Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Senior Political Analyst, Washington Examiner
America 3.0: Rebooting American Prosperity in the 21st Century—Why America's Greatest Days Are Yet to Come, by James C. Bennett and Michael J. Lotus
A stirring vision of a decentralized, functional future America, based on the Anglosphere's centuries-old absolute nuclear family.
The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class, by Fred Siegel
How American liberals turned against the people whose interests they claim to champion, starting in the 1960s and culminating in the Obama years.
The Frackers: The Outrageous Inside Story of the New Billionaire Wildcatters, by Gregory Zuckerman
How daring—and not always successful—capitalists vastly expanded America's usable supplies of oil and natural gas, despite the disdain of big government and big energy companies.
Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation, by Tyler Cowen
A bracing and in some respects chilling look at how economic growth will change America.
And of course my own Shaping Our Nation: How Surges of Migration Transformed America and Its Politics
The story of how America has been peopled in very large part by surges of migration, internal as well as immigrant, from the Scots-Irish of the eighteenth century to today.
* * *
Fletcher Jones Professor of Political Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College
One book to read this year is Robert George's Conscience and Its Enemies: Confronting the Dogmas of Liberal Secularism. Its essays give a good sense of his thinking about natural law generally, and specific issues such as the liberal arts, and marriage.
On questions of enlightenment, religion, and secularism generally, Enlightenment and Secularism: Essays on the Mobilization of Reason, edited by my colleague Christopher Nadon, contains many fine chapters on authors from Machiavelli to Freud.
Those who wish to gain a sense of some of the hopes, expectations and views of today's intellectually inclined physicists should read David Deutsch's The Fabric of Reality: The Science of Parallel Universes—and Its Implications, published in 1998, but still fresh.
This cold bath might be followed by a still colder one, Martin Heidegger's Zollikon Seminars, a series of exchanges and discussions he held with the psychoanalyst Medard Boss and his students, primarily during the 1960s. The seminars let us experience Heidegger's patient teaching, and weave together arguments from the beginning of his thought until its conclusion.
Those who consider immersion in Heidegger less a bath than a mudslide should refresh themselves by continuing the study of Plato I have recommended in the past, concentrating now on Plato's Sophist and Statesman, and his Euthyphro.
* * *
David J. Bobb
President, the Bill of Rights Institute
In an age in which the president of the United States has lately taken a funeral selfie, few books better examine the modern ego than Rousseau's autobiographical Confessions. Proclaiming to God and his readers that no other man has lived more attentively to his interiority, Rousseau does little confessing in the traditional sense. Both a counter-response to Augustine's Confessions and a trailblazing self-tribute, Rousseau's Confessions helps explain our contemporary fascination with self, sincerity, and change. Christopher Kelly's translation for the University Press of New England makes for an especially vivid read.
Pierre Manent's Metamorphoses of the City approaches change from the place of permanence. With Aristotelian-like attention to the city-state and its evolution, Manent essays the modern project to explore its complexities. Revealing the tenuous place of the Church in modernity, the enduring significance of the human quest for glory, and the inglorious ends of today's bureaucratic transnationalism, Manent's Metamorphoses is a searching inquiry into the possibility of self-government.
James Madison, by Richard Brookhiser, makes the case that the Virginian was a first-rate politician as well as a top-tier political thinker. Without overlooking Madison's faults as chief executive, Brookhiser gives Madison credit as a pioneering political genius who understood the force of public opinion, and threw himself into the hurly-burly of politics in all of its messiness.
Washington, D.C., has become a club, absent real debate or deliberation, Mark Leibovich details in This Town. Its problem is not partisan gridlock, but lock-step agreement on the aggrandizement of federal power. An easy read (or a better audio book), This Town scratches the surface of our present problems but still ably recounts how Washington elites prosper at the expense of the people they purport to serve. Leibovich lacks anything of John Marini's trenchant understanding of the administrative state, but he still manages to identify the problem of a self-promotional state.
* * *
Director of the Brouzils Seminars
Co-editor of The Fortnightly Review's New Series
The melancholy film of the pre-holiday moment is Nebraska, starring Bruce Dern. Critics in newspapers in places far away from Nebraska love it. Dern plays an incoherent alcoholic engaged in an absurd, meaningless task that takes him across a colorless, gray heartland of unremitting desolation: a futile protagonist going from one dead end to another. There are lots of highways in this film, but, once you get past the cardboard yahoos and their dull, dull towns, very few telling details. The difficulty is that unless you know which details matter, you end up with a big cartoon. The director, Alexander Payne, is from the Midwest, sort of the way Thomas Frank is from the Midwest. Frank, who got rich writing a book explaining why Kansans are stupid and selling it to New Yorkers, is from Johnson County, one of the wealthiest in the land. Alexander Payne was born in Omaha—in Warren Buffet's neighborhood. At least Payne had the honesty to admit (to The Guardian), "I don't know those rural areas very well." He didn't take the trouble to get to know them, either, since to do so would do harm to his stereotype. But moviegoers in New York and London adore it.
There is plenty of desolation in Nebraska, of course. Nothing to match the desolation of Detroit, of course, but lots of it, all rolled out flat. And really, there's plenty of desolation everywhere, sometimes in a single life. To find heroism in the desolation of the flatlands requires a certain amount of muscular honesty and clarity. Watching the film sent me back to one of my favorite books, Hamlin Garland's Main-Travelled Roads (1891). I first read this sitting in a grain truck swatting sweat bees when I was 10 or 11. I'd read one of the stories, then gaze across the hard, dusty plains at a distant grain elevator and marvel at the detailed heroism of Midwestern lives, the hard work that defied easy conclusions. Garland's plains tales are not happy ones, but they produce a sense of triumph nonetheless: life is just not all that bad, even in Nebraska, if you've got guts and brains and persistence.
The Midwestern message is largely overlooked these days, what with the success of films like Nebraska and books like What's the Matter with Kansas? To find a better result, you must look closely. Jon K. Lauck does that in The Lost Region: Toward a Revival of Midwestern History. Lauck, whose books on the Dakotas are lively and insightful, laments the fact that most historians know little about the Midwest and are woefully unaware of the historical significance of a place so easily characterized as "empty." Like so many journalists, they've flown over it, looked down and from their great distances, seen nothing there. If they spent time examining it all, they'd find a different story, one more finely detailed but less drenched in despair.
A life can be as easily misunderstood as a plains state. In fact, many of us live our lives as something we've flown over. But truly knowing a life, even your own, requires a close-up reflection on the landmarks and the details. It's the kind of work a poet does best. Stephen Wiest's Screeds are an example. Back in the '60s, he was poet-in-residence at The Johns Hopkins University. Then, in the '70s, life (and grad-school poetry) took a turn and for more than a quarter-century he did nothing but examine the details of his 20th-century life. I watched this poem emerge from the life of the poet—and as a matter of disclosure, was instrumental in The Fortnightly Review's decision to publish it as part of the Review's Odd Volumes series. The result of that lifelong work is what poet and critic Peter Riley called "an extended sequence which tracks a mediated life passage, a narrative of failed and surviving love," a description that might describe criss-crossing Nebraska or traveling Hamlin Garland's Roads. Like the hidden corners of a familiar map, the Stephen Wiest's Screeds are worth a long and careful visit.
To see past Reading Lists: Click Here