If you are looking for some exciting book recommendations to help you ring in the new year, look no further. Our friends at The Heritage Foundation and Heritage Action for America have 26 titles that we recommend you check out in 2021.
1. “American Traitor” by Brad Taylor
New York Times bestselling author Brad Taylor weaves a thrilling story in his new book, “American Traitor.” This novel is full of twists and turns that reflect current challenges that America—and the free world—face in regard to relations with China.
Taylor pulls on his 21 years of experience in the military to craft an exciting story around characters Pike Logan and Jennifer Cahill, who uncover a Chinese plot to take control of Taiwan. This is a great read for anyone who loves action-packed novels.
2. “Beauty Memory Unity: A Theory of Proportion in Architecture” by Steve Bass
Have you ever wondered why some buildings seem to stir your soul, while most others leave something to be desired? It’s likely because the architect understood the classical theory of proportion. Steve Bass takes you to the foundations of this theory—which go back to the esoteric teachings of Pythagoras, and possibly further—and explains the secrets of beautiful design.
—Christian Mysliwiec is commentary editor of The Daily Signal.
3. “The Bible as It Was” by James Kugel
Fascinations with inconsistencies and discrepancies in the Bible are nothing new. Even in the earliest days of scriptural formation, ancient scribes and priests theorized and debated over the peculiarities of the oldest Biblical passages. Biblical historian James Kugel takes on the mountainous task of reconstructing how ancient Israelites would have understood the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible.
He consults extra-Biblical works that contain explanations and interpretations of the Bible’s more mysterious and cryptic stories. From theories about Moses getting a speech impediment from ingesting burning coals to Cain and Abel being born as grown men, Kugel’s book is a fun and informative read for Bible enthusiasts of all backgrounds.
—Will Deatherage is a service desk specialist at The Heritage Foundation and is currently earning his M.A. in systematic theology.
4. “Blackout/All Clear” by Connie Willis
A single novel in two volumes, “Blackout/All Clear” is the 2010 magnum opus of science fiction legend Connie Willis—but it may be the perfect read for 2020. The final installment in Willis’ “Oxford Time Travel” series, “Blackout/All Clear” follows a crew of time travelling historians from the 2060s stranded in World War II-era Britain, marooned in locations ranging from Dunkirk to London at the height of the Blitz.
The technology that was supposed to bring them home is malfunctioning in ways they have never encountered, leaving them wondering whether their presence has tipped the balance in favor of the Nazis and obliterated the future they came from.
There’s enough time-travelling adventure to keep any reader hooked, but what makes this novel a true gem is the depiction of life in Blitz-era London. The constant bombing of the city by German planes creates a constant atmosphere of anxiety and uncertainty, and the stiff upper lip displayed by the people of London is an inspiring example as we approach the “all clear” siren of the COVID-19 pandemic.
—Adam Brickley serves as program associate for lectures and seminars at The Heritage Foundation.
5. “Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare: The Mavericks Who Plotted Hitler’s Defeat” by Giles Milton
“Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare” is an action-packed read on the daring exploits of the real-life James Bonds of World War II. Giles shows how this secret division of the British army trained in hand-to-hand combat, designed exploding pens (true story!), and conducted stealth missions to blow up heavy-water plants, dry docks, and train lines throughout Europe.
While some resisted the then-unconventional tactics, “Churchill’s Secret Army” played a key part in Britain’s strategy to wreak havoc on Hitler’s supply lines. It’s an inspiring story of men (and women) who were scrappy, innovative, and determined to defeat an evil regime.
—Stephanie Kreuz is a regional manager and senior advisor at Heritage Action for America.
6. “The Coffee Lover’s Diet: Change Your Coffee, Change Your Life” by Dr. Bob Arnot
This 373-page tome is a deep dive for coffee aficionados into the nutritional value of America’s favorite beverage (it’s the single biggest source of antioxidants in Americans’ diets); how to shop for and find the best coffees (buying the choicest whole beans from an on-site roaster for maximum freshness and taste); advice on buying and using the best home coffee grinders and coffeemakers for maximizing flavor and retention of the antioxidants; and much more.
—Peter Parisi is an editor and writer for The Daily Signal.
7. “Conservatism: An Invitation to the Great Tradition” by Roger Scruton
This fine volume is a brief, clear, and erudite exposition of conservative thought from one of conservatism’s great thinkers. Although written from a British perspective, he engages thoroughly with American conservative thought and experience.
—David R. Burton focuses on tax matters, securities law, entitlements and regulatory and administrative law issues as The Heritage Foundation’s senior fellow in economic policy.
8. “The Conservative Sensibility” by George F. Will
George Will defines conservatives as those who seek to conserve the American founding. His book is a well-written, engaging walk through the history, constitutional framing, political theory, law, and economics of the American experiment. It is a thorough defense of the principles undergirding the American republic and a compelling critique of progressive efforts to undermine those principles.
9. “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens and 10. “Silas Marner” by George Eliot
Two great—and short—novels about redemption.
—Paul J. Larkin Jr. directs The Heritage Foundation’s project to counter abuse of the criminal law, particularly at the federal level, as senior legal research fellow in the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies.
11. “Crime and Punishment” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
This literary masterpiece aims to prove that an individual’s negative decisions are not to be entirely blamed upon the environment that they were raised in. Rather, it is someone’s personal life choices that lead to positive or negative consequences.
“Crime and Punishment” asserts that progressive ideas conveyed through casuist rhetoric often prove themselves to be far removed from the reality of human nature and the consideration of our driving force of morality. Dostoyevsky’s characterization of modern Russian philosophers sheds light on the hollowness of ideas inflated by exaggerated language, and proves that radical ideas can be myopic at their root.
It’s hard to synthesize a book with as many complex and enlightened ideas as this, but “Crime and Punishment” proves to be incredibly relevant to the 21st century’s negligence in considering morality as a foundation of human nature.
—Kensie Yeates is a project coordinator for Donor Communications at The Heritage Foundation.
12. “Crisis of the House Divided” by Harry V. Jaffa
Especially during troubled times, it is important to keep first principles foremost in mind as a guide. In the first of his several works on the subject, Harry Jaffa eloquently shows how Abraham Lincoln did just that during America’s second great crisis.
Throughout his debate with Stephen Douglas, Lincoln consistently grounded his arguments in the Founding, chiefly the idea of equality as embodied in the Declaration of Independence. “For Lincoln there was nothing more substantially important than whether Americans lived their lives believing that all men are created equal or whether they did not.” As America closes out a turbulent 2020 and looks forward to the new year, the importance of rekindling the principle of equality properly understood will be just as important as it was in Lincoln’s time.
—Matthew D. Dickerson is the director of the Grover M. Hermann Center for the Federal Budget at The Heritage Foundation.
13. “In Defense of Freedom” by Frank Meyer
Sixty years ago, Frank Meyer confronted challenges to traditional American conservatism from the left and from within conservatism itself. Meyer’s challenges were similar to our own today. Although published long ago, it reads like it was written yesterday.
Like Meyer we live in revolutionary times. The left in recent years has overthrown the definitions of home, family, and marriage that had stood for millennia. Even more recently, the equally established definition of gender has been changed by the current revolution—stunningly, by the pen of Antonin Scalia’s successor. And now they have turned their angry guns on our history, monuments, American culture, security in our homes and persons, and the goodness of America. To accept these changes would be the opposite of conservative, and acquiescence of radical revolution.
Combining political power with economic and social power leads inevitably to tyranny. The American Founders sought to separate political power from both economic and social power, separate political power between three branches, and limit political power to enumerated powers only. This genius has long been both the fortress of our political freedom and the wellspring of our economic and social prosperity.
Conservatives must join together to repair the breach, not pick up the left’s battering ram for the purpose of empowering government with even more economic and social power for supposedly conservative ends, thinking this would save their side of the fortress. Such a project not only abandons modern American conservatism, even more importantly, it also retreats from the Founding.
As Meyers shows, traditionalism without individual freedom leads to authoritarianism; individual freedom without traditional morality leads to moral rot and economic corruption. Neither tradition nor individual freedom by itself is conservatism; alone “the temptation to tyranny becomes irresistible, and the political conditions of freedom wither.”
If we forget or reject our conservative heritage, in Meyer’s words, “we should be casting away some of the most powerful among our weapons” against the left. Re-reading Meyer can arm and strengthen us for the battles ahead.
—Wes Dyck is vice president of personnel at The Heritage Foundation.
14. “Dominion: Making of the Western Mind” by Tom Holland
Author Tom Holland’s “Dominion” is a unique undertaking in non-fiction writing as he follows the intellectual history of “Western values” in what he describes as a personal attempt to identify the fundamental source of his own beliefs and ideals.
Holland’s thesis is that the values which we in the West generally consider to be instinctive are actually products of Christianity. Christian notions like “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last,” and that people are made in the image of God and therefore equal to one another, have been suffused into Western thought to the point where many do not even realize how distinctively Christian they really are.
Holland embarks on a grand tour of intellectual history as he traces fundamental Western values through the ideologies of ancient Greek Stoics, first-century Pauline Christians, the Church Fathers, Medieval reformists, the Enlightenment, Secular Humanists, Protestant theologians, New England abolitionists, all the way up to our modern 21st-century era.
It is an easily accessible book even for those who might not be familiar with historical details, and it is sure to leave readers with a new appreciation of how exceptional our American system is.
—Brandon Palumbo is a senior program associate for Congressional Relations at The Heritage Foundation.
15. “Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present” by Frank M. Snowden
A grim reminder that plagues have always plagued us. Here is an engrossing history of how infectious diseases change society.
—James Jay Carafano, a leading expert in national security and foreign policy challenges, is The Heritage Foundation’s vice president for foreign and defense policy studies, E. W. Richardson fellow, and director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies.
16. “The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047” by Lionel Shriver
Lionel Shriver tells the story of a multigenerational family living in a dystopian America, where the president has renounced all the debt and the nation is living the consequences. She paints the picture of a country and a family that is trying to cope with its past and its future at once, and how the family members each deals with civilizational collapse in a different and fascinating manner. Some adapt fast, some refuse to adapt. It is a good framework to think about current issues and how each of us deal with fast-changing situations.
—Frederico Bartels is a policy analyst for defense budgeting at The Heritage Foundation’s Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy.
17. “Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln’s Killer” by James L. Swanson
Even though you know how the story ends, James Swanson brings suspense to the investigation of Lincoln’s assassination. From the assassination plan, to what actually happened, the number of unanswered questions haunting Union Army leadership in those twelve days, and what led to the conspirators’ discovery, it’s a roller coaster ride journey through a pivotal moment of American history.
It was 10 years after a college professor recommended it to me before I finally read this book (thanks, Dr. Craig!). I would recommend you not wait that long to pick it up.
18. “The Next Jihad: Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa” by Rev. Johnnie Moore and Rabbi Abraham Cooper
This Christmas, it would be good to remember the Christians living in severe danger around the world for adhering to their faith in Christ. The recently published book, “The Next Jihad, Stop the Christian Genocide in Africa” by evangelical pastor Johnnie Moore and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, brings home the horrifying level of atrocities committed by militant Islamist herdsman and the terrorist group Boko Haram in Nigeria.
The book details how mass murderers enter villages, separating Christians from Muslims before brutally massacring the men, women, and children who are Christians. Astonishingly, the nomadic herdsman then return to their herds and go about their lives without ever facing justice.
The authors say, “We reviewed one confidential list that precisely documents attacks by Fulani militants on 79 Christian villages over the last five years in one state alone. Yet we haven’t identified a single case where the perpetrators were brought to justice or where security forces prevented an attack.” The Nigerian government should be ashamed of itself for not marshalling the full force of its army to save innocent lives, and install a much needed rule of law.
—Patrick Tyrrell is a research coordinator in The Heritage Foundation’s Center for International Trade and Economics.
19. “The Return of Great Power Rivalry: Democracy versus Autocracy from the Ancient World to the U.S. and China” by Matthew Kroenig
With the publication of its National Security Strategy in 2017, the Trump administration announced the shift of our foreign policy and defense focus from years of fighting in the Middle East to great power competition with China and Russia. Much has been written and discussed about the meteoric rise of China’s economy and military, and some go so far to predict the ultimate eclipse of the United States by China.
Matthew Kroenig, an associate professor at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Policy, respectfully disagrees. In this delightfully short (224 pages), tightly written book, Kroenig describes how democracies over the course of history have consistently out-competed autocracies in the military, economic, and diplomatic arenas. Demonstrating a masterful grasp of history, Kroenig uses classic examples—such as the Persians and the Greeks and the United States versus the Soviet Union, as well as some lesser known cases, such as the struggle between the Dutch Republic and the Spanish Empire—to illustrate how the open institutions of democracy reliably outshine the closed organs of the autocratic state.
In the many examples that Kroenig cites, democracies far outperform autocracies in forming and maintaining strong networks of allies and partners. Coming off the turbulent and often chaotic year of 2020, Kroenig’s message is both uplifting and encouraging.
—Thomas W. Spoehr, a retired Army lieutenant general, is director of the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation.
20. “The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion” by Jonthan Haidt
In a nation that seems almost irrevocably divided on political, cultural, and religious lines, it can be hard to conceive of the other side acting in good faith. In “The Righteous Mind,” social psychologist Jonathan Haidt crafts an engrossing narrative detailing the psychological and moral math behind why we believe what we do, and what differentiates liberals, conservatives, and libertarians.
The book is accessible and thorough, providing a history of our moral psychology from our early days as hunter-gatherers, to the modern political squabbles of the 21st century. Now more than ever, it is crucial that we learn how to understand those who disagree with us, and Haidt’s book provides a solid base for finding common ground.
—Douglas Blair is an administrative assistant at The Heritage Foundation and a graduate of Heritage’s Young Leaders Program.
21. “Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived”by Antonin Scalia
“Scalia Speaks” is a collection of writings and speeches by the late Justice Antonin Scalia that provides the reader with a comprehensive insight into the life and mind of one of our nation’s most thoughtful leaders. When first picking up this book, I expected to learn about the Supreme Court and Scalia’s originalist interpretation of the Constitution. While it certainly delivered in this area, this book turned out to be much more than that, to my pleasant surprise.
Throughout his speeches and writings, Scalia offers deep insights into his Catholic faith, to which his eloquent and expressive writing style makes it easy for the reader to relate. His speeches on more obscure topics, like virtues, pastimes, and my personal favorite, his comical take on the Italian view of the Irish, make this book not only educational and thoughtful, but also entertaining, opening the reader’s mind to a whole array of Scalia’s inspiring ideas.
—Patty-Jane Geller is a policy analyst who focuses on nuclear deterrence and missile defense at the Center for National Defense at The Heritage Foundation.
22. “A Severe Mercy: A Story of Faith, Tragedy and Triumph” by Sheldon Vanauken
There are some books that just cannot be read without tears: this is one of those stories. Written from an autobiographical perspective, “A Severe Mercy” chronicles the evolving love story and spiritual journey of two young Americans who found themselves studying at Oxford University and being drawn toward the Christian faith by none other than C.S. Lewis himself. What begins as a carefree, idyllic existence comes crashing down as Davy (the author’s wife) dies at 40 in Lynchburg, Virginia.
The rawness of the author’s grief and the measured euphoria of his coming to terms are depicted with heart-breaking intimacy, intermingled with correspondence between the author and Lewis, who had suffered the loss of his own wife around the same time. Dear reader, keep a box of tissues handy. To paraphrase Dante, “Abandon all inhibitions, ye who enter here.”
—Ross Hougham is a program associate for the Truluck Center at The Heritage Foundation.
23. “A Short History of Modern Philosophy” by Roger Scruton
Behind every social and political revolution is an underlying philosophy, which is precisely why Roger Scruton’s compendium is so relevant to our times. When one reads about how logical positivists insisted on purging religion from academia, or how existentialism gave rise to gender theory, modern philosophy’s impact on the world becomes quite clear.
By blending philosophical ideas with historical events, Scruton masterfully adds layers of depth to how we understand our current global setting. While this book is geared towards philosophers, public policy cannot be done well without a thorough understanding of how the Western world’s driving ideologies have changed over the last few centuries. Scruton’s book is concise, yet rich in content, and it will inevitably provoke reflection on modern ways of problem-solving.
24. “The Soul’s Upward Yearning: Clues to our Transcendent Nature from Experience and Reason” by Rev. Robert Spitzer
Where can one find God? While Christians believe that He is revealed in scripture, rituals, and community, God’s footprints are everywhere and are discernable to people of all cultures and religions. Robert Spitzer, former host of “Father Spitzer’s Universe,” delves into several empirical studies which seem to suggest a spiritual dimension beyond human perception. He cites shared cultural encounters with the supernatural, near death experiences, the anomaly of human consciousness, and recent developments in quantum physics as hints of transcendent elements that operate in our universe.
While the book does not shy from invoking scientific terminology, its interdisciplinary focus means it has plenty of content for people of all backgrounds. I highly recommend this book for those who are interested in evidence for God’s existence beyond a religious context.
25. “The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz” by Erik Larson
Larson turns his always compelling writing on the topic of Winston Churchill’s leadership during the eight months of the blitz by Nazi Germany. The blitz was intended initially as a prelude to a full-scale ground invasion of the British isles. The author helps bring alive the heightened awareness of imminent invasion, which formed the backdrop to life during these months, while underscoring how irreplaceable the leadership of Churchill was during World War II.
The dogged and inspirational Churchill carried the U.K. through its darkest hours through courage, grit, and a determined courting of U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt. Churchill knew that the war could never be fully won without the entrance of the U.S. on the side of the allies, with his perseverance eventually rewarded. Churchill believed that the U.K.’s partnership with the U.S. was so important that he, and much of the senior British government, risked sailing across the Atlantic in 1941 to spend Christmas in Washington to discuss the war.
Larson gives life to a number of lesser known but still historically important cast of characters around Churchill, from Lord Beaverbrook, the eccentric Minister of Aircraft Production, who greatly increased the number of fighters the U.K. produced during a critical time; to Churchill’s wife, Clementine; his children; key Downing Street aides; and emissaries of Roosevelt, who were given a front-row seat to the inner workings of the Churchill government.
“The Splendid and the Vile” is a great read for anyone who enjoys World War II history or is a student of the U.S.-U.K. special relationship.
—Daniel Kochis is a policy analyst for European affairs at The Heritage Foundation’s Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom.
26. “A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream” by Yuval Levin
The year 2020 has been filled with voices calling for destruction. On both the left and the right, real and perceived failures in our institutions have given way to agitation and pressure to tear down what has taken generations to build. Yuval Levin gives the antidote to this social degeneration by calling on (particularly) Americans to redeem our present reality and build up our most time-honored values as embodied in our institutions.
For citizens and readers seeking a constructive, unifying path forward in 2021, this book is a must-read.
—Ross Hougham is a program associate for the Truluck Center at The Heritage Foundation.