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Michael M. Uhlmann
Visiting Professor of Political Science, Claremont Graduate University
There is no sign as yet that Clio has lost her interest in World War II. Just when you might be tempted to think that the great struggle had begun to exhaust itself as a topic of historical and political inquiry, she sings again of arms and men. Two recent works suggest that she is still on top of her game: Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and Andrew Roberts's The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War.
Professor Snyder, who teaches history at Yale, draws our attention to an often neglected feature of the war—the wholesale slaughter of civilians that took place in the vast flatlands that lay between Germany and Russia, beginning with Stalin's forced starvation of Ukranian peasants in 1932-33. On Snyder's reckoning, here lies the geographical crucible in which Hitler's later war against the Jews found its practical inspiration. Over the next thirteen years, 14 million Eastern European non-combatants (of whom approximately 8 million were non-Jewish Poles, Ukranians, and Belarussians) were deliberately executed or starved or tortured to death. This was "ethnic cleansing" on a scale never before seen, in which the devil's work was divided with murderous efficiency by two totalitarian regimes whose ideological differences masked a common modus operandi. Bloodlands will rivet your attention and force you to think about the war in ways you never did before.
The prolific Andrew Roberts, who could not write a dull sentence if he tried, has given us in The Storm of War a work that despite its length (more than 700 pages) bids fair to become the best one-volume history of World War II in print. His argument, in a nutshell, is that but for Hitler's military and political misjudgments, which made a European war into a global conflict, the Germans might well have won. Like Snyder, Roberts will make you re-examine long-settled assumptions. But be forewarned: once you pick up the book, you'll be hooked for the duration.
George Weigel's second volume of his magisterial biography of John Paul II, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II - The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, is now available in paperback. It is a beautifully written and profound meditation on the life and work of one of the great men of our time, a worthy successor to the first volume, Witness to Hope, which was widely and accurately described as definitive. Taken together, the two deserve a permanent place on your bookshelf.
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Senior Fellow, Ethics & Public Policy Center
Sometimes the most vulnerable and hard-pressed prove to be the toughest, if only because the desire for survival gives them no choice in the matter. Kay Redfield Jamison is a manic-depressive whose attempt to kill herself at 28 with an enormous lithium overdose nearly succeeded. She is also a clinical psychologist, professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, co-director of its Mood Disorders Clinic, honorary professor of English at the University of St. Andrews, and co-author of the standard medical textbook on manic-depression.
She has written five books for the general reader as well, each of which is a marvel of grace and intimate knowledge: Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament (1993); An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness (1995); Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide (1999); Exuberance: The Passion for Life (2004); and Nothing Was the Same: A Memoir (2009). The titles describe the contents, except for this last book, which tells of her marriage to Dr. Richard Wyatt, who overcame dyslexia to become a leading expert on schizophrenia. He exhorted her to write her breakthrough book about her own mental illness, and was in every respect the lover and companion of a lifetime, though far too short a lifetime: Dr. Jamison recounts his frightful early death from lung cancer, brought on by the radiation and chemotherapy for Hodgkin's disease,the cancer that almost killed him30 years before.
Dr. Jamison is one of those rare persons who crave more and more life no matter how hard it gets, and her books are a treasure. The reader new to her writing might do well to begin with An Unquiet Mind and Exuberance.
Jean M. Yarbrough
Professor of Government, Bowdoin College
Nietzsche's Enlightenment: The Free Spirit Tirlogy of the Middle Period, by Paul Franco
I've only begun reading this recently published study of Nietzsche's "Middle Period" trilogy, which Franco aptly characterizes as the paradoxical "rational Nietzsche" period, but it is difficult to put down.
The Conservative Foundatons of the Liberal Order: Defending Democracy Against Its Modern Enemies, by Daniel J. Mahoney
As an antidote to Nietzsche (even in his "rational" period), Mahoney's heroes: Burke, Churchill, Tocqueville, and Solzhenitsyn, are hard to beat.
Tocqueville: A Very Short Introduction, by Harvey C. Mansfield
Small enough to tuck into a breast pocket alongside the Constitution, yet packs a big punch. Tocqueville was great, Mansfield insists, because, among other things, he addressed himself to the problem of democratic greatness.
Intellectuals and Society, by Thomas Sowell
Those of us who inhabit the academic world know only too well the foibles and fantasies of intellectuals. Sowell covers the waterfront, from economics to law, and everything in between.
John Macnab, by John Buchan
My husband, an avid fly-fisherman and upland bird hunter, put this into my hands when I ran out of books to read on a trip last spring, and I was instantly hooked. Even better than the more famous Thirty-Nine Steps.
Founding Gardeners: The Revolutionary Generation, Nature, and the Shaping of the American Nation, by Andrea Wulf
For CRB gardeners, a delightful blend of politics and plants.
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Professor of Law, University of California at Berkeley School of Law
My reading of novels that gave rise to BBC series continues. Last year it was the Sharpe military adventures. This year, it is Aurelio Zen detective novels by Michael Dibdin. Even though I have long been an admirer of Italy, past and present, and have traveled there several times, I did not understand modern Italian society until I had read these novels. They express Italians' love of la dolce vita, their sufferance of corruption, their rootedness in their cities and history, and their entrepreneurship like no movie or short visit can. Each book in the series is set in a different Italian city, and while they tell the story of a murder mystery, they also serve as an introduction to the unique culture of the region—by the end, you understand that Italy may not be a real nation-state, but city-states living in a sort of sibling rivalry with each other.
The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States, by Gordon Wood
Wood's recent collection of essays on the American Revolution, founding, and the early national period, in some ways, are even more rewarding than his great masterworks, such as the Creation of the American Republic and The Radicalism of the American Revolution. He explains why his decision to approach the founding period through a history of ideas was so revolutionary both then and now. To someone who is interested in the separation of powers, Wood's essay on monarchism versus republicanism in Early America adds new light on the origins of the Presidency. The book leaves you with an appreciation of this great historian's work ethic, deep insight, and love for his country.
Law without Nations?: Why Constitutional Government Requires Sovereign States, by Jeremy Rabkin
Allow another opportunity for self-advertising. I'm finishing up a book on how the American constitutional system can respond to globalization, and why the United States should reject the New Deal-style changes to government advocated by internationalists (e.g., more delegation of powers to unaccountable international organizations, broader national powers at state expense). While writing the book, I turned to Rabkin for a broader perspective. Rabkin explains why nationalism remains important in the world, and that the shift of sovereignty to international organizations will not only reduce nations, but also the bonds between citizens and their countries. If anyone is leading the push back against the spread of international law and institutions at the expense of national sovereignty, it is Rabkin.