Thursday, December 15, 2011

10 Best Books

I have officially graduated. M5 approved and grades posted. I started in Jan '09 and finished just shy of 3 years later. Looking back on everything I've read, here are the 10 best books I've encountered. Some of them were direct results of research for papers. Some were "for fun."

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman -- This is a surprisingly brilliant work. A graphic novel where Jews are depicted as mice, Germans as cats, and Polish as pigs? Seriously? But somehow Spiegelman pulls it off. It's an incredibly moving and creative work.

Just and Unjust Wars by Michael Walzer -- A phenomenally complete review of just war thinking along with case studies. And it's not 800 pages long! Walzer is a great social analyst and casuist. I liked this book a lot. It really turned me from a pacifist to a just war adherent. With that said, even just war criteria pronounce "no" the overwhelming majority of the time!

Embodiment by James Nelson -- Nelson is central to Christian sexual ethics and this is one of his primary works. He does a great job establishing a liberal (i.e. not status-quo) Christianity that doesn't simply jettison Scripture.

In Memory of Her by Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza -- Piggy-backing on my last comment above, Schussler Fiorenza really surprised and impressed me with her ability to reconstruct early Christianity while relying on Scripture. I figured she would ignore Paul as a misogynist, yet she embraces him and brings out a feminist (i.e. not anthrocentric) reading of Scripture.

Suffering by Dorothee Soelle -- I simply love Soelle. She's probably my favorite theologian. Perhaps Niebuhr is a close second for his pragmatism, but Soelle's emotionally poignant theology with its focus on "the least of these" is great.

The Death and Life of the Great American Public School System by Dianne Ravitch -- This is where my degree and occupation line up. A Religious Studies degree with an emphasis on Christian ethics along with 10 years of public school teaching made me a big fan of Ravitch's book. For any teachers or parents with kids in public school it's a must read.

What Was Asked of Us compiled by Trish Wood -- I believe in the primacy of experience when it comes to making sense of the world. Since we simply can't experience everything, vicarious experience is necessary. Narratives, especially first person, are extremely important to me. This compilation of interviews with soldiers recently returned from Iraq merely supports the importance of saying "no" to war when it is not just.

Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy by Joseph Schumpeter -- I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed a book by an Austrian economist this much. Schumpeter not only takes Marx seriously, he unbiasedly conisders Marxism/Socialism as a possibility to capitalism. In the end, he decides on capitalism, but it is refreshing to see a conservative economist for whom "Marx" isn't a bad world. The two paragraphs where Schumpeter lays out Creative Destruction simply blew me away.

I and Thou by Martin Buber -- This is a short book. It could probably be even shorter. While some of the esoteric stuff I didn't get too well, the central premise of relating to others as a "thou" as opposed to an "it" is important for anyone other than anchorites. It proved important to establishing "mutuality" for my thesis.

Love and Justice by Reinhold Niebuhr -- This book is a collection of short essays and letters by Niebuhr. Because of that, it is much more accessible than some of his larger works. Since some of them are "letters to the editor" type compositions, the sense of history if preserved more than in his larger works. Yet the same themes that come up in Moral Man . . ., etc. are still present here.