Not a find, but an old friend, is Malcolm Muggeridge.  I am reading a collection of his essays called Time and Eternity, and his golden spiritual autobiography, Confessions of a Twentieth-Century Pilgrim, written after he and his wife, past their four-score years, had been received into the Catholic Church.  I cannot read the latter without a twinge of guilt, because even in his agnostic years, Muggeridge was a praying man, and he saw the sublime madness of the Christian Faith, as far as the world will see it.  He saw the temptation of Christ in the desert as an offer of the one thing the world worships most, which is power, and Christ’s rejection of that, which meant ultimately that the powers of the world would have to crucify Him.  But thereby did He triumph, says Muggeridge, and gave to the world its 2,000 years of inspiration in the truth that such power is impotent, and that love must defeat that power.  Life, as he calls it, will defeat Legend, though Legend has all the bright lights and the noise and the media and the schools and universities.

Muggeridge’s work is all the more powerful because he writes about what he himself has seen: He was present in Moscow and the Ukraine when Stalin collectivized the farms and reduced that breadbasket of Europe into a killing field and a vast weed-overgrown vacancy.  His tutor when he was a boy was the frustrated liberal English girlfriend of the impotent D.H. Lawrence, the latter reading Lady Chatterley’s Lover to the three biggest pederasts in Europe; his spiritual tutor and dear friend in his old age was Mother Teresa of Calcutta.  He progressed from his boyhood admiration of his liberal and socialist father, who seems to have been a sweet and intelligent man, who actually did believe that the correct vote around the corner would bring about new heaven and earth, to entire trust in the Father, and a hope for that only heaven, in His house.

        —Anthony Esolen

While reorganizing and reshelving parts of my library recently, I pulled a copy of La Cousine Bette from the shelf and began reading it that evening.  Honoré de Balzac is not my favorite among 19th-century French authors, but this novel is one of his best.  I was not far into it when I recalled that the American novelist Tom Wolfe remarked early in his career that he was an avid reader of Balzac.  So far as Wolfe’s interests as a social critic go, his affinities with the Frenchman are plain, though his stylistic influence was Céline.  Wolfe’s New York City of the 1970’s and 80’s (The Bonfire of the Vanities, and so forth) is recognizable, for its immorality and materialism, in Restoration Paris of the 1830’s and 40’s when the French bourgeoisie, freed of the yoke of the ancien régime, revealed itself as no less immoral than the old aristocracy, though far less tasteful, elegant, charming, and educated—civilized.  Balzac’s story concerns a ruthless courtisane with a much older husband who consents to be installed in luxury and kept there by two men of a certain age, friends but also jealous rivals for her affection.  Baron Hulot has sacrificed his fortune and his wife’s and his family’s happiness for decades to his obsession with his serial mistresses.  His friend, M. Crevel, whose chief ambition in life is to find a mistress of the proper social class, proposes an affair to Mme. Hulot, a beautiful, virtuous, long-suffering lady who refuses him with great dignity.  Her cousin, Bette, a homely middle-aged girl, unmarried, compelled to make a living for herself, and jealous all of her life of her beautiful relative, plots to bring her down, and her daughter and son-in-law (with whom Bette is in love) with her, while contriving to marry the Baron’s brother.  To appreciate this book fully, a sense of French social history of the period is helpful, as the cynicism, selfishness, and pervasive decadence of Balzac’s milieu and its inhabitants are at times almost beyond belief even for a 21st-century reader—so much so that one is tempted to suspect Balzac of exaggerating to a degree that weakens the plausibility of his story.  I am reading it with a sense of disbelieving horror.  But horror—horror of the moral kind especially—compels.  And Balzac’s skill in complicating and further complicating his story, without ever causing it to trip and fall over its own complexity, added to his genius for realizing character both broadly and in telling detail, carry me on from page to page.  The momentum, finally, is irresistible.

        —Chilton Williamson, Jr.

C.S. Lewis is a great influence on my thinking about a lot of things, whether discarded images or the taming of lions or pipe tobacco.  Many others can say the same, and some have tried to bottle his lightning, such that the number of books about C.S. Lewis’s thought is beyond counting.  After reading many such volumes, one finds oneself drawing the same conclusion one finds oneself drawing upon finishing a particularly dreadful (because wrong, or boring) commentary on Sacred Scripture: asking oneself, “Why didn’t I just read the original text?”

Not so with C.S. Lewis on Politics and the Natural Law, by Justin Buckley Dyer and Micah J. Watson.  This 160-page book from Cambridge University Press begins with a thesis: “Conventional wisdom holds that C.S. Lewis was uninterested in politics and public affairs.  The conventional wisdom is wrong.”  And the authors prove it, showing their work.  Clearly, Lewis’s penetrating insights into unchanging human nature—informed by Scripture, tradition, and natural law, however we separate them—are on display everywhere in his fiction and nonfiction alike.  Our sense of that is elevated by this well-written book.

        —Aaron D. Wolf