Over on Fr. Dwight Longenecker's "Standing on My Head" blog, Christian LeBlanc had penned a guest book review of Dr. James Hitchcock's book, History of the Catholic Church: From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium (which is also available in Electronic Book Format):
Last week I started reading James Hitchcock’s History of the Catholic Church. It’s subtitled From the Apostolic Age to the Third Millennium. It thinks big. But it’s only…wait for it…500 pages long, 4 years per page! Just kidding: it’s 500 pages, and it takes the small-essay concept of Europe’s capsules; and expands it into an entire history. In other words, what one normally expects in a history book, pages of narrative, is replaced by a timeline stream of digestible individual articles. I was joking about 4 years per page, but the articles are about 4 to the page. For example in the “Reform and Counter-Reform” chapter, p. 297 lists these: Protestant Divisions, The Tridentine Spirit, The Baroque, and Patrons. They may be read as freestanding articles; but they’re arranged to lead from one to the next, and cohere over the span of the chapter into a comprehensive understanding of the whole period.
History is a unique joy. Pick an era, browse the subtitles in the margins. Stop on one that strikes you. Read that article for a couple of minutes. Proceed to the next one, or jump to another page. History is less of a braid, running from top to bottom; and more of a long tapestry, going back and forth as well as up and down. And like Barron’s Catholicism, each few minutes of information has been carefully edited into a self-contained little essay, a thought capsule, to use Europe’s term. For example, I just read Hitchcock’s capsule on Fr. Damien of Molokai. 230 words don’t just tell us why he matters, but draw an empathetic portrait of the saint that unexpectedly pricks my heart, as Chaucer would say. Like Catholicism, in History every second, every word counts, sometimes movingly so.
The structure of the book aside, History’s content reflects the mind of the Church. That is, it covers what matters to the Church, and how the Church matters to the World; and does so from a Catholic perspective. That’s not to say the book isn’t critical of the Church, it is; but its critiques are orthodox.