"The Moral Compass: A Companion to 'The Book of Virtues,' " edited by William J. Bennett (Simon & Schuster, 824 pp.; $30, hardcover); "The Family Book of Christian Values," edited by Stuart and Jill Briscoe (Chariot, 512 pp.; $24.99, hardcover); "The Christian's Treasury," edited by Lissa Roche (Crossway, 556 pp.; $25, hardcover). Reviewed by Frederica Mathewes-Green, author of "Real Choices: Offering Practical, Life-affirming Alternatives to Abortion" (Questar).

Once upon a time, a mighty Book ventured forth into the world. It was a volume of moral instruction. Many such litter bookstore shelves: slim things with wide margins, whimsical covers, and lots of curly italics.

But this book disdained such frivolity. It was 800 pages long and weighed enough to brain a medium-sized dragon. It aimed at nothing less than displaying the very best stories and poems that could be found, spanning the world and the centuries. (Best? What a quaint notion.) These stories weren't only to be heartwarming or entertaining; they were to teach enduring moral principles. And to make its anachronistic claims unmistakable, this compendium was called "The Book of Virtues," a title redolent of the Victorian Age.

A book could be written about what happened next. William Bennett had tapped a deep, public longing for goodness. Parents, in particular, felt an urgent need to protect their children from a chaotic and immoral cultural milieu, and this book offered rock-solid, timeless wisdom. "The Book of Virtues" easily ascended to the top of Bestseller Mountain and enjoyed a fine long stay.

You do not have to be a wizard, or even a marketing maven, to know what comes next. "The ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.