The Witches

Stacy Schiff (Little, Brown)

Another book about the Salem Witch Trials? Been there, read that. Yes—but Stacy Schiff’s account is better written than any I have encountered. Far from feeling that you are slogging through an overly familiar tale, you are likely to find yourself turning the pages (as I did) with a sense that until now you’d never quite taken in what happened. You don’t need to share Schiff’s larger assumptions about first and last things (or about lesser matters such as “the paranoid style in American politics”) to profit from her brilliantly assured narrative.

The Weather Experiment

Peter Moore (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

Set in the 19th century, carrying the subtitle "The Pioneers Who Sought to See the Future," this is both a lively account of the beginnings of weather forecasting and an Enlightenment fable pitting the virtues of science against the stifling constraints of religious dogmatism. Though his subject is different from Schiff’s, the two books share notable affinities. And it’s possible to learn a lot from The Weather Experiment and to be thoroughly entertained by it even as you are shaking your head at his caricature of know-nothing faith blown away by the “keen spring breeze” of scientific inquiry.

Systematic Theology

Katherine Sonderegger (Fortress Press)

Systematic theology is decidedly not my cup of tea (I have a very unsystematic mind), but I do take doses of it now and then. Until recently, I knew nothing about the work of Katherine Sonderegger, a theologian at Virginia Theological Seminary. But in the space of a few days, first Dan Treier and then Chris Green mentioned the just-published first volume of Sonderegger’s systematic theology, focused on the doctrine of God. I am in their debt: This is one of the most exhilarating works of theology I have read in many years. Its combination of prodigious learning, superb insight, and unembarrassed piety is extraordinary—I’ve never encountered anything quite like it.

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