Eminent English historian of ideas Johnson (The Birth of the Modern, 1991, etc.) draws on his years of research and his classic Roman Catholicism to offer a worldview that is as personal as it is intellectually provocative. An ability to handle colossal themes with well-informed and penetrating analysis has long been a hallmark of Johnson's writing. Here he develops some of the key ideas of his Modern Times (e.g., that Marxism and Nazism led to unprecedented human misery through their moral relativism) in a synthesis that takes up the perennial questions of conscience, the existence of God in the face of a frequently evil world, and the challenge of death. Johnson has much to say about the failure of post-Enlightenment substitutes for religion, such as rationalism and social utopianism. In a chapter on the value of artists he makes a spirited defense of spending vast sums of money to build cathedrals, which he sees as both pleasing to God and vital expressions of the human spirit. There are chapters on environmental issues, inclusive language (which he uses), and the relations between Catholics and Jews. He concludes with open-ended explorations of the traditional Four Last Things of Catholic theology: death, judgment, hell (with the emphasis on purgatory), and heaven. An appendix contains a set of his private prayers. Johnson writes superb English and he mingles his arguments with telling and often amusing anecdotes. Although it is tempting to label Johnson a conservative--he is a friend of Margaret Thatcher's and a staunch admirer of Pope John Paul II--his forthright views constantly surprise and his positions are often reminiscent of his 18th-century namesake and hero, Dr. Samuel Johnson. Nuanced and always informative, Johnson is guaranteed to stimulate even when he does not convince.