Notable Reading in 2015

What’s this? A top X list? Sort of. I don’t know what makes the best books anymore. But here are some things that either I found particularly enjoyable or that made an impact on me. The descriptions here are fairly short, but you can click through the links to my Goodreads account, where I (usually) write longer reviews.

Infidel Kings and Unholy Warriors by Brian Catlos

We all know that the big three Abrahamic religions clashed throughout the Middle Ages, but most of us aren’t as aware of particular cities and kingdoms where they lived side by side. Catlos chooses vivid episodes to illustrate the variety of ways that these religions negotiated coexistence, and why that sometimes failed.






A New History of Early Christianity by Charles Freeman

A secular take on the rise of Christianity. The production of the New Testament is helpfully integrated into the history rather than taken for granted. Freeman is particularly sensitive to the diversity of early Christian belief and the conflicts between rival groups. He also, perhaps too strongly, associates the rise of official orthodoxy with anti-intellectualism.






Saracens: Islam in the Medieval European Imagination by John Tolan 

What are Muslims like? What do they believe, and how do they practice their religion? European Christians have been asking these questions for over 1,000 years. Tolan chronicles the West’s discovery of Islam and shows why it’s taken so long for us to understand Islam, or perhaps why we still don’t.






Desire and Delight by Margaret Miles

Margaret Miles spent a summer sitting on an idyllic Greek island beach rereading Augustine’s Confessions in Latin. She then mixed her intense meditations with a generous helping of feminist theory and attention to embodiment, sprinkling a strong autobiographical tone on top. The result is the most delicious interpretation of Confessions you will ever find.






Forgery and Counterforgery by Bart Ehrman

Christianity is conspicuous for the sheer number of forged documents that circulated during its early centuries. Ehrman’s is the only serious work in English that both examines the general phenomenon of forgery in the ancient world and explains the motivations and tell-tale signs of specific documents. It’s sort of an academic version of a detective story.







Being Protestant in Reformation Britain by Alec Ryrie

What does it feel like to be a part of a certain religion? Rejecting the political divide between Puritan and loyalist, Ryrie produces a portrait of the contours of Protestant religious life in England after the Elizabethan settlement. What emotions fueled them? Which practices regulated their experience? This book is as enticing as it is informative.