By Jonathon Van Maren
When people ask me to recommend books that explain our strange times, a few immediately come to mind. To understand the current gender insanity, Abigal Shrier’s Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters; on the abortion debate, Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing by Alexandra DeSanctis and Ryan T. Anderson; and to grasp the ways in which the sexual revolution has transformed our politics at every level, Mary Eberstadt’s Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics. There are at least a dozen others on my list as well. Again, we live in a strange new world, and it helps to have maps.
But if I had to limit my recommendation to a single book that explains what has happened to Western civilization from a historical and intellectual point of view, I would urge you to read Carl Trueman’s Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution, published earlier this year by Crossway.
Trueman is a professor and historian who teaches at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, where one of his areas of scholarly interest is the “rise and impact of modern notions of selfhood on contemporary culture.” That research resulted in the publication, two years ago, of his 400-page The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. It is a dense, powerful read, and it put Trueman on the map not only as a historian of ideas, but as the man capable of explaining our current moment. In a world gone mad, Trueman has answers.
Strange New World is a condensed version of his 2020 offering for a broader, less philosophically inclined audience. It is eminently accessible and should be widely read by anyone who wishes to grasp our historical moment. Not many historians become famous, but Trueman’s work is having something of a moment. The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, who interviewed Trueman for his documentary What is a Woman?, referred to him recently as one of the most important public thinkers alive. I’ve seen Trueman’s work cited all over the place recently, and he’s been making the long-form podcast rounds; most recently appearing on the British show Triggernometry.
In the space of 208 pages, Trueman explains how sex, gender, and how one ‘presents’ became an expression of the inner self—of ‘my truth’—and how social recognition of that public-facing inner self became a fundamentally political project. As Ryan T. Anderson noted in his foreword, Trueman has laid out, both historically and philosophically, “how the person became the self, the self became sexualized, and sex became politicized.” With the personal becoming political in a literal sense, every public space has become a battleground, with any refusal to recognize someone’s subjective truth being seen as akin to violence. The cultural implications of this are obvious and everywhere.