Garrett Snedeker, Anchoring Truths Co-Founder & JWI Deputy Director
As host of the Anchoring Truths podcast, I read a wide variety of books in preparation for authors who appear on the show. One of those books and its lively author stands out from the past year. Steve Hayward gave us one of the most gorgeous primers on a journalist who helped shape the modern conservative movement: M. Stanton Evans. As with his book Patriotism is Not Enough (also highly recommended) in which he had personal relationships with the two central figures of the book, Harry Jaffa and Walter Berns, Hayward was mentored by Stan Evans when Hayward was at the Young Americans for Freedom’s National Journalism Center in Washington. Hayward intersperses tales widely known about the quick-witted Evans with other nuggets you’ll hear about for the first time. Come for those stories, but stay for the hilarious appendix in which Hayward compiles Evans’s most memorable one-liners.
As a close participant in and observer of the conservative legal movement, I would be remiss not to flag and recommend Prof. Adrian Vermeule’s Common Good Constitutionalism. Not unlike Helen of Troy, this was the book that launched a thousand hot-takes. Vermeule’s challenge to the received wisdom of mainstream originalism and to progressive “living constitutionalism” is one that I have great sympathies toward. That said, one can sympathize with Vermeule’s thesis though and still find plenty to criticize in the book (and to wit, I made some criticism myself in a review I did in August). But there’s no denying that this was the most talked-about book in conservative legal circles this past year for a reason: it challenged, most provocatively, the most basic assumptions about law, morality, and the ends of our politics.
Finally, Profs. Justin Dyer and Kody Cooper delivered a magisterial treatment of the philosophy that animated the American Founders in The Classical and Christian Origins of American Politics. I cannot recommend more highly this book. Their book achieves a notable feat: it gives a luminous account of the natural law-based moral framework that the Founders presumed as they built the structures of American government without falling into either sing-song caricatures of how the Founders thought or committing the fallacy of assuming that because we are still invoking them today the Founders created something utterly infallible. Dyer and Cooper’s book is more for an academic audience, but the book’s themes should be known to all students of the Founding.
Daniel Osborne, JWI Programs Manager
From my library, I would recommend three books that commonly come up in my conversations. Among the most striking books I have on my shelves is Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance. The book took the world of young conservatives by storm several years ago, but is made perhaps only more timely by the election this fall of Vance to the U.S. Senate representing his native Ohio. Since the book’s publication several years ago, Vance has become a regular figure among meetings hosted by friendly organizations such as the Claremont Institute and the Edmund Burke Foundation. The book tells Vance’s story of growing up in the “rust belt.” A compelling read, Hillbilly Elegy, offers some nuanced analysis that explains the rise of new movements particularly among conservatives since 2016.
Another book that is frequently pulled from my shelves is quite a bit older, published in 1984, but rings with perhaps even richer insights today. Begotten or Made? by Oliver O’Donovan provides a prescient analysis of modern questions of bioethics that have started to become legal questions facing the American judiciary. Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford, O’Donovan puts forward a careful argument about biomedical methods and the inherent dignity of the human being.
Finally, for those seeking something completely different, I would recommend a fascinating little book, The Supper of the Lamb by Robert Farrar Capon. Those who know me well know that cooking ranks as among my favorite interests, and this little cookbook offers among the richest meditations upon life, meaning, and the joy of creating that I have encountered so far. Fr. Capon’s book slowly unfolds each step of preparing a meal, reveling in the wonder of small, beautiful things. I warn my friends that it is an odd book, but one that if taken on its own terms, might offer some delight.