Fall Offers a Great Line-up of Conservative Books

Another crop of fall books is upon us, including a number of new titles that are great reads for conservatives. Islam expert Robert Spencer examines Christianity; Laura Ingraham shows how we can return power to the people; Thomas Woods gives us a generous new helping of politically incorrect American history; Diana West asks when we’re going to grow up (and explains why we need to); we get a rare glimpse inside the soul of a saint; and more.

Power to the People
By Laura Ingraham
Regnery, 2007
$27.95, 372 pp.

As the editor of the Conservative Book Club, I’ve become something of a connoisseur of books written by talk show hosts. Of all those I’ve read, Laura Ingraham’s Power to the People easily takes the top prize. It’s got plenty of energy and attitude — but best of all, it has real answers to the questions bothering conservatives.

Laura aims her slings and arrows at the folks who are messing up America: activist judges (and “passivist” judges who don’t stop the government from running roughshod over the property rights guaranteed in the Constitution); porn peddlers who tell us that if we don’t like the garbage they’re pumping into our children’s minds we should “just change the channel” (she has a great response); irresponsible public school officials; and crazy leftist professors. In opposition to the irresponsible elites, Laura articulates a coherent view of what America ought to be — and then lays out exactly what we need to do to “return power to the people.” Her vision of a healthy America begins with a healthy respect for families. As she points out, it’s in families that Americans exercise the responsibility and learn the traditions that allow them to govern themselves — it’s no mystery why the elites on the left are so hostile to the traditional family.

Laura Ingraham is one sharp cookie: Her preparation for her career in radio included a stint as a reporter for the iconoclastic Dartmouth Review and a clerkship for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. But even more impressive than her intelligence is her intellectual generosity. To give just one example, there aren’t many single, childless, high-powered career women who could write about childrearing with the respect and appreciation that she does. If you’re going to read just one blockbuster political bestseller this fall, make it this one.

33 Questions About American History You’re Not Supposed to Ask
By Thomas E. Woods, Jr.
Crown Forum, 2007
$25.95, 307 pp.

Thomas Woods’s new book on American history is, if that were possible, even more politically incorrect than his New York Times bestseller, The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History. In this follow-up volume, nothing is off limits to Woods’s iconoclasm — not the American Indians’ reputation for environmental stewardship, not the halo FDR’s fans think he earned by ending the Great Depression, not even George Washington Carver’s record of innovation with the humble peanut.

Along the way, Woods corrects our assumptions on a number of points, from the Founders’ views on “jury nullification” (they were for it) and immigration (they were surprisingly skeptical) to the real meaning of the “general welfare” clause in the U.S. Constitution to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s actual position on affirmative action. This is a book for readers who don’t mind having their preconceived notions challenged. It’s also an arsenal for culture warriors looking for ammunition to use against the politically correct version of American history that has captured our schools and colleges.

Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t
By Robert Spencer
Regnery, 2007
$27.95, 264 pp.

Robert Spencer takes a new and fascinating direction in this just-published book. Beginning with his Islam Unveiled, written half a decade ago in the aftermath of 9/11, Spencer has been laying out the connection between jihadist terrorism, on the one hand, and the actual content of Islam, on the other. As he’s shown in The Truth About Muhammad and a half-dozen other books, there’s a more than coincidental relationship between the terrorist threat we face today and the history, beliefs and prophet of Islam.
Audiences that Spencer is trying to reach — from the general public to the Bush Administration — have understandably found it difficult to accept his message. Repeating the mantra that Islam is a “religion of peace” that’s been “hijacked by a minority of extremists” is a lot easier than figuring out what to do about the resurgence of an intrinsically aggressive (and historically quite successful) religio-political ideology of conquest in the era of weapons of mass destruction.

One of the many objections to Spencer’s message has been a kind of religious equivalence reminiscent of Cold War moral equivalence. In Religion of Peace? Spencer takes on the charge that Christianity is as dangerous to our peace and freedom as Islam is and the accusation that the Bible (especially the Old Testament) inspires religious violence just as the Koran does. One of the most useful aspects of this book may be its investigation of why the violent Biblical passages the proponents of religious equivalence point to haven’t, in fact, inspired religious violence in the way that violent parts of the Koran have.

Spencer’s knowledge of jihad worldwide also allows him to offer his readers enlightening vignettes that illustrate the differences between typically Christian and typically Muslim mindsets — differences hardly guessed at by “multiculturalism” enthusiasts. Read Religion of Peace? to find out what happened when Egyptian Christians began putting fish bumper stickers on their cars in 2003 — the Muslim response makes snarky pro-Darwinism bumper stickers (the evolving fish with the little legs) look, in contrast, like an invitation to rational and mutually respectful debate.

The Death of the Grown-Up
By Diana West
St. Martin’s, 2007
$23.95, 256 pp.

Diana West shares Robert Spencer’s concerns about the global threat of Islamic jihad. And she points to a homegrown problem that — if we don’t reverse current trends — is going to make us incapable of facing down that threat. Americans, West argues, have given up on growing up. It’s not so long ago, she reminds us, that there was literally no such thing as a “teenager” — the word hadn’t even been invented. Until the middle of the 20th Century, our ancestors simply didn’t think of themselves (or of their children) as adolescents. People were children, and then they were young adults. And the goal of childhood was to grow up.

No longer. Now the ambition of everyone — from the five-year-olds wearing suggestive T-shirts to the senior citizens on skateboards — seems to be to arrive at irresponsible adolescence as quickly as possible and never to have to grow out of it for the rest of our lives. The burden of West’s argument is that we can no longer afford to indulge ourselves in this way. If we don’t grow up to face our responsibilities (and quickly), we might lose the freedom we’re abusing. As West suggests, dhimmitude — the second-class status than non-Muslims are forced into in societies ruled by Islamic sharia law — may be “the ultimate phase of human infantilization.”

Misquoting Truth
By Timothy Paul Jones
InterVarsity, 2007
$13, 176 pp.

The last couple of years have seen the publication of veritable armies of anti-Christian books. The big guns are Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and Sam Harris’s Letter to a Christian Nation: A Challenge to Faith. Then there are a host of second-tier anti-theocracy books, all warning that evangelical Christianity is a danger to our liberty. Yet another crowd of books attack the historical basis for Christianity — arguing that the Gospels are unreliable, claiming to find superior truth in Gnostic writings such as “The Gospel of Judas” and suggesting that it may be impossible to know much at all about the historical Jesus. Now, Christians are lining up to answer these attacks.

Timothy Paul Jones’s Misquoting Truth takes on Misquoting Jesus, by Bart Ehrman, chairman of the religious studies department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. (Apparently, things haven’t changed much since my undergraduate days at Chapel Hill in the 1980s, when a number of religion professors seemed to take delight in detaching undergraduates from their naïve Christian faith.) Jones provides a wealth of information that will be helpful to anyone confused about the reliability of our evidence for Jesus’ life. This book is especially telling on such questions as whether copyists really altered the Biblical texts, why Matthew, Mark, Luke and John made it into the canon of the New Testament while the Gnostic Gospels didn’t, how we know who wrote the New Testament Gospels, whether the New Testament contains eyewitness testimony about Jesus and more.

Hugo Chavez
By Christina Marcano and Alberto Barrera Tyszka
Random House, 2007
$27.95, 352 pp.

With the fall of the Berlin Wall, socialism seemed to be finished. It looked as if the proponents of revolutionary politics were going to have to find new careers — if, that is, they couldn’t get jobs teaching Marxism to American college students. But Hugo Chavez’s “people’s revolution” in Venezuela has demonstrated the enduring appeal of Socialist revolution.

Hugo Chavez is best known to Americans as the man who won thunderous applause in the United Nations General Assembly for calling President George W. Bush “the Devil” –complaining that he could still smell the sulfur left over from Bush’s visit to the same chamber the day before. But Chavez is more than an outrageous buffoon: He’s the ringleader of the opposition to U.S. leadership in the Americas, and his Venezuela is the model that American and European leftists — despondent since the end of the Cold War — are looking to with renewed hope.

The authors of this biography are two Venezuelan journalists who do their best to give us a dispassionate and even-handed account of Hugo Chavez’s rise to power and his record in office. But the parallels to the career trajectories of other Socialist dictators are impossible to miss — especially to the career of Fidel Castro, whom Chavez has adopted as a mentor. We’ve seen it all before — the bold egalitarian rhetoric, the revolutionaries who spend lavishly on public spectacle as soon as they’re in power (all the while identifying themselves loudly as the champions of the poor) and the crackdown on the free press. The more the rest of the world forgets the lessons of the Cold War, the more those of us who saw through socialism need to remember those lessons — and keep an eye on places where dreams of classless utopia are reemerging, including Venezuela.

The Spiritual Brain
By Mario Beauregard and Denyse O’Leary
HarperOne, 2007
$25.95, 368 pp.

Do near-death experiences prove there’s a heaven — and a hell? What do brain scans of nuns in contemplation reveal about the nature of prayer? Neuroscientist Mario Beauregard reports what the science of the brain has discovered about our religious experiences — and also what it can’t explain.

The book’s highlights include an account of atheist philosopher A. J. Ayer’s near-death experience. In its immediate aftermath, Ayer seems to have told his doctor that he had seen “a Divine Being” and that he was afraid he’d have to revise his opinions. In the long run, he opted not to do so, but his close call with death, like those of most other people who have similar experiences, apparently altered the rest of his life for the better. There’s also the unforgettable account of Richard Dawkins’s trying on “the God helmet” — a device that stimulates the brain’s temporal lobes with weak magnetic fields. (Dawkins was disappointed when the only result was some twitching in his legs — no mystical experience.)

The theme of this book is that religious experience is too complex (and too much like other kinds of brain activity sparked by real objects) for us to chalk religion up to a “God gene” or a “God spot” in the brain. Science hasn’t come close to explaining God away. So far, the skeptics have failed to show how the brain could be creating God. It may just turn out to be the other way around, after all: Perhaps God created a brain that was able to perceive Him, as it can perceive other realities.

Until Proven Innocent
By Stuart Taylor and K.C. Johnson
Thomas Dunne, 2007
$26.95, 432 pp.

This page-turning retelling of the Duke lacrosse scandal demonstrates that the case was about far more than one rogue prosecutor. Mike Nifong has been disbarred, but there were quite a few other villains in the case. In fact, the scandal brought to light evidence that several important institutions in our society are in very bad shape indeed.

The media missed the real story because it wasn’t the kind of news they consider fit to print. A black woman’s rape accusation against white athletes from an elite school was big news—evidence that the prosecution was out of control and the lacrosse players were innocent wasn’t worth reporting. The civil rights establishment missed a golden opportunity to make allies in their fight against abuses in the criminal justice system — race trumped justice. Law enforcement also comes off looking very bad. After reading this book, you’ll wonder whether the kinds of corruption that aided Nifong’s prosecutorial misconduct are endemic in our criminal justice system: police lying, selective prosecution of defense witnesses to pressure them to change their stories, the cover-up of exculpatory DNA evidence. Finally, publicity about the case brought to light some ugly flaws in our system of higher education. Administrators looked after Duke, and after themselves, not after Duke’s students. And the leftists on the faculty, faced with a real-world injustice, indulged their own prejudices at their students’ expense.

Come Be My Light
By Mother Theresa
Doubleday, 2007
$22.95, 404 pp.

Everybody knows about Mother Theresa — the tiny woman who devoted her life to the poorest of the poor on India’s streets, won the Nobel Peace Prize, wasn’t afraid to tell Bill and Hillary Clinton that abortion is “the greatest destroyer of peace” and founded an order of nuns to bring Christ’s love to the poor and the suffering around the world, from beggars dying in the slums of Calcutta to AIDS patients in Washington, D.C. And everybody (Christopher Hitchens being the exception that proves the rule in this case) admires her. We can’t help being moved by her great love for “the least of these.”

But hardly anyone knew, during her lifetime, just what that love cost Mother Theresa. She always said that real love means giving until it hurts. Now, with the publication of many of these private letters, the true cost of her gift of herself is finally revealed. Like other saints before her, Mother Theresa experienced a “dark night of the soul” — a period of spiritual dryness in which she was unable to feel the warmth and comfort of God’s love. But the astonishing revelation of this book is that this period of spiritual suffering began almost as soon as she answered God’s call to serve the poor of Calcutta, and it lasted for almost the whole of the next 50 years. This remarkable book is a window into the life of an extraordinary soul.