Mobile Apps and Smartphones Pose A Clear and Present Danger

By Dr. Stephen Bryen

The modern smartphone combines significant computing power made up of a very fast microprocessor and graphics engine plus memory with a host of sensors and radios, including GPS.

The cameras are high resolution and compete with digital cameras and in some cases outperform them. And the device’s sensors, including at least two microphones, guarantee the possibility of an intruder listening to conversations, even when the user thinks the smartphone is turned off.

In fact, so long as there is a battery in a smartphone, a type of malware known as a “spy phone” can switch the phone on, and record and transmit conversations. Spy phone apps can be planted on phones in a variety of way, or even built in by third-party device makers.

You can buy a spy phone on the web or from an app outlet although most of those sold commercially require manual installation and lack the attributes of a professional-grade version.

These can either be engineered into the smartphone from the point of manufacture. They can also be slipped in through an app or a vulnerability in the phone’s operating system, or by human error – the result of a phishing attack.

There is, in practice almost no way to mitigate the spy phone risk. Many modern smartphones, to keep them thin and gain the maximum screen coverage, have sealed in batteries that cannot be removed or serviced. This means that an embedded spy phone can take it over at any time without the user being able to kill the phone.

Sensitive meetings

The best strategy is not to take a smartphone into sensitive meetings, but this “strategy” only blocks out the conversations in the meeting, not the spy phone capability itself.

At the Pentagon and other government agencies in the United States, users are asked to put their smartphones in a storage box if they attend a classified meeting.

Certainly, this is only a half measure, since otherwise, the phone can record just about any activity, a boon to foreign spies who want to know more about the Pentagon players, and the plans and programs that otherwise are hidden from view.

Even the White House, until a few weeks ago was not restricting personal smartphones at all but now, the chief of staff, General John F. Kelly, has banned the White House staff use of personal smartphones.

Unfortunately, for the White House, and probably across the US government, banning personal smartphones is coming rather too late.

By now, foreign spying agencies and many others already have picked off lots of information, such as phone books and call logs, emails and text messages and plenty of passwords as well as other sensitive personal information that can be exploited.

In fact, the smartphone has created an unprecedented bonanza for foreign spy agencies, investigators, government agencies and commercial enterprises seeking a leg up in a competition for getting their hands on sensitive technology.

Consider, as an example, the US Patent Office. Workers there who have smartphones open a window on Patent Office activity that can tip off a spy agency or a techno-bandit to new developments that might be of great military or commercial significance. This applies especially to patents that the US Government may choose to classify and not openly publish.

A Google Play Store logo is seen on an Android portable device on February 5, 2018. (Photo by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto) Reports claim that Iran is planting apps on Google’s Play Store. Photo: AFP / Jaap Arriens / NurPhoto
America is very slow to wake up to the danger and other countries are equally insensitive to the risks. This past week, the FBI, CIA and NSA gave another warning about certain Chinese smartphones made by Huawei and ZTE.

But most smartphones are made, in whole or in part in China, so the possibility of infecting them at the point of manufacture looms large for virtually all models.

This, of course, is only the beginning of risks to smartphones. Some manufacturers openly embed software into the phones they sell loaded with advertising apps that pop up here and there and often annoy users.

Probably, it is a good rule that the cheaper the phone is at the point of sale the more likely it is going to loaded with junk apps. But this rule of thumb doesn’t mean that other apps can’t be bugged and still promoted by top manufacturers.

The truth is there is no systematic or sound vetting system to clean out junkware and spyware, and sometimes it is impossible to delete – or can only be partially deleted or disabled leaving behind the really bad stuff.

Software for phones, including operating systems, is full of bugs and vulnerabilities. For example, many modern smartphones come with sophisticated photo editing and location-linked APPS, and these can be, and sometimes are, not only bugged but infected.

Software codes, including operating systems, are often put together with various elements, some old, some new and some from third parties. Especially popular is so-called community-sourced code, which is available free of charge, and some of these and algorithms wind up in smartphones.

The Heartbleed Bug got on to smartphones and computers in precisely this way. In this case, the major vulnerability compromised SSL encryption, the type commonly used for secure email and for banking and credit card transactions.

Unknown sources

Worse still, industry was relying on what it calls “Open SSL” for cryptography, in other words, relying on encryption coming from unknown sources for security.

Encryption from unknown sources is not only inherently dangerous because its sources are not known and there is no accountability. But it is especially reckless to use this code in a security application.

But it gets worse. Most commercial software and operating systems are produced by teams of programmers from around the world without any solid way to detect bugs and malware.

Still, it is interesting to note that the Pentagon recently identified three phones as safe: the Samsung’s Galaxy phone with Knox (a type of security partition), Apple’s iPhone and the latest Blackberry. How the Pentagon came to this conclusion is impossible to say.

But the Pentagon has put itself into a deep, dark hole because it is relying on smartphones and smartphone technology for combat missions, for drones and for other systems and it still allows private smartphones in the Pentagon, government laboratories and military bases (not to mention on the premises of defense contractors).

Secretary of Defense James Mattis is said to want to ban smartphones, but he has not yet acted. He should do so, but he also should clean out all the smartphones and related devices from the US military arsenal.

Then there is the probability of third-party apps. The Google Play Store and the Apple Store feature thousands of apps of all kinds, including even spy phones. Neither company has either the manpower or the skill to properly vet apps that show up in its outlets. Thus it is caveat emptor for users, but even they can make mistakes.

What is really needed is a far better security system for smartphones. It is up to governments to provide leadership to make this happen. Unfortunately, the incentives are perverse, because too many governments are invested too heavily in the spy business, so they don’t want to wake up and address the threat.

Dr. Stephen Bryen is the author of the new book, “Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers” (Transaction Publishers).

Dr. Stephen Bryen has 40 years of leadership in government and industry. He has served as a senior staff director of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Trade Security Policy, as the founder and first director of the Defense Technology Security Administration, as the President of Delta Tech Inc., as the President of Finmeccanica North America, and as a Commissioner of the U.S. China Security Review Commission.

Dr. Bryen’s expertise and high effectiveness has earned him the highest civilian awards of the U.S. Defense Department on two occasions and established him as a proven government, civic and business leader in Washington D.C. and internationally. Dr. Bryen is regarded as a thought leader on technology security policy.


Obama and the FBI —Guilty!

Two recent events starkly highlight the blatant failure of institutions in the US—The White House and the FBI.

In the White House case, the Obama Administration failed to act on known Russian meddling in the US political process long before Trump even announced he was running for the Presidency.

Note Britbart News

Britbart reports quoting Politico :

The Obama administration received multiple warnings from national security officials between 2014 and 2016 that the Kremlin was ramping up its intelligence operations and building disinformation networks it could use to disrupt the U.S. political system, according to more than half a dozen current and former officials.

As early as 2014, the administration received a report that quoted a well-connected Russian source as saying that the Kremlin was building a disinformation arm that could be used to interfere in Western democracies. The report, according to an official familiar with it, included a quote from the Russian source telling U.S. officials in Moscow, “You have no idea how extensive these networks are in Europe … and in the U.S., Russia has penetrated media organizations, lobbying firms, political parties, governments and militaries in all of these places.”

That report was circulated among the National Security Council, intelligence agencies and the State Department via secure email and cable in the spring of 2014 as part of a larger assessment of Russian intentions in Ukraine, the official said.

Note Wall Street Journal Editorial

The indictment also makes us wonder what the Obama Administration was doing amid all of this. Where were top Obama spooks James Clapper and John Brennan ? Their outrage became public only after their candidate lost the election. If they didn’t know what was going on, why not? And if they did, why didn’t they let Americans in on the secret? President Obama sanctioned Russia for its meddling only after the election.’

And numerous media have carried the admission by the FBI that they failed to act on the recent high school shooting tragedy . They were contacted last September and again in January by what was suppose to be a tip line. Some tip line! And The police had visited the house of the alleged shooter 39 times .

So if America needs investigations where there is actual evidence as opposed to political motivated theatrics —here is Exhibit A and Exibit B—-Obama’s White House and Justice Department and today’s FBI.

This Is How Far Political Correctness Had Gone. Perhaps The People Are Taking Action.

Evergreen College To Drop It’s Racially Exclusionary “Day Of Absence” Event As Applications Drop Significantly

February 19, 2018 Jonthan Turley

‘Many of us were critical of the decisions of Evergreen State College in not just its holding of it “Day of Absence” event were whites were expected to leave campus but its treatment of Biology professor Bret Weinstein who was hounded out of the college (and later received a $500,000 settlement for his mistreatment). The school has also been criticized for racial exclusions of authors in the school newspaper.

Now there is a report that Evergreen could be heading in the same direction of the University of Missouri, which has seen a massive drop in applications in the wake of controversial decisions in race-related controversies. Evergreen reportedly expects a 20 percent decrease in admissions even as it replaces its “Day of Absence” event. There is now a proposed “inclusion” course. The Administration and faculty were remarkably slow in adjusting its course, which seemed to abandon Weinstein and embrace racial exclusionary principles. It is still early to determine if Evergreen will experience the disastrous “Mizzou Effect.”

The treatment of Weinstein was highly disconcerting. He made a reasoned objection to the plan for this year’s “Day of Absence.” As shown in a videotape, there was a mob scene around Weinstein as students called him a racist and called for his resignation. Protests have denounced his “anti-blackness” and demanded his removal from teaching. Rather than rally around their colleague and the principle of academic freedom, the faculty at Evergreen State College has sent a letter to students supporting the protesters and their demands for disciplinary action of Prof. Weinstein. The faculty called for none of the students to be disciplined under “the misguided language of the current Student Conduct Code.” The letter also calls for actions to counter “alt-right narratives that are demonizing Evergreen and Day of Absence specifically.”

Evergreen’s administrators and faculty succeeded in securing a position for the school as one of the worst institution in terms of free speech in America.

The controversial request for white faculty and students to leave for the “Day of Absence” is now gone. A new course designed to explore diversity of views and values has been proposed.

Evergreen may be able to weather this downturn. It generated less publicity as Mizzou but the administration and faculty have served their institution and students poorly in the last couple years.’

Papa Trudeau’s National Energy Program Rears Its Ugly Head , Thanks To Junior !

And thank God for Jack Mintz . I have been saying for years now how bad our Priceling’s policies really are. I am glad I have a energy policy soul mate.

Here is Jack’s latest timely article in the National Post:

‘For the first time in many years, the federal government is stoking Western alienation as it proves unable to find its way in promoting resource development and access to export markets for Canadian energy, while trying to balance environmental considerations. The prime minister calls the dispute between Alberta and British Columbia — over B.C.’s attempt to ban shipments carrying Alberta’s oil from the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion claiming a fear of oil spills — a “disagreement between provinces.” That ignores the constitutional role the federal government has in interprovincial transportation and trade. Alberta’s Premier Rachel Notley is right: This is as much a fight between B.C. and the federal government as it is between Alberta and B.C.

In fairness, the federal Liberals have said they still support the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and vow to see it built. It’s a promise that won’t help the Liberals garner many votes in Vancouver, but perhaps the Trudeau government is quietly hoping the pipeline’s owner, Kinder Morgan, gives up in frustration, for “business reasons,” as other resource project proponents have done recently after enduring endless regulatory and political setbacks.

A constitutional conflict looms. The federal government may oversee interprovincial transport and trade, but it shares oversight powers with the provinces when on the environment. So B.C. can at least say it has a right to regulate against oil spills. What sticks in Alberta’s craw — and should for the federal government, too — is that federal regulators have already vouched for the safety of Trans Mountain’s shipments. Everywhere on the planet, oil leaves harbours with an almost perfect safety record and Kinder Morgan’s processes are to be world-class. Trans Mountain has been shipping oil through Vancouver for decades.

The problem for the Trudeau government is its inconsistency. It banned tankers off the more remote B.C. northern coast and refused to allow pipelines in the Great Bear Forest for reasons that were entirely political, not scientific. Vancouver residents opposed to Trans Mountain naturally wonder why they can’t have that, too.

The Liberals also oversaw the demise of the Energy East plan, which would have brought Alberta oil to Quebec and the Atlantic, replacing imported oil as well as providing new opportunities to diversify markets with tidewater access. The economics might have been dicey, but if the federal government really wanted the project to succeed it could have helped by providing regulatory certainty and fiscal assistance, just as it does for Quebec’s aerospace and Ontario auto plants. Instead, it backed away in the face of noisy protests from Quebec.

Meanwhile, as Canadian politicians dithered over liquefied natural gas projects that would have seen overseas markets opened to gas from Alberta and B.C., the U.S. and Australia got busy constructing multiple plants of their own. After both federal and provincial regulatory delays and B.C.’s decision to devise new rent taxes specifically for LNG, Malaysia’s Petronas eventually cancelled the only project that could have conceivably made it over the line with the right push. People tried blaming it on “business reasons,” as the price of gas had slipped. But now, Asian LNG prices are recovering, close to $14 per Mcf, making LNG profitable on a long-term basis to replace thermal coal or nuclear power.

The parts of Western Canada that rely on energy are beginning to relive the consequences of Pierre Trudeau’s disastrous National Energy Program

The parts of Western Canada that rely on energy — Alberta, Saskatchewan and B.C.’s interior — are beginning to relive the consequences of Pierre Trudeau’s disastrous National Energy Program of 1980–85. The NEP, which hit the West just as commodity prices were falling, led to one of the largest income transfers in history, from the West to Central and Eastern Canada. Western energy producers were forced to pay an export tax to fund subsidies to make life cheaper for energy-guzzling consumers to the east. This time, the income isn’t being transferred from the West to Eastern Canada. It’s being transferred from Canada to the United States.

With access to tidewater frustrated, the U.S. remains Canada’s sole export market for oil and gas. Tight pipeline capacity and increased reliance on more costly (and potentially more dangerous) rail transportation has forced Western producers to suffer deep discounts. The spread between Canadian and U.S. oil prices rises with the tightness of the constraints and it now sits at US$25 instead of a more normal US$10 per barrel. If the spread continues for a whole year, the cost to the Canadian economy will be roughly $23 billion. (Already the average discount had cost Canada roughly $15 billion from 2015–17.)

Proposed pipeline regulations shouldn’t start a ‘trade war:’ B.C. premier
Andrew Coyne: It’s time for national leadership on pipelines — that’s why we created a federal government
And based on current Asian LNG prices, Canada could have sold natural gas at least twice the price it currently fetches in the U.S. There’s up to roughly $6 billion annually in value-added in the long term if we had LNG capacity for export.

So today, thanks to government policy and indecision, American consumers enjoying subsidies paid for by Western Canadians. It was bad enough when it was Western Canada subsidizing the rest of the country. It’s ludicrous that Westerners are being forced to subsidize economically booming Trump-land. And it’s not even the Americans’ fault: It’s Canada’s.

No other major western oil-exporting country — not Norway, not the U.K., not Australia — shackles its resource industry with death-killing regulations and taxes as they adopt tougher carbon policies. They all manage to find a proper balance between environmental and resource development objectives without destroying the energy-rich regions that fuel their economic engines. The federal Liberals need to find that balance, fast. Otherwise, Trudeau will find himself accused of creating an NEP 2.0, with all the terrible regional tensions that brings. They’re already starting.

Jack Mintz is president’s fellow at the University of Calgary School of Public Policy.

Culture Of Victimhood—-Judge Clarence Thomas

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, during a Library of Congress interview, slammed a culture of people who believe themselves to be victims of hardship.

Thomas made the observation in relating a story about a young black woman he had encountered. She said, ‘I’m really tired of having to play the role of being black. I just want to go to school.’ And I think at some point, we’re going to be fatigued with everybody being the victim,” Thomas said in the interview.

“When I was a kid, there were tons of people who were in really bad circumstances. My grandfather would not let us wallow in that… he never saw himself as a victim,” Thomas said.

The justice offered praise for his grandfather during the interview, calling him “the single greatest human being I have ever met.”

His grandfather never complained, despite years of hardship during his childhood.

“He would always say — he would have this saying. When you would want to whine or something, he would say, you know, you have to play the hand you’re dealt… if you’re dealt a bad hand, you still have to play it,” Thomas said.

He noted that a bust sits in his office with a quote from his grandfather. “Old Man Can’t is dead. I helped bury him,” the bust reads, Thomas said during the interview.

At another point during the interview, Thomas said that judicial nominees’ confirmation hearings have become “spectacles.”

“These are serious jobs, and they should be serious. I don’t think they should become spectacles. This is not the Roman Colosseum. We’re not gladiators,” Thomas said in the interview, the Washington Examiner reported.

Mueller Did Not Indict The Russians For Meddling In Election! Why?

Now here is an interesting viewpoint! From lawyer John Hinderaker of Power Line Website:



I wrote here about Robert Mueller’s indictment of 13 Russian citizens and three Russian companies. The indictment is an odd one, as I pointed out:

Its very first paragraph recites that it is against the law for foreign nationals to spend money to influence US elections, or for agents of foreign countries to engage in political activities without registering.

But no one is charged with these crimes.

Instead, the indictment is devoted mostly to charging a “conspiracy to defraud the United States.” Normally, that would refer to defrauding the U.S. out of, say, $10,000 in Medicare benefits. Its application to the 2016 election seems dubious. Beyond that, the indictment charges relatively minor offenses: bank fraud (opening accounts in false names) and identity theft.

I have continued to puzzle over why Mueller chose not to indict the Russians for their most obvious offenses. I think the answer lies in this column by Robert Barnes, titled “Does Mueller Indictment Mean Clinton Campaign Can Be Indicted for Chris Steele?”

Barnes’s column is off the mark, I think, because it is written as though Mueller did indict the Russians for improper meddling in a U.S. election:

‘Special Counsel Robert Mueller indicted foreign citizens for trying to influence the American public about an election because those citizens did not register as a foreign agent nor record their financial expenditures to the Federal Elections Commission. By that theory, when will Mueller indict Christopher Steele, FusionGPS, PerkinsCoie, the DNC and the Clinton Campaign?’

Actually, Mueller indicted the Russians only for violating 18 U.S.C. §371 (conspiracy to defraud the United States), §§ 1343 and 1344 (wire fraud and bank fraud), and §1082(A) (identity theft). He did not indict them for violating 52 U.S.C. §30121 (contributions and donations by foreign nationals). The question is, why not? Here, I think Barnes supplies the answer, although again I do not think his explanation is technically accurate.

This is the relevant language of 52 U.S.C. §30121, which covers “meddling” in U.S. elections by foreign nationals:

(a) Prohibition: It shall be unlawful for—

(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—

(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election;

(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or

(C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or

(2) a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.

The Russians obviously violated this statute; they spent millions of dollars to promote the candidacies of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Jill Stein, and to oppose the candidacies of Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio.

So why weren’t they charged with the most pertinent crime they committed?

Because Christopher Steele arguably violated the same law. He is a foreign national, and he contributed a “thing of value” to the Hillary Clinton campaign, namely the fake dossier.

Note, too, Section (2): it is a crime to “solicit, accept, or receive” such a contribution from a foreign national. Isn’t that what the Perkins, Coie law firm, the Clinton campaign, the DNC, and probably Hillary herself, did?

The FEC guidance on contributions by foreign nationals is interesting. There is a “volunteer exception”; i.e., foreign nationals can volunteer their services to a political campaign. But Steele wasn’t a volunteer.

I don’t doubt that election lawyers could come up with defenses for Christopher Steele, were he to be charged with violating §30121. But that is a can of worms that Mueller didn’t want to open.

Too many people know the facts behind the Steele dossier, and if he had charged the Russians with meddling in the presidential election under §30121, he soon would have faced questions about why he didn’t indict Steele–and Glenn Simpson, Perkins, Coie, Clinton campaign officials, and perhaps Clinton–for the same offense.

It was in order to avoid that pitfall, I suspect, that Mueller overlooked the most relevant federal offense that the Russians committed, and instead charged them with a vague “conspiracy to defraud,” along with wire fraud, bank fraud and identity theft. The first charge is entirely discretionary on Mueller’s part, and Steele didn’t commit wire fraud, bank fraud or identity theft.

I think that is why Mueller chose not to indict the Russians for meddling in a U.S. presidential election.

Big Essay Number Seven

This essay is taken from The Imaginative Conservative Website where many good essays can be found. Although this talks about the ten books before graduation, they are books that , if you missed up to now, are still invaluable reads.

Of course, I am partial to more Greek , Plato and Sophocles and Homer in particular. Shakespeare is my all time favourite, Wordsworth is a close second. Emily Bronte’s Wurthering Heights and much of Hardy I like. Joseph Conrad and Tolstoy are amazing —-there are many more —-that I will highlight from time to time.

‘10 Books You Need to Read Before Graduation

By Jessica Hooten Wilson

To read is to become a seraphim, a polyglot, a beneficent hydra. We become more ourselves. We become better selves, better souls. We transcend being merely thinking machines or gluttonous beasts but transform into creative creatures who love, give, and are nourished by beauty…

“If you don’t read good books, you will read bad ones,” C. S. Lewis writes.

We may need to update Lewis’s claim for the twenty-first-century reader, for those who do not read good books will not necessarily read bad ones, but may—in not knowing why or what they should read—substitute books entirely with hours of video streaming and gaming. Lewis proposes that we are cultural creatures, which is true, but too often we neglect culture for entertainment.

Good books provide both: good entertainment and good enculturation.

Why Read

These are easy arguments for a bibliophile to make, and most people will not deny these truths; they just don’t live according to them. The world is full of distractions. To find time to read is to win a battle against the cotton-candy pleasure of binge-watching against the litany of emails and projects and never-ending tasks of our work, against the monotony of Facebook posts and Twitter messages.

First, we all know that reading makes us better. We’ve heard it from teachers; we’ve read the apologies for reading online, but more so, we have felt them ourselves. We remember the exaltation when Harry Potter plunges the Gryffindor sword through the Basilisk’s head. Or when Mr. Darcy overcomes his pride and saves Lydia Bennett from a life of exile. When we think of what it means to forgive, we recall To Kill a Mockingbird or The Color Purple. When we worry over the seemingly limitless reach of government’s power, perhaps we turn again to Brave New World or Oryx and Crake.

We would be emaciated souls should we manage the adventure of life with only one set of eyes. How meager to face all the various hardships and gray moral areas with only our limited vision of the world! We need the eyes of Odysseus, Wordsworth, Nietzsche, and Toni Morrison.

As Lewis also famously attested, “In reading I become a thousand [people] and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, yet it is still I who see.”

To read is to become a seraphim, a polyglot, a beneficent hydra. We become more ourselves. We become better selves, better souls. We transcend being merely thinking machines or gluttonous beasts but transform into creative creatures who love, give, and are nourished by beauty.

What to Read

When I was young, I thought working in a bookstore would be the perfect job for me. I could spend every day helping people find the book they wanted. Like Ira and Barry from City Slickers, who could find the right ice cream flavor for every meal, I would concoct the most fitting story for each reader. “Oh, you love Lord of the Rings? Well, have you tried Dr. Strange and Mr. Norrell?”

It turns out that teaching fulfills at least part of this fantasy. Each semester, I have the opportunity to craft a reading list for my students, one that will delight and edify them. I change books constantly—having so many to choose from throughout time and space—usually determining some sort of theme to our reading. We may discuss “Love” one term, or “Metamorphosis,” or “Power,” and thus the titles change.

Yet there are three books that I teach every year and six or seven more that I routinely recommend to students to read before they graduate. These are timeless works, and as much as I am a fan of contemporary literature, I agree with Lewis again: “It is a good rule after reading a new book, never to allow yourself another new one until you have read an old one in between.”

Rather than list the titles chronologically, I’ll rank them preferentially.

10 Books Every College Student Should Read

1. Dante’s The Divine Comedy

If you have only read “The Inferno,” you have not read Dante’s Comedy.

No matter how funny it is to witness a devil play the bugle with his backside, the “comedy” in the title refers not to hell but to the happily ever after of universal participation in the beatific vision that occurs in Paradiso. Unless you’re in a Satanic cult, do not let the sight of Lucifer be the end of your journey. Make the hard progress up the purgatorial mountain in the second volume and devote time to the beauty of paradise—whether you comprehend the final volume or not, it is a blessing to savor its poetry.

Each canto, or song, can be read by itself, so while the three volumes appear overwhelming, you can go bit by bit, slowly, with only ten minutes a night. Try Anthony Esolen’s translation. Thankfully, he provides the Italian on one page, the English on the other, and a host of helpful notes about Italian politics and Christian theology.

Through Dante’s 14,000-line poem, we experience transformation, moving from the dark woods into the light. If we are lost and afraid, the poem shows us the way out.

Perhaps this is why writers have written memoirs such as How Dante Can Save Your Life. I read the poem every year, though I will admit that the first time I was asked to read it I found it confusing and overwhelming. Do not let that thwart you. In class, after we read the final lines, I suggest to students, “Now, you are ready to read the poem.”

2. Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov

I struggled ranking Dante over Dostoevsky; I consider them of equal weight. There has never been a better novel written, in any language, than The Brothers Karamazov. The novel is a mystery, but it is unlike any mystery you have ever read, for we know the murder victim from the beginning. The question becomes: Who of us does not desire his death? Even the reader becomes implicated in the guilt of the narrative as we all must recognize our penchant for evil, our damning quest for acting as our own authority, and our discouraging attraction to violence.

This novel draws you in to participate with the characters. We dialogue with each of them and get to know them personally, as though they live and breathe and are drinking vodka in our living room. At the end of the story, we have been shown our failings, but we have also been shown how to die to self and rise again in a new way. The epigraph of the novel is from the Gospel of John: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

The novel embodies the truth of these words.

3. St. Augustine’s Confessions

Recently, Hollywood misfit Russell Brand converted to Christianity. He explains, “Crack houses and these dens of suffering and illicit activity, they’re all people trying to feel good, trying to feel connected. People are trying to escape. People are trying to get out of their own heads. To me this is a spiritual impetus.”

As Augustine would say, the heart is restless until it rests in God. Augustine’s spiritual autobiography is the first of its kind. It begins with his birth, follows his education and then his pursuit of many other pleasures in life, to his conversion to Christianity, where he finally finds rest.

The reason his autobiography maintains such power more than 1,500 years after it was written is because of its honesty. Augustine does not shy away from “confession” of his disordered loves, despite his position as bishop of Hippo, which he held when writing the book. Every other autobiography and memoir draws—knowingly or not—from Augustine’s story.

4. Virgil’s The Aeneid

Arma virumque cano: so begins the great adventure of Aeneas as he travels from Troy to found the empire of Rome.

The opening line plagiarizes both Homer’s Odyssey and his Illiad. The Roman poet Virgil attempted to outdo both Greek bestsellers with his one epic, so that the first six books read as a rewrite of Odysseus’s adventures, and the second six recount battles and war to outdo the tales of the Illiad.

That is not to say you should forego reading the other two classics—I alternate annually between teaching one of the three. Virgil’s classic did have a long-lasting influence on Western culture. People used to flip open their copies of The Aeneid and point their finger downward on a line, expecting prophecy. Then they’d apply the verse to their lives. Virgil is Dante’s guide through The Divine Comedy, and Augustine struggles with the emotional pull in the love story between Dido and Aeneas.

Unlike Odysseus, who is a trickster and deceiver, or the hero Achilles, who pursues self-valorization above all, Aeneas’s epithet is “pious Aeneas” because he searches out the most pious choice each moment of his journey.

A meme passed around among English teachers from the journalist Joseph Sobran laments, “In 100 years we have gone from teaching Latin and Greek in high school to teaching Remedial English in college.” The Classics are foundational, not just for our language but more so for our character. These epic stories show us how to live as pious individuals and as those within a community composed of history, the present, the future, and transcendent ends.

5. Shakespeare’s Richard III

How to recommend one Shakespeare play?

When I was a young girl, my father placed a small statue of Henry V on our breakfast table one Saturday morning. Then he opened his leather-bound, gold-leafed-page edition of Shakespeare’s play and read “The St. Crispin’s Day Speech”: “This story shall the good man teach his son….”

I recited the speech to a group of colleagues one evening at a banquet, about a decade later, on Father’s Day, commemorating both the holiday and that group of special individuals gathered there for dinner. Shakespeare’s words are timeless and infinitely transferable, which is why you have dozens of film adaptations each year, from the Baz Luhrmann approach to the phenomenal BBC series “The Hollow Crown.” Prisons put on productions of Shakespeare to aid inmates in rehabilitation; elementary schools cast students in roles where they speak lines that make no sense to the children but become ingrained in their memory.

When I taught fourth grade in a classical private school, I had a dozen nine-year-olds deliver Shakespearean monologues that both they and I will never forget. The bard is too often poorly taught in high school and forgotten by the majority of students who read his plays with difficulty, hear his lines as confusing and lackluster, and miss the vitality and beauty of his words.

If I could recommend one play to students, I would choose Richard III. Few have read it, but it teaches us so much about the lust for power, the machinations of campaigning leaders to deceive the masses, the misuse of religion, and the fickleness of selfish rulers. Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance is one of the best that I have seen. However, for a trip into a twentieth-century rendition, watch Ian McKellen’s version, where Richard III is a Nazi.

6. John Milton’s Paradise Lost

At universities across the country—Notre Dame, Princeton, Duke, and others—students and faculty gather for marathon readings of John Milton’s seventeenth-century epic Paradise Lost. Our university held one in 2016.

From early Saturday morning to midevening, students read a section at a time each hour and passed the poem from hand to hand, meditating on the poet’s words and traveling through hell, heaven, and Eden, where they witnessed the fall of human beings. Milton’s verses sound as if they were meant to be read aloud; his daughters transcribed the poem as Milton dictated it, hence its aural resonance. Thus, the lines are beautifully received without need for dissection or explication.

Poor Milton himself desired to become a great politician, but the chaos of the Civil War in England placed him outside monarchial favor. His poem is a result of political exile as well as physical suffering—he went blind. When the first parents both eat of the tree of knowledge, they begin pointing fingers at each other. Milton writes, “The fruitless hours, but neither self-condemning. And of their vain contest appeared no end.” Here Milton implies that one must begin by confessing, “I am the problem.”

Only from that position can one move forward—in arguments, in relationships, as well as in civil society.

7. Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories

Every list of recommended books is biased, and here is my biased choice—Flannery O’Connor’s Complete Stories is my favorite book.

However, I did not rank this title first because I do not think I could recognize the value of O’Connor’s stories without the treasure of the previous stories. There would be no Wise Blood (O’Connor’s first novel) without the Greek classics. There would be no “Revelation” without Dante. In a sense, O’Connor’s stories are a rewriting of the great stories—from the Bible to Dostoevsky—set in the twentieth-century South.

Her stories are not edifying in the usual sense. No one wants to turn her words into moral platitudes. However, they hold a mirror up to the reader and ask that one sees herself in a dark light. They show us as we are—freaks under construction—and the view is not flattering. A reader closes a Flannery O’Connor story with either attraction or revulsion, sometimes both, but the one who returns will be as transformed as the one who journeys with Augustine or Aeneas.

8. Frederick Douglass’s Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass

The year 2018 marks the two hundredth anniversary of Frederick Douglass’s birth. American students cannot do without reading the Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass.

And once they read his story, they would do well to then read other phenomenal writers who are too often dismissed from the canon: Martin Luther King Jr., Toni Morrison, Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin, or contemporary poets such as Marilyn Nelson and Kevin Young. I would also like to recommend highly Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy, but, as it is not “literature” per se, I have left it out of my top ten. However, Stevenson’s book left a strong impression on me and brought up memories of Douglass’s autobiography, which I first read as a high school student. The story removes any misconceptions we have about suffering and struggle.

While we too often think of happiness as apart from pain, theologian Eleonore Stump once countered, Can you think of a single noteworthy individual who was born with a silver spoon, never encountered adversity, and died with all pleasures having been fulfilled? No, as Douglass’s life reminds us, it is our response to suffering that makes life worth living.

Douglass writes, “Those who profess to favor freedom and yet depreciate agitation, are people who want crops without ploughing the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning; they want the ocean without the roar of its many waters. The struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, or it may be both. But it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.”

9. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s Poetry

Every person should spend time reading poetry and memorizing it.

In Russia all elementary students have a storehouse of poetry memorized. And consider Seabiscuit, where you watch Red Pollard overcome the difficulties of his life by reciting verses. Poetry gives us words for mysteries: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

Poems defamiliarize what we’ve made too familiar (Hopkins describes clouds as “wind-walks”), so that we search deeper into problems and do not accept our knowledge as the limit of understanding. The nineteenth-century poet’s work will sound modern to our ears, despite its employment of the sonnet form.

His work did not see publication until many years after his death, but Hopkins’s poetry influenced many of the great twentieth-century voices, such as Seamus Heaney, W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and Christian Wiman. Memorizing “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” will open up the world to you and make you see again and pay attention. Also, sign up for the poem-a-day email from the Poetry Foundation and read a new poem each day in your inbox.

10. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago

The year 2018 is also the hundredth anniversary of Solzhenitsyn’s birth. This Nobel Laureate was praised in the 1970s and then fell out of favor because of his criticisms of the West.

By the early 1990s, the Soviet Union had collapsed, and readers wondered about the significance of his work, which, by and large, categorized the atrocities of Russian communism. In Elie Wiesel’s memoir of the Holocaust, Night, the author demands, “Never shall I forget” the evil committed. Solzhenitsyn agrees and adds to our memory—the names of those who suffered and died and the hope they held and flamed. It reminds us that “the line dividing good and evil” does not run between people or nations but “cuts through the heart of every human being.”

The book is a literary experiment, becoming a footstool of mixed genre texts. Its import and relevance exceeds historical value. Rather, like the Holocaust memoirs of Wiesel or Anne Frank or Primo Levi, Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago (thankfully, there is an abridged version available!) recounts human heroism that should not be forgotten.’

Republished with gracious permission from the Intercollegiate Review (Spring 2018). The Imaginative Conservative applies the principle of appreciation to the discussion of culture and politics—we approach dialogue with magnanimity rather than with mere civility. Will you help us remain a refreshing oasis in the increasingly contentious arena of modern discourse? Please consider donating now.