Summer Reading 2013
Recommendations on what to pack


For your summer-reading consideration this year, I recommend the following books (all with a Cold War element):

Witness, by Whittaker Chambers — Witness remains one of the greatest memoirs ever written. We live in a time when everyone under 40 (give or take a few years) has essentially forgotten about the Cold War. Possibly better than any other volume, Witness spells out the stakes involved and tells an amazing human story of colliding lives at the same time. I cannot remember the last time a book captured me as fully as this one did. I tried to collect the best passages and found myself simply retyping giant sections of the book.

Tortured for Christ, by Richard Wurmbrand — Keeping with the Cold War theme, readers should take the opportunity to read Richard Wurmbrand’s account of being beaten and tortured (mentally and physically) as a Lutheran pastor by the Communists. As I recently read about Wurmbrand’s sufferings (and those of many other Christians in prison with him), I was struck by the fear that their trials might be forgotten. This is more than a record of suffering, though. Tortured for Christ is a story of faithfulness and triumph in addition to martyrdom.

Adventures of an Accidental Sociologist: How to Explain the World without Becoming a Bore, by Peter Berger — There is an Austrian trio of the 20th century that has profoundly influenced my thinking. Its members are F. A. Hayek, Peter Drucker, and Peter Berger. Here in his autobiography, Berger relates the story of a female friend who was enthusiastic about the Soviet Union. When Berger introduced her to a Latvian couple who had been persecuted by Communist enforcers, she put her hands over her ears to avoid hearing any more. Her religion had been threatened. Contrary to the title’s implicit fear of sociology’s tie to boredom, Berger never has been anything other than provocative and interesting. This excellent personal history helps explain an improbable career, unusual publishing success, and the thoroughly individual life of an intriguingly religious man who often refers to himself as a “Godder” and is therefore an oddity in the academy.

Christ and Culture, by Richard Niebuhr — Every now and then we will hear a reference to Reinhold Niebuhr’s work, but his brother Richard was also a spectacular thinker. At a time when conservative Christians sometimes appear to be working in a spent political movement, the opportunity is ripe for revisiting fundamental issues. Niebuhr’s famed classifications of Christ against Culture, Christ of Culture, Christ above Culture, Christ and Culture in Paradox, and Christ Transforming Culture offer an excellent guide to reflection. His book The Kingdom of God in America is also worth every second spent reading it.

Stained Glass, by William F. Buckley Jr. — So far, all of my recommendations have involved the Cold War or Cold War–era writers. Since it’s the summer, I shouldn’t miss the opportunity to provide you with a good spy novel. Stained Glass is my favorite in the genre. John le Carré is the writer we think of when it comes to portraying the painful moral complexity of the intelligence world, but Buckley proved to be highly adept at exploring that landscape as well. His Blackford Oakes stars, as usual, but the real hero (and a tragic one) is Buckley’s young German noble Axel Wintergrin, who is determined to achieve the “spiritual mobilization” of the German people against the Soviets.

— Hunter Baker is the author of The End of Secularism and Political Thought: A Student’s Guide. He is the dean of instruction at Union University.


Summer, I’ve always heard, is a great time for trashy romance novels on the beach. I wouldn’t know, because I loathe trashy romance novels. But if you feel like packing a really good love story for your beach read, why not try the classics shelf? Here are a few of my favorites.

Cyrano de Bergerac, by Edmond Rostand — He was ugly, he was poor, and there’s never been another hero as romantic. In one of the best-loved plays ever written, Cyrano is a brilliant poet, a dashing swordsman, and a truly selfless and noble soul. The play itself is packed with wit, adventure, and heartbreak, and I never get tired of rereading it. (I suggest either the Brian Hooker or the Gertrude Hall translation.)

Gaudy Night, by Dorothy L. Sayers — Set at Oxford University in the 1930s, this one is considered by many, including me, to be Sayers’s best detective novel. It’s actually next-to-last in her Lord Peter Wimsey series, but you can read it first — I did, and I didn’t have any trouble picking things up. Harriet Vane is a plainspoken, practical, delightful heroine, and Lord Peter an ideal partner in both crime-solving and romance.

Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens — If you’re in the mood to lose yourself in one of those great big rambling Victorian novels, try this tale of poverty and riches in 1820s London. As usual with Dickens, there’s a boisterous cast of supporting players. But the two central characters, Amy Dorrit and Arthur Clennam, are quietly appealing, and their love story, while understated, is deeply satisfying.

— Gina Dalfonzo is editor of and Dickensblog.