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Four classic books


Four classic books

Les Misérables

Victor Hugo

“So long as ignorance and misery remain on earth, books like this cannot be useless.” So wrote Victor Hugo of his 1862 novel, Les Misérables. Today’s publishers and playwrights seem to agree, keeping Jean Valjean’s story of redemption easily accessible in numerous formats. Readers willing to brave roughly 1,500 pages of Hugo’s original text will find many complex political and historical arguments left out of other versions. In addition, supporting characters like Fantine get more room, provoking further sympathy for the poor. That said, a good adaptation of Les Misérables remains substantive reading from a master storyteller.

Democracy in America

Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville’s travel through North America in the early 1800s led to one of the most influential books ever written on American democracy. Like Victor Hugo, Tocqueville writes out of his experience with political revolutions in 19th-century France. Yet, he ably contrasts French and American revolutions, identifying distinctives like religion and geography, which led to American success. Some of Tocqueville’s generalizations miss the mark, including stereotypes of native “savages” and black slaves. Still, Democracy in America remains a prescient look at how America’s founders contributed to human flourishing. A good complement to the political theater of Les Misérables.

Through Gates of Splendor

Elisabeth Elliot

When Waorani (Auca) Indians speared Jim Elliot and four other missionaries in 1956, Elisabeth Elliot lost her husband and the father of her young child. Written roughly a year after their deaths, this book employs diary entries and photos to bring readers into their story. Elisabeth’s calm demeanor evidences a strong faith in God. So does the book’s shocking ending added in 1958, as she goes to live with the Waorani to win them for Christ. (See the 2002 documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor for how God later blessed these sacrifices.) Inspirational reading for both older children and adults.

The Journals of Jim Elliot

ed. Elisabeth Elliot

Many readers familiar with Christian martyr Jim Elliot know this quote from his diary: “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” This collection of journal entries edited by his wife in 1978 gives a more complete picture of Jim—including his doubts, failures, and really bad poetry. Entries often summarize his daily Bible studies, and perceptive readers will see God slowly preparing a sinful, fallen man to show forth His glory. Women may especially appreciate Jim’s romance with Betty (Elisabeth), but young readers should skip this title’s frankness about sexual temptation.


Martin J. Schreiber spent a life in Wisconsin politics, even serving as governor of Wisconsin in the 1970s. That experience didn’t prepare him to deal with his wife’s Alzheimer’s disease. In My Two Elaines: Learning, Coping, and Surviving as an Alzheimer’s Caregiver (Book Publishers Network, 2016), Schreiber offers practical insights from a caregiver’s perspective. He lays out common temptations for caregivers: self-reliance, and overusing alcohol to deal with stress. He also explains how stress affects caregivers’ health. Schreiber is Lutheran, but the book does not offer much spiritual insight.

John Dunlop’s Finding Grace in the Face of Dementia (Crossway, 2017) combines solid Scriptural wisdom with a medical perspective. Dunlop’s parents both had dementia. He is a doctor who specializes in geriatrics and has diagnosed many patients with dementia. This book brings together his professional and personal experience grounded in the sovereignty of God. Throughout, he reminds readers that God will be glorified even in this terrible disease. —Susan Olasky


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  •  Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Thu, 07/20/2017 10:38 pm

    Les Miserables is one of the few books that have caused me to change my perspective about life.  I became less judgmental and more sensitive to the image of God in my neighbor.  It is well worth the effort.