A Bird in the Hand

Helen Macdonald / Grove (Marzena Pogorzaly)

A few years ago, I was reading a book in which the author related a story about a friend of his, a dog owner, who had told him she was glad dogs could have neither thoughts nor feelings as she understood them. Such incomprehensible dogs could not comprehend her. They had no demands to place on her and could not judge her failures, so she could relax around them, something she could not do around people. What mattered was not what the dogs were, but what she needed them to be.

Gods and Man at the Fall of Rome

Roman Ruins with a Prophet by Giovanni Paolo Panini

In 394, a river in Slovenia bore witness to a clash of civilizations. On one side stood a rebel army bearing statutes of Jupiter and Hercules. On the other stood the forces of Emperor Theodosius, bearing the standard of Christ. Battle commenced. Theodosius smashed the would-be usurpers, aided by a miraculous wind that conveniently threw the missiles of his enemies back at them. Idols and idolaters destroyed, the pagan threat was no more. From that point forward, Empire and Church would be indissoluble, then and forever God’s kingdom on earth.

The Grim Future of the American Worker

AP

Dan Dimicco is the former CEO of Nucor, America’s largest steel producer. Having helped Nucor survive and indeed grow during the recent recession, he now hopes to do the same for the whole nation. In his new book, American Made, Dimicco calls on lawmakers to implement an ambitious industrial policy that, he claims, would create 30 million jobs in the next 10 years.

The Conservatarian Moment

AP

Are American animals—including humans—inherently weaker than their European counterparts? That’s what esteemed 18th century French scientist Georges-Louis Leclerc Buffon argued in his opus Histoire Naturelle. Buffon had no real evidence for this, as Charles Cooke—a British transplant to America who now writes for National Review—once pointed out. But it was, to Cooke, a fine illustration of the rest of the world’s frequent failure to understand America.

Don’t Know Much About History

Signing of the Consitution Howard Chandler Christy Wikimedia Commons

The academic discipline of cultural studies has its origins in journalism, and specifically in George Orwell’s classic 1940 essay “Boys Weeklies.” Orwell’s innovation was to take popular culture seriously, reading what would now be called “young adult” fiction set in English public schools for what it had to say about English attitudes towards politics and history. The investigation led him to conclude that such stories were “censored in the interests of the ruling class” and “sodden in the worst illusions of 1910.”

The Skeletons in England’s Closet

Kazuo Ishiguro / AP

Kazuo Ishiguro is the author of seven novels that are distinguished both by their charm and by the nastiness of their subject matter. His stories are sympathetic portraits of neglectful mothers (A Pale View of Hills), aging fascists (An Artist of the Floating World), Nazi sympathizers (The Remains of the Day), and clones marked for organ harvesting and death (Never Let Me Go). They circle around unpleasant revelations and buried memories: In When We Were Orphans, the hero, Christopher Banks, a grown-up boy detective, discovers that his whole life has been made possible because his mother has been kept in sexual slavery. It makes you sick, when you read it. Then you set the book down, and you think, “What a charming read.”

The American Life of Richard John Neuhaus

Richard John Neuhaus / Neuhaus Estate/Institute on Religion and Public Life

This moving biography begins with its subject riding on a horse-drawn sled through the frozen beauty of the Ottawa Valley, where his father was the pastor of a small Lutheran church who baptized him in the kitchen sink when his seven siblings were quarantined with measles. It ends with him dying of cancer at the age of 72, with a mixed-race couple whose marriage he had defiantly celebrated decades earlier standing by, the woman crying, “Oh, Father Richard!”

Nuclear Terrorism in America

Wikimedia Commons

Benjamin Schwartz deserves much credit. Annihilating the claim that terrorism isn’t an existential threat to America, Schwartz’s new book, Right of Boom, forces us to consider what just one atomic explosion might mean for humanity’s future. Even better for a book about public policy, he writes with accessibility for serious readers, neither talking down to us nor assuming that we have technical expertise in his field.

The Secret History of Monopoly

Wikimedia Commons

In her new book The Monopolists: Obsession, Fury, and the Scandal behind the World’s Favorite Board Game,the New York Times’ Mary Pilon awards overdue credit to the game’s overlooked inventors, influencers, and entrepreneurs, and sheds light on the unlikely, even utopian principles that guided them. Pilon’s book exposes what Monopoly aficionados might have guessed: the game industry was not always “just about fun. It was cutthroat big business.”

‘I Don’t Believe You’

Barack Obama, David Axelrod / AP

The first half of 1966 was a rough year for Bob Dylan. The previous spring he had released Bringing It All Back Home, a mix of rock ‘n’ roll and folk music that shocked the sensibilities of the folkies who worshipped him. He followed that up with Highway 61 Revisited in the summer of 1965, a straight-up rock record. Then in the winter of 1966, he went on a world tour: one part acoustic and folk, the other part electric and rock (backed by the group that would become known as The Band).