The best books about the Catholic Church

6 authors have picked their favorite books about the Catholic Church and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Virgins

Virgins

By Caryl Rivers,

Why this book?

Gah! Virgins! I should mention that this book was actually written in the 80s and flashes back to the 50s, but in the spirit of this list (and simply because I flipping love it), I’m including it here. Peggy and Sean are two good little Catholic teens navigating their senior year of high school. Sean is slated to enter the priesthood upon graduation, testing the limits of the pair’s carnal restraint in the final days of their relationship. I don’t think there’s a book in the world that has influenced my storytelling more than this one. It’s hot, hilarious,…

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Book cover of Catechism of the Catholic Church

Catechism of the Catholic Church

By No author,

Why this book?

Speaking of ancient wisdom: Here you have a manual of right and wrong. You’re not going to agree with all of it, or even most of it. But what I got out of reading this, before I became Catholic, was that some very smart people over the course of hundreds of years had thought through the basic norms of correct action and written them down. The catechism embeds rules for living within a larger framework of reality, built on faith in Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. Again, most of you aren’t going to believe that, as I…

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Book cover of The Clown

The Clown

By Heinrich Boll, Leila Vennewitz (translator),

Why this book?

The title was sufficient to draw me in for I warm to life’s absurdities, and clowning is one form of absurdity. For decades, I have been actively involved with Humanism, so the absurdities in Clown of the hypocrisies in Catholicism naturally appealed, yet more so were the exposures of hypocrisies in love, relationships, and social and political pronouncements indeed, in being human. Yes, Catholicism is attacked here, but so, also, Humanity. To quote:  “Goodbye,” I said, “and thank you for so much humanity.”

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Book cover of He Do the Time Police in Different Voices

He Do the Time Police in Different Voices

By David Langford,

Why this book?

My all time fav Humorous Murder Mystery (now out of print but still available currently in the anthology He Do The Time Police In Different Voices) British author David Langford's The Spear of he Sun is set on a spaceship. This gem is simultaneously a terrific Locked Room murder mystery; the best Father Brown story I have ever read (and I've been a Father Brown fan for decades); a wonderful cozy mystery; and a fantastic parody-pastiche of GK Chesterton, The Roman Catholic Church imprints, and Isaac Asimov's SF Magazine, all three at the same time. It's tears-of-laughter-pouring-down-your-cheeks funny, and…
From the list:

The best humorous murder mysteries

Book cover of Pensées

Pensées

By A.J. Krailsheimer, Blaise Pascal,

Why this book?

I am cheating a bit here since this was never a complete work, but a set of notes that Pascal was using for a far greater text. It confuses some people to hear that one of the greatest scientific and mathematical minds of his age was also a devout Christian, but that should not trouble someone with an open mind and an open heart. His intention was to show that there is a gaping hole inside of all of us, and that no diversion can ever fill it, except for a desire to know and to love what is Absolute.…

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Book cover of Why I Am a Catholic

Why I Am a Catholic

By Garry Wills,

Why this book?

Garry Wills, a scholar of Jefferson, Lincoln, modern politics, and religious history, is a major thorn in the side of the Catholic Church. He’s critical of that institution’s checkered past, the questionable primacy of the pope, and the social and political narrowness of its bishops. Yet he is a devout Catholic, a confirmed believer. He sees no contradiction in that. This is a blunt, persuasive book about reconciling an urge to faith in a higher, transcendent power with a sharply critical perspective on an institution that, in Wills’ view, is often less about the teachings of Jesus than a corporate…

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Book cover of Catholics

Catholics

By Brian Moore,

Why this book?

Some might question my choice of a work of fiction here, but I have always been a great admirer of this fine writer's work. Catholics best displays the transitional period from the economically dreary 1930s-1950s, to the often-painful thrust of Ireland into the modernity of a European Union and growing national prosperity. The plot vehicle Moore uses is the story of a crisis of faith as monks living in virtual medieval isolation on an island off Co. Kerry (and indulging in the now forbidden Latin mass) are dragged into conformity by a Vatican plenipotentiary who is determined to break them.…

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Book cover of Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

Whose Heaven, Whose Earth?

By Thomas Melville, Marjorie Melville,

Why this book?

How did a U.S. priest and nun who went to Guatemala to convert the poor to “proper” Catholicism and to fight communism join a revolutionary movement?

The married couple Thomas and Marjorie Melville explain how they shared the anti-communist views of the U.S. government and the Catholic Church but living among the poor led them to question both institutions’ roles in supporting inequality in Guatemala. At the time of the book’s publication, 1970, the two were in jail as part of the Catonsville Nine. They, along with other Catholics, broke into a Maryland draft board and poured homemade napalm on…

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Book cover of Dark Night of the Soul

Dark Night of the Soul

By St. John of the Cross,

Why this book?

The Dark Night of the Soul can feel like a frightening experience for those who don’t know what is happening to them and why things look so dark, cold, and empty. This book takes you back to a place of inner peace and comfort, helping you realize that you aren’t crazy and depressed, nor are you all alone on this path you are now walking. You are always guided, safe, loved, and protected. And even though things may look dark now, they won’t be dark forever. The darkness will eventually turn into light and when it does, you will see…
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Book cover of Awareness: Conversations with the Masters

Awareness: Conversations with the Masters

By Anthony De Mello,

Why this book?

In Awareness, de Mello blends Christian spirituality, Buddhist parables, Hindu breathing exercises, and psychological insight into easily-read, bite-sized chapters designed for thoughtful reflection. As the title suggests, we need to wake up to the world around us as it actually occurs. Our mental, emotional, and spiritual health depends on this. I love how simple and practical he makes this concept. And for all of the examples of where I fall short, he never made me feel stupid or beyond hope for my previous unconscious choices. This book has inspired me to be more present more often and given me…
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