Doing the Best I Can, Kathryn Edin & Timothy Nelson: I bought this on Bryan Caplan’s recommendation, and it doesn’t disappoint. He’s right that it’s absolutely engrossing: the authors do extensive interviews that give readers a look into the lives of unwed urban fathers. The cultural difference is particularly puzzling as the authors point to a near-reversal of usual patterns. Where we used to sing “first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes blah blah with a baby carriage,” the men surveyed in “Doing the Best I Can” have children before love and marriage are really even on the radar. As the authors (and Caplan) note, they’re also very good at rationalizing bad choices like quitting jobs, dropping out of school, and so on. A lot of their subjects exhibit an almost defiant disregard for responsibility toward the mother and their children, and the bar they set for what counts as “taking care of” their kids is extremely low.
Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: I bought this at the recommendation of a colleague at Samford. It’s apparently the definitive translation of Bonhoeffer’s classic, elsewhere published as “The Cost of Discipleship.” Bonhoeffer pulls no punches and approaches his subject with a seriousness and intensity few authors can match. “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die” is a pretty heavy statement. Leaving the world behind to follow Christ is what’s expected–nothing less. It’s in reading things like this that I’m thankful for God’s grace because just about the last thing I want to do every morning is to die to myself and the world.
Christian Slaves, Muslim Masters, Robert Davis: Slavery is a stain on the human experience. While people pay a lot of attention to the Atlantic slave trade (and with very good reason), it is a serious mistake to think that slavery was a Euro-American phenomenon. Davis documents the extensive trade in enslaved Europeans along the Barbary Coast of Africa and in, for example, the city of Algiers. Revealingly, the middle eastern and African slave traders are just as shrewd as any other merchants or profit-oriented which I interpret as evidence against Karl Polanyi’s claim that a calculating capitalist world is a recent innovation. This is not and should not be read as in any way as an apology for the Atlantic trade or an attempt to evade responsibility. Rather, it is a depressing look into the depths of our absolute inhumanity toward one another.
Public Choice, Past and Present: The Legacy of James M. Buchanan and Gordon Tullock. Dwight Lee, editor. This is a collection of essays on Buchanan and Tullock from a conference session that marked the 50th anniversary of their landmark book The Calculus of Consent. It’s a potpourri of applications, analyses, and reminiscences from prominent students and colleagues of Buchanan and Tullock. Together, they explore the importance of the constitutional problem that was at the heart of the Buchanan-Tullock research program. It’s an expensive Springer volume, but if you have access to an academic library you should be able to get an electronic version through your institution’s subscription to Springer’s resources. Not surprisingly, there are no references to segregationist agrarian poets or John C. Calhoun, which I interpret as further evidence that Nancy MacLean’s claim about Calhoun being the “intellectual lodestar” of public choice is widely off-base.
The Four Loves, CS Lewis. If you’re trying to decide between a Lewis book and something else, you’re probably making a good choice if you go with Lewis. “The Four Loves” is Lewis at his insightful and excellent best: Deirdre McCloskey cites and discusses this in her trilogy on the Bourgeois Era (The Bourgeois Virtues, Bourgeois Dignity, Bourgeois Equality), and Lewis explains in his typically insightful way how we use one word to describe four different concepts (affection, brotherhood, erotic attraction, transcendent love). We limit our understanding if we don’t distinguish these carefully.