In the Stacks, May 8, 2012

By Duane Shank 05-08-2012
Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest:

The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson

By Robert A. Caro, Reviewed by Bill Clinton

The fourth installment of Robert Caro’s series on Lyndon Johnson.

For a few brief years, Lyndon Johnson, once a fairly conventional Southern Democrat, constrained by his constituents and his overriding hunger for power, rose above his political past and personal limitations, to embrace and promote his boyhood dreams of opportunity and equality for all Americans. After all the years of striving for power, once he had it, he said to the American people, “I’ll let you in on a secret — I mean to use it.” And use it he did to pass the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the open housing law, the antipoverty legislation, Medicare and Medicaid, Head Start and much more.

The Taste of War

By Lizzie Collingham, Reviewed by Timothy Snyder

How food contributed to World War II, its origins, its outcome and its aftermath.\

Lizzie Collingham soberly argues that the expansionist designs of both Nazi Germany and imperial Japan must be understood within a world political economy in which the single crucial commodity was food. The British Empire had dominated a global system of free trade that was disrupted by the Great Depression. States like Germany and Japan, unable to supply themselves with sufficient food for their own citizens from domestic sources, had two choices. They could play the game by the British rules, which could seem humiliating and pointless in the 1930s, or they could try to control more territory.

When God Talks Back

By T.M. Luhrmann, Reviewed by Molly Worthen

After more than four years of observing and interviewing Vineyard members, and participating in prayer groups, Bible study and weekly worship, Luhrmann arrived at a simple but arresting hypothesis: Evangelicals believe in an intimate God who talks to them personally because their churches coach them in a new theory of mind. In these communities, religious belief is “more like learning to do something than to think something. . . . People train the mind in such a way that they experience part of their mind as the presence of God.”  … “When God Talks Back” is remarkable for combining creative psychological analysis with a commitment to understanding evangelicals not merely as a scholar’s specimens, but on their own terms. The result is the most insightful study of evangelical religion in many years.

Bad Religion

By Ross Douthat, Reviewed by Randall Balmer

Ross Douhat laments America’s departure from its “Christian Center”

From “God’s Controversy With New England,” Michael Wigglesworth’s 1662 call to repentance, to the latest campaign autobiography by a presidential aspirant, the jeremiad has been one of the most durable literary forms throughout American history. Typically, the author identifies some golden age, one just now dissolving in the rearview mirror; recounts the slippery path of declension; and then prescribes an amendment of ways in order to avert further disaster. Ross Douthat’s contribution to this genre, “Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics,” laments the departure from what he calls “a Christian center,” which “has helped bind together a teeming, diverse and fissiparous nation.”


Duane Shank is Senior Policy Advisor for Sojourners. Follow Duane on Twitter @DShankDC.

(Photo by Tischenko Irina/

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