Book reviews

These reviews have been written for Insights Magazine

Bartholomew, Craig. 2011. Where Mortals Dwell. A Christian View of Place for Today.   Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, Michigan

This book is as grand and expansive as its title. The numerous effusive reviews on its back cover all ring true of the contents within. It is an affordable, yet substantial and long piece of progressive Christian scholarship, reassembling a complete reading of the Bible, traditional Christian and Jewish texts, and current reflections on community and sacred spaces, into a conceptual rubric of “place” that resonates with contemporary philosophical and ecological perspectives. It collates past scholarship, and offers geo-political clarity to long standing debates about Jesus’ kingdom teachings. It provides an additional geographical context to current evaluation of Paul’s ministry. The book locates Christian though in a grid of spatial and temporal coordinates and concepts, that provide premises for issues of global and local identity, as well as digital transformation of time and space, that feature in the ‘landscape’ of contemporary culture. Essential in any theologically inclined bookshelf.

 O’Grady, P. 2011. Consolations of Philosophy: Reflections in an economic downtown. The Columba Press: Dublin

I hoped this collection of papers would seek alternative intellectually and ethically enriched models of sustainable economics, as a consolation for the failure of global capitalism in the country of origins of its authors – Ireland. However, the consolations sought, by an eminent philosophical and theological team, are all universally by way of retreat rather than engagement from the world of economic realities. Reflections are reactive to and “in” the downturn, rather than “on” or seeking control and understanding of its events. The book offers erudite and reliable, yet finally familiar accounts of Buddhist, pragmatist, spiritual, craft and Christian traditions, but the direction is within the self and smaller communities. A collection may be an act of attrition for national financial guilt. But as a handbook for new economics that has benefited from experience of past mistakes, it misses a good opportunity and moment in history for intellectual inquiry.

 Cannold, Leslie. 2011. The Book of Rachael. Text Publishing: Melbourne 

Much feted and newly published at the Sydney Writers’ festival this year, Cannold and her book promised an intriguing and plausible literary premise – a biography of Jesus from the point of view of his sister. In the end, almost everything in the ‘novel’ seems over hypothesised and under researched. The fictional status of the main character is used conveniently to project a latter day feminist voice into an ancient Middle Eastern culture. Rachael doesn’t attribute any very religious or royal status of her elder brother, and her narrative fails to represent seminal events involving women in Jesus’ ministry. Rachael seems more loyal to her romance with Judas than to her historically prominent brother. The novel gains substance after the resurrection, but by then it is too late to correct the author’s own simplified and secularised interpretation, build on a fictionalised platform, of historical and conceptual complexity.

Purcell, Brendan (2011) From Big Bang to Big Mystery.  Veritas: Dublin

Although published in Ireland, the author of this comprehensive and expansive inquiry into human origins and evolution is based on Sydney, both at the University of Notre Dame and as an archdiocesan priest at St. Mary’s. The work is a reliable, meticulous and scholarly engagement with a contemporary archaeological updates to classical Darwinian narratives and timeline. The author is fascinated by questions that are raised but left unanswered from the recent of one origin out of Africa chronologies, in particular the lack of detailed or coherent arguments for the origin of language, consciousness and religion within a 100,000 year timeframe. Within the landscape of modern science, Purcell fashions a philosophical synthesis for re-appreciation of distinct qualities of human nature. He gestures to Aristotelian and Platonic answers, but without any dogma or closure. This is a genuinely readable and important work that should form part of ongoing inquiry about the implications of revised evolutionary narrative on modern society and values.


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