By Eric Sammons (Our Sunday Visitor, 2010)
This is a top notch, can’t-go-wrong book . I had a hard time writing a review because everything I had to say sounded so trite and trivial and fluffy, and this book is none of those. I finally just decided to gush away in a nice neat top-7 list (no biblical allusions intended). So here you go:
Jen’s Top 7 Reasons You Should Buy This Book
1. It is interesting! When I picked this book for my Catholic Company book review item, I thought it would be boring-but-good-for-you. I was so wrong. Not boring. Not at all. The book is packed with interesting perspectives on Jesus – how he was seen by his contemporaries, how Jesus fits into the Old Testament prophecies of a messiah, and how the Gospel impacts our lives today. Loaded with details, and never slow and belaboring. (But I was right about the good-for-you.)
2. It is not hard to read. Chapters are short, and within a chapter, ideas flow steadily from one to the next. I found I could pick up and put down at will, as long as I could get about three or four paragraphs read before the next interruption. My test readers (normal people) said they had no difficulty with the reading level, but that it is full of information, so you do need to pay attention. No big technical theology words. Well-written.
3. It is very well organized. Eric Sammons is like a tour guide for ideas. He takes you all over the place, connecting history, prophecies, new testament passages, church fathers, catholic doctrine, and personal spirituality, and at the end of the chapter you get the sense your trip took you to exactly the right places. It all fit perfectly together, and you aren’t one bit worn out.
4. It tackles the tough topics. Suffering. Unpopular doctrines. Common apologetic attacks. All the difficulties people have with the catholic faith show up sooner or later. But this isn’t a book about “difficulties with the faith” – it’s a book about Jesus. Just like getting to know your best friend naturally uncovers many puzzling questions (“why does she act that way?” “why is he is asking this of me?”), getting to know Jesus means getting to understand why the universe is how it is. Very encouraging and helpful for those who are struggling with the faith and want substantial, honest answers.
5. Did I mention it’s good for you? Each chapter ends with two or three reflection questions that act like prompts for self-examination. Simple stuff you really probably already know, but every now and then you need a little kick in the rear to help you refocus. Emphasis on “the little way” of St. Therese, so very appropriate for us mere mortals. This would make an excellent book for Advent or Lent, or for a couple or study-group to read together and then use the reflection-questions to generate discussion.
6. This book is made for ordinary catholics. You do need to have a general knowledge of the scriptures and of the catholic faith, but of the kind you would naturally have gained just by sitting in Mass for a few years. (Preferably: paying attention. At least mostly.) If you are new to studying the faith, the book is loaded with intro’s. You’ll get a feel for the bible, meet the church fathers, and see how the catholic faith really works and why it makes sense.
7. Smart people will not find it too “easy”. Think of it like the skilled-chef rule of eating — the more you know about cooking, the more you appreciate a well-cooked meal. Eric Sammons isn’t afraid to delve deep and wander wide in his building of theological and historical connections, and in doing so he’s put together a book full of solid meaty catholic-y goodness. Yes, you may well be hungry for more when you put down this book. But not because you ate poorly — because you ate so well.
Summary: I give it an unqualified “Buy” recommend.
PS: The cover art is really cool.
Edited to add:
Chris Cash, long-suffering blog-herder at The Catholic Company, reminds me to remind you: Also be sure to check out their great selection of baptism gifts.
I’ll also point out that The Catholic Company is still accepting new reviewers, and they have a long list of great books to review right now.
Full disclosure: I’ve never even met Eric Sammons. Though I think he might be a member of the Catholic Writers’ Guild, maybe. But I say that because he is from Gaithersburg, and you might think this favorable review is all a big “People from Gaithersburg” plot. Not so. Indeed my first thought on reading his bio was, “Can anything good come from Gaithersburg?” Unfair. I knew many good, sincere, devout persons (of various faiths) during my years in the metro area. I wasn’t one of them, of course. But now I know better, and I assure you I would recommend this book even if Eric were from North Potomac.