Davenant Staff Summer Reading List 2021

As many of us take a break over the summer, we asked the Davenant staff team what they’re planning to read on vacation. We have linked to as many of their recommendations as possible.

Wherever possible, we have linked to Bookshop.org rather than Amazon (for reasons we hope are obvious!) Bookshop.org supports local bookstores, and any purchase you make via one of the below links will give The Davenant Institute a small commission. So if you’re looking for some summer reading yourself, follow the links!

Brad Littlejohn (President)

This summer I’m focussing on the neglected American founder, John Jay, Theodore Roosevelt – almost certainly the most interesting man ever to inhabit the White House. For Jay, I’ve just finished plowing through the four volumes of his Correspondence and Papers, which reveal a man of remarkable Christian conviction, staunch principle, political cunning, and an unflappable demeanor, buoyed by a faith in Providence that almost defies belief. There are few things over the past year I’ve enjoyed so much as getting to spend time inside the mind of this witty and far-sighted statesman. I’ve also just finished Walter Stahr’s biography of Jay, John Jay: Founding Father – competent and illuminating, but somewhat workmanlike and uninspiring. More vivid by far is Joseph J. Ellis’s The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, which prominently profiles Jay and his almost unmatched contribution to establishing the USA.

For Roosevelt, I worked through Edmund Morris’s peerless three-part biography earlier this year and will soon be coming face to face with the man behind the legend through the Library of America’s 800-page collection of Roosevelt’s Letters and Speeches (of course, only a small fraction of them).

Three other key books that I’m reading and reviewing this summer are Josh Hawley’s The Tyranny of Big Tech, Sohrab Ahmari’s The Unbroken Thread: Discovering the Wisdom of Tradition in an Age of Chaos, and Andrew Walker’s Liberty for All: Defending Everyone’s Religious Freedom in a Pluralistic Age. I don’t want to give away too much just now, so you can look out for my considered thoughts at The Public Discourse, First Things, and Modern Age, respectively. But I will say that I consider Hawley’s book essential reading for anyone who wants to understand the preeminent political challenge of our time.

Colin Redemer (Vice-President)

I am reading an interminable and endless stream of secondary articles on Aristotle and his interpretations. But the one book that I can recommend highly to you all is Leo Strauss and the Problem of Political Philosophy by the Zuckerts. It is as comprehensive an introduction to Leo Strauss’s philosophical project as you are likely to find anywhere, highly readable, and uniquely (for Strauss scholarship) deals with the question of why Strauss mostly avoided Aristotle in his own research and writing. As all truly excellent secondary scholarship does they make plain all sorts of things that are happening across the scope of Strauss’ corpus which the average reader is likely to miss either because they are moving too fast or because the terrain is too vast. A worthwhile read.

Alastair Roberts (Teaching Fellow)

This summer my biblical reflections project takes me into the books of Esther, Ezra, Nehemiah, and, from there, into the minor prophets. Most of my reading this summer will focus upon commentaries on those books and literature on the relevant historical periods, sprinkled with various other books I am reading for reviews, podcast conversations, or preparation for several ongoing writing projects.

Joseph Minich (Teaching Fellow)

Since I am teaching on C.S. Lewis’ Discarded Image this Summer, I thought it would be worth getting a “wider picture” of man’s relationship to the sky. As such, I’m reading Norman Davidson, Astronomy and the Imagination: A New Approach to Man’s Experience of the Stars, and E.C. Krupp, Beyond the Blue Horizon: Myths and Legends of the Sun, Moon, Stars, and Planets. To balance out “looking up,” I will perhaps peruse Robert Pogue Harrison’s The Dominion of the Dead. In addition to these, I hope to make it through D.C. Schindler, A Companion to Ferdinand Ulrich’s Homo Abyssus. Michael Ward, After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, and Dru Johnson, Biblical Philosophy: A Hebraic Approach to the Old and New Testaments. Hopefully I will manage to add a novel into the mix, which would most likely be Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Children of Time

Dale Stenberg (Teaching Fellow)

This summer’s reading list is peppered with books that correspond to several projects I’m working on, such as a Sunday School series on the doctrine of the home, further readings in Classical Education, and, of course, all of the wonderful books Joseph Minich and I are reading for our Pilgrim Faith podcast. Instead of boring you with a long list, I will highlight several that I am especially looking forward to.

Dru Johnson’s book Biblical Philosophy: A Hebraic Approach To The Old and New Testaments looks like it might scratch a bunch of itches I have in regards to the ongoing project of recovering ANE philosophy. In terms of modern philosophy, I am reading Alasdair MacIntyre’s book After Virtue, which has been on my list for some time, but the consistent prompting from some friends has convinced me this one should be read sooner rather than later. Due to the increasing discourse surrounding higher education in the west, I picked up Anthony Kronman’s book The Assault on American Excellence, which, according to the introduction, looks to be a sobering peek into a very dark scenario colleges and universities are in, currently. As part of my study of the home, I’m reading Bavinck’s little book titled The Christian Family, as well as Why Men Rule by Steven Goldberg. Lastly, I’m drooling over Michael Ward’s new book After Humanity: A Guide to C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. Enjoy your summer and tolle lege, friends!    

Onsi Kamel (Editor-in-Chief)

In July, I’m going to be revisiting several of Karl Barth’s works, including his Romans Commentary and the Church Dogmatics. I’ll be pairing this with a selection of Platonic dialogues, Aristotle’s De Anima, and Cicero’s Tusculan Disputations. I find that reading works from chronologically disparate eras simultaneously can be very productive intellectually, helping one to make conceptual connections and more clearly see reigning assumptions in the works with which one is engaging. I’ll be following this up in August (or more likely early September) by reading Marsilio Ficino’s Platonic Theology alongside various works of Jerome, some of the Eastern Fathers, and Maximus the Confessor. And then, in the Fall, I plan to revisit my beloved Descartes, reading his works alongside the medieval Dominican theologians Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Meister Eckhart–with a dash of Suarez thrown in for good measure.

Rhys Laverty (Editorial Fellow/Marketing & Comms)

Having only properly read the Inferno, I’ve earmarked this summer to finally be the time when I read the whole of The Divine Comedy. I’ve known enough of Purgatorio and Paradiso to get by and understand the references, but it’s time to plumb the depths for myself. Dante just keeps coming up in places in my life, being mentioned in articles and books I read, so I feel like I’m being told something! I was paralysed with indecision of which translation to go for, so flipped a coin and went for Clive James. I’m hoping I’ll also get through Haruki Murakami’slatest short story collection, First Person Singular. If you know Murakami, this seems like more of the same – and I’m very okay with that. For some reason, he’s always been a summer author for me.

For non-fiction, I’ll still be camping out in the Middle Ages and reading The Light Ages: A Medieval Journey of Discovery. We at The Davenant Institute will be some of the first to say that the Medieval era is unfairly caricatured as backward and unsophisticated by many in the church. This book shows that a new look at the Middle Ages is happening not just in the church, but in the world at large too, and it made a load of awards lists when published toward the end of 2020. It looks to be fairly accessible, so I’m hoping it will prove to be something I can recommend to others.

Michael Hughes (Davenant House Director)

While I started my year of reading strong, the past month and a half of programs and discipleship at Davenant House have consumed much of my reading time. Hence, my summer reading is a combination of a mop-up job of the books I had begun this spring but have not finished and a renewed commitment to dig into a few I’ve been wanting to read for a while. The clean-up includes varied selections: Michael Reeves’ new book on the fear of God, Rejoice and Tremble, a revisiting of C.S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man and the compiled essays in The Weight of Glory, Michael Williams’ Far as the Curse is Found: The Covenant Story of Redemption, and finishing Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self. For fun my wife and I have been working through Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey novels and we’re wrapping up Lord Peter Views the Body. My son Isaiah and I are finishing a read-aloud of Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. A friend recommended that I check out Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin for an interesting read. Finally, I just began the task of reading Bavinck’s 4 volume tome, Reformed Dogmatics. It seemed a fitting time with 2021 being the 100th anniversary of Bavinck’s death and since he is a central figure in the topic of Davenant’s Annual National Convivium next year.

Lynette Hughes (Davenant House Director)

I finally started The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self by Carl Trueman so I hope to at least make much progress in that book this summer. I’d also like to read a couple of books on math so I’m hoping to get to Journey Through Genius by William Dunham and Beauty for Truth’s Sake by Stratford Caldecott. The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain is my education read. I read their first edition, but after all of the great reviews of their significantly expanded edition, I know it is needed. In fiction, I started Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky in June and I’m also planning to read the first book of the Kristin Lavransdatter trilogy by Sigrid Undset and finish Lord Peter Views the Body by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Ryan Hurd (Teaching Fellow)

I have recently been taking up Denis the Carthusian’s commentaries on Dionysius’s works, which are quite good, in conjunction with Albertus Magnus’s, but especially his lengthy commentary on the Liber de Causis. I am doing a lot of work right now on Photinus, Arius, and Sabellius, so in addition to various sections of Thomas, Albert, and Bonaventure treating them I am working through Athanasius’s Contra Arianos and Hilary’s De Trinitate especially at the moment–trying to comment through Thomas’s Summa Contra Gentiles IV cc 1–9 on the same, so folding in the Fathers for aid. In addition, I am working to prepare for my spring class by reading neoscholastic commentaries on Thomas’s ST I q 1, especially Cajetanus, Banez, Zumel, Vasquez, et alia, paired with the earlier commentary tradition on the relevant qq in Lombard’s I Sent (Capreolus, as usual, is quite good, and the Carthusian for a digest of the prior medievals to keep abreast of the issues); paired with this is Junius’s short work on holy Scripture, just some loci communes, which is quite good on asserting what I would claim is the (most likely, the) unifying telos of the Protestant position on Scripture: it is not sola Scriptura but, as Junius works out quite well, that Scripture is in every way divine. The work basically pushes through Aristotelian causes and shows that, under each and such aspect (ratio), it is to be affirmatively judged: it is divine. The implication for the system of theology are, roughly speaking, act like Scripture is divine with consistency, especially (a rather trivial, but nonetheless necessary comment in our day) in those things that can be known only in faith and supernatural revelation, viz the Christian mysteries, the first root of which is that mystery of Trinity. (I am pairing this with the concordant neoscholastic and then high medieval work on the same/similar types of questions.) More to the point, I am working on analogia entis, and so wading through crucial passages from Thomas (e.g., De pot q 7 a 7, De ver q 2 passim, etc.), and then the development throughout the tradition (e.g., Cajetanus, Sylvester, etc.), trying to face it off against Cusanus and Hegel as foils and capitalize on Thomas’s position that the polarities (to borrow from Przywara) are not in every way contradictories and so are in some way contraries (per modum contrarietatis), adequately (…but still analogically) conceptualized/understood by the two types of analogy overhauled from maths and into metaphysics, the analogy of attribution and analogy of proper proportionality. There is a fair amount more, but this is the basics of my reading schedule. On my nightstand to lull me to sleep or keep me awake (as the case may be), I have ST III qq 1–59 on the mystery of incarnation, the consummation of the business of theology, as Thomas says.

This summer is a rather busy one for me, so there is a fair amount on the docket to read. I have about a dozen works to review for journals, ones I’m especially looking forward to are the first two volumes of Scheeben’s Handbook of Catholic Dogmatics, the recent translation of the Denis the Carthusian’s Commentary on the Psalms, Taylor PAtrick O’Neill’s Grace, Predestination, and the Permission of Sin: A Thomistic Analysis, as well as the recent Brill publication on Dordrecht and the De auxiliis controversy (I’m reviewing both together), finally Homo Abyssus after a long delay on my part, the recent reprint of Banez’s crucial work on esse, and so on. But mainly I am rereading through the Salamanca Cursus Theologicus volume on the Trinity, Banez and Zumel’s commentary on ST I qq 27–43, and still reworking through Thomas’s ST I qq 1–50 or so as well as his I Sent (I try to read these on a loop).