Theology of the Body reading recommendations?

A reader writes:

 I’ve got a Catholic friend who is sorely in need of some good reading materials on the main concepts in Theology of the Body. She buys into very secular views of contraception, abortion, marriage, and sex in general, and has admitted a total lack of education regarding the Catholic teaching on the subjects, as well as a (reluctant) interest in obtaining said education.

I’m looking for something that’s intelligent, readable, down to earth, doesn’t assume that you already agree with the Church teaching, and hits all the main points without an angry polemical vibe. I checked out some stuff by Christopher West, but didn’t like it too much.
Any suggestions, smarties?  If you have something to recommend, it would be very helpful if you could say a few things about why you liked it, or what kind of audience it would be appropriate for.


  1. Ted Sri’s ‘Men, Women, and the Mystery of Love’ is excellent. It’s short, approachable, theological enough to be intelligent, but not overwhelming for a non-theologian, and he manages to keep his own voice out of the text and just really lets JPII’s teachings shine through, unpacked but undiminished by the process. It’s just a really joyful book.

    • I second this response. The women’s group at my parish just finished a study with this. We all were (or soon to be) Catholic, so I don’t know how a non-Catholic would take it. But there was a wide range of experience with TOB (from read parts of it to never heard of it) and I thought it did a good job of presenting the material without overwhelming the reader. At the end of each chapter are discussion questions that range from “what was the definition” to “think about how to implement”.

  2. I still don’t think this book exists yet. But my favorite place to start is with JPII’s “Letter to Women”; it’s so loving and poetic, and demonstrates that the Church is not there just to harvest the power of your ovaries and then make you scrub the kitchen floor.

  3. I agree with Colet; so many of the distillations of TOB teachings are either overly simplistic or very academic. It would seem that before her friend could grasp what the Church teaches, she might want to first learn what the Church teaches Herself to be? For that, I think, there are many more books.

  4. I have not read Janet Smith’s books, but I’ve heard her speak and read her articles. I find that she lays things out in very matter-of-fact ways and uses many statistics to back up the truth. My impression is that she starts from a place of what is good for us as human beings, talks about why the other ways are disordered, and shows how we’ve been hurt by going against truth. IMO, she’s a good “opposite” to Christopher West because I don’t find that she includes a lot of pop culture references to explain the truth; she’s more of a just-the-facts-maam distiller of TOB, but she also does it in a way that makes sense to the lay person who may start out knowing nothing.

    One other thing…I have not read Mary Eberstadt’s books, but maybe others have and can comment on whether that might be another avenue to go. Her books deal with the consequences that the current cultural thinking has lead us to.

  5. Colet’s suggestion is great! I read __Sex Au Naturel;- What it is and why it’s good for your marriage__ by Patrick Coren and thought it was a pretty good start as far as the contraception issue goes. He goes at the issue from secular and biblical tracks. It’s short but covers a lot of ground. Of course, it’s only real goal is to tackle contraception, and since I was never a big critic of the Church’s stance, I don’t know how effective the arguments really are. But the author went through a conversion on this issue, so he probably knows.

    • Just a quick note– this book is by Patrick Coffin, not Coren. I enjoyed much of this book, but like Christina, I’m not sure how effective it would be for a first introduction.

  6. I agree with Andrea about Janet Smith– she’s solid as a Catholic and uses the rational arguments any good scholar should to back up her points. I also think her articles are very accessible, and you can search for her writing online. The only TOTB book I read and really liked was Mary Shivanandan’s “Crossing the Threshold of Love.” It is meatier than West’s book but still readable.

    Aside from TOTB, you might want to look at “Women in Christ: Toward a New Feminism” ed. by Michele Schumacher. Lots of good articles on the topics mentioned above. All the authors stand by Church teaching while working towards developing a concept of woman that is authentically Catholic and promotes a woman’s dignity. (I know the word feminism turns some people off, but I assure you its a good movement. To put it in context, Simcha is a New Feminist even if she doesn’t realize it!)

    • iusenfp seems to be a kind of sister site; it’s aimed at more of the adult crowd than the 1flesh college crowd and has a lot of good info too.

  7. I’m currently re-reading Theology of the Body Made Simple by Anthony Percy. It’s a thin book, hand-size and maybe 200 pages. Very readable and lives up to the title.

    I’m in a similar situation. Last night I had dinner with a friend who attends her non-denominational church weekly and has shown a long-standing interest in Christian spirituality and occasional (reluctant) interest in Catholic thought. But she has somewhat similar attitudes and understanding – she wouldn’t be too shy at a strip club, let’s say.

    So I’m thinking of recommending this book, and so far it checks out. It can swing from being a tad too simple to a little heady at some points, but not nearly as much as Christopher West or some others I’ve read. Most of the time he’s clear, concise, and relatable.

  8. If you’re looking for a book especially for women, I really enjoyed “Discovering the Feminine Genius” by Katrina Zeno (Pauline Books). It’s more reflection than statistics, though — so it depends what this woman needs.

    I wouldn’t be too quick to discount Christopher West, however — Janet Smith likes him! And many, many people have read his materials (such as “Theology of the Body for Beginners”) with great benefit.

  9. Thanks for all the compliments to me. Sri’s book mentioned is not about TOB but about Wojtyla’s Love and Responsibility. I love Love and Responsibility and Sri’s book is very good. A very good straightforward presentation of TOB is Mary Healy’s book, Man and Woman are from Eden. And as many know, I like Christopher West’s presentations of TOB.

  10. I did marriage prep in a parish for three years, and couples really liked Christopher West’s Good News for Sex and Marriage.

    Because it is pretty frank.

    But it is also pretty Catholic. If someone is not in a position to sympathize with the Catholic worldview, you might try Michelle Duggar’s books. (TLC, 21 and counting or how ever many kids they have now.) I think she is very accessible to evangelicals, and her message is simple – children are a gift from God. Because, at its heart – that leads you straight into gift of self to oen another view of marriage. It is shocking to me how many people talk about their kids as if they are a huge cross and burden. Pointing this out to Christians is a huge door to sanity. And Catholic insight.

    • Yes to “Good News about Sex and Marriage”; even though the original questioner didn’t much care for whichever of West’s books she looked at, this one is really good for the friend she described since it is a simple Q&A format and starts with the question of why anyone would care what the Church has to say in the first place.

  11. A recent translation of TOB was done by Michael Waldstein. I took a class with him in Austria on this exact subject and he was brilliant at simplifying JPII’s words so that us non-philosophy, non-theology-major students could understand. I don’t know if the book has any footnotes or is just a translation, but you might want to check it out.

    • Waldstein does provide a wonderful intro in his translation which kind of distills modern philosophy since Bacon and gives you a great basis for knowing what JPII is getting at in the ToB (kind of like needing to understand the Manicheans to really get Augustine). But a starting point for beginners it ain’t, unless the person is only a beginner with ToB but not with philosophy and theology.
      But isn’t Waldstein one of the most wonderful people you’ve ever met? Staggeringly brilliant, but so humble and accessible and *good*.

  12. Alongside Mary Healy’s book “Man and Woman are from Eden,” it might be helpful to pick up “Called to Love” by Fr. Jose Granados and Carl Anderson. Fr. Jose Granados is a professor at the John Paul II Institute in Rome (and former dean of the John Paul II Institute in DC), and Carl Anderson is the Supreme Knight for the Knights of Columbus. Straightforward, clear, insightful; all in all a good introduction to TOB.

  13. I agree with the other commenters on Mary Healy’s “Men and Women are from Eden”… she seems to have a firm grasp on the complexities of TOB but knows how to present them on a simplified, down to earth kind of way. Also, it’s a quick read, broken into small chapters, which helps make it more approachable for the masses. Even has reflection thoughts and questions at the end of each chapter.

  14. Sam & Bethany Torode’s book “Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Rethinks Contraception”. It is a quick, easy and very enjoyable read. On the downside, the Torode’s ended up divorced, and I think they have renounced their views on contraception. It is very sad, as they had such high ideals and were so inspiring. But I still think the book is thought-provoking and beautiful. It has been years since I read it, but it made a big impression on me. The Torode’s need our prayers for sure.

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