(John Andrews in the Denver Post, Dec. 18) It all started with a teenager giving birth in a stable, while soldiers searched for her baby to kill him. No, it really started long before that, with a couple in a garden throwing away paradise in one act of disobedience. It all ended, anyway, with three crosses atop a skull-shaped hill on a dark afternoon. But actually it hasn’t ended yet, and won’t end until the world itself does. I’m referring, obviously, to the greatest story ever told, the Christmas story. Christmas is not my subject, though. Books are. The two are closely joined, of course. It is only through a book, the most important book ever written, the Bible, that we know the story of Adam’s fall and Christ’s coming.
For many of us, in addition, books are a favorite present to find under the tree at this time of year. If well chosen, they may hold a power in the recipient’s life that few other gifts can match. Your inscription to me on the flyleaf can outlive time for both of us.
How I remember those boyhood Christmases on the ranch, when some work of biography, history, or adventure emerged from the ribbons to shorten my winter and widen my horizons. Painted on our schoolroom wall were Emily Dickinson’s words, “There is no Frigate like a Book to take us Lands away” – and never did a seagoing lad embark more eagerly than I.
Books as gifts can also cement friendship. If you come by my office across the street from the State Capitol today – and readers of this column have a standing invitation – you’ll likely leave with some small volume of timeless wisdom from a stack I keep on hand for visitors.
One of those is The Law by Frederic Bastiat. Written in 1850 from his experience in the French national assembly, irresistibly persuasive, it shows why a free society is both more productive and more just than a collectivist society. Bastiat’s diagnosis of economic folly is as current as tomorrow’s legislative headlines.
Also stocked on my gift shelf are copies of Restoring the American Dream by Robert Ringer. His rigorous argument for personal responsibility in a libertarian, free-market order has the bracing clarity of a sunrise at timberline – if a bit closer to Ayn Rand’s “virtue of selfishness” doctrine than my Judeo-Christian ethic cares to go.
Or did our conversation over coffee, the morning you dropped in, dwell less on politics and the news than on faith and eternity? Then take along, with my compliments (and a note on the flyleaf), a pocket edition of G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man, or J.B. Phillips’s Your God is Too Small, or C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, or George MacDonald’s Diary of an Old Soul.
My travels with the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy provide not only hours of airplane reading time, but also many occasions to leave a book with some fellow advocate of conservative reform. I find that An Introduction to Citizenship for New Americans by Thomas Krannawitter and The Rise and Fall of Constitutional Government in America by Thomas West and Douglas Jeffrey are two splendid Claremont titles for that purpose.
Then there is Claremont’s booklet on America’s founding documents, containing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution along with notes, commentary, and a reading guide. It’s smaller than a Blackberry and vastly more potent. A similar edition is available from Cato in Washington or Liberty Day here in Colorado. This has been my most popular leave-behind in 2005, and you could do worse for a New Year’s resolution than to vow a reacquaintance with the founding documents in 2006.
The space is gone and I’ve yet to sing the praises of Dickens, Trollope, Tolkien, Walker Percy… Patrick O’Brian, Paul Johnson and Samuel Johnson … Hayek, Weaver, Kirk, Milton Friedman… Muggeridge, Buckley, George Roche, Harry Jaffa, and so many others. Adieu till next year. I urge you: this Christmas, give someone a book, or ask to be given a book – and do have a very merry one!