The National Catholic Review

Living with Wisdom

As a Jesuit novice making a 30-day retreat many years ago, I was happy to stumble across a book in the retreat house library called Thomas Merton: A Pictorial Biography, written by Jim Forest and published by Paulist Press in 1979. A clearly written, short biography of the Trappist monk’s life, accompanied by photographs, it introduced me through words and images to the world of Thomas Merton in a way that his own writings had not. Twelve years later, Forest, a friend of Merton’s (it was to him that Merton wrote his famous “Letter to a Young Activist”) and a founder of the Catholic Peace Fellowship, revised the book and published it with Orbis Books as Living With Wisdom: A Life of Thomas Merton. Now, to mark the 40th anniversary of his friend’s accidental death, Forest has again revised the text, and Orbis has added many more photographs, with the result that this is the best short introduction to the life of Thomas Merton that you will find.

Forest has an unadorned style that propels the reader through the remarkable story of perhaps the most influential of all 20th-century Catholics. (His nearest “competition” might be Dorothy Day and Bishop Fulton Sheen). The black-and-white photos add to his tale. It is one thing to read about young Tom tomcatting around Columbia University in the 1930s; it’s another to see a photo of him arm in arm with his college pals, trying to look cool. As you move through his life, you can see Merton growing paradoxically older (more lines on his face, less hair on his head) and younger (more alive, less confused). Forest is especially good on Merton’s influence on the peace and nonviolence movements in the 1960s, and on his anguished romantic relationship with “Margie,” the young nurse he meets during a hospital stay near the end of his life. Living With Wisdom does not aim to be a scholarly biography like the magisterial Seven Mountains of Thomas Merton, by Michael Mott, but if you want a short, lively, accessible introduction to M. Louis Merton, O.C.S.O., for yourself or for friends, this is it.

James Martin

Earth Talk

A recent Harris Poll indicates that Americans are becoming increasingly eco-aware and concerned about planet Earth and protecting the environment “at all cost.” Many are avid readers of a syndicated column called “Earth Talk,” which originated with E: The Environmental Magazine. The column has evoked a steady stream of mail from interested readers, which the editorial team has gathered in a volume by the same title. Each of the book’s 10 chapters presents a host of questions—and answers—relating to its overarching theme. “Eat, Drink and Be Wary,” for example, offers helpful information on matters of nutrition, including the Slow Food Movement, organic farming and urban gardens. In “The Whole Kid and Caboodle,” in response to a question whether disposable or cloth diapers are better for the environment, we learn that non-degradable disposable diapers can sit for decades, even centuries, in landfills. And elsewhere the experts enlighten the reader on the impact of wasteful packaging on the environment; strides in environmental education as part of school curriculums; transportation, travel and cutting our carbon load; health benefits of raw foods; tax incentives for buying green (both individuals and businesses); what ethnic group suffers most from pollution in the United States; which trees to plant to combat global warming; where in the world you can find car-free cities—and much more. After each answer, the authors provide contact information, content-specific Web sites and resources for additional information/action. Earth Talk is chock full of eye-opening data and essential advice on living green. Changing first one’s perception and then one’s lifestyle, this book shows, is a challenge that takes on greater urgency when we know the facts. There is no better, more convenient place to begin than here.

Patricia A. Kossmann

Book Briefs is written by Patricia A. Kossmann, literary editor of America, and James Martin, S.J. culture editor.

Comments

Michael | 6/25/2009 - 2:47pm

"Forest has an unadorned style that propels the reader through the remarkable story of perhaps the most influential of all 20th-century Catholics. (His nearest “competition” might be Dorothy Day and Bishop Fulton Sheen). "

Jack Kerouac, and it's not even close.