Politics & Policy

Christmas Shopping 2014

Outside the Toys R Us in Times Square on the eve of “Black Friday.” (Andrew Burton/Getty)
Recommendations — an annual tradition

As is tradition on National Review Online, Thanksgiving weekend brings with it Christmas gift suggestions from writers whose bylines you’ve seen now and again here.

RYAN T. ANDERSON

Some of these titles might be from academic presses, but all of them can be fruitfully enjoyed by any college-educated reader.

The best book I read in 2014 is David Bentley Hart’s The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, and Bliss (here on Amazon). If you know anyone snookered by the new atheism (or really, any atheism for that matter), this is the book to give him or her. Hart is better read and more intelligent, and writes with greater elegance, than any of the anti-theists. And in this book he shows that all of our human experiences are ultimately founded upon the experience of God.

A close runner-up is the book written by the husband-wife tour de force that is Michael and Catherine Zuckert. (Full disclosure: Michael recently served as chair of my dissertation committee.) In Leo Strauss and the Problem of Political Philosophy, the Zuckerts establish themselves as the best commenters on Strauss and impressive political philosophers in their own right. The book will challenge anyone interested in thinking more deeply about the theologico-political problem, the ancients and moderns, Athens and Jerusalem, virtue and virtù, right and rights — positivism, historicism, nature . . . and philosophy.

On the subject of marriage and sexuality, ours is a particularly confused time. Three new books help sort through the issues. In their Cambridge University Press book Conjugal Union (here on Amazon), Patrick Lee and Robert George provide the most philosophically sophisticated defense of marriage to date. In Making Gay Okay (here on Amazon), Robert Reilly explains how a rejection of the laws of nature and nature’s God has led to our current illiberal liberalism on matters LGBT. And in Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity (here on Amazon), Anthony Esolen has penned the best-written arguments on the centrality of marriage to date.

Michael Novak is undoubtedly a hero to many in the NRO family. In Theologian and Philosopher of Liberty: Essays of Evaluation and Criticism in Honor of Michael Novak (here on Amazon), Sam Gregg has assembled a worthy tribute to the man. An international group of scholars (including yours truly) contributes reflections on Novak’s work on democratic capitalism, Catholic social thought, and the theology and philosophy of liberty.

Two young scholars in the mold of Michael Novak made their authorial debut in 2014. While both authors are friends of mine, it isn’t bias alone that makes me think NRO should keep an eye on these two. In The Foundations of Natural Morality: On the Compatibility of Natural Rights and the Natural Law (on Amazon here), S. Adam Seagrave provides an entirely new (if not entirely satisfactory) argument for the compatibility of Locke and Aquinas, natural rights and natural law. In Among the Ruins: Syria Past and Present (here on Amazon), Christian Sahner pens an insightful political-theological essay in the guise of a travel memoir on what has been and likely will be at the cradle of civilization.

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

 

MITCH BOERSMA

Designed to be cracked open on New Year’s Day to begin a daily journey through 365 bite-sized, winsome tales of Americans shaped by their Catholic faith, The American Catholic Almanac, by Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson, is well timed as a Christmas gift. Come for President Reagan visiting Notre Dame to unveil a U.S. postage stamp commemorating Knute Rockne (March 9), stay for the Sisters of Charity tending the wounded on the rain- and blood-soaked fields of Gettysburg (July 3).

Ideal for new moms and dads, but helpful for anyone looking to develop healthy habits of prayer and hospitality, The Little Oratory, by David Clayton and Leila Maria Lawler, is a handsomely crafted guide for how to turn a house into a home, and a home into an embodied expression of the two central tenets of the Christian life — love of God and love of neighbor. 

If you enjoyed Eric Metaxas’s bestselling biography Bonhoeffer, you’re sure to appreciate My Battle Against Hitler, a recently translated memoir of this other Dietrich-named theologian-turned-activist committed to staunch and vocal resistance to the Nazi party. John Henry Crosby, founder and director of the Hildebrand Project, has done the Anglophone world a great service by translating Dietrich von Hildebrand’s harrowing account of his life as one of the earliest members of the anti-Nazi resistance — sounding the alarm well before the Third Reich came to power. 

— Mitch Boersma is chief operating officer of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., and co-founder of the Leonine Forum.

 

JOSEPH BOTTUM

In days when a rib-eye roast will cost you $15.99 a pound — and even flank steak runs $12.99 a pound — you need a Sous Vide machine. This slow water-bath cooking of food in vacuum-sealed bags works well for good steaks, which is why restaurants use the machines. But it comes into its own with the cheap cuts (or what passes for cheap nowadays, with pot roasts at $6.99 a pound), delivering them tender, pink, and perfect.

Compared with the cost of posters elsewhere, the U.S. Geological Survey is practically giving away its wall-poster maps — including gorgeous selections from their archives, many from the high-water mark of beautiful mapmaking at the end of the 19th century. The clunkiness of the Geological Survey’s website will remind you of other government adventures in Internet sales, and you need to move quickly for Christmas presents, since the shipping can be slow. But, man, this is great, inexpensive stuff — as, for instance, this lovely topographical map of South Dakota, huge at 45 by 52 inches, for only $9.

Bit by bit, piece by piece, Richard Brookhiser has created an unrivaled library of American biography. I don’t just mean just his latest, Founders’ Son, on Lincoln, good as it is. I mean the whole body of work — on Madison, Hamilton, Washington, Morris, Adams. You can learn a deep sense, the deepest sense, of America, just by reading Brookhiser’s amazing work.

— Joseph Bottum is a bestselling writer of Kindle Singles on Amazon and the author, most recently, of An Anxious Age: The Post-Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of America.

 

Stanley Carlson-Thies

If you and your loved ones love music (and you should), and you haven’t yet taken advantage of the wonderful free performances available if you happen to be in the D.C. area — then you should! Here are two gifts for the year ahead:

Many Sunday evenings, in the West Garden Court at the National Gallery of Art, free classical-music (broadly defined) concerts, often keyed to exhibitions, and always well performed.  

On different days throughout the year, in the Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress, wonderful classical and other concerts, with world-class performers, for only the cost of a TicketMaster service charge.  

 Stanley Carlson-Thies is president of the Institutional Religious Freedom Alliance.

 

GINA DALFONZO 

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More — Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, by Karen Swallow Prior. The writer and educator Hannah More did more than almost anyone else to help bring about the abolition of slavery in England, yet her name (unlike that of her friend William Wilberforce) is largely forgotten. My friend Karen, in her new biography of More, has done us all the great service of resurrecting her legacy.

Something Other than God: How I Passionately Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It, by Jennifer Fulwiler. Jennifer is another friend, but even if she weren’t, her thoughtful and compelling story of how she journeyed from atheism to faith would still be one of my favorite books of the year.

Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times, by Andrew Kaufman. I haven’t even read War and Peace and I loved it! Kaufman knows his subject inside out, and his enthusiasm for it is infectious.

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr. This is a very different kind of World War II story, about two children — one French, one German — and the different paths they take. At the heart of it is a thought-provoking meditation on the wonders of science . . . and on the great need for a moral code underlying its application.

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

 

ALLEN C. GUELZO

Since I read books for a living — well, not entirely, but a good chunk of that living depends on reading — I will unthinkingly begin by recommending books. Unhappily, this has been a disappointing year for the book trade, sludged with self-congratulatory autobiography from Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, and mired in Civil War biographies by people who should be writing promo brochures for vacuum cleaners.

One of the bigger exceptions to that dismal rule in 2014 has been Richard Brookhiser’s Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln (Basic Books), for its grace and wit, and even more, for discerning Lincoln’s intimate reliance on the wisdom of the Founders.

Among cities, I love London second only to my own beloved Philadelphia. But even if I didn’t, Judith Flanders’s Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens’ London (Thomas Dunne) would convert me. A vivid anatomy, from the wee hours to late at night, of the city Dickens described, denounced, and lived in.

Not everyone who reads should write, but there’s no good writing without a pen. Even if you’re already a retro hipster, you will have more than enough to make your Christmas stocking dance if you find in it a lovely Conklin Black Crescent fountain pen. Mark Twain called the Conklin Black Crescent his “profanity saver,” since its unusual center band prevents it from incontinently rolling off a tabletop.

Good reading and writing require light, so get a Bestlite BL1 table lamp. Designed in 1930, it has been in continuous production ever since. Adjustable, stable, dependable, discreet, elegant, and favored by Winston Churchill. If it got him through the Battle of Britain, it will get you through War and Peace.

Now, go off and enjoy yourselves and let me get back to reading.

— Allen C. Guelzo is the Henry R. Luce Professor of the Civil War Era and the director of the Civil War–era studies program at Gettysburg College. He is the author of Gettysburg: The Last Invasion.

HUGH HEWITT

I have only four to suggest this year, and though written by very different people on very different subjects, they are related.

First, President George W. Bush’s memoir of his dad, President George H. W. Bush, 41: A Portrait Of My Father, which is revealing of both men and a tribute to the graciousness and wisdom especially of the first President Bush. It is also the sort of book that all grateful children wish they could write about either or both of their parents.

Second, the wonderful Miracles, by Eric Metaxas, delights everyone who reads it, and introduces a sense of wonder and gratitude into most.

Third, Rajiv Chandrasekaran and Howard Schultz have written a terrific tribute to the veterans of this long war: For Love of Country. All of the stories in the book are inspiring and some are simply breathtaking.  Every civilian ought to read it just to glimpse what the warriors and their families do and endure.

Finally, perhaps more obscure than the big bestsellers above is the equally riveting and indeed even more inspiring My Battle against Hitler, by Dietrich von Hildebrand (translated and edited by John Henry Crosby with John F. Crosby). If you do not know the story or the work of von Hildebrand — and I confess I did not — this book is a revelation and an encouragement quite unlike anything I have read in many years.

There are lots of fun and important books out there as well — Citizens of the Green Room, by Mark Leibovich, America in Retreat, by Bret Stephens, and The Stranger, by Chuck Todd, to name just three whose authors have recently joined me on the show for great conversations about their very readable, informative books — but each of the four I have linked has the capacity to really move the reader, so put them under the tree of someone who needs a little less self-regard in his or her life and a lot more gratitude.

 — Hugh Hewitt is the host of the radio talk show The Hugh Hewitt Show with the Salem Radio Network.

 

LEAH LIBRESCO

For a Christmas present that’s also an investment in more-peaceable dinner-table conversation, try Arnold Kling’s The Three Languages of Politics. It’s just over 50 pages, just shy of $2, and just the thing to give you an understanding of how an opponent can be so wrong. Kling is an adept interpreter of progressive, conservative, and libertarian inclinations and makes it easy to notice what good (real or mistaken) your enemy is pursuing, so you can start a productive debate.

If you like applying clarifying typologies to hot-button issues, it’s always a good season to pick up C. S. Lewis’s The Four Loves, take a break from our sex-obsessed culture, and enter more deeply into friendship, neighborliness, and, yes, even the erotic, rightly understood. You may want to pair this purchase with Eve Tushnet’s Gay and Catholic: Accepting My Sexuality, Finding Community, Living My Faith, a much-needed handbook on how to offer deep, sacrificial love . . . outside of either marriage or a monastery.

And if you’d like to keep the Advent spirit of anticipation alive, you can always tell your loved ones you’ve bought them my first book, Arriving at Amen: Seven Catholic Prayers Even I Can Offer, but that they’ll have to wait ’til May to find out what the communion of the saints has in common with the Cartesian coordinate plane and why you might use the same skills to dance the rumba and pray the rosary. 

— Leah Libresco is a blogger at Patheos.com and an editor at The American Conservative.

 

JAMES LILEKS 

I wish I could recommend the autobiography of Peg Lynch, but she hasn’t written it yet. The story has it all: raised by a single mom who was the personal nurse to one of the Mayo brothers of health-care fame, sent off to find her calling at the state university, only to end up in lowly small-town radio, writing ads. She comes up with a husband-wife format for her ads, and her ear for domestic banter leads to her own show, which catches the ear of a network exec. She takes her talent nationwide, makes the leap to live TV in the ’​50s, gets propositioned by JFK (turns him down, because everyone knew he was a “grabby hands”), writes 750 lapidary domestic comedies for CBS radio in which she also acts with exquisite comic skill. She never wrote a gag, but she was one of the funniest humorists of TV and radio. Her website says she’s the lady who invented the sitcom. It’s hard to argue with that.

Peg turned 98 this week. Her shows have been reissued on CD, and they’re just as delightful now as half a century ago. Go to peglynch.com to learn more. 

— James Lileks is a columnist at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

 

HADLEY HEATH MANNING

For all the women and women-lovers in your life, I recommend the book Lean Together: An Agenda for Smarter Government, Stronger Communities, and More Opportunity for Women. This book, written by ten female contributing authors and published by the Independent Women’s Forum, demonstrates that government shouldn’t be and can’t be the solution to every problem. The solutions lie with us, people working together every day in marketplaces and communities. This book is especially great for college-bound women, moms, or any “Julias” in your life.

For anyone who appreciates a short story or a big family, I suggest Will Mrs. Major Go to Hell? by Aloïse Buckley Heath (no relation). I take as much pride in sharing a name with her as I do now with Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, but for entirely different reasons.  If you regularly read National Review, chances are you’ve read Mrs. Heath’s “A Trapp Family Christmas.” There’s more where that came from, and you’ll enjoy her stories from her early days as one of ten Buckley children and later as a mother of ten of her own. 

Finally — indulge me — I recommend my grandfather’s books. Any of them will do, but the best is The Blessings of Liberty: Restoring the City on the Hill. Charles C. Heath (yes, relation!) wrote this book in 1991, but it is even more needed today.

— Hadley Heath Manning is a policy analyst at the Independent Women’s Forum.

 

MARY MATALIN

Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis. To be read in conjunction with Fides et Ratio and with the sentiment of Pope Francis. To successfully navigate these times requires faith and reason.

The Jefferson Hour and Stuff You Should Know podcasts. To be considered with Socrates’ critical revelationI am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing.

Anova Sous Vide immersion circulator. The gift of reaping great rewards through patience and practice. 

Buffalo Trace bourbon cream liqueur. Enough said. 

— Mary Matalin is a former White House adviser and a co-author of  Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home.

JOHN J. MILLER

My favorite TV show this year was True Detective, a psychological-crime-horror drama set in the weirdness of the Louisiana bayou. One of its pleasures involved watching the episodes and then chasing down the literary references, which I dimly recalled from earlier readings and enjoyed rediscovering: An Inhabitant of Carcosa, by Ambrose Bierce; The King in Yellow, by Robert Chambers; and Sticks, by Karl Wagner.

— John J. Miller is director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College, national correspondent for National Review, and author of The First Assassin, a historical thriller set during the Civil War.

JOHN J. PITNEY JR.

In 1943, C. S. Lewis published The Abolition of Man, which argued that there really is a natural law encompassing standards of right and wrong that transcend mere individual “value judgments.” He concluded the book with an appendix illustrating how diverse cultures have articulated these standards. Fifty years later, James Q. Wilson made a similar argument in The Moral Sense. Drawing on decades of empirical research, he wrote that, in spite of all the differences between and within cultures, people everywhere have a natural moral sense that is not simply the product of social convention and self-interest.

Some years ago, I was speaking with prospective college students and discussed the issue of moral standards. I asked them to name something that was simply, objectively wrong, but they kept defaulting to the old line, “people have different standards, so who is to judge?” Finally, I asked, “What about the Holocaust?” One student grudgingly acknowledged, “Okay, the Holocaust was probably wrong.”

Probably wrong? That young man needed these books. So do all young people today.

— John J. Pitney Jr. is the Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics at Claremont McKenna College.

 

TERRY POLAKOVIC

With these vintage-inspired Dutch bicycles by the Aussie company Papillionaire, you’ll have a classic way to take on the latest weekend adventure, or to add some old-world charm to your daily urban commute. You can visit their Brooklyn storefront for a test ride or design your own online. For the ladies, I recommend the sommer model (in mint) because the angled crossbar won’t get in the way of your favorite A-line skirt.

handlebar basket is an indispensable accessory! For over 150 years the Peterboro Basket Co. has been crafting handmade baskets from their home in New Hampshire. With bicycle baskets of all sizes and colors you’ll be all set for a trip to the farmer’s market or your favorite second-hand bookstore.

Speaking of books, try combining a classic, an interesting mug, and one of your favorite winter drinks. This “book, beverage, and mug” present guarantees that the recipient’s dark winter nights will be cozy and illuminating.

Anthropologie’s “gloriosa”​ mugs are as glorious as the Latin name implies. With a whimsical pattern available in four colors and wide body design, these thick stoneware mugs are perfect for warming your hands!

Swiss Miss won’t do for the true chocolate connoisseur, so be sure to include a dark, European-style sipping chocolate in your trio. Guittard’s Grand Cacao Drinking Chocolate has a full-bodied, rich flavor, and the creamy texture will make you think you simply melted Austrian truffles into your mug.

As for a book suggestion, a little-known work by the French writer George Bernanos, The Heroic Face of Innocence, is a true gem and exceedingly timely. Like his famous Diary of a Country Priest, the collection eloquently portrays the power of little souls of religious conviction in the midst of the torrents of a hostile culture. The insightful foreword, written by renowned Scripture scholar Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis, author of the three-volume Fire of Mercy, Heart of the Word, is not to be missed!

— Terry Polakovic is the co-founder and president of Endow. Her daughter is a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy from Alma, Mich., and her son is a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps.

 

JAY W. RICHARDS

For some, Black Friday is a blood sport, enticing not for the allure of bargains, but for the thrill of the chase. For the hyper-thrifty, it’s a burden that must be borne. For the rest of us, Black Friday means crowds brought to the brink of madness by loss leaders and contrived scarcity.

Fortunately, if you’re in that last group, technology allows you to sleep late, stay in your pajamas, and avoid that awkward tug-of-war with your neighbor over a big-screen TV at Walmart.

Here are three tech-infused gift options that I’ve both given and received in the last few years.

‐A gift subscription to Audible.com. For anyone with a long commute or regular exercise routine, audiobooks are force-multipliers. A decent subscription could easily double the number of books one reads, especially if one uses the 2X feature on an audiobook app. Hundreds of thousands of professionally produced books and hundreds of Great Courses are available at Audible for one book credit. It takes a little getting used to (and hence the value of a gift subscription). But once you start listening to audio books, it becomes part of your lifestyle.

‐A gift subscription to JamPlay for any friend who nurses fantasies about learning to play the guitar. JamPlay takes most of the pain and expense out of music classes. It provides thousands of lessons from dozens of great instructors, specializing in everything from finger picking to heavy metal, along with all sorts of interactive tools. It even allows students to interact with teachers in live settings online. Since last Christmas, my eleven-year-old daughter Ellie has used JamPlay to supplement her traditional lessons. She’s now playing Dust in the Wind in the next room.

‐For Catholic and Catholic-friendly friends and family, a gift subscription to Magnificat. This daily devotional comes in a print edition, but both the ordinary and the digital subscriptions allow you to read it as an app on your smartphone or computer. Magnificat combines pared-down morning, evening, and night prayers, the daily Mass readings, and profound spiritual reflections in an intuitive and aesthetically pleasing format.

Besides being able to buy them from home, these gifts have another advantage over this year’s equivalent of Cabbage Patch Dolls and Tickle-Me Elmos: Because of the massive scalability of digital technology, there’s no risk that they will sell out.

— Jay W. Richards is an assistant research professor in the School of Business & Economics at the Catholic University of America and the co-author with Jonathan Witt of The Hobbit Party: The Vision of Freedom that Tolkien Got and the West Forgot.

 

TONY ROSSI

American Story, by Bob Dotson. Bob Dotson has been in more hotel rooms than the Gideon Bible while profiling this nation’s unsung heroes for his “American Story” segments on NBC News. And after a 40-year career, he continues finding new people whose selflessness and compassion are creating a better world — people like the retired doctor who started a clinic for the working poor in South Carolina. Bob’s stories, collected in this book, remind us that “nothing is more American than optimism that overcomes hardship.”

The Miracle of Father Kapaun, by Roy Wenzl and Travis Heying. As a P.O.W. during the Korean War, U.S. Army chaplain Father Emil Kapaun saw a Chinese soldier ready to shoot Sergeant Herb Miller in the head. Father Kapaun calmly walked over, pushed away the soldier’s rifle, and carried Miller to the P.O.W. camp. That’s just one example of Father Kapaun’s courage under fire and heroic leadership that won over Catholics, Protestants, Jews, and Muslims. The Miracle of Father Kapaun sheds new light on the priest’s wartime experiences, the mercy he showed the captors who killed him, the 50-year mission to recognize him with the Medal of Honor, and his current road to sainthood.

Mission at Nuremberg, by Tim Townsend. If there are a group of people that are generally thought of as irredeemable, it’s the Nazis. Yet Lutheran chaplain Henry Gerecke and Catholic priest Father Sixtus O’Connor made an effort to save the souls of the Nazi leaders imprisoned at Nuremberg before they were executed. This compelling piece of little-known history provides a detailed account of how ordinary human beings became murderous monsters — and whether they regained any of their humanity near the end of their lives because of the dedication of godly ministers for whom no one was a lost cause.

Arrow, seasons 1 & 2 (DVD/Blu-ray). It was his time on Purgatory that turned billionaire playboy Oliver Queen into a killer. It was a reality check from his family and friends that helped him rediscover an inherent dignity to life. Comic-book and action fans should enjoy this TV series based on DC Comics’ Green Arrow character. While there are fight scenes aplenty, show creators Greg Berlanti, Marc Guggenheim, and Andrew Kreisberg ground their storytelling in vivid characterizations and moral dilemmas, such as what it takes to actually become a hero.

Radio Cinematic, by Jonathan Jackson + Enation (music). There aren’t a lot of rock albums out there that were partially inspired by G. K. Chesterton, so Jonathan Jackson + Enation have created something unique with their latest album, which addresses romantic love and our relationship with God. As Jonathan said, “I think one of the toughest things to live with is genuine joy. So in the band, we’ve always seen joy and having a sense of hope as a kind of rebellion. It’s not this passive, docile, soft thing that people oftentimes think. It actually comes from a place of having to fight.”

Tony Rossi is director of communications for The Christophers, and the editor-in-chief and co-writer of Three Minutes a Day, a book that features stories and reflections for each day of the year.

CAL THOMAS

The Reagan Enigma: 1964–1980, by Thomas C. Reed, is the best book I have read about Reagan, the man. It reaches as deep as anyone has gotten to the core of what made this unique and wonderful man. And yet it never arrives at his center. As Reed notes, Reagan had no real friends, probably because of his alcoholic father and the wall he constructed to protect himself from hurt. In a rare moment of introspection, Reagan opens up to Reed about his dad before quickly replacing the wall. It reminded me of a line from the musical The Fantasticks: “You must always leave the wall.”

Reed assisted Reagan in many important ways when he was governor of California and when he ran for president, first in an aborted campaign in 1968, when neither he nor his aides really had their hearts in it, then in 1976, when he nearly took the nomination from Gerald Ford, and finally in 1980, when he triumphed magnificently.

Many in today’s Republican party want the Reagan mantle. Some argue he is the past and we need to “move on.” Reagan was certainly focused on the future and would agree to a point. But as Reed demonstrates, the Republican establishment hated Reagan and was embarrassed by him, yet after he won, most of their criticism was behind his back, only occasionally leaking into the public square.

What Reagan stood for was ideas that worked. In his 1975 speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Reed notes that Reagan “brushed aside those who would mimic liberal policies to gain votes. ‘Let them go their way,’ he said.”

Reed adds: “The CPAC marked the opening salvo in Reagan’s ideological war with the Ford–[Henry] Kissinger White House. Reagan called for a sharp differentiation between political parties, those distinctions to be marked with ‘Bold colors, not pale pastels’ — his first use of that expression. At the same time, Reagan displayed his pragmatic side by quashing conservative proposals to form a new conservative party.” That debate continues today.

The Reagan Enigma offers behind-the-scenes stories and resurrects characters familiar to those old enough to have lived through that period. It is a “fly on the wall” account of the formative years of Reagan’s political life; highly readable and at times entertaining. The power of Nancy Reagan is thought to have been supreme, but Reed says the future president frequently ignored her advice and blocked certain information from getting to her. Reagan loved Nancy unconditionally, but realized he was the one with the ideas.

Not only is Reed’s book highly readable, it is indispensable in the ongoing debate about where the Republican party and conservatism are headed.

At the risk of being charged with self-promotion (whoever heard of such a thing in Washington?) my latest book  What Works: Common Sense Solutions for a Stronger America  suggests a third way between the ideological soundbites that dominate so much of our political discourse. As in the film Groundhog Day, politicians and their enablers and interest groups wake up each day to sling all-too-familiar bromides at each other, with little accomplished that promotes the general welfare.

What I call for is focusing on what works. We have a past, we don’t live in it, but we can learn from it. We are not the first generation on Earth. We don’t have to invent the wheel or discover fire. We know what works in education, economics, foreign policy, and so many other categories. If one goes to another country, he or she is well advised to pick up a guidebook that tells about hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions. The traveler trusts the guidebook because the person who wrote it has been to these countries. So why don’t we trust those from our past who have “been there,” update their experiences as necessary, and solve some of the problems that confront us?

Many problems are being solved at the state level, and I have an entire chapter dealing with their successes. States are mostly ignored by the national media, but that’s where solutions can be found.

In medicine, we need a new focus on cures, even more than care. Curing Alzheimer’s would save billions in the costs of care, not to mention the alleviation of suffering. Whatever the research costs would be more than made up for in savings from caring for people with this horrible affliction.

We need a top-to-bottom audit of the federal government. Every agency has legislation or a charter that established it. If it is performing well and at reasonable cost and the private sector can’t do it better, we keep it. If it isn’t, we get rid of it. What could be simpler?

One of Ronald Reagan’s many great lines was that the only proof of eternal life in Washington is a government program. This need not be.

What Works is a short book, but it contains a blueprint for reducing the size, cost, and reach of Big Government. If one is a conservative, as I am, one can be glad that it also forces the Left to defend the many failed programs they passed. While they claim their intentions were good, we all know that good intentions pave the road to Hell. 

Cal Thomas is a syndicated and USA Today columnist and Fox News contributor.

 

ELIZABETH SCALIA

Do you know someone who gets so involved with work that they forget to drink their coffee or tea and then grouse that it’s gone cold? This Contigo 14-ounce Anna thermo ceramic desk mug is a great gift for them. The cup’s big bottom prevents spillage, the beverage stays piping hot for the longest time, and best of all, the ceramic edge keeps the mouth-feel from feeling unpleasantly as though one is drinking all day from a travel mug. Cleans beautifully, too. At under $20, it’s a great “secret Santa” gift.

Almost from the moment he stepped out onto the balcony of Saint Peter’s Basilica and asked for our prayers before bestowing his first blessing, Pope Francis’s pontificate has had a hagiography presumed upon it. Particularly for Americans who think the world (and the Church) is mere fodder for their own ideological squabbling, Austen Iveriegh’s The Great Reformer: Francis and the Making of a Radical Pope provides a helpful key to understanding Bergoglio’s inner workings, and how, ultimately, neither “Right” nor “Left” has any business claiming a man who is simply all for Christ and who leads from the centrality of Christ.

Pat McNamara’s New York Catholics is a delightful look at Catholics past and present who have helped to make “the greatest city in the world” exactly that. Brief biographies full of information on real people whose lives can inspire our own faith.

— Elizabeth Scalia is the author of the award-winning Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols of Everyday Life and the managing editor of the Catholic Channel at Patheos.com, where she blogs at The Anchoress.

 

JOHN STONESTREET

Eric Metaxas’s Miracles, of course! And only partially because it is in my contract to mention his books whenever I can.

The Family Project, by Focus on the Family, does something that’s long overdue: clarifies what marriage is and why family matters.

For the Life of the World, by the folks over at the Acton Institute, is a compelling, creative way to think through why Christians should care about culture.

John Stonestreet is a co-host of BreakPoint and a co-author of Same-Sex Marriage: A Thoughtful Approach to God’s Design for Marriage.

 

HANS VON SPAKOVSKY 

My suggestions for Christmas shopping are a combination of movies, classic books, and a radio show. So whether the person you are getting a gift for likes to read at home, watch a movie while on a long plane flight, or listen to a radio show while driving, all of these suggestions will keep him or her entertained.

I have three great, underappreciated war movies to recommend: Zulu (1964), They Were Expendable (1945), and The Horse Soldiers (1959).

Zulu was Michael Caine’s first major role and tells the true story of the 1879 Battle of Rorke’s Drift, where 150 British soldiers, many of them wounded, held off 4,000 Zulu warriors during the Anglo-Zulu war. Eleven Victoria Crosses, England’s highest decoration for bravery, were awarded in this one battle.

Next is They Were Expendable, director John Ford’s semi-documentary about the PT-boat war waged by the American Navy against overwhelming Japanese naval forces during the Battle of the Philippines. It stars John Wayne and Robert Montgomery, a Navy veteran, and is based on real people and events. The movie also dramatizes the evacuation of General Douglas MacArthur from Corregidor by PT boat by Vice Admiral John Bulkeley, who was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Finally, The Horse Soldiers, another John Ford–John Wayne combination, also starring William Holden, tells the story of a Union cavalry raid deep into the South to destroy an important supply depot during the Civil War. Although fictional, this movie is also based on a true incident, Grierson’s Raid, in which Colonel Benjamin Grierson led 1,700 men several hundred miles behind Confederate lines in 1863, an effort that culminated in the Battle of Newton’s Station. I have watched all of these movies on numerous occasions, and they just get better every time.

I have two classic books to recommend, both of which will keep one entertained and anxious to turn the page to find out what happens next. The first is Scaramouche (1921), by Rafael Sabatini, who was probably the greatest writer of swashbuckling historical adventure books, including Captain Blood and The Sea Hawk.

Scaramouche tells the story of Andre-Louis Moreau just before the French Revolution. Moreau has no interest in politics until his best friend is killed by an arrogant aristocrat, the Marquis de Maynes, the best swordsman in France. Moreau sets out on a long quest to get revenge, training himself as a swordsman so he can eventually best the Marquis while he hides from the authorities as part of a comedy troupe. Stewart Granger starred in the 1952 movie version of the book, in which he has one of the most spectacular (and longest) sword fights in movie history with Mel Ferrer in the balcony boxes, lobby, and main stage of a theater.

The second classic book is The Prisoner of Zenda (1894), by English novelist Anthony Hope. An English gentleman on vacation in Ruritania with an uncanny resemblance to the king is persuaded to impersonate the king after he is drugged by his brother to prevent the king’s coronation. This book was made into a movie twice, one version starring Ronald Colman in 1937 and a second, identical version (they even used the same screenplay) starring Stewart Granger in 1952. Both movies are also well done — romantic, swashbuckling adventure movies.

Finally, for those who spend a lot of time in their cars, I recommend a CD of the classic radio show The Man Called X. This show starred Herbert Marshall as secret counter-espionage agent Ken Thurston, who works for an unnamed agency dedicated to stopping foreign spies, black marketeers, and saboteurs in exotic locations all over the world. One thing you won’t have to worry about listening to these shows — the presence of any pusillanimous liberals and progressives wanting to turn the other cheek to America’s enemies or arguing that we really deserve their wrath and hate.

So Merry Christmas 2014 and I hope you get all of your shopping done early so you can enjoy the true spirit of the season.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. Along with John Fund, he is the co-author of Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk and Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department.

STEPHEN WHITE

Brian Burch and Emily Stimpson have written a wonderful book for anyone interested in Catholic history, American history, or both: The American Catholic Almanac (Image). Composed of 365 one-page entries, this book tells the stories of the Catholic people (good, bad, and otherwise) and places that have shaped the history of this land from the 16th century on.

Another book worth reading — and so worth giving — is Redeeming Economics: Rediscovering the Missing Element (ISI Books), by my EPPC colleague John Mueller and now available in paperback. Mueller offers a serious challenge — and alternative — to the modern proclivity to reduce all economic behavior to self-interest. A wide-ranging and thought-provoking work that will appeal even to those not usually inclined to read books on economics.

Love good music and hate the stress of the holiday rush? Know someone who needs to dial it back a few clicks before they blow a fuse? Then this next idea is for you. The Dominican Friars of the St. Joseph Province have recorded a new album of sacred music: Ave Maria: Dominican Chant for the Immaculate Conception. The CD includes the medieval and modern Masses of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Compline, and much more. Just listen to this rendition of the Salve Regina and feel the holiday stress melt away!

Stephen P. White is a fellow in the Catholic Studies Program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.

Editor’s Note: This article has been amended since its original posting.

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