Culture > Books

Treadmill religion

Books | Books explore Islam's problems, conservatism's canon, and Pixar's wisdom

Issue: "Daniel of the Year," Dec. 18, 2010

National Public Radio fired Juan Williams for reporting trepidation from seeing Muslim-garbed groups on planes; NPR execs should read Eliza Griswold's The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam (FSG, 2010), a ground-level examination of skirmishes in Africa and eastern Asia. NPR-ites who prefer academic writing might peruse Ibn Warraq's Virgins? What Virgins? (Prometheus, 2010), a critique of the world's most imperialistic religion from someone who grew up in it.

Islamists who seem determined to kill Jews should see what happened to the last regime that had the same objective: Roger Moorhouse's Berlin at War (Basic, 2010) is full of fascinating stories about Hitler's capital from 1939 to 1945. Moorhouse describes the city's unhappy calm when war began, the frenzy when it ended in German disaster, and the astounding underground survival of some Jews, aided by some Aryans, in the heart of the Third Reich.

Some conservatives stood up to Hitler, but more opposed another oppressive regime, the Soviet empire. Claire Berlinski's "There Is No Alternative": Why Margaret Thatcher Matters (Basic, 2008) is a delightful biography of a prime minister who charmed visiting leaders with her feet curled up under her. Berlinski's writing is also charmingly unconventional: Instead of ruthlessly cutting to stay on topic, she shows personalities by displaying dinner table repartee and dining choices.

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Conservatism by itself does not stand up to evil as Christianity does, but those whose primary identification is "conservative" should read Benjamin Wiker's Ten Books Every Conservative Must Read (Regnery, 2010). It's a pithy introduction to Aristotle, Chesterton, Voegelin, C.S. Lewis, Edmund Burke, de Tocqueville, Belloc, von Hayek, The Federalist Papers and their Anti-Federalist opponents-with material about Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Tolkien, and the Bible tossed in, and a concluding poke at "one imposter," Ayn Rand.

In recent years a new canon has arisen to challenge the classic one, and Robert Velarde sings its praises in The Wisdom of Pixar: An Animated Look at Virtue (IVP, 20120). His 10 are Toy Story; A Bug's Life; Toy Story 2; Monsters, Inc.; Finding Nemo; The Incredibles; Cars; Ratatouille; Wall-E; and Up, all of which exist in a moral universe that has in its very fabric "an understanding of justice, courage, love and more." (Andy Crouch notes that many Christians work at Pixar. Coincidence? I don't think so.)

Larry Stone's The Story of the Bible (Thomas Nelson, 2010) is a beautiful coffee table book with chapters about the writing of the Bible, its use in the early years of the church and the Middle Ages, its translations during "the remarkable century from Gutenberg to Luther," and developments in recent centuries. Its unique feature is 23 replica pull-out pages from the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Chester Beatty Papyri, the Codex Sinaiticus, the Geneva Bible, and so on. To learn more about those who still read the Bible and not only display it, check out Christopher Catherwood's The Evangelicals (Crossway, 2010), an easy-to-read introduction to evangelical thought and practice.

Action trio

A fun read: Steve McLachlan's Sons of Noah (PublishAmerica, 2009) stars Noah's son Shem, age 500. Subsequent generations think of him as a legend and are surprised that he's still around, with youthful vigor. He hasn't seen his brothers for 300 years, but Ham-propelled by a sibling rivalry as strong as Cain's-is looking for him.

A page-turner: In Jeff Nesbit's Peace (Summerside, 2010), Israel bombs Iran's nuclear facilities; Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas attack Israel, Iran stops tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz and attacks the U.S. Navy; dirty bombs go off in U.S. East Coast cities; North Korea and Russia become involved; and (implausibly) a U.S. president personally takes a peace plan to Tehran and Pyongyang.

A compassion-provoker: Sudan (Bay Forest Books, 2010), by Art Ayris and Ninie Hammon, has a Sudanese farmer-dad, aided by an American journalist, searching for his captured and enslaved daughter. Southern Sudan is scheduled to vote next month on whether to become independent from the Muslim north.

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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