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31 May 2019

On Mercy by Malcolm Bull (Princeton, £20; 978-0-691-16533-2).

“Since antiquity, mercy has been regarded as a virtue. The power of monarchs was legitimated by their acts of clemency, their mercy demonstrating their divine nature. Yet by the end of the eighteenth century, mercy had become “an injustice committed against society . . . a manifest vice.” Mercy was exiled from political life. How did this happen?”

Leo Tolstoy: A Very Short Introduction by Liza Knapp (OUP, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-0-19-881393-4).

“War and Peace and Anna Karenina are widely recognised as two of the greatest novels ever written. Their author, Leo Tolstoy, has been honoured as the father of the modern war story; as an innovator in psychological prose and forerunner of stream of consciousness; and as a genius at using fiction to reveal the mysteries of love and death. At the time of his death in 1910, Tolstoy was known the world over as both a great writer and as a merciless critic of institutions that perpetrated, bred, or tolerated injustice and violence in any form.”

Music and Faith: Conversations in a post-secular age by Jonathan Arnold (Boydell Press, £30 (£27); 978-1-78327-260-0).

“Sacred Music in Secular Society is a new and challenging work asking why Christian sacred music is now appealing afresh to a wide and varied audience, both religious and secular. Jonathan Arnold offers unique insights as a professional singer of sacred music in liturgical and concert settings worldwide, as an ordained Anglican priest and as a senior research fellow.”

The Knowable God: A fresh look at the Fourth Gospel by Peter Brain (Circle Books, £12.99 (£11.70); 978-1-78904-105-7).

“The Knowable God comprises twenty-three self-contained chapters on the key issues raised and the emphases made in John's Gospel. It is not a critical commentary nor a set of devotional meditations; it is rather an exposition of key episodes, characters and themes, always trying to interpret the text for our own time. It centres on the fact that John's controversial distinctiveness is usually missed in Christian worship, teaching and belief.”

Hermits and Anchorites in England, 1200-1550, translated and annotated by E. A. Jones (Manchester University Press, £18.99 (£17.10); 978-1-5261-2723-5).

This source book offers a comprehensive treatment of solitary religious lives in England in the late Middle Ages. It covers both enclosed recluses (anchorites) and free-wandering hermits, and explores the relationship between them. Although there has been a recent surge of interest in the solitary vocations, especially anchorites, this has focused almost exclusively on a small number of examples. The field is in need of reinvigoration, and this book provides it. Featuring translated extracts from a wide range of Latin, Middle English and Old French sources, as well as a scholarly introduction and commentary from one of the foremost experts in the field, Hermits and anchorites in Englandis an invaluable resource for students and lecturers alike.

Selected by Frank Nugent, of the Church House Bookshop, which operates the Church Times Bookshop.

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