“What accounts for the six-fold increase in the total number of horror films released since 1999?” asks David Goldman in “ Be Afraid”Be Very Afraid .” “Subgenres such as erotic horror (mainly centered on vampires) and torture (the Saw series, for example) dig deep into the vulnerabilities of the adolescent psyche. Given the success of these films over the past ten years, the number of Americans traumatizing themselves voluntarily is larger by an order of magnitude than it has ever been before.”

That’s an odd fact Goldman notes, and an interesting question he poses”but it’s only one of many in the new issue of First Things.

This is an issue in which you can read:

• The Israeli writer Yoel Finkelman on why Rabbi Sacks’ new prayer book matters.

• The Canadian theologian Douglas Farrow on what Pope Benedict’s new encyclical means .

• The Orthodox omnididact David Hart on why Robert Wright’s new bestseller is so awful.

• The Protestant literary genius Alan Jacobs on why The Wind in the Willows is still so good.

There’s even a Catholic or two in the magazine, beginning with George Cardinal Pell , who reviews Peter Seewald’s Benedict XVI: An Intimate Portrait .

Let’s see, what else? Oh, the Nobel-prizewinning economist Edmund Phelps contributes a little something”just a classic essay on the role of human innovation in the moral structure of economics :

The classical spirit of challenge and self-discovery is a fundamental human trait. By showing how the risk-taking activity of individuals contributes to social benefits, economics helps societies to accommodate what Augustine called our “restlessness of heart.” This is the better part of our human nature. Societies that suppress this restlessness stagnate and die. The issue of morality in economics is neither the fairness of income distribution nor the stability of financial systems. It is how human institutions can be shaped to correspond to human nature-to man’s nature as an innovator.

And contributing writer Mary Eberstadt, who asks, “ What Does Woman Want? ” In this account of the War Between the Sexless, Eberstadt notes:

The summer marriage wars go deeper than a mere empirical slam dunk about kids and broken homes . . . . It amounts to two charges made repeatedly, almost always by women and with many echoes elsewhere in contemporary sources: first, that the combined pressures of motherhood and marriage and breadwinning are just too much to bear; and second, that many of today’s marriages”that is to say, marriages made among enlightened, older, educated, sophisticated people”are a sexual desert . . . . Perhaps some of the modern misery of which so many women today authentically speak is springing not from a sexual desert but from a sexual flood-a torrent of poisonous imagery, beginning even in childhood, that has engulfed women and men, only to beach them eventually somewhere alone and apart, far from the reach of one another.

At least that way of looking at the puzzle might explain some of the paradox of all that female unhappiness. Between bad ideas of gender neutrality and even worse ideas of the innocence of pornography, we reach the world so vividly described by Sandra Loh and many other dissatisfied women: one where men act like stereotypical women, and retreat from a real marriage into a fantasy life via pornography (rather than Harlequin novels), and where women conversely act like stereotypical men, taking the lead in leaving their marriages and firing angry charges on the way, out of frustration and withheld sex.

A little new poetry as well, from Catherine Savage Brosman , A.M. Juster , Samuel Menashe , Les Murray , and Sally Thomas .

Oh, and in “ The Summer of 1683 ,” we have Victor Davis Hanson reviewing Andrew Wheatcroft’s Enemy at the Gate: Hapsburgs, Ottomans, and the Battle for Europe :

In the end, the Christians were vastly outnumbered and had finite supplies. They had to divert precious stores to maintain thousands of Viennese civilians behind the walls. Meanwhile, the Ottoman armies filled the Christian populations with a deep-seated terror that provided the Turks with a psychological force multiplier every bit as important as the efficacy of the feared Janissaries . . . . Twelve hours later, the Turks were in full retreat, the city was saved, and the only question was how many of the once grand Ottoman army might make it to safety down the Danube.

We’ve got Michael W. McConnell reviewing Philip Hamburger’s Law and Judicial Duty , and Gilbert Meilaender reviewing John Rawls’ A Brief Inquiry into the Meaning of Sin and Faith, With “On My Religion” :

To read A Brief Inquiry is to be led to ponder whether, as Wordsworth wrote, the child is father of the man. For the book makes available a text that was not generally known to exist, the senior thesis written by the late John Rawls in 1942 to complete requirements for graduation from Princeton.

In “ The Moral Witness of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn ,” Daniel Mahoney notes:

With his passing a year ago”on August 3, 2008, at the age of eighty-nine”the world was obliged to come to terms once again with Aleksandr Isaevich Solzhenitsyn. It was time to sum up and take stock of the Russian Nobel laureate, antitotalitarian writer, and courageous if unnerving moral witness. The response was more abundant and on the whole more respectful than one might have anticipated.

And in “ A Tiny Piet ,” Matthew Milliner mourns the loss of his unborn son:

The nurses took the footprints of tiny feet. They even dressed Clement in an outfit and took a picture, wrote out a birth card. The undertaker came and handled the body with a reverence of movement that ministered more than ten chaplains’ prayers. We buried him in a family plot, where we told the story of how his life began. He has parents and grandparents who love him; nurses and an undertaker who cared for him in his short life.

And, as always, there’s the Public Square , which this month takes up the Day for the Religious”the day Obama spent campaigning among the churchgoers for support of health-care reform.

And that’s just about it for the new issue of First Things . Isn’t it enough? Shouldn’t you be subscribing?

Articles by Joseph Bottum


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