Although the preface is a bit lacking, the two works by St. Athanasius translated here are worth not only reading, but contemplating and wrestling with as well.
The first work, The Life of Antony, is a work about the father of Christian asceticism, St. Antony of Egypt. It contains both narrative and doctrinal content; the doctrinal content is presented in the forms of discourses by Antony, usually to groups of monks. He teaches much on demons and the discernment of spirits, the fate of souls after death, the importance of staying within the Church and staying away from schismatics and heretics. The discourses are, at a few points, a bit polemical - like many works from the early Church - but not excessively overbearing.
The uniqueness of the story is not just in Antony's doctrinal discourses, though. The narrative teaches things all its own. One of these things is that by separating one's self from the world the holy person becomes so much more indespensible to the world. Although Antony lived as a monk separate from the world, he was never separated from the world; in geographically and spiritually separating himself from the world, Antony became that much more involved in his world. He taught, healed, exorcised demons and engaged in debates with philosophers, all of this because of his reputation as a holy man.
From this follows something else taught by the narrative: the pursuit of God truly transforms one and causes one to become a conduit for God's healing and redemption of the world. Antony received visions and words of knowledge about people and things about to occur and more people were converted to the Christian faith. The work of Antony, as the book repeatedly emphasizes, is the work of God.
The second work contained in this volume, The Letter to Marcellinus, is a delightful exposition on praying the Psalms of David. St. Athanasius writes that regardless of one's experience, the Psalms provide words to express where one is at - whether in sorrow and despair or in joy. He also shows (through some rather creative interpretation) that the whole of Scripture is contained within the Psalter.
It would have been nice if a translation of Psalm 151 (found only in the Greek Bible, which is what Athanasius used) had been included, as Athanasius references it in his Letter to Marcellinus. The work is found in the New Oxford Annoted Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version, though, so if you don't have one, buy one (isbn: 0195288009)!
All in all, both works are absolutely charming.
The Life of Anthony is truly invigorating. It places a great saint in the context of mainstream tradition. I fear that in the hustle and bustle of today's society much of the rich Christian spiritual heritage is becoming foreign to a lot of people. Read this book to find some of what has been lost-and rejoice in having found it again.