The Gestapo by Frank McDonough (Coronet, £20). This year has produced a slew of important books relating to the Second World War, and this informative survey of the Gestapo is one of the best. The author tries to dismantle some of the common myths about Hitler’s secret police. He does so with style and intelligence. He is particularly good at detailing how Himmler seized control of municipal police forces and folded them into the Nazi state. Even better is the chapter where McDonough shows how the Nazis slowly eroded the power of the churches and the brave priests who stood up to them.
The Oxford Handbook of Sacramental Theology edited by Hans Boersma and Matthew Levering (OUP, £95). Dozens of chapters, with not a dud in sight, explore the scriptural roots of the sacraments, the development of theological thought, the many squabbles (Reformation, etc), and present-day positions on this crucial aspect of Christian musing and worship. Alongside the forensic analysis of many traditions there are some brave digressions into the philosophical hinterland of sacramental belief and practice. The detail is wonderful and it would be amazing if you did not learn a lot from this magnificent book.
Practical Theology and Pierre-André Liégé by Nicholas Bradbury (Ashgate, £65). The subject of this book has not received much attention in the Anglophone literature. Bradbury’s detailed study reveals that the 20th-century French theologian’s influence on Christian thinkers, from popes down, was significant. But it offers more than a history lesson. The book is a serious work of scholarship informed by the author’s own experiences in some tough parishes and a desire to ignite debate about the meaning and purposes of a Church. Through close analysis of what Liégé had to say, Bradbury explores the past with the hope of improving the present.
Metropolis: Mapping the City by Jeremy Black (Bloomsbury, £30). There is something hypnotic about city maps, from the medieval Renaissance cities of Italy to the order of Dutch Republic-era Amsterdam and, later, the grids of New Orleans. This beautifully illustrated large hardback traces the story of how our cities have been charted, starting with a tiny terracotta fragment from Mesopotamia in 13th-century BC through to Florence and Venice and the great modern cities: Paris, London, Chicago and New York.
The Great Reformer by Austen Ivereigh (Allen and Unwin, £9.99). Ivereigh’s biography of Pope Francis is one of the most thorough, informative and fascinating accounts of the Holy Father’s life. Ivereigh is particularly good at untangling the knots of Argentine culture and politics for readers who know little of either. The book also has the great merit of looking seriously, and in valuable detail, at Francis’s thought and spirituality. This newly released paperback edition features a updated epilogue.