A Brief History of Christianity by Bamber Gascoigne. Robinson £7.99 Brief histories often recall the Monty Python sketch where competitors breathiessly attempt to summarise Proust in less than 60 seconds. So many events are left out, so many subtleties erased that the exercise is meaningless. Bamber Gascoigne, legendary presenter of University Challenge, covers 2,0(X) years of Christian history in 229 pages — approximately one page for each decade. But Gascoigne's book is not just brief. It is also witty and provocative. You may not agree that Martin Luther is the "most attractive" figure of the past millennium, but you will enjoy the description of the reformer's confessions. "Not many sins are available to a serious-minded monk," Gascoigne writes, "hut on one occasion Luther confessed for six hours on end and still, a few minutes later, remembered some• thing he had omitted."
The Sky is Red: Discerning the Signs of the Times by Kenneth Leech, I )artman Longman Todd, E14.95."The plain truth is that no one else writes with such authority about the pastoral (and prophetic) task in our church at the moment," writes Dr Rowan Williams in the foreword to this new edition of Kenneth Leech's classic indictment of the new world order. First published in 1997, The Sky is Red predicted the increasing fragmentation of
society, the rise of the far right and growing inequalities between rich and poor. Six years on, the author claims to be depressed and embarrassed that so much "of what I warned might happen has happened". He's not modest, but Leech's work has lost none of its power to convince.
It lit ler'S Livese the Saints: New Concise Edition by Paul Burns, Burns & Oates, £15.99. There was a time when you
could rely on hagiographers to present saints in a flattering light. But nowadays writers are more likely to present saints as psychological oddities and delight in shredding centuries of cultic myth. This concise edition presents short and compelling factual accounts of the lives of the saints, shunning the extremes of pious fantasy and deconstruction. Paul Burns has made a judicious select ion from the 12
■ olumes of the new edition of Butler's Lives of the Saints, and has successfully retained much of he original's compelling detail. Did you know, for example, that Muslims honour St George'?
Being Human: Fulfilling Genetic and Spiritual Potential by Peter Vardy, Darton, Longman & Todd £7.95. Does being good make you happy? Aristotle thought so, and so did Aquinas. But generations of moral theologians taught that being good was a duty, not a pleasure. By the end of the nineteenth century. Nietzsche observed that he would become a Christian if Christians weren't so miserable. Dr Vardy, vice-principal of Heythrop College, seeks to recover the connection between ethics and happiness in this lively new volume.