Worth Reading (Fiction)

  • Mamet, David: Chicago: A Novel
    In Roaring 20's Chicago, a Great War veteran turned hard-boiled reporter falls in love with the wrong woman and then seeks to find her killer.
  • Nelson DeMille: The Cuban Affair: A Novel
    Two million dollars to charter a boat for a fishing tournament? A great way for the owner to pay off the boat's mortgage, but it turns out to include slipping into Castro's prison island in search of a lost (and perhaps imaginary) treasure.
  • Kate Atkinson: Life After Life: A Novel
    Ursula Todd has the opportunity to relive her life, over and over and over, moving steadily through the Great War and its sequels and accumulating shards of memory.
  • Connie Willis: Crosstalk: A Novel
    An empathy app leads to complications involving telepathy, Irish women and a true love that runs most unsmoothly. Classic Willis comedy.
  • Mark Steyn: The Prisoner of Windsor
    In a 21st Century sequel to Anthony Hope, the heir to the Ruritanian throne must fill in for the kidnaped Prime Minister of Great Britain.
  • Tim Powers: My Brother's Keeper
    Werewolves, the Brontë sisters, their wayward brother, their heroic dog and a conspiracy to unleash an almost dead deity.
  • Tim Powers: Declare: A Novel
    An intricate Cold War fantasy that seems so plausible that one wonders whether it is the true story of why the Soviet Union rose and collapsed.
  • H.F.M. Prescott: The Man on a Donkey
    Set during the Pilgrimage of Grace, this is the rare historical novel that captures the mindset of the actors. The hero, Robert Aske, was martyred in a way that makes burning at the stake look merciful.
  • Theodore Odrach: Wave of Terror
    Based on the author's experiences when the Soviet Union occupied his homeland after the Stalin-Hitler Pact, this book melds Chekov and Solzhenitsyn. By stages, the isolated folk of the Pripyet Marshes learn that there are worse masters than their former Polish overlords.
  • Simon Montefiore: Sashenka: A Novel
    Both grim and funny, this historical novel peers into the inner world of an upper class Russian girl turned loyal Bolshevik, highlighting her youthful fling at revolution-making in Petrograd, her fall from grace under Stalin, and an historian's effort, after the end of communism, to ascertain her fate.
  • Harry Turtledove: The Man with the Iron Heart
    Can the U.S. maintain its resolve against a defeated enemy's terrorist campaign? Imagining a post-World War II Nazi insurgency, Harry Turtledove puts this question into a new context. As Reinhard von Heydrich's "werewolves" devastate Germany, war-weary Americans call for withdrawal, regardless of the consequences.
  • Neal Stephenson: Anathem
    If you have not a smidgen of interest in how Platonic philosophy relates to the "many worlds" version of quantum mechanics, you still may like this novel, though you'll probably wish that the characters talked less. Persevere. After a slow start, the story grows compelling, and the intellectual dialogues turn out not to be digressions.
  • Alfred Duggan: Lord Geoffrey's Fancy
    Perhaps the finest book of one of England's finest historical novelists. The setting is 13th Century Greece, where Crusaders fought each other and the shattered Byzantine Empire. The history is accurate, the writing graceful and the characters not merely modern people in fancy dress.
  • Rodney Bolt: History Play : The Lives and Afterlife of Christopher Marlowe
    A pseudo-history springing from the premise that Shakespeare's flashy predecessor survived the famous Deptford brawl and fled to the continent, where he secretly wrote almost all of the Bard's works. A clever, tongue-in-cheek reworking of literary history that also recreates the milieu shared by many real Elizabethan exiles.
  • Charles W. Chesnutt: Stories, Novels, and Essays (Library of America, 131)
    Fiction and essays by a black American writer who deserves a wider audience.
  • Harry Turtledove: Gunpowder Empire
    Debut of a juvenile series set in parallel worlds. 22nd century teen siblings, trapped without adult aid in a besieged city, must cope with the bizarre (to them) customs and prejudices of a never-fallen Roman Empire.
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Thursday, March 24, 2005


Your counsel, though generally wise, would lead one to believe that civil disobedience is never called for. There has to be a point at which civil disobedience is appropriate.

Surely you don't think Christians and Catholics who participated in the clearly civilly disobedient Orange Revolution in Ukraine were morally wrong? Surely you don't believe that the Christians, Jews, and Catholics who dominated Martin Luther King's civil disobedience were wrong, and that the moral thing for them to do was acquiesce?

I would think at some point even Paul would acknowledge that injustice done to others rises to a level where an devout Catholic MUST speak out and if necessary, disobey or face the wrath of God for not doing so. The millions of Catholics and Christians who perished along with their Jewish brethren in the Holocaust appear from here to be seated at the right hand of The Father for having resisted vs. those who went along and allowed the bodies to pile up.

Paul's verses from Romans make certain suppositions about the authorities that were not present in the case of Hitler's Germany, the Jim Crow South, or the corrupt Ukraine.

And how DID the Christians come to "triumph" in Rome if that is the right word? They did so when Constantine, a devout Catholic SEIZED POWER with military force in 306 AD and ended the persecutions.

I would submit that an obedient Catholic must prayerfully evaluate the situation to see if disobedience is appropriate. There has to be a point where the impulse and God/Paul's command to obey DULY appointed authority is overridden by the extreme sinfulness and tyranny of those who are NOT duly appointed or who are not properly carrying out their duties.

Of course I have wandered into the realm of the judiciary, which thinks it IS the law, and that its law is more important than that of mere presidents, legislators, and voters. Whether the Schiavo case is the time or the place to disobey these tyrants in robes is debatable. I would submit that someone viewing an abortion body count of 40 million plus and what appears to be a precedent for a new wave of euthanasia should not be dissuaded by Paul's words to the Romans into concluding that the time for the end of acquiescence has indeed come.

Me: As I said in my original post, civil obedience is not the only Christian duty. I don’t dispute that, under circumstances analogous to those for a just war, disobedience or rebellion can be justified, as they were in the Ukraine and are in Lebanon and Kyrgyzstan and would be in Zimbabwe. The contemporary United States is, however, very far from presenting such circumstances. In general, we live in a decent, civilized, humane and well-governed country, one that most men in most times and places would envy. It does harbor evils, of which the greatest is the legalization of feticide, but all earthly regimes are imperfect, and we have reasonable hopes of gradually reintroducing the protection of unborn human life in America. There is no reason to believe, and much reason to doubt, that violent or extra-constitutional means would bring about faster or better results than “working within the system”. In the absence, then, of strongly persuasive factors on the other side, we should pay heed to St. Paul and feel conscience-bound to obey the duly constituted authorities. (Another correspondent reminds me, in a message not for publication, that civil disobedience does not include exercising the right of free speech to bop the ungodly on the beak. Mocking the irrationality of anti-Schiavo polemics is wholly commendable.)

Religious power plays in the public arena worry me. No, let me restate that. They terrify me. Such exercises of power in government should terrify everyone. Religious assertions in the public arena should unnerve us to the core because of the long sordid history of intolerance, persecution, crusades, lynchings, torture and restrictions on human liberty and freedom such assertions have produced. How is it, I wonder, that our nation in particular seems to have forgotten that these very evils, and freedom from these evils, played the major role in why so many people began settling in this New World 300 years ago?

The people who want to keep Schiavo alive against her physicians’ prognosis, her husbands’ wishes, and the courts’ permissions, have been using terms like “defending life” or “supporting a culture of life” as their reason. Yet everyone knows that “defending life” is certain religious code for the belief in the “holiness,” if you will, of creation. Read Noonan's piece, she says exactly this. Creation is divine, the belief goes, and so its destruction should only be at the hands of its creator, not man.

But this kind of talk gives me the creeps and it should you too. Not because I can prove it wrong, I can’t. But in the United States there are not suppose to be any religious presumptions in the public arena. None. Mr. Schiavo had only a medical burden to overcome in court, not a religious one. Through the expert opinion of the physicians caring for his wife he met that burden. And yet just last week the Congress of the United States of America, in its self-ascribed role as defender of life, passed legislation attempting to enforce its interpretation of a religious principle. That is wrong. That is so far removed from the Republican party I support -- the one that believes in the principle of limited government and individual freedom -- that it's a freak to me, a monstrosity. For Noonan to call the sentiment of people like me "bizarre passion" makes me wonder if she and the people who agree with her have lost their minds.

Me: The fact that “religious power plays” in the Schiavo case have utterly failed does not seem to mitigate this commenter’s terror. I’m not sure that I can say anything to reassure so easily frightened a soul, but let me try:

Making judgements about whether Mrs. Schiavo’s parents should be permitted to take custody of her and keep her from starving to death requires forming an opinion on a number of issues, such as the value of the lives of severely incapacitated human beings, the degree of evidence needed to demonstrate that an individual desired to be killed if her quality of life diminished, and the extent to which one spouse should have unfettered authority to make decisions about the health care of the other. The commenter wants those judgements to be made without “religious assertions” of any kind, “because of the long sordid history of intolerance, persecution, crusades, lynchings, torture and restrictions on human liberty and freedom such assertions have produced”. But purely secular reasoning has its own sordid history, from the Jacobins’ reign of terror through Stalin and Mao. Perhaps the right way to proceed is to jettison all presuppositions and toss dice?

There is no way that anyone can avoid having a moral system that informs his views on public policy. Some of those systems may be so monstrous that a case can be made for expelling them from the public arena. That seems to be the position of many of our more ferocious secular leftists with regard to Christianity and Judaism, and there has historically been a similar strain within the Republican Party. Robert G. Ingersoll (1833-1899), for instance, was a major Republican figure in the 1870’s, whose devotion to his version of “the principle of limited government and individual freedom” led him to regard Baptists and Roman Catholics as freaks and monstrosities. He fit into the Republican mainstream of his day, and his spirit persisted for a long time, one of the elements in the image of the party as the bulwark of hard-hearted materialism.

Anyway, I urge Mr. Ames to buck up and get over his childish fears. The theocrats are, after all, rallying behind the cause of giving too high a value to human life and are carrying out their tyrannical scheme by compelling judicial review of the decision to terminate a life. Would that Stalin had oppressed the kulaks by feeding their children and putting authority into the hands of an independent judiciary!

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Books by Tom Veal

Worth Reading (Non-Fiction)