Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson.
This book has been on the NY Times best seller list for many weeks now, to no surprise. It is a very well written chronology of the life of a man whose exploits have become larger than life and the stuff of near-mythology for many among the generations who shared the past century. But more than that, it is a fascinating study of the life of a mind in pursuit of the elusive independent and objective reality in which he passionately believed exists and is destined for man’s discovery. One quote from his writings that illustrates the humility and reverence he brought to the task: “A spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe—a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we with our modest powers must feel humble.”
The Regensburg Lecture, by James V. Schall.
In September 2006, Pope Benedict XVI ignited a firestorm among fundamentalist Muslims with a passage from a lecture he delivered at the University of Regensburg in Germany. This is an excellent study of the lecture and its context by a Catholic theologian and professor of government at Georgetown University. Dr. Schall writes in his introduction that he believes this lecture to be the first of its kind that speaks to “the fuller dimensions of what our time is intellectually about”. After reading the lecture in its entirety and the accompanying analysis, I have no doubt that this might very well be the case. It is a compelling critique of the current predicament of the West and what must be done to repair the disorders of our public life.
What Went Wrong?, by Bernard Lewis.
Dr. Lewis is generally acknowledged as the dean of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies, and his reputation certainly precedes him. I have read a number of his essays and articles, but just now caught up with this bestseller, which was released just prior to the attacks of 9/11/01. The subtitle is “The Clash between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East”, and it is a widely acclaimed treatment. I must say, however, that I was somewhat disappointed. There is certainly much to be learned from his overview of the history of the Islamic cultures and their clash with modernity, but I expected more depth in his answer to the question he poses in the title. Pope Benedict has delved deeper and is more revealing on the philosophical wedges between Islam and the West and the cultural differences they have produced that are much more instructive on the question.
Leo Strauss and the Theologico-Political Problem, by Heinrich Meier.
If you get the idea that this is not a “beach read”, you’re correct. I hesitated to include it, but Leo Strauss is one of my favorites, and the subject of this book by one of the leading interpreters of his work, the juxtaposition of religion and philosophy, revelation and reason, is one of the oldest and most important debates in Western civilization. Strauss was a master of these issues and this is a great treatment of his thought on them.