Part one of our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers. Today: Matthew Continetti, Artur Davis, Andrew Klavan, and Harvey Mansfield.
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TWO BOOKS I read this year serve as companion pieces to one another: Coming Apart by Charles Murray and Bad Religion by Ross Douthat. Examining changes in the lives of American whites over the last 40 years or so, Murray finds that many elites have rediscovered the virtues of family, industry, and faith—and that these are what lift them above the increasingly endangered lower class. Douthat adds to these insights by questioning not whether we’ve become a more or less religious society, but whether our religion, in abandoning ancient orthodoxy, has become less fulfilling and uplifting than it should be. Both books are clear-eyed and honest, neither takes an apocalyptic tone—and indeed, I found hope for the future in both. If the country is going to turn around, it won’t be because government commandeers our wealth for its purposes, it will be because wise individuals rediscover how to live well and relearn, in Murray’s phrase, to “preach what they practice.”
And since there’s never enough fiction on these lists, let me recommend Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. A bestselling thriller and a rip-roaring read, this is also a clever and lacerating satire of contemporary marriage. Flynn plays on our expectations at the same time she parodies the way the media manipulates our emotions. It’s well-written, gripping, and a lot of fun.
Andrew Klavan is the author of several internationally bestselling thriller novels. His latest adventure novel for young adults is If We Survive (Thomas Nelson).
• Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince. One must never forget the Great Books, from which all our thinking derives, however creative we believe we are. This is one of them, and next year is its 500th anniversary. It is the most famous book on politics ever written and the best one if you want to suppose or be persuaded that the sole object of politics is to win. I won’t say which translation is the best except to admit that I am partial to my own.
• Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind. This is another anniversary book, republished for its 25th. It is a brilliant, all-around indictment of American higher education, still as true as it was when it was the number-one best seller for almost a year in 1987. Bloom argues that our clumsy effort to open minds results paradoxically in just the contrary—the “closing of the American mind.” The error lies in believing that an open mind is not the most difficult of achievements but can be had with the mere declaration of a thoughtless relativism. In another paradox, this “easygoing nihilism” descends to us, and I do mean descends, from a great thinker, Friedrich Nietzsche.
• William Voegeli, Never Enough. A book about “America’s limitless welfare state,” to cite the subtitle. Why is it that the Progress of which progressives speak has no end, not even in imagination, at which point we might look back in satisfaction instead of always anxiously peering ahead? Perhaps it is because the end of equality is impossible; or worse, perhaps no end is possible and life is just a clueless searching for one damn thing after another. Voegeli shows that the progressives in our midst, impatient in the face of obstacles to equality, come to despise the forms of our self-government while taking for granted the ordered liberty they provide for us.
• Ross Douthat, Bad Religion. Douthat is a journalist who could have been a scholar and shows it in this book. But we like him where he is at the New York Times, a calm voice in the strident headquarters of today’s liberalism. Instead of calling for more religion, or broadcasting its useful social effects, Douthat examines what religion we have now and have had since World War II. His conclusion from careful study is that America doesn’t have either too much or too little religion, but bad religion. What is that? Isn’t religion true or false, not good or bad? Read Douthat’s book and find out.
• Michael Davis, The Soul of the Greeks. In the world we live in we observe two distinctions among beings: some are alive, some not; some are aware, some not. Science—our science—does not make these distinctions. But if they are a delusion, and all life, all thought can be explained scientifically as not distinct, what causes this delusion? The answer is, and has to be, soul. Davis considers soul as it appears in the Greeks, the inventors of psychology—in particular, Aristotle, Herodotus, Euripides, and Plato. Guided by them, he wonders what can justify, despite our science, our attachment to the soul.
Harvey Mansfield is a Harvard professor of government and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online