about to discover the terrible, wondrous truth about John Coffey—a truth that will challenge his most cherished beliefs.  (Not suitable for young audiences)

Why do I recommend it?  It is not your typical Steven King story, which makes it more enjoyable to read.  Coffey symbolizes the problems of the death penalty, racism during the depression, and the unknown of spirituality.

The Devil’s Pleasure Palace: The Cult of Critical Theory and the Subversion of the West – Michael Walsh

After the Second World War, America stood alone as the world’s premier military power.  Yet its strength was contrasted with its sense of cultural inferiority.  Still looking to a defeated and dispirited Europe for intellectual and artistic guidance, the halls of culture and scholarship embraced European ideas, including those of the Frankfurt School and its reactionary philosophy of “critical theory.”

Why do I recommend it?  Right now we are hearing a lot about critical race theory and radical new policies here in the United States.  Walsh breaks down their origins in philosophy, scholarship, and art and explains how they took root in American culture following the Second World War.


Recommendations by some of our listeners

  • No Turning Back: A Witness to Mercy – Fr. Don Calloway
  • The Second Greatest Story Ever Told: Now is the Time of Mercy – Fr. Michael Gaitley
  • Six Months to Live: Three Guys on the Ultimate Quest for a Miracle – Arthur Boyle
  • Midwife for Souls: Spiritual Care for the Dying – Kathy Kalina
  • Journal of a Soul – Pope John XXIII
  • How to Find Your Soulmate without Losing your Soul – Chrystalina Evert
  • The Spiritual Journey of George Washington – Janice Connell
  • The Four Pillars of a Man’s Heart – Stu Weber
  • Mere Christianity – CS Lewis
  • Making Gay OK – Robert Reilly
  • The Great Divorce – CS Lewis
  • The Priests we Need to Save the Church – Kevin Wells
  • A Friar’s Tale: Remembering Fr. Benedict Groeschel – John Collins
  • Understanding Divine Mercy – Fr. Chris Alar
  • Our Lady of Kibeho – Immaculee Ilibagiza
  • 12 Rules for Life & 12 More Rules for Life – Jordan Peterson
  • How to Keep from Losing your Mind – Deal Hudson
  • Send me your Guardian Angel – Fr. Alessio
  • An American Knight: The Life of Colonel John Ripley – Norman Fulkerson
  • True Devotion to Mary – St Louis de Montfort.
  • Theology of the Body Explained – Christopher West
  • Rome Sweet Home – Scott Hahn
  • Crossing the Tiber – Steve Ray
  • Life of Christ – Fulton Sheen
  • Consecration to St Joseph – Fr. Donald Calloway
  • The Pendragon Cycle Novels – Stephen Lawhead
  • Doomsday Book – Connie Willis
  • A Canticle for Leibowitz – Walter Miller
  • Man’s Search for Meaning – Viktor Frankl
  • A Daughter’s Love: Thomas More and His Dearest Meg – John Guy
  • Adoration of the Mystic Lamb – Fabrice Hadjadj
  • Great Mystical War – Renee Brockman
  • Seven Storey Mountain – Thomas Merton
  • Joan of Arc – Mark Twain
  • Hidden Mountain, Secret Garden – Anthony Lilles
  • True Devotion to the Holy Spirit – Luiz Martinez

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