It’s back-to-school time. The air will soon be crisp and the leaves will begin to turn. Even those of us who’ll never pick up another textbook will feel a boost in our energy level and maybe a little spike in our intellectual curiosity. And there are plenty of great books coming out (or recently released) to inform and entertain us. Below you’ll find mini-reviews of 14 books being published in 2006—books that are educational, gripping, fun, inspiring and, in some cases, essential to understanding the newly dangerous world we’re living in and the issues conservatives need to stay on top of.
Robert Spencer of “Jihad Watch” and Mark Steyn (“the one-man global content provider”) explore the real “root causes” of jihad terror and the problems the West needs to overcome to meet to that threat. H. W. Crocker III and Dave R. Palmer weigh in with history that’s enormously informative, and as gripping as any novel. American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia is both an essential reference tool and a wonderful tour through the history of the conservative movement. David Limbaugh and HUMAN EVENTS’ own Amanda Carpenter take on Hillary and the Democrats. And Newt Gingrich reminds us that conservative principles are shared by the majority of Americans—and sets out what we need to do to win elections and implement a conservative agenda.
Tim Carney and the Cato Institute’s Timothy Sandefur expose government infringement on property rights and interference with free markets, showing how big business and big government collude to benefit at the expense of individuals, and why the erosion of private ownership of property is a real threat to our liberty and prosperity. Australian philosopher David Stove and Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute have written two devastating (though very different) critiques of Darwinian evolution. Robert Royal shows how Western civilization rests on religious foundations. And Meg Meeker demonstrates that good fathers are absolutely essential to the happiness of daughters
All these books are selections of the Conservative Book Club, and HUMAN EVENTS is also making them available through the Human Events Book Service, which you can find online at www.HEBookService.com.
The Present Crisis
The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion
by Robert Spencer
Robert Spencer outdoes himself in this book—in courage (who else would dare to write a warts-and-all biography of Muhammad?) but also in marshalling solid evidence that the real “root causes” of jihad violence are in Muhammad’s own character and the teachings of the religion he founded. Spencer uses only Muslim sources for the facts about Muhammad’s life—the Koran itself, plus the hadiths and other Islamic documents that Muslims themselves accept as reliable.
The resulting picture is at once instructive and horrifying. It’s often said that Islamists are bent on imposing the standards of the 7th Century on the modern world. The Truth about Muhammad actually shows the reader the savage time and place in which Islam emerged. Spencer opens a window on 7th-Century Arabia: the brutality, the superstition, the abuse of women. He shows precisely how both the conditions of Muhammad’s time and the prophet’s own actions continue to shape modern Islam. Did you know that Muslims used to face Jerusalem, not Mecca, to pray?—that is, until the breakdown of an accord between Muhammad and a Jewish group. (The repercussions of that failed agreement are still being felt in Muslim-Jewish relations today.) And were you aware that the requirement of four male witnesses to prove a sex crime comes from a “revelation” Muhammad received, clearing the name of his favorite wife? (Today, up to 75% of the women jailed in Pakistan are there because they’re victims of rape—who are judged to be fornicators and adulteresses because they can’t prove rape by Muhammad’s nearly impossible-to-meet standard.) A similar “revelation of convenience” allowed Muhammad to marry his own daughter-in-law. This book is full of fascinating and informative facts and connections between what happened in the 7th Century and what’s going on in Islam today.
The tragic fact is that, for Muslims, religious awe—respect for the majesty and justice of God—is inextricably bound to the savage culture Muhammad came out of, to his own flawed character and to his violent and lust-driven teachings. To defeat the jihadists who want to kill us, we need to understand them. The Truth about Muhammad is an important contribution to that project.
America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It
by Mark Steyn
America Alone attacks the same problem from the other end. Mark Steyn, one of the most entertaining conservatives writing today, explains that an Islamist takeover of much of the West is all but assured by the suicidal Blue-State-style leftist culture that’s already killing Europe. Apart from a collection of essays, this is Steyn’s first political book—the long-awaited full statement of the theme he’s been teasing us with in brilliant pieces for National Review and conservative periodicals in Canada and the U.K. (until his column got dropped, shortly after he wrote very frankly about Islam).
Steyn argues persuasively that Europe no longer has the will to survive. Freed by America from the burden of their own defense through the Cold War, and freed by their own Socialist governments from the ordinary responsibilities of adult life, Europeans have become perpetual teenagers. They have energy to whine about and rebel against the adults (us). But they don’t have what it takes to fend off the already proceeding transformation of their continent into Eurabia. In fact, they aren’t forward-thinking enough even to reproduce themselves. European birthrates are in free-fall.
Steyn is at once a fabulous entertainer and a serious thinker about our current crisis. America Alone is a delight to read. Steyn’s throwaway lines will make you laugh till you’re in danger of falling out of your chair: “In 1977, Jimmy Carter, President of the United States (incredible as that may seem), confidently predicted that ‘we could use up all of the proven reserves of oil in the entire world by the end of the next decade.’” But Steyn’s insights are valuable. For example, it never occurred to me that the global environmental hysteria is necessitated by the fact that America is the most benevolent great power the world has ever seen. The rest of the world can’t credibly complain that we oppress them, so they charge that we’re selfishly consuming and polluting the world to death. But as Steyn shows, demographic collapse and Islamification are going to change the world faster and more drastically than global warming.
Don’t Tread on Me: A 400-Year History of America at War, from Indian Fighting to Terrorist Hunting
by H. W. Crocker III
This swash-buckling (and frankly imperialist) military history of the United States is great fun to read. It’s usefully and entertainingly informative. (If you’re a little fuzzy on the details of American military history, this is the book that will help you get it straight—from exactly what the U.S. Marines were doing on “the shores of Tripoli” and in “the halls of Montezuma” to when, where and how MacArthur redeemed his famous vow: “I shall return.”) Don’t Tread on Me also delivers a generous helping of political incorrectness. In the American Revolution, Crocker sympathizes with the Loyalists. When it comes to the Civil War, he’s solidly on the Confederate side. And in between, the only problem he sees with the Mexican War (the one Thoreau went to jail instead of paying taxes to support—he thought it was so immoral) is that we missed our chance to take over the rest of Mexico and incorporate it into the United States.
But you don’t have to swallow whole Crocker’s ideal of America as “an empire of liberty . . . enjoying peace (save for smiting the occasional Indian, Mexican or any other person standing in the way of manifest destiny), prosperity and a limited and distant federal government” to enjoy his celebration of the American fighting man. From Miles Standish and John Smith to the “imperial grunts” who keep the “Pax Americana” today, Crocker shows that the Americans have always made practical, intelligent, resourceful—and phenomenally successful—soldiers. This book makes a compelling case that America’s great military successes have always depended on “cultural confidence.” Our fighting men still possess that confidence, but too many civilians today have lost it. Don’t Tread on Me is a useful corrective to the prevalent shamefaced blame-America-first history and a passionate argument for giving the men who risk their lives for us the resources they need to get the job done. [Read Jed Babbin’s full review.]
George Washington and Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots
by Dave R. Palmer
Dave R. Palmer, former West Point superintendent (and Vietnam veteran), with George Washington and Benedict Arnold: A Tale of Two Patriots, has given us a work of military history that reads like a novel and at the same time makes a valuable point about character. The two men whose stories he tells led remarkably parallel lives. Both Washington and Arnold lost their fathers and had to give up early their hopes of education to learn a trade. Both were successful men in civilian life. Both were aggressive, courageous and intelligent officers in the Revolutionary War. But they responded very differently to the envy and mistrust they encountered in their successful military careers. As Palmer points out, Washington became the Father of his Country, while Benedict Arnold became a man without a country—his very name a synonym for betrayal and treason.
What was the difference? Palmer argues that it was Washington’s early decision to cultivate a good character—to curb his naturally hot temper and to hew to a high standard of honesty. Arnold’s irascibility made him enemy after enemy. When he saw that his (very real) contributions to the Revolutionary cause weren’t sufficiently appreciated, he became resentful and, finally, willing to seek revenge and profit for himself even by dishonest means.
This book is hard to put down. Palmer shows us—among other gripping scenes—Arnold at the fort at West Point, awaiting Washington’s arrival. Washington is due to inspect the fort, which is vital to the defense of America. And Arnold has just sold West Point to the British. Letters on the way to both men will reveal that the plot has been discovered. Which man will the news reach first? [Read Lee Edwards’ full review.]
American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia
Edited by Bruce Frohnen, Jeremy Beer, and Jeffrey O. Nelson
If you need the thought of Russell Kirk in a nutshell or a thumbnail discussion of to what degree Thomas Jefferson was (or was not) a conservative, this is your book. There are entries in this encyclopedia for the major historical and contemporary figures, magazines and newspapers, books, events and ideas of American conservatism, and much more. This encyclopedia goes beyond politics into our culture—exploring, for example, the life and writings of Flannery O’Connor from the perspective of American conservatism.
American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia is a valuable reference if you need information about a person or an institution of conservative significance. It’s also fun just to read around in, if you want to know more about the history of conservatism in America. (And there’s a lengthy entry for HUMAN EVENTS—“America’s oldest conservative weekly publication,” which you may find of interest, as well!)
Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America
by Newt Gingrich
Newt Gingrich’s strong suit is transforming silent majorities for conservative principles into electoral majorities for conservatives—and then achieving legislative victory for the items on the conservative agenda. That was the genius behind the Contract with America. That was also the idea behind Gingrich’s 2005 New York Times bestseller, Winning the Future: A 21st Century Contract with America.
The recently released paperback edition of Winning the Future includes a new introduction and four new chapters—on reining in our courts, on reforming the executive branch of the federal government, on making Congress more intelligent and effective and on immigration. The immigration chapter is the most interesting of the four. Here Gingrich proposes to solve one of the most intractable problems in American politics. His plan takes into account what almost seem to be conflicting American values swirling around the immigration issue.
We’re a nation of immigrants. But Americans have always expected immigrants to assimilate in order to participate in our common political life—and assimilation now seems to have given way to identity politics. Americans feel compassion for the “poor huddled masses, yearning to the free,” but we’re also firmly for the rule of law. We need to be secure from terrorism, but the past enforcement (or lack thereof) of our immigration laws has resulted in the presence of a large population living outside the authority and protection of the law and in a system of smuggling that can be used by the jihad terrorists. Gingrich’s plan for “patriotic immigration” is an idea conservatives should not ignore, nor are the rest of Gingrich’s ideas about putting together a majority for “winning the future.”
Bankrupt: The Intellectual and Moral Bankruptcy of Today’s Democratic Party
by David Limbaugh
David Limbaugh follows up bestsellers Absolute Power and Persecution with a comprehensive indictment of today’s Democratic Party. Bankrupt details a morally stunted party that can’t get over its own loss of power, even when the nation itself is at risk. Limbaugh begins with the war in Iraq, explaining how Democrats’ resentment of Republican electoral victories has seduced their attention from the national interest and led them into fear-mongering and paranoia. They rail against the tyranny of “King George”—Bush, that is—and don’t hesitate to reveal war secrets to get back at their political enemies. “Judging by their rhetoric,” Limbaugh says, “Democrats think this Republican domination [of the presidency and both houses of Congress] is more dangerous than the threat posed by Islamic terrorists.”
From the war, Limbaugh turns to the Democrats’ clumsy attempts to turn the “values” issue in their favor, their unprincipled use of the judiciary to enact liberal policies that our legislatures won’t pass and we won’t vote for, the Democratic Party’s dependence on class warfare and race baiting and, finally, a diagnosis of the roots of the problem. Limbaugh goes back to the Clinton Administration and looks at the long-term costs of the Democrats’ decision to stick with Bill Clinton, right or wrong. This book is a needed reminder that, however frustrated conservatives may be from time to time with Republicans, it’s crucial that we keep the irresponsibility, dishonesty and dangerous principles (if you can even call them principles) of the Democrats as far away from the levers of power as possible.
The Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy’s Dossier on Hillary Clinton
by Amanda Carpenter
Hillary Clinton is still the front-runner for the 2008 Democratic Presidential nomination. The Vast Right-Wing Consipracy’s Dossier on Hillary Clinton by Human Events Assistant Editor Amanda Carpenter collects the hard evidence about Hillary’s extreme positions, her suspicious finances and the extraordinary drive that have brought her so far and may yet take her back to the White House—this time, as President.
You may have the general impression that Hillary has talked out of both sides of her mouth about the War on Terror. Carpenter goes through the chronology and lays out Hillary’s actual quotations. You may remember that previous Clinton campaigns seemed to be beholden to foreign cash. Carpenter lists the foreign nationals and groups that have paid Bill millions in speaking fees—and shows exactly how Hillary could use that money in her presidential campaign. Carpenter also takes a close look at Hillary’s affinity for pork-barrel spending: She pushed for $75 million for counseling for New Yorkers in the Hurricane Katrina relief bill.
The Dossier also documents Hillary’s cozy relationships with business (Viacom edited out boos and catcalls and added applause and cheers when they replayed her unpopular appearance at a post-9/11 concert) and sleazy donors and fundraisers, her interest in censoring the internet and the extreme discipline with which she manages her public image. As difficult as it may be for conservatives to believe, this woman has a real chance to be President of the United States. It’s far better that we know what Carpenter has uncovered about her now, rather than later.
Property Rights and Government Greed
The Big Ripoff: How Big Business and Big Government Steal Your Money
by Tim Carney
Thomas Sowell used to promise an “A” to any student who could point to one complimentary thing Adam Smith says about businessmen in The Wealth of Nations. None of his students was able to find one. The truth is, businessmen, like other people, are subject to the temptation to use government power to live at somebody else’s expense. And they’ve got more opportunities than the rest of us to make it happen.
In The Big Ripoff, Tim Carney shows how out of control corporate welfare is in America. There’s the Fanjul sugar family, whose political contributions have inspired politicians to keep out foreign-grown sugar and otherwise interfere in the marketplace so effectively that American consumers pay almost twice the world price for sugar, and candy manufacturers are moving their plants outside the United States. There are the local governments who bribe Wal-Mart with free land and tax breaks—to the tune of $1 billion. There are the barriers to trade that inflate the incomes of pre-existing businesses: You can’t drive a taxicab in New York unless you can afford a $200,000 medallion, be a florist in Louisiana until you can persuade the florists already in business that they should allow you to become their competitor, or braid hair in Pennsylvania (or spray weeds in Arizona) without unnecessary hours of training.
This book is a well-documented and well-argued case that big business and big government are in cahoots to fleece the little guy. So should we blame business? As Carney shows, even businessmen who would like to put all their energy into making a better product and selling it for a lower price can’t afford not to hire lobbyists, instead. As long as government is redistributing our money to their competitors, it can be suicidal for a business not to get in line for its share. The Big Ripoff is a compelling argument for smaller government.
Cornerstone of Liberty: Property Rights in 21st-Century America
by Timothy Sandefur
Cornerstone of Liberty, a short book from the Cato Institute’s Timothy Sandefur, is an excellent introduction to the problems of government encroachment on private property rights in America. There’s been widespread outrage at the 2005 Kelo decision, in which the Supreme Court gave the town of New London, Conn., the right to take citizens’ private property, including the house one homeowner had been born in 80 years before, and sell it to developers who would pay more taxes. But that indignation hasn’t translated into much success in rolling back the effects of Kelo in our state legislatures. In fact, Sandefur shows that eminent domain abuse is only one of several ways in which private property is under siege in America.
Why should we care? Sandefur shows that private property really is the cornerstone of our liberty. Communism was based on the illusion that—as Aristotle said in his Politics more than two millennia ago—the abolition of property will mean that “in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody’s friend.” Its spectacular failure suggests that there’s something fundamental about individual ownership. Good fences really do make good neighbors: each individual tends to his own responsibilities and respects his fellow man. As Tom Bethell has argued, property is “the most peaceable of institutions.”
Do we really want to lose the structures that underlie American prosperity and liberty and find ourselves living more and more like people without them? The world is full of places where ownership counts for nothing, and everything is up for grabs to the person with the most political power. In those countries, it’s self-defeating to work hard and create wealth. The only smart (even the only safe) thing to do is to compete for power or become the client of someone who has it. If we want to live like that, then we just need to keep going in the direction that Sandefur shows we’re headed. Cornerstone of Liberty includes a “What Can Be Done?” chapter full of practical suggestions for state legislation that would help change our present course and turn the tide back in the direction of respect for property rights.
The Politically Incorrect Guide™ to Darwinism and Intelligent Design
by Jonathan Wells
You’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover. But the cover of The Politically Incorrect Guide™ to Darwinism and Intelligent Design is simply too engaging to pass by in silence. From Ann Coulter’s endorsement—“Annoy a godless liberal: buy this book!”—to the chimp in eyeglasses, bowtie and armchair (with book in hand), it promises an irreverent review of the evidence for Darwinism and Intelligent Design.
Jonathan Wells of the Discovery Institute is the author of this latest volume in the Politically Incorrect Guide™ series (full disclosure: I’m the author of the next volume, The Politically Incorrect Guide™ to English and American Literature, due out later this fall). The P.I.G. series promises to “tackle a variety of hot topics . . . that have been hijacked by politically correct historians, academia, and the media,” and Wells follows through on that promise with a comprehensive review of the debate between Darwinism and Intelligent Design: The fossil record the Darwinists appeal to is nothing but gaps; they can’t show the evolution of one new species, even in the case of bacteria; and living things are built of systems that are “irreducibly complex.” For example, both sight and blood-clotting depend on multiple individual factors. If any one separate element in a “cascade” of chemical reactions is missing, an animal can’t see, or its blood won’t clot. On the Darwinist theory, it’s hard to see how any of those individual “modifications” would have contributed to survival (and thus helped the organisms with them to be naturally selected). Design seems the best explanation of how they came about.
The real strength of this book is its demonstration that the “scientific consensus” for Darwinian evolution is artificially maintained by witch-hunting Darwinists who do all they can to ruin the careers of scientists who question Darwinism and to keep Intelligent Design out of peer-reviewed publications. Thus, the Darwinian argument that only Darwinism is peer-reviewed science is circular.
Back to that chimp on the cover. Did you know that scientists actually have tried to figure out how long it would take monkeys to get around to typing the complete works of Shakespeare (a result comparable to the evolution of the universe and everything in it by a series of accidents, which is what the Darwinian theory boils down to)? A computer “Monkey Shakespeare Simulator” that uses random letter generation assuming that each monkey will type one letter per second found that it took 2,738 trillion trillion trillion monkey-years to produce a single 24-letter passage from Henry IV, Part II. And of course, real monkeys don’t type a letter a second. A live experiment found that six macaques took a month to produce “the equivalent of five pages, consisting almost entirely of the letter ‘S.’” [Read Tom Bethell’s full review.]
Darwinian Fairytales: Selfish Genes, Errors of Heredity, and Other Fables of Evolution
by David Stove
David Stove (1927-94) was an Australian philosopher and critic of Darwinian evolution on philosophical grounds. Darwinian Fairytales is a wide-ranging and pointed exposé of the logical contradictions and other gaping problems in the Darwinian theory of evolution by natural selection.
Stove eviscerates the Malthusian idea (on which Darwin built his theory of natural selection) that populations always increase geometrically while food supply increases only arithmetically. For starters, food supply is, itself, also population (whether of wheat or rabbits or chickens). Then there’s the Hobbesian notion (on which Darwin’s theory also depends) of human life as a war of each against all for survival. Do we actually believe that we’re in a cutthroat competition with even the members of our own families for survival? (As Stove points out, a man’s wife and children would be what the biologists call “easy meat.”) If we don’t really believe in this picture of human existence, then we have to abandon Darwinian evolution—or else apply one of the “patches” that later Darwinists have proposed.
Those patches are (if possible) even more divorced from reality than Darwin’s original theory. For example, 20th-Century proponents of Darwinian evolution argue that we are merely the puppets of our genes, which use us to perpetuate themselves. Thus, we are willing to risk our own lives for (rather than compete with or even eat) our families because of the DNA we share. As Darwinist W. D. Hamilton put it in 1964, “… we expect to find that no one is prepared to sacrifice his life for any single person, but that everyone will sacrifice it for no more than two brothers [or offspring], or four half brothers, or eight first cousins” [emphasis added]. If you can believe that, you can believe in Darwinian evolution with a clear conscience.
The God That Did Not Fail: How Religion Built and Sustains the West
by Robert Royal
Robert Royal, in The God That Did Not Fail, reviews the entire history of religion in the West. While modern secularists portray the history of our civilization as the triumph of atheist rationality over religious faith, Royal shows the religious roots of everything we treasure about Western civilization. Classical Greece, Royal argues, was not the proto-Enlightenment rationalist era of popular myth, but rather a deeply religious society. The Roman Empire succeeded because of the integrity of its public servants—which was grounded in religious piety. And the American founders relied on the natural law philosophy of John Locke, which is more thoroughly Christian than we moderns realize.
You can take issue with some parts of Royal’s account. (I’d argue, for example, that Milton’s Areopagitica shows the roots of our religious liberty are in the Protestant Reformation itself, rather than in the compromises that ended the Wars of Religion). The God That Did Not Fail does a wonderful job of reminding us that, as we see the failure of one modern religion-substitute after another (Freudianism, Darwinian evolution, Nietzschean nihilism in all its shifting shapes) the God that did not fail is still with us.
Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know
by Meg Meeker
Since gray-eyed Athena (the goddess of wisdom and war in Homer’s Iliad) carried her father Zeus’s shield in battle, it’s been a part of the traditional wisdom of Western culture that strong fathers make for strong daughters. But it’s only in the last 40 years—since the sexual revolution and the rise in the divorce rate—that we’ve seen just how much damage the lack of strong fathers can do to whole generations of girls. Pediatrician Meg Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters (Buy now and save 20%), has seen it all: teenage and even pre-teen girls with eating disorders, drug habits, sexually transmitted diseases and depression.
Meeker marshals copious statistics and moving stories from her clinical experience to show just what daughters need from their fathers. If you’re a girl’s dad, she needs your attention. She needs you to be her hero (and her example of the kind of man she ought to marry). She needs you to teach her to be humble and to fight when she needs to fight. She needs you to protect and defend her and to teach her who God is.
Meeker is a cheerleader for the masculine qualities that annoy feminists: “Frustrated as wives can be with husbands who are program-driven, goal-oriented and task-solving, men have these qualities for a reason. It is a father’s programs, goals and actions that can make the difference in solving the daughter’s problems.” This book is must reading for the father of any girl.