In the last treadmill books column I offered seven innings of books about a variety of topics. Now we come to the eighth and ninth, where the pressure is on.
Think of the eighth inning in a close game as one in which each team tries whatever it can to get one more run across the plate, and you have a good picture of our divided culture. Michael Barone's Hard America, Soft America (Crown, 2004) succinctly explains a chunk of the divide: Part of America is ruled by competition and accountability, and part tries to protect people from tough realities. Since countries to survive must be mostly hard, it's important to protect children for a time and gradually build up their stamina for the tough races to come; schools that offer social promotion and ban dodge ball are overly easy. Robert Shogan's War Without End: Cultural Conflict and the Struggle for America's Political Future (Westview, 2002) is a moderate liberal's well-written and generally fair overview of the culture war from the 1960s to the present.
Welcome to the Ivory Tower: Confessions of a Conservative College Professor, by North Carolina's Mike S. Adams (Harbor House, 2004), illuminates one key theater of our culture wars. Ben Shapiro's Brainwashed (WND Books, 2004) provides sprightly writing, devastating description, and useful stats about how rare Republicans or conservatives are at university after university, from the Ivy League to UCLA. One chapter titled "The War on God" shows the overwhelming anti-religious bias among the professoriate, with one curious exception: Islam gets favorable treatment, since again and again professors call it a "religion of peace."
The limitations of academia are evident in Tevi Troy's Intellectuals and the American Presidency: Philosophers, Jesters, or Technicians (Rowman & Littlefield, 2002), which shows how we professors who advise politicians envision ourselves as philosophers but generally fall into the second or third camp. The limitations of Washington media and political operatives are evident in two funny novels by Jeffrey Frank, The Columnist (Simon & Schuster, 2001) and Bad Publicity (Simon & Schuster, 2004).
Hard America is firm but fair, and that's particularly vital to note in the harsh light of Abu Ghraib. The Man Who Shocked America: The Life and Legacy of Stanley Milgram (Basic, 2004) explores the life and legacy of a generally atheistic social psychologist best known for 1960s experiments that purportedly showed the willingness of Americans to torture others if they thought they were participating in a scientist-sanctioned experiment; pundits for a time used that research to contend that the dark night of fascism was only moments away. Dave Donaldson and Stanley Carlson-Thies provide an optimistic view in A Revolution of Compassion: Faith-Based Groups as Full Partners in Fighting America's Social Problems (Baker, 2003).
The ninth inning is the metaphorical life-or-death time for a team, and that's when we move from books about society to books about souls. How-to books often make good gifts, but here's one that every incoming freshman should receive: J. Budziszewki's How to Stay Christian in College (NavPress, 2004). Chapters about the academic, sexual, and political myths prevalent on campus are particularly valuable. Michael L. Simpson's Permission Evangelism: When to Talk, When to Walk (Cook Communications, 2003) also provides good advice on how to act when surrounded by unbelievers.
Christianity is the one religion that is simultaneously hard (God is holy) and soft (God is loving), because Christ's sacrifice makes reasonable what would otherwise be a contradiction. Great sermons emerge from tough minds and warm hearts which understand that, and Sermons That Shape America: Reformed Preaching from 1630 to 2001 (P&R Publishing, 2003) contains some of the best. University of Georgia scientist Henry Schaefer takes on Darwinian and other lies in Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence (The Apollos Trust, 2003), and Erwin Lutzer's The Da Vinci Deception (Tyndale, 2004) explodes a bestseller's nonsense.
I'll end with two books that can puncture the pride of progressives who see Christian belief as outmoded. Alister McGrath's The Twilight of Atheism (Doubleday, 2004), a magisterial look at "the rise and fall of disbelief in the modern world," shows that atheism was weighed in the 20th century and found wanting. I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist, by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek (Crossway, 2004), ardently turns the tables on those who see belief in Christ as either crutch or blind leap.