A Pope and a President
While many writers have recounted the roles of President Ronald Reagan and Pope John Paul II in bringing down the Iron Curtain, Grove City College professor Paul Kengor breaks new ground. He shows the depth of their friendship and discourse (including secret letters shuttled to Rome by New Jersey Democrat Peter Rodino), starting only weeks after both men survived assassination attempts. Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev described the Cold War as a “war on religion,” and Kengor covers it as such—showing how Russians were behind the plot to assassinate the pope. —M.B.
The Book of Emma Reyes
Emma Reyes, translated by Daniel Alarcón
A remarkable voice and illuminating writing make this gritty 175-page collection of letters an unforgettable look at growing up impoverished in Colombia. Painter Emma Reyes, who settled eventually in Paris, begins her memoir at age 5 in a one-room, windowless Bogota hovel. Her first chore each day was carrying the household’s brimming bedpan to a garbage heap. Reyes and her sister moved from cycles of neglect to rounds of abuse, including some in a Catholic convent. Reyes allows us to see the world through the narrowed lens of an illiterate reject who would not give up on her future. —M.B.
The Souls of China: The Return of Religion after Mao
In The Souls of China, Pulitzer Prize winner Ian Johnson explores how religion has flourished in China in spite of oppression by the Chinese Communist Party. Following the lunar calendar, Johnson brings readers along as he makes pilgrimages with Buddhists, attends funerals with Taoist musicians, and spends time at a Reformed house church (Chengdu’s Early Rain Reformed Church, which WORLD has covered extensively). The book clearly shows man’s natural inclination to search for something beyond the material: The heavens declare the glory of God, and China’s government is unable to hide His handiwork. —June Cheng
The Great Leveler: Violence and the History of Inequality
Walter Scheidel’s closing sentence is, “Be careful what you wish for.” Scheidel says “the prospects for future leveling are poor,” and that’s not a bad thing, because large reductions in inequality have come about only in four ways: mass warfare, transformative revolution, utter government collapse, and pandemics. Huge disasters lower the wealth of the rich, but in such periods the poor become poorer. Whenever demagogues and intellectuals shout or simper for class warfare—think of Josef Stalin’s forced collectivization or Mao Zedong’s “Great Leap Forward”—one thing is clear: It will not end well. —Marvin Olasky