One second after midnight on an otherwise nondescript Saturday morning, millions of readers in English-speaking countries across the globe dove headlong into the final chapter of the decade's most captivating fictional narrative. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, the seventh and final novel in J.K. Rowling's acclaimed series, sold 2.7 million copies in the UK and 8.3 million in the United States on the first day alone.
Fans rushed through the 759-page book to discover the fate of beloved protagonist Harry, whom many literary analysts predicted might die at the story's conclusion. British publisher Bloomsbury invested 10 million pounds (over $20 million) in secure warehouses and security teams to guard against premature spoilers of the series finale. Earlier in the year, a lawyer for American publisher Scholastic sat on the completed manuscript as it traveled on a flight from London to New York.
Such wild enthusiasm stems from Rowling's imaginative fantasy world and page-turning suspense. Early objections from Christian groups over the author's celebration of witchcraft failed to generate much traction, as the books proved void of sinister agendas or heavy-handed messages. In fact, the tales' greatest cultural impact may be to promote youth literacy. The series has been translated into 65 languages.
But Rowling chose not to leave well enough alone: Three months after the finale's release, she announced that heroic character Albus Dumbledore, a father figure to Harry and headmaster of the Hogwarts school of wizardry, is homosexual. The comment initially met stunned silence from the 2,000 fans gathered at New York's Carnegie Hall for a question-and-answer session, but moments later drew shouts of approval and raucous applause. Gay-rights supporters celebrated the revelation for advancing tolerance among young readers. Some family-values groups, on the other hand, seized on the chance to discredit Rowling's entire body of work as politicized propaganda.
As in all fiction, Rowling's characters do not live beyond the pages of her work-a fact the author admitted recently in a post to her online diary: "As for mourning Harry . . . nobody can have felt the end as deeply as I did."
Also in July ...
Former vice president Al Gore helped put on summer concerts throughout the world to raise awareness of what he considers a planetary crisis. Of course, the amount of energy consumed and greenhouse gases released to produce the Live Earth show could have powered the lives of several hundred Americans for an entire year.
In an effort to mitigate such inconvenient truths and assuage guilt among the event's A-list performers, concert organizers purchased thousands of carbon credits-in effect paying others to reduce their carbon footprint so that rich environmentalists wouldn't need to.
The event featured 150 musical acts and 24 hours of performances across eight countries and seven continents. Live Earth may have helped Gore to a Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, but it proved a television ratings flop, coming in below NBC's average for the Saturday evening time slot and ranking fourth behind CBS, ABC, and Fox.
Federal authorities indicted Falcons quarterback Michael Vick and three other men July 18 on felony charges of dog-fighting and related gambling. Vick's 15-acre Virginia property served as the operating center for Bad Newz Kennels, where some dogs were executed for performing poorly in fights.
The federal charges and subsequent plea bargain earned Vick 23 months in prison, demolished his budding NFL career, and cost him millions of dollars in lost endorsement contracts and salary. The prospect of Vick ever returning to the NFL is slim.
The Taliban on July 19 kidnapped 23 South Korean church volunteers off their bus traveling in southern Afghanistan. Two South Korean men were subsequently killed when Kabul failed to capitulate. The Taliban later released the remaining hostages in exchange for the removal of South Korea's 200 troops in the region and a pledge from Seoul to block Christian missionary trips to Afghanistan.
The Democrat-controlled House of Representatives voted 223-201 for massive troop withdrawal from Iraq. But six days later, the much more closely divided Senate rejected a similar bill, allowing the surge to run its course without need for a presidential veto.
Throughout the year, Darwinists upped their rhetoric against proponents of Intelligent Design, blocking the tenure of acclaimed astronomer Guillermo Gonzalez at Iowa State University and interfering with the ID research of Robert Marks at Baylor. But the ID movement fought back.
Lehigh biology professor Michael Behe's new book The Edge of Evolution (Free Press, 2007) hit bookstores in the summer with a devastating critique of Darwinism. Specifically, Behe demonstrates the limitations of random mutation and natural selection in producing new genetic information.
Similar challenges to Darwinism propelled a new high-school textbook from the ID-advancing Discovery Institute: Explore Evolution: The Arguments for and Against Neo-Darwinism (Hill House Publishers, 2007).
So far, that "teach the controversy" approach to biology education appears lawsuit-proof. State school boards in Pennsylvania, South Carolina, New Mexico, and Minnesota, along with local boards in Wisconsin and Louisiana, have adopted standards that encourage critical analysis of Darwinian theory.
Unlike the famous Dover, Pa., school board that advocated introducing ID into the classroom and lost a landmark lawsuit to the ACLU in 2005, this new methodology draws only scorn, not litigation. John West of the Discovery Institute says the approach is one of which Darwinists should be "particularly frightened."