The Catholic Advantage by Bill Donohue (Image Books, £12.99). The author, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in America, subtitles his book “Why Health, Happiness and Heaven Await the Faithful”. On its own this might sound smug, but Donohue shows persuasively that living the faith enhances wellbeing and contentment, despite the usual sufferings of life. Indeed, Catholicism, with its rich mixture of a sacramental life, prayer and community, offers a deeper and more authentic way of life than the atheism and narcissism that afflicts so much of modern society. Essentially, it is the difference between pleasure and joy.
The Road to Civitella 1944 by Dee La Vardera (Fonthill, £20). The author, a keen local historian and lover of Italy, tells the affecting history of Civitella, a village in Tuscany, whose male inhabitants were massacred by a Panzer division on June 29, 1944 in a reprisal raid. However, a redemptive story followed this atrocity when Eighth Army Captain John Morgan and army chaplain Fr Clement O’Shea came upon the village and unofficially “adopted” it, bringing supplies and comfort to the women and children left behind. Seventy years later, their kindness lives on in the memory of survivors.
Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, £20). Anne Sebba, author of a biography of Wallis Simpson, has written this vivid account, subtitled “How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s”. This was after the German invasion, which brought out the best and the worst in the women of Paris. A few, like Violette Szabo, killed at Ravensbrück, became heroines of the Resistance. Others hid Jews at great risk to themselves. Some collaborated with the Germans, to be imprisoned and ostracised after the war. Sebba includes actresses and prostitutes as well as teachers, writers, mothers and mistresses.
War and Technology: A Very Short Introduction by Alex Roland (Oxford University Press, £7.99). There have been few things in history so closely allied and dependent on each other as war and technology. Though this may seem obvious in an age of nuclear capability and smart bombs, Alex Roland’s fascinating book demonstrates that this was always so. From the stirrup, which allowed fighting on horseback, to the invention of gunpowder, Roland guides us through the technological inventions that allowed certain types of war to be waged.
The Face of the Buddha by William Empson (Oxford University Press, £30). William Empson, literary critic and poet, researched Buddhist sculptures in Japan in the early 1930s when lecturing in Tokyo. The manuscript of his researches was then lost for 60 years. Rediscovered in 2005, it is published here for the first time. “The Buddhas are the only accessible art I find myself able to care about,” Empson once said, and his book shows his wide-ranging interest in the philosophies and religious traditions of the Far East.
How to continue reading…
This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week
The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection