The Indispensable Bookshelf: The Books You Absolutely, Positively, Must Read

Posted: Sep 21, 2006 12:01 AM

A few years ago I wrote a book for young Christians graduating from high school or college on the theme of how best to prepare to influence the world, "In But Not Of." It has sold steadily, and occasionally I hear from a reader who especially appreciated the reading list I provided for those who had been ill-served by their history teachers and professors. It is difficult to make sense of the world if you don't know the stories of the Greeks, the Romans, and the English, and so I suggested titles that could give any persistent reader a spine of history on which to hang their more contemporary reading.

Now in the second half of the first decade of a long war with Islamism fascism, a second reading list is necessary. There are many good books out there, but for anyone who has constraints on their time but a desire to know how we arrived here and what is ahead, there are four indispensable books, and an order in which to read them. Any serious and patriotic high school history teacher or freshman survey course professor would do well to throw out the syllabus and assign these books. At the end of this course of reading, the students would at least be prepared for the years ahead.

The first task the booklist will complete is to educate the reader to know the enemy --where did the Salafist al Qaeda come from, and why do they act with such savage barbarity. The New Yorker's Lawrence Wright has recently come out with The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Path to 9/11. This is an amazing work of history and literature, a single volume history not just of al Qaeda, but of the Saudi Arabia and Egypt that nursed this menace, and of the incompetence of the West in recognizing much less combating it. Wright's achievement deserves every award in publishing, but mostly it deserves wide readership if the country is to be prepared for the long struggle ahead.

The second book will educate civilians on the U.S. military and how it has responded --heroically and with astonishing competence-- to the new war. Robert Kaplan's Imperial Grunts, just out in a new paperback edition, is written by another extraordinary magazine reporter (Kaplan is a correspondent for The Atlantic) who has spent years traveling to remote and often dangerous places --Yemen, the border of Colombia and Venezuela, Mongolia and of course Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere-- in order to observe the U.S. military respond to the threat and refit its tactics to the new war. Even as Wright is careful to lay out the extent of the threat, Kaplan is diligent in presenting the reasons why America can have great confidence in its arms and the men and women who bear them.

The political situation at home and in the countries of our allies is the next subject on which candor backed by analysis is needed, and Mark Steyn's America Alone is exactly the sort of unsparing dose of realism that Americans need to absorb, and soon. The book can be ordered now, but won't be delivered for a couple of weeks. I had the great privilege of reading the proofs, and know that Steyn's assessment of the society-wide Stockholm syndrome we find our nation imprisoned in is a cause for deep concern. The war cannot be won without political will expressed by elected officials and media. Our enemies have a ferocious resolve, as does our military. Our politicians, other than George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and some members of their Administration, have not evidenced such resolve or even realism. Other than Tony Blair, John Howard, Pervez Musharraf and Manmohan Singh our "allies" are not presently led by men or women of extraordinary purpose. This is a critical deficit, and it needs to be remedied soon as Bush and Blair will soon be off the world stage.

The last book is William Manchester's second volume of his Churchill biography: The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Alone, 1932-1940. Here is a study in individual honor, candor, purpose and courage. Send one to your Congressman or Senator.

Anyone who actually reads these four volumes will certainly be serious, informed, and resolute. They will know the score, long before the next awful thing happens.

And we need many such people.