Books

There are thousands of important books relevant to the Orthospherean project, that could all with equal justice be listed here. But that would be Too Much. We will start with books that have been particularly important in the intellectual development of Orthosphere contributors, qua Traditionalists, and that might therefore be particularly useful to those who wish to learn more about Traditionalist thought.

Books by Orthosphereans:

Books by modern thinkers we respect:

  • Christopher Alexander: the high priest of architecture’s rediscovery of its traditional and vernacular forms, methods, and meanings. He found that to understand beauty in buildings he had to undertake a metaphysic of order in nature.
    • A Pattern Language.  Alexander and his graduate students set out to discover what it is, exactly, that makes a place feel humane and comfortable. This book sets forth their findings, in respect to human arrangements of all scales – from the province to the chair. E.g.: a deck or porch less than six feet wide will never be used. Not just a guide to buildings that work, it specifies the built environment that is proper to man. Once you read this book, you will know exactly why you feel wonderful in some buildings and horrible in others.
    • The Nature of Order: An Essay on the Art of Building and the Nature of the Universe. A four-volume excursus ranging from the practice of building to the Transcendentals: Goodness, Truth, and Beauty.
  • Mark Anderson: Pure: Modernity, Philosophy & the One. A relentless, elegant, precise analysis of modernity as a disease of the intellect. Anderson works his way back to the traditional way of seeing by taking up the stance of Classical, pre-Cartesian philosophy – and the pre-philosophical sophia perennis of Homer’s day and before – as against the Sophists and the Nietzscheans. Philosophy as a Way of Purification of the Soul. Reading this book, it becomes quite clear why Christianity subsumed Platonism.
  • Gregory Boyd: God at War. The theology of the scrum in which we find ourselves here on Earth as a portion of a wider war, whose principal combatants are angelic; with applications to theodicy.
  • William Cavanaugh:  The Myth of Religious Violence.  Why it’s historically and conceptually stupid to say that the secular state saved us from irrational violence.
  • GK Chesterton: Incredibly prolific and brilliant British apologist; the use of English as a rapier.
  • Fustel de Coulanges:  The Ancient City.  How religion and filial piety shaped the ancient world. Available as a free etext.
  • Mircea Eliade:  The Sacred and the Profane.  The great work on religion’s symbolic and social aspects.
  • Edward Feser: One of the clearest traditionalist philosophers, and a palmary apologist for Classical (pre-Cartesian) philosophy.
  • David Bentley Hart: An eminent Orthodox theologian, Hart writes like an angel.
  • Dietrich von Hildebrand: Von Hildebrand was the main advocate of the value response school of ethics and a tireless defender of reverence, chastity, and ritual in the Christian life.
  • CS Lewis: Perhaps the greatest Christian apologist of the 20th Century, and a great writer; possibly a saint. See also the other books Lewis wrote, all of which are valuable.
    • The Abolition of Man. What the New Order wants to make of us. Available online.
    • Mere Christianity. The doctrines all Orthosphereans hold in common. One of the most important books in the Traditionalist canon.
    • That Hideous Strength. The third book of his science fiction trilogy, set in Britain just after WWII. A chilling description of the absurd, banal, evil apotheosis of modern secular humanism. Published in 1945, the book is eerily prescient.
  • Rudolph Otto: The Idea of the Holy. A fin de siècle pioneer of comparative religion, Otto picked out the essential elements of the Holy as felt. Hair-raising for those who have experienced it. Makes “the Fear of the Lord” wholly intelligible.
  • Henri Pirenne: Mohammed & Charlemagne. How Islam crippled the flourishing late classical civilization in Western Europe by destroying Mediterranean trade; how the Germans, Franks and Goths managed to preserve some of it. Published posthumously in 1937, the book’s thesis was instantly swamped by PC. Yet it seems the most logical explanation of the abrupt end of classical civilization, circa 640.
  • Emmet Scott: Mohammed & Charlemagne Revisited. Scott reviews the archeological and documentary evidence that has accumulated since Pirenne’s day, and concludes that the Muslim invasions destroyed classical civilization in the East as well as in the West. An even more devastating critique of Islam’s cultural effects than Pirenne could have made. Fascinating facts on almost every page. History is not what you thought.
  • Rodney Stark: The Victory of Reason. Christianity’s role in the foundation of the West, and the decisive differences between Christian cultures and their antecedents and competitors. A refutation of Gibbon, and of almost everything you learned in school about the Christian role in the history of Europe. Dark Ages? Not on account of the Church.
  • JRR Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings. Perhaps the most important books written in the 20th Century. A great read, and the greatest Christian allegory.

Here are some other helpful books that are available for free in electronic form:

30 thoughts on “Books

  1. Thank you for doing this, Kristor—Feser’s “The Last Superstition” and Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” played an important role in my own conversion, and further reflection on them is one of the main reasons why I’m now considering becoming a Roman Catholic. I hadn’t heard of “The Victory of Reason,” but thanks to Amazon, a copy of it is now resting on my Kindle.

  2. I recommend the addition to this reading list of Gregory Boyd’s God at War and Frederic Baue’s The Spiritual Society. These are clarifying books.

  3. Any suggestions for better familiarizing oneself with the “grammar” of Western civilization? I picked up “Mohammed and Charlemagne” after hearing Kristor praise it, but quickly found myself crippled at understanding much, as Pirenne assumes I would already be quite familiar with, for instance, the barbarian Genseric or the differences between the Ostrogoths and the Visigoths. I decided to put the book down until such time as my “prerequisites” were better covered.

    Not sure where to start however, and wishing now my eyes hadn’t glazed over so frequently in my college course on Western Civ. I suppose getting a hold again of a college textbook on the general subject would be a good place to start and may work at least as an omnibus from which I could disembark to study particulars more in depth as desired. It is difficult, however, to encounter a textbook these days, it seems, that isn’t obsessed with how “gender” fits into the whole picture (of course…that’s what everyone is dying to know, right?). Perhaps someone has a few ideas to point me in the right direction?

    • That’s a good question. Most of the college textbooks you will read are full of such intelligence as that Rome fell due to Christianity. I.e., leftist lies. You might well start with general surveys written, not as college textbooks, but for the general population, such as the Oxford Histories of Greece and the Hellenistic World and of the Roman World.

      For the early history of Christianity vis-a-vis the rest of the world, it is hard to beat Rodney Stark.

      It will also benefit you to read a book on the barbarians. I’ve read a number of books on them, but none really stand out. The barbarians are barely covered in most general surveys of late classical history or early Medieval history, yet a familiarity with their history and culture is extremely helpful. The West may be understood as Romanized barbarism. Bearing in mind, of course, that the barbarians were not at all in their own rights uncivilized; they just weren’t at first Romans, or Roman subjects.

      A background in the barbarians and late classical culture will help you as you approach such figures as the Carolingians.

      There’s a lot to know about these things, and I know almost none of it. Fortunately, they are lots of fun to read about.

  4. Buckyinky, I sympathize! Yes, let’s stay away from the specialist university press tomes that have been written to make the world safe for progressivism.

    Let me recommend a few inexpensive books that have helped me — even if I haven’t read every word in each instance.

    I’m not embarrassed to begin with Our Young Folks’ Josephus as an easy to read presentation of Jewish history up to the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, an event of great significance for Christian history.

    Henry Chadwick’s Penguin History of the Church Vol. 1 was a nice readable book about the ancient Church, and of course Eusebius’s History of the Church is always readable. I use the old Penguin Classics edition translated by G. A. Williamson.

    Vita Patrum — The Life of the Fathers — by St. Gregory of Tours as translated by Seraphim Rose takes the story forward.

    I haven’t read Huizinga’s Waning of the Middle Ages, but it seems to be well regarded. (Would any Orthosperical readers of this book care to comment on whether it is a good choice?)

    The Victorian Anglican John Mason Neale wrote a History of the Eastern Church that was well regarded in its day. I intend to give his novel about the Fall of Constantinople, Theodora Phranza, a try before long. It was published in the Everyman’s Library many years ago, and may I ask if we have any fans of the old Everyman’s Library out there? This was sort of the equivalent of the Penguin Classics (which have become more politically correct in recent years) when C. S. Lewis was a young man.

    We have arrived at the Reformation period, and polemics really kicks in. For the Anglican Church, the Roman Catholic Aidan Nichols’ The Panther and the Hind seemed good to yours truly, a Lutheran. Luther the Reformer by Kittelson is well thought of in my circles.

    • Here too I will warmly recommend Roy Schoeman’s Salvation Is from the Jews: The Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham to the Second Coming (Ignatius Press 2003).

      The book’s discussion of the miraculous scarlet thread that would turn white as a sign of God’s acceptance of the Temple sacrifice, and the Talmud-attested cessation of this miracle forty years before the Temple was destroyed in AD 70, is fascinating. This is a special, an extraordinary book.

      Schoeman doesn’t, as far as I remember, discuss Josephus’s account, in The Jewish War, of how, just before the destruction of the Temple, the priests went into its Inner Court at Pentecost, and were aware of sudden movement, a loud crash, and a concerted cry, “Let us go hence” (VI, 301, page 361 of the 1981 Penguin Classics edition translated by Williamson). The Young Folks’ Josephus includes this incident on page 432: “a voice as of a multitude, saying, ‘We are departing hence.'” Of course our Lord predicted the destruction of the Temple.

      One may interpret Josephus’s account of the cry variously — as a false legend, or as an omen referring to the scattering of Jewish people, or as signifying something else. At any rate, my impression is that a household Josephus was a book found in many English-speaking homes till the 20th century.

      Josephus brings together the Hebrew and the Classical histories so foundational for the West.

  5. Has anyone read Creasy’s The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World (1851 & reprints)? Keith Windschuttle wrote of it, in a 1999 issue of The New Criterion:

    One of the most popular books of Victorian Britain was Sir Edward Creasy’s The Fifteen Decisive Battles of the World, originally published in 1851. The copy I have is from the illustrated third edition published by Macmillan in 1905, by which time the book had been in print continuously for fifty-four years and reprinted no less than forty-five times. There was an edition published in London as late as 1960, and Da Capo Press reprinted it here in 1994 (404 pages, $16.95). Creasy wrote the work after his return from serving as Chief Justice of Ceylon. Although he would now be dismissed as a “gentlemanly amateur,” the scholarship he brought to the work was respectable enough and better than that of many academics writing today.

    If anyone thinks this would be a good Orthospherical resource, let’s hear about that.

  6. Have ordered Boyd’s book. Reviews certainly would not seem to indicate he is a traditionalist as his open theism is certainly outside the lines of current Christian thought. But maybe if one views Augustine as one who drove the train off the track…Boyd is simply getting things back to the traditionalist state. Comments on his book being selected as an Orthosphere resource appreciated. dennis

  7. I just want to say thank you for pointing me to Anderson’s Pure: Modernity, Philosophy & the One. I once had hoped that Platonism would be a center around which the Orthodox members of the great religions could meet and join forces to organize and present an united front of opposition to the present reign of antichrist.

    • I just finished my first reading and I’m going to need some time to digest it. But, as a Christian, I found myself asking where sin and redemption fit into all of this. Is the book a departure from the Christian understanding?

      • It is not. Rather, it is a discussion of topics that lie at the foundation of Christian dogma.

        Sin is a failure to instantiate the form that best fits one’s current predicament. It is, i.e., a failure to do the right thing.

        As I recall the book (it’s been a few years since I read it), it does not deal so much with redemption as it does with the Fall.

  8. Gregory Boyd’s God at War is the best book on Christianity I have read in ages. Especially for those of us whose Weltanschauung is fundamentally magical/traditional, Boyd does an amazing job in making Christianity intelligible

  9. I’m not sure that it would merit a place alongside these books but you might investigate the works of novelist and artist Michael O’Brien ( http://www.studiobrien.com/ ). As a page-turning, semi-escapist, spiritual thriller, his ‘Father Elijah’ comes highly recommended ( http://www.amazon.com/Father-Elijah-Apocalypse-Michael-OBrien-ebook/dp/B002UZ5K0I/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1447636569&sr=1-1&keywords=father+elijah ).

    Agree totally that ‘That Hideous Strength’, as well as the other two books from the Space Trilogy, belong on everyone’s list.

    • I listened to a David Bentley Hart talk based on the recommendation of his book on his page.

      He doesn’t sound like a traditionalist at all. He sounds like an arrogant liberal. Maybe he is better on other topics, but the hippie Jesus narrative he’s espousing here (no really: in his own words) is almost enough to make me seriously question my current intention to be baptized as a traditional Catholic. Fortunately I am aware of plenty of other Christian writers without such an effete sentimentalism about the consequences of freely-chosen wickedness.

      • Hart is a universalist. So far as I know, that is his only departure from orthodoxy. I personally disagree with him on that score (albeit not without some degree of torment and turmoil). But that does not ruin him altogether, any more than Tertullian’s eventual heresy renders his entire corpus heretical. Tertullian, NB, remains a Father. So for that matter does Origen. Before you dismiss Hart’s arguments – or those of Saint Gregory of Nyssa, upon which he bases the talk you have linked – it behooves you to take them on board and deal with them methodically and comprehensively. Dismissing them peremptorily and out of hand would be unphilosophical, and uncharitable.

        Hart is a master of theology. Some humility is in order.

        To comprehend Hart’s arguments, and then begin to cope with them, you shall have to become yourself a master of theology. What a great project! Have fun.

        The fundamental question it seems to me lately is what is properly meant by everlasting damnation, and what is meant by everlasting salvation. My own hunch – again of late – is something like this: everlasting damnation is what everlasting salvation feels like to the damned, immured as they are in their own incorrigible autolatry. They are cared for, and comforted, and indeed swaddled, but do not know it.

        By the way, and – as I feel sure that Hart would agree – most important of all: welcome to the Feast! Do not by any means delay your entrance to the celebration. Don’t worry about the details. God has dealt with all of them. All that remains to you, once you have joined with him, is to learn how he has done so; and to enjoy him.

      • Can I just reject his handwaving response to the questioner who pointed out that “eternal damnation” might be more properly understood as a fixed state or a closed door? That, perhaps, there is a “completion” to God’s work that does not depend on all persons who ever existed having attained salvation? Why all the pretense that our decisions matter if, ultimately, it’s “incoherent” and “morally imbecilic” to imagine God would ever deny a person the Heavenly reward?

        Rather than become a master of theology myself, I would hear a master of theology rebut what I take to be an attempt to undermine our God-given sense of justice in favor of a vision where Francis (“Chaos Frank”, I’ve heard him called) represents True Christianity and traditionalists are frothing sadists (and probably “racists” and “homophobes” and so on).

        Maybe Hart’s God could step in and fix my first post’s typos and my bungled reply attempt so that I don’t have to face the consequences of trying to type a comment on a phone.

      • Can I just reject his handwaving response to the questioner who pointed out that “eternal damnation” might be more properly understood as a fixed state or a closed door? That, perhaps, there is a “completion” to God’s work that does not depend on all persons who ever existed having attained salvation?

        No. Not if you want to be both honest and thorough. His “handwaving” response is not at all inconsidered, but rather freighted with decades of earnest difficult thought. It looks like handwaving only to those who have not yet studied as he has. That is not to say that he is simply correct. Having myself invested several decades in the project of theology, I do not think he is; not quite.

        Nevertheless, Hart is a *serious* dude. To dismiss him out of hand would be to do yourself an injury.

        Why all the pretense that our decisions matter if, ultimately, it’s “incoherent” and “morally imbecilic” to imagine God would ever deny a person the Heavenly reward?

        It has from the beginning been standard Christian soteriological doctrine that God does not deny the sinner; rather, the sinner denies God. Indeed, sin *just is* the denial of God. This is not an innovation of Hart. It’s routine stuff. It’s right there in Genesis. And it is the very reason why our decisions matter.

        A friendly word: the tone of your latest comment bewrays a deep and urgent anger. I understand that, and indeed share in it; I’m a reactionary, after all; from my perspective, your anger is evidence of a fundamental nobility, of a deep moral rectitude. But nevertheless I counsel you, as one Christian brother to another: you must surmount your anger. Think of a samurai suffused with anger as he confronts an adversary. Is his anger likely to help him? No; probably not. Better for him, by far, to comprehend his adversary in all serenity of spirit, and indeed in all charity; to see through his offense and his defenses, and to disarm and humiliate him. Think how much better it is, to see an errant adversary in the dirt, and defeated, and so perhaps thereby corrected, than dead.

        That is to love your enemy.

        To defeat an adversary in that way is generally – this is just how men work – to gain a lifelong friend, and ally.

        Peace, then, my love. Peace.

        Go ahead, now, son, and defeat your enemies. Start with yourself.

        There is at last no other battle.

      • Kristor: I appreciate your engagement here, and your work generally.

        I do not dismiss him out of hand. I suggested in my initial comment that he may be better on other themes. However, what he’s talking about in this talk are pretty fundamental issues. His position would seem to alter completely the character of Christianity by undermining the supposition of 1) the Christian God’s commitment to justice and 2) His provision of access to some notion of justice as an innate property of the human mind.

        I’m willing to accept the distinction between God denying the wicked entrance to Heaven and the sinner denying God, but I’m not sure there’s much practical difference. I contend that God denies access by not overruling the sinner’s denial with unsought, undeserved mercy. I note in your gently condescending tone that you have detected that I am not a professional philosopher: alas; I hope that does not actually render me incapable of engaging with serious people. (Other things may well do so, however, and I fully own, for example, being a man of humble intelligence.)

        Angry? Sure, in the more general way you suggest we share. Here, no. I think maybe I struck too casual a tone, though. You may be right to chastise me for not spending much time reading sources and reflecting on the case Hart makes, but sometimes one does not need to be an expert to reject an argument. I hesitate more to throw out the St. Gregory baby with the Hart bathwater. Anyway, I have listened to plenty of accomplished thinkers give much more gracious replies to their questioners than Hart does here, and my tone was in part a response to his haughtiness.

        (You’re welcome to leave this post unpublished if you would prefer not to carry on at length in this space.)

      • By no means did I intend to condescend. I spoke only as an elder brother in the faith to a younger. I myself am an amateur philosopher at most. And it is clear that, while you are an admirably humble man, you are not a man of humble intelligence.

        I am pleased that you have joined the conversation at the Orthosphere.

        I’m willing to accept the distinction between God denying the wicked entrance to Heaven and the sinner denying God, but I’m not sure there’s much practical difference. I contend that God denies access by not overruling the sinner’s denial with unsought, undeserved mercy.

        Amen. It makes no practical difference to the damned whether God has damned him or he has damned himself. Either way, he’s damned, and it sucks. But in respect to theodicy, that difference is vast. Not only does God not overrule the decision of the damned, but he *cannot* overrule it, other than by annihilating the sinner.

        There is then the purely philosophical possibility that the damned could change his mind post mortem and decide for God after all. If so, then universalism might possibly be true.

        Would the truth of universalism undermine the supposition of God’s commitment to justice and his provision of access to some notion of justice as an innate property of the human mind? I don’t think so. If universalism is true, then the eventual salvation of all the damned could not occur in virtue of a divine fiat that their sins are no longer sinful – that, i.e., the state of sin which is Hell is not after all a state of sin. In other words, it could not occur because God changed the rules of the game after it was over and made everyone a winner no matter how they had played under those rules.

        Why? Because God can’t make sin into something it is not, any more than he can make a square circle. Like the truths of mathematics, the moral truths are immutable. Sin and virtue are baked into the logic of things; are baked into the Lógos, into the Divine Nature. They are necessary.

        Thus the only way that the apokatastasis could occur would be in virtue of a post mortem decision by all the damned to turn from their wickedness and live.

        The Church does not think that a change of mind post mortem is ontologically possible.

        Hart suggests in that talk that if the whole human species is not saved, man is not saved, and God’s will in creation has been, per impossibile, defeated. I find that argument pretty compelling. Yet it must be possible for a sinner to reject God, permanently; otherwise, the choice to accept him is not really a choice to begin with. I conclude that all are saved in fact, but that salvation feels like Hell to the damned.

        In practical terms: we’ll find out eventually, and in the meantime it behooves us to get as right with God as we possibly can, as soon as we possibly can.

      • I took no offense. I am grateful for your welcome–both to the service of our Lord and the comments section of your excellent site–and for your advice.

        It seems we are in agreement that there are problems with Hart’s position. Your resolution of the perceived tension sounds good, but I wonder if it is necessary. That tension arises because:

        “Hart suggests in that talk that if the whole human species is not saved, man is not saved, and God’s will in creation has been, per impossibile, defeated.”

        I would contend, rather, that if any man is saved, Man is saved: one man’s attaining union with God demonstrates that the gulf has been bridged. Since we know that salvation is there for the taking–that “it is accomplished”–we might even revise the foregoing and say that *Man is saved*, even if no man ever chooses God. It is already perfectly done. True, God would have all particular men be saved, but that, too, is in principle possible since all men have equal opportunity (in principle) to seek Him. This purpose of God’s is then also accomplished, the rebellion of men notwithstanding.

        I maintain that the entire metaphysical drama is incoherent if we allow God’s justice to be either wholly alien and obscure, or else mutable; or if we speculatively compromise the radical freedom of the human will. I take your previous post as agreement on this point. And why would we allow these compromises? Could you indicate the reasons one might have for taking universal personal salvation as an axiom around which other bedrock principles must bend?

        I sense a commitment in Hart’s talk to the effect that each soul is inherently actually holy rather than potentially so, if you take my meaning, such that the permanent loss of any one soul as such, faithful or no, is a deficiency that must be remedied for God’s will to be perfectly accomplished. I do not see any reason to take this position, but maybe it is here that I betray my theological nescience.

      • I maintain that the entire metaphysical drama is incoherent if we allow God’s justice to be either wholly alien and obscure, or else mutable; or if we speculatively compromise the radical freedom of the human will. I take your previous post as agreement on this point. And why would we allow these compromises? Could you indicate the reasons one might have for taking universal personal salvation as an axiom around which other bedrock principles must bend?

        It seems to me that, provided a post mortem repentance were possible, there would be no conflict between radical human freedom and eventual apokatastasis. Turning to God is mutatis mutandis the only rational thing to do. A free and rational soul would then necessarily sooner or later figure this out, and repent. In that case, there would be an eventual apokatastasis.

        If at death it becomes impossible for man to repent, then at that point and to that extent the radical freedom of the human spirit is radically constrained. And in that case, the apokatastasis is prevented – at least phenomenally, so far as the damned themselves are concerned.

        I sense a commitment in Hart’s talk to the effect that each soul is inherently actually holy rather than potentially so, if you take my meaning, such that the permanent loss of any one soul as such, faithful or no, is a deficiency that must be remedied for God’s will to be perfectly accomplished. I do not see any reason to take this position …

        I don’t see any reason to take it, either; it seems to me that, if some people can possibly be damned, it must be God’s will that some people can possibly be damned. But evidently Hart does see such reasons, and he knows a lot more theology than I do.

  10. Alasdair Macintyre is a good contemporary philosopher. He demonstrates very well the problems with modern morality and why we must return to realism.

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