What role do leaders play in changing history, and what role does God play in changing them? Stephen Mansfield’s Lincoln’s Battle with God (Thomas Nelson, 2012) lucidly captures the scholarly debate about whether and when the Greatest Emancipator delivered a fatalistic skeptic from spiritual stupor into new life. It’s a good book for others walking the twisting path toward thoughtful faith.
Feb. 12 is not only Abraham Lincoln’s birthday but Charles Darwin’s as well. Several authors, including Richard Weikart, have shown the road from the quiet British scientist to a roaring German dictator, and Jerry Bergman’s Hitler and the Nazi Darwinian Worldview (Joshua Press, 2012) clearly describes the markers. Adolf Hitler apparently never read Charles Darwin, but Ernst Haeckel imported into Germany Darwin’s racist ideas. Haeckel, reared as a Christian, became “Darwin’s chief apostle” and gave pseudo-scientific underpinnings to Hitler’s ravings about Aryan supremacy: German anti-Semitism plus Darwinism equaled mass murder.
The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis on Science, Scientism, and Society, edited by John G. West (Discovery, 2012), undercuts the claims of some Darwinists that Lewis was one of them. Carl Wilson’s True Enlightenment: From Natural Chance to Personal Creator (Andragathia, 2011) is a thorough textbook for homeschooling parents who want to be well-informed from a young-earth perspective on questions involving the material world, the origins of life, human uniqueness, and much besides. Terry Mortenson’s The Great Turning Point (Master Books, 2004) displays useful historical research on the early 19th century’s Genesis-geology debate. All three books, like Bergman’s, show the consequences of ideas.
That leads me to Robert Kaplan, who has written wonderfully evocative ground-level books about wars and rumors of war, and now—in The Revenge of Geography (Random House, 2012)—gives us the view from 35,000 feet. Kaplan’s subtitle suggests the strengths and limitations of his worldview: “What the Map Tells Us About Coming Conflicts and the Battle Against Fate.” Like George Friedman, head of the organization Kaplan now works for, Stratfor, Kaplan is largely a geographical determinist, but what if “Fate” does not exist? What if a personal God, not an abstract fate, raises up kings and smashes kingdoms? What if ideas sometimes level mountains?
Analyses of leadership are particularly important to those who are not geographical determinists. The 25 principles for leadership that Albert Mohler offers in The Conviction to Lead (Bethany, 2012) have street cred: Mohler accomplished the almost impossible task of transforming an academic institution, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, over the objections of most of the professors on duty when he arrived. Peter Lillback’s George Washington & Israel (Providence Forum, 2012) succinctly shows how America’s essential leader was philo-Semitic.
Other books on the role of individuals in history: Ronald Utt’s Ships of Oak, Guns of Iron (2012), a readable history of the War of 1812, shows the importance of entrepreneurial captains (and the mediocre leadership of James Madison). James Humes’ Churchill: The Prophetic Statesman (2012) shows how the great British leader saw not only that Hitler and Stalin had to be stopped, but that Islam could well breed terrorism and that military innovations would breed a terror of their own.
Joseph Epstein’s Essays in Biography (Axios, 2012) includes 40 wonderfully written looks at leaders (and followers) ranging from George Washington, T.S. Eliot, and Michael Jordan to Alfred Kinsey, Susan Sontag, and Isaac Rosenfeld.
I’ll conclude with three more well-written books that illuminate fascinating, real-life characters. David Horowitz’s Radicals: Portraits of a Destructive Passion (Regnery, 2012) includes incisive stare-downs of Christopher Hitchens, Cornel West, and Saul Alinsky. Thomas Kessner’s The Flight of the Century: Charles Lindbergh and the Rise of American Aviation (Oxford, 2012) shows how and why the Lone Eagle made his historic flight to Paris, and later came across as a vulture. Michael Neiberg’s The Blood of Free Men: The Liberation of Paris, 1944 (Basic, 2012) shows how a city eaten by darkness came back to life.