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Questions & answers

Books | Current books explain the whys of recent and not-so-recent history

Issue: "Save the unions," Oct. 24, 2009

Why do we see Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich primarily as 1990s political opponents, when they had so much in common? In The Pact: Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Rivalry That Defined a Generation (Oxford, 2008), Steven Gillon shows how the duo almost had an alliance that could have improved the Social Security system and much besides-but ego and adultery got in the way.

Why don't more American historians write books that are both scholarly and exciting? Some Brits know how: Tom Holland's The Forge of Christendom (Doubleday, 2008) takes us through 11th-century Europe, and Mike Rapport's 1848 (Basic, 2008) narrates one revolutionary year in Europe. This fall brings the 20th anniversary of the Eastern European uprisings that brought down Communism in 1989; Rapport notes that leaders in 1989 "rejected the communist revolutionary tradition, but in so doing they reconnected their peoples to the liberal revolutions of 1848."

Why do some Hollywood stars fall into bizarre faiths? Richard Abanes provides a breezy report in Religions of the Stars: What Hollywood Believes and How It Affects You (Bethany House, 2009). Tom Cruise, Madonna, and others would be better served by reading Neb Hayden's When the Good News Gets Even Better (Cook, 2009): It's a solid overview for newcomers to the gospel, and a feast of significant details for those already familiar with the history.

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Why don't professors of religion teach their students that belief in Christ cannot logically be melded with adherence to other major religions? Maybe because books by Huston Smith are mainstays of religious studies classes at secular universities, and Smith, now in his 90s, has long claimed a farrago of faiths. His Tales of Wonder: Adventures Chasing the Divine (HarperOne, 2009, with Jeffrey Paine) is the picaresque memoir of a writer who "practiced Hinduism unconditionally for ten years, then Buddhism for ten years, and then Islam for another ten years-all the while remaining a Christian and regularly attending a Methodist church."

Why are many evangelicals dropping out of churches, and what should pastors do to stop the bleeding? Julia Duin in Quitting Church (Baker, 2008) complains about bland worship, the marginalization of singles, and pastoral unawareness of issues and suffering beyond the church walls. Her recommendations include deeper sermons, formation of house and small churches, and more attention to the family-less.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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