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In this issue, you’ll see reviews of 30 books published in 2017 that members of WORLD’s books committee heartily recommend. You won’t see any beer recommendations, but in the 21st century beer and books have in common both the letter B and an industry description: bipolar. Small presses and craft beer are common, and so is production by massive conglomerates.
Five big corporations—Simon & Schuster, Penguin Random House (which includes Doubleday, Knopf, and Pantheon), Holtzbrinck (a German publishing house that includes Macmillan), Hachette Livre (a French group that publishes Basic Books and Twelve), and HarperCollins (part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. that includes Zondervan, Thomas Nelson, HarperOne, and Broadside Books)—control much of American book publishing. Those companies published 10 of the books on our short lists of excellent reading.
And yet, small presses publish some good books, and long-lived Christian publishing houses like Crossway, Baker, Moody, and P&R have maintained their independence. So have conservative entities like Encounter Books and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute, moderate organizations like the Philanthropy Roundtable, and the Darwin-criticizing Discovery Institute. These smaller organizations published 12 of the books on our short lists.
The remaining eight books come from university and educational publishers: Princeton, Oxford, and Stanford universities, and Houghton Mifflin and Transaction. We are not reviewing fiction in this issue: Since novel tastes and tolerances among our readers vary particularly widely, we’d need more than a two-page spread to dive into nuances, and will do that in our June summer reading issue. For now, here are authors, titles, and publishers of our nonfiction 30:
Book of the Year in our “Understanding America” category is Peter Cove’s Poor No More (Transaction). Others in that short list: Karl Zinsmeister, The Almanac of American Philanthropy (Philanthropy Roundtable); Benjamin Barton and Stephanos Bibas, Rebooting Justice (Encounter); Daniel Drezner, The Ideas Industry (Oxford); Henry Olsen, The Working Class Republican (Broadside); and Gene Dattel, Reckoning with Race (Encounter).
In the “Understanding the World” category, Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine (Doubleday) is our Book of the Year. Also in the short list: Emma Reyes, The Book of Emma Reyes (Penguin); Paul Kengor, A Pope and a President (Intercollegiate Studies Institute); Ian Johnson, The Souls of China (Pantheon); Walter Scheidel, The Great Leveler (Princeton); and Condoleezza Rice, Democracy (Twelve).
Our “History” category leads with Moshe Halbertal and Stephen Holmes, The Beginning of Politics (Princeton), and follows with Victor Davis Hanson, The Second World Wars (Basic); John Cogan, The High Cost of Good Intentions (Stanford); Norman Ohler, Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich (Houghton Mifflin); Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking); and Yuri Slezkine, The House of Government (Princeton).
The “Origins” category is for books exploring the creation/evolution battle, which is the most significant worldview clash of our time outside those concerning theology itself. As in all these categories, we looked for books that intelligent nonspecialists—that’s most WORLD members—could understand. Our Book of the Year is Tom Bethell’s Darwin’s House of Cards (Discovery). Others on that short list: J. Scott Turner, Purpose & Desire (HarperOne); Jonathan Wells, Zombie Science (Discovery); and two multiauthored books, Theistic Evolution (Crossway) and Four Views on Creation, Evolution, and Intelligent Design (Zondervan).
In our final “Accessible Theology” category, we again spotlight books for thoughtful laypeople rather than theologians. David Gibson’s Living Life Backward (Crossway) is our Book of the Year. Our short list includes Nathan Busenitz, Long Before Luther (Moody); Kenneth Samples, God Among Sages (Baker); Brett McCracken, Uncomfortable (Crossway); Christopher Wright, Hearing the Message of Daniel (Zondervan); and Thomas Robinson, Who Were the First Christians? (Oxford).
You’ll find reviews of all these books on the next 10 pages. Our special section ends with two more pages, one on a book from 2016 that we overlooked last year and a final page on our Series of the Year, P&R’s Reformed Expository Commentary, with a specific look at its newly published commentary on Revelation.