New Books Network

Youthful arrogance. Hipster alienation. A lot of reading. A lot of drinking. Struggles to adjust to a land radically different from the one that...

Youthful arrogance. Hipster alienation. A lot of reading. A lot of drinking. Struggles to adjust to a land radically different from the one that one has left in youth. Intense wrestling with nearly every major intellectual trend of the last few decades (from hardcore Marxism to intersectionality) to a searing admission of one’s own seeming worthlessness, and, finally, redemption in the Catholic faith via fateful encounters in London and New York with the aesthetic and spiritual power of the Catholic Mass.

That is the outline of the story told by the noted journalist and public intellectual, Sohrab Ahmari in his 2019 memoir, From Fire, by Water: My Journey to the Catholic Faith (Ignatius Press).

You don’t have to be a Catholic to be moved by this book. The unrest in our streets and even politically-motivated violence by young people who find the very notions of Western Civilization and American ideals and institutions irredeemably oppressive and ripe for toppling render this book invaluable for wannabe-revolutionaries and for those who know and care about such lost souls.

Ahmari is deeply versed in nearly every school of political and sociocultural thought. His book will save troubled young people hours of reading in dead-end, left-leaning social theory. Be it Foucault, political Islam, pop culture from Pink Floyd to Star Wars—Ahmari’s got it covered.

In this instant classic of the memoir genre, we learn what it’s like to be raised by bohemian parents in the Islamic Republic of Iran and then to be whisked off to Mormon-dominated, small-town Utah and what it’s like to be a deracinated, angry young man assumed by his now fellow Americans to be a devout Muslim but who is actually, in turn, a fervent Nietzschean, a randy, hook-up-seeking, boozy young leftist and, by his own account, an obnoxious, self-centered, louche young professional in careerist global cities.

We encounter along the way well-meaning, earnest but vapid evangelical Christians and Jesus of Nazareth mediated for us by Pope Benedict XVI and diversity trainers who urge Ahmari to rail against discrimination he has not experienced.

For those of us who are not Catholics, the book provides fascinating insights into the process of conversion to the faith and shows how demanding that process is intellectually and in terms of spiritual self-examination.

The book also introduces us to Ahmari, the man. And given his increasing prominence on the public policy stage and his key role in the current intellectual renaissance among conservative Catholic intellectuals and the fierce debate between social conservatives (Catholic and non-Catholic) and others on the right—(not to mention their critiques of the left) about the path forward, this is must reading.

It is also beautifully written.

Give a listen.


Hope J. Leman is a grants researcher.