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Past and future

History books and hopeful nominations

Past and future

(Krieg Barrie)

’Tis the season for gift-giving to needy Christian charities and needy high-school students. Lots of letters come my way requesting philanthropic advice. One recent letter from reader Janell Young made me feel good: “In 2005 you wrote a great article with an American History reading list for high schoolers. I have had two students (so far) use that list! I am wondering if you would update it.”

ON CHARITY: Year-end giving is good, and so is sending WORLD your Hope Award nomination of a Christian nonprofit in your community that offers challenging, personal, and spiritual help. Jesus asked one long-term sufferer, “Do you want to get well?”—so we look for local programs that help those who want to get well, and not those who choose to stick with non-Biblical lifestyles.

To nominate a program, just email Charissa Crotts ( with its name, city, and website. Programs need to be explicitly Christian, with funding from individuals and churches rather than government. They should rely on volunteers and self-sacrificial professional leaders, deal with a problem that currently has an undersupply of solutions, and be of a kind that Christians in other cities could start in their own communities. Nomination deadline: Jan. 31.

’Tis the season for gift-giving to needy Christian charities and needy high-school students.

Some other questions: Did the program grow bottom-up from neighborhood efforts, rather than top-down planting from outside forces? Does a program for adults emphasize work by the physically and mentally able? Does it try to reunite them with families or bond them with helpers? Does a program for young people help them gain both basic Christian understanding and important skills?

ON AMERICAN HISTORY: This is important because some teachers offer hate-America  history and oversimplifications. I’m not fond of overall textbooks, but those who want one might try Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen’s A Patriot’s History of the United States. It’s better, though, to read a bunch of books by good writers on particular subjects.

Advanced readers can learn about Colonial America through books by Baylor professor Thomas Kidd: an overall American Colonial History and biographies of George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin. Kidd’s God of Liberty is a religious history of the American Revolution. David McCullough’s 1776 and Burke Davis’ The Campaign That Won America describe battle ups and downs. My book Fighting for Liberty and Virtue examines 18th-century political and cultural changes.

For average readers, Sen. Mike Lee’s Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government tells a lively story. Daniel Driesbach’s Thomas Jefferson and the Wall of Separation Between Church and State is a harder read, but the subject is crucial. David and Jeanne Heidler’s The Rise of Andrew Jackson profiles the most colorful antebellum president. John Sedgwick’s Blood Moon tells the complicated story of what Jackson these days is most remembered for, his role in creating the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

Our 2018 History Book of the Year, Jay Sexton’s A Nation Forged by Crisis, explains brilliantly the run-up to the Civil War. Good readers who also want to become good writers should dive into Shelby Foote’s three-volume The Civil War. The books are long—reading them at the rate of 300 pages a month would make a good September-to-May project for a high schooler—but they constitute the American Iliad, filled with strong characters, mighty exploits, and abysmal failures.

Two issues from now, as we head toward Presidents Day and Black History Month, I’ll make some other suggestions and discuss books about the period from 1865 to 1929, but here I’ll jump to the three existential threats America faced during most of the 20th century. The first was economic, and Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, splendidly chronicles that period. The second was military: Victor Davis Hanson’s The Second World Wars is terrific.

The third crisis involved the Cold War against Soviet Communism: The first 85 pages of Whittaker Chambers’ Witness lay out the stakes, and William F. Buckley Jr.’s The Fall of the Berlin Wall describes how it ended. America also faced two subtler threats: our class and cultural divides. My book The Tragedy of American Compassion is a history of Christian-aided escapes from poverty. Robert Shogan’s War Without End overviews late 20th-century culture wars.