One of the things I like best about Allan Carlson, the author of Conjugal America: On the Public Purposes of Marriage, is his ability to write substantial, well researched books for the layman. This is a book that a person of average intelligence can read with reasonable ease. In Conjugal America, Carlson traces the importance of one man/one woman marriage with resulting children~what he likes to call the "natural family"~ throughout the history and therefore national identity of America. He demonstrates how, contrary to the typical ideal of the rugged individual as the basis for American settlement and expansion, America was built by and for families in a way that the Old World never was nor could be. He traces the fortunes of the family through the Pilgrims up to the modern day. He overthrows some of the misconceptions many of us hold regarding marriage and the family. For instance, young people in early America tended to marry younger and have more children than their European counterparts because abundant, cheap American land meant that it was easier for a young man to get an economic foothold, thus encouraging him earlier in his life that he could support a wife and family. Young men in Europe may have wanted to marry sooner but thought they couldn't because they couldn't afford it until they had spent more years establishing themselves economically. Carlson's book is chock full of historical and sociological support in the fight for traditional marriage.
Carlson also encourages what he calls the "child-rich family" and helps the reader to understand that marriage is the union of the sexual and economic. He writes convincingly about the community's interest in promoting and aiding strong marriages, and most interesting of all, he shows how some political ideologies such as fascism and communisim/socialism undermine the family as a de facto component of their systems of government. He claims that the traditional family is the necessary basis for nations who desire "ordered liberty."
Another thing I like about Allan Carlson is that he makes the case for traditional marriage from a non-religious standpoint, though he is a practicing Christian and can very likely make the case from the Bible. For the simple reason that an increasing number of people in our country give the Bible little or no credence, I think it's important that we defend man/woman marriage without referring to religious doctrine, etc. This book (along with The Natural Family) is very helpful in that task.
I was so busy before Thanksgiving that I didn't even get to update my sidebar to show that I read Arnold Bennett's How to Live on 24 Hours a Day last week. I picked this book up for a pittance at an antique store's going-out-of-business sale after being pretty sure I remembered the Deputy Headmistress refer to it once. Not knowing Arnold Bennett, I looked him up and learned that he was an English novelist and journalist who did pretty well for himself back in his day. This is one of his most popular books. I'm astonished to find it in a 2010 edition on Amazon. My edition is from 1910. Though far from agreeing with all he had to say, I can see why Bennett was popular: he writes with much energy and wit. He had me chuckling during the preface and at regular intervals throughout. Despite what the title may lead a person to think, this book is not about maximizing every minute of your day to cram in as much activity as possible. You will not find time-saving hints and suggestions for increasing your efficiency or reducing your waste of time. Rather, Bennett's main idea is to encourage the reader that he can improve his mind by setting aside a specific amount of time for reading and thinking~what Bennett calls "living." Now, I love this idea and it's one I would love to implement in my own life (that's part of what this reading challenge is all about), but Bennett's plan would take quite a bit of overhauling for twenty-first century American life, beginning with cutting out most outside activities and obligations for children and adults alike. Despite its many impracticalities for today, the idea of deliberately and purposefully setting aside time to cultivate the mind is intriguing and worth pursuing. Plus, it was a fun book to read, plain and simple.