What They Want for Christmas
Mostly good books plus a few DVDs, and the soundtrack of a classic radio show.



The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis
, by Robert R. Reilly. In the ninth century, the Islamic world underwent a theological crisis at the intersection of faith and reason. Unlike Christianity (and particularly Catholic Christianity), which teaches that faith and reason ultimately agree and that the one informs the other, Islam began to see God as pure will to whom man owes unquestioning obedience. Reliance on reason was seen to imply lack of faith, and even today that notion affects the Islamist worldview. The implication for foreign policy is obvious: How do you negotiate and reason with someone whose worldview fundamentally rejects reason?

The Death of the Grown-Up: How America’s Arrested Development Is Bringing Down Western Civilization, by Diana West. The premise of the author’s work is that there has been a national decline of adulthood, replaced with a permanent class of adolescence. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How did American society get to this point?” you might want to read the answer West has to offer.

Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce, by Elizabeth Marquardt. The author, herself the product of divorce, conducted a pioneering national study that involved in-depth interviews with scores of young adults who grew up in families affected by divorce. When parents divorce, the two adults no longer have to negotiate differences so as to present their children with some semblance of a unified worldview. Instead, as mom and dad go their separate ways, their differing beliefs, attitudes, rules, and parenting styles mean that the child lives not only between two different homes but literally in two different worlds, never really feeling a part of either.

Why Enough Is Never Enough: Overcoming Worries about Money—a Catholic Perspective, by Gregory S Jeffrey. Forget about the subtitle; the publisher insisted on it in the hope of increasing sales. Rather, this book is an attempt at a theology of money, with two underlying premises: Our spiritual life is inextricably bound up with our material life, in ways most people have not yet begun to consider, and our attitude toward money is the area of life least examined and, consequently, the one where we lie to ourselves the most.

 For example, in chapter 4, where Jeffrey speaks of giving as a spiritual act, he discusses the difference between almsgiving and taxes, even in cases where taxes are for noble purposes.

Almsgiving softens the heart toward the recipient; taxes harden the heart.

Almsgiving is accompanied by a sincere concern about those served by the gift; not so with taxes.

With almsgiving, the donor enters into a sense of community with those his money serves. In contrast, through taxes we come to see ourselves and others in terms of makers and takers.

Almsgiving does what taxes cannot: It slowly changes the character of the donor.

 We just finished a brutal election cycle that focused on — money. It’s time for some fresh thinking on the topic.

Gregory S. Jeffrey is a development consultant in North Dakota.

The year 2013 will mark the rapid drawdown of our troops in and of our commitment to Afghanistan. What that means and why success in the handover is so iffy can be gleaned from three works of nonfiction and two novels, each of which would make for a great present under the tree. Give all five and your recipient will be the smartest person in the room who has never been to Afghanistan.

From the nonfiction side:

The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, by Jake Tapper, is a gripping narrative of one very far forward combat outpost over the three years of its existence. Tapper is best known as a relentlessly fair White House correspondent who ought to be the anchor of This Week, but this heart-wrenching and inspiring tale reminds us that Tapper is a fine, fine writer and reporter even as it fills the reader with foreboding about what comes next in Afghanistan.

As does Little America: The War Within the War in Afghanistan, by Rajiv Chandrasekaran. The author, a reporter for the Washington Post, made almost three dozen trips to the war zone over the past few years, and his account of what went wrong, as well as what went right, conveys that the war doesn’t have to be lost or Afghanistan given back to the Taliban, but it arrives very late in the debate.

In The Triple Agent: The al-Qaeda Mole Who Infiltrated the CIA, Joby Warrick of the Washington Post covers the secret war, the one waged by the CIA, which battles bravely on the front lines of Afghanistan, at considerable danger to its agents. This book captures that conflict while conveying as well why the enemy is so deadly an opponent.

Some people just won’t read nonfiction, though, and for them, and as a supplement to the books above, the latest Mitch Rapp novel, The Last Man, by Vince Flynn, does a great deal to convey the complexities of the secret war for Afghanistan, especially when it comes to Pakistan’s role and that of the ISI within Pakistan. Flynn is a master storyteller, and he teaches as well as entertains.

As does Steven Pressfield in The Afghan Campaign, a novel of Alexander’s invasion of Afghanistan in 330 b.c. Pressfield’s novel is popular with one of the heroes of Tapper’s saga and is the place to end or begin a course of reading on that country.

All of these authors have been my guests on air. The transcripts of our often long conversations are available at the transcripts page at and are cheat sheets, teasers for the real knowledge to be gained from reading the books. I can’t imagine that anyone who hasn’t been to Afghanistan could have a reasonable opinion on it without having read them all. When someone starts talking about what we should do there, ask him if he has read any of them.

Hugh Hewitt is a nationally syndicated radio host.