A Holy Year in Rome by Joan Lewis (Sophia Institute Press, £14). Subtitled “The Complete Pilgrim’s Guide for the Jubilee of Mercy”, this informative book offers readers and pilgrims a readable and comprehensive guide to the eternal city. A description of the Vatican City State is included, as well as the history of the papal summer residence, Castel Gandolfo, and a calendar of events. Of particular interest is the chapter on the catacombs, where over 40 distinct burial sites covering hundreds of kilometres have been identified, though only a handful are open to visitors.
Mysticism and Reform 1470-1750 by Sara Poor and Nigel Smith (University of Notre Dame Press, £47). This volume revisits a familiar generalisation: that the Reformation attempted to constrain or even demolish Christian mysticism but was spectacularly unsuccessful. If anything, the splintering of Christendom expanded the range of mystical experiments. The book focuses on Europe, with a short excursion to the North American colonies, and is particularly good on the perseverance of exorcism and depictions of mystical experience in the visual arts.
Fault Lines by David Pryce-Jones (Criterion Books, £20). In this absorbing memoir, editor, novelist and literary critic Pryce-Jones paints an unforgettable picture of his family’s history and his exotic relations: bankers, soldiers and bon vivants. In the foreground are “Poppy”, his mother, from a cosmopolitan European family, and Alan, the editor of the TLS, while in the background is Royaumont, the family mansion near Chantilly. Pinter, Bellow, Berenson, Naipaul and Somerset Maugham jostle with other literary luminaries, evoking the colourful post-war world of letters.
Heartfulness by Dr Stephen McKenzie (Exisle Publishing, £12.95). McKenzie, who has done research in psychology and philosophy, has subtitled this work “Beyond Mindfulness – Finding Your Real Life”. Here he explores a further perspective: heartfulness, or, as he quotes from an Asian author: “The history of your happiness is the history of your feeling connected.” Mindfulness in isolation does not do this. The author includes chapters on courage, humour, adversity, hope and creativity. Although within the genre of self-help books, the book nonetheless asks provocative questions which can be a springboard to deeper soul-searching.
Democracy: A Life by Paul Cartledge (OUP, £20). Travelling from the 6th century BC to the present day, Cartledge offers a nuanced account of the meanings and meanderings of democracy. An expert in ancient history, Cartledge spends most of his time looking at the emergence of democratic ideas in Greece, but his studies of democracy’s “demise” under the Roman and Byzantine empires and its “eclipse” in medieval Europe are equally well-wrought. The latter part of the book explores democracy in the modern world and reminds us of the perennial fragility of this age-old political ideal.
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.