Be It Resolved: Recommended Reading for 2023

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Albeit a bit late, what with 2023 now well under way, we’ve compiled a list of some of The Heritage Foundation’s staff members’ favorite books (in no particular order) for you to consider for you and/or your family and friends to read in the new year.

“Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” by Patrick Suskind

A sensation when the novel was published in 1985, Patrick Suskind’s “Perfume: The Story of a Murderer” is the tale of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a creepy orphan who grows up to be an even creepier adult in 18th-century France.

Grenouille is obsessed with scent. Blessed with extraordinary olfactory capabilities, he has no human odor of his own. So, he seeks to create one. First, working for a perfumer, he learns to distill the most exquisite smell that ever reached his nose—that of certain young girls.

If you imagine that what happens next is horrifying and grisly, you are right. But—hear me out—you need not be a psychopath to enjoy this book.

The writing, with dry wit and dark humor, is engaging, and the book is a fast read.

Grenouille’s nose leads you on a tour through Paris unlike any other. The story is also a rather scathing commentary on human nature without reeking of self-satisfaction.

 Yes, a strong stomach required, but within these pages lives a fascinating tale that is easy to savor.

—Karina Rollins, senior research editor

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“Known and Unknown: A Memoir” by Donald Rumsfeld

“Known and Unknown” is just a great American story about a kid from Chicago who got himself into Princeton, married his high school sweetheart and went on to participate in U.S. national security policy from Congress, the White House, NATO, the private sector, and—of course, the Department of Defense.

Rumsfeld’s life was punctuated by a series of remarkable historical events with which he personally interacted, including Pearl Harbor, the Kennedy assassination, the moon landing, Nixon’s resignation, the fall of Saigon, the Beirut Marine barracks attack, Reagan’s “Star Wars” speech, and 9/11, all of which the reader learns about from a firsthand perspective.

He also made ample use of his remarkable personal archive and collections of photographs and political cartoons, making it a more complete and engaging portrait than most political memoirs.

If you prefer audio books, he read each and every word of this 726-page book himself, which is six days of my life I will never get back. The book is highly recommended for anyone interested in national security policy. 

—Victoria Coates, senior research fellow, The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

“Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics” by Mary Eberstadt

“Primal Screams” dives into the fascinating roots of the cultural problems facing men and women today; namely, understanding who one is, where one comes from, and why we are here.

According to Eberstadt, most of modernday man’s misunderstanding of these issues is tied back to the sexual revolution.

—Mary Margaret Olohan, senior reporter for The Daily Signal

“Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr

“Cloud Cuckoo Land” is a 623-page novel that spans centuries. The story within the story is an 1,800-year-old invented old Greek tale, called “Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Antonius Diogenes, loosely based on the donkey in The Golden Ass” by Apuleius.

The term “Cloud Cuckoo Land” was invented by the Greek comic playwright Aristophanes 2,400 years ago in his play, “The Birds,” and has come to mean a fanciful utopia.

The book starts out as an ode to environmentalists and then shows they are frauds. The message of the book is that we can find happiness at home rather than in “Cloud Cuckoo Land”—a good message to take into 2023.

—Diana Furchtgott-Roth, director of the Center for Energy, Climate, and the Environment

“Dancing in the Glory of Monsters” by Jason Stearns

“Dancing in the Glory of Monsters” is perhaps the clearest and most accessible account available of the decades-long wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo that began in earnest in the 1990s.

This is at times tough reading as the author cannot avoid describing some of the horrors that claimed as many as 4 million lives, the worst toll of any conflict since World War II. Yet, it will help readers understand how the wars reverberate to this day in the violence in eastern Congo, which is surging yet again.

And while Stearns’ explanations for the violence overemphasize political and social systems while not heeding enough man’s malicious propensities, his work still illuminates in part what drives ordinary people to indulge the evil that is a tragic feature of humanity.

—Joshua Meservey, research fellow for Africa

“1984” and “Animal Farm” by George Orwell

These two classic novels are genuine masterpieces.

“1984” is a study in how a totalitarian state seeks to crush dissent and the methods it uses to do so.

The section on “newspeak” will ring particularly true to contemporary American ears as English language terms are being entirely flipped in meaning. For example, overt racism has now become “anti-racism,” and “anti-fascist” antifa rioters violently—in “mostly peaceful” riots—pursue policies designed to suppress free speech and peaceful political opposition.

We are living in increasingly Orwellian times. “Animal Farm” is an allegorical telling of the early Russian Revolution. As the revolution by the animals proceeds, the principle of “All Animals are Equal” transforms into “All Animals are Equal, but Some are More Equal than Others.”

Here, too, there are lessons for contemporary Americans as our commitment to equal justice under law is increasingly endangered by a politicized justice system.

Finally, Orwell’s 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language” is available in book form, but also for free on the internet. It is a masterful exposition on both how to write well and how the English language can be purposefully abused to achieve political ends and to obfuscate.

—David R. Burton, senior fellow in economic policy, Roe Institute

“A Severe Mercy” by Sheldon Vanauken

Described by its author as “the spiritual autobiography of a love, rather than of the lovers,” “A Severe Mercy” is a poignant novel about a marriage, faith, and finding God in tragedy.

The book describes the strong, yet pagan, marriage between the author and his wife, Davy. As their relationship grows, they find themselves embarking on an intense search for God and truth, interrupted by Davy’s early death.

Forced to live in a world without his beloved, Vanauken never stops his search for truth.

The book tells the story of Vanauken’s friendship with C.S. Lewis, with whom he exchanged many letters. Lewis helps the grieving Vanauken understand the meaning of faith amid suffering.

Overall, this is an emotional, captivating read with incredible spiritual insights on love, loss, and the mysterious mercy of God.

—Cora Wack, assistant to the executive director of the Edwin J. Feulner Institute

“Van Gogh: The Life” by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith

Van Gogh: The Life” is the definitive biography of the world’s most beloved painter, a man whose remarkable short life was marked by constant struggle and failure.

Van Gogh sabotages relationships with family, friends, and other artists and fails over and over again to succeed in a vocation before eventually finding recognition as an artist near the end of his life.

But this is not the story of a natural-born genius who finally discovers his talent for painting, only to be cut short by mental illness.

Art is a constant in Van Gogh’s life from an early age. His uncle is a wealthy and influential art dealer, and Van Gogh studies under one of Europe’s most respected art teachers while in boarding school, but the artistry we now associate with Van Gogh was not innate. (Upon dedicating himself to art as a vocation, Van Gogh puts himself through the exercises in a how-to-draw book.)

His dedication to developing his craft and the perspective granted him by a lifetime of struggle is what made the timeless and invaluable art we know and love. Also, he didn’t kill himself.

—Eric Teetsel, vice president for government relations

A ‘Woke Detox’ Library in 7 Volumes

My personal “woke detox” library includes “Hate Crime Hoax: How the Left Is Selling a Fake Race War” by Wilfred Reilly and “Criminal (In)justice: What the Push for Decarceration and Depolicing Gets Wrong and Who It Hurts Most” by Raphael Mangual on the truth about crime statistics and how they are abused by Black Lives Matter and like-minded activists.

Also: “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” by Abigail Shrier, “The End of Gender: Debunking the Myths About Sex and Identity in Our Society” by Deborah Soh, and “Trans: When Ideology Meets Reality” by Helen Joyce on gender ideology.

Additionally: “The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture” by Heather MacDonald and “Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything About Race, Gender, and Identity—and Why This Harms Everybody” by James Lindsay and Helen Pluckrose on critical race theory and the roots of the diversity, equity and inclusion obsession.

—Joel Griffith, research fellow, Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

“The Trial” by Franz Kafka
“The Gambler” by Fyodor Dostoevsky

“The Trial” is a fictional account set in the early 20th century of Joseph K., an influential banker leading a comfortable life who suddenly finds himself under investigation for an unspecified crime in a seemingly extrajudicial court by unnamed prosecutors and with no named accuser.

This is a warning of the dangers of state power unchecked by a robust application of constitutional protections.

“The Gambler” by Fyodor Dostoevsky is a fictional tale told from the perspective of Alexey Ivanovitch, a tutor for an elite Imperial Russian general.

Like other Dostoevsky novels, the story is told from the point of view of the main character. In this instance, the reader gains an understanding of the mind of a gambler.

The internal thoughts and deliberations along with the physical action make this a page-turner.

—Joel Griffith, research fellow, Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

“Fireweed” by Jill Patton-Walsh
“The Weirdstone of Brisingamen” by Alan Garner

For anyone open-minded on the left side of your family trees: For teens, “Fireweed by Jill Patton-Walsh is a great book about young people surviving the Blitz in World War II London. For tweens or good younger readers, “The Weirdstone of Brisingamen” by Alan Garner.

—Joel Griffith, research fellow, Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies

“Always With Honor: The Memoirs of General Wrangel” by Pytor Wrangel

With the ongoing war in Ukraine, and a rising tide of international leftism, it’s worth revisiting the memoirs of the last commanding officer of the White Russian army during the Russian Civil War.

Wrangel’s diary highlights the descent of the Russian Empire into communism and the gallant efforts of the White Army to oppose it.

Wrangel navigates incompetent leaders, Cossack politics, a refugee crisis, and logistical crises. Wrangel’s memoirs include an account of the evacuation of Crimea, which saved over 100,000 from the Red Army’s wrath.

The book paints a picture of Eastern European resolve in the face of tyranny and is an account of warfare in the very same locations where Russians and Ukrainians are fighting today.

If you’re looking at a more lighthearted take on Russian politics, warfare, and geography, I recommend Jules Verne’s “Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar,” perhaps his most underrated novel.

—Evan Maguire, senior marketing associate

“With God in Russia” by Walter Ciszek with Daniel Flaherty

 This is the true story of Ciszek, a Catholic priest in the Soviet Union. He is arrested for his priestly activities, sentenced to prison, and ends up in labor camps in Siberia.

He details daily life in the camps, where, ironically, free enterprise for the basic necessities flourishes. The book is both inspirational and motivational.

—Raychel Namiotka, digital workplace analyst in Information Technology

“Stalin’s War: A New History of World War II” by Sean McMeekin

“Stalin’s War” redefines how one considers American foreign policy in the 20th century.

For us, WWII is the American epoch of ultimate pride, when we defeated totalitarianism across the globe. McMeekin forces us to recast this myth in light of the utter compromise of our ruling class by Soviet influence.

McMeekin leaves the reader with no other choice but to realize that the rot of our foreign policy establishment has its roots much deeper in our nation’s history than we want to realize.

From our defense of Pearl Harbor to the bankrolling of Soviet war efforts, and the unnecessary decision to launch the Normandy invasion, a reader will see almost every strategic decision as an effort to appease Stalin and the Soviets.

—Will Thibeau, policy analyst in the Tech Policy Center

“The Lord” by Romano Guardini

Father Guardini produces a complete exegesis to root out the truth of Christ and his church’s teaching in the life of Jesus. This book is at once a rich historical and theological analysis, but also a personal spiritual treatise to allow any reader to confront Christ in his or her own life.

Next to sacred Scripture itself, “The Lord” should be the first book on a list of any Christian looking to seize the meaning of a Christian life.

—Will Thibeau, policy analyst in the Tech Policy Center

“Confessions” by St. Augustine

The first true autobiography ever written, “Confessions” feels surprisingly modern and intimate despite describing a life lived more than 1,500 years ago.

Beginning with his childhood in Roman North Africa, Augustine describes beautifully the struggle between pleasant vice and difficult virtue even as a pagan.

The story of his conversion, steeped in strange and difficult intellectual questions hearkening back to the philosophy of Plato, is full of profoundly human descriptions of angst, fear, and serendipity rare in classical literature.

The reader truly feels like he walks alongside Augustine on the way to his sainthood.

To paraphrase the end of “Confessions Book VII”: “It is one thing to see the land of peace from a mountaintop and find no way there, and another thing entirely to keep to the way that leads to it.”

(Note: Those who do not expect to enjoy the work in the original Latin should examine the translation by F.J. Sheed for attention to theological language; E.B. Pusey for fine, old British prose; or Maria Boulding for modern and readable language.)

—Benjamin Paris, graduate fellow, Center for Health and Welfare Policy

“The Crisis of the House Never United: A Novel of Early America” by Chuck DeVore

DeVore’s book works on a number of levels.

It works as action/adventure, from the opening scenes of battle to the political intrigue in the years following Independence. It works as historical fiction, with names you’ll know, including Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton.

But mostly, this book works as an object lesson in the functionality and genius of our Constitution.

DeVore, a former military intelligence analyst, asks what if the Constitution failed in its shaky bid for ratification? A weakened America, barely held together by the Articles of Confederation, is a tempting target for European powers.

Infighting leads to civil conflict, and soon the new nation splits, setting up even larger conflicts. Without the checks and balances of the Constitution, the former colonies prove to be fertile ground for despotism and war.
—E. J. Antoni, research fellow for regional economics, Center for Data Analysis

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The post Be It Resolved: Recommended Reading for 2023 appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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