In A.D. 797, the most renowned of Europe’s medieval kings sent three ambassadors to the Muslim caliph of Baghdad. Only one of those ambassadors — a Jewish man named Isaac — returned to his master, King Charlemagne, in what is now Aachen, Germany. Coming back five years after he was sent, Isaac brought the caliph’s gift of an elephant named Abul Abaz. Thinking about Isaac and Abul Abaz’s remarkable 3,500-mile journey — by foot and by boat — to a Europe that hadn’t seen an elephant for hundreds of years, Jeff Sypeck, M.A. 1998, conceived the idea of writing an account of their travels.
When it turned out that there wasn’t enough existing information on Isaac and Abul Abaz to make a whole book, Sypeck instead wove their story into a larger history: Becoming Charlemagne: Europe, Baghdad, and the Empires of A.D. 800 (HarperCollins Publishers). The book focuses on seven momentous years (A.D. 796–802) of Charlemagne’s life, including his coronation as the first emperor of what would later be called the Holy Roman Empire.
Sypeck’s stated purpose is to get us to look behind the legends and statues and stained-glass windows to realize that Charlemagne and the other leaders of his day were human beings — the better to evaluate their accomplishments and shortcomings.
The book is stocked with memorable characters and reads a bit like a novel, albeit one buttressed by endnote citations to 200 historical documents and other sources. Sypeck’s CUA degree is in medieval and Byzantine studies.
Catholic University’s English department has steadfastly resisted the craze for literary theory, whether Marxist, feminist, “queer” or deconstructionist — instead focusing on literary history and aesthetics. But other university English departments have emphasized such theories and reinterpreted literature to support political causes, focusing on the supposed racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of oppression in the works of canonical writers from Shakespeare to Jane Austen to Flannery O’Connor.
The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature by Elizabeth Kantor, M.A. 1987, does battle against such politicization of literature. What literary theory-besotted professors never tell you, Kantor writes, is that Jane Austen was a fan, not a critic, of “the patriarchy,” that the greatest English literature is explicitly Christian and celebrates military courage, and that most great writers have been conservatives.
In recent years, the Catholic bishops of the United States have responded to the need for catechetical renewal by publishing the United States Catholic Catechism for Adults. A new 94-page companion text titled Study Guide for the U.S. Adult Catholic Catechism helps groups or individuals get into that catechism and see the beauty of the Catholic faith. Published by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, it was written by CUA alumna Jem Sullivan, who earned her CUA Ph.D. in theology in 1999.
We are all marketing ourselves, whether poorly or well. Hence the concept that we all have a “personal brand,” which Tim O’Brien, B.A. 1986, defines as the word or phrase others think of when they think of us. For example, the personal brand of Margaret Thatcher is iron lady and that of Mother Teresa is selfless, he writes.
O’Brien is CEO of The Personal Branding Group, based in Los Angeles, and his new book is The Power of Personal Branding: Creating Celebrity Status With Your Target Audience (Mendham Publishing). Although many of the examples in the book concern celebrities in sports, politics or entertainment, the book is designed to help anyone who wants to accentuate his good qualities and demonstrate them to others.
Galileo’s Journal 1609–1610 (Charlesbridge Publishing) is an award-winning picture book of historical fiction for children 7 and older. In it, the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei writes diary entries about how he first heard about the invention of the spyglass, how he built one for himself and how he used it to make discoveries about the heavens, leading him to the conclusion that the Earth and the other planets revolve around the sun. Written by Jeanne K. Pettenati, who earned her CUA master’s degree in Italian literature in 1993, Galileo’s Journal was named “Book of the week” by the KidsPost page in the Dec. 31, 2006, Washington Post. Reviewers have praised the illustrations by Paolo Rui.
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