Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching by Anthony Esolen (Sophia Institute Press, £15). Subtitled “A Defense of the Church’s True Teachings on Marriage, Family and the State”, this important book by a well-known American Catholic author argues that the Church’s social teaching does not mean accepting a vast welfare state. Indeed, the principle of subsidiarity prefers personal and local responsibility where possible. Using the writings of Pope Leo XIII, Esolen shows that they are not just concerned with the poor or with workers’ rights but also with the nature of man, his eternal destiny and the critical role of the family in building a healthy society.

The Crisis of Confidence in the Catholic Church by Raymond G Helmick SJ (Bloomsbury, £24). The author, who teaches at Boston College, describes current problems in the Church, from declining numbers in America and Europe to the scandals of clerical abuse and disillusionment among lay Catholics. Including anecdotes from his own ministry and pastoral experience, Helmick argues for a more open, inclusive and collaborative vision of the Church, following the election of Pope Francis, and for greater efforts to implement the reforms intended by Vatican II.

Yes Thanks! by Rob Esdaile (olchurch.org.uk, £5). Fr Rob Esdaile has the poet’s defining instinct – taking an idea or experience, turning it over in his hands, examining it from different angles and in different lights until something new and essential appears. “The Sponge”, for instance, is built around a brilliant conceit in which the ministry and mind of a priest are like a sponge periodically wrung clean by the hand of God. “Unjudged” is written from the point of view of the woman awaiting stoning before Christ’s intervention. Another poem is a witty, thought-provoking juxtaposition of the suitor on one knee and the priest on two. Highly recommended.

The End of Days by Matthew Harper (University of North Carolina Press, £20). This book is something of a revelation. Harper argues that among African-Americans freedom was interpreted and theologised in terms of biblical narratives and God’s intervention in human affairs. For some, it all marked the beginning of the End Times. For many, the formulation of expectations across a host of economic, social and political questions were defined by religious thought and eschatology. It adds up to a neglected chapter in “the story that African-Americans told about themselves – their past and their destiny”.

The Third Reich in History and Memory by Richard J Evans (Little, Brown, £25). This collection of essays spanning 15 years is varied, thoughtful and challenging. Chapter headings include “Blueprint for genocide” and “Coercion and consent”. There are also sections on Volkswagen, the Krupp armaments industry, Hitler’s health and Mussolini. Original and stimulating, Evans’s essays help readers understand the complexities behind the Third Reich. History, the author argues, is not as simple as a battle between the (good) Allies against the (evil) Nazis. Fear, obedience and a sense of duty, as well as violence, kept Germany going.

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