Part III of our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers. Today: R.R. Reno, Andrew Roberts, Roger Scruton, Brad Thor, R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., and David Weigel.
POPE BENEDICT XVI described his books as his “counselors.” That’s quite right. When we recommend or pass along a book, we’re offering counsel, or at least congenial companionship, which is why the well-chosen page makes such a fine gift.
I’ve given away many copies of The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods to young people on their way to graduate study. Written by the early 20th century Dominican A.G. Sertillanges, it’s at once inspiring and practical, full of memorable turns of phrase. On wide reading: “You must cross your crops in order to not ruin the soil.” On superficial knowledge: “The half-informed man is not the man who knows only half of things, but the man who only half knows things.” On writing: “One finds one’s way by taking it.” On the goal of it all: “It is not what a writer says that is of first importance to us; the most important thing is what is.”
If you have a friend who anguishes over the difficulties of faith, give him a copy of John Henry Newman’s University Sermons. Newman was one of the great stylists of the English language, and these meditations on faith and reason are especially fine and helpful.
Charles Murray’s new book, Coming Apart: The State of White America, 1960–2010, is a must for anyone who wants to think clearly about the future of American society. The Great Recession has made economic policy very important in our current political debates. However, Murray helps us see that the middle-class myth that transcended and guided party politics since World War II is becoming less and less plausible. Going forward, we’ll be saying, “It’s the culture, stupid.”
I try to follow Fr. Sertillanges’ advice, crossing my crops by reading novels. The best one I read in 2012 was The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa, a mid-20th century classic. My favorite contemporary novel was by Jeffrey Eugenides: The Marriage Plot, a smart, engaging story of Ivy League graduates in search of faith, love, and a margin of bourgeois happiness. It’s not Jane Austen, but then again it’s also not Hunter S. Thompson, reminding us of how ambivalent some of our secular elites now are about the culture they superintend.
And finally, if you have a friend who is Christian and who, like me, tends toward dry, ironical, and overly intellectual outlooks on pretty much everything, give him a copy of Story of a Soul, the spiritual autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux. It’s the perfect antidote.
R.R. Reno is the editor of First Things.
DESPITE ITS MOUTHFUL of a title, It was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway: Russia and the Communist Past, David Satter has written a classic of its kind, investigating the psychological reactions that modern Russians feel towards the crimes of their Communist forebears.
That these vicious, hateful crimes against humanity still continue daily under the name of Marxism-Leninism is proven in Melanie Kirkpatrick’s extraordinary bookEscape from North Korea: The Untold Story of Asia’s Underground Railroad, which documents the horrors of living in that country and what people will risk to get away from it. Although it might seem the most depressing book for this season of good cheer, in fact it is also tremendously uplifting, and bears witness to the nobility of the human soul under even the most crushing circumstances.
Peter Godwin’s When a Crocodile Eats the Sun is a tremendously moving memoir about growing up in Rhodesia (today’s Zimbabwe) with a father whom he discovered only as he was dying had been a Jewish refugee from the Nazis.
That the Nazis were ultimately defeated was in part due to the wisdom shown by the Allies’ combined chiefs of staff in the Second World War, the subject of David Rigby’s superb history book Allied Master Strategists, which chronicles the triumphs (and occasional disasters) of the men who had to come up with the answers of when, where, and how to counterattack against the Axis powers. Both as straight narrative history and an object lesson in ultimate decision-making, this book is masterful.
Andrew Roberts is the author of The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (HarperCollins).
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.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?