Hitting the beach? Traveling on a plane? You’ll need some reading material! National Review Online asked Denis Boyles, Orson Scott Card, John Derbyshire, Nancy French, Daniel Gelernter, Jonah Goldberg, Allen Guelzo, C. R. Hardy, Arthur Herman, Hugh Hewitt, Carrie Lukas, William McGurn, Eric Metaxas, Joseph Pearce, John J. Pitney, Father George W. Rutler, Hans von Spakovsky, and John Yoo for their recommendations. Here’s the first installment of their suggestions.
Prohibition is a pretty interesting topic to a guy who likes a drink, and I’ve found Danny Okrent’s Last Call — sidekicked by a tall, icy gin and a couple of warm afternoons — great company. “Liberals vs. conservatives” always seemed too simple and serious to me; “progressives vs. libertarians” (or, more accurately, “progressives vs. everyone else”) seems like a more entertaining way to see the 20th century, what with all those upper-class Protestants telling working stiffs how to live lives conducive to agricultural and industrial productivity. Okrent’s book is an interesting accompaniment to Andrew Sinclair’s brilliant — and by today’s standards deeply politically incorrect — 1962 study, Prohibition: The Era of Excess. If you want to know how class pretension and social issues came to define — and permanently divide — America between the years 1900 and 1990, Sinclair explains. (At the Fortnightly Review, Sinclair reviews Okrent. Judgment: mixed, not shaken.)
Recently, physicist Stephen Hawking told ABC News that “Science will defeat religion,” thus at once diminishing the value of both Hawking and science, but leaving religion unaffected entirely. Only someone whose understanding of theology and religion is deeply primitive could see a conflict between the two things; Hawking might as well have said, “Sewing machines will defeat magenta.” The real struggle for these celebrity scientists — Hawking and Dawkins, and their polemicists, like Hitchens — is to gain the mantle of moral authority. Doing so at the price of morality must seem a small price. At least that’s the topic of two very interesting books. One is Scientific Authority and Twentieth-Century America
, edited by Ronald Walters
for JHU Press. Reading the essays in Walters’s book, now nearly 12 years old, makes clear what’s at stake for those whose beliefs are limited by science, and why issues like climate change make them all go slightly berserk. That madness is the backdrop for Anthony O’Hear’s Philosophy in the New Century
, the one book of philosophy you should read if you ever hope to use the word “philosophically” with any sincerity. O’Hear is one of the few modern philosophers fluent in English, yet his survey is far from being an overview. It’s a short essay, only 200 pages or so, but I think you’ll find it’s impossible to overpraise.
Finally, my own work completing my history of the compilation of the magnificent eleventh edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica (whose 100th birthday is now approaching) has given me a chance to read one of those books that was assigned to me at least twice in college but that I neatly sidestepped each time. Now, just in time for my 750th annual class reunion, I’m finally reading Ruskin’s Eagle’s Nest — “ten lectures on the relation of Natural Science to Art.” What an idiot I’ve been (as I’m sure many of you will have realized), missing this great book all these years. I don’t know what the hell was on TV, but it couldn’t have been better than this. “How much of a man can a snake see?” (The question reverses nicely, in a debased, political way.)
– Denis Boyles is author, most recently, of Superior, Nebraska.