Honorable mentions

"Honorable mentions" Continued...

Issue: "Gore strikes out," Dec. 9, 2000

For those who like their history straight, the year 2000 offered a new book by the eminent and hugely readable historian Stephen Ambrose, chronicler of Lewis and Clark,

D-Day, and other high points of American history. Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad 1863-1869 is a saga of a staggering achievement that is often taken for granted, as we buzz along in our cars on the Interstate highway system (another staggering engineering and political achievement, which the railroads pioneered).

Then there is From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life, 1500 to the Present by Jacques Barzun, a magisterial scholar of the old school, a constant champion of Western civilization and its educational legacy against the politically correct academic revisionists that dominate today's universities. Of course, those academic revisionists are a product of the Western civilization they pretend to scorn, a civilization, Mr. Barzun shows, that for all of its achievements is now in a state of decadence.

A keen observer-and lampooner-of that decadence is Tom Wolfe, whose Hooking Up is a collection of essays, fictional outtakes, and samples of his latest new journalism, all shrewd and funny observations of American culture at the cusp of the new millennium. In a study of teenage mating rituals, we learn of yet another cultural legacy of President Clinton, how teenagers, like the president, do not consider oral sex to be sex. He also documents the small town roots of the computer revolution, the foibles of "gotcha" journalism, and the silliness of the literary establishment, the fashionable inward-looking authors who neglect the world outside themselves and are outraged by Mr. Wolfe, who can write circles around them all.

Other significant iconoclasts of the year 2000-this time taking on the scientific establishment-would include Philip Johnson. His book The Wedge of Truth: Splitting the Foundations of Naturalism drives a wedge between "empirical science," which follows observations wherever they lead, and "naturalistic science," which is based on the dogmatic philosophical assumption that the physical universe is all there is. Thus, naturalistic scientists, whose commitment to a materialistic worldview trumps their normal allegiance to the empirical scientific method, go into apoplexy at the growing empirical evidence for Intelligent Design, which they cannot account for in terms of their own worldview and so seek to silence.

Another important new book in the evolution wars is Jonathan Wells's Icons of Evolution: Fact or Myth? Mr. Wells, a scientist of impeccable credentials, examines how Darwinism is taught in textbooks, from which the worldview insinuates itself throughout the popular culture. He examines the various visual representations, or "icons," by which Darwinism is explained: the little animals morphing smoothly into a horse; the mammals turning into apes turning into a caveman; the drawings of embryos that purportedly show human life developing from a microorganism into something resembling a fish and then up the evolutionary scale until it becomes a baby; the Darwinian "tree of life"; plus the finches and fruitflies and different-colored moths and other alleged illustrations of evolution in action. All of these visual aids, Mr. Wells shows, are bogus. And biologists know they are bogus. Nevertheless, they shape the imagination of schoolchildren, who grow into laypeople who assume that evolution is a fact.

Several gifted Christian literary authors had new books in the year 2000. Larry Woiwode's What I Think I Did: A Season of Survival in Two Acts is a memoir about his life and writing. Bret Lott, propelled to fame when Oprah read his novel Jewel, released a memoir of his own, Fathers, Sons, and Brothers: The Men in My Family. And Walter Wangerin published Paul: A Novel, a historical novel about the Apostle from a master of the language who believes the Bible is true.

The year 2000 also marked the last voyage of Captain Jack Aubrey and Dr. Stephen Maturin, two Napoleonic-era shipmates immortalized by Patrick O'Brian, who died this year. In this 20th book of the series-which some critics have compared not just to C. S. Forester but to Jane Austen-Jack finally makes admiral and Stephen finally finds a wife worthy of him. It is as if Mr. O'Brian provided for his family before launching off into his own voyage into death.

Finally, the dawning of the third millennium saw a new translation of a masterpiece from the first. The Irish poet Seamus Heaney produced a vivid, atmosphere-rich rendition of Beowulf, which, for one brief shining moment, knocked Harry Potter off the top of the bestseller charts.

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith


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