Road to Valor, by Aili and Andres McConnon — Christmas is the perfect time to read about a humble hero whom few people know. The late Gino Bartali certainly qualifies. He won the Tour de France for Italy in 1938 and ’48. Yet his greatest legacy remains the Jewish lives he helped save when Mussolini and Hitler brought the Holocaust to his homeland. As part of a secret network run by a local cardinal, Bartali smuggled counterfeit identity documents to Italian Jews by hiding them inside his bicycle, thereby saving hundreds of lives. This book shares his largely unknown story.
Fearless, by Eric Blehm — Adam Brown’s life proves that no one is ever too far gone for God. When Brown descended into hard-core drug abuse after graduating high school, there seemed to be nothing left of the generous, selfless kid he had once been. But with unwavering support from his family, Brown turned his life over to God and climbed out of his personal hell to become a member of the Navy’s elite SEAL Team Six. Though this book shares the story of a warrior who died while serving his country, it is ultimately Adam’s love for his family, friends, and the children of Afghanistan that makes this a journey of redemption worth taking.
Love and Salt, by Amy Andrews and Jessica Mesman Griffith — So a rationalist and a mystic walked into a bar. Okay, it wasn’t a bar; they walked into a writing class. But Andrews and Griffith meeting that day began a spiritual friendship that made them companions on the road to God — companions who struggled through doubt, tragedy, and the mysteries of Catholicism through letters they wrote to each other every day. This is a relatable and engaging read for men or women who want a deeper appreciation of their faith.
The Lower Lights Sing Noel — At Christmas, we celebrate the harmony between God and man that Jesus’s birth restored. It’s the kind of harmony reflected in this second Christmas album from the Lower Lights. With a sound reminiscent of the Americana/folk/bluegrass of O Brother, Where Art Thou? this massive collaboration among 30 singers and musicians has produced song interpretations that range from heavenly harmonies to foot-stomping hootenannies.
Fringe: The Complete Series — This little-seen cult TV favorite created by J. J. Abrams began as a slightly updated version of The X Files, but soon became a powerful family drama grounded in the world of fringe science, alternative realities, and a universe that was broken by a grief-stricken father trying to save his son. Best of all, the show addressed themes like scientific ethics, the desire to play God, the necessity of seeking forgiveness from God, and, in the final season, the suppression of freedom in a totalitarian state. With top-notch acting that deserved Emmy nominations and writing that provided excitement and depth, Fringe was ultimately a story about a father’s love for his son. It’s a story relevant at Christmas or any time of year.
— Tony Rossi is the director of communications of The Christophers.
HANS A. VON SPAKOVSKY
My gift recommendations for Christmas this year range from serious to entertaining, and as usual I have suggestions that cover the gamut of reading, audio, and video gifts. First up are two books:
The Monuments Men — Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves, and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, by Robert M. Edsel — This is a fascinating, true account of the special unit created by the U.S. and British armies to both prevent the destruction of historic churches, museums, and monuments and recover the art and cultural artifacts the Germans had systematically looted from all over Europe. Accompanying Allied combat troops, these sculptors, architects, historians, and museum curators recovered thousands of works, including ones by Leonardo, Vermeer, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo, with the almost nonexistent resources they were given to do their job. The significance of their work was illustrated just recently by the discovery in Germany of 1,400 stolen artworks by painters like Picasso, Matisse, and Chagall hidden in the home of the son of a Nazi art dealer. The book would make a good movie . . . but looks like Hollywood already thought of that.
End of Days — The Assassination of John F. Kennedy, by James Swanson — My colleague at Heritage, James Swanson, provides an enthralling minute-by-minute account of what happened 50 years ago in Dallas. For those who enjoyed his prior books about the hunt for Lincoln’s killers and the chase for Jefferson Davis after the end of the Civil War, James provides the same captivating historical narrative combined with insightful looks at the characters and motivations of the people involved.
My video recommendation is Combat!, the American television series that aired on ABC for five years, from 1962 to 1967. All five seasons are now available on DVD (and every episode is up on YouTube). This is probably the best television show ever made about combat and World War II. It stars Vic Morrow and Rick Jason and is a gritty, muddy, realistic account of the men of King Company’s second platoon as they battle across France, starting at Normandy. Many members of the cast were veterans and the guest stars included Lee Marvin, Telly Savalas, Robert Duvall, James Coburn, Charles Bronson, James Caan, Leonard Nimoy, Mickey Rooney, and Ricardo Montalban, among others.
Finally, for those who commute and have lots of time to spend listening to audio, I recommend a DVD of Johnny Dollar, a radio show that ran from 1949 to 1962. when the golden age of radio ended. The show is about “the transcribed adventures of the man with the action-packed expense account — America’s fabulous freelance insurance investigator, Johnny Dollar.” It sounds hokey but is very entertaining as Dollar travels all over the country and the world investigating murders, mysterious disappearances, thefts of jewelry and art, and just about every other crime you can imagine. Every show starts with his phone ringing as some insurance executive calls him to investigate a claim, and Dollar tells the story of what happened by explaining every item on his expense account. The best shows are those starring Bob Bailey, who played the role for five years, from 1955 to 1960.
So, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to the readers of NRO, and may 2014 be a better year for all of us.
—Hans A. von Spakovsky is the senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation.