Profitable and Pleasant Reading: Books for a Winter Reading List

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.
December 19, 2019

Those hardy readers looking for good books to read by the hearthside will discover several recent titles that combine good writing and captivating subject material. If you are looking for a good book to stick in someone’s stocking, this list is a good place to start.


Andrew Roberts, Leadership in War: Essential Lessons from Those Who Made History (Viking).

Andrew Roberts is one of the most significant and gifted writers of our age, and his histories and biographies belong on any reading list, and his powers of narrative and insight are on full display in this new book of essays on major leaders in a time of war. The studies in the book, ranging from Napoleon and Adolf Hitler to Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher, began as lectures “about how war demands and reveals the best and worst in leadership.” The best and the worst are both in full evidence in these essays, and each is captivating. As Roberts understands, war reveals character and leadership as no other experience. He cites Richard Nixon as recognizing that leadership in a time of peace may be as challenging as in a time of war, “but the leader’s triumph over them is neither as dramatic nor as clearly visible.” The drama is in these essays, whether the subject is Josef Stalin, Charles de Gaulle, Dwight Eisenhower, Horatio Nelson, or George C. Marshall. Those who are drawn to history, biography, and leadership will be drawn to every essay.


Gareth Russell, The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian Era (Atria).

Over a century after its tragic sinking, the Titanic remains a focus of fascination and the most famous maritime disaster in history. The present generation may know the story primarily through the movie screen, but the story of the Titanic is worthy of the scale of work that Gareth Russell has produced in this volume. Russell tells the story well, and corrects many entrenched untruths that have persisted through the decades. His prose is clear and the most unique dimension of his book is his fascinating work placing the Titanic disaster in the context of the passing of an age–the Edwardian Era. The world inhabited by the Titanic and its passengers seems both close to us and impossibly far. This is not just another history of the Titanic and its sinking. It is the history of an age that offers plenty of thinking about our own era.


David M. Rubenstein, The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians (Simon & Schuster).

David Rubenstein, co-founder of the Carlyle Group, has hosted a rather amazing series of conversations with the most influential historians of the American experience. Held at the Library of Congress, the conversations leave the reader wanting more. The book is a collection of these conversations, and the fact that the text represents live conversations adds energy and interest. The sixteen conversations include David McCullough on John Adams, Ron Chernow on Alexander Hamilton, Richard Reeves on John F. Kennedy, Robert Caro on Lyndon Johnson, and H. W. Brands on Ronald Reagan. The last chapter is a unique conversation with Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr., who offers a rare (and witty) inside view of how the Supreme Court operates. Not one of the conversations is boring.



Tom Brokaw, The Fall of Richard Nixon: A Reporter Remembers Watergate (Random House).

Tom Brokaw arrived in Washington as White House Correspondent for NBC News just as the Watergate Crisis was moving to the front page and the nightly news. The young Brokaw found himself at the center of the biggest political story of his generation, and he had a front-row seat. He had remarkable access to President Nixon and his remembrance of Watergate is a powerful memoir of politics, history, journalism, and the American presidency. The book is not long, and Brokaw offers a portrait of the White House and its press corps that seems drawn from an age long ago–when three television networks ruled the air and a handful of reporters and correspondents controlled the narrative. Brokaw’s book is itself like a conversation with the man himself, and at times it is intensely personal. All that adds to the interest.



Amity Shlaes, Great Society: A New History (Harper).

Amity Shlaes is already known to many readers for her brilliant works on the Great Depression and President Calvin Coolidge. Shlaes is a revisionist of sorts. Aware of the dominance of more liberal interpretations of the twentieth century, Shlaes has done really important work in setting the record straight. But there is more to her writings than historical correction. She has the great gift of telling an important story very well, and making the big issues abundantly clear. In Great Society, she applies those skills to the 1960s and the story of Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. In one sense, the book is a historical tragedy, with Johnson as its central tragic figure. But Great Society is also a book of big ideas and a succession of big historical characters. Readers of this book will understand this pivotal epoch as never before.



Tim Bouverie, Appeasement: Chamberlain, Hitler, Churchill, and the Road to War (Tim Duggan Books).

What were they possibly thinking? How long can sane human beings deny reality? All these questions come immediately to mind as we think about the intellectual and political leadership of Europe, and especially of Britain and France, fooling themselves for so long about Adolf Hitler, and often being made fools by Hitler himself. Tim Bouverie offers one of the most important books yet written on these crucial questions. Bouverie’s historical skills (and honesty) are apparent, and he has done stellar investigative work, digging into the primary documents. The book reads like a historical thriller combined with moral insight. The characters who cross the stage are larger than life, and the lessons of appeasement are bitter and tragic. The book also reveals the vindication of Winston Churchill’s warnings during his “wilderness years,” and underlines why his leadership was uniquely credible when the illusions of appeasing Adolf Hitler died their bitter death.



R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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