Politics & Policy

Christmas Shopping 2013

As you look for gifts for loved ones, some recommendations.


Three books, two I want to read and one I have.

Duke, by Terry Teachout —​ I trust Terry on everything, especially jazz. His bio of Louis Armstrong, Pops, was a delight. Duke is the companion piece, the life of the other titan of golden-age jazz. From what Terry has told me, I expect Thackeray with a sound track: the story of an ambitious striver trying to make his way in a world that was only erratically hospitable.

The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus, by Jonathan Franzen — I am not a Franzen fan. But Karl Kraus, the early-20th-century Viennese wit, sounds like a must-know guy (the quip I know is his comment on left-wing factions, which fight like tiny creatures devouring each other in a drop of water). I am also impressed when a big-deal author devotes himself to a project that is not self-promoting.

1913: The Year Before the Storm, by Florian Illies — This one came across my desk at National Review. What a treat: bite-sized vignettes of cultural and political figures making their way across the last year of peace. My favorite: two young men who in January liked to walk in the park at Schonbrunn Palace in Vienna, and might even have nodded to each other in passing: Josef Djugashvili a.k.a Stavros Papadopoulos a.k.a Josef Stalin, and Adolf Hitler. “The terrible short 20th century begins on a January afternoon in 1913 in Vienna. The rest is silence.”

Richard Brookhiser, a National Review senior editor, is the author, most recently, of Madison.



The Amelia Peabody Mysteries, by Elizabeth Peters — Starting with Crocodile on the Sandbank, the intrepid 19th-century feminist heroine Amelia Peabody and her equally remarkable family strode through the world of Egyptian archaeology with integrity and outrageously good luck. Author Elizabeth Peters (Barbara Mertz) passed away in August of this year, but the Amelia Peabody novels are a monument to the birth of Egyptology, to many creators of early-20th-century fiction, from Arthur Conan Doyle to H. Rider Haggard, and to the author’s own brilliantly arch humor, which can be fairly compared to Jane Austen’s. The series really takes off with the childhood of Amelia’s son Ramses in the third book, The Mummy Case. I recommend listening to Barbara Rosenblat’s wonderful audiobook narration of all the books.

The Sports Gene — I always thought there was a huge hole in the “theory of 10,000 hours” as expressed in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Who would put 10,000 hours into acquiring any skill, if he weren’t so naturally good at it that the experience was rewarding from the start? The complete answer now shows up in David Epstein’s book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance. Epstein demonstrates that there are populations disposed by genetics and environment to become super-achievers in various athletic disciplines. Epstein doesn’t claim that genes are the only thing; but in some fields of human endeavor, at least, genetic predisposition is decisive. Put in 10,000 hours if you enjoy the task — but don’t expect to surpass those whose genes give them an insuperable advantage!

The Smartest Kids in the World — Author Amanda Ripley cannot, alas, overcome her politically correct bias, but she has the journalistic integrity to include enough accurate data for readers to reach their own conclusion about what approach to education is the most effective, admirable, and conducive to happiness. Short answer: Finland, not Korea, please. Perhaps I read this book differently because I had already read (and agreed with) The Homework Myth (Kohn) and The Case Against Homework (Bennett & Kalish). Ignore Ripley’s elitist sneers at Midwestern rejection of the Common Core — by her own evidence (and Finland’s!), the Common Core is doomed to fail anyway. You shouldn’t move to Finland — but we should certainly learn from Finland’s extraordinarily successful (yet completely predictable) success.

The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings, as read by Rob Inglis — Ignore the absurdly overblown movie version of The Hobbit — Peter Jackson has never understood Tolkien and never will. Instead, experience Lord of the Rings — the greatest work of prose fiction in the 20th century — as it should be experienced, not as a movie, but as a book read and sung aloud. Readers tend to skip over the songs and poems, but they are a vital part of the world and culture Tolkien created. In Rob Inglis’s powerful reading, all the songs are performed — with melodies that Tolkien approved during his lifetime. Now that you can download the whole trilogy and listen to it on portable devices, it’s time to remind yourself what true storytelling is.

Etiquette & Espionage, by Gail Carriger — Somewhere between Steampunk, Oz, and Jane Austen, you can find the world of Gail Carriger’s wonderful new young adult series, starting with Etiquette & Espionage. A misfit young English lady in the Napoleonic era is sent to a highly unusual finishing school — where, dodging highway robbers and the occasional werewolf, she finds her way through the cracks and creases of society and school. The sequel, Curtsies & Conspiracies, just came out.

Orson Scott Card is a novelist and critic.



Katherine Paterson is best known as an award-winning novelist for kids (Bridge to Terabithia, The Great Gilly Hopkins). It’s less widely known that she is also a former Presbyterian missionary and a pastor’s wife, and that she spent many years writing stories to be read aloud at her church’s Christmas Eve service. Paterson has now collected many of these stories in the book A Stubborn Sweetness and Other Stories for the Christmas Season. There’s nothing saccharine or sentimental about these tales of a persecuted Japanese pastor, a pregnant teenage thief, a homeless drifter and his family, and more — but there is much that’s inspirational. Bittersweet, moving, and beautifully written, these stories of faith make up a collection to treasure.

If you’re in the mood for something a little more traditional but equally inspirational, there’s always A Christmas Carol! The Annotated Christmas Carol, edited by Michael Patrick Hearn, offers a wealth of information on Charles Dickens’s beloved classic. A detailed introduction and notes, along with copious illustrations, shine a new and helpful light on the old story.

At the other end of the spectrum is Barnes & Noble’s new pocket-sized edition of the Carol. It has no notes or illustrations, but it’s nicely bound and printed, and the perfect size for a stocking stuffer!

— Gina Dalfonzo is the editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.



Here are a few of my favorite titles that I read in 2013. Any would make a great gift for the special someone on your list, provided he or she is interested in ideas.

Yuval Levin is perhaps the sharpest conservative writer in Washington, D.C. His just-released book, The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, shows how a debate 200 years ago still shapes our politics today. Anyone seeking a better understanding of the philosophical differences between conservatives and liberals could do no better than look in Levin’s writings. They illuminate what’s at stake in how we understand nature and human nature — and that greatest reflection of all on human nature, government.

But can a Catholic be a conservative, and even a tea partier? Samuel Gregg’s Tea Party Catholic: The Catholic Case for Limited Government, a Free Economy, and Human Flourishing goes back to the first tea party to show how natural-law theory, Catholic social teaching, and the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton, make the case for the American experiment in ordered liberty. Gregg is one of the best thinkers on these questions writing today, and his argument defending our form of polity, neither liberal nor libertarian, is one of the best on offer.

Of natural-law theorists, there is none greater than Princeton’s Robby George. In his new collection of essays, Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism, George shows how the best of human reason can defeat the reigning orthodoxies of liberal secularism. Amidst growing attacks on religious liberty and traditional morality, George shows how conscience has rights because it has duties, duties that the state ought never to undermine or violate.

And for the future of global Catholicism, no one does it better than George Weigel. And nowhere has he done it better than in Evangelical Catholicism: Deep Reform in the 21st-Century Church. Evangelical Catholicism isn’t a new church, but a new cultural expression of the timeless truths of Christ. Its adherents embrace faith and reason, Scripture and tradition, church authority and individual conscience, liturgical prayer and personal piety, and holiness and mission above all else.

Theology is meant to be lived, and Rod Dreher paints one picture of holiness — warts and all — in his moving tribute to his late sister, The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life.

The religious have more babies, and as church attendance declines so too do nurseries. That’s the conventional wisdom at least. Mary Eberstadt challenges this in her fascinating book How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization. Herein Eberstadt argues that family decline — and fertility decline — contribute to religious decline. Marshaling impressive historical and sociological evidence, Eberstadt makes a case for a “double helix” of family and faith — each dependent on the other, rising or falling together.

What the future will hold as they fall is the subject of Jonathan Last’s What to Expect When No One’s Expecting: America’s Coming Demographic Disaster. Never has demography been as entertaining to read. Last is a great writer who makes a potentially boring topic (full of data sets, charts, and graphs) come to life. The book is chock full of anecdotes and funny stories, but also meticulous and judicious: His isn’t a morality tale about society going to hell in a hand basket — he sees both the pros and the cons of contemporary fertility trends, and he points to the various positive and negative factors that likely influenced the new trends. Nevertheless, the trend is leading, as the subtitle notes, to disaster. Find out what to expect.

For the more scholarly on your gift list, let me suggest three academic titles, in history, philosophy, and theology. Brad Gregory’s intellectual tour de force The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society argues that today’s society is the result of the Reformation. Without intending it, the Reformers planted theological seeds that sprouted secular fruit hundreds of years later: relativism about truth, subjectivism in morality, consumerism in economics, secularism in politics, and an indifferentism to theological claims.

Indifference to theology, however, proves fatal to coherent morality, or so argues John Rist in Plato’s Moral Realism: The Discovery of the Presuppositions of Ethics. Rist argues that a close reading of the Platonic dialogues reveals a development in Plato’s thought, with the most mature dialogues pointing to the necessity of a metaphysics of morals — and a theological one at that.

The philosopher Alexander Pruss develops one such theological account in his book One Body: An Essay in Christian Sexual Ethics. This is quite simply the best, most thorough, most analytically rigorous contemporary presentation and defense of Christian sexual ethics.

Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon Fellow at the Heritage Foundation and the editor of Public Discourse. He is a co-author, with Sherif Girgis and Robert P. George, of the book What Is Marriage? Man and Woman: A Defense.



An Accidental Life is a gripping novel with scenes inspired by real-life events. In a New Orleans courtroom the best-kept secret in the world is about to unravel, and a young couple’s jet-set lives are about to change. Senior district attorney Peter Jacobs is facing the trial of a lifetime, and his beloved wife Rebecca, a glamorous and driven partner at a major law firm, suddenly finds her life spinning out of control and her new faith tested while facing a once-in-a-lifetime choice about whether and how to combine career and family. New from lawyer-turned-novelist Pamela Binnings Ewen, An Accidental Life is fiction based on fact: the testimony of registered nurse Jill Stanek before a U.S. congressional committee confirming that it was routine for doctors in Chicago’s Christ Hospital to have nurses take infants born alive during abortions down to a “soiled utility room” and leave them to die. This novel has it all: intellectual drama, romance, suspense, moral dilemma, and good character development. It would make a great gift for women who are searching for role models on how to navigate a life that honors family, faith, and a meaningful career.

Dorinda C. Bordlee is a co-founder of the Bioethics Defense Fund.



The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life: I’ve placed Rod Dreher’s heart-rending masterpiece in the very short list of books that have changed my life. I reviewed the book for the dead-tree edition of National Review, expecting it to be a rather conventional story of one woman’s battle with cancer. Instead it’s a tonic to the Lean In ambition of our times, providing the reader with a sense of purpose and place as we live in and serve our own communities.

1914: Catastrophe Europe Goes To War: Max Hastings’s latest book could well be subtitled “The Year the West Began to Die.” I’ve read many books on the start of World War I, but none so clearly argued and none so vivid. Rather than fall for the modern revisionism that blames World War I on, well, everyone, Hastings convincingly puts the blame on Austria and Germany, demonstrating how their actions left the Western powers with a series of bad choices. Once the war starts, the writing grows even more vivid, and we can see the beginning of the end of European dominance, as hundreds of thousands of young men die in futile offensives, convinced the human spirit can overcome the machine gun. They were wrong.

The Screwtape Letters: On the 50th anniversary of C. S. Lewis’s death, it’s only fitting to remember him with one of his best, most insightful, and most imaginative works. In Screwtape, an older devil gives advice and counsel on the human condition to a younger devil, who is assiduously trying to tempt his “patient” away from God. I dare you to read it without seeing the worst of yourself reflected in the various summations of human sin. The book is a bracing tonic against self-love, pointing us to our one, eternal hope. As timely as it was when it was published in 1942 today, read it and be enlightened, delighted, and — most important – humbled.

— David French is a lawyer, writer, and veteran of the Iraq War. He is a co-author, with his wife, of Home and Away.



This wonderful exercise annually gives me plenty of choices for family and friends, and annually I recommend that you treat your favorite people to the Gabriel Allon novels of Daniel Silva, the Aubrey–Machurin stories from Patrick O’Brian, and the Sharpe series from Bernard Cornwell. Give the first of each series — The Kill ArtistMaster and Commander, and Sharpe’s Tiger, respectively — a try to see if the taste is there. If it is, well, the future addict will thank you.

Two other choices for those who, like me, have already finished off each book in all of those wonderful series.

First, the novella An Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett, never — never — fails to enchant whomever I have given it to.

And David Mamet’s new trilogy of novellas, Three War Stories, grips the reader and leaves him much sadder, and wiser. America’s wonder-worker in words strikes again.

— Hugh Hewitt is the host of The Hugh Hewitt Show and the author of the forthcoming The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success.


The complete Breaking Bad on Blu-ray, including 55 hours of special features and a new documentary packed in a commemorative replica money barrel with an apron from the Los Pollos Hermanos fast-food chain in the show, for $199.99 from Amazon, is only for the series junkie in withdrawal. But at $15.69 the first season DVD makes a great introduction to some marvelous TV for any discriminating adult who isn’t already a fan. The acclaimed series featuring chemistry-teacher-turned-meth-cook Walter White is a psychologically realistic exploration of a particularly extreme mid-life crisis. But it’s also literary television that recalls the moral seriousness, intelligent artistry, and sharp edge of mid-20th-century fiction by Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and Flannery O’Connor. Its themes are similar, too. Breaking Bad is an extended exploration of the Four Last Things: Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. (Or at least three out of four. “Dare we hope that Walter White may be saved?” is an even more fascinating question than “Is Scobie in hell?” which Evelyn Waugh asked of Graham Greene’s The Heart of the Matter.)

Perhaps editors, like mothers, shouldn’t play favorites, but I will confess that my all-time favorite of the books I have edited is the just-published When Did White Trash Become the New Normal? A Southern Lady Asks the Impertinent Question, by Charlotte Hays. Her keen eye marks the telltale signs of our civilizational decline: the tattooed Chi Omega at the fancy benefit dinner, the Hollywood star with four foreclosed mansions, the popular children’s dolls that look like they should be run in on a morals charge. She uses her trademark self-deprecating Southern-belle humor to make a serious point about what we’ve lost to White Trash Normal, and how we might recover. Boxes throughout the book instruct the reader on “White Trash Money Management” and more. $17.20 on Amazon.

A Prayer Journal, by Flannery O’Connor, is a brief window into a remarkable soul. While she was in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and beginning Wise Blood, O’Connor kept a spiritual journal in a marble-covered composition book. She pondered faith in an age of “intellectual quackery,” and answered Proust and D. H. Lawrence on love and sex. This book will be a treat for anyone who loves the sound of Flannery O’Connor’s voice: “What I am asking for is really very ridiculous. Oh Lord, I am saying, at present I am a cheese, make me a mystic, immediately.” $10.80 on Amazon.

Marcia Williams has adapted classic literature, folk tales, and mythology in delightful “graphic novels” — clever and physically sturdy comic books. The illustrations are colorful, comical, and full of surprising details that keep children poring over the pages. Her Tales from Shakespeare is particularly good, with the dialogue taken straight from the plays. Amazon stocks it and several other Marcia Williams graphic novels, including The Iliad and The Odyssey, for under $10 each.

— Elizabeth Kantor is an editor at Regnery Publishing and the author, most recently, of The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After.



This is the year I discovered Joseph Roth and my Christmas gift to NRO readers is to pass the discovery along. I was listening to a BBC 4 app in my car during a late-night drive. I caught what literally must’ve been the last twelve sentences of a dramatization of Roth’s novel The Radetsky March. I was instantly struck by the quality of the writing and downloaded the iBook when I got home. It’s a brilliant evocation of the coming of World War I and the fall of the Austro–Hungarian empire. It’s followed by a sequel, The Emperor’s Tomb, which is also very fine. And for those who can’t get enough, as I couldn’t, there’s also What I Saw, a collection of the journalism Roth wrote while he was watching the Weimar Republic give way to Nazism.

The Austro-Hungarian Jew Roth started out as such a true-believing lefty that he wrote his journalism under the name Red Roth. But when he saw that a socialist paradise did not follow the fall of his homeland, he grew homesick for the good things that had gone before. He understood the injustices of the class system, and yet also understood that the multi-racial monarchy had been far more tolerant than what was to come after, and he learned painfully that Western tradition is often all that stands between mankind and barbarity. Too bad every generation seems to have to learn this anew!

If you haven’t read them, treat yourself this Christmas or Hanukkah to The Radetsky March and The Emperor’s Tomb.  I’m hoping to find Roth’s novel of Jewish life — Job — “under the tree.”

Andrew Klavan’s latest thriller for young adults is Nightmare City.



Father Elijah: An Apocalypse, by Michael O’Brien — Michael O’Brien presents a thrilling apocalyptic novel about the condition of the Roman Catholic Church at the end of time. It explores the state of the modern world, and the strengths and weaknesses of the contemporary religious scene, by taking his central character, Father Elijah Schäfer, a Carmelite priest, on a secret mission for the Vatican that embroils him in a series of crises and subterfuges affecting the ultimate destiny of the Church.

Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future, by Tim Elmore — The one book every parent, teacher, and coach should read. This landmark book paints a compelling and sobering picture of what could happen to our society if we don’t change the way we relate to today’s teens and young adults. Researched-based and solution-biased, it moves beyond sounding an alarm, to outlining practical strategies.

— Randy Hain is the author, most recently, of Something More: The Professional’s Pursuit of a Meaningful Life.



Kids don’t always put books at the top of their Christmas wish lists, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving them as gifts. A young-adult novel by Andrew Klavan is always a safe bet, and his latest, Nightmare City, has just come out. The day it arrived in the mail, one of my boys grabbed it before I had much of a chance to take a look. When I was his age, my favorite book probably was The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien. It remains popular in our house now, and we’ll line up for the second installment of the movie soon. I didn’t discover Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game until I was older, but it’s one of the books my students at Hillsdale College are most likely to have read in their free time.

John J. Miller is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale CollegeNational Review’s national correspondent, and the author of The First Assassin.



I have some favorite books for children that I like to give as gifts, at Christmas or for any special occasion. The first — which I often give as a baptismal gift, but is just a fantastic book on faith — is the great work by Max Lucado, You Are Special. It teaches children that God loves us despite our imperfections, and doesn’t care what others say about us.

A title that I actually often give to newlyweds as part of their wedding gift is a great picture book called Sun and Moon: A Giant Love Story, by Lisa Desimini. It tells a tale of seeking the impossible heart’s desire. Romantics will love it, and they can also (someday) read it to their children.

A tale that I had heard a college friend tell for years — about being one of the original girls who dressed differently and was teased about it — came to life as she published her story with illustrations by her sister. The Yellow Tutu, by Kirsten Bramsen, is a delight.

I also love to send young girls the two titles by Lynne Cheney. America: A Patriotic Primer was her first book, and it was followed up with A Is for Abigail: An Almanac of Amazing American Women, which celebrates women we all can admire from A to Z.

And I always like to recommend buying gifts online from organizations that support women artisans in great need. Last year I found Made by Survivors, which assists women who have escaped human trafficking and are starting new lives.

Merry Christmas everyone!

— Colette Moran writes for NRO’s Homefront.


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.



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.

Jim Daly

C.S. Lewis at War (Radio Theatre) — The story behind the writing of Mere Christianity fascinates me, especially since it’s my favorite Lewis book.

The Conviction to Lead, by Al Mohler ​— Southern Seminary’s president writes with both clarity and a sense of practicality. 

How Christianity Changed the World, by Dr. Alvin Schmidt — Perspective is a powerful thing. If we want to understand the present and lead into the future, we first need to appreciate and be knowledgeable about the past.

A Red Ryder BB gun ​​— Every boy needs a Red Ryder carbine-action 200 shot range-model air rifle. And no, he won’t shoot his eye out!

 Jim Daly is the president of Focus on the Family


Jason Lee Steorts

A History of Christian Thought, by the late Paul Tillich — It made me realize how intellectually vast and varied Christianity is. Particularly good on the connection between Hellenistic and Christian thought; on the root philosophical tensions from which theological creativity has sprung over two millennia; and on Reformation and post-Reformation theology. Valuable in correcting caricatures of this last. I also gained an appreciation for what is unique and valuable in Eastern Christianity, and what is right in the voluntaristic line of thought that traces back to Augustine. Tillich’s own commitments are evident, but he is scrupulously fair and oceanically learned.

The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, in three volumes — A systematic presentation of the three Buddhist “vehicles” (roughly, traditions of contemplation and practice) from a Tibetan point of view, edited from transcripts of the Vajradhatu Seminaries conducted by the late Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. Conservatives’ ideas about Buddhism seem to be derived largely from hostile stereotypes of hippies and the New Age movement; if you want the real thing, or a version of it, read this. You may be surprised by its earthiness and practicality, but perhaps also by the profundity and humanity that can develop from a willingness to abide in questions rather than formulate dogmas. “A philosophical school,” Trungpa says in Vol. 2, “develops arguments to protect its own concepts and ideas, while a system of thinking is a process of presenting a certain viewpoint very harmoniously and systematically to people’s minds.”

The Tao Te Ching and the inner chapters of the Chuang Tzu, translated by David Hinton — These two classics of Taoism are also unfairly dismissed by people who dislike the people who like them. But their wisdom is great, and, distilled as it is into a poetic medium, will disclose itself at greater depth the more you think about it. The story of the K’un fish and the P’eng bird that opens the Chuang Tzu is among the most powerful metaphors I know of, not least because we must reinterpret it once we meet the cicada and the fledgling dove. Hinton’s translations are accurate renderings of the Chinese into a lively modern English. I would slightly revise the opening lines of his Tao Te Ching — from “A Way become Way isn’t the perennial Way / A name become name isn’t the perennial name” to “Way become a way isn’t perennial Way / Name become a name isn’t perennial Name.”

— Jason Lee Steorts is the managing editor of National Review.

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