Frosted window panes, candles gleaming inside, painted candy canes on the tree. Santa’s on his way, and has filled his sleigh—with some good book recommendations from friends and colleagues of the Claremont Institute…
Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Senior Political Analyst, Washington Examiner
America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century—Why America's Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus
A stirring vision of a decentralized, functional future America, based on the Anglosphere's centuries-old absolute nuclear family.
The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class, by Fred Siegel
How American liberals turned against the people whose interests they claim to champion, starting in the 1960s and culminating in the Obama years.
The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, by Gregory Zuckerman
How daring—and not always successful—capitalists vastly expanded America's usable supplies of oil and natural gas, despite the disdain of big government and big energy companies.
Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, by Tyler Cowen
A bracing and in some respects chilling look at how economic growth will change America.
And of course my own Shaping Our Nation: How Surges of Migration Transformed America and Its Politics
The story of how America has been peopled in very large part by surges of migration, internal as well as immigrant, from the Scots-Irish of the eighteenth century to today.
Fletcher Jones Professor of Political Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College
One book to read this year is Robert George's Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism. Its essays give a good sense of his thinking about natural law generally, and specific issues such as the liberal arts, and marriage.
On questions of enlightenment, religion, and secularism generally, Enlightenment and Secularism: Essays on the Mobilization of Reason, edited by my colleague Christopher Nadon, contains many fine chapters on authors from Machiavelli to Freud.
Those who wish to gain a sense of some of the hopes, expectations and views of today's intellectually inclined physicists should read David Deutsch's The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes—and Its Implications, published in 1998, but still fresh.
This cold bath might be followed by a still colder one, Martin Heidegger's Zollikon Seminars, a series of exchanges and discussions he held with the psychoanalyst Medard Boss and his students, primarily during the 1960s. The seminars let us experience Heidegger's patient teaching, and weave together arguments from the beginning of his thought until its conclusion.
Those who consider immersion in Heidegger less a bath than a mudslide should refresh themselves by continuing the study of Plato I have recommended in the past, concentrating now on Plato's Sophistand Statesman, and his Euthyphro.
David J. Bobb
President, the Bill of Rights Institute
In an age in which the president of the United States has lately taken a funeral selfie, few books better examine the modern ego than Rousseau's autobiographical Confessions. Proclaiming to God and his readers that no other man has lived more attentively to his interiority, Rousseau does little confessing in the traditional sense. Both a counter-response to Augustine's Confessions and a trailblazing self-tribute, Rousseau's Confessions helps explain our contemporary fascination with self, sincerity, and change. Christopher Kelly's translation for the University Press of New England makes for an especially vivid read.
Pierre Manent's Metamorphoses of the City approaches change from the place of permanence. With Aristotelian-like attention to the city-state and its evolution, Manent essays the modern project to explore its complexities. Revealing the tenuous place of the Church in modernity, the enduring significance of the human quest for glory, and the inglorious ends of today's bureaucratic transnationalism, Manent's Metamorphoses is a searching inquiry into the possibility of self-government.
James Madison, by Richard Brookhiser, makes the case that the Virginian was a first-rate politician as well as a top-tier political thinker. Without overlooking Madison's faults as chief executive, Brookhiser gives Madison credit as a pioneering political genius who understood the force of public opinion, and threw himself into the hurly-burly of politics in all of its messiness.
Washington, D.C., has become a club, absent real debate or deliberation, Mark Leibovich details in This Town. Its problem is not partisan gridlock, but lock-step agreement on the aggrandizement of federal power. An easy read (or a better audio book), This Town scratches the surface of our present problems but still ably recounts how Washington elites prosper at the expense of the people they purport to serve. Leibovich lacks anything of John Marini's trenchant understanding of the administrative state, but he still manages to identify the problem of a self-promotional state.
Director of the Brouzils Seminars
Co-editor of The Fortnightly Review's New Series
The melancholy film of the pre-holiday moment is Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern. Critics in newspapers in places far away from Nebraska love it. Dern plays an incoherent alcoholic engaged in an absurd, meaningless task that takes him across a colorless, gray heartland of unremitting desolation: a futile protagonist going from one dead end to another. There are lots of highways in this film, but, once you get past the cardboard yahoos and their dull, dull towns, very few telling details. The difficulty is that unless you know which details matter, you end up with a big cartoon. The director, Alexander Payne, is from the Midwest, sort of the way Thomas Frank is from the Midwest. Frank, who got rich writing a book explaining why Kansans are stupid and selling it to New Yorkers, is from Johnson County, one of the wealthiest in the land. Alexander Payne was born in Omaha—in Warren Buffet's neighborhood. At least Payne had the honesty to admit (to The Guardian), "I don't know those rural areas very well." He didn't take the trouble to get to know them, either, since to do so would do harm to his stereotype. But moviegoers in New York and London adore it.
There is plenty of desolation in Nebraska, of course. Nothing to match the desolation of Detroit, of course, but lots of it, all rolled out flat. And really, there's plenty of desolation everywhere, sometimes in a single life. To find heroism in the desolation of the flatlands requires a certain amount of muscular honesty and clarity. Watching the film sent me back to one of my favorite books, Hamlin Garland's Main-Travelled Roads (1891). I first read this sitting in a grain truck swatting sweat bees when I was 10 or 11. I'd read one of the stories, then gaze across the hard, dusty plains at a distant grain elevator and marvel at the detailed heroism of Midwestern lives, the hard work that defied easy conclusions. Garland's plains tales are not happy ones, but they produce a sense of triumph nonetheless: life is just not all that bad, even in Nebraska, if you've got guts and brains and persistence.
The Midwestern message is largely overlooked these days, what with the success of films like Nebraska and books like What's the Matter with Kansas? To find a better result, you must look closely. Jon K. Lauck does that in The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History. Lauck, whose books on the Dakotas are lively and insightful, laments the fact that most historians know little about the Midwest and are woefully unaware of the historical significance of a place so easily characterized as "empty." Like so many journalists, they've flown over it, looked down and from their great distances, seen nothing there. If they spent time examining it all, they'd find a different story, one more finely detailed but less drenched in despair.
A life can be as easily misunderstood as a plains state. In fact, many of us live our lives as something we've flown over. But truly knowing a life, even your own, requires a close-up reflection on the landmarks and the details. It's the kind of work a poet does best. Stephen Wiest's Screeds are an example. Back in the '60s, he was poet-in-residence at The Johns Hopkins University. Then, in the '70s, life (and grad-school poetry) took a turn and for more than a quarter-century he did nothing but examine the details of his 20th-century life. I watched this poem emerge from the life of the poet—and as a matter of disclosure, was instrumental in The Fortnightly Review's decision to publish it as part of the Review's Odd Volumes series. The result of that lifelong work is what poet and critic Peter Riley called "an extended sequence which tracks a mediated life passage, a narrative of failed and surviving love," a description that might describe criss-crossing Nebraska or traveling Hamlin Garland's Roads. Like the hidden corners of a familiar map, the Stephen Wiest's Screeds are worth a long and careful visit.
Senior Editor, Weekly Standard
This year I read every book I could find by John Waters of the Irish Times. Any decent columnist has a logical mind and the love of an unpopular argument. What places Waters among the best columnists in the world is that even his writings about political hacks and rock‘n'roll groupies have an eye to deeper literary, historical, and religious contexts. Jiving at the Crossroads stands highest in the estimation of Irish critics. It is Waters's rollicking account of the political accidents that won the 1990 presidential election for human-rights lawyer Mary Robinson and set the country on a forced march to cultural modernism. His religious books—Lapsed Agnostic and Beyond Consolation: Or How We Became Too Clever for God—are witty, subtle, self-revelatory, and just as good. Was It for This?, my favorite, is an attack on the money-mad Irish of the Celtic Tiger boom years, not excepting himself: "What a strange idea," Waters writes, for us who have been bombarded with economistic prescriptions and information: that, underneath all this palaver, the reason for everything may be that our societies have been misunderstanding human desire. This is doubly strange because desire is perhaps the thing our societies pride themselves on understanding better than anything else.
Charles Oman, an Oxford historian, was a specialist in the Napoleonic wars, but wrote popular histories, too, of which hisSeven Roman Statesmen of the Later Republic (1902) is one of the best. It covers the same ground as Tom Holland's 2005 bestseller Rubicon, but more readably, more ruthlessly, and with different biases. Oman shares Plutarch's view of Sulla—"a lion and a fox"—and thinks Caesar a sybaritic demagogue. These are still meaningful differences. "When we have ascertained the way in which Caesar was regarded in any particular century," Oman writes, "we know at once the general character of that century's outlook on history."
Angelo M. Codevilla
Senior Fellow, the Claremont Institute
Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Boston University
This is the riveting story of the longest and most violent of America's Indian wars. Between 1835 and 1875 the Comanche nation froze the frontier of American civilization just west of Dallas and south of Kansas. The whites could not match the Indians' mobile, mounted warfare, though they nearly matched the brutality. Unlike "Dances with Wolves," this story does not spare the scalping,gang rapes, and butchery. It consists substantially of contemporary sources' first hand observations of how whites and Indians lived and fought.
Gwinne weaves his story around Cynthia Ann Parker, kidnapped by the Comanches in 1836 at age 9, who became the wife of one chief and the mother of Quanah, the last of the free Comanche chiefs. In 1860, a Texas posse attacked her camp, killed her husband, and returned Cynthia to civilization. An iconic photo shows her nursing her baby, Prairie Flower. She did all she could to return to the wild, and starved herself to death when she could not. Not least of the book's interest lies in its exploration of how she had found fulfillment in a life or unremitting labor and polygamous marriage, in a society based on rapine and cruelty. Her 12-year-old boy escaped the posse, rode a hundred miles to the tribe's other camp, survived the harsh lot of an orphan, and became the scourge of the southern plains.
But Quanah also led his band onto the reservation, and became a successful American entrepreneur with a big house, land, and cattle. In 1848 he had been born into the stone age. Before he died in 1911, he drove a car and had dinner with President Theodore Roosevelt. Only in America.
John J. DiIulio, Jr.
Frederic Fox Leadership Professor of Politics, Religion, and Civil Society, University of Pennsylvania
Over the last 32 years, I have taught American politics courses to college students at Harvard, Princeton, and Penn. In all that time, my views on our political system have changed remarkably little. My professing on the subject has been pretty much a running defense of the Constitution against all comers, from the Anti-federalists who opposed ratifying it to the contemporary critics, left and right, who favor far-reaching reforms to it.
Over the last year, however, I have read several recently published books on American politics that have challenged, even if they have not changed, my mind about the case for reform. I'll briefly summarize my four favorites.
In 2012, Thomas E. Mann, a noted Brookings Institution scholar, and Norman J. Ornstein, a noted American Enterprise Institute scholar, co-authored It's Even Worse than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided with the New Politics of Extremism. The two veteran Congress-watchers argue that a British-style parliamentary system would provide a "much cleaner form of democratic accountability."
The celebrated University of Texas political scientist, Sanford V. Levinson, has gone much farther. In his 2012 book,Framed: America's 51 Constitutions and the Crisis of Governance, he insists that America needs "a new constitutional convention, one that could engage in a comprehensive review of the U.S. Constitution and the utility of many of its provisions to twenty-first century Americans."
Louis Michael Seidman, a well-respected Georgetown University legal professor, in his 2013 book, On Constitutional Disobedience, advocates that both elected leaders and average citizens "systematically ignore the Constitution" and "kick our constitutional law addiction."
Mark R. Levin, a popular syndicated talk-show host who worked in the Reagan Administration, in his 2013 book, The Liberty Amendments: Restoring the American Republic, advocates multiple constitutional reforms: term limits for congresspersons and Supreme Court justices; caps on federal spending and taxing; and more.
I continue to believe that moral warts, historical stains, mounting debts, implementation failures, government shutdowns, polarized partisan politics, and all, the system still works too well to risk reforms that might only make things worse: Westminster is not performing far better than Washington, and even quasi-parliamentary reforms (like electing the president and the House together every four years) could do as much to aggravate as to ameliorate the politics of extremism; a new constitutional convention could be a disaster (try to name its Madison, Franklin, or Washington); constitutional disobedience could breed chaos; and stapling amendments to constitutional parchment would not reverse government's growth and could have perverse and unintended consequences.
Still, after reading each of these books and reflecting on their respective arguments and prescriptions, I have never been less confident in my belief that far-reaching constitutional reforms would constitute a cure worse than the disease. Here's a New Year's Resolution: read more books on the subject, and if thereby the mind and spirit is so moved, join the reform chorus.
Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Missouri
(Publius Fellow, 2008)
The eminent philosopher of mind, Thomas Nagel, drew praise and scorn last year for challenging the "materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature" in his book Mind and Cosmos. His argument in brief: the prevailing scientific orthodoxy of our day—"that the appearance of life from dead matter and its evolution through accidental mutation and natural selection to its present forms has involved nothing but the operation of physical law"—cannot account for the existence of minds.
In his essay "Funeral of a Great Myth," published posthumously in The Seeing Eye: And Other Essays from Christian Reflections, C.S. Lewis made a similar argument about the inability of materialistic reductionism to account for the validity of our reason. "If my own mind is a product of the irrational," Lewis asked,
—if what seem my clearest reasonings are only the way in which a creature conditioned as I am is bound to feel—how shall I trust my mind when it tells me about Evolution? They will say in effect ‘I will prove that what you call a proof is only the result of mental habits which result from heredity which results from bio-chemistry which results from physics.' But this is the same as saying: ‘I will prove that proofs are irrational': more succinctly, ‘I will prove that there are no proofs': The fact that some people of scientific education cannot by any effort be taught to see the difficulty, confirms one's suspicion that we here touch a radical disease in their whole style of thought.
The essays in The Seeing Eye—including "On Ethics," "The Poison of Subjectivism," and "Historicism"—demonstrate why Lewis deserves to be ranked among the 20th-century's great public intellectuals.
Lewis's popularity shows no sign of waning in the 21st century. To mark the 50th anniversary of his death, Alister McGrath published two excellent books on Lewis this year. In C.S. Lewis—A Life, McGrath challenges some of the conventional wisdom about Lewis and paints a picture of Lewis as a gifted but flawed scholar, writer, and Christian apologist. In a more scholarly volume, The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis, McGrath presents eight unpublished essays on Lewis's intellectual development.
In one of the coincidences of history, Lewis died the same day as John F. Kennedy and Aldous Huxley. Huxley's book Brave New World ranks among the most farsighted of the 20th-century dystopian novels, and it is always worth reading again. While some novelists envisioned the future as a Stalinist dictatorship or a Jacobin revolution, Huxley described a future world in which the family is abolished, children are "decanted" and raised in hatcheries, people are perpetually amused by sex and drugs, and a world state maintains control through coddling and psychological conditioning. Pair this with Lewis's own dystopian novel, That Hideous Strength, about a benevolent scientific bureaucracy that tries to overcome human nature with applied social science.
John C. Eastman
Director, the Claremont Institute's Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence
Abuse of Discretion: The Inside Story of Roe v. Wade, by Americans United for Life Senior Counsel Clarke Forsythe, is a thorough and extremely well-documented account of the behind-the-scenes story of one of the most notorious Supreme Court decisions in our nation's history. Forsythe exposes the legal and factual errors and outright manipulation that occurred in the case, and explains how the decision has been used to make the United States one of the four most extreme nations in the world on the issue of abortion, effectively mandating abortion on demand throughout pregnancy. With more than a dozen states recently adopting statutes restricting abortions after 20 weeks because of new evidence of fetal pain and dramatically increased risks to the health of the mother, the abortion controversy is heading back to the Supreme Court, and this book should be required reading not only for the judges who will decide this new round of cases but for every citizen concerned about the rule of law.
Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning, by Justin Dyer, draws the philosophical connection between the property rights-based arguments for slavery made by antebellum slaveowners and the liberty rights-based arguments for abortion made by modern day advocates for abortion. Importantly, Dyer's historical research has revealed that one of the key factual claims that underlay the Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade, namely, that the move in the 1850s from "quickening" to "conception" as the point after which abortion was illegal was solely out of concern for maternal health and not from any developing understanding of the unique personhood of the unborn child, was false. Dyer's historical account will therefore play prominently in the ongoing legal fights over abortion.
In Terms of Engagement: How Our Courts Should Enforce the Constitution's Promise of Limited Government, Clark Neily, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, has taken issue with the idea of judicial restraint, a long-standing precept of the positivist wing of the conservative jurisprudence that developed in the wake of the Warren Court's creation of un-enumerated rights (and the emanations from their penumbras) as the basis for striking down otherwise valid acts of the Congress or of state legislatures. Neily cogently and quite correctly explains how the "judicial restraint" mantra has led to judicial abdication in enforcing the limits on governmental power actually imposed by the Constitution, and he offers a path back to constitutional government, not unlike the one being advocated by Claremont's own Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, whose mission is to restore through strategic litigation the principles of the American Founding to their rightful and preeminent authority in our courts of law.
Matthew J. Franck
Director, the Witherspoon Institute's William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution
In a fit of self-improvement, I decided to dedicate 2013 to reading everything by William Shakespeare. I found, however, that while the internet is thickly populated with Bible-in-a-year reading plans, apparently no one has published aShakespeare_in_one_year. So I had to take some time to create one—plays on weekdays, poems on weekends. The plays vary enough in length that they range from five to eight days' worth of reading apiece. I have stuck to it, and am nearly finished. The daily diet of Shakespeare has been very invigorating. I used the text of The Oxford Shakespeare: The Complete Works (second edition), available in highly portable Kindle format but with an unfortunately high incidence of bugs and typos in the conversion from print. But there is at least one complete-Shakespeare app for free out there, with a sound text.
Having had my fill of C.S. Lewis's Narnia for a while, I wondered whether his "space trilogy" was as good as I remember it being when I read it first a quarter century ago. Nope, it's much, much better. It is so plainly a tale of Christian humanity versus the Evil One that it cannot even be called an allegory. But Out of the Silent Planet, Perelandra, and That Hideous Strength are remarkable works of imagination, each more hair-raising than the last. If you haven't read them, do so. I rather hope no film versions are ever attempted.
Someone's chance remark led me to a "new" find a century old: Robert Hugh Benson's Lord of the World, which I have lately heard Pope Francis mention as well. If Lewis's space trilogy is hair-raising, Benson's 1907 novel is a positively harrowing picture of the promise of "adolescent progressivism" (in the pope's own phrase).
In more recent books, I thoroughly enjoyed Rich Lowry's Lincoln Unbound (which I reviewed here), and Gabriel Schoenfeld's A Bad Day on the Romney Campaign (which I reviewed here). I was really knocked out by the astute insights of Mary Eberstadt in How the West Really Lost God. And I am looking forward to reading Michael Novak's memoir, Writing From Left to Right.
Professionally, I may have benefitted most this year from Mark A. Noll's 2004 opus, America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln. There cannot be anyone who knows more about America's religious history than Noll.
If any teachers of constitutional law are reading this, they should check out two relatively affordable casebooks for classroom use. Michael Stokes Paulsen's Our Constitution: Landmark Interpretations of America's Governing Document is a splendid compact volume of the "canon" of great cases in constitutional history, and could furnish a whole course on the subject. And with major cases on religious freedom on the Supreme Court's docket, why aren't you teaching a whole course on that subject? Here's your casebook: Vincent Phillip Muñoz's Religious Liberty and the American Supreme Court: The Essential Cases and Documents, which is comprehensive, brilliantly edited and arranged, and with practically zero commentary by the editor (as more casebooks should be) other than his brief and wise introduction.
Allen C. Guelzo
Professor of History and Director of Civil War Era Studies, Gettysburg College
This was a year of serious distractions, starting with the Sesquicentennial of the battle of Gettysburg in July. Not enough of a distraction, however, to stay away from the bookstores, which netted me the following new titles.
Wade Davis's Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest is not a book about mountain-climbing, in the way JonKrakauer's Into Thin Air was; it is a book about the climbers, or more specifically, about British climbers in extreme places in the last rosy glow of the Empire—or more specifically still, British climbers struggling to exorcise the ghosts of their own traumas on the Western Front by launching a very different kind of assault on a hopeless target. The writing is stupendously riveting, the characterizations are pitch-perfect, and the sadness which accompanies Mallory and Irvine on their last, fatal storming of Everest has all the power of a requiem.
Not very far away in the mountains of the subcontinent, and also with a play for empire, is William Dalrymple's Return of a King: The Battle for Afghanistan, 1839-42. There are plenty of books to satisfy anyone's itch to spend a long afternoon with the First Afghan War (as it did for me 35 years ago with Patrick Macrory's The Fierce Pawns). But Dalrymple writes out of life-long acquaintance with Afghanistan—including the primary sources and epics in Pashtun—and his marvelous, striding account of the disaster which overcame the Army of the Indus at the hands of Dost Mohammed is matched by Dalrymple's acid condemnation of the blinking folly which impelled the British to invade in the first place.
Still, if the First Afghan War seems a trifle esoteric, this has also proven to be a good year for books about big-box events, like the Emancipation Proclamation. No major document in our own history has been more consistently underplayed than the Emancipation Proclamation. But just in time for the Proclamation's sesquicentennial (yes, another one), Lous Masur, inLincoln's Hundred Days: The Emancipation Proclamation and the War for the Union, and James Oakes, in Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865,have both produced lovely renderings of the events and ideas which went into the making of what Lincoln call "the great event of the nineteenth century." Not for Oakes or Masur is there any truckling with Richard Hofstadter's twisted dismissal of the Proclamation as having "all the moral grandeur of a bill of lading." Oakes in particular follows the long anti-slavery genealogy of Lincoln and the Republicans of 1863 back to natural law and the reading of the Constitution as an anti-slavery document. Finally, with direct aim at the Gettysburg sesquicentennial, Martin Johnson has offered-up a painstaking piece of detective work on Writing the Gettysburg Address, piecing together the making of the five copies of the Address in Lincoln's hand, and plumping for the Nicolay Copy as the actual reading copy on the platform at Gettysburg on November 19, 1863.
Alonzo L. Hamby
Distinguished Professor of History, Ohio University
Henry Wallace's 1948 Presidential Campaign and the Future of Postwar Liberalism, by Thomas W. Devine
A long-needed scholarly corrective to the assertion that Wallace's Progressive Party bid for the White House was a spontaneous upsurge of independent liberalism, this book demonstrates that from the beginning it was largely a Communist project and as such likely more an asset than a threat to Harry Truman's bid for election in his own right.
Small Wars, Faraway Places, by Michael Burleigh
This ambitious, if uneven, book examines, case by case, Third World "wars of liberation" against colonial powers, primarily European, after World War II. By and large Burleigh's story is one of native elites seizing power in remorseless struggles and confirming the Orwellian insight that little changes for the lower orders. "The liberation-era pieties of Algeria's ruling FLN seem pretty hollow to many unemployed Algerians under twenty-five," he writes, "particularly if they see the children of the governing elite driving around in Porches."
Conservative Internationalism: Armed Diplomacy Under Jefferson, Polk, Truman, and Reagan, by Henry R. Nau
Historians may argue whether the four presidents in the title were all conservatives and whether they were guided by theory or by temperament and opportunity. Nonetheless, this ambitious work lays out a set of commendably intelligent precepts for a conservative foreign policy.
The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidency, by James Tobin
The story's outlines are familiar, but Mr. Tobin's empathetic narrative leaves the reader feeling Roosevelt's pain and despair, then sympathizing with his long struggle for mobility and his determined ambition for the presidency.
John B. Kienker
Managing Editor, Claremont Review of Books
Several books on church architecture amend the old adage lex orandi, lex credendi in order to emphasize that where we pray, and not just how, effects what we believe. For centuries Christians understood, as Robert Barron puts it in Heaven in Stone and Glass: Experiencing the Spirituality of the Great Cathedrals, that a church is meant to be "an icon of the sacred, a bearer of the mystery of God" that "forces the visitors out of themselves, inviting them to transcendence." In a series of brief, elegant meditations sparsely illustrated with black-and-white photos, Fr. Barron (the rector of Mundelein Seminary, best known for his 10-part documentary series, Catholicism) walks readers through the distinctive features—the immense height, cruciform shape, rose windows, gargoyles and other statuary—of medieval cathedrals such as St. Denis, Notre Dame, and Chartres. He hopes to recover a spiritual way of looking at where we worship, in an age when, he laments, "Churches have come to resemble living rooms, or shopping malls."
Michael Rose's Ugly as Sin: Why They Changed Our Churches from Sacred Places to Meeting Spaces and How We Can Change Them Back Again provides the evidence for this indictment in dozens of damning black-and-white illustrations that draw a simple contrast between the Catholic Church's long tradition of sumptuously designed houses of God and today's insipid suburban parishes, which have as much to do with transcendence as the local post office or library. Or there are the truly experimental structures for which, as Moyra Doorly tartly observes in No Place for God: The Denial of the Transcendent in Modern Church Architecture, "The attempt to create a church architecture that would meet the needs of the age has resulted in churches that are unfit for any age."
Architectural historian Denis McNamara's Catholic Church Architecture and the Spirit of the Liturgy levels the same charges, but goes further, explaining why some churches don't look like churches. Far from being in the eye of the beholder, beauty, he explains, is the delight we take in the truth, and so it follows that "theological confusion leads to architectural confusion." Filled with a rich array of full-color photos, McNamara, like Barron, demonstrates how to "read" a building, and he insists that newly-built churches can be uplifting once again. He and Michael Rose helpfully provide a list of contact information for recommended artists and architects at the back of their books.
One name on both of those lists is Duncan Stroik, whose The Church Building as Sacred Place: Beauty, Transcendence, and the Eternal, contains a marvelous, full-color sampling of his own work. Instead of churches that are "cheap, quick to build, temporary, and demand nothing from us," and thus "perfectly…in harmony with certain ideals of modern American Christianity," Stroik aspires to design new churches that are—echoing Barron's title—"a catechism in paint, mosaic, and stone."
For those who want to explore this last idea more deeply, architect Steven J. Schloeder's Architecture in Communion: Implementing the Second Vatican Council Through Liturgy and Architecture leads readers on a dense theological and historical exploration of architectural requirements and an iconographic understanding of sacred images, concluding that church buildings, old and new, reflect what we place ultimate value on—what we worship—whether that's the Creator of the universe, or lesser gods of innovation, commercialism…or ourselves.
In different ways, all six books make a welcome case for the evangelical importance of beauty for reflecting the divine order and anticipating the heavenly Jerusalem.
Daniel J. Mahoney
Professor of Political Science, Assumption College
It is a minority sentiment no doubt, but some of us profoundly miss the intellectual penetration and theological and moral clarity that marked every utterance of Pope Benedict XVI. Thankfully, for those of us suffering from Benedict withdrawal syndrome, Catholic University of America Press has published a collection of the Pope Emeritus's essays and addresses "on universities, education & culture," aptly titled A Reason Open to God. Benedict's fidelity to a reason that rejects the temptations of scientism and dogmatic atheism and his call for Europe not to forget its Christian mark are on display on almost every page of this book. At its heart this work is a reflection of the relationship between faith and reason, and a rejection of the twin temptations of fideism and of a merely technocratic rationality. And there is no more thoughtful and measured voice challenging "the dictatorship of relativism" in the contemporary world. A new pontificate brings new themes and emphases, many of them welcome, but not the irrelevance of old wisdom.
There are some who argue that reason and revelation are polar opposites: that revelation is a "brute fact" that owes nothing to reason. Against this fideist reading and temptation, James V. Schall has written for many decades now that revelation completes political philosophy by allowing it to overcome some of its aporia. It also prevents the self-destruction of reason, its metamorphosis into self-destructive ideology. These themes are on abundant display in Schall's latest collection of essaysPolitical Philosophy & Revelation: A Catholic Reading, also available from Catholic Universityof America Press. The highlights include a beautiful reading of the Gorgias, a luminous essay on "Ratzinger on the Modern Mind," and a suggestive comparison of the "intellectual courage" on display in Solzhenitsyn's 1978 Harvard Address with that same courage on display in Pope Benedict's 2006 Regensburg Address. Schall's latest collection can be nicely supplemented by Jerusalem, Athens, and Rome: Essays in Honor of James V. Schall, edited by Marc D. Guerra and published by St. Augustine's Press. Whether examining magnanimity in the classical and Christian traditions, the relationship of Catholicism to the Declaration of Independence, or liberal education in a pluralistic society, as well as thinkers such as Bellarmine, Burke, or Solzhenitsyn, these essays give lively and learned expression to the "mutual influence" of political philosophy and revelation and are a fitting tribute to the recently retired Father Schall.
The last book I would like to recommend is nothing less than an intellectual gem. Politics, Values, and National Socialism, edited by Graham McAleer, and published by Transaction Publishers, is a collection of essays by the Hungarian-born moral and political philosopher Aurel Kolnai (1900-1973) who deserves to be much better known (I was first introduced to his writings by Pierre Manent). Don't be turned off by the use of the word "values": like Scheler and the Munich school of phenomenologists, Kolnai uses it in a thoroughly anti-relativistic way. This book is so rich in content that one can only mention its highlights: a penetrating 1933 critique of Carl Schmitt, a powerful 1934 dissection of the intimate relationship between Heidegger and National Socialism, a 1935 essay on hatred in morals and politics, an all-too-relevant 1944 comparison of the authentically religious attitude with the "humanitarian" one, and an incisive 1970 critique of "situation ethics" where moral judgment gives way to a sentimental antinomianism. Kolnai is one of the great thinkers of the 20th century and this book, expertly edited and presented, is a welcome opportunity to discover his wisdom and insight.
Harvey C. Mansfield
William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, Harvard University
This being the 500th Anniversary of Machiavelli's The Prince, let us feature a reading of this very great, very powerful book. Let it stand as the ground for the modern takeover of Christmas that we see all around us. But which translation to select? After careful consideration I recommend the one by Harvey Mansfield published by the University of Chicago Press. It is the least misleading and may inspire you to learn Italian. As a companion from a different viewpoint see Maurizio Viroli'sRedeeming "The Prince": The Meaning of Machiavelli's Masterpiece.
For the year's best combination of politics and philosophy, read Yuval Levin's The Great Debate, a study of Edmund Burke and his underrated (according to Levin) adversary Thomas Paine, who set the terms of today's debate between Right and Left.
As a gift for the impecunious scholar from a prosperous well-wisher, choose these two great books in new critical editions done by the finest British scholars. They are Thomas Hobbes, Leviathan, edited by Noel Malcolm, and as a complement to this by perhaps Hobbes's greatest opponent, Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, edited by David Womersley.
Wilfred M. McClay
G.T. and Libby Blankenship Chair in the History of Liberty, University of Oklahoma
The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson, by William Murchison
The veteran journalist William Murchison has chosen to employ his incomparable pen and his vivid historical imagination in the cause of bringing back to life one of the most underrated and misunderstood of the founders, whose intelligence and courage are badly needed in our time: John Dickinson (1732-1808). It is for just such tasks that ISI Books's fine book series on the founders was created, and this may be its most distinguished contribution yet. Indeed, one could argue that Dickinson is not merely neglected, but forgotten. But Murchison makes a case for his importance, in no small part because he sustained the same kinds of moral concerns expressed by so many of the Anti-Federalists, and linked the flourishing of political liberty with the public cultivation of religion and morality. "History sacred and profane tells us," he wrote, that "corruption of manners sinks nations into slavery."
Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition, by Jean M. Yarbrough
I recommended this book last year, but I am recommending it against because it is still a relatively new book, and it bears repeating just how important a book it is, and how important a moment it arrives in. No one before Yarbrough has done justice to the mind of T.R., or detailed the extent to which he was driven by ideas. And no one before Yarbrough has had the patience to analyze these ideas thoroughly, or the courage to point out that, for all Roosevelt's sincere professions of devotion to the Founding Fathers, his ideas and his political career did not honor them. Far from it.
The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us About Loving God and Learning from History, by Robert Tracy McKenzie
This book is a masterclass in the art and craft of mature historical thinking, showing how the careful historical reconsideration of one of our most beloved, most benign, but also most myth-encrusted national holidays can eventuate, not in crude debunking, but in a deeper understanding and appreciation of the past itself, and of how our traditions can be made to connect more and more meaningfully with that past.
Through a Screen Darkly: Popular Culture, Public Diplomacy, and America's Image Abroad, by Martha Bayles
Any American who has spent extensive time abroad has had the appalling experience of coming to the realization that much of the rest of the world believes America is what it is depicted as in American television shows and movies. We sometimes fret about the seemingly bottomless vulgarization of our popular culture, but we do not think much about how we are misperceived by those who know little about us beyond what is conveyed by that culture—or what we should do about it. Martha Bayles has brought her always lively mind and supple pen to bear on this subject, and the result is a valuable book that suggests that there are some things we can, and must do.
Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking Peoples Made the Modern World and The New Road to Serfdom: A Letter of Warning to America, by Daniel Hannan
Daniel Hannan is a national treasure—and he isn't even an American. But ever since he burst into American consciousness through the viral videos of his magnificent and utterly fearless oratory in the European Parliament, he has been a favorite of many American conservatives. In these two books he reminds American readers not only of the need to stand by our most fundamental principles, but of the originating sources of those principles, and of the unique strengths of the English-speaking peoples. He is arguably the most effective spokesman for the idea of the Anglosphere, but he insists that America must lead the way, precisely because of the extent to which it has not become Europe…yet.
Monsters: The 1985 Chicago Bears and the Wild Heart of Football, by Rich Cohen
I'm not sure I would ever have read this book, had it not been for the fact that Rich Cohen was my student years ago at Tulane, and I am and remain devoted to him. I lost interest in professional football the day in 1984 that the owner of the Baltimore Colts packed up the team, under cover of darkness, in a fleet of Mayflower moving vans and stole away with the team of my childhood, sneaking away to an obscure place called Indianapolis, which I have never forgiven for its complicity in this perfidy. So I took no interest at the time in the 1985 Bears; I was too busy sulking. But I digress. This is a terrific book, with all sorts of side benefits, even if you are not a Bears fan (as I am not, and as no Baltimore Colts fan would ever be). Rich is a very gifted writer, with an infectious narrative style that is by turns poetic, psychoanalytical, sports-journalistic, and occasionally downright gonzo. He has written a half-dozen or more fine books, many of them on Jewish themes, but this is surely his finest yet. He captures the strange possessive mania of football fans, beginning with himself, but also captures the inner mania of the game itself, and its immensely and perhaps increasingly violent character. There is an element of both celebration and menace in the book, which seems exactly right for its subject. Bravo, Rich.
Richard E. Morgan
William Cromwell Professor of Constitutional and International Law and Government, Bowdoin College
Inventing Freedom: How the English-Speaking People's Made the Modern World, by Daniel Hannan
How the rule of law, protection of property, and individual rights emerged first in English legal culture and spread throughout the Anglohere. All this stands in sharp contrast to the rest of Europe.
The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England, by Dan Jones
The gripping story of how the most powerful medieval English dynasty shaped legal and political institutions between Henry II and Richard II.
Fulmer Professor of Political Science, Rhodes College
Senior Fellow, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia
I moved to Tennessee on January 16, 1979, four days before Lamar Alexander, the state's newly elected Republican governor, was constitutionally scheduled to be inaugurated. Just before noon the next day, Alexander received a phone call from the U.S. attorney, informing him that the FBI was convinced the outgoing governor, Democrat Ray Blanton, planned to spend his last few days in office selling pardons to violent criminals in the state prisons. Alexander called the Democratic leaders of the state legislature as well as the chief justice of the state supreme court and the state attorney general, also Democrats, and with their public support, was inaugurated at 5:56 that night on live local television. Watching all this as a newcomer, my reaction was: what an, uh, interesting state. The story of Alexander's early inauguration—the only one of its kind in American history—is told with page-turning intensity in former Nashville Tennessean reporter and Alexander campaign aide Keel Hunt's Coup: The Day the Democrats Ousted Their Governor, Put Republican Lamar Alexander in Office Early, and Stopped a Pardon Scandal.
John J. Pitney, Jr.
Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics, Claremont McKenna College
Tom Angleberger's Origami Yoda series might seem an odd choice. These short novels revolve around a boy named Dwight Tharp, who gives wise advice to his classmates while voicing his Yoda finger puppet. At first, you might think these books are just funny trifles for readers in middle school. But after a while, you notice something about Dwight: he's autistic. In interviews, Angleberger has confirmed that he himself has Asperger Syndrome (a form of autism) and that he wanted to depict it through Dwight. The books are no pity party, however. Instead, they celebrate individuality and satirize educational bureaucracy. They also take a sharp poke at political correctness. When Dwight transfers to a progressive private school, the narrator says: "I've told you before about how Tippett is all about Understanding Our Differences and how some of the kids are really, really annoying because they insist on Understanding you all the time."
In an e-book titled Oops! (A Diary from the 2012 Campaign Trail), Jay Root gives a firsthand account of Rick Perry's presidential campaign. For a brief moment in 2011, it looked as if Perry could take the GOP nomination from Mitt Romney. He was the longest-serving governor in Texas history, had an enviable record of economic growth and job creation, could raise huge sums from his state's business community, and knew how to bring conservatives to their feet. But his hopes quickly started to fizzle, and vanished completely at a debate where he proclaimed that he would scrap three federal agencies but could not remember the third. Root, a reporter for the Texas Tribune who has covered Perry for years, explains that he was doomed by a late start and unresolved medical problems that left him in a haze of fatigue. The book is especially good in detailing the role of social media in modern presidential politics. In another era, the "Oops" episode might not have been as damaging, but YouTube and Twitter turned it into a defining moment before the debate was even over. Would-be candidates and presidential campaign operatives should carefully read this book as a cautionary tale.
Alan C. Guelzo is familiar to CRB readers, and earlier this year, Michael Burlingame offered a highly positive review of his Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction. I agree with Burlingame's praise, adding that the book is especially valuable for its international perspective. Unlike many other Civil War books, Fateful Lightningexplains strategy and tactics in light of conflicts elsewhere in the world. This perspective also helps us understand the war's enormous stakes. "The war not only endangered the possibility of popular government by inviting foreign intervention but also raised the question of whether, if the Confederacy succeeded, popular government could ever be made to work again at home." That's why monarchists and aristocrats across the globe were rooting for the Confederacy—and why Lincoln was so important for the survival of democratic government worldwide.
William Robertson Coe Professor of History and American Studies, Stanford Univeristy
Intuiting that I have been invited to contribute to this list to provide a token of intellectual diversity, here are some recent books in American history that should be of interest to any serious student of our past.
The Men Who Lost America: British Command during the Revolutionary War and the Preservation of the Empire, by Andrew Jackson O'Shaughnessy
O'Shaughnessy fills the proverbial "much-needed gap" in explaining the course and outcome of the American Revolution from a British perspective. In ten biographical chapters, O'Shaughnessy (the director of the Robert Smith Center for International Jefferson Studies at Monticello) examines the attitudes, plans, and conduct of ten leading British decision-maker, starting with the King and Lord North, and then considering a squad of other political and military leaders. (And Edmund Burke does make a few appearances, though he does not get a chapter).
The Mortal Sea: Fishing the Atlantic in the Age of Sail, by W. Jeffrey Bolster
A Bancroft Prize-winning analysis of the decline and potential collapse of the fishing industry in the northwest Atlantic. If you want to know what the best environmental history can look like, this is a great place to begin. It explains, among other things, how the increasing industrialization of fishing has made the industry ever less productive and more expensive.
Routes of War: The World of Movement in the Confederate South, by Yael Sternhell
A brilliantly original book by a young Israeli historian who did her graduate training at Princeton with James McPherson. Working from a wide array of sources, Sternhell explains how the physical movement across the landscape of a host of characters—military recruits and deserters, planters and escaping slaves—provides its own history of what the Civil War looked like, how it was experienced, in the Confederacy.
Freaks of Fortune: The Emerging World of Capitalism and Risk in America, by Jonathan Levy
A multiple prize-winning book by a young historian. Its basic concern is to trace the ways in which 19th-century Americans defined the nature of economic risk, and then figured out ways to respond to it. By looking at a variety of instruments, from marine insurance to mortgages and the emergence of a futures market as a hedging device (as well as the gambling ventures that imitated them), Levy provides a wonderfully provocative account of how Americans adjusted to the emergence of their highly commercialized, expanding economy.
Robert R. Reilly
Senior Fellow, the American Foreign Policy Council
Here is some of my favorite chamber music listening from the past year, all of which illustrates that modernity failed to derail music from whatit has always been at its best.
Ken Fuch's latest chamber music release comes from Naxos and includes Falling Canons (Christopher O'Riley, piano),Falling Trio (Trio21), and String Quartet No. 5 "American" (Delray String Quartet). The Fifth Quartet, according to the composer, "is alternately lyrical and playful, sometimes brusque and muscular, at times elegiac, and it is meant to suggest the resilience and brash optimism of the American spirit." It has a subdued, sweet beginning with a gorgeous theme. At about three minutes in, it starts dancing—almost a little hoedown, but the sheer loveliness of it keeps things mellow. One almost wonders if it will dissolve in its own beauty—this glittering, luminous sound. The second movement contains an insinuating, insistent, almost obsessive theme that is passed from instrument to instrument-done pizzicato on the cello—with a doleful melody cast across it that fails to subdue this nervous scherzo. The third movement starts with a pained utterance in several chords. Then Fuchs returns to the exquisite opening theme, but casts it more darkly and somberly. Now the violin begins a sad little dance, which stops, then starts again. It is a bit like some of Shostakovich's Jewish-inspired quartet writing. The dance dissolves, and the obsessive melody from the scherzo reappears, followed by a moving lament. Everything that has happened so far in this Quartet seems to be gathered up in this movement, including motivic elements of the Falling Man theme. Its wildness and sense of immediacy once again recall Janacek. The closing allegro begins exuberantly. The spirited double fugue of the last movement is a thrilling tour de force of counterpoint and melody. It banishes the preceding sadness. This is jubilant music that fulfills Fuchs's purpose of affirmation. The Fifth is one of the finest quartets of the past several decades—American or otherwise.
There is little in contemporary music that is as directly expressive as the music of Kenneth Fuchs. It goes right to the heart and stays there. If you think America's song has already been sung, you need to listen to this.
One of the wonderful discoveries of the past decade has been the music of Hans Gal (1890-1987), a Viennese composer who fled the Nazis and ended up in obscurity in Scotland. I greatly enjoyed the Camerata CD of Hans Gál's Piano Trios, which display his signature refinement. Bending and twisting with summery delight, the Trio in G Major makes no bones about Schubert and Brahms as its musical idols—no doubt radical in 1949, its time of composition. It is a measure of the 20th-century's brutality that music such as this could have been neglected. On an Avie CD are Gál's String Trios, with theSerenade in D, a sheer delight, graceful, spirited, and slyly humorous. The charming second movement, marked Cantabile: Adagio, has to be one of the loveliest things that Gál wrote. He said, "the most perfect and most transparent form of polyphony is three voices; for that reason I have always had a special liking for the trio as the noblest medium of polyphony." His special affection for the form shines through this Serenade and its accompanying Trio, which is of a darker mood. The Ensemble Epomeo delivers touching performances.
I only recently caught up with the Auer String Quartet's completion of its traversal of László Lajtha's 10 string quartets, available by the Hungaroton Classic label. String Quartets Nos. 6, 8 and 10 are works for those who have trouble digesting the quartets of Béla Bartók. In several movements, Lajtha even goes back to the quatour brillant model from the first half of the 19th century (e.g. Louis Spohr), a mini-concerto for the first violin, with the other instruments playing an accompanying role. String Quartet No. 10 is subtitled Transylvanian Suite in Three Parts. Of the second movement, Lajtha said that the instruments "create the likeness of an immaterial, intangible misty image of a dream flickering past our eyes on fairy legs, pianissimo all the way." One hears in Lajtha a Mendelssohnian fleetness, French refinement, and Hungarian folk melodies. This is music of enchantment with an entrancing level of fancy. In turns touching and exhilarating, this is some of the most accessible quartet writing of the 20th century and remains one of its hidden treasures.
Bruce C. Sanborn
Chairman Emeritus, Claremont Institute Board of Directors
What an excellent time to get to know Aristotle better. This year Joe Sachs translated Aristotle's Politics; Carnes Lord came out with a second edition of his translation of the Politics; and the University of Chicago Press published Aristotle's Teaching in the Politics, in which the playful political philosopher Thomas Pangle does not let lie the furry, sleepy opinions often found on America's campuses, for instance that Aristotle was a shill for his times, a toady to The Man, and so, an apologist for misogyny, imperialism, and slavery. If you were to add to your reading of those books Michael Davis's The Politics of Philosophy: A Commentary on Aristotle's Politics with its etchings of paradoxes and wonders, I declare, by the demos and the oligarchs, you would be climbing like a proper king. But one must press on to Robert Bartlett's and Susan Collins' beautiful translation of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics and Ronna Berger's Aristotle's Dialogue with Socrates: On the "Nicomachean Ethics". Those two books, especially when read as a pair, have the power to set prisoners of the cave free. Evident in all these books are Aristotle's love of wonder and his ability to row with and between opinions, in search of the best regime and best way of life, while, at the same time, respecting what humans can politically effect and truly know without becoming beasts who would be gods.
During World War II, with the wolfish Nazis on the move, C.S. Lewis gave 18 or so 10-15-minute radio broadcasts on the BBC. Heard in England and America, the broadcasts braced listeners to their duties. Eventually the broadcasts were collected into the book Mere Christianity. In 1951 Winston Churchill, once more prime minister, wrote Lewis to recommend him for the chivalric honor of C.B.E. (Commander of the British Empire) for his public service writing and broadcasting during the war. Lewis, who thought well of chivalry (indeed in 1940 he had written that "it offers the only possible escape from a world divided between wolves who do not understand, and sheep who cannot defend, the things which make life desirable") appreciated the offer. November 22 of this year was the 50th anniversary of Lewis's death and you might remember him and enjoy Christmas by listening to Geoffrey Howard read Mere Christianity, especially given that Howard reads the words much the way one would imagine Lewis broadcast them.
Michael M. Uhlmann
Professor of Political Science, Claremont Graduate University
Here are four works guaranteed to stir your political adrenaline (but if you have a heart condition, consult your cardiologist first): Kevin Williamson's The End Is Near and It's Going to Be Awesome: How Going Broke Will Leave America Richer, Happier, and More Secure, Jay Cost's Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and How It Threatens the American Republic, Peter Schweizer's Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes, and Line Their Own Pockets, and James DeLong's Ending "Big SIS" (The Special Interest State) and Renewing the American Republic. All chronicle the rise of the modern welfare/administrative state, the crony capitalism that greases its wheels, and the systemic political corruption bred by its operations. The first three excel at clinical pathology; DeLong's book comes closest to providing workable remedies. If I were running for president in 2016, I'd hire him.
One of the most thoughtful books of the year is Mary Eberstadt's How the West Really Lost God: A New Theory of Secularization. Eberstadt, whose keen intelligence enlightens everything she touches, finds the decline of religion to be rooted in the decline of the family, thus inverting the standard causal relationship favored by social historians. I found her argument to be more than plausible. See what you think.
Special friends will be grateful to receive two works of exceptional beauty: Allan Greenberg: Classical Architect is a lovely photographic tour of the great architect's more notable works. When you win the lottery, Allan Greenberg is the man you want to call. In The Library: A World History architectural historian James Campbell and photographer Will Pryce have produced what may be the most beautiful book of the year—perhaps the decade.
Ryan P. Williams
Chief Operations Officer, The Claremont Institute
(Publius Fellow, 2004)
All lovers of literature should go buy Claremont Institute senior fellow Mark Helprin's new novel, In Sunlight and in Shadow. His 1991 A Soldier of the Great War established his position as one our premier novelists, and remains a classic tale of war, love, and the human spirit. Helprin's books are all a joy, and should be especially so to current and aspiring writers. Paragraphs like this one serve as a wonderful spur to literary ambition: "The sound of hammers striking rock and steel never ceased. From above they seemed to be the individual ticks and tocks of thousands of clocks that had been freed from telling time and taught to talk. Patterns and cross-patterns emerged in their excited conversation, music extracted from the gossip of the rocks." Those interested in an eloquent introduction to Helprin should read, or re-read, Algis Valiunas's essay in the Claremont Review of Books, "High Adventure and Sacred Mystery."
The slavery crisis of the 1850s propelled a country lawyer named Abraham Lincoln back into national politics and eventually into American greatness. He asserted the obvious truth that a republic of liberty holding one class of its people in bondage was on a collision course with itself. In his new book, Slavery, Abortion, and the Politics of Constitutional Meaning, Justin Dyer (a 2008 Claremont Institute Publius Fellow) explores the moral, legal, intellectual, and political parallels between the clashes in American politics that arose over slavery in the middle of the 19th century and abortion over the last 40 years. Both are tales of political drama wrapped up—as such matters so often are in America—in questions of constitutional law, politicking, fanaticism both religious and secular, and the central question for any regime of natural rights: who are persons and what are the requirements of the preservation of their lives, liberties, and pursuit of happiness?
We are at this moment in our politics embroiled in a grand debate about the future size and scope of the federal government. It is often the case in American politics that such debates may cease only when one party wins the argument for a generation or more. Some arguments, for all practical purposes, may even be won permanently. After the Civil War and the Reconstruction Amendments, we settled the question of slavery in America. But that resolution spilled over profoundly into other arenas of constitutional and institutional politics. In a new volume dedicated to Herman Belz (familiar to CRB readers) and edited by Paul Moreno and Jonathan O'Neill, contributors explore the topic of the title,Constitutionalism in the Approach and Aftermath of the Civil War. This is an excellent collection of essays from both veterans and rising scholars in the field.
Our current political debate about Progressivism too often descends into rancorous shouting matches, when we are instead in most need of serious study and reflection. Readers interested in learning about Progressivism's roots and early alternatives should turn to the final chapters of this fine book. Claremont Institute senior fellow and fellowship faculty member R.J. Pestritto breaks new ground on Woodrow Wilson and his appropriation of Abraham Lincoln, and Jonathan O'Neill vindicates the seriousness—as opposed to the common charge of rank partisanship—of early opponents of Progressivism like William Howard Taft, Elihu Root, and Henry Cabot Lodge. If we are to recover limited constitutional government in America, we would do well to school ourselves on the early years of an ideology and political movement that has done so much to transform our government over the past century.
Jean M. Yarbrough
Professor of Government, Bowdoin College
The new festschrift for Catherine and Michael Zuckert led me back to Postmodern Platos: Nietsche, Heidegger, Gadamer, Strauss, Derrida Catherine's wonderful study of how 20th-century thinkers read and reinterpreted Plato. A simply wonderful book.
I only got around to Daniel Tanguay's Leo Strauss: An Intellectual Biography last summer, but it is superb, especially on the theological-political problem.
Read Aristotle's Teaching in the Politics by Thomas Pangle in tandem with Ronna Burger's Aristotle's Dialogue with Socrates: On the Nicomachean Ethics, which I previously recommended and do so again.
What better way to mark the 500th anniversary of Machiavelli's celebrated letter to Vettori (December 10, 1513) than to return to Harvey Mansfield's Machiavelli's Virtue?
On the cinematic front, I recommend Von Trotta's Hannah Arendt, not because it is a great film, though the actors who play Arendt's husband and Hans Jonas are particularly fine, but because it raises an important question about the nature of evil, a question perceptively explored by Mark Blitz in a CRB essay some years back.
And at this time of year, A Geography of Oysters by Rowen Jacobsen.
Professor of Law, University of California at Berkeley School of Law
This year, I've got a mixture of the sublime and the profane. For the sublime, I had the pleasure this year to read Edward Luttwak's Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. Fans of ancient history may know Luttwak's classic Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire, which was a wonderful application of tools of modern strategy to the security dilemmas faced by the Caesars and their successors. Luttwak's work on Byzantium is even more rewarding. Not only does it tell us more about the Byzantines (I have found works on Byzantium to be difficult to follow), but it presents a case of even greater strategic dexterity. It is amazing that the Eastern Roman Empire lasted as long as the mid-15th century, in light of the serious external threats that it faced. Luttwak explains how the Byzantines managed the feat. It will make a great gift for anyone, like me, who still refers to the city as Constantinople.
For the profane, two guilty pleasures. The first is the Jack Reacher books. After watching Tom Cruise in the adaptation ofOne Shot on an airplane, I read the whole Jack Reacher corpus. This is perhaps the only time in history when a Tom Cruise movie inspired someone to read a book (other than, perhaps, Dianetics). The books did not disappoint. Jack Reacher, an itinerant ex-MP without possessions or home, is a compelling protagonist. The second is perhaps the opposite end of the spectrum from Reacher, the Inspector Morse detective novels. Where Reacher is a silent hero wandering America righting wrongs, Morse is an irritable, idiosyncratic, over-educated British detective who solves crimes in the setting of Oxford University, England. But Morse is an equally compelling hero, despite or maybe because of his love of Wagner, the classics, and a pub's "best bitter."