Catholic priest John Kaiser lived for more than 40 years in Kenya and spent most of that time working in obscurity, building churches, baptizing babies, and hearing confessions. He became much more outspoken after 1994, when he became chaplain of a refugee camp and learned firsthand how the government was fueling tribal tensions for its own corrupt purposes. In 2000, after years of death threats, Kaiser died from a gunshot wound that blew off the back of his head. Murder or suicide? Goffard, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, reconstructs Kaiser's last years in meticulous detail, perhaps not solving the puzzle but creating a compelling portrait of the priest and a gritty account of the ravaged land he loved.
At the time of the Reformation, in remote Frauenburg, doctor and Catholic church administrator Nicolaus Copernicus squeezed careful observations of the planets into a daily schedule taken up with settling land disputes among peasants, setting policy on the minting of money, and caring for his bishop's health. His observations led him to conclude that the earth orbited the sun-but he sat on his research for 30 years until a young mathematician, Rheticus, came from Wittenberg and convinced him to publish it. Sobel weaves together the mundane and celestial in Parts 1 and 3 of this fascinating book. Part 2 is a play that humanizes Copernicus but also depicts speculation (such as about Rheticus' homosexuality) as fact.
Taunton begins and ends his book with conversations he had with Christopher Hitchens in which Hitchens insisted the world would be better off without Christianity. Taunton had a chance to test that proposition when, several weeks after the first conversation, he traveled with his family to the Ukraine to adopt Sasha, a young girl with HIV. Taunton recounts the deplorable conditions of her orphanage, the way officials treated children as commodities, and the corruption built into the court system. He makes the case that this result is due to Ukraine's recent Soviet history, where government systematically suppressed Christianity. Taunton also shows the effect grace has had in Sasha's life, and presents her joy as the ultimate argument against atheistic unbelief.
Alisa Harris grew up in a Christian homeschooling family. As a child she idolized Ronald Reagan, carried pro-life signs at demonstrations, and dressed up a goat as Bill Clinton. Now she is the author of a memoir in which she describes voting for Barack Obama and carrying signs to protest Bank of America. The book is both engaging and confusing. She's a good reporter, able to breathe life into stories about her younger self and her life in New York City. She rightly criticizes some of the Christian conservative movement in which she was raised, but she's much less critical of the Christian left. Despite the book's title, she didn't untangle her faith from politics. She's still entangled-it's just a different politics.
As Americans head into an election year, it's a good time to reread Sen. Tom Coburn's Breach of Trust: How Washington Turns Outsiders into Insiders (Thomas Nelson, 2003). In it Coburn writes bluntly about what went wrong in the Republican revolution of 1994. Since important figures from that era are back in the spotlight, and since the same issue-the need to tame out-of-control federal spending-is still with us, Coburn's book couldn't be more timely. He explains the lure of "careerism" and the corrupting nature of power, and warns of those who spend today and promise belt-tightening tomorrow. The book embeds its detailed accounts of crucial budget battles in a larger discussion of human nature, the lure of "the inner ring," and the need for internal controls that ultimately come from Christ.