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Penguins and Golden Calves: Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  298 ratings  ·  45 reviews
Despite protests and warnings from friends and family, author Madeleine L’Engle, at the age of seventy-four, embarked on a rafting trip to Antarctica. Her journey through the startling beauty of the continent led her to write Penguins and Golden Calves, a captivating discussion of how opening oneself up to icons, or everyday “windows to God,” leads to the development of a ...more
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published February 18th 2003 by Shaw Books (first published 1996)
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3.96  · 
Rating details
 ·  298 ratings  ·  45 reviews

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Jan 10, 2015 rated it liked it
Madeleine L'Engle, an icon herself, ruminates on iconography and idolatry, the relationship between penguins (icons) and golden calves (idols) and how such particulars have played and worked out in her own writing life story. Preaching to the choir of art, faith, and mystery as well as trying to connect and find common ground with the fundamentalist and literalist crowd. Reflections via ramblings and repetitions. Some really wonderful words of wisdom at times. Where in the world is Antarctica?
Apryl Anderson
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
Idols: an enticing concept, and L'Engle has sussed the situation. I felt as if she was preaching to the choir with this one, and at the same time, she had a decidedly saucy tone, as if she was looking to defend something....

It's pretty obvious that in doing all those writers' workshops and giving talks, she encountered more than her fair share of spite and contention in the name of Jesus. Her rebuttals go from near heresy and back to Biblical, all the time sifting out the lies like chaff until o
Apr 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Although this was scattered at a bit rambly at times, I can't deny how powerful much of its content is (especially the last third). This book was exactly what I needed at this time in my life. I love when that happens.
Jun 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: faith, nonfiction
I chose Penguins and Golden Calves for a re-read because my Bible study group is studying Exodus this spring, and I knew we’d get to the golden calf story eventually. I didn’t remember a lot about this book, but I knew I had read it before. Apparently, based on the inscription on my copy, my mom gave me this book for my birthday in 2006, and I’m guessing that was the first and only time I’ve read it! And yet, I think because I’m so familiar and steeped in Madeleine’s writing, it all felt known a ...more
Michelle Kidwell
Sep 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Penguins and Golden Calves

Icons and Idols in Antarctica and Other Unexpected Places

by Madeleine L’Engle

Crown Publishing

Convergent Books


Pub Date 18 Sep 2018

I am reviewing a copy of Penguis and Golden Calves through Crown Publishing and Netgalley:

When Madeline L’Engle was seventy four she went on a rafting trip to Antarctica, her journey through this beautiful land led her to write Penguins and Golden Calves. This book is a captivating discussion on how opening yourself up to Icons or eve
Dec 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
In this book, Madeleine L’Engle shares details about her trip to Antarctica at the age of 74, and the things she learned about the area and penguins while there. She explains why she thinks that penguins and many other things can be icons ( windows to God which leads to the development of a rich and deeply spiritual faith) and rounds it out with her feelings about idols (those things that we see as a reflection of themselves and are worshipped that way). I often felt awe at things in nature and ...more
Aug 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Thanks to netgalley and Convergent Books for this ARC.

Icon versus idol. This is what L’Engle explores in this exceptional book. I quickly realized I was in more than capable hands as I delved into potentially complicated text. She skillfully explains some complex theology, but never loses sight of the great Mystery that is the heart of Christianity. And over and over she emphasizes LOVE. This emphasis on love and compassion and reserving judgment for God make Penguins and Golden Calves a timely
Gail Morris
Aug 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing
this book is not one to be read in one sitting; so I started it and then put it down to think on, and picked it up bit by bit to work my way to the end. Her thoughts on religion vs belief in God are very thought provoking. I especially loved to read when she wrote that Jesus was not poor, he was a carpenter, and his father had been a carpenter, so they were middle class people. I like that because once you understand skilled labor that becomes self evident.
Kimberly Patton
Apr 07, 2018 rated it liked it
This title is very misleading. The book was largely philosophical and theological in nature. I did enjoy the plunging of my mind into deeper concepts and interesting, thought provoking subjects. I really respected her wise opinions and observations. The theology confused me, but that’s pretty normal for me! I definitely want to read more non-fiction from her because she is an important literary author.
May 08, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
Not as many penguins as you'd think!

A rambling, sometimes beautiful, sometimes cringe-worthy loose collection of L'Engle's reflections on religion, theology, writing, human nature, and aging.

h/t: Vox
Shannon Greene
Oct 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
L'Engle's thoughts were a little scattered and disjointed at times, making the book hard to follow. However the nuggets of absolute wisdom she provides are worth the read. Even 20 years after it's first publication, this book is so relevant today.
Dec 31, 2018 rated it it was ok
I adore Madeleine L'Engle, but did not realize going in how much this would be a meditation on her Christian faith, and I identified less with this than her other works. I had hoped for more of an antarctic travelogue. I still wish she had written that!
Janelle Lake
Jul 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Beautiful application of what points to God and what steers us away without being pious.
Feb 26, 2019 rated it liked it
Erika RS
Sep 29, 2013 added it
Shelves: owned, physical
This is another of L'Engle's journal-style pieces of non-fiction. The unifying thread of this book is a discussion of the difference between icons and idols and icons L'Engle has found useful in her life.

According to L'Engle, an icon gives greater insight to God. An icon does not have to come from a religious source. L'Engle gives one example of how penguins became an icon for her during her trip to Antarctica. Seeing the highly social but non-intimate penguin communities gave her insight into t
Mar 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
Penguins and Golden Calves was not what I expected. This is what comes from choosing books one had never before heard about based on a one sentence description. I was expecting an exploration of how God is revealed through nature, how elements of His creation can be icons for us, how we can see God with new eyes when we marvel at the wonders of His creation.

In her opening chapter, L'Engle gives us her definition of an icon. "My personal definition is much wider, and the simplest way I can put it
Jan 02, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfic, memoir
I really enjoyed parts of it, and then other parts were more "eh." I expected L'Engle to sound like less of a grouchy grandmother, but then, she was in her 80s, so I'm not sure why I was surprised.

But the latter half of the book became more spiritual, in the best of ways, and at the end of one of the chapters (can't remember which) she wrote out a sort of prayer, and it was impossible not to stop and pray that prayer a few times over. It was pretty great, to say the least.

I wish I could give it
Miss Clark
2 - 2.5 stars

One of L'Engle's less powerful works. There is discussion of icons, windows into the reality of God's creation; the feminine aspect of God (which was very ... interesting); bits and pieces of her life and travels, particularly her trip to Antarctica, and reflections on our world and society.

There just wasn't much this time that touched me or resonated, helping me to look at things in a new light or reflect as I have found in some of her other works.

I won't be picking it up again and
Jun 30, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Madeleine L'Engle has been on the fringes of my awareness over many years of Christian book reading. I did read, and enjoy "Wrinkle in Time"a very long time ago. This book was written 11 years ago, when she was 77 and it's a retrospective of her life and her theology. I'm going to give it to a friend who is planning a trip with her mother to the Antartic sometime in the next year. There are lots of penguin facts throughout the book.

I'm glad I read it, as it helps me to understand some of her sta
Aug 04, 2014 rated it it was ok
This book was given to me over a decade ago and so I thought it was time to read it. At first, I was impressed but after a while I got tired of the author's references to "literalists" and "fundalits" as people you wouldn't want to know. She seemed to think it was wrong to take the Bible too literally although she expressed, at the same time, a love for God's Word. She's a poet and seems to see Scripture only in that light. Her understanding of God's love I would say is not biblical. She interpr ...more
May 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
I'm putting this one under "couldn't read" though I might try again some day.

I like Madeleine L'Engle in concept: a good writer who lived her faith. However, this book (like Circle of Quiet) is from her journal and, unfortunately, reads like one: introspective, reminiscent, rambling, stream-of-conscious.

Yes, L'Engle has some beautiful thoughts worth sharing. But you need to watch closely for them, since they're buried in random thoughts, including some questionable theology, some society-is-muc
Nov 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
M L'Engle, now in her 70s, writes a book about icons in every day life and how easily icons can become idols. I really liked how she defined icons as anything or person or relationship etc who opens a window to God. I realized that I have many icons in my life ... my kids, my relationships with friends, the beauty of nature etc. We make icons into idols when we overlay our expectations on them. This was a chilling thought. I always think of idols as statues etc .... it made me realize that I hav ...more
Jul 12, 2015 rated it liked it
I previously read another work of non-fiction from Madeleine L'Engle (as well as her popular novel, A Wrinkle in Time), and this collection of journal entries and theological musings seems rather scatterbrained in comparison. However, L'Engle's intelligence, imagination, and empathy shine through this work to make it something well-worth reading. There are snippets throughout that I have placed in a commonplace book, and certain thoughts written in these pages had me look up from my reading and ...more
I would have liked more about her trip to Antarctica, but that didn't take away from the book as a whole. It is very Christian God and Jesus heavy, so readers who aren't open to that should probably not read this. While I'm not Christian, I am interested when someone of any religion explores their faith. I found myself skimming some of the sections that delved into the trinity and all that, but there's quite a bit in here that pertains to life in general.
Aug 14, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Madeleine strikes again. I cherish any words that she has ever written and this is no exception. She has an amazing ability to touch on tough matters with such tenderness and humility which is very foreign. She does all this with such respect for words quite unmatched. This book makes the distinction between icons and idols as well as some other subjects while always coming back to the ideas of what icons are.
Dec 20, 2008 rated it it was ok
I wanted to like this more than I did. I feel like I need to give it more than two stars, but I don't know if I can give it three...

Perhaps part of the problem was that I read The Irrational Season at the beginning of the year and I was hoping this would be more like that. There were just too many digressions and stories I'd read elsewhere... and it wasn't as meditative as I found Irrational Season to be.
Apr 09, 2009 is currently reading it
After rereading the Wrinkle in Time series and the older offshoots, I thought I'd try reading Penguins and Golden Calves, a non-fiction book of Madeleine's. Actually, I'm slowly reading this book, savoring it in small doses as I whip through the junior fiction books needed for my job. Deep, insightful, amazing so far...
Connie Inglis
Feb 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Excellent book. If this was the only book of L'Engles I had read, I would have given it 4 stars. However, I found it to be quite similar to some of her others. That's NOT a bad thing. For me it's an ongoing gleaning from her heart and soul and it continues to speak to me long after I've put the book down. Yes, I would recommend this book.
Eric Black
Apr 15, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
My wife and I read this together. She enjoyed it much more than I did. I felt the narrative rambled too much. L'Engle does offer interesting insights, but one has to be dedicated to reading all the way through each chapter to find them.
Jun 03, 2009 rated it liked it
I didn't realize that this book would be so Christian central. I thought that it would be more about religious icons in general, but this had a lot of discussion of specific scripture and such. Interesting, very insightful, I liked hearing her interpretation of what she discussed.
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Madeleine L'Engle was an American writer best known for her young adult fiction, particularly the Newbery Medal-winning A Wrinkle in Time and its sequels A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters. Her works reflect her strong interest in modern science: tesseracts, for example, are featured prominently in A Wrinkle in Time, mitochondrial DNA in A Wind in the Door, organ regener ...more