Summer Reading 2014

An NRO Symposium
Suggestions for selecting that timeless summer staple, a good book

As has become a tradition here, National Review Online asked friends and family for some book recommendations for summer.

Andrew V. Abela

The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead: Dos and Don’ts of Right Behavior, Tough Thinking, Clear Writing, and Living a Good Life, by Charles Murray. This superb little volume is bursting with useful guidance for young people.

The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die, by Niall Ferguson. Because it’s always fun to read Niall Ferguson.

Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society — Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here, and Where We Need to Go, by John Horvat II. A thoughtful and contemporary exposition of the principles underlying a Christian economic and social order.

The Servile State, by Hillaire Belloc. Friedrich Hayek wrote of this book that even though it was written decades earlier, it explained more of what happened in Nazi Germany than most books written afterwards. I think it explains even more of what is happening today.

The Prisoner of Zenda, by Anthony Hope. Everyone should have at least one of what Professor John Senior called the “Thousand Good Books” by his bedside at all times. Prisoner of Zenda is a thoughtful reflection on virtue mischievously disguised as a really really good adventure story.

— Andrew Abela is the Dean of the School of Business and Economics at the Catholic University of America.


Nancy French

To all the other mommies and daddies out there who still curl up at night with their little ones, I want to tell you about The Jesus Storybook Bible: Every Story Whispers His Name. Frequently, children’s books are lacking — especially the kind that attempt to teach eternal truths with cute vegetables, squirrels, or action figures. I was recently told about this book — an accurate, compelling way to teach children about God and a valuable resource for adults. It just so happens to be camouflaged as a kids’ book.

A portion from the first chapter shows how it’s different than others:

Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but (as you’ll soon find out) most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose). They get afraid and run away. At times they are downright mean. No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules, or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story. It’s an adventure story about a young Hero who comes from a far country to win back his lost treasure. It’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne – everything — to rescue the one he loves. . . . There are lots of stories in the Bible, but all the stories are telling one Big Story. The story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them.

My six-year-old loves to listen to this book over others, even when given the chance to switch to more modern tales. As an added bonus, my teenagers love to read it to her, since it presents such a compelling Jesus, who is at the “center of God’s great story of redemption” — he is at the center of their story, too. In fact, when I was talking to a friend at a hair salon recently, she commented that it was hard for her to understand the Bible. When I got home, I sent her this storybook, along with an actual Bible . . . and an explanation, of course.

I think it’s easy to measure your success as a person of faith by how many C.S. Lewis books you’ve read. But when you need to be reminded of the basics, this is a great place to start.

Thankfully, I’m in good company. Tim Keller, pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, said that he believes “every Christian should read this book.” 

— Nancy French is a three-time New York Times best-selling author.

Jim Geraghty

Brad Thor’s Act of War. Maybe his most fast-paced thriller yet, it offers several unnerving, eerily plausible scenarios of America’s foes creating new alliances and shows just how far-reaching the consequences of the federal government’s financial recklessness could be. Thor is pretty skilled at creating stories that work as stand-alone adventures of his hero, former Navy SEAL Scot Horvath, but his stories do flow from one book to another with recurring characters and consequences. Thor has written 14 novels, but a good starting point is his Black List, which hit bookstore shelves about a year before the Edward Snowden revelations and was eerily prescient (or exceptionally well informed) about the scope and depth of U.S. domestic surveillance.

You probably know Kurt Schlichter as the funny, acid-tongued, suffer-no-fools-gladly-or-any-other way Townhall columnist and Twitter wit. His new book, Conservative Insurgency, is an oral history of a successful struggle against progressive dominance from the perspective of the year 2041. It will stir two very needed conversations among conservatives: First, what are we fighting for? What will our envisioned “Shining City on a Hill” look like? And the second much-needed conversation: What are conservatives willing to do, and not willing to do, to achieve their goals?

Lisa De Pasquale’s Finding Mr. Righteous isn’t my usual kind of book, but it’s an eye-opening, often hilarious, often brutally honest, occasionally cringe-inducing look at dating in the political world of Washington, D.C., today. Lisa writes about her meandering spiritual journey and many missteps and shines a spotlight on the sometimes-unsavory side of how relationships in D.C. are built. It’s sort of Bridget Jones goes to This Town.

I haven’t read Adam Carolla’s President Me yet, but I found his Not Taco Bell Material strikingly enjoyable, and it’s a more inspiring autobiography than anyone would expect. Forget everything you know about him from The Man Show and his often-juvenile, off-color material. Carolla grew up in a chaotic home where money was perpetually tight, circumstances that many would find a formula for despair, irresponsibility, and excuse-making. He’s actually an all-American success story, and he writes about the unexpected joy of achieving what eluded his parents, the difficulty of instilling a work ethic in his kids, and appreciating what you have.

Oh, and there’s this other book I may have mentioned recently . . . 

— Jim Geraghty writes The Campaign Spot on National Review Online.

Hugh Hewitt

I am reading Daniel Silva’s The Heist, Brad Thor’s Act of War, C. J. Box’s Shots Fired, and Eric Dezenhall’s The Devil Himself for fun (and edification); and I’m rereading The Looming Tower, by Lawrence Wright, because ISIS makes it necessary to recall the origins of their movement and how the West looked away for decades and decades.

I cannot read Jim Geraghty’s The Weed Agency because, for some inexplicable reason, I was the only broadcaster in America not to receive a prepublication copy of what is rumored to be a hilarious book. But then again, I wouldn’t know Jim. (I have been giving him a hard time on air and am enjoying it too much to stop. Enjoy the book!) 

— Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated radio talk-show host, a professor of law at the Fowler School of Law at Chapman University, and a partner in the Los Angeles office of a national law firm. You can follow him on Twitter.


Jordan Lorence

With the Supreme Court out of session this summer, I now have time to relax and read — even some non-erudite fare. Here are my book recommendations for this summer:

Amazing Grace, by Eric Metaxas. Metaxas writes with insight, wit, and flair to tell the fascinating story of William Wilberforce, who converted to Christ while in Parliament, and then labored 20 years to finally end the British Empire’s slave trade in 1807.  His inspiring perseverance also helped end the slave trade in the French Empire (read the book to find out how).

Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip Heath and Dan Heath: This book helps us learn how to communicate great, enduring ideas to the growing numbers increasingly indifferent to them.

The Poverty of Nations, by Wayne Grudem and Barry Asmus. The renowned theologian Wayne Grudem teams with economist Barry Asmus to explain why nations are poor and how to make them wealthy. (Spoiler Alert: Wealth doesn’t grow from governmental redistribution.)

Tintin, by Herge (the entire canon). My guilty pleasure of the summer. I love Tintin’s Indiana Jones–like adventures, and Herge’s illustrations are outstanding. Why can’t they make comics like Tintin anymore?

— Jordan Lorence is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, which works to protect religious liberty, life, and marriage.


Heather Mac Donald

Penrod, by Booth Tarkington (1914), is a hilariously empathetic evocation of American boyhood before the safety (and gender) police took over and cabined it with Consumer Product Safety regulations, play dates, and organized (preferably gender-neutral) sports. Tarkington’s language describing the twelve-year-old Penrod’s hell-raising battles with small-town Midwestern bourgeois civilization is exquisitely ironic and beautifully crafted:

“A bitter soul dominated the various curved and angular surfaces known by a careless world as the face of Penrod Schofield,” the book opens.

If you want to escape (no apologies needed!) today’s squalid, commercialized youth culture for a more innocent American era, brought back to life with supreme wit, Penrod provides a luxuriant refuge.

— Heather Mac Donald is Thomas Smith fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of The Burden of Bad Ideas.

John J. Miller

Just last week, I was stunned to learn that the classic science-fiction author E. E. “Doc” Smith lived for many years near my home in Hillsdale, Mich. In the 1920s and 1930s, he worked at the local mill, abandoned today but still standing, where he apparently specialized in doughnut mixes. In his free time, he helped invent the ”space opera,” a sub-genre that includes everything from Buck Rogers to Star Wars. For years, I’ve known of Smith’s reputation. Now I’ll sample his work, starting with The Skylark of Space, and also think about the Michigan Historical Marker that belongs in front of his old home.

The best crime novel I’ve read recently is The Draining Lake, by Icelandic writer Arnaldur Indridason, featuring his brooding series hero, Inspector Erlendur, in a flashback-heavy story that involves a Cold War murder.

I’ve also enjoyed the short stories of Henry S. Whitehead, a friend of H. P. Lovecraft’s who was a minister assigned to the Virgin Islands in the 1920s. He wrote of black magic, zombies, and much else. They’re gathered in a thick and inexpensive book called Voodoo Tales, and the best are “Sweet Grass“ and “The Passing of a God.” There’s even one called “Williamson,” and its shocking final-page revelation has caused me worry about a certain NR writer.

And don’t forget that in August, new editions of the Dungeons & Dragons core rulebooks come out, the Player’s Handbook, Monster Manual, and Dungeon Master’s Guide.

— John J. Miller is director of the Dow Journalism Program, the author of The First Assassin, and national correspondent for National Review.

John Pitney

Back in April, Azusa Pacific University abruptly cancelled a speech by Charles Murray. Some people on the campus objected to his presence, not because of what he had actually written but because of a hit piece by a left-wing advocacy group. On the same day that he was to speak at Azusa Pacific, Murray made a scheduled appearance at Claremont McKenna College to discuss his book, Coming Apart. The event went off without incident. Some students asked tough questions about his evidence and logic, but they were respectful, and he answered cheerfully. At the end, he thanked the audience for showing what real intellectual exchange looks like.

The students were well-prepared for the talk. I had assigned it in my Introductory American Politics class the previous fall, and it was extremely successful in sparking discussion about what Murray calls “the new upper class” and “the new lower class.” In their own lives, students could see Murray’s point that members of the educated upper class are increasingly separating themselves from other Americans by where and how they live. They also learned a lot about how changes in family structure have damaged the lower class.

It’s an important, sobering book.

Murray’s newest work, The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, is not as profound as Coming Apart, but it is still very useful to young people. This short manual, which Murray based on advice that he had long given to interns at the American Enterprise Institute, provides concrete guidance on speech, language (stop saying “like” in every sentence!), and comportment in everyday work life. From now on, I will recommend it to every student whom I advise about jobs and internships.

— John J. Pitney, Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College and coauthor of After Hope and Change: The 2012 Elections and American Politics.

Julie Shaw

For those tempted to reread The Hunger Games this summer in preparation for the forthcoming movie, check out 1984 and Brave New World instead. These dystopian classics explore the nature of tyranny and the effects of a corrupt regime on the human psyche better than any of the Hunger Games books do.

In George Orwell’s 1984, we follow Winston Smith, an outer party member in Airstrip One, formerly Great Britain. He works for the Ministry of Truth, rewriting history to keep up with Big Brother’s current narrative. Winton’s life bears all the markers of a hard tyranny: no freedom of speech, no freedom of religion, scarcity, crappy apartments, and swill masquerading as “victory” gin. 1984 depicts a bad regime that’s relatively new. Winston is old enough to remember the days before Big Brother. He has a broad vocabulary, a decent education, and a capacity to question the regime. By contrast, his twenty-something love interest, Julia, has grown up in the regime. Her rebellion amounts to illicit sex. Doublespeak has corrupted her ability to understand the problems of the regime or to formulate an effective challenge.

In Brave New World, though, Aldous Huxley presents a London in 632 A.F. (after Ford, or 2540) long corrupted. Huxley’s tyranny oppresses the soul, not the body: Life consists of mini golf, free sex, soma, and comfort. There are no great thoughts, nor are there devious ones and no literature or religion. Because the regime is so established, no one inside has the ability to challenge it. Instead, an outsider undermines the way of life. The best moment in the book is the conversation between the outsider, John the Savage, and the World Controller, Mustapha Mond. John diagnoses the regime as shallow. “I don’t want comfort,” he declares to the World Controller. “I want God, I want poetry. I want real danger. I want freedom. I want goodness. I want sin.” When compared with this dialogue, Katniss Everdeen’s interactions with President Snow are a snooze fest.

Lastly, my summer reading list would not be complete without a Dorothy Sayers novel. This summer I’ll complete the last book in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, Busman’s Honeymoon. Busman’s Honeymoon follows Lord Peter and his new bride, Harriet Vane, on their honeymoon in a farmhouse in Hertfordshire. They arrive to find the previous owner of their farmhouse dead in the cellar. So much for the quiet honeymoon. Now the sleuth lovers will spend their first weeks of marital bliss finding the killer.

— Julia Shaw is writer in Alexandria, Va.

Tevi Troy

As with most readers, vacation and travel typically allow me to read more books in the summertime. I try to mix up both new books as well as older books I may have missed when they came out. One of the newer books that I enjoyed was Daniel Gordis’s Menachem Begin, a look at the Israeli prime minister’s long and eventful career. Gordis notes that Begin “is the only leader in the history of democracy to have lost eight consecutive elections only to win the ninth.” Begin also had a keen understanding of the politics of power and retribution, and he would clearly have strong thoughts on how Israel should react to the recent horrific murder of three Israeli teens by Hamas terrorists.

Another newish book is Thomas Cahill’s Heretics & Heroes, on the Renaissance and Reformation. Cahill has a gift for humorous observations, such as the one that there have been many inconclusive claims about the Borgias but “that the Borgias were vicious and implacable and threw howlingly good parties is indisputable.” In addition, “thanks to the long tradition of royal inbreeding,” Charles V “had a projecting longer jaw that made him resemble a somewhat awkward gorilla.” There was, however, one annoying tic in this book that I did not notice in his previous books The Gifts of the Jews and How the Irish Saved Civilization. Cahill is apparently quite liberal, and this book about Europe many centuries past is nonetheless marred by unnecessary asides on current politics, with disparaging mentions of Karl Rove and Crossroads GPS. To the extent that Cahill is continuing his series on Western civilization, I would hope that he could leave out the contemporary commentary in subsequent books.

Dave Itzkoff’s Mad as Hell, on the making of the movie Network, is carried by Itzkoff’s depiction of the film’s auteur, Paddy Chayefsky. Chayefsky, who was Jewish, got his nickname when he tried to avoid KP duty in the army by claiming that he had to go to mass. His superior would have none of it and told him, “Sure you do, Paddy.” The name stuck. Chayefsky was angry, funny, and driven, and he needed all those characteristics to get the film made according to his vision. Yet, interestingly, he was a little uncomfortable with how savage he was on the networks and even wrote letters of contrition after the film came out to Walter Cronkite — on whom the man character was based — and John Chancellor.

Going back a few years, I have also read Thomas Bass’s The Spy Who Loved Us, regarding the North Vietnamese spy Pham Xuan An. An, who worked as a journalist for Western media organizations, fooled both journalists and U.S. intelligence as he sent a steady stream of information on American activities to his Communist handlers. His spying led to the deaths of thousands of Americans. Despite this, former AP reporter Peter Arnett’s biggest complaint after finding out that An was a spy was that “what he did was allow the right-wingers to come up and slug us in the eye.”

My last recommendation is Clay Risen’s A Nation on Fire, a look at the race riots of the 1960s with a special focus on the 1968 riots after Martin Luther King’s assassination. In these days, when frequent discussions of the 1 percent vs. the 99 percent raise the specter of some kind of class warfare, it’s important to remember that it was not that long ago that racial riots were not only common, but an annual summer event. Risen explains how John Lindsay’s visit to Harlem after King’s death helped tamp down the riots that took place in so many other cities. Risen gives a nice plug to an occasional NRO contributor here, noting that “Even historian Vincent Cannato, who wrote an excellent but highly critical biography of Lindsay, admitted that ‘in some ways, Lindsay’s reaction to the King riots represented a high point in his administration.’”

The next book on my list is John Micklethwait’s and Adrian Woolridge’s The Fourth Revolution: The Global Race to Reinvent the State. These Economist editors and regular co-authors did a fine job with The Right Nation, their 2004 take on conservatism. I have two long plane rides on the upcoming July Fourth weekend, so I look forward to delving into this one, and reporting back on it during my end-of-the-year reading roundup.

— Tevi Troy is the President of the American Health Policy Institute and author of  What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: Two Hundred Years of Popular Culture in the White House.

Bing West

For good summer reading, I nominate Robert Kagan’s book, The World America Made.

— Bing West, a former assistant secretary of defense for international affairs, has written seven books about the wars in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. 

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