Exodus, Romanovs, hillbillies, and ISIS: A feast of reading

Rich smorgasbord of ideas

George Weigel asks readers to take a stand against the electrification of reading as he recommends the following printed books for the Christmas season.

- Ethics and Public Policy Centre

Exodus, by Thomas Joseph White, OP, is a recent addition to the multi-volume Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible. It is a brilliant reading of one of the foundational texts of Western civilisation.

Russia promises to loom large on America's foreign policy agenda in the year ahead. Simon Sebag Montefiore’s The Romanovs 1613-1918 (Knopf) sketches the historical background in fascinating, if often chilling, detail, while Peter Pomerantsev takes us to what he calls (accurately) “the surreal heart of the New Russia” in Nothing Is True and Everything Is Possible (Public Affairs).

The US election cycle, now happily fading into the rear-view mirror, brought the sorry condition of many white working-class communities to national attention. No-one tells the story of one part of that world, its strengths and its pathologies, better than J.D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (Harper). This is a tough and occasionally hilarious book that also suggests, inadvertently, an enormous evangelical failure on the part of both Protestants and Catholics.

Then there is Roger Simon’s I Know Best: How Moral Narcissism Is Destroying Our Republic, If It Hasn’t Already (Encounter). It’s an apt gift for friends at any point along the political spectrum, because the disjunction between intentions and results that is crippling America's political culture by destroying accountability knows no partisan label.

The nation of Chicken-à-la-King and Swanson’s TV dinners has now become a nation of foodies. In Ten Restaurants That Changed America (Liveright), Paul Freedman aims high with portraits of Le Pavillon, Chez Panisse, and Antoine’s, but doesn’t neglect things a bit more down-market, with the often surprising stories of Howard Johnson’s (where many Americans learned to love fried clams), Schrafft’s, and Mama Leone’s. The book also includes classic recipes from each of the ten eateries portrayed.

In The Black Widow (Harper), Daniel Silva takes his readers inside ISIS, its ideology, and the horrifying plans it has for the future in a gripping novel as contemporary as tomorrow’s headlines. Part of Silva’s genius is his recognition of the moral ambiguities of even good-guy counter-terrorism, though he never loses sight of the fact that there are, in fact, good guys and bad guys in this world.

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Books for Christmas 2016

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