The Catholic Church and the Campaign for Emancipation in Ireland and England by Ambrose Macaulay (Four Courts Press, £35). The long campaign for relief from the penal laws raised tricky issues for Catholics in 18th- and early 19th-century Ireland and England, not least concerning the place of papal and episcopal authority. This well-researched volume compares the significantly different experiences in both countries and, unlike many volumes on the subject, looks closely at Rome’s response. The book deals skilfully with complex theological and political issues and captures the vibrant and frequently bitter nature of the debate.

The Gospel of John, the Gospel of Relationship by Jean Vanier (DLT, £9.99). Written after a visit to the Holy Land, this book by the founder of the L’Arche communities for people with learning disabilities explores the last Gospel chapter by chapter. Vanier argues that to love God is to love our neighbour. He brings his own prayerful and reflective interpretation to the texts. In particular, in the chapter on the raising of Lazarus, Vanier shares his own feeling that Lazarus, who never speaks, lives with his two unmarried sisters because he has a disability and “Jesus often comes to be with him.”

The Tudors in 100 Objects by John Matusiak (The History Press, £20). Divided into thematic sections (food and drink, family life, medicine, religion, etc), this rewarding and well-illustrated volume offers a good balance between solid narrative and quirky surprises. The objects under discussion range from the workaday (a pewter plate and spoon or a football) to the sinister (an interrogation stool for witches and a gibbet in Halifax), via books, toys, chimneys and corsets. The trend for “history in objects” is becoming a little wearisome but in the right hands it can still provide intimate glimpses into the past.

The Question of Relativism by M Finbarr Coffey HC (New Millennium, £6.95). The author, a lecturer in philosophy at Wonersh seminary for many years, explores the question of how to discern real knowledge and truth through reasoning. Examining the writings of Plato and two modern thinkers, Richard Rorty and Paul Boghossian, the author concludes that “true knowledge must be grounded on some external reality”, independent of what people believe. As she observes, “Relativism confines itself to what people happen to believe, but this is not knowledge.” Coffey’s essay makes an important contribution to the argument for objective truth.

The Arts Dividend by Darren Henley (Elliott and Thompson, £12.99). Subtitled Why Investment in Culture Pays, this book examines the importance of the arts for society as a whole. As Henley writes, “We must always celebrate the intrinsic value of art as a human, emotional, transformative experience.” The seven “dividends” he finds in cultural investment include creativity, learning, innovation and enterprise. Henley is of the firm belief that “England’s artists, arts organisations, museums and libraries enrich our lives.” His book is a thoughtful addition to the debate.

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