NOW THAT THE IRAQ WAR IS MOSTLY DONE AND the baseball season is well underway, I can bring up the line from Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner that still describes my experience while reading on the treadmill: "He stoppeth one of three." (As Peter Gammons once wrote, it also describes a Boston Red Sox second baseman's record concerning ground balls.)
Here are some notes on the third of my pile of books that I found both readable and challenging. I'm not a big fan of very short and easy reads, since in my experience most are as superficial as their size suggests, but Randy Alcorn's The Grace and Truth Paradox (Multnomah, 2003) is simple but elegant in its succinct presentation of the mighty truth that grace and telling the truth work together.
I also have seen too many dull tomes about natural law, but J. Budziszewski transcends that genre with What We Can't Not Know (Spence, 2003). He pithily notes that "everything in Creation is a wannabe.... Natural law turns out to be the developmental spec sheet, the guide for getting there." He asks why one bioethicist "should object to a world in which babies are cut out of their mothers' wombs with daggers, but not one in which mothers invite daggers into their wombs that their babies might be cut out."
In connection with my teaching I'm reading a lot of books that examine the three most popular Eastern and Middle Eastern religions. The best new one I've run across is Timothy C. Tennent's Christianity at the Religious Roundtable: Evangelicalism in Conversation with Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam (Baker Academic, 2002). Hieromonk Damascene's Christ the Eternal Tao (Valaam Books, 2002) is an erratic but interesting comparison of Christianity and Taoism that eventually bogs down in mysticism.
One of the biggest idols in this country is the public school system; those who do not bow before it will improve their tactical understanding by reading Clint Bolick's Voucher Wars: Waging the Legal Battle over School Choice (Cato Institute, 2003) and David Brennan's Victory for Kids: The Cleveland School Voucher Case (New Millennium Press, 2002). Readers who need to grapple with "smart growth" and other sacred cows of bureaucratic urban planning will be helped by Kenneth Kolson's Big Plans: The Allure and Folly of Urban Design (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001).
Readers curious about colorful Talmudic stories concerning Abraham should consult David Klinghoffer's well-researched Abraham and the Birth of Monotheism (Doubleday, 2003). Scott M. Marshall and Marcia Ford's Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan (Relevant, 2002) provides significant evidence that Bob Dylan still espouses Christian faith but stays connected with his Jewish heritage. Conservatives who want to engage less-famous Jewish neighbors on issues such as abortion, education, health care, and the exaltation of government might read (and maybe give as a present) Larry F. Sternberg's Why Jews Should Not Be Liberals (Pentland Press, 2001).
Not all Jews are liberals, of course, and not all conservatives sneer at all of the animal-rights movement. That cause has an eloquent defense in Matthew Scully's Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (St. Martin's Press, 2002), which lambastes factory farming and the kind of "hunting" that is anything but (blast a buffalo from a few feet away). But my standing offer to "save the baby seals" advocates remains: Let's first save the baby humans.
Can anything good come out of Harvard Law School? Professor Randall Kennedy's Interracial Intimacies: Sex, Marriage, Identity, and Adoption (Pantheon, 2003) is a well-written, tough-minded look at the prejudices that remain among many Americans, including Christians who should practice biblical color-blindness but sometimes do not. Mr. Kennedy is appropriately antagonistic toward the anti-interracial-adoption position of the National Association of Black Social Workers. Just Don't Marry One: Interracial Dating, Marriage, and Parenting (Judson Press, 2002), edited by George and Sherelyn Yancey, provides a thoughtful evangelical perspective on some of the same issues.
Finally, Larry Burkett's personal story of fighting for survival, Nothing to Fear: The Key to Cancer Survival (Moody, 2003), provides practical advice on how to proceed when we're surprised by a dire diagnosis. And an international cancer that could still affect all of us, the Wahabbi faith-imagine if the Ku Klux Klan had huge oil wealth at its disposal-receives a solid overview from Dore Gold's Hatred's Kingdom: How Saudi Arabia Supports the New Global Terrorism (Regnery, 2003).