Aleteia loves books but recognizes that a world busy with social media doesn’t afford many prompts to that old conversation-starter, “Read any good books lately?” So, we’re asking it in this space. Today, we hear from author, columnist, and host of his self-named radio program, Ed Morrissey, who can also be found at Relevant Radio, where he frequently sits in as guest host for Drew Mariani or Sheila Liaugminas.
“Normally for Lent, I give up something like flavored coffee or other minor, peripheral attachments,” says Morrissey in a preamble meant to explain why he’s reading so much. “This year, I decided to give up Twitter interaction for the Lenten season, a much bigger change in my professional and personal life. As a home-office person, Twitter serves as a virtual water cooler for me – a key social outlet, on which I usually spend lots of time. Rather than just spend that time watching television, I committed to using the time more productively by returning to book reading, which I rarely have time to do otherwise, and to (mostly) focus on my Catholic faith for my reading list.
“First on the list was G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. Before this year, I had read almost nothing from Chesterton, save for a couple of poems. Orthodoxy was much different than what I expected. On a number of occasions, I have tried and failed to make a dent in Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, but Orthodoxy is much more accessible and surprisingly entertaining. Chesterton’s philosophy is every bit as intellectual, but far more pitched at a broader audience. His humor, much of it self-effacing, and his gentle yet firm opposition to the heresies of his time and ours makes for compelling reading.
Next came The Global Vatican by now-Congressman Francis Rooney (R-FL) about his experiences as US ambassador to the Holy See, and the history of Vatican-American diplomatic relations. The book’s second edition has a section with Rooney’s observations about the pontificate of Pope Francis, and some criticism of the Obama administration’s lack of energy and focus on the diplomatic relationship. It provides impressive insight into the opportunities for the US in maintaining a strong relationship, and why this particular diplomatic post requires someone well versed in the priorities and interests of both the Vatican and the current US administration. Even apart from that, Rooney’s recollections make it worth the cover price, but make sure you get the later edition to get the most benefit from his insights.”
Given his passion for both politics and history, it’s not surprising to learn that after this Church-heavy reading, Morrissey changed topics to read Dereliction of Duty: Johnson, McNamara, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Gen. H.R. McMaster, which delves into the early days of the Vietnam War. McMaster, now national security advisor to President Donald Trump, takes advantage of newly declassified material to explain how the US put itself on an inexorable path to a major land war in southeast Asia. It paints a damning portrait of all involved, but especially debunks the conventional wisdom that the entire fault lies with the politicians who tried to run the war. That’s true enough, but McMaster explains how the leadership of the armed forces allowed them to be divided and then sidelined.”
The most important takeaway McMaster’s book as for the present, says Morrissey, is “a clear warning about presidential defense and security advisors becoming sycophants or too concerned with domestic politics. His tenure within the Trump administration may be a ‘canary in the coal mine’ signal to see whether Trump will tolerate opposing opinions and positions.
“Sons of St. Patrick by George Marlin and Brad Miner (just released in February) also covers some of the same historical ground as Global Vatican, but focuses much more on the history of the Catholic Church in New York City, and by extension in America. The title refers to the heritage of all 10 archbishops of New York; they have all been Irish or of Irish descent, from Archbishop “Dagger John” Hughes to Timothy Cardinal Dolan. For almost two centuries, this archdiocese and the men who have led it have led the Catholic culture in America, and every conflict and issue Catholics have faced in this country has been fought on this ground. Sons of St. Patrick brings these men to life in the context of the battles they had to fight – with politicians, with the culture, and sometimes with the priests themselves.”
What’s next? With two weeks left until Easter, “I’m hoping to complete two more books – The Early Church: From Ignatius to Augustine by George Hodges, and The Everlasting Man by Chesterton. If not those, them maybe I’ll try one or two of Chesterton’s Father Brown mysteries. If you see me interacting on Twitter, though, you’ll know I’ve stumbled … so just pass along the times for confession in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area.”