God and Country
by Monique El-Faizy (Bloomsbury)
by Jeffery L. Sheler (Viking)
by Lauren Sandler (Viking)
The prevailing belief that “moral values” were the decisive factor in George W. Bush’s 2004 victory evidently set many a book proposal in motion, and now, just in time for the midterm congressional elections, we have a crop of books that take the measure of “evangelical America.” El-Faizy and Sheler, journalists who were raised as evangelicals but subsequently moved away from the church, visited many of the same locations—the Saddleback megachurch; Colorado Springs, the “evangelical Vatican”; Wheaton College; Christian-rock concerts—and deliver remarkably similar verdicts: evangelicals are a normal and unthreatening component of the American mainstream. Sandler, a self-described “unrepentant Jewish atheist” whose book focuses on evangelical youth culture, is considerably less sanguine about evangelicals’ burgeoning clout, but offers the most interesting conclusion: a call for the return of wonder, fellowship, and authenticity to the secular public sphere.
Welcome to the Homeland
by Brian Mann (Steerforth)
Mann, a public-radio reporter, produces one of the best books to date on the putative red-blue divide by focusing on interpersonal micropolitics (much of the book consists of a running dialogue with his more conservative brother) as well as macro trends that often get left out of the debate (the fact, say, that atheists and agnostics are the fastest-growing religious groups in the country) and that complicate the dominant perception of politicized evangelical hordes rising in lockstep.
Does American Democracy Still Work?
by Alan Wolfe (Yale)
Wolfe, a political scientist, answers his title question with a qualified yes, although he notes with alarm that incuriosity, partisanship, and cynicism—by voter and politician alike—imperil the whole enterprise. Familiar complaints, all, but Wolfe’s urgency is compelling and leaves no doubt that he really means it this time.
The Accidental Investment Banker
by Jonathan A. Knee (Oxford)
A refugee from the investment-banking implosion that accompanied the various other bubble bursts of the late ’90s, Knee argues that his profession has sold out its legacy of independence and solid judgment, much to its own shame—and to the clear and present danger of those affected by its decisions (which is to say everyone).
by Nicholas Lemann (FSG)
The author of The Promised Land and The Big Test offers this engrossing chronicle of white Southerners’ violent (and once-celebrated) rollback of Reconstruction in the 1870s. This book reveals the volatile ways in which history, politics, and pop culture can influence one another and perpetuate falsehood.
by Gus Russo (Bloomsbury)
The story of Sidney Korshak, the legendary fixer for the Chicago mob who manipulated Hollywood, Las Vegas, and certain key sectors of the political realm through a combination of sweetheart deals and good old-fashioned muscle. That he remains largely unknown—and that the type of creative bookkeeping and influence peddling in which he specialized is not altogether shocking today—is a backhanded testament to his significance.
The War of the World
by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press)
This ambitious, if not entirely satisfying, explication of twentieth-century violence by the scintillating (but too-prolific) historian is a companion to Ferguson’s British television documentary. Although his ultimate conclusion—that the twentieth century represented not the triumph of the West but rather its decline—is bracing, it reads as a bit of an afterthought to the somewhat patchwork whole.
by Adrian Goldsworthy (Yale)
A monumental biography of the Roman leader that wisely confines itself primarily to contemporaneous sources (much of the information that other biographers have drawn on, while still ancient, was not written until long after Caesar’s murder). Golds-worthy, a British classicist and the author of a number of innovative studies of Roman military history, writes with great style.