New in Paperback

New in Paperback: The Courage of Their Convictions

Sunday, October 26, 2008

CRAZY FOR GOD How I Grew Up as One of the Elect, Helped Found the Religious Right, And Lived to Take All (or Almost All) Of It Back By Frank Schaeffer | Da Capo. 417. $16

"You can be the world's biggest hypocrite and still feel good about yourself," begins Frank Schaeffer in his memoir Crazy for God. He should know. Schaeffer's parents, Francis and Edith Schaeffer, were fundamentalist Christian missionaries in Switzerland. He built his early career on the evangelical circuit as a public speaker, bestselling author and pro-life activist ("Roe v. Wade turned out to be my personal lucky break," he writes).

But Schaeffer's zeal masked his doubts: "On the road I'd be parroting the party line, saying America was godless and doomed. But the America I was actually experiencing . . . was more complicated than I'd ever imagined." Eventually, he left the fold and became a public critic of it, notably when he defended James Webb against the Christian right during the 2006 Virginia Senate race. Schaeffer, who has also written several novels and, with his son, the bestselling memoir Keeping the Faith, writes passionately about his personal transformation. Even more compelling are his insights from behind the scenes of the political movement he helped create.

HOW TO RIG AN ELECTION Confessions of a Republican Operative By Allen Raymond with Ian Spiegelman | Simon & Schuster. 240 pp. $12

If you're not already a cynic about the American political system, Allen Raymond's How to Rig an Election is sure to make you one. Raymond, a former Republican consultant, pled guilty to violating federal communications law for his role in jamming New Hampshire phone lines to thwart Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts on Election Day, 2002. For this he served three months in prison. But his conviction was merely the culmination of years of "slashing and burning my way up the ranks of American politics," he writes. His memoir catalogs a host of shenanigans that test ethical boundaries. In 2000, for example, working for Republican Dick Zimmer's campaign to unseat New Jersey Rep. Rush Holt, he hired an actor who sounded like a "ghetto black guy" to call Holt supporters identified as potentially racist; the idea was to give them second thoughts. (Holt won anyway.) Schemes like this one may not make Raymond the most likable character, but his book, written with Ian Spiegelman, a former reporter at the New York Post, is as entertaining and unapologetically brash as a tabloid.

From Our Previous Reviews

· Mary Gordon's memoir Circling My Mother (Anchor, $14.95) "gives us the kaleidoscope, conveying the paradoxes and contradictions" of her mother's life, wrote Rachel Hartigan Shea.

· Set in coastal Maine, Elizabeth Strout's Olive Kitteridge (Random House, $14) centers on the life of its title character, a woman whose sorrows and hopes are "as real as our own," Molly Gloss noted.

· Written by Millard Kaufman, co-creator of Mr. Magoo, the novel Bowl of Cherries (Grove/McSweeney's, $14) is a "smart, zany comedy" that brings to mind the works of Kurt Vonnegut, Joseph Heller and Woody Allen, according to Ron Charles.

· Unruly Americans and the Origins of the Constitution (Hill & Wang, $15), by Woody Holton, a 2007 National Book Award finalist, is a "lively, provocative" and persuasive book that "disputes the idea that the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution to protect civil liberties," wrote Pauline Maier.

· Janet Malcolm's dual biography of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Two Lives (Yale Univ., $13), is "a meditation on literature and morality, built around the disquieting fact that Stein and Toklas, both Jewish, remained in Europe throughout World War II without either hiding or being swept up in the Holocaust," wrote Meryle Secrest.

Nora Krug is Book World's paperback columnist.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company