A Very Claremont Christmas
Our finest gifts we bring with some good books recommended by friends and colleagues of the Claremont Institute…
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Edward Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions, Amherst College
Some books to be commended:
Shadowplay, by Clare Asquith
Clare Asquith finds reason to think that Shakespeare was a serious Catholic, who had to move into the shadows as part of the repression of Catholics beginning with Henry VIII. Still, the Catholic character of the country held in a tenacious way in many places. Asquith sees Shakespeare writing between the lines, or writing in a code that would have been recognized by the discerning readers and views of his plays. And with that hypothesis she carries us through an analysis of virtually all of the plays, as she connects them with the political crises of the moment.
Willful Blindness: Memoir of the Jihad, by Andrew McCarthy
Andy McCarthy was the lead prosecutor of the blind Sheikh after the bombings of the World Trade Center in 1993. In his work on the case he made himself an expert on Islam and the current of jihadism in the Arab world. This book sounds the alarm, to bring us to a sober recognition of the enemy before us; but it also makes the most compelling case against that inclination, born of moral distraction, to transfer the cases of detainees and combatants into the civilian courts. The book contains lessons that would be urgent for the likes of Eric Holder or Barack Obama, but we grasp the depth of the problem when we realize that something is at work, making these men incapable of understanding the truth so plainly before them. At the same time, we see why these crises have formed the moment for Andy McCarthy. With his precision of focus and clarity of prose, he has become one of our foremost writers on the law.
Camelot and the Cultural Revolution, by James Piereson
One would think that, by this time, just about everything that can be said about John F. Kennedy has been said, most of it of course as a fable. But Jim Peireson makes an arresting case that connects the assassination of Kennedy to the transformation of the Democratic Party in our own day. Barack Obama surely reflects the soul of the party when he goes about the world apologizing for the record of America in foreign affairs. He and his party seem to begin with the premise that there is something tainted, and perhaps even presumptively illegitimate about American interests. And something deeply wrong with just about any willingness to use military force abroad. The main exception for the Left comes in those cases in which we are safely detached from any strategic interests, and so freer to intervene in Haiti and Kosovo. All of this represents an inversion of the politics of John Kennedy. Piereson traces the turn in the character of the party from the way in which the assassination came to be understood in the legends of the Democrats. The murder was done by a young man with connections with the Soviet Union. But instead of tracing the motivation for the murder to that source, liberal writers found it far more persuasive to see the killing arising from a culture of violence and intolerance in America and the political Right. For the Left it became the launching point for a cultural critique of the country. That critique would express itself, in foreign policy, in a suspicion of American motives and a presumption against the active use of force in defending American lives or interests. In domestic policy, that critique would beget the politics of sexual liberation, with contraception, abortion, gay rights. There may not be so much dissonance between this new politics and the life that Kennedy actually lived. But in its public stances and public teaching the liberal party has indeed undergone a transformation, and Piereson makes a plausible case in connecting the threads back to the assassination and the legends that were woven from it.
The Balkan Trilogy, by Olivia Manning
I’ve just been reading through the three volumes that Olivia Manning began publishing in 1960, dealing with a young English couple living in Bucharest at the beginning of World War II and then fleeing with the British legation to Athens. The books are: The Great Fortune, Spoilt City, and Friends and Heroes. We may find here a confirmation of a point Jacques Barzun once made about Lincoln: that a fine writer shows his skill, quite apart from the subject he is compelled to treat. In this instance, we have a young teacher of English literature, too credulous of the Left and its politics, but the bearer of something life-giving. His wife is more anchored in the world; she sees politics and people more clearly; and she becomes more and more isolated with a husband who seems inclined to accord primacy to every other interest in world except for hers. But how could this subject engage the reader through three volumes? It just does, because of the gift of Olivia Manning as a writer;and because of the precise portrait she can paint of life in these cities in the midst of the war. Novels were thought to bring the news; and these novels tell us things about politics we are not likely to find in books of history.
The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies, by David Bentley Hart
America is the most religious country now in the West, and it stood to reason that this inconvenient fact would draw the ire of writers who find that state of things insufferable. They have responded with a literature suitably insufferable. They reveal a want of philosophic competence in understanding the properties of the propositions they are offering, and of course they often reveal the most shallow or vulgar understanding of the theology they are purporting to judge. David Hart skewers them here in every dimension. He mixes a deep learning with an invective rightly aimed.
Vindicating Lincoln, by Thomas Krannawitter
It is one of those unaccountable things in this world, but a cottage industry persists in books debunking Lincoln or seeking to prove, yet again, that he established a war-time dictatorship, suppressed civil liberties, and violated the Constitution at every turn. These claims have been amply refuted, and yet the market in credulity seems bottomless. It is never out of season, then, to offer a defense of Lincoln, and the defense does not require new facts as much as the marshaling of an argument that can explain the standards of judgment and prudence. Tom Krannawitter takes on the task in dealing with familiar complaints—that there was a right of secession, that economics would have ended slavery without a war, that Lincoln’s judgment hinged on sentiments he simply thought true at the time and not, as Lincoln said, “an abstract truth applicable to all men and all times.” Krannawitter shows that these fallacies have a remarkable endurance, and the defense of Lincoln will provide us steady work. On the other hand, the redeeming point is that it is te work of the republic: to get literate people clear on these things is to make them more clear-headed about politics and the ground of their own rights.
The Sovereignty of Reason, by Frederick Beiser
This is a remarkable work in intellectual history, dealing with English Protestant writers, from the 16th through the 18th century, seeking to make the case for the place of reason in theology. It was reason that could help establish in the first place just what parts of religious experience deserved to be recognized in scripture or regarded as significant. Reason could also offer the guide in judging just which strands of revelation were plausible or implausible as divine revelation. But as writers insisted on the truth of what Christianity taught they began pointing to institutions that could preserve and protect the truth. For not everyone was equally reflective, equally plausible in his opinions on Christian teaching. And yet, when they began to point to a central authority, they began to point to Rome. But to the extent they wished to avoid that central authority, they could be lured into an insistence that there was no central truth to be preserved by a central authority. That was a short, but telling step to skepticism, or the uncertainty that there were truths to be known. And that in turn could lead to the unraveling of conviction. It is a tangled, fascinating story, and Professor Beiser offers a masterful treatment.
At the risk of being elliptical, or not offering praise enough, I’d simply like to flag certain books that promise to be on our list of “must read” before long. I’ve had the chance so far only to sample them though not yet read through, but they look so good that I’d alert our friends and readers to: The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction, by J. Budziszewski; Econoclasts: The Rebels Who Sparked the Supply-Side Revolution and Restored American Prosperity, by Brian Domitrovic; and The Discretionary President: The Promise and Peril of Executive Power, by Benjamin Kleinerman.
Speaking of things never out of season, it is never out of season to read again Harry V. Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided, now 50 years old. God bless us one and all.
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Associate Editor, Claremont Review of Books
Remains of the Day, by Kazuo Ishiguro
Stevens, the dignified English butler of Remains of the Day, has achieved the highest professional success, having served the great Lord Darlington with precision and loyalty for over 30 years. At the suggestion of his new American employer, he embarks on a driving tour of the English countryside, most of which he has never seen before. His professional obligations, we learn, have kept him confined to Darlington hall for the past three decades. The trip provides an occasion for Stevens to remember the events of his life and discover that travel is not the only thing he has failed to do.
Kazuo Ishiguro is one of the best novelists writing today. A beautiful prose stylist, an extremely careful writer, and a master storyteller, he writes characters who look back on life and discover that they have failed in some important ways. But rather than make amends or change their ways completely, these characters learn to live with themselves. Or rather, they continue to live with themselves as they have always done. Ishiguro is a keen observer of the human soul. He seems to think that one who learns the error of his ways late in life can only do so much, either because his failings have shaped him and he lacks the capacity, or because there is too little time left. In other words, Ishiguro seems to think that complete conversion is impossible. This novel and his others all point to the importance of living well and fully, and doing so early, to avoid the harmful, lasting effects of the alternative.
The Wire, created by David Simon
This isn’t a book, but it’s worth studying as a serious work of fiction. Critics have called it the best television series ever made.
The Wire throws no bones to its viewers. The first episode plunges you into the city of Baltimore and introduces you to its homicide and narcotics police, and the members of the powerful Barksdale drug organization they are pursuing. As the first season continues, the number of characters balloons to 30 or more, and this number increases in later seasons. The dialogue is quick and demanding, and significant events occur with so little fanfare that the show seems almost impenetrable. But those who stick with it through the first 3 or 4 episodes will find themselves hooked.
The series is about the American city in decline. Watching it gives you an education in the inner workings of each of Baltimore’s major institutions. Season 1 shows you the police cracking down on Barksdale (largely through wiretapping—hence The Wire); Season 2 is about the ports; Season 3 introduces you to Baltimore politics by showing the early stages of a mayoral election; Season 4 explores the school system; and Season 5 covers the press. The good guys are sprinkled throughout the city (including within the Barksdale organization) and the bad guys are, too, but they are much more numerous. Every part of Baltimore is corrupt. There is perhaps one character in the whole series who abides by a strict moral code—everyone else gives in at one time or another.
And there is one other character (or maybe two) who is not ruined by the system at least in some small way. The series shows you that in a ruined city like Baltimore, the good guys can’t win. Institutions have a powerful effect on individuals and no matter who you are, you can’t survive by doing the right thing when those institutions are corrupt. There are characters who try to save the city or some part of it, but they are almost always punished for their good intentions.
Henry VI, Parts 1 and 2, and Henry V, by William Shakespeare
Henry V is one of his most compelling characters in all of Shakespeare. Before reading Henry V, read Henry IV, Part 1, to see his childhood, spent in the streets and taverns misbehaving with thieves and drunks (including, of course, the unforgettable Falstaff, with whom he has a true friendship). Then read Part 2 to see young Hal feel the weight of the crown he will soon wear and reject Falstaff and his former ways. Is he a great man in the classical sense or merely a skilled Machiavellian? Read Hal’s first soliloquy (the first of many beautiful speeches) in Act 1 of Henry IV, Part 1 for the beginnings of an answer.
Natural Right and History, by Leo Strauss
One of Strauss’s clearest and most absorbing books, Natural Right and History begins with the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence and the question whether we still believe that there is a natural foundation for the rights of man. Strauss presents nature and history as alternative guides and shows the effect of the soft historicism, prevalent in our day, which rejects nature as a guide. There is a very helpful chapter on the distinction between facts and values, a product of historicism, which has come to dominate science. The book’s central section takes up the origin of the idea of natural right, which, we learn, is an alternative to the ancestral view that what is old and “our own” is good. But what is nature, exactly, and how can it be a guide for us? And how does the study of nature relate to the study of the human things? One must know nature before one knows natural right, and the discovery of nature is the work of philosophy. This book is, in the end, a call to philosophy, which means moving from opinion to knowledge, or searching for the principles of all things.
For those new to Strauss, this is the place to start. And I’m told that even seasoned readers of Strauss should pick this up once a year.
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Art Director, Claremont Review of Books
The Book of Genesis, illustrated by R. Crumb
Robert Crumb (born 1943) grew up in a world saturated with popular culture: Disney cartoons, TV, Mad magazine, and so forth. From an early age he began to draw and write comic books; and just as Mozart was good at music, Crumb was good at comic books. He invented a mass
of vivid images, characters, and stories that attracted notice in the late '60s; and he instantly became famous.When a person has this type of early success, it's customary for him to burn out, to lose direction, to decline into drugs. But Crumb surprised his fans: he has continued, for decades, to turn out remarkable works, never repeating himself, always exploring new territory.
Bit by bit, Crumb has revealed himself as a sort of paleoconservative (although he espouses no orthodoxy). His latest creation, an illustrated version of Genesis, continues in this vein, and demonstrates his deep sense of the moral weight of human existence. But this book (despite its fidelity to the text) is not heavy or boring; it's fresh and entertaining, showing flashes of subtle humor that seem to reside in Crumb's DNA. I recommend it.Robert Alter, the noted biblical scholar, wrote an extensive and judicious review of Crumb's Genesis for the New Republic, which you can read here.
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Fletcher Jones Professor of Political Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College
or fiction, try the novels of Kazuo Ishiguro. They will attract your taste for subtlety, indirection, and precision. His most recent novel, Never Let Me Go might be especially appealing to Claremont Institute friends. An Artist of the Floating World and Remains of the Day are equally worthwhile. His recent collection of short stories, Nocturnes, is not quite as good as these, but good nonetheless. Following this foray into fiction, acquaint or reacquaint yourself with the poems of Philip Larkin, found most easily in Anthony Thwaite’s edition of Larkin’s Collected Poems.
Read or reread one of Plato’s shorter dialogues. You will discover that you know both more and less than you thought. Read the Laches, if you are especially perplexed by courage, the Euthyphro, if piety confuses you (or, perhaps, especially, if it doesn’t), the Lysis to learn about friendship, or the Alcibiades I , once thought to be a gateway to the other dialogues. Thomas West’s Euthyphro, David Bolotin’s Lysis, James Nichols’s Laches, and Carnes Lord’s Alcibiades (both in Thomas Pangle’s collection The Roots of Political Philosophy) are the translations of choice.
If you have by now read all of Ishiguro and Plato, turn to Richard Evans’s three volume history of the Nazis: The Coming of the Third Reich, The Third Reich in Power, and The Third Reich at War. You will not agree with everything he says in his lucid discussions, but you will learn much. Evans is not afraid to make the horror of the Holocaust the center of his account. For a one volume history, look at Michael Burleigh’s The Third Reich.
I’m also happy to recommend four books, three published in the past year, by several of my younger colleagues at Claremont McKenna College. They will give you confidence that CMC will remain a place where sensible people can learn important things about politics. Kenneth Miller’s Direct Democracy and the Courts deals with ballot measures and judicial review, Jon Shields’ The Democratic Virtues of the Christian Right studies democratic participation and deliberation among members of the Christian right, George Thomas’s The Madisonian Constitution clarifies proper constitutional interpretation and the limits of judicial authority, and Christopher Nadon’s Xenophon’s Prince: Republic and Empire in the Cyropaedia examines with care Xenophon’s classic work. Each of these books will reward the reader.
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Columnist, Scripps-Howard News Service
Fellow, Golden State Center for State and Local Government
ot since Oswald Spengler performed Vaudeville (What? You didn't know?) has a work about our civilization’s slide into depression, doom and dread been so…well, so funny. Yet John Derbyshire’s We Are Doomed is about the cheeriest paean to pessimism you’re likely to find. You don’t have to share Derbyshire’s outlook on politics, pop culture, or religion to appreciate his gleefully jaundiced take. But you may discover as my co-columnist and collaborator Joel Mathis did when we interviewed Derb in November that you laugh in spite of yourself.
In one of these symposia a few years ago, I recommended Dale DeGroff’s The Craft of the Cocktail. DeGroff, the former head mixologist at New York’s Rainbow Room, has since put out an updated edition of that book called The Essential Cocktail: The Art of Mixing Perfect Drinks. The “art” in the subtitle is intentional. The book is beautifully designed and features hundreds of photographs of impossibly gorgeous drinks. Your drinks might not look as pretty, but you’ll enjoy testing the recipes.
My 7-year-old son Benjamin and I were on a Roald Dahl kick for a while around the beginning of the year. His favorites were The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Twits. Wes Anderson’s very fine film adaptation of the Fantastic Mr. Fox bears only a superficial resemblance to Dahl’s charming tale of a father fox who outwits the awful trio of Boggis, Bunce and Bean. If you’ve seen the movie, by all means read the book. And if you’ve read the book, see the movie…and read it again. You’ll be doubly charmed.
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Matthew J. Franck
Professor and Chair of Political Science, Radford University
t is never not the season to consider the relation between American politics and the Christian faith espoused by some 85% of Americans. But the Christmas season when determined secularists annoy our ears with “Happy Holidays!” and “Season’s Greetings!” may be a particularly appropriate time to ponder such things. Begin with American Babylon: Notes of a Christian Exile, by the late Richard John Neuhaus, who undoubtedly “met God as an American,” just as he said he wished to do in this, his last book, which is full of wise Augustinian counsel for all Christians who wonder how to be at home in the city that is not their true home. Also excellent is Hugh Heclo’s Christianity and American Democracy, the second of Harvard’s Tocqueville Lectures to be published (the first being James W. Ceaser’s superb Nature and History in American Political Development). Heclo takes a panoramic view of our history and concludes persuasively that while Christianity has been good to America, America has not been so good to Christianity. Heclo worries about a “coming rupture” between serious Christians and a political culture from which they are alienated. Does he worry too much? Read it and decide for yourself.
Is Christianity even alive and well at America’s most famous and prominent Catholic university? Not if you ask Charles E. Rice, the law professor emeritus who asks What Happened to Notre Dame? a scorching critique of the university’s decision to give an honorary law degree at its May 2009 commencement to the most pro-abortion president in American history. And if you want to begin the new year armed with unassailable arguments against abortion yourself, or against embryo-destructive medical research arguments that do not rest on claims about specially revealed truths then read Robert P. George and Christopher Tollefsen’s Embryo: A Defense of Human Life.
But Christmas should not be all about heavy thinking and weighty issues. It should be about relaxation and entertainment as well. Breathes there a true American who does not love the films of John Ford? Give him Print the Legend: Politics, Culture, and Civic Virtue in the Films of John Ford, edited by Sidney A. Pearson, Jr., with essays on many of Ford’s great westerns, and some of his other pictures as well. (Full disclosure: my wife and I wrote the essay on How Green Was My Valley.)
Do you wonder where to find the successor to Patrick O’Brian for thrilling historical fiction featuring men of action with interesting characters? Try Arturo Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste and the books that follow. Perez-Reverte, an admirer of Dumas, places his laconic, jaded, but noble Alatriste in the mean streets of 17th-century Madrid, fighting for truth, justice, and enough money to buy some more wine. More fully realized are the Matthew Hervey novels of Allan Mallinson, who deserves the kind of American “discovery” that enriched O’Brian after he had labored on the Jack Aubrey books for a number of years. Mallinson’s hero is a young cavalry officer who fights under Wellington in the Peninsula and at Waterloo, then goes on to further adventures in Canada, India, Portugal, and South Africa. Hervey is a Christian gentleman struggling with faith and doubt, ambition and temptation, honor and duty and he’s a hell of a soldier. Winston Churchill would have understood him perfectly, and liked him. Begin at the beginning, with A Close Run Thing, about the Battle of Waterloo.
And if the Christmas season simply demands the wisest kind of frivolity, start just about anywhere in the works of the inimitable P.G. Wodehouse. For guidance to Wodehouse’s world (and to help seasoned hands remember which of his 92 books they’ve read and which they haven’t), turn to Richard Usborne’s Plum Sauce: A P.G. Wodehouse Companion. Just the thing if you can’t remember in which book you last encountered D’Arcy “Stilton” Cheesewright!
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Fellow in American Studies, the Claremont Institute
Liberal Fascism, by Jonah Goldberg
A scholarly and ground-breaking secret history of the American Left, binding fascism and progressivism through shared intellectual roots. A big, important work.
Religion of Peace, by Robert Spencer
Why Christianity is and Islam isn't worthy of western civilization and its defense. One of many recent works by a seasoned scholar of Islamism.
Surrender is Not an Option, by John Bolton
A defense of America at the United Nations and Abroad by the consistently principled diplomat.
Power Faith and Fantasy, by Michael Oren
America in the Middle East , 1776 to Present, by Israel's Ambassador to the United States, a soldier, statesman and great writer.
Americanism: The 4th Great Western Religion, by David Gelernter
A powerful and wise journey from Puritanism to religious meaning today.
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Jakub J. Grygiel
George H. W. Bush Associate Professor, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (Johns Hopkins University)
The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire, by Edward Luttwak
The 1976 book on Roman grand strategy by the author stimulated a lively and productive debate among ancient historians, who had all but had abandoned by then the study of grand strategy. Luttwak's new book on Byzantine grand strategy promises to be a worthy follow up.
Thucydides: The Reinvention of History, by Donald Kagan.
Who else is better equipped to write about Thucydides than Donald Kagan?
Raid on the Sun, by Rodger Claire.
A very different topic from those of the previous two book suggestions, but important and relevant nevertheless. This book chronicles the preparations and the execution of the Israeli raid on the Osirak nuclear reactor in Iraq. It is a fascinating read. Among other lessons one can draw from it, is the point that Israeli strategists and military planners may be willing to execute operations that we, in the U.S., deem all but impossible, technically and politically. A lesson for the future as we face a potentially nuclear Iran.
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Allen C. Guelzo
Professor of History and Director of Civil War Era Studies, Gettysburg College
ot having come up in the conventional way through either academe or “movement conservatism,” I have to console myself with a sadly small circle of like-minded friends and a ponderously large collection of like-minded books. Of them all, I've found nothing more nurturing or illuminating for a good holiday reading vacation than…
Book after conservative book either chases the tail of current policy or exhumes the carcasses of past ideologies for another good kicking session. Sowell's argument is that what usually passes for political thought over the past century is really rooted in a series of attitudes, rather than policies or ideas. And truth be told, most people generally do interpret the world through the lens of four or five attitudes which are all the more powerful for being attitudes, and therefore invisible to their holders and maddeningly impervious to evidence or reason. Sowell's extended essay is an act of epistemological self-awareness, flushing out into the open the "flattering unction" that, entirely apart from policies or ideas, makes the American Left so purblind to real-life consequences, so quick to substitute ridicule for discussion, and so utterly full of itself that it cannot imagine why anyone in Kansas or elsewhere would find fault with it. If you have never understood why the Left is so indifferent to the casualties that litter its passage or so confident of its sainthood, Sowell's analysis of the presuppositions of “the tragic” and “the anointed” will fill the bill like nothing you will ever read. My only complaint is that the binary division of political attitudes into only “tragic” and “anointed” is too simple; some room might have been made for “the ironic” or even “the comic.” But that's my only complaint. The rest is pure gold.
This may be the only book by a political scientist which did not make me wish for a swift and merciful death. A student of Leo Strauss, Jaffa seized upon the Lincoln-Douglas debates at a time (in the 1950s) when Louis Hartz was still assuring us that all Americans really thought pretty much the same about politics, and when J.G. Randall, Avery Craven, and Roy F. Nichols were assuring us that the Civil War was brought on by blundering politicians and that Lincoln and Douglas weren't really arguing about all that much after all. Jaffa, on the other hand, read the Lincoln-Douglas debates and thought he saw the only American equivalent to Plato’s Republic, with Douglas in the role of Thrasymachus, defending any majority's power to impose its will even if that will results in the enslavement of others, and Lincoln as Socrates, insisting that purpose of popular sovereignty was to serve the good, not the convenient. This book, I suppose, did more to make me a Lincoln person than any other. It will do the same to you.
The Political Culture of the American Whigs, by Daniel Walker Howe
No American political party has been the butt of more Progressive jokes than Henry Clay's Whigs. Howe's book was therefore unusual almost arcane in blessing the Whigs with so much love and attention. But Howe had whetted his literary knife on an even more-arcane study of 19th-century Unitarian Harvard, The Unitarian Conscience: Harvard Moral Philosophy, 1805-1861, and in the process, acquired an acute ear for both the interplay of morals and politics, and the symbolic and cultural gestures that accompany ideas. Howe thus defined the Whigs as a “political culture,” a kind of ideological community made up of the symbols, habits, instincts, underlying the values of political participants before they were translated into actual issues or campaigns. It almost goes without saying that Howe just about single-handedly re-invigorated study of the Whigs as a middle-class resistance movement to the cynical Luddite mobilization of working-class Americans by the Jacksonian plantation elite. A prince of a book by a prince of American historians.
Nothing could be more surprising than to find the premier American red-diaper baby writing a dissertation for an unrepentant Stalinist mentor which describes in almost worshipful detail the anatomy of the Republican mind in the age of Lincoln. Eric Foner originally wrote Free Soil, Free Labor, Free Men under Richard Hofstadter, and it represents a triumph of Foner's professionalism and craftsmanship over his personal preference for Madam Defarge's knitting to find that nothing opens up the principles of Lincolnian Republicanism so well as this book. In his close attention to the meaning and genealogy of political texts, or at least political ideas, and the causal effect these ideas had on actions, Foner identifies the basic components of the Republican political ideology, the principal partners in its creation, and its uneven but not unjust struggle with race. I cannot imagine this to have been his intention, but it's the sort of book which will have you singing (as they did in 1860): Ain't you glad you joined the Republicans?
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Alonzo L. Hamby
Distinguished Professor of History, Ohio University
Truman and MacArthur: Policy, Politics, and the Hunger for Honor and Renown, by Michael Pearlman
Pearlman, a former professor at the Army Command and General Staff College, has his doubts about President Truman, but the burden of his analysis displays a MacArthur who seems out of touch with reality. Think the Inchon landing was a brilliant move? Think again. This solid and provocative study is among the best works on the Korean War.
Hell to Pay: Operation Downfall and the Invasion of Japan, 1945-1947, by Dennis Giangreco
An authority on the high casualty estimates for the contemplated 1945-46 invasion of Japan he believes they well well-founded Giangreco lays out in far greater detail than any other historian the tactics and weaponry the Japanese military intended to deploy in order to make an invasion of the home islands too costly to contemplate. Atomic bomb revisionists with open minds will find his research sobering.
A Safe Haven: Harry S. Truman and the Founding of Israel, by Allis Radosh and Ronald Radosh
Authoritatively covering Jewish settlement in twentieth-century Palestine, sorting out benign and malign Zionist factions, probing the Anglo-American split on the issue, examining the complexities of Harry Truman’s personal attitudes and political needs, the Radoshes have produced the best work yet on the U.S. decision to recognize Israel, minutes after its establishment in 1948.
Woodrow Wilson, by John Milton Cooper
A renowned historian who has devoted a long career to study of the Wilson era, Cooper has given us a capstone work that for a generation will be the standard one-volume biography of a flawed but great president. Readers may be especially impressed by the careful social-intellectual analysis of its subject’s pre-political years.
Written for a general audience by an acclaimed scholar, this tightly organized book is a fine account of the endgame for Western Imperialism in East and Southeast Asia in the years after World War II.
A well-done narration of the occasionally tense relationship between two American icons, this book also intelligently probes profound Anglo-American strategic arguments that threatened to disrupt the Grand Alliance.
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Daniel Walker Howe
Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University
Professor of History Emeritus, UCLA
“uff, puff, chug, chug, ding dong, ding dong. The little train rumbled over the tracks. She was a happy little train because she had such a jolly load to carry.” My favorite children’s book is The Little Engine That Could. It is beautifully told and teaches the right moral lessons. There have been several versions of the story, and several editions are currently available, but the one my parents read to me as a little boy was published by Platt & Monk in 1930 and attributed to Watty Piper, which I have learned was a pseudonym.
The story tells how a locomotive carrying toys and food for children breaks down and seeks help from other engines to carry its cargo “over the mountain.” Several engines refuse to help because they are too vain, too discouraged, or otherwise unmotivated. Then a little switch engine comes along eager to help. Although the smallest and most inexperienced of the locomotives, she shows the most initiative and succeeds in pulling the train over the mountain by dint of trying hard and thinking positively.
The story teaches at least two moral lessons: it is important to help someone in need, and hard work with a constructive attitude can compensate for physical disadvantages. Other features combine to make this a perfect story for young children. While the vocabulary is simple, the story is told in poetic language, with lines that virtually scan. Children readily identify with the anthropomorphized dolls, toys, and locomotives. There is considerable verbal repetition as one engine after another is interviewed and refuses help, so children easily memorize the story. It actually helped me learn how read, because after I had the story memorized, I connected the words I knew with the printed symbols on the page.
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Brian P. Janiskee
Professor and Chair of Political Science, California State University, San Bernardino
Seven Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century, by Andrew Krepinevich.
If you are looking for a reassuring treatise on America’s readiness for conflict in the years ahead, skip this sobering assessment by Army veteran and military strategist Andrew Krepinevich. The author offers seven scenarios for possible conflict in the near future that could very well pose significant threats to America’s national security. Each scenario consists of a chapter covering the present headlines to worst case scenarios that appear all too real. Krepinevich takes the reader through such nightmares as the collapse of Pakistan, nuclear terrorism at home, to a calculated assault on the world’s “just in time” delivery system of critical products and materials. His treatment of a potential pandemic is eerily prescient, given events that occurred since the publication of this work. If one is concerned about the current and future direction of American national security policy, this book is a must read.
Child 44, by Tom Rob Smith
This novel is a grisly tour through the deadly contradictions of the Soviet Union under Stalin. A renegade MGB officer becomes entwined in an investigation of a serial killer on the loose in the Worker’s Paradise, a land where such crimes, “officially,” do not occur. As this agent digs deeper into the evidence, in a quest to enforce the law, he becomes the most sought after target of the Communist police state. This gripping read takes one inside the intricacies of a tyrannical regime at the height of its power and the apex of its hypocrisy.
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Visiting Assistant Professor of Political Science, Kenyon College
othing rings in the holidays like thinking about nuclear weapons and proliferation. Last week, the 1991 START agreement lapsed, and the Obama Administration has been underway to negotiate its replacement, which is expected to include substantial cuts to American nuclear forces, even below the deep cuts made by the George W. Bush in the 2002 Moscow Treaty. At the prodding of Vice President Joe Biden, the administration is also expected to push the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. But ratifying these treaties and cutting our own forces may or may not have any effect on the desirability of such weapons to the world’s worst regimes or their desire to proliferate nuclear materials to others.
One reason for skepticism that good example and parchment agreements alone will not suffice to is given in Robert Joseph’s Countering WMD: The Libyan Experience. A former Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Joseph was one of a handful of persons closely involved in the peaceful rollback of Libya’s nuclear weapons and missile programs. One the most successful, unprecedented (and underappreciated) episodes in the history of counterproliferation policy came on the heels of the revelation of the A.Q. Khan network’s sales to Libya and others, and of course the end of the Hussein regime. Qadaffi said in a 2003 press interview that “I will do whatever the United States wants, because I saw what happened in Iraq, and I was afraid.” Joseph enumerates lessons from the Libyan episode, including the importance of clarity and firmness in diplomacy, lessons which might today be usefully applied to the cases of North Korea and Iran.
Similar cause for doubt in the efficacy of traditional nonproliferation policy is suggested by Keith Payne’s The Great American Gamble. A former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Payne documents how the Cold War reasoning for nuclear deterrence continues to mask how we think about both nuclear weapons and missile defense today. The “gamble” here is the deliberate choice to emphasize purely offensive means of deterrence lots of nuclear armed missiles to the exclusion of missile defenses which could blunt an attack should it occur. Whatever the value during the Cold War, the continued proliferation of missile and nuclear technology suggests that this model may not work, yet strangely enough the Cold War calculus continues to fuel. Given the continued proliferation advances of bad regimes, he invokes Bob Dylan’s line that “a slow train is coming up around the bend,” and suggests that America will come to regret its continued acceptance of the homeland’s vulnerability to ballistic missile attack.
Bona fide nuclear scientists Thomas Reed and Daniel Stillman also invoke the train imagery for proliferation in The Nuclear Express, provocatively suggesting that nuclear and missile proliferation to rogue regimes like Pakistan and Iran began as conscious Chinese policy in the 1980s, and may remain in effect today, using North Korea as a conduit to first develop and then disseminate such materials to enemies of the West. Instead of Bob Dylan, Reed and Stillman invoke Edward R. Murrow’s 1940 assessment of Britain’s Chamberlin administration: “The people here feel the machine is out of control, that we are all passengers on an express train traveling at high speed through a dark tunnel toward an unknown destiny.” The metaphor does not fit their argument perfectly, however, since they suggest that China is the engineer running the train, and that it has little concern for the well-being of its passengers.
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John B. Kienker
Managing Editor, Claremont Review of Books
We Still Hold These Truths, by Matthew Spalding
Well organized, clearly written, expertly argued, this is perhaps the single best introduction to the political thought of the American Founding. Spalding builds his book around ten principles, each illuminating a different aspect of the American experiment, from the political theory of the Declaration of Independence and the structure of the Constitution, to family law, education, character formation, citizenship, and foreign policy.
American Virtues, by Jean Yarbrough
Now in paperback, an excellent study of Thomas Jefferson’s idiosyncratic political thought, a blend that included liberal natural rights theory, Scottish moral sense philosophy, Epicureanism, and agrarian romanticism. Yarbrough examines the full range of virtues Jefferson believed essential to perpetuate the intellect, character, and devotion that constitutional government needs to sustain itself. (The best single-volume biography of the Sage of Monticello remains Merrill Peterson’s Thomas Jefferson and the New Nation.)
The Age of Reagan, by Steven F. Hayward
A monumental achievement, Hayward’s two-volume account covering Ronald Reagan’s rise in the ’60s and’70s through his years in the White House is political history at its finest. This second volume reminds one especially how deeply Reagan had to know the conservative arguments to have any hope of making inroads against Communism abroad and—what proved to be a tougher foe—liberalism at home. So, read the first volume if you haven’t, and then dive into this one.
The Character of Nations, by Angelo M. Codevilla
Newly updated and expanded to take account of the September 11 attacks and the 2008 bailout, Codevilla surveys dramatic changes in prosperity, civility, family life, religion, and national defense around the world, with examples drawn from the Soviets to the Swedes, from Italy to Israel, and a dozen other countries. When he turns his attention to modern-day America, he no longer finds the nation of free citizens described by Tocqueville, bound together by a devotion to limited, constitutional government; but one that more and more resembles Europe or even the Third World: a nation of favor-seekers profiting from their connections to government and content to be ruled by a powerful, decadent elite.
John Courtney Murray: Theologian in Conflict, by Donald E. Pelotte, S.S.S.
A superb introduction to the scholar-priest who did so much to reconcile America with the Catholic Church and the Catholic Church with America. Pelotte helpfully provides the historical context in which Murray wrote, bringing alive the drama of his arguments, which were banned by the Vatican in the 1950s and then, within in a decade, triumphed at the Second Vatican Council in the Declaration on Religious Freedom. For more perspectives on Murray and his influence, see John Courtney Murray and the Civil Conversation edited by Robert P. Hunt and Kenneth L. Grasso. All of Murray’s writings, including his book, We Hold These Truths, are available here.
Hercule Poirot Novels and Stories, by Agatha Christie
With her very first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, Agatha Christie introduced the world to a dandyish little Belgian detective with an egg-shaped head and fantastic moustaches. Hercule Poirot’s “little gray cells” and “order and method” would be on the case for nearly six decades in short stories and novels that would secure Christie’s reputation as the Queen of Crime, and make her the best-selling author of all time. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Murder on the Orient Express, and Poirot’s final bow in Curtain (published posthumously) stand out for their sheer creativity. Skip the exhausted later novels and the bewilderingly awful The Big Four, unless you’re really addicted. Also not to be missed is David Suchet’s definitive portrayal on the small screen.
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Daniel J. Mahoney
Professor of Political Science, Assumption College
inston Churchill is the preeminent statesman of the 20th century humane, indomitable, magnanimous, and committed in the best English fashion to decency and liberty under law and Paul Johnson is one of our most reliable guides to the 20th century as well as an elegant practitioner of the “Plutarchian” art of the moral biography of exemplary statesman and tyrants. Johnson’s new book Churchill, coming in at a mere 180 pages, does not disappoint. Eschewing hagiography, Johnson nonetheless ably captures the grit, intelligence, and determination of an authentically great man. He is particularly good at showing the reasons why Churchill made such a difference in 1940 (those reasons go beyond his magnificent, morally clarifying rhetoric) and the permanent lessons to be learned from his character and example. And as an amateur painter himself, Johnson has some illuminating things to say about Churchill as painter as well as Churchill as orator.
Aurelian Craiutu and Jeremy Jennings are to be commended for collecting Tocqueville’s letters, speeches, and writings on America after the publication of the second volume of Democracy in America. Tocqueville on America after 1840: Letters and Other Writings allows Anglophone readers to come to terms not only with Tocqueville the political philosopher, the analyst par excellence of the unfolding “democratic revolution” that filled him with cautious hope as well as “religious dread,” but also with the self-described “half Yankee” who fretted about the growing materialism and lawlessness in a country whose experiment in republican self-government meant so much to him and to “the cause of humanity.” We see the French statesman and political thinker lamenting the growing strength of the slavery party in the United States and pleading, as he put it in his contribution to the anti-slavery Liberty Bell in 1856, for an end to “the spectacle of man’s degradation by man.” This critic of dogmatic egalitarianism and the evils of chattel slavery hoped that Americans would have the prudence and decency to “grant equal civil liberty to all the inhabitants of the same empire, as God accords the freedom of the will, without distinction, to the dwellers upon earth.” This volume thus reveals “the humanity of the aristocrat,” as Raymond Aron once put it, as well as a man capable of generous and affectionate friendship with so many of his American interlocutors. And in a moment that every American can appreciate, we see Tocqueville inquiring, discretely to be sure, about the status of his investments in American railroads which he feared had been badly hit by the economic crisis of 1857 (luckily he was spared!).
The fall of 2009 saw the publication of the “restored” 96-chapter version of Solzhenitsyn’s greatest novel under its original title In the First Circle. Solzhenitsyn originally wrote the work as an “underground writer” between 1955 and 1958 after a prolonged period in Soviet prisons and camps, as well as in internal exile, and with no hope for its publication in the foreseeable future. In 1964, he prepared a “distorted” 87-chapter version of the work that he hoped, wrongly it turned out, might make it past Soviet censors. It was that version that appeared in less than adequate translations in England and America in 1968. In 1968, Solzhenitsyn “restored” the work making some additional changes along the way. It is this version that that has finally appeared in English in a splendid translation by the late Harry T. Willetts. One can not say enough about this book. It combines a searing critique of totalitarianism, an exciting detective story, an account of friendship and philosophy surviving, even flourishing in the “first circle” of gulag/hell, a relatively privileged scientific research prison at the edge of Moscow at the end of 1949. The five chapters on Stalin, which are unlike anything else in modern literature, renew Plato’s critique of the soul-destroying character of tyranny in the Gorgias. In addition, the book beautifully captures Solzhenitsyn’s own odyssey, in the form of his alter ego Gleb Nerzhin, from Marxism, to skepticism, to a much more substantial affirmation of natural moral conscience and justice, “the cornerstone, the foundation of the universe!” From beginning to end, Solzhenitsyn ties his critique of tyranny to a critique of the “stupid” thought of Epicurus that “our feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction are the highest criteria of good and evil.” A hedonistic calculus, Solzhenitsyn suggests, can provide no principled ground for opposing the Tyrant’s claim that his pleasure is good or for affirming the choice-worthiness of a life lived according to conscience.
Finally, it is well worth returning to the best collections of essays by two humane thinkers and social critics who died in 2009. The Polish ex-Marxist turned philosophical Christian Leszek Kolakowski writes with depth and learning about the discontents of modernity in his splendid Modernity on Endless Trial. His essays admirably avoid the twin extremes of dogmatism and relativism, utopianism and despair. And Irving Kristol provides a sober anti-utopian reflection on the “democratic idea” in Neo-conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. His neo-conservatism had nothing to do with militant Wilsonianism and was deeply marked by his engagement with the thought of Leo Strauss and Lionel Trilling as well with “neo-orthodox” Jewish and Christian thought.
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Harvey C. Mansfield
William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of Government, Harvard University
Shop Class as Soulcraft, by Mathew Crawford
The weak point in modern scientific technology is that its products need to be repaired. Here is the phenomenology of the repairman, whose brain must work through his hands and on actual materials.
Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, by Christopher Caldwell
With a variation on the title of Edmund Burke's famous work, Caldwell studies Muslim immigration to Europe. He shows it to be a case of the crisis of the West and the weakness resulting from a loss of belief in itself.
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Wilfred M. McClay
SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Judaism: A Way of Being, by David Gelernter
In this beautiful, passionate, imaginative, and deeply meditated book, David Gelernter has done far more than provide us with a handy distillation of Jewish doctrine or history or law or custom. Instead he has sought something deeper and more elusive: an account of the singular Jewish vision of reality, considered in its wholeness. The resulting work has the condensed power of a great poem, with imagery and insights that will linger long in the thoughts of readers. The book is propelled by an urgent recognition that there can be no Jewish future without a recovery of Judaism itself, of the beliefs and texts and images that give Judaism its sweep and grandeur. Yet all the book's readers, whether or not they are Jewish, will find in it an introduction, both winsome and startling, to a way of being in the world that they may never have fully imagined before even though they have been carrying it around all their lives, resident in their very bones.
The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler’s Gathering Storm, edited by Joseph Loconte
This book appeared five years ago, but deserves to be revisited repeatedly, particularly by those who think that the fecklessness of the West’s religious leaders in addressing questions of war and peace and civilizational survival is a new thing. It is sobering to read, for example, these words from the editorial page of The Christian Century, dated May 8, 1940, just two days before Hitler would begin to overrun France and take control of the European continent: “For the United States to make a fateful decision to enter this war on the mistaken and irrational assumption that it is a war for the preservation of anything good in civilization will be the supreme tragedy of our history.”
I’m just catching up with this remarkable book, which appeared a couple of years ago, but it has lost none of its power or relevance in the interim. In fact, I think it is going to take many years for its importance to be fully absorbed and appreciated. Piereson argues that the Kennedy assassination was misread, really quite outrageously, as an evidence of the violently racist underside of American society, rather than what it most obviously was, i.e., the act of a pro-Castro, pro-Soviet Communist, undertaken at the height of the Cold War. This misreading, he argues, undergirded a radical transformation in the liberal understanding of American history, with consequences that are with us more than ever.
The Housing Boom and Bust, by Thomas Sowell
Vintage Sowell: a lucid, jargon-free, and devastatingly accessible account of what happened and why and why a drastic reformation of our economic system may be the worst of all possible responses.
The book provides something that has been, incredibly enough, almost completely lacking in the economic and historical literature of recent years: a detailed and sympathetic (though not uncritical) account of the men who created the policy revolution that extricated the United States from the stagflation of the 1970s. In an irresistible and sometimes rollicking narrative yes, I know that sound hard to believe, but read the book and you’ll see Domitrovic tells the tale of Robert Mundell, Arthur Laffer, Robert Bartley, Jack Kemp, Norman Ture, Jude Wanniski, and the other oddballs and outliers who made this revolution. Given what Domitrovic shows about John F. Kennedy’s economic policies, it makes sense to read this in conjunction with Piereson’s book above. But in any event, it is a book that could not be more timely, as we find ourselves in the grip of a neo-dirigisme that seems determined not only to forget the past but to condemn us to repeat it.
And speaking of Santayana…admirers of the sublime Spaniard’s elegant prose and penetrating cultural observation will not want to miss this brand new edition of his most influential extended writings about America. Appearing as a volume in Yale University Press’s “Rethinking the Western Tradition” series, and admirably edited by James Seaton, it also features critical essays on Santayana by Seaton, John Lachs, Roger Kimball, and yours truly. A perfect Christmas present for all your friends who savor the tart, epigrammatic words of an uncategorizable master.
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Editor, Doublethink magazine
The Time It Never Rained, by Elmer Kelton
Elmer Kelton, the Texan novelist, died last August at the age of 83. If you're not familiar with his work, make haste and pick up a copy of his 1973 masterpiece, The Time It Never Rained. Kelton was voted Best Author by the Western Writers of America receiving twice as many votes as the runner-up, Willa Cather and he certainly belongs to the pantheon of great Western writers: Larry McMurtry, Thomas Berger, and Wallace Stegner. "I can't write about heroes seven feet tall and invincible," Kelton once wrote. "I write about people five feet eight and nervous." The Time It Never Rained tells the tale of one such nervous hero, the independent, old rancher Charlie Flagg, who is at battle with a terrible drought and an encroaching federal government. "I just want to live by my own light and be left the hell alone,” Charlie says. What follows is both a gripping story of survival and a lament for the passing of the American West.
Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy
Which brings us to another Western writer, Helena native Maile Meloy. Meloy's latest offering is a collection of short stories, largely set in Montana, and, as its title suggests, it focuses on characters caught between duty and desire. Readers of her break-out novel, Liars and Saints, already know Meloy is a sympathetic writer, able to invest even her more unlikeable characters with humanity. But she’s also a clear-eyed one, and a deep moral seriousness animates Both Ways. There's an insistent and decidedly unhip sincerity about her work. Adults behaving adulterously have provided the subject for many a short story collection (see: Updike, Cheever, Ford), but it's hard to think of another that treats infidelity and the myriad other small failings of ordinary people as unironically and as earnestly as Both Ways does. But Meloy, a traditionalist, both in style and subject, is used to bucking trends. Her strengths are stubbornly old-fashioned ones: a spare yet meticulous realism, concentrated character study, and, above all, the restraint and precision of her prose.
I just reviewed Gilead and Home for the Fall CRB, and both deserve pride of place on your holiday shopping list. I won't wax enthusiastic too much (you can read the review for that), except to say that Gilead and Home are beautiful and wise novels most in keeping with the season.
Now, for some fun. The New York Review of Books recently republished these two comedic gems as part of its classics series (The Dud Avocado in 2007, and The Old Man and Me, just this year), and it’s not a minute too soon. In her heyday, Elaine Dundy garnered raves from no less than P.G. Wodehouse, Groucho Marx, and Dawn Powell. Gore Vidal called her the "funniest woman writers in America." Both The Dud Avocado and The Old Man and Me follow young American girls set loose in post-war Europe, first in Paris and then moving along to London. But these are no innocents abroad Dundy's heroines are unapologetically on the make. (Think Holly Golightly or Lorelei Lee.) The Dud Avocado, in particular, is a delight: a madcap romp through left bank Paris with the irrepressibly scatty Sally Jay Gorce. It's a book you can't help comparing to champagne it's bubbly, sparkling, heady, and certain to leave you feeling giddy even if the Pernod-sipping Miss Gorce "hate[s] champagne more than anything in the world next to Seven-Up." Plus, it features an introduction by the wonderful Terry Teachout. Dundy herself had a colorful life perhaps even more so than Sally Jay's including a tempestuous marriage to the theater critic Kenneth Tynan. It's all detailed in Dundy's charming autobiography, Life Itself! (The exclamation point is most definitely hers.) As she told an interviewer in 2007 at the age of 85, "I like to say that the outrageous and stupid things Sally Jay does, I did, and the sensible things she does, I made up."
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John J. Pitney, Jr.
Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics, Claremont McKenna College
The Age of Reagan: The Conservative Counterrevolution: 1980-1989, by Steven F. Hayward
This well-researched and highly readable book is the second in Steven Hayward's two-volume account of Reagan's life and times. It performs a couple of extremely important services. First, while recognizing his flaws and mistakes, it explains his political skill and shrewdness. Second, it corrects the common misconception that the 1980s were a time of political civility. After reading about the harsh personal attacks on Reagan by Tip O'Neill (who called him "evil") and Geraldine Ferraro (who said that she did not consider him a good Christian), no one can seriously believe today's partisan rancor is unprecedented.
The Audacity to Win: The Inside Story and Lessons of Barack Obama's Historic Victory, by David Plouffe
This memoir of the 2008 presidential race by Barack Obama's campaign manager is two-thirds of a really fine book. When describing Obama's historically effective campaign for the Democratic nomination, Plouffe offers valuable insights. As he shows, "community organizing" was not merely a slogan, but the animating idea behind Obama's bid to win primaries and caucuses. Plouffe is remarkably candid here, acknowledging a major error: the failure to conduct a full vulnerability study on Obama, including his ties to Reverend Wright. But when the narrative turns to the general election campaign, the cant-to-candor ratio goes way up. Obama once pledged to seek an agreement whereby the nominees would stay in the public-finance system. Plouffe offers a tortured explanation of why Obama reversed himself instead of simply admitting the obvious: his candidate made a clear commitment, and when it become politically inconvenient, he reneged.
Speech-less: Tales of a White House Survivor, by Matthew Latimer
The author was a presidential speechwriter toward the end of George W. Bush's second term. His White House experience was fairly brief, so he expands his story with tales of his previous stints as a congressional aide and speechwriter for Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. With a couple of exceptions (Rumsfeld and Senator Jon Kyl of Arizona), Latimer paints most of the people he dealt with as self-serving oafs. Perhaps he is actually a very nice fellow, but his relentless negativity and tittle-tattle make him sound like…Squidward. As fans of Spongebob Squarepants know, Squidward is the obnoxious cashier who thinks he is superior to everyone else, but isn't. So why do I recommend this book? If you know any politically ambitious young people, you should give it to them with this caution: "Without intending to, the author makes himself look very small by trashing former co-workers and bosses. Read it, and resolve never to be that way."
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Julie Ann Ponzi
Fellow, the Claremont Institute
ecause so many other distinguished friends and scholars have contributed such a variety of fine, interesting books for your own consideration and contemplation, I offer instead a couple of books with which I have had great success and enjoyment in reading aloud to my children. Perhaps you will find a similar experience with them. And, at Christmas, what gift could be finer than the gift of sharing your mind and your heart with your children over a good book?
The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster
One of the most grating of all childhood whines is the cry of “Moooommmm…I’m bored!” Born ignorant as they must be of the world’s many wonders, the cry of boredom seems to indicate a lack of curiosity and, perhaps, an unearned sense of self-satisfaction on the part of children. Perhaps it also indicates a lack of imagination and effort on the part of the children’s parents . . . but let us draw a curtain around that painful suggestion (for who among us has kids who have not uttered this complaint?) as we examine a fable that addresses this timeless issue.
Norton Juster introduces Milo as a boy, “who didn’t know what to do with himself not just sometimes, but always.” Nothing, we are told, interested him “least of all the things that should have.” And this, of course, means that Milo found learning to be a big bore. But it is Milo’s very boredom and indifference to the world around him that propels him via a mysterious “tollbooth” appearing one day in his bedroom to “collect his fare” into a parallel and chaotic universe with a cast of characters designed to help him discover a cause for wonderment in his own world by making him wish, desperately, to return there.
As Milo crosses the border between our world and this strange one, he encounters characters and situations that are either ridiculously literal (as a watchdog that is, quite literally half-dog and half…er, watch) or ridiculously ponderous, obtuse and abstract. The confusion of this world resulted from a civil war between two rival brothers in the Kingdom of Wisdom. One brother Azaz in an effort to expand the frontiers of Wisdom, founded the city of Dictionopolis which, of course, was a city devoted to letters. The other brother known as the Mathemagician founded the city of Digitopolis which, obviously, was a city devoted to numbers. Things got on swimmingly so long as their twin sisters, the princesses Rhyme and Reason, continued to hold sway over the brothers, forcing them to work together. But, when the brothers, in their last act of agreement, banish the sisters to a tower outside the kingdom, things quickly deteriorate as wisdom becomes caught between a faction of letters and a faction of numbers where no one makes much sense at all.
Juster’s story is both clever and captivating. The plays on words are entertaining and, in places, even laugh-out-loud funny always for the grown-up reading but often, even so clever as to tickle the fancy of a child as young as seven. For children new to the wonders of reading, writing and arithmetic but, predictably, bored by the tedium of daily drills and constant correction, it is a fresh reminder that there is a golden ring waiting for them if they can keep at their labors. And for parents, it is a joyful way to recapture some of the elementary wonder both of language and of mathematics, and to rekindle a fascination for Wisdom as a kingdom whose borders ought, ever, to be expanding.
Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
I came to this great classic about the coming of age of a spirited and remarkably gifted young girl too late for it to have been a “kindred spirit” of my own youth. But I have always considered, since discovering her in my early 20s, that Anne is the female counterpart to our own Tom Sawyer. This is to say that Anne, the red-haired, quick-witted, plucky (but remarkably sensitive) orphan, is the quintessential American girl…or, at least, she would have been had she not been (at least in fiction) a Canadian.
To say Anne is like a female Tom Sawyer is also to recognize that she differs from him in significant ways. Her audacity is more obvious, for one thing. She cannot well hide her sentiments or opinions (and they are usually strong). And her scheming while it does not always prove winning does succeed in its higher purpose of sealing her place of esteem in the hearts of her people. If she is too dramatic, it is because she imagines big. If she is too earnest, it is because she stubbornly clings to the unshakeable faith that others will naturally enjoy imagining big alongside her. And, indeed, sometimes to their great credit and profit they do.
The lessons offered in balancing firmness with gentle persuasion, truthfulness with loyalty and honor, discipline with mercy, are timeless and presented in a narrative that is clear even to young children. You will be surprised at the sorts of conversations it may inspire in your children sometimes even weeks after the book has been read and returned to its shelf. They are the kind of lessons that stick because they are artfully told and capture the imaginations certainly of young girls but also even of active little boys inclined to boredom or rebellion by the mere mention of “girl talk.” I will confess that there are parts that run a bit long in overwrought descriptions of beauty and nature (or, worse dresses and finery) and they tend to try the patience of such boys, but the action of the story always comes around to justify the departure and, in so doing, teaches them a bit, too, about the attractions of contemplation before important action (to say nothing of judgment) and an appreciation for the beauty surrounding both.
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Robert R. Reilly
Senior Fellow, American Foreign Policy Council
his is the end of the bicentenary year of Haydn’s death and of Mendelssohn’s birth. If you have not yet observed these occasions, I have two wonderful ideas.The Brilliant Classics 150-CD box (BRL-CD-93782) of Haydn’s works (no, believe it or not, not the complete works – there is more) is a staggering gift. "Bargain" is hardly an adequate description of what is available here for $1 per CD or less (from various internet sites; start at Amazon). Included here are all the symphonies, vivaciously conducted by Adam Fischer, with the Austro-Hungarian Haydn Orchestra, and very good versions of the chamber music, and more and more and more! Treat yourself or someone else.
There is also a new 40-CD Brilliant Classics box, titled A Mendelssohn Portrait. It is incredibly inexpensive, available at many internet sites for less than $1.50 per CD and at the Berkshire Record Outlet for only $40, with good renditions of the symphonies, wonderful chamber and choral music, etc.
Now, two more ideas from the contemporary realm.
For those of you who think that Western high culture is dead or who reach for your guns when the word culture is mentioned, I have news for you. High culture is musically alive and well in the works of young (younger than I) composers who survived the attempted suicide of Western music by the manic atonal serialists. Swiss composer Carl Rütti's compelling and dramatic new Requiem is exhibit A, and demonstrates the welcome news that faith is still alive in "old" Europe. Get it on the budget Naxos label.
Also on Naxos is 36-year-old (now, that is really young) Jonathan Leshnoff’s music his Violin Concerto, Distant Reflections, and String Quartet No. 1 on CD. These new American works (from Baltimore, where Leshnoff lives) have the immediate appeal of soaring lyricism and passion, but the attraction strengthens with further acquaintance because the music has an underlying introspective character of real depth.
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Bruce C. Sanborn
Chairman, the Claremont Institute's Board of Directors
incoln, I have read, studied the Elements to see how Euclid demonstrated the truth of propositions, Lincoln and America being dedicated to “the proposition that all men are created equal.” Euclid starts the first book of the Elements defining terms (a point is…) and setting forth a handful of postulates. Then in 30-some pages he proves 48 propositions, each following from and fitting precisely with the ones before. Reasoning through the mental pictures of geometry, Euclid demonstrates how to understand what most of us as adolescents were was told in a formula of algebra. Euclid’s reasoning in the Elements is clear, elegant, and moving. The edifice of his demonstrations is beautiful. I recommend using Green Lion Press’s edition of the Elements; it is nicely sized and well laid out.
Another of my finds this year was Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals. Like Euclid, Kant grounds his thinking on a few postulates (what he calls rational beliefs): for instance, that God exists and man is able and free to live according to reason. Kant proceeds by practical reason to demonstrate the doctrine of right and build an edifice of reasonable politics. The rights and duties of property, he reasons, are key to government, civil society, and the doctrine of right. Government exists to secure outward liberty for citizens according to the doctrine of right and thereby frees citizens to practice self-government according to the doctrine of virtue, Kant’s doctrine that describes the ethics proper politics make possible. Kant’s rational belief (which Lincoln likely would call our ancient faith) is that humans in their humanity are moral beings, free and able to reason. Therefore the imperative of virtue (freely reasoned to and freely given to oneself) is to treat our neighbors as equals, as ends in themselves and not merely as means to other ends. We ought, that is, to treat them in just the way we ought to respect and govern ourselves. Kant concludes his Metaphysics of Morals discussing how to educate the young to reasonable and moral practice. The Cambridge edition is good.
Perhaps the greatest novelist to write in English wrote Emma. The soul of Jane Austen’s Emma lies at the confluence of The Course of True Love that flows from Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and of Reasonable Practice from Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals. At that confluence the two main estates in Emma, Hartfield and Donwell (heart’s-field and done-well, my translations), also meet. In other words, in Emma, love suffers the tests of education in order to become reasonable and true. In her character, Emma is like many of us Americans (even at the highest political reaches): she grew up at Hartfield, inexperienced, and educated in refined nonsense “upon new principles and new systems” that bring a person dangerously close to being “screwed out of health and into vanity.” Well intentioned but vain, Emma harms herself and those she stoops to help. The pain of her missteps gradually awakens Emma and helps her bring her feelings into line with reason and virtue. The gentle-farmer-teacher of Donwell, George Knightley (a name that evokes dragons, saints, and knights), also helps. Knightley treats Emma as he does himself, like a human being, able and free to love and reason.
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Carl J. Schramm
President, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
contemporary consideration of the American situation prompts me to think of seven books which prompt a wide range of thoughts on what we might do to improve our nation's chances of striking the right balance of leadership abroad and reform at home. Barbara Tuckman's The March of Folly (1984) is the most sobering reflection on human nature as it operates in politics. Examining four episodes where the pursuit of policy was seen by vocal contemporaries for the follies that they proved to be (the Trojan War, the Pope's provocations that lead to the Reformation, England's loss of the American Colonies, and America's disasterous engagement in Vietnam) forces one to contemplate how it is that ideology appears to overcome the clearest of history's lessons. This is nowhere more clear than in the area of economics whose lessons are seemingly purposefully obscured in the interest of advancing ideologically motivated policy solutions.
Amity Shales's The Forgotten Man (2008) certainly calls one's attention to historic events that are not unlike the contemporary situation. She makes a convincing case that the second depression of 1936-37 was entirely unnecessary (comparative international evidence is persuasive) and brought on by government policy that was driven by class-focused ideology. The phrase "regime uncertainty" later coined by analysts suggests that when the President Roosevelt announced that he intended to subordinate commerce to his will, investment collapsed in the face of what was understandably read as executive caprice replacing the rule of law and the normal expectations that flow from it.
While we don't know the causes of economic growth very well, we do know with certainty how to slow growth and the admixture of accumulating debt, expanding government dependence, and punitive regulations will do it every time. Witness the record in Japan and Europe. Great Britian presents the case with the most immediate interest to the U.S. Martin Wiener's English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit, 1850 to 1980 (1981), tells a story of government policy helping to preserve class distinctions in large part by wringing individual initiative out of the cultural values of the society.
Yes, democracy is manipulable, just as Mancur Olson wrote in his unbeatable Logic of Collective Action, and forces driving for private ends seem to be overtaking those driving for public ends. Joseph's Schumpeter's Can Capitalism Survive, a newly excerpted coda to his classic Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, is a meditation on the deeper forces that are at constant play between the urge to redistribution and the protection of individual dignity and initiative and the apparent and ironic tendency to tilt to larger government dependence as societies gain wealth.
The examination of the ultimate antique reference point is worthily provided in a very interesting treatment, How Rome Fell by Adrian Goldsworthy. His chapter of conclusions, followed by an epilogue, present fresh insights regarding how we train young citizens to invest in utopian visions that can be managed into being by government. Management becomes an equal ideology to utopia, as defined, of course by modern democratic processes. No surprise that the managers are all non-politician bureaucrats working in a mileau gradually moving from meritocracy to a political courtierocracy.
To bring one full circle and reexamine Tuckman's study of Vietnam, one that touches on growing government and the inepitude that comes with scientific management of the state's business including the making of war, Lewis Sorley's A Better War is well worth the read. Our capacity, really inclination, to be "wooden headed", to use Tuckman's phrase, when engaged in governance causes one to wonder if the fruit of reading history is, as Coleridge suggested, merely to hang a "lantern on the stern which shines only on the waves behind us." Or, do we somehow purposefully avert out eyes from the evidence we seem destined to sail against all our hopes that the world is round continuously setting our course to see if we can't make the ocean's edge.
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Michael M. Uhlmann
Visiting Professor of Political Science, Claremont Graduate University
lan Snow’s Here Be Monsters will nudge the neurons and tickle the toenails of avid younger readers. Here they will discover the town of Ratbridge, where (quel surpris!) skullduggery lurks around (and even under) every corner. Our young hero, Arthur, runs afoul of the aptly named and fiendish Snatcher and in the course of trying to free himself from dastardly designs has Many Fantastical Adventures. As you read along, you’ll meet Willbury Nibble, Q.C., assorted cabbageheads and friendly boxtrolls, and diverse denizens of the Ratbridge Nautical Laundry. And did I mention Madame Froufrou, the Man in the Iron Socks, and the Rabbit Women? Your inner ten-year-old, as well as actual ten-year-olds, will be doubly delighted by Snow’s pen and ink illustrations which decorate nearly every page.
For the word player in your life especially one who dawdles over dictionaries when no one’s looking Ammon Shea will prove to be charming company. His Reading the OED: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages is a logophile’s romp through all 20 volumes of the Oxford English Dictionary. When he’s not earning his rent as a street musician and furniture mover, Shea collects and reads dictionaries for enlightenment and fun. Reading the OED is Snow’s tour d’horizon of the greatest of them all, with short chapters containing a dozen or so entries for each letter of the alphabet accompanied by the author’s droll commentaries. Betcha didn’t know the very last word in the OED, which happens to be the second-person singular indicative present form of the verb “to see.” I won’t tell you what it is, but you’ll find it on page 215 of Snow’s book. As the late distinguished lexicographer, Casey Stengel, used to say, “You could look it up.”
In 1747, Frederick the Great, then 35 and ascending to worldly glory, summoned the aging Johann Sebastian Bach to his palace at Potsdam. Frederick, a passing fair amateur musician and composer, first touted his collection of pianofortes (then a new contrivance), each housed in a separate room of the palace. Accompanied by the Emperor, Bach was invited to try them out, which he did. Then Frederick sprung his trap: he presented Bach with a long melodic line of his own composition, interspersed with complicated chromatic scales. Thinking the task impossible, Frederick challenged Bach, known for his extraordinary improvisational skills, to convert the passage into a fugue. Much to the Emperor’s astonishment, the great master proceeded on the spot to contrive and play a three-part fugue. Not to be outdone, the fiendish Frederick then said, in so many words, “Well, that’s easy. Can you do it in six parts?” This proved too much even for Bach’s extraordinary spontaneous talents. But he took his revenge two days later by submitting his six-part solution to the Emperor in the form of A Musical Offering, which we know as one of Bach’s most charming and convoluted constructions, a work of dazzling mathematical and musical genius. Frederick won the initial skirmish; Bach won the battle.
James R. Gaines reconstructs this little episode in Evening in the Palace of Reason: Bach Meets Frederick the Great in the Age of the Enlightenment, wringing from it a tale of deeper significance in effect, a musical setting of the war between the ancients and the moderns. Frederick thought the polyphony favored by the old order, and exemplified in Bach’s achievements, was passé, the musical counterpart to dogmatic superstition. By besting Bach in a musical challenge, he hoped not only to humiliate Bach, but to demonstrate the superiority of the new Enlightenment preference for simple melodic lines. Gaines, the former editor-in-chief of Time and Life, writes with clarity, charm, and extraordinary command of musical history and composition. While his philosophical understanding is not quite up to his musical knowledge, he’s opened a new chapter in the art of secret writing. Bach’s offering to the Emperor, on the surface flattering if not obsequious, is filled with musical symbolism and double-entendres in praise of the old order. For the details, you’ll have to read the book. In the meantime, treat yourself to a CD of The Musical Offering, sit back, and listen to the music of the spheres.
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Author, Churchill’s Military Histories
Wilhelm Meister's Apprenticeship, by Goethe
This is the supreme Bildungsroman, which joins the fateful enchantment of chivalric romance to the rough and tumble of the novel, just then emerging. Wilhelm is an ordinary young man invested with an extraordinary destiny thanks to the assistance of a secret brotherhood of the wise. The tale is thrilling in its hope for great things to come of democratic types.
Pictures from an Institution: A Comedy, by Randall Jarrell
A manic-depressive and a suicide, Jarrell in his sunlit spells got more pleasure from living and writing than most anyone else I can think of, and this skewering of progressive idiocy at a women's college ca. 1952 is not only the great academic novel but one of the finest American novels of manners plain and simple.
The Dream Songs, by John Berryman
An alcoholic, a manic-depressive, and a suicide, Berryman held himself together sufficiently to write the American epic poem, comprising 385 lyrics of 18 lines each, mourning, questioning, praising, and ending, if not with redemption exactly, at least with a respite from suffering that feels like the descent of grace.
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Thomas G. West
Professor of Politics, University of Dallas
y suggestions are all books that I have listened to as audiobooks during the past year or so. I highly recommend audiobooks as a replacement for music or talk radio in the car.
The Federalist, by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay
Listening to all 85 papers back-to-back gives the impression of relentless logic, deployed unanswerably, but often going on much longer than necessary. The case for a national constitution like the one proposed is powerfully presented, with many insightful reflections along the way. On the other hand, the “book” betrays its journalistic provenance by being uneven. Plenty of time is given to some topics (taxation) and hardly any to others (regulation of commerce). May I be permitted the heresy of wondering whether The Federalist might be overrated? Some of the most important topics in the founding, such as government’s role in formation of character, promotion of religion, and securing property rights, and the main features of the civil and criminal law, are of necessity barely addressed, because the state governments were expected to take care of these matters. For this reason, readers of The Federalist sometimes get a very incomplete impression, which we professors too often conscientiously pass on to our unsuspecting students, of what American government was originally supposed to do and how it was supposed to do it.
March of the Ten Thousand (Anabasis), by Xenophon
This was entertaining and enlightening. Assuming he isn’t embellishing too much, Xenophon comes across as an amazingly resourceful and prudent man. He has to defend himself constantly against false accusations (there are several “Apology of Xenophon” speeches), and he does so a lot more effectively than his teacher Socrates did. The story is a kind of case study of the rule of a philosopher-king, and that means of course also of its limits.
This is an “Austrian” account of the 2008 financial “meltdown.” In the course of his argument, Woods explains the current recession along with previous ones. He argues that all are caused by the same thing: the issuing of excessive amounts of paper money, followed by its contraction. This process first leads to a bubble and an expansion of production, but later to a crash as people realize that there is not enough money around to sustain the price level (in 2008 it was housing and stocks). I found the book very convincing. It was my first real introduction to Austrian economics. I had previously neglected the “Austrians” because of some of their adherents’ oddball anarchism and hatred of national defense. But on the topic of the relation between money and production, they are very good. Incidentally, if the Austrians are right, conservatives will have to re-evaluate their view of the 1790s. In the Austrian analysis, Hamilton was right to favor the development of manufacturing but wrong to think that the best means were the national bank and government subsidies of targeted industries. Jefferson and Madison were right to favor complete market freedom and to oppose quasi-monopoly banks and subsidies, but they were wrong to believe that large-scale manufacturing is incompatible with republican government. Jeffersonian free-market policies eventually led to Hamiltonian major-industrialization results.
Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, Volume I, by Samuel Richardson
A 1740 novel consisting of letters of a beautiful, intelligent serving maid who refuses to sleep with her domineering aristocratic master. He eventually gives up his plan to imprison and rape her, and decides instead to marry her. The novel perhaps runs on too long, but it is easy to listen to, and I find it psychologically acute. Richardson is one of the great English “Lockean” novelists of the 18th and early 19th centuries (Defoe and Austen are two others). The Lockean novel, as I call it, debunks the “fancy and covetousness of the quarrelsome and contentious,” the aristocratic order that puts too much power and temptation into the hands of the arrogant wealthy. It also elevates the “rational and industrious,” the hard-working, clever, and ultimately decent members of the lower and middle classes. The really interesting question in Pamela is provoked by the subtitle: what “virtue” is rewarded here? Pamela proves to have many virtues besides her chastity. The story is in part about how her prudence, diligence, wit, civility, humanity, generosity, industry, and frugality, along with her spectacular beauty, bring her into a successful marriage. But we also see how she acquires additional virtues in the School of Necessity, such as cleverness, deviousness, insight, enterprise, vigilance against oppression, and resourcefulness. It was one of the most popular books of the 18th century. Librivox only has Volume I of Pamela. The rarely-read second volume is about Pamela after her marriage. I have only glanced at it. It contains long passages discussing how to educate children, with extensive quotations from and discussion of Locke’s book on education.
In Praise of Folly, by Desiderius Erasmus
An entertaining, thoughtful disparagement of both intellectual and theological pretensions. On the surface, the appeal is to the “original intent” of Christianity, although one wonders to what extent Erasmus himself accepted even that position. I was delighted to learn how much Erasmus, writing in 1512, anticipates the approach of my favorite 17th century theologians: Chillingworth, Hobbes, and Locke.
The Road, by Cormac McCarthy
You have to be willing to grant the premise, which I found ridiculous: total destruction of almost all life, nothing grows anywhere, and the human race has almost completely died out from fire or starvation. You also have to accept the procedure of the protagonists, which seemed to me very imprudent. Father and son walk down “the road” day after day in broad daylight, making them vulnerable to the first predators who come along. When they finally find a big stash of food, they quickly leave the place and move on, even though they are practically dying of starvation. If you are willing to swallow all of this, the story is engaging and oddly hopeful and invigorating. It is a celebration of the human possibility of placing honor and nobility over everything, even life itself. Although for most people in extremity “existence determines consciousness,” as Marx’s dictum has it, in rare cases consciousness (fidelity to the flame of conscience within us) determines existence.
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Ryan P. Williams
Director of Special Projects, the Claremont Institute
The Red and The Black, by Stendhal
This is a lively portrait of French society in the middle of the 19th century under the restored Bourbon monarchy. Julien Sorel, a young and highly intelligent nobody from the provinces, embarks on an ambitious quest for glory and distinction inspired by his hero, Napoleon. Along the way, he encounters (and often conquers) provincial notables, severe clergymen, and both the vacuous and spirited of the upper crust of Parisian society. Unlike many of his “betters” in Paris, Julien is an intensely passionate and genuinely serious young man. This proves to be true to a fault, with dire consequences for Julien and the ones he loves. The greatest accomplishment of Stendhal’s work is to sketch, through the rise and undoing of Julien Sorel, a corrupt society and its attendant pathologies, and thereby to enrich our understanding of human nature.
A Little History of the World, by E.B. Gombrich
Gombrich’s work, written originally in 1935 for a schoolboy-audience in his native Germany, and to make ends meet, has transcended its original purpose. Now available in 18 languages, it is a quick 300-page romp through, well, the history of the world. Easily digested over a weekend or a long plane-ride, the book’s great virtue is to give its reader, in a delightful and accessible style and prose, that refresher course in the run of human history that is the necessary possession of all serious people and citizens. Its defects are slight—he is a bit too sanguine when treating the rise of Marxism and gives the founding of America very short shrift—but are more than compensated for by the sheer fun of the tale and the energy of the telling.
Man in the High Castle, by Philip K. Dick
Considered Dick’s most enduring, significant work, Man in the High Castle is a tale of what might have been had the Axis won World War II. Most of the plot takes place in a San Francisco under a fascistic Japanese regime (the Nazis run the eastern United States), where American citizens are treated as second-class citizens and the ruling class conducts its business with an odd combination of nihilistic mysticism and ruthlessly inefficient but totally controlled political corporatism. Dick’s imagination is boundless and his writing style unique. Science fiction fans who haven’t already read it will be delighted—this is the same author that gave us Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, which was later made into the early-’80s Harrison Ford sci-fi movie, Blade Runner—and many others will marvel at his detailed, often frightening portrait of what might have been had not the Greatest Generation risen to the occasion.
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Professor of law, University of California at Berkeley School of Law
Speeches and Writings, 1859-1865, Volume II, by Abraham Lincoln
I've spent the last two years working on a book about presidential powers during crisis, due out this January. One of the most rewarding parts of the research was returning to Lincoln's writings. One never tires of the greatest American political speech, the Second Inaugural, nor of its close competitor, the Gettysburg Address. This volume shows Lincoln not just at his most stirring, but at his funniest, cleverest, and most insightful. His homespun analogies and folksy stories are still fresh more than a century and a half later, as is the rawness of his struggle to restore the Republic. As the United States struggles in war today, Lincoln's example should provide more than just rhetorical allusions to our elected leaders. A contribution by the Library of America places this collection of Lincoln's major writings from the election of 1860 through the end of the Civil War within the reach of every reader.
Personal Memoirs, by Ulysses S. Grant
With all of the scholarship on the Civil War, it is refreshing to turn to the original sources. Grant's memoirs, which only cover the Civil War and not Reconstruction or his presidency, are fascinating for their account of the eventual Northern victory on the battlefield. But they are more than that. They are an outstanding example, perhaps the first of their kind, of the uniquely spare style of American writing. Grant's direct, honest retelling of battles and campaigns reminds one more of Julius Caesar's Gallic Wars than of 19th-century American and English writing. An affordable and compact Library of America edition makes this outstanding work easy to carry around and read on planes and trains.
Free to Choose, by Milton Friedman
Another classic worth re-reading because of the times. As our representatives in Washington struggle to nationalize health care, Friedman's popular work reminds us again of the inability of the government despite the best of intentions to replace the market in allocating goods and services efficiently. Friedman's work can be a depressing reminder of how little has changed since he wrote government still expands the scope of regulation and places more of the economy under central control. But it is ultimately an optimistic book, badly needed in these days, because it places such faith in the creativity and innovation of the individual human spirit.
Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissinger
One need not read about history, politics, law, and economics all the time, just nine-tenths of the time. This book is a good time out. It tells the story of a single season of high school football in Odessa, Texas, with all of the exaggeration of its importance that could only occur in Texas. The pressures on the student athletes and the effect of the games on the community are vivid. The book is artfully written and more compelling than the critically-acclaimed movie and television versions.
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Michael P. Zuckert
Nancy Reeves Dreux Professor of Political Science, University of Notre Dame
A very fine first book that makes the best sense yet of Justice Kennedy, who is surely the most influential member of the Supreme Court at the moment. Colucci makes the cast Kennedy is not a confused or a results oriented or a thoughtless justice. He presents the case for seeing Kennedy as pursuing a principled jurisprudence of liberty and human dignity.
Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens
Dickens at this best. Need I say more? A story of moral growth, of obsession, of depravity, of true goodness you name it. Dickens is capacious enough to give us the full range of the human phenomena.
Still the best book on liberty of contract and related constitutional doctrines. Among its virtues it puts to rest the claims of critics like Holmes and the legal realists that the fudges were merely writing their own preferences and economic theories into law.
James Madison and the Spirit of Republican Self –Government, by Colleen Sheehan
A rereading of Madison in terms of his later (post-1787) political thought. Unlike many who pay attention to the later Madison Sheehan does not think he changed views drastically or gave his mind into the custody of Thomas Jefferson. Rather she sees a basic continuity between the Madison of the 1780s and the later Madison and indeed sees the later Madison as a guide to the earlier. Puts Madison in a new perspective.
The Madisonian Constitution, by George Thomas
Thomas argues for "taking the Constitution seriously" reconceiving the Constitution as a political and not primarily a legal document, and constitutionalism as depending on all branches, not just the Court. Armed with his idea of a "Madisonian Constitution" he gives a new reading of American Constitutional history.
Plato's Philosophers, by Catherine Zuckert
Having lived with this book (or rather its author) through its long period of gestation I can testify first hand about the effort and thought that went into making this magisterial study of the entire Platonic corpus. It breaks with the dominant ways of reading the corpus and provides a new principle for ordering the whole. Among its other contributions is a close examination of the meaning and import of Plato's use of a variety of different philosophic spokesmen in the dialogues.