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The Puritans Among Us

by Mary Eberstadt
An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America, by Joseph Bottum (Image, 320 pp., $25)

Some writers are “Catholic writers” in the sense that they do their work qua Catholics, and their main subject is the immense intellectual, social, and aesthetic patrimony of the Catholic Church. But there also exists a rarer kind of Catholic writer: the one who is multilingual in secular as well as religious tongues, whose Catholicism nonetheless runs so deep that it cannot help but shape and suffuse his every line.

Joseph Bottum, fortunately for American letters, is an example of the latter sort. In fact, it’s safe to say that if Mr. Bottum were anything but a writer who is also known to be Catholic, his name would be mandatory on any objective short list of public intellectuals, if there were such a thing. He is the author of several books, including a volume of poetry (The Fall & Other Poems), a work of verse set to music (The Second Spring), a bestselling memoir (The Christmas Plains), and now, with An Anxious Age, an immensely ambitious work of sociological criticism. His essays have garnered awards and are included in notable collections. He has also worn the hats of literary critic, columnist, editor, books editor, short-story writer, autobiographer, eulogist, public speaker, television pundit, Amazon author (via the groundbreaking Kindle Singles series), and visiting professor. If there were milliners for intellectuals, his would be the busiest in town.

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