Ben Boychuk, Managing Editor, The Claremont Review of Books
As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to Christmas gift-giving, you can never go wrong with a good book. My father, for example, is very difficult to buy for. But I've never gone wrong with a mystery, or a thriller, or first-rate war novel. Last year, I bought him the collected works of Alan Furst, which kept him entertained for months. This year, I think I've topped Furst with... well, dad reads this site, so I'd better not say.
My son, on the other hand, is too young to read this site. In fact, he's too young to read just about everything. But that didn't stop me from buying A.A. Milne's collected Winnie-the-Pooh stories (the originals, mind you, not the Disney-fied editions), which his mother and I are anxious to read to him.
(For an amusing variation on Milne, see Ken Masugi, below.)
In the last 10 years, I've given away more than two-dozen copies of A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. People either love this novel or hate it. Needless to say, I'm in the former camp and I've had pretty good luck with it. The comic adventures of Ignatius J. Reilly and his battles with the forces of modernity in New Orleans are impossible to forget. If your loved-one's theology and geometry need re-alignment, get Toole.
If you have a few extra dollars to spend and you know somebody in the word business, might I suggest a one-year subscription to the Oxford English Dictionary online? I realize $295 may sound steep, but as anyone who's ever perused and used the OED can tell you, it's a bargain a twice the price. If that still doesn't convince you, Simon Winchester's excellent history of the world's greatest dictionary, The Meaning of Everything, is a fine compromise, and can be had for a fraction of the cost of the complete 20-volume OED.
But for the best bargain of the season, nothing beats a subscription to the Claremont Review of Books.
Bruce Fingerhut, Publisher, St. Augustine Press
Okay, so it's different when you're a publisher and a journal editor asks for a list of five books for suggested gift-giving at Christmas. There are, after all, millions of books, but I'm an expert only in the few St. Augustine's Press has published. (And, anyway, I don't have much time to read books that are already in print.) So, assuming that you've already bought and given away many copies of The Brothers Karamazov, I may suggest:
Eccentric Culture by Rémi Brague is a tour-de-force explanation why situating Western civilization on the two-legged stool of Jerusalem (revelation) and Athens (reason), as so many of our theorists have, is just as unstable in theory as in practice (of chairdom). What is missing is Rome (tradition). A bestseller in Europe, it is now available in English for the first time.
The Meaning of Conservatism by Roger Scruton, Britain's greatest conservative philosopher, updates and Americanizes his apologia to a conservatism that regards the individual not as the premise but the conclusion of politics, one fundamentally opposed to the ethic of social justice, to equality of station, income and achievement, or to the attempt to bring major institutions of society under government control.
Leisure, the Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper is the German philosopher's first and most popular book. As Allan Tate put it in the Times Book Review when Leisure first was published, it is a call away from the "idolatry of the machine, the worship of mindless know-how, the infantile cult of youth and the common mindall this points to our peculiar leadership in the drift toward the slave society. . . . Pieper's profound insights are impressive and even formidable." If ever there is "must reading" from a modern philosopher, this is it.
Fighting the Good Fight: A History of the New York Conservative Party by George J. Marlin is both a comprehensive history of America's most successful third party from an insider who ran for mayor on the Conservative Party ticket and a call to stay the course for principle.
On Hunting by Roger Scruton is certainly the most delightful book I've ever published. To call it a book about fox hunting is like calling Moby Dick a whaling yarn. Rather, it is a personal portrait of man's relationship with nature in general, animal nature in particular, and especially with the two animals most closely associated with man, the horse and dog. Hunting, we find, is about a love of and respect for animals, and is a sport, far from being limited to an upper-class, old-monied aristocracy, is really one promoting an egalitarian meritocracy.
Steven F. Hayward, author, The Age of Reagan
Herewith my book recommendations:
The Iraq War: A Military History, by Williamson Murray and Major General Robert H. Scales, Jr. This book is just out so I haven't had time to read it yet, but Murray's histories are always superb, and I expect this will be no different.
The Pythons, by Graham Chapman, et al. Somewhere in their twisted outlook, the Python gang harbored a neoconservative sensibility.
Vixi: Memoirs of a Non-Belonger, by Richard Pipes. A splendid intellectual autobiography of the great scholar.
Miles to Go: A Personal History of Social Policy, by Daniel Patrick Moynihan. This is my oldie but goodie for this year. Moynihan's voice is stilled, yet this, his last book I think, is a fitting survey of the entire arc of his career and thought, from his early essay "The Professionalization of Reform" to his famous "Defining Deviancy Down" essay. In addition to reprinting these famous essays, he provides an aide memoir about how they came to be written and reflections on how they were received. There is also a splendid dissection of the Clintons' failed health care reform crusade.
Ken Masugi, Director, Claremont Institute Center for Local Government
My Christmas "How-to" Book Picks; i.e., how to listen, see, read, reflect, and laugh, from recent books I've read in the last year:
Surprised by Beauty: A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music, by Robert R. Reilly. The key to perceptive listening to contemporary music is awareness of the spiritual crisis of the contemporary age. "Recovery"in both senses of the wordis possible, guided by ancient reason and revealed religion.
Timeless Cities: An Architect's Reflections on Renaissance Italy, by David Mayernik. The ideal tourist bookone that makes you want to live in those places and times.
Leo Strauss: The Early Writings (1921-1932), translated and edited by Michael Zank. Einsichtig.
The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God, by Robert Louis Wilken. Renewor arouseyour religious spirit by reading this remarkable piece of scholarship.
Mexifornia: A State of Becoming, by Victor Davis Hanson. I read this less for the excellent demographic analysis than as a remarkable autobiography of a classicist, educator, and farmer on the future of California.
Postmodern Pooh, by Frederick Crews. A worthy successor to his Pooh Perplex, these "conference proceedings" feature postmodern analyses of Winnie-the-Pooh by academic ideal types such as the Marxist Carla Gulag, the feminist Sisera Catheter, and the post-colonialist Das Nuffa Dat. Crews' characters quote actual postmodern scholars, making one laugh and also indignant.
Finally, here's one older, minor classic I'm ashamed I hadn't read until this year: Puritan Boston and Quaker Philadelphia: Two Protestant Ethics and the Spirit of Class Authority and Leadership, by E. Digby Baltzell, on how historical origins abide.
Thomas G. West, senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, Professor of Politics at the University of Dallas, and author of Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America.
The human mind is rarely capable of thinking beyond whatever it absorbed in its childhood and youth (or, in the case of a professor, in graduate school). But occasionally the right kind of book will jolt the mind and compel it, however fleetingly, to wake up and start thinking. My recommended books boldly challenge powerful prejudices of our timeprejudices that I shared at the time I read them.
First, A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War, by Harry V. Jaffa. I know Jaffa is more famous for Crisis of the House Divided. But New Birth is much better. In the earlier book, Jaffa had imposed a "Straussian" framework on Lincoln and the founding ("ancients good, moderns bad"). That led him to miss the moral and religious heart of the founding, and therefore its greatness as well as its potential for tragedy, fully realized in the terrible suffering of the Civil War. Tocqueville's Democracy in America has been called the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America. That description fits New Birth far better than the much overrated Tocqueville.
On evolution: Philip Johnson's Darwin on Trial was an eye-opener for me. This book does not attempt to establish the truth about the origin of life on earth. But it does prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, that the neo-Darwinian evolutionists have never proven that life arose out of a blind process driven by chance genetic variations.
On AIDS: Inventing the AIDS Virus, by Peter Duesberg. This is a controversial book, but I was persuaded by it. Duesberg claimsand his evidence is powerfulthat most Americans who have what we call AIDS did not get sick from HIV infection, but rather from drugs. He argues that most Africans who have "AIDS" are in fact suffering from diseases stemming from malnutrition and improper sanitation. For an overview, go to Duesberg's website.
In the past five years, I have been reading John Locke with a growing appreciation for his insight and depth. His Essay Concerning Human Understanding is a book worthy of the philosophic tradition, animated from start to finish by a Socratic spirit. On the one hand, Locke's task is the attempt to ascend from opinion to knowledgeLeo Strauss's definition of philosophy. On the other, Locke describes in convincing detail the many obstacles to knowledge, from the elusive natures of things to the weakness and vanity of our minds.
The best introduction to Locke's understanding of ethics is Some Thoughts Concerning Education, another remarkably good book which not much read in our time. It is also quite useful if you are raising children. Locke respects the Great Books, but he sees very well (in agreement with Nietzsche's Use and Disadvantage of History) that book-learning is not education and may even be harmful without proper formation of character.
Read the 2002 Christmas book symposium here.