Kurt Vonnegut, Cat’s Cradle. Classic Vonnegut, existential yet moral, dark but funny, simple and sometimes even ugly but somehow still with flashes of real beauty. My favorite quote: “Americans ... are forever searching for love in forms it never takes, in places it can never be. It must have something to do with the vanished frontier.” No one else I’ve read can write a disaster scene like Vonnegut, and Cat’s Cradle has one of the best. It also features a made-up religion, an absent-minded atom bomb scientist who invents a new chemical compound, and a tiny island dictatorship.
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. The first novel came out when I was the wrong age—I was reading Tolkien and proud of myself for reading real adult books. I’ve been reading through the series and just finished The Goblet of Fire, which is the fourth book. It is a bit darker than the former books and more complex. The characters are older and sort of trying to mature, though they still end up being an odd, albeit perhaps more realistic, mixture of clever and naïve.
S. L. Frank, The Spiritual Foundations of Society. This isn’t exactly light reading, but it is essential reading for any (like Ethika Politika’s readers) who endeavor to respond to social challenges from a nuanced and intelligent Christian perspective. Frank was Russian Orthodox, but his work contains themes that would be right at home with Roman Catholics or Protestants. One can find in this book, natural law, solidarity, sphere sovereignty, organicism, ordered liberty, and personalism, all tied together by the distinctly Russian Orthodox concept of sobornost.
Charles Malik, Christ and Crisis. Another little-known figure with another essential book. Malik was also an Orthodox Christian. He studied under Heidegger and Whitehead and served as a diplomat for Lebanon, was one of the drafters of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and was also vice-president of the United Bible Societies. This book is easy but powerful reading. First published in 1962, in a post-atom bomb, post-holocaust, Cold War world, it explores the conviction that “Only the Cross which shocked and condemned the world can reconcile it.” It’s out-of-print, but will be republished as the third book in Acton’s Orthodox Christian Social Thought monograph series, of which I am the editor.
Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He is also a fellow of the Sophia Institute, the International Advanced Forum for the Study of Eastern Christian Life and Culture.