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."
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."
Land went on to recommend Peter Robinson's How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life: "Robinson went to work at the White House as a 23-year-old speech writer and famously penned the 'Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall' speech for the former president. . . . Probably does the best job of getting at the essence of that unique, sunny, complex person that was Ronald Reagan." He praised Gregory Wallance's Two Men Before the Storm: "A wonderful historical novel that relates the true story of the lawyer who took up the cause of Dred Scott . . . few books, fiction or otherwise, so dramatically explain the horror at degradation that was human bondage."
Finally, after these big-picture books, he recommended a deeply personal account, Connally Gilliam's Revelations of a Single Woman: Loving the Life I Didn't Expect: "A heart-breaking, yet life-affirming biography of a Christian woman who is a victim of the sexual revolution, in that our culture has so distorted sex for her generation that it is almost impossible for her to find the Christian marital relationship her heart so desires. This book will break your heart, but give you much greater understanding of the emotional pain and difficulty younger Christians often experience in this neo-pagan culture."
Peter Lawler, Berry College professor
- E. Ericson and D. Mahoney, eds., The Solzhenitsyn Reader
- Pierre Manent, Democracy Without Nations? The Fate of Self-Government in Europe
- Harvey Mansfield, Manliness
- John F. Thornton, The Essential Pope Benedict XVI
- Tom Wolfe, I Am Charlotte Simmons
Author and radio talk show host, a calling that leads him to write, "I prefer to give books-rather than to receive them-because I end up processing so many books for my radio show that reading-alas!-hardly counts as recreation."
- Rabbi Daniel M. Lapin, Thou Shall Prosper: Ten Commandments for Making Money
- Norman Podhoretz, World War IV
- Peter Robinson, How Ronald Reagan Changed My Life
Mike Robbins, Author of Ninety Feet from Fame: Close Calls with Baseball Immortality
- David Block, Baseball Before We Knew It
- Bill Lee, Baseball Necrology
- Gene Carney, Burying the Black Sox: How Baseball's Cover-up of the 1919 World Series Fix Almost Succeeded
Alvin Schmidt, Retired professor of sociology and religion
- Dinesh D'Souza, What's So Great About Christianity
- George Weigel, The Cube and the Cathedral
Richard Weikart, California State University-Stanislaus professor
- Nancy Pearcey and Charles Colson, How Now Shall We Live?
- Wesley Smith, Culture of Death: The Assault on Medical Ethics in America
- Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ
- Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design
Juan Williams, NPR News senior correspondent
- Clarence Thomas, My Grandfather's Son: A Memoir
- Eric Weiner, The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World
- Edwidge Danticat, Brother, I'm Dying
- Dave Isay, Listening Is an Act of Love: A Celebration of American Life from the StoryCorps Project
- David Halberstam, The Coldest War: America and the Korean War
Last come two sets of suggestion. The first set, offered by Phoenix district attorney Andrew Thomas, is unified in its emphasis on warfare of various sorts: military, political, and career. His first recommendation is Victor Davis Hanson's The Soul of Battle: "Weaves together a trio of short biographies of three great generals: Epaminondas, Sherman, and Patton. Hanson explains how these figures exemplified the spirit of liberty that led their nations and armies to victory over tyranny."
Thomas also recommended Robert Caro's Master of the Senate. ("The third volume in Caro's biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson, this book by a superb writer well deserved the Pulitzer Prize it won" and Robert Novak's The Prince of Darkness: Fifty Years Reporting in Washington. ("The sweep and sheer number of fascinating portraits of interesting political figures in this book, told by one of the central journalists of our time, make it a pleasure to read.")
In addition, Thomas suggested two books about careers: Hugh Hewitt's In, But Not Of is for career-starters (how young Christians can launch a successful career in the world "without losing their faith or integrity") and Rob Stearns' succinct Winning Smart After Losing Big.
The second set, from University of San Diego professor Anne Hendershott, takes note of the understanding that one size does not fit all; she thinks of particular books for particular people:
"For my husband, a military history fan, Peter Collier's Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty: This is a big beautiful book-with a moving narrative and more than 250 pictures of the battles and the Medal of Honor winners. Peter Collier's inspiring narrative makes this much more than a typical 'coffee table' book.
"For my daughter who loves to read serious fiction, Peter Høeg's The Quiet Girl.
"For my son who will be deploying to Iraq soon, Marcus Luttrell's Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of Seal Team 10."
Our overall listing includes many books that would not be recommended by The New York Times, but it's not surprising that Elizabeth Kantor, author of The Politically Incorrect Guide to English and American Literature, liked several scorned by the left:
"Clarence Thomas' memoir, My Grandfather's Son, is the best book of the year; eye-opening, moving, and inspiring-it makes a wonderful Christmas present for almost any reader. Other great books of 2007 include Dinesh D'Souza's What's So Great About Christianity (in which D'Souza ably answers the whole plague of "village atheists" from Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris to Christopher Hitchens) and Laura Ingraham's Power to the People (gets beneath the surface of hot-button political issues into important cultural trends, including the growing hostility toward large families)."
Kantor continued, "Anything written by Thomas Sowell on economics, race, or culture is always going to be a good choice-the reader is sure to learn something surprising and valuable; Black Rednecks and White Liberals, for example, will completely change your perspective on 'ghetto' culture, much of which, Sowell shows, black Americans originally learned from white Americans in the South. It also makes the vital point that cultural transformation for the better requires something more than government programs or even a few dollars of our excess income in 'charity'-it requires the authentic Christian charity that inspired abolitionist schoolmarms to give their whole lives to the education of recently freed slaves."
She concluded, "The Trivium: The Liberal Arts of Logic, Grammar, and Rhetoric is perfect for homeschoolers, or for any adult who was shortchanged by our sadly inadequate schools and colleges."