As you might expect, I have done a lot of reading for my book — biographies, topical and general histories, etc. Some books stood out as outstanding — in how well they were written (that’s important to me) or in the compelling nature of their subject matter. Some even had both! Here are a few of the books that I found well written and compelling:

CATHERINE OF SIENA by the early 20th century Norwegian author SIGRID UNDSET (well translated by Kate Austin-Lundin). It is no accident that this bio is so good. Undset is an acclaimed, Nobel Prize winning novelist (for the fabulous epic novel, “Kristen Lavransdatter”). She knows how to write well, to tell a story, and what is and is not important to include. Catherine comes alive in this book.

THERESE: A LIFE OF THERESE OF LISIEUX by Dorothy Day is one of the clearest and most concise biographies of St. Therese. Dorothy Day, though most famous for her extraordinary work among the poor in mid-century USA and for her tremendously deep faith, is also an exceptional writer. She tells the story of Therese and her family beautifully.

JOURNEY TO THE SUN by Gregory Orfalea, a biography of Saint Junipero Serra, whose statues have been recently torn down in California. He tells well the amazing story of Serra’s tremendous efforts in building the California missions in the 1700s. There are other biographies of Serra out there, including a new one that may be good, but I have not read them. This one gets you into the life of this remarkable and now maligned man and shows how well Serra related to and supported the local Indigenous peoples.

ST. THOMAS AQUINAS/ST. FRANCIS OF ASISSI, a combined edition of these analytical bios by the great English Catholic writer G.K. Chesterton. It is not long and does not cover their lives in detail but paints a picture of how these saints contributed to the Church in their times and beyond, with the great wit and insight common of Chesterton (e.g. these two saints “brought Christianity to Christendom.”)

THE DIVIDING OF CHRISTENDOM a collected series of compelling lectures by Christopher Dawson, who, in the opinion of many, including yours truly, was the greatest church historian of the 20th century. This book offers tremendous insights into the what, how, and why of the Protestant Reformation. No one has delved with more depth and clarity into the background, significance, and meaning of the tragic events of Reformation times than Dawson. And it is not a long book.

Finally, for now, HOW THE IRISH SAVED CIVILIZATION, by Thomas Cahill, the 1995 classic story of Irish monks preserving Western culture and spreading the faith in the Middle Ages.