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Gifts that keep on giving

Books | WORLD 2007 interviewees list books they'd like to give or receive on Christmas (thereabouts)

Issue: "Not angry anymore," Dec. 1, 2007

Some people think Princeton professor Peter Singer monstrous for his support of infanticide and other horrors, but in personal practice he's a family man. Asked what books he would like to give or get this Christmas, he wrote WORLD that he's "happy to get, or give, presents on Christmas. In my family, we've always had a tree at Christmas, and in the morning the children rush to the tree to see what presents are under it. For us, it's a cultural festival, not a religious one (and the decorated tree has pagan origins, I've been told)."

Singer then became specific: "If I had religious friends to whom I give presents, I'd give them Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion. I hope it would challenge them, and if they have any sense of humor, it should entertain them. If I had any friends who have not read Jane Austen, I'd give them Pride and Prejudice. It's a delight in every respect, to which you can go back again and again."

Singer first became famous as an animal-rights advocate, so it made sense for him to add, "For friends who like to cook-or are willing to try it-I'd give Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian: More than 650 Meatless Recipes from Around the Globe. That way they will get to eat more delicious meals, and be living more ethically at the same time."

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Singer's leading campus opponent is Professor Robert George, head of the James Madison program at Princeton University. George wrote, "A book that I would like to see placed in the hands of every morally serious citizen is Ramesh Ponnuru's magisterial The Party of Death. It is a comprehensive and devastating critique of the ideological underpinnings of what the late Pope John Paul II described as 'the culture of death.'"

In addition, George recommended Freedom's Orphans by David Tubbs, "a powerful indictment of liberal jurisprudence and political theory for underwriting judicial decisions and public policies that have deprived our nation's children (and the parents charged with responsibility of caring for them) of a social milieu conducive to their healthy moral and psychological development. As a matter of full disclosure, I should say that Ramesh and David are both former students of mine at Princeton."

Here are other suggestions:

Michael Behe, Author of The Edge of Evolution

  • Benjamin Wiker and Jonathan Witt, A Meaningful World
  • P.D. James, The Children of Men
  • Mario Beauregard and Denyse O'Leary, The Spiritual Brain

David Dykstra, New Jersey pastor

  • D.G. Hart and John R. Muether, With Reverence and Awe: Returning to the Basics of Reformed Worship
  • Meg Meeker, Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters
  • Maurice Roberts, The Thought of God
  • Larry Schweikart, America's Victories: Why the U.S. Wins Wars & Will Win the War on Terror
  • Any Old Testament commentary by Reformed Theological Seminary professor Dale Ralph Davis

Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University professor

  • Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
  • Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue
  • Charles Taylor, A Secular Age
  • John Howard Yoder, The Politics of Jesus

Angela Hunt, Novelist

  • Randy Alcorn, Heaven
  • Billy Collins, The Trouble with Poetry
  • Khaled Hosseini, A Thousand Splendid Suns
  • David Pogue and Adam Goldstein, Switching to the Mac

Michael Kazin, Georgetown University professor

  • Andrew Delbanco, Melville: His World and His Work
  • Barbara Ehrenreich, Nickel and Dimed
  • Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father
  • Philip Roth, The Human Stain

Andrew Klavan, author of hard-boiled novels such as True Crime, Don't Say A Word, and Damnation Street, recommended The Ice Harvest by Scott Phillips: "As a writer and lover of crime fiction, I had to include one terrific example of the breed. Not for the faint-hearted or fastidious but excellent crime comedy of the blackest kind." He also praised Tom Wolfe's I Am Charlotte Simmons. ("Renewed my faith in the modern novel. Wolfe eschews his usual pyrotechnics and takes an unflinching look at today's college life, turning one woman's experience into an examination of identity, brain science, social pressure, and free will.")

In addition, Klavan described Jacques Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life as "readable, earth-shaking; completely revamped my understanding of Western history. Get the hardback-the paperback is cramped and hard to read." He praised Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin novels, and said, "One of the finest writers of English prose of the last 50 years. These sea stories set in the 19th century are adventure tales raised to the level of literature."

Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and author of an excellent new book, The Divided States of America, also offered detailed suggestions. He recommended Stephen Carter's God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics, calling it "a trenchant defense of religious freedom and free exercise." He also liked Derik Leebaert's The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World: "A riveting history of the Cold War written by a prize-winning scholar who was one of the first to have access to the formerly secret Soviet archives."

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