Fans are debating the financial demands of baseball's best player, Albert Pujols: Is he greedy to ask the St. Louis Cardinals to pay $300 million from 2012 to 2021 to keep him after this year, or are Cardinals execs fools to resist? Pujols: More Than the Game, by Scott Lamb and Tim Ellsworth (Nelson, 2011), is a pertinent biography. First baseman Pujols apparently asks opposing players who have made it to his corner of the diamond, "If you died today, where do you think you're going to go?" (Note the early line in famed poem "Casey at the Bat," "Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same.")
Two other baseball books: Mark Frost's Game Six (Hyperion, 2009) describes the 1975 World Series between Boston and Cincinnati as "the triumph of America's pastime." Ted Kluck's The Reason for Sports (Moody, 2009) is a "fanifesto" that shows how idolized athletes are sinners like the rest of us. We do tend to turn athletes into idols (as long as they keep winning), so if you're soft on steroid-users "who mysteriously gained fifty pounds of rock-hard muscle and started blasting baseballs out of stadiums," this is a book for you.
With a presidential campaign now beginning and Republicans feeling optimistic, The High Tide of American Conservatism by Garland S. Tucker III (Emerald, 2010) clearly describes the 1924 election fought between President Calvin Coolidge and the Democratic candidate who emerged only after 102 ballots, John W. Davis. Both nominees favored minimizing government and maximizing individual freedom: It was the last time both major parties nominated conservative candidates, and a time when both parties understood that America has been an exceptionally blessed country.
That's especially true when we compare our position between two oceans with the position of the countries described in Timothy Snyder's sad Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin (Basic, 2010). Snyder superbly shows how "the utopian goals and the strategic interaction of the Soviet and Nazi regimes helps to explain these mass murders of Jews and others, 14 million in all." The personal stories of death make those statistics come alive; for example, Snyder quotes the last letter to her father of Junita Vishniatskaia, a 12-year-old Jewish girl who wrote, "I am saying goodbye to you before I die. I am so afraid of this death because they throw small children into the mass graves alive."
After reading such misery, it was a pleasure to turn to Who Chose the Gospels? (Oxford, 2010): Reformed Theological Seminary professor Charles E. Hill provides an outstanding explanation of why Gospel conspiracy theorists are wrong, and why the four Gospels represent well what the early disciples understood about Christ. Gerald McDermott's The Great Theologians: A Brief Guide (IVP, 2010) provides succinct, readable introductions to Origen, Athanasius, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Edwards, Schleiermacher, Newman, Barth, and von Balthasar.
In one scene from The Right Stuff, a great 1983 movie, Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton concludes a platitude-spouting session with the tongue-in-cheek comment, "We're not saying anything new here. We're just saying the same things that need to be said again and again with fierce conviction."
Some things truly do need to be said again and again, with fierce conviction, and once in a while on this page I'll note some golden oldies. One worth mentioning is now-retiring David Noebel's massive Understanding the Times, two decades old and in its third edition. Noebel, during his five decades as head of Summit Ministries, taught 30,000 students to spot the assumptions of Communism, Islam, secular humanism, and other -isms, and contrast them with Christian understandings.
I asked Noebel recently what atheism's most potent weapon is, and he specified the teaching of macro-evolution: "More Christians have probably stumbled in their faith over Charles Darwin than over anybody else, including Marx." He also noted that socialism is not just an economic threat: "Once the state takes over, it just sucks in everything behind it. The state becomes God."