Remaking the World, Past and Present

Andrew Wilson’s Remaking the World: How 1776 Created the Post-Christian West (Crossway, 2023) has probably left dozens of historians groaning, Why didn’t I think of that? Wilson could have written one more bloviating account of how the WEIRD revolution — Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic — affected the world during the past 250 years. Instead, he concentrated on the one year that brought forth our Declaration of Independence, Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason draft, Edward Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and many other seminal texts. Wilson combines on-point research and clear writing.

Patrick Weil’s The Madman in the White House (Harvard, 2023) is two interesting books in one. The “madman” is not Donald Trump, as those expecting politicized products might expect, but hyper-narcissistic Woodrow Wilson — and the psychiatrist doing the analysis, based on detailed notes from Wilson aide William Bullitt, was Sigmund Freud. The other fascinating figure is Bullitt himself, a Christian whose extraordinary career in diplomacy and journalism gave him close-up looks at every major world leader for fifty years.

Wilson thought himself godlike. The God Desire (TLS, 2023), by English — and Jewish — comedian David Baddiel, argues that we want God to exist because we fear oblivion. Baddiel then asserts that belief in God has no factual basis, so it must be just an emotional fantasy. Here’s where the Intelligent Design argument, with its understanding of the complexity of life, is important: Darwin imagined life to be simpler than it is, and cellular complexity is one indication that Darwinism is scientifically wrong. Robert Shedinger’s Darwin’s Bluff (Discovery Institute Press, 2024) explains well how Darwin never could provide empirical evidence for the purportedly creative power of natural selection.

Jonathan Rosen’s The Best Minds (Penguin Press, 2023), the page-turning tale of true-life friend Michael Lauder, has the right subtitle: A story of friendship, madness, and the tragedy of good intentions. Brilliant Lauder, hospitalized for paranoid schizophrenia when accepted to Yale Law School, thought himself godlike. Made larger than life in The New York Times, made rich by a bidding war for his unwritten memoir, Lauder was about to become the subject of a Ron Howard movie — but then Lauder stabbed to death his girlfriend.

Does China dictator Xi see himself as godlike? Ian Johnson’s Sparks: China’s Underground Historians and Their Battle for the Future (Oxford, 2023) tells of courageous men and women who do not kowtow to him. Johnson also wrote the foreword to Faithful Disobedience: Writings on Church and State from a Chinese House Church Movement (IVP, 2022). Edited by Hannah Nation and J.D. Tseng, two-thirds of it is brave writing by Wang Yi, the house church leader now serving a nine-year prison sentence. Tahir Hamut Izgil’s Waiting to Be Arrested at Night (Penguin Press, 2023) describes what the Chinese government has done to the Uyghurs.

America is still a land of liberty, but Seth Kaplan’s Fragile Neighborhoods (Little, Brown, 2023) notes the family disintegration, addiction, alienation, and despair that plagues many neighborhoods. Boys are particularly at risk. Our society has now made up for past neglect of educating women: 57% of college students are female. Kaplan therefore focuses on “prioritizing boys in educational and community programming and investing a lot more in boys’ clubs, after-school sports and activities, and mentorship.” He also wants leaders to “engage religious organizations and values,” and gives examples of successes.

David Masciotra’s Exurbia Now: The Battleground of American Democracy (Melville House, 2024) overgeneralizes that new towns beyond suburbia, with their big box retailers, chain restaurants, monster trucks, and megachurches, are “hostile to outsiders and the public good, ruled by white, Christian authority.” Taking America Back for God, by Andrew Whitehead and Samuel Perry (Oxford, second edition, 2022), has its own biases but points out that “Christian nationalism and personal religious piety are not one and the same.” For example, Christians are less likely than others to fear refugees from the Middle East, or atheists, or Jews.

Briefly noted

Jake Tapper’s All the Demons Are Here (Little Brown, 2023), set in Washington DC and Montana in the 1970s, is a fictional reminder that America also faced turmoil half a century ago. It’s an enjoyable page-turner. The Lives of Butterflies, by David G. James and David J. Lohman (Princeton, 2024), reveals through beautiful photography and readable prose the complex lives of butterflies: how they live, reproduce, and migrate.

My new book Pivot Points (P&R, 2024) is a factual account of an early journey from Judaism to atheism to communism to Christ, and my later running toward (and sometimes walking away from) adventures: University of Texas tenure, compassionate conservatism, a Christian college in the Empire State Building, WORLD magazine editing. It may help readers to think through hard choices.

Marvin Olasky

Senior Fellow, Center for Science and Culture
Marvin Olasky is a Senior Fellow with Discovery Institute and its Center for Science and Culture. He taught at The University of Texas at Austin from 1983 to 2008 and edited WORLD magazine from 1992 through 2021. He is the author of 28 books including Fighting for Liberty and Virtue and The Tragedy of American Compassion.