Wednesday, August 10, 2011

All Is Grace: two more reviews

A publisher once told me, "Writing books is hard -- almost as hard as selling them." One of the chief ways a book gains readers is through reviews. I've been lucky with All Is Grace. There have been at least twenty so far. Here are two of the latest.


PS The most recent spotlight on the book is not in print but was a conversation with Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, recorded earlier today for use on his weekly radio program, "A Conversation with the Archbishop." It should soon be available on Sirius XM Satellite Radio (

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Today's Catholic (San Antonio, TX) / 15 July 2011

All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day
by Jim Forest
Orbis Books; 2011, soft cover, 344 pp.; $27.

Reviewed by Carol Baass Sowa

As a young woman, Dorothy Day twice lived with men outside of marriage (obtaining an abortion at the insistence of the first and bearing a child by the second), partied with the likes of Eugene O'Neill and was once employed as secretary to a founder of the American Communist Party.

Hardly appearing a likely candidate for sainthood under the above description, this remarkable 20th century woman's eventual conversion and devotion to the Catholic faith and her intense commitment to the poor and social justice would indeed see her, 17 years after her death in 1980, proposed for sainthood by none other than Cardinal John O'Connor, archbishop of New York. The cause for her beatification and canonization was approved by the Holy See in 2000.

Day herself was uncomfortable with being referred to as a saint during her lifetime. "I don't want to be dismissed that easily," she said. Still, she strongly believed that all are called to be saints, noting, "Sanctity isn't for the few but for the many, not for the exceptional but for the ordinary."

Author Jim Forest, who personally knew and worked with Day, has brought together in "All Is Grace" the various facets of her life to paint a compelling portrait of an ordinary woman who rose to the extraordinary.

Born in Brooklyn to a decidedly anti-Catholic father, a newspaper man whose profession Day would later pursue, her family lived a life of economic ups and downs that took them first to San Francisco, then Chicago. Along the way, Day would stumble onto religious faith, first, through a Methodist family next door and, later, a Chicago neighbor's story of a saint that moved her deeply.

It was through her older brother's job at a newspaper that exposed harsh working conditions that the teenage Day first became acquainted with the American labor movement and the "Left." Her reading would continue to draw her in the direction of the plight of the poor and she would later describe her exploration of the slums of Chicago as her first experience of finding beauty in the midst of desolation. No longer viewing the poor as shiftless, worthless people whose plight was their own fault, her life would become more inextricably linked with theirs as time went by.

In 1914, 17-year-old Dorothy began studies at the University of Illinois. An insatiable reader, she was especially taken with Dostoevsky, as well as other Russian writers, and she eagerly consumed histories of the labor movement. Haunted by the victims of social injustice in the laborers and their families she was surrounded by daily, she grew increasingly disturbed that more was being done to provide relief for the victims of social evils than doing away with the evils themselves.

Two years later she abandoned her schooling to move back to New York, where she found the poverty of New Yorkers even worse than in Chicago. Here she rose through the reporting ranks at various reform-minded publications, beginning with the Socialist daily, The Call, and became involved with ground-breaking social movements of the day, including labor union strikes, socialism, women's suffrage and pacifism.

Later years would find her championing César Chávez and the California grape workers' strike and protesting U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. She would be imprisoned more than once for civil disobedience, the final time as a frail, 75-year-old in 1973.

Day's reading and her renting a room in a devout Catholic household in the 1920s drew her closer to Catholicism, but life and work would take her to New Orleans, then back to Staten Island, before she became fully committed to the faith she would later fiercely defend.

It was the birth of her only child, daughter Tamar, and the desire to have her baptized that brought about Day's own baptism into the church whose practices she had been loosely following for years. Not wanting Tamar to "flounder as I had often floundered," Day would write in later years: "I wanted to believe, and I wanted my child to believe, and if belonging to a church would give her so inestimable a grace as faith in God, and the companionable love of the saints, then the thing to do was to have her baptized a Catholic."

Tamar's father, with whom Day lived for a few years, approved of neither marriage nor religion and they eventually parted ways after her conversion. (In a moving chapter in the book - and in Day's life - she later selflessly nursed, at his entreaty, the woman he had subsequently lived with for several decades, who was dying of cancer.)

Dorothy Day, of course, went on to found the Catholic Worker movement, which would combine her faith with commitment to the poor and social justice. Launched in 1933, in response to the Great Depression and its economic devastation, the movement's publication, The Catholic Worker, was brought about through like-minded Peter Maurin, a French-Canadian immigrant. It was he who convinced Day that what was needed was not a bloody revolution as had taken place in Russia, but a peaceful revolution spurred by a radical Catholic publication that would publicize Catholic social teaching and show how to follow it.

Soon the new publication was attracting the first of what would become veritable legions of volunteers, helping with the paper and with the houses of hospitality known as Catholic Worker Houses which sprang up to feed, house and clothe the homeless and destitute across the nation and beyond. There were also experiments in farming communes.

Espousing voluntary poverty and regarding what little she possessed as being "on loan," Day continued to work tirelessly to bring about the just world she envisioned, one in which all would see the face of Christ in the faces of the poor, the condemned, the marginalized. On the day her soul slipped away, Nov. 29, 1980, she was worrying about the survivors of an earthquake in the mountains of Italy.

When Cardinal O'Connor convened a gathering to discuss the possibility of promoting her for canonization, one of her fellow Catholic Worker staff members perhaps summed it up best. "If Dorothy Day was not a saint," he said, "it is hard to know what meaning that word should have."

* * * / August 4, 2011

5.0 out of 5 stars

A remarkable book about a remarkable life

By George M. Stapleton (Park Forest, IL)

Some years ago I read Robert Coles' Dorothy Day: A Radical Devotion. Just a few years ago I read Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage, which interwove the lives of Dorothy, Walker Percy, Thomas Merton and Flannery O'Connor. I also read The Dorothy Day Book edited by M. Quigley and M. Garvey. I found all those books quite enlightening and nourishing. All Is Grace: A Biography of Dorothy Day, however, leaves me searching for words of praise.

I had read Jim Forest's biography of Thomas Merton, Living With Wisdom, so I knew when starting All Is Grace that I was in for a riveting adventure. By the time I finished this book I felt that I had come to know Dorothy extremely well.

Jim Forest and those who helped him in putting this book together have created something that is definitive and masterly. As he mentions near the end of the book, Dorothy Day is still a person who shakes up the lives of those who get to know her. While I am humbled and put to shame by her life and faith, I rejoice in the knowledge that she existed and lived her life so close to the ideals of the gospels.

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The book's page on the Jim & Nancy site:

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

66 years since atom bombs fell on Hirohima and Nagasaki

As today is the 66th anniversary of the atom bomb being dropped on Nagasaki, it seems a good moment to share both the article Dorothy Day published in The Catholic Worker shortly afterward and also a short text by Albert Camus published in the French resistance newspaper, Combat, two days after Hiroshima was destroyed.

Not many people at the time wrote with such clarity.

Nagasaki, by the way, was the center of the Catholic Church in Japan.


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The Catholic Worker, September 1945

We Go on Record

By Dorothy Day

Mr. Truman was jubilant. President Truman. True man; what a strange name, come to think of it. We refer to Jesus Christ as true God and true Man. Truman is a true man of his time in that he was jubilant. He was not a son of God, brother of Christ, brother of the Japanese, jubilating as he did. He went from table to table on the cruiser which was bringing him home from the Big Three conference, telling the great news; "jubilant" the newspapers said. Jubilate Deo. We have killed 318,000 Japanese.

That is, we hope we have killed them, the Associated Press, on page one, column one of the Herald Tribune, says. The effect is hoped for, not known. It is to be hoped they are vaporized, our Japanese brothers -- scattered, men, women and babies, to the four winds, over the seven seas. Perhaps we will breathe their dust into our nostrils, feel them in the fog of New York on our faces, feel them in the rain on the hills of Easton.

Jubilate Deo. President Truman was jubilant. We have created. We have created destruction. We have created a new element, called Pluto. Nature had nothing to do with it.

"A cavern below Columbia was the bomb's cradle," born not that men might live, but that men might be killed. Brought into being in a cavern, and then tried in a desert place, in the midst of tempest and lightning, tried out, and then again on the eve of the Feast of the Transfiguration of our Lord Jesus Christ, on a far off island in the eastern hemisphere, tried out again, this "new weapon which conceivably might wipe out mankind, and perhaps the planet itself."

"Dropped on a town, one bomb would be equivalent to a severe earthquake and would utterly destroy the place. A scientific brain trust has solved the problem of how to confine and release almost unlimited energy. It is impossible yet to measure its effects."

"We have spent two billion on the greatest scientific gamble in history and won," said President Truman jubilantly.

The papers list the scientists (the murderers) who are credited with perfecting this new weapon. One outstanding authority "who earlier had developed a powerful electrical bombardment machine called the cyclotron, was Professor O. E. Lawrence, a Nobel prize winner of the University of California. In the heat of the race to unlock the atom, he built the world's most powerful atom smashing gun, a machine whose electrical projectiles carried charges equivalent to 25,000,000 volts. But such machines were found in the end to be unnecessary. The atom of Uranium-235 was smashed with surprising ease. Science discovered that not sledgehammer blows, but subtle taps from slow traveling neutrons managed more on a tuning technique were all that were needed to disintegrate the Uranium-235 atom."

(Remember the tales we used to hear, that one note of a violin, if that note could be discovered, could collapse the Empire State Building. Remember too, that God's voice was heard not in the great and strong wind, not in the earthquake, not in the fire, but "in the whistling of a gentle air.")

Scientists, army officers, great universities (Notre Dame included), and captains of industry -- all are given credit lines in the press for their work of preparing the bomb -- and other bombs, the President assures us, are in production now.

Great Britain controls the supply of uranium ore, in Canada and Rhodesia. We are making the bombs. This new great force will be used for good, the scientists assured us. And then they wiped out a city of 318,000. This was good. The President was jubilant.

[photo: Nagasaki's Urakami -- St Mary's -- Cathedral was 500 meters from the detonation. The many people in the church were among the 73,884 people killed by the explosion.]

Today's paper with its columns of description of the new era, the atomic era, which this colossal slaughter of the innocents has ushered in, is filled with stories covering every conceivable phase of the new discovery. Pictures of the towns and the industrial plants where the parts are made are spread across the pages. In the forefront of the town of Oak Ridge, Tennessee is a chapel, a large comfortable-looking chapel benignly settled beside the plant. And the scientists making the first tests in the desert prayed, one newspaper account said.

Yes, God is still in the picture. God is not mocked. Today, the day of this so great news, God made a madman dance and talk, who had not spoken for twenty years. God sent a typhoon to damage the carrier Hornet. God permitted a fog to obscure vision and a bomber crashed into the Empire State Building. God permits these things. We have to remember it. We are held in God's hands, all of us, and President Truman too, and these scientists who have created death, but will use it for good. He, God, holds our life and our happiness, our sanity and our health; our lives are in His hands. He is our Creator. Creator.

And as I write, Pigsie, who works in Secaucus, New Jersey, feeding hogs, and cleaning out the excrement of the hogs, who comes in once a month to find beauty and surcease and glamour and glory in the drink of the Bowery, trying to drive the hell and the smell out of his nostrils and his life, sleeps on our doorstep, in this best and most advanced and progressive of all possible worlds. And as I write, our cat, Rainbow, slinks by with a shrill rat in her jaws, out of the kitchen closet here at Mott Street. Here in this greatest of cities which covered the cavern where this stupendous discovery was made, which institutes an era of unbelievable richness and power and glory for man ….

Everyone says, "I wonder what the Pope thinks of it?" How everyone turns to the Vatican for judgement, even though they do not seem to listen to the voice there! But our Lord Himself has already pronounced judgement on the atomic bomb. When James and John (John the beloved) wished to call down fire from heaven on their enemies, Jesus said:

"You know not of what spirit you are. The Son of Man came not to destroy souls but to save." He said also, "What you do unto the least of these my brethren, you do unto me."

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On the Bombing of Hiroshima

by Albert Camus

The world is what it is, which is to say, nothing much. That is what everyone learned yesterday, thanks to the formidable concert of opinion coming from radios, newspapers, and information agencies. Indeed we are told, in the midst of hundreds of enthusiastic commentaries, that any average city can be wiped out by a bomb the size of a football. American, English, and French newspapers are filled with eloquent essays on the future, the past, the inventors, the cost, the peaceful incentives, the military advantages, and even the life-of-its-own character of the atom bomb.

We can sum it up in one sentence: our technical civilization has just reached its greatest level of savagery. We will have to choose, in the more or less near future, between collective suicide and the intelligent use of our scientific conquests.

Meanwhile we think there is something indecent in celebrating a discovery whose use has caused the most formidable rage of destruction ever known to man. What will it bring to a world already given over to all the convulsions of violence, incapable of any control, indifferent to justice and the simple happiness of men - a world where science devotes itself to organized murder?

...Before the terrifying prospects now available to humanity, we see even more clearly that peace is the only goal worth struggling for. There is no longer a prayer but a demand to be made by all peoples to their governments - a demand to choose definitively between hell and reason.

Albert Camus, August 8, 1945 - (On the Bombing of Hiroshima)

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