Brief Reviews, Volume 9

The Editor’s Desk – Krista Tippett, James K.A. Smith [Brief Reviews]

I wrote brief reviews of the following books that were released this week:

by C. Christopher Smith, editor of The Englewood Review of Books
[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”160″ identifier=”1594206805″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”106″][easyazon_link identifier=”1594206805″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Becoming Wise:
An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living[/easyazon_link]

Krista Tippett
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)

Imagining a more meaningful and more elegant way of life.
Krista Tippett, the host of public radio’s On Being, weaves threads of her own story with sizable clips of interviews from the show to offer us a rich vision of what it might look like for us to become wise in the twenty-first century. This book is especially recommended for those who yearn for something deeper than the daily grind of consumerism in which we are all too often ensnared. Tippett helps us loosen our bonds and imagine a more meaningful and more elegant way of life.

[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”160″ identifier=”158743380X” locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”102″][easyazon_link identifier=”158743380X” locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]You Are What You Love:
The Spiritual Power of Habit[/easyazon_link]

James K.A. Smith
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)

Taking a hard look at who and what and how we love.
We are constantly being formed by the choices we make and by our day-to-day relationships. This is the central idea at the heart of You Are What You Love. Given that we are always being formed by the people and things surrounding us, Smith argues that the church community should be at the very heart of our formation as Christians. This important book challenges us to take a hard look at who and what and how we love.


[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”160″ identifier=”1594716013″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”103″][easyazon_link identifier=”1594716013″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]The Enthusiast:
How the Best Friend of Francis of Assisi Almost Destroyed What He Started[/easyazon_link]

Jon M. Sweeney
* * * * * (out of 5 stars)

A good story that resonates with the best and the worst notes of human nature.
Jon Sweeney’s THE ENTHUSIAST is that rare history book that reads like a novel, keeping the reader eagerly turning the pages to the very end. Although Sweeney clearly has been rigorous in his research, he admits that there are a few holes and conflicting details in the story of Elias of Cortona, which he has taken some creative license in smoothing out. The author or editor of several books on Francis, this new work is perhaps Sweeney’s richest and most complex portrayal of Francis. In addition to enriching our understanding of the historical Francis, THE ENTHUSIAST is also a parable of sorts about how tenuous the human experience is, and how susceptible we are – as Elias was – to a multitude of temptations. This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the life of Francis, anyone with a curiosity about religious history, or really anyone who loves a good story that resonates with the best and the worst notes of human nature.


[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”160″ identifier=”113727980X” locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”106″][easyazon_link identifier=”113727980X” locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Setting the World on Fire:
The Brief, Astonishing Life of St. Catherine of Siena[/easyazon_link]

Shelley Emling
* * * * (out of 5 stars)

An insightful popular biography of one of the church’s most overlooked saints.
In SETTING THE WORLD ON FIRE, Shelley Emling offers a widely accessible, popular history of St. Catherine of Siena. Although she is recognized in the upper echelon of saints, as a doctor the church, and although she, alongside St. Francis, is a patron saint of Italy, her story has not been all that familiar in the imagination of church or culture. Emling sets out to right this unfamiliarity, and does so gracefully, offering a rich portrait of Catherine that is sensitive to all the complexities of her medieval context. Although this is an enlightening book, highly recommended for those who know little or nothing about the life of Catherine, the only (tiny) dissatisfaction that I had was that I wished it would have probed just a wee bit deeper into the theological significance of Catherine’s story: i.e., what does it mean for us who are trying to follow in the way of Jesus in the twenty-first century. My qualms aside, this is an insightful biography of one of the church’s most overlooked saints.


[easyazon_image align=”left” height=”160″ identifier=”0310337690″ locale=”US” src=”” tag=”douloschristo-20″ width=”105″][easyazon_link identifier=”0310337690″ locale=”US” tag=”douloschristo-20″]Unstuffed: Decluttering Your Home, Mind, and Soul[/easyazon_link]

Ruth Soukup
* * * * (out of 5 stars)

Soukup writes with a simplicity and clarity that fits the content of her message
Following in the footsteps of her other books like LIVING WELL, SPENDING LESS (2014), Ruth Soukup offers immensely practical advice on how to deal with all the stuff that clutters our lives. Over the last century, we have been a consumer culture that is whipped by the advertising industry to buy more and more stuff. This stuff, while often very meaningful to us, does tend to clutter and complicate our lies. Soukup offers stories from her own experience, as well as keen and helpful tips that will help us declutter our homes and our minds (Our schedules, she rightfully maintains, are just as cluttered and overstuffed as our homes). The book’s final part deals with clutter in our souls. While there are definitely some useful ideas in this final part, her discussion of managing relationships as part of the unhelpful stuff in our lives, seemed a bit askew with the rest of the book. She offers some helpful relationship advice in this chapter, but it just rubbed me the wrong way that relationships were treated on par with other sorts of clutter that saturates our lives in this consumer culture. Soukup writes with a simplicity and clarity that fits the content of her message, and the advice she offers is generally helpful, bot not particularly novel in a market flooded with books about decluttering and ordering our personal lives.


C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at:

Reading for the Common Good
From ERB Editor Christopher Smith

"This book will inspire, motivate and challenge anyone who cares a whit about the written word, the world of ideas, the shape of our communities and the life of the church."
-Karen Swallow Prior

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