The Twilight of the American Enlightenment: The 1950s and the Crisis of Liberal Belief, by George M. Marsden
This review and reappraisal of the debates that shaped the country’s post WWII history reveals that both the left and the right have been unable to provide for religious diversity in public life, a failure that continues to bedevil our public discourse. By the author’s own description, the book has three main themes: (1) a recounting of how American culture looked through the eyes of the most perceptive cultural analysts of the time; (2) the notion, which dominates the book, that the typical consensus outlooks of the time can be understood as attempts to preserve the ideals of the American enlightenment while discarding its foundations; and (3) how these themes relate to the role of religion in American public life from the 1950s to the present and a reflection on the problem of how American public life might better accommodate religious pluralism. These themes are well-presented in less than 200 pages including notes.
The Great Debate: Edmund Burke, Thomas Paine, and the Birth of Right and Left, by Yuval Levin
This book for me is parallel to Thomas Sowell’s classic, A Conflict of Visions, in that it penetrates the partisan bickering, rhetorical spin, sound bites, and self-serving interest group talking points to the core of the contrasting foundational philosophical beliefs about the nature of man, liberty, equality, and democracy. Burke and Paine personified the opposite poles in thought on these issues during one of the most tumultuous and decisive periods in world history, encompassing both the American and French revolutions. This is a great history of ideas and their consequences that reverberate to this day.
The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, by David Bentley Hart
First, I warn that this is a very difficult read, even if one has plowed fairly deeply into the philosophical concepts of being and consciousness. And it is deeply philosophical more than theological–it’s not about the Trinity. The author is at his best when countering claims that being and consciousness can be explained in materialistic or deistic terms. He simply asks three questions that atheists typically stumble badly in attempting to answer: Why is there something rather than nothing? What makes reasoning possible? Why do we love? Hard going, but rewarding.
Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly, and the Making of the Modern Middle East, by Scott Anderson
This is a fun book. If you like history, intrigue, foreign policy, military strategy, studies in human nature, and in particular if you were a fan of the 1962 David Lean movie, Lawrence of Arabia, you will love this book. And the subtitle tells it all–it is a timely and well-researched narrative and analysis of the period in the Middle East from the run up to the outbreak of World War I through its conclusion, with all of the implications for the complicated dynamics and turmoil that continue to challenge us today in that region.