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The Staff’s Favorite Books of 2015

It’s hard to imagine a MacLaurinCSF staff member who didn’t read constantly and widely. And we’re always happy to recommend the best of what we’ve read! So here, as 2015 draws to a close, are our favorite books of the year.

Caveat lector: I happen to disagree with, for example, many of the ideas Marilynne Robinson argues for in her book of essays, but I nevertheless recommend that book below. I’m sure each of the staff members would say the same thing about one or more of their recommendations. Which is to say that, although these are our favorite books from the year, these books aren’t in any sense recommended or endorsed by MacLaurinCSF as an organization, or even by any other members of the staff. They’re simply each staff member’s favorite books from the year.

What were your favorite books of the year? We’d love to know what we missed—leave a comment below.







  • Joshua Cohen, The Book of Numbers—This novel, about an obscure writer named Joshua Cohen who meets a bizarre tech tycoon (also named Joshua Cohen) and winds up ghostwriting his autobiography, is a brilliant exploration of both the ethos of Silicon Valley and our obsession with “entrepreneurship.”
  • Neal Stephenson, Quicksilver—Historical fiction about the dawn of the Enlightenment, the birth of calculus and democracy, and much more. The first volume in a mind-bending trilogy by Stephenson.
  • John Lanchester, How to Speak Money: What the Money People Say—And What It Really Means—A brilliant journalist and novelist examines the ways in which language and the economy interact with each other. Lanchester makes a strong case for communication as the fundamental tool of our understanding, and shows how debasing and devaluing our language can have profound, global economic consequences.
  • Scott Cairns, Slow Pilgrim: The Collected Poems—Beautiful poems by one of our great contemporary poets. Cairns’s poems are simultaneously richly theological and wholly embodied, both fleshy and philosophical.
  • Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows—I had never read this until my daughter received an abridged version. I’ve delighted in it nearly as much as she has, and Toad, Ratty, Mole, and Badger now make frequent appearances in our daily conversations.
  • Marlon James, A Brief History of Seven Killings—Another historical novel, this one about the attempted assassination of Bob Marley and the complex and brutal historical circumstances that lead to the attempt on “the Singer’s” life. James teaches at Macalester and won this year’s Man Booker Prize
  • Marilynne Robinson, The Givenness of Things—The coach of the great soccer player Pelé once said “If you ask me who the best fullback in Brazil is, I’d say Pelé. If you ask me who the best half-back or winger is, I would say Pelé. He is probably even our best goalkeeper.” (Pelé never played goalie.) Similarly, Marilynne Robinson is our best novelist; she’s our best essayist, as these essays underscore; she’s probably even our best poet (even though she has never published any poetry).

What were your favorite books of the year? We’d love to know what we missed—leave a comment below.

New Fall Reading Group on Faith, Culture, and Technology

We’re excited to announce a new fall reading group that is getting started next week. Led by computer science PhD student Michael Tetzlaff, the group will be reading and discussing Shaping a Digital World by Derek Schuurman.

The study group will meet in Keller Hall and is cosponsored by MacLaurinCSF and Graduate Christian Fellowship. Their first meeting will be next Tuesday, October 6 at 1:30pm in Keller 4-131. Feel free to bring your lunch.

Here’s the description of the book from

Digital technology has become a ubiquitous feature of modern life. Our increasingly fast-paced world seems more and more remote from the world narrated in Scripture. But despite its pervasiveness, there remains a dearth of theological reflection about computer technology and what it means to live as a faithful Christian in a digitally-saturated society. In this thoughtful and timely book, Derek Schuurman provides a brief theology of technology, rooted in the Reformed tradition and oriented around the grand themes of creation, fall, redemption and new creation. He combines a concise, accessible style with penetrating cultural and theological analysis. Building on the work of Jacques Ellul, Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman, and drawing from a wide range of Reformed thinkers, Schuurman situates computer technology within the big picture of the biblical story. Technology is not neutral, but neither is there an exclusively “Christian” form of technological production and use. Instead, Schuurman guides us to see the digital world as part of God’s good creation, fallen yet redeemable according to the law of God. Responsibly used, technology can become an integral part of God’s shalom for the earth.

Recommended Reading on Faith and Economics – William Cavanaugh

William Cavanaugh - What Do I Want? Augustine and Milton Friedman on Freedom of Choice

On March 10, Dr. William Cavanaugh, a theologian and a Professor of Catholic Studies at DePaul, visited campus to deliver a fascinating lecture on the relationship between desire, freedom, and economics. Entitled “What Do We Want? Augustine and Milton Friedman on Freedom of Choice,” Cavanaugh’s talk contrasted Augustine’s theological anthropology—his Christian vision of the human person—with the assumptions about humanity that informed Friedman’s economic theories.

Cavanaugh’s talk is available on YouTube and Soundcloud. If you’re interested in learning more, Cavanaugh recommends the following books:

Cavanaugh adds:

One way or another, all of these books question the idea that economics is a hard science, and see it rather as a kind of theology.

William Cavanaugh's recommended books on theology and economics

(Also check out our recent blog series on Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, a—yes, it happens from time to time—best-selling book about economics, which explores the relationship between capital accumulation and economic inequality.)

I’d be interested to know what you think about Cavanaugh’s talk and, more broadly, the relationship between theology and social sciences like economics—leave a comment below. A couple of our summer 2015 reading groups will be exploring related topics—particularly the Theology and Economics group and the group reading Christian Smith’s Moral, Believing Animals—if you’re interested and able, we’d love to have you join us.

Recommended Reading on Biotechnology and Bioethics – William Hurlbut

wh 2015-04-09 email


In April, Dr. William Hurlbut of Stanford University gave our second annual V. Elving Anderson Lecture in Science and Religion. Hurlbut’s lecture, “Biotechnology, Freedom, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” is now available to watch on YouTube and listen to on Soundcloud.

Dr. Hurlbut suggested the following four books as the best resources if you’re interested in further exploring the issues he raised in his lecture:

If you’d like to read more from Dr. Hurlbut, in addition to his contributions to the Beyond Therapy volume, he is the co-editor of Altruism & Altruistic Love: Science, Philosophy & Religion in Dialogue, to which he contributed several chapters, and the essay “Science, Religion and the Human Spirit” in the Oxford Handbook of Religion and Science.


William Hurlbut's book recommendations on biotechnology and bioethics

Recommended Reading on C.S. Lewis – Dave Deavel

David Deavel: The Tao of Jack - C.S. Lewis on the Foundation of Freedom

In March, St. Thomas professor Dave Deavel gave an excellent talk, “The Tao of Jack: C.S. Lewis on the Foundation of Freedom.”

Dave agreed to offer his own recommended reading on Lewis and the Inklings, which complements the previous posts in our series of recommended books on the Inklings—Joseph Pearce on J.R.R. Tolkien and Phil Rolnick’s earlier list on C.S. Lewis.

Here are Deavel’s recommendations:

The Staff’s Favorite Books of 2014

The staff's favorite books of 2014
We do a lot of reading here at MacLaurinCSF. And since we’re in the middle of December, it’s the season for year-end book lists.

We thought we’d join in the list-making fun and give you a better sense of the books that have been most fully present in our minds this year. So here are our favorite books of the year:

Andrew Hansen, Program Director

Bryan Bademan, Executive Director

Cheri Burkum, Study Center Manager

Matt Kaul, Communications Director

Recommended Reading on the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien


If you’d like to pursue some of the themes and ideas that Joseph Pearce explored in his excellent lecture on “Freedom and Slavery in The Lord of the Rings, or you just can’t get enough of Tolkien, here are the books Joseph was kind enough to suggest (his comments on some of the books follow the entries).

Supplement these books with Phil Rolnick’s recommended books on C.S. Lewis. As always, the links take you to Amazon Smile, where, if you’ve selected “MacLaurin Institute” as your charity of choice, we’ll get 0.5% of your purchase!

This book contains his seminal essay “On Fairy Stories,” his allegorical short story, “Leaf by Niggle,” and his superb poem “Mythopoeia.” Each of these examines Tolkien’s philosophy of myth, which is awash with his understanding of the sacramentality of beauty.

An invaluable resource.

Everyone should read The Silmarillion.

As regards Chesterton’s priceless influence on Tolkien, the chapter on “The Ethics of Elfland” in Orthodoxy is indispensable.

Recommended Reading on the Inklings: C.S. Lewis

Phil Rolnick - CS Lewis Book Recommendations


Last Wednesday, Dr. Philip Rolnick from the University of St. Thomas joined us to give an excellent talk about creation in the theology and imagination of C. S. Lewis. Rolnick’s talk was the first of three in our fall series on the Inklings—be sure to join us next Friday, 11/14 for the next installment: Joseph Pearce on “Freedom and Slavery in The Lord of the Rings.

We’ll post an audio recording of the lecture soon. In the meantime, check out this list of six books that Phil recommends to those of you who are interested in Lewis (and who isn’t?). We’ll add more books to the post as the Inklings series continues.

The link to each book will bring you to Amazon Smile—remember that if you order through Smile with “MacLaurin Institute” as your preferred charity, 0.5% of your purchase will come back to us! Many of these books should also be available through your local public library, as well.

Here are Philip Rolnick’s six recommended books on C.S. Lewis:

  1. Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis
  2. Michael Ward, The Narnia Code: C. S. Lewis and the Secret of the Seven Heavens (a less academic version of Planet Narnia)
  3. Gilbert Meilaender, The Taste for the Other: The Social and Ethical Thought of C. S. Lewis
  4. Robert MacSwain & Michael Ward, editors, The Cambridge Companion to C. S. Lewis
  5. George Sayer, Jack: A Life of C. S. Lewis
  6. Beatrice Gormley, C. S. Lewis: The Man behind Narnia

We hope you’re able to join us for the rest our series on the Inklings!

Patrick Deneen’s Recommended Reading on Christianity and Politics

Patrick Deneen's Recommended Reading

This year’s Holmer Lecture, by Dr. Patrick Deneen of Notre Dame, was a focused and intense indictment of modern American liberalism—in the broad, classical sense of the term. Whether or not you were able to make it to the Holmer Lecture (and our apologies if you tried but were blocked by the traffic from the U of M’s homecoming parade), you’ll likely find Deneen’s talk bracing.

We’ll post audio and video recordings from the lecture soon. [UPDATE: Audio and video have just been posted!] In the meantime, check out this list of twelve books that Patrick recommends to those of you who are interested in the subject and are looking for some good reading.

The link to each book will bring you to Amazon Smile—remember that if you order through Smile with “MacLaurin Institute” as your preferred charity, 0.5% of your purchase will come back to us! Many of these books should also be available through your local public library, as well.

Here are Patrick Deneen’s 12 recommended books on Christianity and politics:

  1. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory
  2. William T. Cavanaugh, Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church
  3. Chad C. Pecknold, Christianity and Politics: A Brief Guide to the History
  4. Sheldon Wolin, Politics and Vision: Continuity and Innovation in Western Political Thought
  5. Christopher Lasch, The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics
  6. Christopher Lasch, The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy
  7. Charles Murray, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960-2010
  8. Tyler Cowen, Average is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation
  9. Wendell Berry, What Are People For?
  10. Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
  11. Wilson Carey McWilliams, Redeeming Democracy in America
  12. Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano

(And if you’re on the hunt for book recommendations, don’t forget to check out Ken Myers’s recommended books on faith and reason as well!)

Ken Myers’s Recommended Reading on Faith and Reason

Ken Myers, "The Life of the Mind and the Life of the Church"

Whether or not you were able to attend our Church & University Seminar this summer, you probably know that Ken Myers is one of our most insightful, well-read Christian thinkers.


We’ll have audio and visual from the seminar available soon [update: it’s available now]. And as a bonus follow-up to the seminar, Ken provided a list of the best books he’s read on the relationship between faith and reason. Without further adieu, here are his recommendations.


Ken Myers’s Recommended Books on Faith and Reason
  • Ryan T. Anderson, “Benedict, Islam, Faith, and Reason” (First Things blog)
  • Benedict XVI, A Reason Open to God: On Universities, Education and Culture
  • Harry Blamires, The Christian Mind: How Should a Christian Think?
  • Terry Eagleton, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate
  • Os Guinness, Fit Bodies, Fat Minds: Why Evangelicals Don’t Think and What to Do about It (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)
  • Paul Helm, editor, Faith and Reason
  • John Paul II, Fides et Ratio / On the Relationship between Faith and Reason
  • Mark A. Noll, Jesus Christ and the Life of the Mind (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)
  • Mark A. Noll and James Turner, The Future of Christian Learning: An Evangelical and Catholic Dialogue (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)
  • James V. Schall, S.J., The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking
  • James V. Schall, S.J., The Regensburg Lecture
  • D. C. Schindler, The Catholicty of Reason
  • Antonin Gilbert Sertillanges, O.P., The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)
  • James W. Sire, Discipleship of the Mind: Learning to Love God in the Ways We Think (available in the MacLaurinCSF library)