The Englewood Review of Books
Best Books of 2020
Advent / Christmas Calendar
Hardback: Simon and Schuster, 2020
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John Loughery and Blythe Randolph’s thorough biography, Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century, attempts to dissect Day’s life by the light of the 20th century. It’s a necessary perspective, even among a myriad of other Day biographies, documentaries, websites. The authors benefit from hindsight for Day and our country. Much like writers today will fail to wrap their whole arms around explaining the novel coronavirus pandemic, it’s taken the forty years since Day’s death to more fully understand what Day was radical for and against.
The book is strongest when it reaches outside of the tight focus on Day’s life and reminds us how she fit (or didn’t) into American culture. A deeper appreciation grows for the Catholic Worker and its leader as the reader recognizes the pure steadiness of its mission and values. Day’s strong beliefs in the moral obligation to care for the poor means more when it holds up to continually evolving challenges by America’s changing understanding of poverty. Her pacifist convictions are tested again and again, from World War II to Vietnam, making her a pariah or a hero, or something in between (such as when others asked her what, then, a country should do in response to Nazis?). Relationships based on mutuality with residents at the Catholic Worker reveal a humanity necessary to appreciate the hard, inner work of fifty years of providing hospitality to the poorest of the poor. As America changed, so did the perception of these relationships and the usefulness of the Catholic Worker. These and other examples of steadiness are threads holding the Worker experiment — and the book — together.
- from Erin Wasinger’s review of this book
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