The Civilized Reader

Edited by William and Amy Fahey, The Civilized Reader joyfully reviews classic, good books — books that will enrich the life of your family and the minds of your children.

The Wise Work of the Bees

A story is told of some strangers who went to the home of Heraclitus, an ancient Greek philosopher well known even in his own day for his teachings on the nature of change and reality. The strangers arrived only to find Heraclitus in the kitchen warming himself by the furnace. Realizing that his visitors were [...]

In December 1815, freshly admitted to the bar, the American poet William Cullen Bryant was walking to Plainfield, Massachusetts, when he observed a bird—probably a duck—flying across the horizon at sunset. That vision gave birth to what has been called the best short poem in any language and even by one “the most beautiful poem [...]

"Thanksgiving Day. Let all give humble, hearty, and sincere thanks, now, but the turkeys."   ~ Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s Calendar Thankfully, much good fiction is not only read but also heard, as all families who have talkative, excitative elders know well. It is a phenomenon summed up in the proverbial marvel of strictly-spoken tales [...]

To know and love one other human being is the root of all wisdom.  ∼ Evelyn Waugh, Brideshead Revisited Wisdom is indeed a wonderful thing, but the knowledge and love that produce it are, like roots, usually better left underground. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is a story of the cultivation of wisdom and even salvation. Where it [...]

To live as an American and as a Catholic is no small challenge, for America is fundamentally a modern project and Catholicism is decidedly not. The driving force of modernity (which began with the Protestant Reformation) can be summarized as “self-discovery”; to be a modern is, essentially, to exist in a constant state of self-awareness—specifically, [...]

Despite years of reading, rereading, and teaching great works, I continue to marvel at the inevitable timeliness of timeless literature. And so, as I prepare to teach "The Death of Ivan Ilych" once again, on the cusp of the month the Church has dedicated to All Holy Souls, I am struck by how Leo Tolstoy’s novella [...]

In the totalitarian regime of Big Brother’s imaginary socialistic utopia in Oceania in 1984, Winston Smith lives a sordid dehumanized life devoid of all the traditional sources of happiness that have fulfilled human beings throughout the ages. Orwell portrays a politically correct social order that robs human beings of dignity, political rights under the law, [...]

On Sunday, October 7th, in the year of Our Lord 1571, an outnumbered, fragile coalition of small Christian states and one small part of a big Christian state defeated an empire at sea just off the coast of Greece. All of Europe rejoiced at the time, even the Christian states that refused help. Now, among the [...]

We made a good run in Genesis… all of two and a half chapters before finding ourselves on the business end of a curse leveled at us by omnipotent God. Don’t you hate it when that happens? As a matter of fact, we have been hating it ever since. As a defining feature of our [...]

When Evelyn Waugh came to Hollywood in 1947 to discuss the film rights for Brideshead Revisited, he visited a graveyard: Forest Lawn Memorial Park. He had heard it praised as a place unsurpassed in beauty, taste, and sensitivity; a place where “faith and consolation, religion and art had been brought to their highest possible association.” [...]

Urging his troops to manly fortitude in the face of Germanic barbarians, General Maximus of the 2000 film, Gladiator does not downplay the certainty that some of his Romans are about die. “What we do in life echoes in eternity,” he cries, and indeed, Maximus argues that the fact of death is all the more [...]

Many civilized readers just don’t know what to do with Flannery O’Connor—and for good reason. If you mashed together the works of Saint Thomas Aquinas and Quentin Tarantino, I think you would get something very like a Flannery O’Connor story, full of theological brilliance and significance, but also earthy, violent, aggressive, and even ugly. O’Connor’s [...]

Last Tuesday, I was in the White Mountains with the new students of Thomas More College ascending Mt. Washington. Thwarted by gale force winds at the summit, the group was denied its initial goal, turned aside from the main route, and followed an unknown path towards Boott’s Spur—ground I knew, but had trouble finding due [...]

Modern artistic treatments of religious life tend to share a few assumptions: first, that there is something sinister in a life of vocation, and secondly, that those who choose such a life must have some degree of psychological or emotional disturbance motivating them. If these stories feature a nun, priest, or monk as a protagonist, [...]

In Dickens’ novels the problems of suffering in the form of poverty, tragedy, and injustice receive their greatest relief from simple, humble, lowly characters with kind, compassionate, and charitable hearts—not from wealthy benefactors, social agencies, or doles from government welfare. Portraying the hardheartedness of the powerful, the avaricious, and the callous in the cold and [...]

Although the George Eliot novel is missing from some iterations of John Senior’s list of 1,000 Good Books, Silas Marner appears in the list as it appears in Senior’s diagnostic book, The Death of Christian Culture. This is strange considering the secular and atheistic philosophies that informed the work. That this Victorian novel contains some [...]

One century ago, as the shadows of World War I were fading away, shadows were closing in on Beatrix. After nearly two decades of writing and illustrating an extraordinary series of children’s books, Beatrix Potter was losing her eyesight. This, compounded with her labors on Hill Top Farm growing increasingly engrossing and with her publisher [...]

“Pray that I may love God more. It seems to me that if I can learn to love God more passionately, more constantly, without distractions, that absolutely nothing else can matter.... I receive Holy Communion every morning, so it ought to be all the easier for me to attain this object of my prayers. I [...]

In George MacDonald's At the Back of the North Wind, a child sleeping in his cozy bed at night hears the voice of the North Wind speaking to him in the appearance of a beautiful woman with dark eyes and black hair streaming in all directions. Entering through a window by Diamond's bed, the whispering [...]

At the conclusion of his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Pope Benedict XVI makes a striking statement about “authentic human development”: Development requires attention to the spiritual life, a serious consideration of the experiences of trust in God, spiritual fellowship in Christ, reliance upon God's providence and mercy, love and forgiveness, self-denial, acceptance of others, justice [...]

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