On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I corresponded with Marvin Olasky, editor-in-chief of WORLD Magazine and author of numerous books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion (1994) and Compassionate Conservatism (2000). Olasky reveals what on his nightstand, the books that helped him turn from Marxism, the art of asking good questions, and more.
Whats on your nightstand right now?
- Joseph Epstein, Wind Sprints
- Thomas Kidd, American Colonial History
- Ryszard Legutko, The Demon in Democracy
- Stephen Meyer, Darwin’s Doubt
- Peggy Noonan, The Time of Our Lives
- The Bible (English Standard Version)
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
- God saves sinners.
- God’s in charge, we are not.
- Be salt, not sugar or vinegar.
- Practice biblical objectivity.
- Apart from Jesus, we fear death and annihilation.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?
- The Bible
- John Calvin, Institutes
- Perry Miller, ed., The American Puritans
- Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology
- J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism
- Francis Schaeffer, The God Who Is There
What books do you regularly re-read?
What have you found most satisfying in your role as editor-in-chief of WORLD Magazine?
- Having an integrated life: not having to check beliefs at the door when I go to work.
- Having my work also be my hobby.
- Mentoring young reporters.
- Spotlighting effective poverty-fighting ministries and courageous Daniels.
- Not being surrounded by antagonistic colleagues, as I was while a university professor.
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you?
- Landmark biographies of notable Americans (as a child): taking American history as my own.
- Whittaker Chambers, Witness
- Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery
What are your favorite fiction books?
- José Gironella, The Cypresses Believe in God
- Michael O’Brien, The Island of the World
- Tom Wolfe, A Man in Full
- Herman Wouk, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance
- Spy and detective novels by Daniel Silva, Alan Furst, David Downing, Philip Kerr, Alex Dryden, Martin Cruz Smith, William Ryan, and Jason Matthews.
What other magazines and periodicals do you read on a regular basis?
You’ve openly talked about your Marxist beliefs prior to your conversion. Apart from God’s Word and his saving work, what books helped shaped your political views from a Christian perspective?
- Augustine, City of God
- John Foxe, Acts and Monuments
- Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, The Federalist Papers
- Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America
- Herbert Schlossberg, Idols for Destruction
You’ve interviewed many people over the years, and a quick glance at your Newsmakers Interview Series reveals your interest in an eclectic array of people serving in various callings and each from different backgrounds. Why such interest in people? What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned?
At an abstract level I’m interested in people generally because God made humans the apex of creation on the sixth day. I usually do the interviews in front of college students trying to discern what to do with their lives, so it’s always fascinating to see how people discover God-given callings, often in circuitous ways. (“Man proposes, but God disposes.”) Just about everyone has individual surprises, but one common thread is concern about their children: some follow parents’ spiritual paths, some don’t, and environmental influences don’t seem determinative.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve learned for asking good questions?
Research the lives of interviewees so as to move off standard questions and ask some personal ones for which interviewees don’t have prepared soundbites. Politicians are generally the worst because successful ones are usually “on message” and will pivot any question into a standard answer. But other interviewees will respond in interesting ways when a new question confronts them.
What are your top five books on or about journalism?
- Robert Boynton, The New New Journalism
- Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
- Mark Kramer and Wendy Call, Telling True Stories
- Timothy Crouse, The Boys on the Bus
- And a new movie: Spotlight
Also in the On My Shelf series: David Wells, John Frame, Rod Dreher, James K. A. Smith, Randy Alcorn, Tom Schreiner, Trillia Newbell, Jen Wilkin, Joe Carter, Timothy George, Tim Keller, Bryan Chapell, Lauren Chandler, Mike Cosper, Russell Moore, Jared Wilson, Kathy Keller, J. D. Greear, Kevin DeYoung, Kathleen Nielson, Thabiti Anyabwile, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Collin Hansen, Fred Sanders, Rosaria Butterfield, Nancy Guthrie, and Matt Chandler.