Spirituality and Religion
Cosmological Koans: a Journey to the Heart of Physical Reality by Anthony AguirreWhat it is: an engaging and thought-provoking exploration of complex, foundational questions about life and the universe, using both physics and Zen Buddhism.
Topics meditated over: scientific knowledge of something versus individual experience with it; the existence of time; what separates one being or substance from another.
About the author: Anthony Aguirre is a professor of physics and cosmology at UC Santa Cruz and a co-founder of the Future of Life Institute.
God's Favorites: Judaism, Christianity, and the Myth of Divine Chosenness by Michael CooganWhat it's about: the concept of a "chosen people" and the multitude of dangers of religious chauvinism.
Read it for: its persuasive use of biblical text analysis and the author's impartial tone.
About the author: Michael Coogan teaches at Harvard Divinity School and has written the other concise religious histories The Ten Commandments and God and Sex.
The Role of the Scroll: An Illustrated Introduction to Scrolls in the Middle Ages by Thomas Forrest KellyWhat it is: an accessible history of the scroll as both an object and a medium for transmitting long-form texts (including holy books, which were previously passed down orally).
What makes it unique: Because of the time period in question, much of the discussion focuses on religious texts, but there is also information about secular scroll usage too.
Did you know? The modern word "enrollment" comes from the much older term that referred to adding new "pages" to an existing scroll.
American Spirit: Profiles in Resilience, Courage, and Faith by Taya Kyle and Jim DeFeliceWhat it's about: the inspiring stories of a diverse group of people who managed to bounce back in the face of adversity; how difficult times can spur a person's personal and spiritual growth.
You might also like: Unbreakable by Thom Shea, or You Will Not Have My Hate by Antoine Leiris.
About the author: Taya Kyle is best known as the widow of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, and previously published her own memoir called American Wife.
Sacred Liberty: America's Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom by Steven WaldmanWhat it is: a well-researched and accessible overview of the state of religious freedom in America, past and present.
Topics include: faith and the Founders; religion and slavery; the rise of Mormonism; and landmark Supreme Court cases.
Don't miss: the timely discussion of what challenges the separation between church and state continues to face today.
Books You Might Have Missed
Witness: Lessons from Elie Wiesel's Classroom by Ariel BurgerWhat it's about: Orthodox rabbi Ariel Burger's experiences with Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel, first as a student and later as a colleague and friend.
Read it for: Burger's palpable esteem for Wiesel and reflections on Wiesel's unique teaching methods.
You might also like: Four Men Shaking by Lawrence Shainberg, which recounts his journey with noted Zen teacher Kyudo Nakagawa.
Aristotle's Way: How Ancient Wisdom Can Change Your Life by Edith HallWhat it is: an upbeat and thought-provoking look at Aristotle's perspectives on life, family, morality, responsibility, and one's place in the world.
Why you should read it: The medieval "rediscovery" and subsequent translations of Aristotle's writings into Arabic and later, from Arabic to Latin, had an incalculable effect on both Islam and Christianity and their development.
When in Rome (or Greece): Given the time period in which he lived, it's not surprising that Aristotle's views on women and slavery are outmoded, but author Edith Hall isn't shy about including them for full context.
Antisemitism: Here and Now by Deborah E. LipstadtWhat it's about: Sobering and well-researched, this examination of the possible origins of antisemitism also discusses the forces that have allowed it to continue into modern times.
Read it for: the epistolary format, which gives a difficult topic a unique intimacy; the evaluation of the unique ways antisemitism mutated when it arrived in America.
About the author: Award-winning scholar Deborah E. Lipstadt's other books include The Eichmann Trial and Denying the Holocaust.
The Pope: Francis, Benedict, and the Decision That Shook the World by Anthony McCartenWhat it is: a high-drama chronicle of the events leading up to Pope Benedict XVI's resignation and the choice of his unlikely successor, Pope Francis.
Media buzz: A film adaptation is in the works with Jonathan Pryce and Sir Anthony Hopkins slated to star.
Did you know? In 1943, Pope Pius XII prepared resignation documents that would immediately remove him from office if a Nazi plot to kidnap him came to fruition.
No Happy Endings by Nora McInernyWhat it's about: the author's experiences with rebuilding her life after the death of her husband, with insights about feminism and religion and the expectations behind the word "widow."
Read it for: the moving and reflective tone, which is punctuated (but not undermined) by moments of humor and joy.
About the author: Nora McInerny hosts the podcast Terrible, Thanks For Asking and has previously published It's Okay To Laugh (Crying is Cool Too) and The Hot Young Widows Club.