Our 2019 Children’s Books of the Year stand out from an increasingly troubling crowd
Two books worth reading side by side are Gideon Rachman’s Easternization: Asia’s Rise and America’s Decline: From Obama to Trump and Beyond (Other Press, 2017) and Carl Minzner’s End of an Era: How China’s Authoritarian Revival Is Undermining Its Rise (Oxford, 2018).
Rachman’s doesn’t need much introduction because these days its message is standard, and it might be true: Asia (and particularly China) up, the West receding. Minzner’s is a minority report about “eye-popping contradictions for the vanguard of the proletariat,” with 160 of China’s wealthiest in the Communist Party Congress, or the national legislature, and their total worth—about $221 billion—20 times greater than the total worth of the 660 top officials in the U.S. government.
Minzner notes a surge in Chinese debt and a “potentially dramatic slowdown in economic growth.” He notes that early in this century “a generation of crusading and muckraking journalists arose,” but Xi Jinping has cracked down while simultaneously becoming known as “Papa Xi,” as Stalin was known as “Uncle Joe.” Minzner describes “the closing of the Chinese dream,” as colleges admit urban youth with expensive private tutors and freeze out rural or migrant students who have “spent winters shivering in an unheated, dilapidated classroom.”
As journalists report less, poor workers protest more. “Direct action” includes “blocking roads and construction projects, or mobilizing hundreds of supporters to encircle government buildings and engage in defiant, face-to-face negotiations with officials.” Furthermore, thanks to the finally (and belatedly) abrogated one-child policy, “China is now graying more rapidly than any other major economy in history.”
Princeton University Press has out an enjoyable way to absorb two key books of traditional Chinese thinking that President Xi Jinping has popularized again: The Analects of Confucius and The Art of War by Sunzi, both playfully illustrated by C.C. Tsai. Some wisdom from the former: “If a gentleman is deferential and cautious, if he treats others with respect and propriety, then everyone will consider him his brother.” Some advice of the latter: “A commander who has to win at any cost is likely to be cut down by the enemy. … A commander with an explosive temper who is easily angered is likely to be moved by enemy insults.”
Andrzej Franaszek and Aleksandra Parker’s Milosz: A Biography (Harvard University Press, 2017) is heavy going concerning the Polish poet who outlived Nazism and Communism, but Milosz deserves praise both for bravery and for flipping atheist bias in this lapidary line: “A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death—the huge solace of thinking that our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders are not going to be judged.” Real solace comes from believing in life after death, with a righteous and compassionate Judge.
We sometimes think it’s harder to defend Christian faith today than it was when geocentrists thought everything revolved around the Earth. Danny Faulkner’s The Expanse of Heaven (Master Books, 2017) corrects that pessimism: “The vastness and the beauty” of the heavens declare God’s glory, for “the Lord, to have made outer space so vast, must have at His disposal unimaginably great power and unmatched wisdom.”
Faulkner, staff astronomer at Answers in Genesis, explains the inaccuracies of radioactive dating but defends “the Hubble relation” that shows the vastness of the universe. Some doubt Hubble measuring because the distances suggest that creation occurred eons ago, but Faulkner notes, “The Hubble relation is an observational fact.” He distinguishes well between scientific observation and historical speculation by scientists searching for alternatives to creation.
Peter Wallison’s Judicial Fortitude: The Last Chance to Rein In the Administrative State (Encounter, 2018) shows how federal regulatory agencies have usurped congressional power. Rachel Slade’s Into the Raging Sea (Ecco, 2018) is partly the tragic story of 33 mariners who died in 2015 when the container ship El Faro went down, but it’s also an attack on “modern shipping—a cut-throat industry plagued by razor-thin profits.” A failure of regulation? Maybe. —M.O.