Richard P. McBrien, professor of theology at Notre Dame and author of numerous books on Catholicism and Christianity (Lives of the Popes, Inside Catholicism, etc.) provides here a layperson-friendly compendium of the saints in a single volume. Going above and beyond Butler's 17th-century Lives, McBrien includes information vital to modern believers' understanding of the importance of the saints: the historical processes and politics that have led to beatifications and canonizations; the relevance of the sainted to the growth of the Church; schools of spirituality inspired or instituted by the saints; controversies surrounding some canonizations; biographies, of course, and liturgical feast days.
What makes McBrien's Lives of the Saints particularly special is his inclusion not only of other Catholics whose spiritual lives and works probably merit sainthood (but who haven't formally attained the title), but of venerated individuals in the Anglican, Orthodox, Episcopal and Lutheran traditions. McBrien also includes Jewish venerables such as Hasidic rabbi and writer Abraham Heschel and other non-Christians, like Hindu holy man Mohandas K. Gandhi. Parallel timelines of the saints and the secular in history help place the significance of revered figures to the church clearly against an historical backdrop. Appendiced lists of patron saints and emblems in art and iconography, a papal canonizations chart (noting Pope John Paul II's significantly high number of additions to the saintly canon), surprisingly readable end notes and a comprehensive glossary of terms add extra levels of relevance to the lay reader. A selected bibliography charts routes by which those interested can seek deeper understanding of the saints and the Church, and twin indices -- one by name, one by subject -- makes finding selected information in the book (arranged liturgically by calendar year) far less painful than it might otherwise be.
Author McBrien, already noteworthy for his contributions to Catholic and Christian writing, has put together in Lives of the Saints a work as salient for non-Catholics as it is for Catholics. Here is a book that can help all comers attain a better notion of holiness, especially the fact that "saints" are ordinary people who lived, in the end, extraordinary lives.