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Editors’ Picks Issue 14

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Miłosz: A Biography

Andrzej Franaszek
Edited and translated by ­Aleksandra and Michael Parker (Belknap)

In this newly translated biography, Andrzej Franaszek masterfully compiles and condenses reams of letters, essays, books, and poetry to tell the story of one of the twentieth century’s great poets.

Czesław Miłosz, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980, was born in 1911 in a rural Lithuanian village and spent much of his childhood traveling, as his father was mobilized to build roads for the Russian army. As a young man, he worked in the Polish resistance movement in Nazi-occupied Warsaw during World War II, and later lived in Washington and Paris as a cultural ambassador for Communist Poland. Eventually, unable to live under totalitarian censorship, he defected to the United States and took up teaching at Berkeley.

“I have felt the pull of despair and impending doom.… Yet on a deeper level, I believe, my poetry remained sane and, in a dark age, expressed a longing for the kingdom of peace and justice.”
—Czesław Miłosz

As he moved from place to place, Miłosz watched the landscape shift, not only geographically but also intellectually and spiritually: fascist and communist regimes in Europe, the vapid consumerism of post-war America, startling technological advances, church reforms, and San Francisco’s countercultural movement.

For Miłosz, this constant displacement was a reminder that this life is but an exile from our true home, and his poetry often returns to this theme. Miłosz lived through dark times, and his poetry reflects this, but he never succumbed to despair: “I did not have the makings of an atheist,” he wrote, “because I lived in a state of constant wonder, as if before a curtain which I knew had to rise someday.” This constant wonder, this hope, and this faith sustained him, and made his poetry luminous and timeless.

front cover of Miłosz: A Biography by Andrzej Franaszek Miłosz: A Biography by Andrzej Franaszek

The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance

Ben Sasse
(St. Martin’s)

It’s a national crisis: young people these days just don’t want to grow up. But instead of haranguing the kids, Ben Sasse, maverick first-term Republican senator from Nebraska, has some straightforward advice for their parents. Sasse’s five proposed character-building habits are simple and actionable: Teach your children to work hard. Have them spend time with their elders. Give them good books. Travel to expand their horizons. And don’t live for material gain.

At times Sasse seems to assume his reader shares his privilege – stable family life, secure income, and ample if not limitless opportunity – but there’s plenty here of use to anyone. The section on how to find meaningful work for your kids is helpful, especially if you don’t have fields to plow or wood to split. (Sasse took flak for sending his fourteen-year-old daughter to work on a ranch.) So is the chapter on over-consumption and teaching the difference between needs and wants. And anyone can encourage the reading of good books. It’s not public policy, but rather personal advice, delivered in a conversational, parent-to-parent tone that seems to welcome discussion and even disagreement.

front cover of The Vanishing American Adult by Ben Sasse The Vanishing American Adult: Our Coming-of-Age Crisis – and How to Rebuild a Culture of Self-Reliance by Ben Sasse

A Place of Refuge: An Experiment in Communal Living – The Story of Windsor Hill Wood

Tobias Jones
(Riverrun)

What happens when you open your family home to anyone facing a personal crisis?

Toby and Francesca Jones are not the starry-eyed idealists they were seven years ago, when they decided to start a woodland community on ten acres in Somerset, England – a place of healing for people dealing with addictions, mental illness, eating disorders, and a host of other issues.

Jones offers an honest, sometimes hilarious journal of the first five years of that adventure. A professional journalist, he had previously visited dozens of communities to write Utopian Dreams, to which this book is “the hard-bitten response.”

An astute observer of nature and human nature, Jones finds the humanity in every misfit who rolls up their gravel drive looking for a home, and beauty in the abandoned quarry they transform into a scrappy farm and productive woodland on a shoestring budget.

They make their mistakes, ride out seasons of disillusionment and exhaustion, learn their limits, and establish guidelines. Through it all, they keep on welcoming a tide of brokenness that, it seems, no amount of generosity, trust, and affirmation can heal. Or can it? When people step out in faith, miracles often happen.

front cover of A Place of Refuge by Tobias Jones A Place of Refuge: An Experiment in Communal Living – The Story of Windsor Hill Wood by Tobias Jones

The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire

Alan Kreider
(Baker)

Few new books have been as enthusiastically passed around in the Plough office as this overview of Christianity in its first three centuries (read an excerpt). Kreider starts with a historical question: How did the pre-Constantinian church grow, given that new converts faced both social stigma and the real risk of persecution? After all, it’s not that the early church made it easy on its recruits, who were expected to adopt a rigorous life of nonviolence, simplicity, and sexual discipline. Nor were early congregations “seeker-friendly”: outsiders were banned from attending worship services, and the task of a deacon was less to be a greeter than a bouncer. 

So what made people want to join this unpopular group? As Kreider shows, it was the power of example. Christians, though living in the midst of society, formed distinct communities shaped by certain habits: daily prayer, early morning Eucharist, sharing money and food with the needy, making the sign of the cross, giving the fraternal kiss of peace – a scandalous greeting that made visible the equality of all believers, regardless of wealth, race, gender, or status. Kreider’s account, vivid with unforgettable details, will prompt many to wonder: Is the shopworn Christianity of our day the real deal, or merely a diluted version of something far harder and nobler?

front cover of The Patient Ferment of the Early Church by Alan Kreider The Patient Ferment of the Early Church: The Improbable Rise of Christianity in the Roman Empire by Alan Kreider
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