Just hear those sleigh bells jinglin’, ring ting tinglin’, too. Come on it’s lovely weather—for some good books recommended by friends and colleagues of the Claremont Institute...
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First up, we are pleased to announce a book that we hope will be on everyone’s recommended reading list next year.
To celebrate our flagship publication’s tenth anniversary, Rowman & Littlefield is publishing Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Ten Years of the Claremont Review of Books, which will gather together some of our most distinctive essays, books reviews, and illustrations.
Together, they diagnose a century of liberal excess and call for a renewed American conservatism, one that takes its bearings from the principles of the American Founding—what Abraham Lincoln called “the definitions and axioms of free society.” And because man does not live by politics alone, our book touches, too, upon religion, architecture, music, manliness, feminism, film and television, Shakespeare, and other cultural subjects.
The book will be out early next year and is already available for pre-order.
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Edward Ney Professor of Jurisprudence and American Institutions, Amherst College
How Civilizations Die (And Why Islam is Dying Too), by David P. Goldman
David Goldman has made his living on Wall Street as a strategist for banks and investment houses. But the same training in math went along with training and teaching in “music theory.” He has also drawn a wide audience writing on geopolitics under the telling name of “Spengler” for the Asia Times Online. His dark, Spenglerian view comes along with his usual cascade of facts and numbers—vast, precise, portentous. His new book brings everything together in a mesmerizing way. But one of the ironies here is that there is something persistently enlivening and engaging in David Goldman even as he tells a grim story. It’s a story of civilizations that have so lost conviction that their people are not bringing forth the next generations. Goldman could make the End of the World into a musical, though it would be a grand opera. Here one can have the libretto without the need for subtitles.
Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam, by Lewis Sorley
An account of the Peter Principle applying with the most destructive effects. It is also an account of the misjudgment of acclaimed military intellectuals, such as Maxwell Taylor, who did not recognize their own, impaired judgments in elevating Westmoreland for this critical assignment and preserving him in his place. This recent book may point people to the paperback edition of Sorley’s earlier book, A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America's Last Years in Vietnam. His account there offers the striking contrast to Westmoreland: the remarkable success of General Creighton Abrams in making the focus of his strategy in Vietnam not “search and destroy” but securing the population. Sorley offers testimonials and points of evidence to suggest that the war in Vietnam was essentially won by 1970. The story leads one to ponder the deep inversion of a Democratic Party, so invested in a conviction about the wrongness of the war—a war begun by a liberal Democratic administration—that it was willing to pull the plug in Congress. The Democrats were remarkably willing, that is, to let a non-Communist government collapse for want of ammunition and American logistical support. How could the party that waged the Second World War have treated with such contempt the sacrifice made by young Americans who died in Vietnam, in a project that summoned their loyalty and conviction?
Vicksburg 1863, by Winston Groom
Grant’s Vicksburg campaign is regarded as one of the leading examples of his art as a commander of generals. The taking of Vicksburg is regarded by many savvy commentators as an event of such strategic significance that it should have been taken as the end of the war. But if the Vicksburg campaign were high art, it was a bloody accomplishment with a vast wastage of men. Winston Groom offers a rich account of the story from every angle, from the movements of the troops to life within the communities—homes ransacked, animals confiscated, houses stripped of their wooden sidings for the sake of contriving bridges. The war was literally “brought home” with force, and the story is told here in all of its dimensions.
The Thomas Sowell Reader, by Thomas Sowell
A compilation of Sowell’s pieces of varying length, every one with a point and Tom’s fine touch for the core of things. There is also appended here a selection from his autobiography, telling his remarkable story, and yet a story of life among black people in the 1930s and ’40s. Tom Sowell goes from one hit to another; he has become a treasure, and all of his essays can be savored.
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Fletcher Jones Professor of Political Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College
y first suggestion is to acquaint or reacquaint yourself with one of Leo Strauss’s books. Thoughts on Machiavelli is especially rewarding, although also especially daunting and humbling. It contains discussions of how to read Machiavelli and authors of his rank. Does this rank include Strauss himself?
If you followed the suggestion I made two years ago and studied Plato’s shorter dialogues, it is now time to consider again the Republic. Having read it, you might then turn to Strauss’s chapter on it in The City and Man, and to books and chapters on the Republic that are guided or influenced by his thinking: Seth Benardete’s Socrates’ Second Sailing, Eva Brann’s The Music of the Republic, Leon Craig’s The War Lover, Stanley Rosen’s Plato’s Republic, and the chapters on the Republic in my Plato’s Political Philosophy and Catherine Zuckert’s Plato’s Philosophers, among others. Why are these so different? Or are they?
Reflection on Plato and Machiavelli could lead you to wish to examine the limits and possibilities of combining the ancient and modern politically. Hegel’s Philosophy of Right is one central text to read or reread, and Tocqueville’s Democracy in America is another. Here one should be guided by Harvey Mansfield’s recently published Tocqueville: A Very Short Introduction, whose 124 small pages are my leading recommendation for your holiday reading. If you would like to consider this question through a contemporary lens you should read recent books by CRB friends and contributors: Peter Lawler’s Modern and American Dignity, Ralph Hancock’s The Responsibility of Reason, Daniel Mahoney’s The Conservative Foundations of the Liberal Order, Scott Yenor’s Family Politics, and my own Conserving Liberty. If all this lead you to wish again to commune with the classics, Robert Bartlett’s and Susan Collins’ excellent new translation of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics should be your destination.
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Director of the Brouzils Seminars
Co-editor of The Fortnightly Review’s New Series
found in making this list that the books most remarkable to me were those I had read once, but forgotten until they were recalled to me, usually by friends alarmed at what I didn’t seem to know. Which is what friends are for, after all.
The Great War and Modern Memory, by Paul Fussell
Fussell, who served in the Second World War, writes about the First with the wisdom of a soldier, the caution of an historian—and the exhilarating recklessness of a literary man who finds in the machinery of war the softer stuff of humanity.
The True and Only Heaven: Progress and Its Critics, by Christopher Lasch
A refreshingly honest analysis of the kind of thinking that has brought us to so thoughtless an age. We all, Right and Left, believe in Progress—that bastard of the Enlightenment who gained respectability as the Spirit of the Age in the 19th century— “a time,” Lasch writes, “when the progress of human ingenuity seemed to promise a decisive victory over fate”—and made us all believe that the only way to measure happiness was with the yardsticks of science, technology, and other sources of rational faith. John Stuart Mill and others worried about the anxiety of transition in a kingdom leaping from feudalism to factories in a lifetime or two. But by the end of that century, Progress was our fate, never mind where it took us. The destination of the 19th century, of course, was the 20th, starting with that most progressive of all wars, the one so insightfully described by Paul Fussell in the book I mention above. If the next century is as progress-filled as the last, we’ll all have progressed much closer to being goners. Lasch describes his premise simply enough: “that old political ideologies have exhausted their capacity either to explain events or inspire men and women to constructive action.” The most fundamental of those ideologies is the ideology of progress, the modern faith. But how are we doing with the progress of charity or imagination or love? Who measures the particle of poetry that transforms the human brain?
For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus, by Frederick Brown
The “culture war” described in Brown’s magnificent book was the war that effectively defined all culture wars thereafter, since it is the story of the defeat of European social religiosity (if not belief). Half the French nation dressed itself in the impeccable uniform of religion’s straw man and was deservedly bludgeoned by the irregulars of science. Frederick Brown knows France better than most of my French neighbors, and a weekend with this story of wrong-headed obsessiveness will make any American a better tourist, and, back home, maybe a smarter citizen.
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Senior Editor, Weekly Standard
t the turn of this century, there was a vogue for asking who the greatest man of the last one was. Had I read more Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn back then, I would have been less inclined to answer, lazily, with the name of some mere politician. The 20th century was often about trials not exploits, about undergoing rather than daring. One of the least surprising things in the world is that intelligent people should make their way back to religion as they reflect on this. Solzhenitsyn was the bravest and the most brilliant of the undergoers—not just a novelist but also an independent-minded religious thinker, a formidable historian, and a poet by temperament. Often he writes as if he hasn’t a political bone in his body. Communism is to Solzhenitsyn what Johnson is to Boswell and melancholy is to Robert Burton—the occasion for writing about life in all its variety.
The unabridged Gulag Archipelago is a potentially life-changing Christmas present. Try to get the three-volume Harper Perennial paperback, with its magnificent cover design by Gregg Kulick.
For an introduction to the whole, multifaceted Solzhenitsyn achievement, from novels about World War I to lectures about God to fables about ducklings, Edward E. Ericson Jr and Daniel Mahoney’s Solzhenitsyn Reader is unsurpassed.
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Opinion Editor, Weekly Standard
Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College, by Andrew Ferguson
One of America's best writers tells the story of his (successful) attempt to get his son into "Big State University." Ferguson trains his gimlet eye on the absurd cost of a college education, the hallowed upper-middle-class rite of the "college tour," the SAT and standardized testing, and the dreaded admissions essay. The pages are filled with dry wit, good humor, and pathos. When you're done, you'll immediately want to read—or re-read—Ferguson's earlier book, Land of Lincoln: Adventures in Abe’s America.
Natural Rights and the Right to Choose, by Hadley Arkes
Do conservatives differ from liberals simply in how quickly we want to "win the future"? Do conservatives resist change just to protect the status quo? Or is there something deeper and more fundamental at stake? I hadn't thought rigorously about these questions before reading this book. What Hadley Arkes taught me is that there are moral principles of right and wrong ascertainable through common sense. Knowledge of these principles leads us to a theory of natural rights grounded in human equality. This is the foundation on which the Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and the American political tradition rest. But the foundation has been obscured by bad jurisprudence and silly ideas. The substitution of positive rights for natural rights not only betrays the principles of the American Founding, but leaves citizens without any reasonable argument against arbitrary and despotic power. Next time you attend a Tea Party, please hand out copies of Natural Rights and the Right to Choose.
The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England, from Cromwell to Churchill, by Gertrude Himmelfarb
In this essay, the eminent historian recalls the English philosophers, authors, and statesmen who fought for the readmittance of Jews to England in the 17th century, for the right of Jews to sit in Parliament in the 19th, and for the establishment of the state of Israel in the 20th. The narrative shows us the Hebraic roots of English republicanism. Himmelfarb teaches how the concept of toleration between Christian sects necessarily implied tolerance of Jews and unbelievers. We discover that English support for a Jewish national homeland in Israel long preceded the Holocaust. It's hard to describe the learning, sophistication, and grace that Himmelfarb manages to pack within 183 pages. To read People of the Book is to witness a great intellect at the height of her powers.
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Editorial Assistant, Claremont Review of Books
American Government and Politics: Deliberation, Democracy and Citizenship, by Joseph M. Bessette and John J. Pitney, Jr.
To call this new textbook “thorough” is to do it a disservice—“monumental,” “ambitious,” or even “epic” would better describe the depth and detail the authors give to the history, institutions, and culture of American politics. Their survey begins shortly after the world cools, and covers pretty much everything from then until now, including federalism, civil rights and liberties, elections, the media, and political socialization. Throughout the text, the authors carefully and almost seamlessly integrate the theoretical and practical importance of deliberative democracy. The institutional chapters especially stand out. Navigating the complexities of the Congressional committee structure, the president’s war making power, or the nuances of Footnote 4 of United States v. Carolene Products Co. and making it understandable to 18-year-olds is a daunting task, but one handled masterfully by the authors. American Government and Politics also works well with a varied student body. There is enough breadth and theoretical depth in the text to provide a challenge for advanced students, but the clarity and attention to basic details ensures that the text is also appropriate as an introduction to government in a large survey course such as mine. The authors clearly worked hard to be accessible to a broad audience, and included relevant human interest stories in the text in order to relate the (understandably) drier aspects of government to the students personally. My favorite is the sentimental-but-touching story of John McCain’s friend “Mike” who, after hours of beating, used a makeshift bamboo needle to stitch a small American flag to his shirt, so that he and his fellow prisoners could recite the Pledge of Allegiance in a North Vietnamese prison camp. I can usually count on that story to pull my students’ attention away from their computers and hidden phones long enough to slip in a short guilt trip about the importance of civic duty. I was also impressed by the authors’ willingness to include appropriate context even when the facts may not support the dominant political opinion. The section on the Scopes trial, for example, reminds the students that as revolutionary as the new, Darwinian textbook was, it also contained blatantly racist and unscientific arguments in favor of eugenics. Given the flavor of most government textbooks, it’s refreshing to find a text where the focus remains objective.
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Matthew J. Franck
Director, the Witherspoon Institute’s William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution
ilson D. Miscamble’s The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan is an outstanding account of one of the most fateful decisions ever made by a statesman. Miscamble debunks various myth-makers who hold that Japan was “on the verge of surrender” before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or that the use of the bomb was the opening U.S. move in the chess match of the coming Cold War with the Soviets. The book is already engendering controversy for the extent to which the author is forgiving of Truman on moral grounds (Miscamble is a Catholic priest as well as historian at Notre Dame, and has unimpeachable pro-life credentials). But no one who wants to consider Truman’s situation intelligently can skip this book.
Reading Eamon Duffy’s The Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor is, if anything, an even more jarring experience than reading Miscamble’s book. Duffy convincingly shows that in the brief five years of Queen Mary’s reign (1553-58), there was a remarkable recovery underway of English Catholicism, which should be regarded as an abortive success story in the Counter-Reformation. Even the burnings of some 280 Protestants—which gave rise to the sobriquet “Bloody Mary”—are, in Duffy’s telling, made somehow…understandable. Though he calls the executions a “horrifying moral blot on any regime purporting to be Christian,” he argues that it is “quite mistaken” to regard them as counterproductive in the struggle to restore England to its ancient faith. This is thought-provoking historical revisionism of the first order.
Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon’s The Forum and the Tower: How Scholars and Politicians Have Imagined the World, From Plato to Eleanor Roosevelt is a wise and wide-ranging book, focusing on the intersection of intellectual and political life. The book is episodic, with chapters on particular personalities, and readers might wonder about candidates who might have been included (Thomas More, for example, or Woodrow Wilson), but that would have made for a longer book, and not necessarily a better one. Cicero and Edmund Burke are Glendon’s heroes, men who “are remembered for important contributions to political thought as well as for distinguished public service.” Men we might rank higher as philosophers—Plato, Machiavelli—did not fare so well in political life. Glendon helps us ponder why.
Michael Novak and William E. Simon Jr.’s Living the Call: An Introduction to the Lay Vocation is a thoughtful gift for any Catholic friends or family members who might benefit from thinking more deeply about their role in the life of their Church. By precept and example, Novak and Simon encourage a deepening of faithful involvement.
You’ll laugh, you’ll cry about the state of American higher education when you read Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U: One Dad’s Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College, and then Naomi Schaefer Riley’s The Faculty Lounges, and Other Reasons You Won’t Get the College Education You Paid For (which I liked more than my friend Jim Stoner, who reviewed it for the CRB).
Last of all, I recommend a new addition to the Everyman’s Library: The Everyman Chesterton, edited by Ian Ker, and gathering together major works of G.K. Chesterton’s literary criticism, Christian apologetics, fiction, and poetry in a singly handsome volume.
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Distinguished Professor of History, Ohio University
George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis
In 1981, when George Kennan reached an agreement for an authorized biography with John Lewis Gaddis, he surely knew that he had made a pact with a kindred spirit. Kennan gave Gaddis, America’s premier diplomatic historian, full access to his personal papers, waived any review of the manuscript, and stipulated only that the book should not appear until after his death. Neither could have imagined that he would live for another 24 years before passing away in 2005 at 101 years of age. The book is worth the wait. Gaddis tempers his admiration for Kennan with a critical perspective that reveals his subject’s flaws and contradictions.
If there is such a thing as an American character, the musings of a young French intellectual writing nearly two centuries ago remain the essential guide to it. An aristocrat whose family had—barely—survived the French revolution, Tocqueville combined liberal sympathies with doubts about mass democracy. His two-volume summing-up, well-translated in the Library of America edition, defies easy reduction to a simple argument, but provides numerous insights that both tell us much about the America of the early 19th century and ring true today. His short essay on his excursion into frontier Michigan and his letters to family and friends provide a contemporary context for his experience. Leo Damrosch chronicles a journey that begins in New York City, moves up through New England, detours into Canada, moves west to the Missisippi, then back up the east coast to an uncomprehending meeting with President Andrew Jackson. Joseph Epstein’s brief, shrewd biography lacks the breadth and depth of Andre Jardin’s more definitive work, but succeeds brilliantly in its assessment of the man and his American mission.
Alfred Kazin’s Journals, edited by Richard M. Cook
This thick well-indexed volume, excerpting the daily musings over a half-century of a distinguished literary critic, is best dipped into selectively. It reveals the thoughts and character of a smart young Jewish boy from Brooklyn who achieved recognition as a major social commentator—in short, a charter member of the “the New York intellectuals.” Kazin grapples at various stages with Marxism, Jewish identity, and existential angst. The one rather surprising aspect is the anger that runs steadily through the book, directed at intellectual antagonists, close friends, wives, lovers, almost any target other than a son whom he loves dearly.
Hitch 22: A Memoir, by Christopher Hitchens
From here to eternity with the often entertaining, sometimes infuriating, gadfly who sketches a progression from Jewish heritage through military upbringing, the English school system, countercultural self-indulgence, and revolutionary camp following to something that might be mistaken for neoconservatism, but which he more accurately describes as “positive non-belief.”
The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century, by Alan Brinkley
This fine biography gives us the career of an entrepreneurial giant who founded a new style in American journalism. Brinkley cautions that Luce’s influence on actual policy was slender, but his insight into trends, which he promoted earnestly was great. What observer did more to give us “the American century” and “modern Republicanism”?
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Steven F. Hayward
F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Senior Fellow, Pacific Research Institute
Keynes-Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics, by Nicholas Wapshott
The Keynes-Hayek debate—so central to current controversies in political economy—isn’t just for YouTube any more. British journalist Wapshott explains the substance of their debate in the form of a narrative history—an excellent genre that is hard to pull off, but Wapshott succeeds.
Heidegger, Strauss, and the Premises of Philosophy, by Richard L. Velkley
Another elemental debate of the 20th century, though unlike Hayek-Keynes, this one was conducted more indirectly. For all of the work on Strauss, this is one of the few extended treatments of the fundamental contrast between these two philosophers. The winner of this debate will probably determine the fate of Western civilization in the 21st century.
The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition, by F.A. Hayek
Hayek’s greatest book—much superior to The Road to Serfdom—was published exactly 50 years ago, yet reads almost like a Thomistic commentary on the errors of the Obama Administration. This new edition is annotated and includes updated footnotes on the bottom of the page instead of in an endnote section—very useful since Hayek did a lot of work in his footnotes.
Edison to Enron: Energy Markets and Political Strategies, 1878 – 1984, by Robert L. Bradley, Jr.
Bradley, an independent energy analyst, has embarked on something almost never done any more: a serious but readable multi-volume history of a knotty, long-run problem in political economy. Edison to Enron is actually the second volume of a planned trilogy under the general title of “Political Capitalism” (the first volume, published in 2009, was entitled Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy), and as this general heading suggests Bradley explains how the politicization of the energy sector, going back almost a century now, has delivered us to our present confused state where a free market for energy barely exists. The third volume will take us through the collapse of Enron and up to the halcyon days of Solyndra.
A Constitutional Conversation: Letters from an Ohio Farmer (a project of the Ashbrook Center)
The letters from an Ohio Farmer are written for the Tea Party Congress elected in 2010, and are intended, like The Federalist, to “refine and enlarge” the constitutional populism of the present moment. The several authors of the Letters are anonymous, though their writing style might appear familiar to CRB readers.
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Daniel Walker Howe
Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University
Professor of History Emeritus, UCLA
King James Bible: 400th Anniversary Edition, with an Afterword by Gordon Campbell
A big, fat volume that will be a treasure for anyone who loves the Christian religion, English literature, or (as I do) both. Includes the Apocrypha along with Old and New Testaments. It keeps the original archaic spellings e.g. "vpon" for "upon." With its leather binding and gilt-edged paper, it maintains the wonderful tradition of giving bibles as gifts. There are lots of books that have come out recently about the making of the King James Version; one that has already been out for a while and has attracted a lot of favorable notice is God's Secretaries by Adam Nicolson. I judge it will be especially helpful for people who don't usually read the Bible.
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John B. Kienker
Managing Editor, Claremont Review of Books
Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid Into College, by Andrew Ferguson
In recounting his efforts to help his son get into college, Ferguson explores “as many aspects of college admissions process as I could, to gain a deeper understanding of our country, of our age, and, ultimately, of ourselves.” One of our finest essayists, he succeeds brilliantly, as ever, with plenty of laughs along the way, from the avalanche of college brochures that begin to clog his mailbox, to the college rankings, SATs, campus tours, and tips for gaming the system, which mark this absurdist annual ritual for American high school juniors. The most enjoyable book around for understanding how our colleges went from elite citadels for enriching the soul to glossy, soulless credentialing mills.
Conserving Liberty, by Mark Blitz
Contra Sam Tanenhaus, “American conservatism does not mean preserving forever the mistakes others have made,” proclaims Mark Blitz, who in his new book gives a clear, concise, and robust defense of a distinctly American conservatism, one that cherishes liberty understood in terms of equal natural rights, virtue, excellence, and self-government (broad ends which allow Blitz to reflect along the way on the importance of religion, family, and even music and art). In fact, he notes, these principles used to define liberalism until “step by sometimes unwitting step,” American liberals turned away from them. By recalling these principles to conservatives, and explaining them to liberals, Blitz provides solid—and he hopes again, common—ground for maintaining what is best in the American political tradition.
How Civilizations Die (And How Islam Is Dying Too), by David P. Goldman
With a refreshingly contrarian reading of history and its repercussions today, this lively first book from online columnist “Spengler” argues that “People are failing in their desire to live, fastest of all in the Muslim world.” As Goldman sees it, Islam is attempting in 20 years the kind of secularist decline it took Europe 200 years to achieve. And despite America’s appetite for folly, he still holds out hope for our exceptionalism. On foreign policy in particular, he strongly rejects both Bush and Obama doctrines, preferring instead an “Augustinian realism” more in keeping with our founding principles that allies with other nations that share our same loves, and ignores, seals off, or destroys those that don’t.
Why it is that Spain translates more books in one year than all Arab countries combined in the past one thousand years? As Reilly explains, despite Islam’s early tentative attempts to engage and assimilate Greek philosophy (as Christianity did), Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s overwhelming influence in the 12th century decisively snuffed out any place for rational thought within the religion. With Allah understood only as pure will, “creation exists simply as a succession of miraculous moments, it cannot be apprehended by reason.” All that is left, then, is strict, unthinking submission to Allah, and to the innumerable pronouncements of appointed judges of sharia law (including, Reilly notes, why one can’t let a donkey, a black dog, or a woman cross one’s path while praying). And as this book brilliantly shows, just as the primacy of reason is a prerequisite of democracy, its loss leads inevitably to totalitarianism of one form of another, which is why today’s Islamism has so easily assimilated Nazi and Communist ideologies.
With a dazzling command of Scripture and scholarship made accessible through his characteristically gentle, inviting manner, the former Cardinal Ratzinger offers a powerful meditation on the Pascal mystery at the heart of the Christian faith. However familiar with the gospel, readers are bound to find something striking in the pope’s reflections, whether in the washing of the disciples’ feet as a sign of sacramental confession, in the simultaneous slaughtering of the Passover lambs and of the Lamb of God, in the choice between Jesus and Barabbas (a name which translates, significantly, as “son of the father”) as a choice between a savior of love and a violent earthly revolutionary, or in the image of the Church born from Christ (the new Adam) in the water and blood (baptism and Eucharist) that flowed from his side.
The Innocence of Father Brown, by G.K. Chesterton (in The Complete Father Brown, vol. 1 and 2)
Celebrating its centennial this year, this is the first and best of Chesterton’s five collections of mysteries featuring Father John Brown—especially the two lead stories, “The Blue Cross” and “The Secret Garden.” With his quiet knack for being underestimated, Fr. Brown gets his insight into sin from his years in the confessional, and marshals both reason and revelation against criminals, charlatans, and skeptics. Chesterton’s characteristic garrulousness is lighter here than in his other writings, and though a bit heavy-handed at times (especially as the series went on), his puzzles—and their sensible solutions—delight. The’70s television adaptation of Father Brown is very dated, but is worth checking out for Kenneth More’s winning portrayal of the saintly sleuth.
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Professor, Naval and Military Strategy, U.S. Naval War College
he role of contingency in shaping great political and military events continues to be seriously underestimated. Lewis Sorley’s admirable Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam is only the latest in a series of studies over the last decade or so that in effect upend conventional narratives of the Vietnam War. Sorley’s meticulously researched study, drawing on personal interviews with numerous senior American officers of the era, makes a compelling case that a great deal of responsibility for our Southeast Asian debacle rests with the commanding American general in the crucial period 1964-68, not with meddling civilian bureaucrats, politicians, or the institutional Army, let alone such factors as imperial hubris or failure to understand the enemy.
In previous works, particularly A Better War: The Unexamined Victories and Final Tragedy of America’s Last Years in Vietnam and his very valuable Vietnam Chronicles: The Abrams Tapes, 1968-1972, Sorley has also brought to light the central role of Westmoreland’s successor, General Creighton Abrams, in altering the fundamental vectors of American strategy in Vietnam and (no less) creating the preconditions for eventual American victory.
This material should be supplemented by Mark Moyar’s Triumph Forsaken: The Vietnam War, 1954-1965, which makes a powerful argument that it was the overthrow of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem in 1963 and its disastrous political aftereffects, rather than the inherent weaknesses of his regime or the strength of his communist opponents, that necessitated the massive escalation of the American military effort by the Johnson Administration in 1965. Diem’s overthrow (and subsequent murder), Moyar shows, would very likely never have happened absent the pernicious meddling of another individual, Ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge. Those interested should also consult C. Dale Walton, The Myth of Inevitable American Defeat in Vietnam.
That all of this remains more than relevant to the recent American military adventures in Iraq and Afghanistan should be evident. Bob Woodward’s The War Within: A Secret White House History 2006-2008 tells the story of the turnaround in the war in Iraq resulting from the “surge” of 2006 and the extraordinary leadership of General David Petraeus. And for an understanding of how the occupation of Iraq went off track, Gordon W. Rudd’s Reconstructing Iraq: Regime Change, Jay Garner, and the ORHA Story provides another insider perspective.
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Daniel J. Mahoney
Professor of Political Science, Assumption College
inston Churchill famously observed that a man must nail himself to the cross of either thought or action. Churchill himself lived a life of profoundly thoughtful action, and wrote books that endure for serious students of politics and history. In a wonderfully engaging work, The Forum and The Tower: How Scholars and Politicians Have Imagined The World, From Plato to Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary Ann Glendon explores how some of the greatest figures in the Western tradition have combined contemplative reflection with the life of action within the city. Some such as Tocqueville and Max Weber have been tempted by a life of action while excelling in reflection on the political condition of (modern) man. Some, like Plato and Rousseau, have profoundly shaped our understanding of politics and philosophy, from the edge of the city, so to speak. And others, such as Cicero and Burke, the heroes of Glendon’s book, have been equal parts statesman and political philosophers, true “guardians of civility,” as Bertrand de Jouvenel once aptly put it. The Forum and the Tower is a book that reminds us that we are obliged to do justice to the highest requirements of our humanity, torn as it inevitably is between thought and action.
Ideological despotism was the scourge of the 20th century, although the phenomenon is still scarcely understood as we enter the second decade of the 21st. What was most distinctive, most monstrous about totalitarianism was not mass violence, terrible as that was. What made ideological despotism such an affront to the human soul was what Solzhenitsyn called the “forced participation in the Lie,” when men were forced to express their assent to the most obvious falsehoods and cruelties. Lying and betrayal became “forms of existence,” defining a society that was in decisive respects phantasmagoric, and thus barely accessible to social science. With the publication of F. Flagg Taylor IV’s remarkably comprehensive and expertly introduced anthology The Great Lie: Classic and Recent Appraisals of Ideology and Totalitarianism, we finally have a volume that fully conveys the soul of man under totalitarianism. Highlights include Alain Besancon’s brilliant dissection of the “difficulty” of defining the Soviet regime (Aristotle’s or Montesquieu’s canonical classification of regimes do not begin to do justice to what was original about ideological despotism), Leo Strauss’s “German Nihilism,” as well as illuminating reflections by Hannah Arendt, Vaclav Havel, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Leszek Kolakowski, and Czeslaw Milosz. A brilliant essay by Pierre Manent (“The Return of Political Philosophy”) argues that “totalitarianism was the experiment crucis for political philosophy” in the 20th century and that political philosophy, in its scandalous inattention to the world of the ideological Lie, was “found wanting.”
Finally at this Christmas season, everyone who wants to understand the origins and human attraction of the Christian religion ought to turn to the marvelously synoptic discussion in Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity: How the Jesus Movement Became the World’s Largest Religion. Stark challenges so many commonplaces: that Christianity was a religion that appealed distinctively to the poor or the proletariat, that Islam is a religion of peace, that the Crusades ought to be a source of shame, that secularization is an inevitable byproduct of modernization, that the cumulative effect is a truly fresh appreciation of the place of Christianity in the rise of the West. Stark wears his immense learning lightly and writes with impressive lucidity.
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Wilfred M. McClay
SunTrust Chair of Excellence in Humanities, University of Tennessee at Chattanooga
Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty, by Mustafa Akyol
A courageous and hopeful book by a talented young Turkish journalist, arguing that there are more than sufficient resources within Islam to supply the requisite foundations for liberal democracy in the Muslim world. He may or may not be right. His case rests on the example of modern Turkey, whose success as a secular Islamic nation seems far less secure today than it did even five years ago. Nevertheless, his book is an impressive challenge, from a writer who is exceptionally friendly to the United States and the West, to the belief that Islam is in its very essence opposed to liberty.
The Sense of an Ending, by Julian Barnes
This novel by the distinguished British writer won the 2011 Booker Prize. It is a haunting story about the mutability of memory, and specifically about what happens to a man when one of the premises around which his early life was built turns out to be false—how much there is to disentangle, to be reconceived, how hard it is to be confronted with the fact that so much of our way of remembering our past involves subtle acts of self-justification. And in this particular case, there is the realization of a sin for which there is no ready means of atonement.
The Tyranny of Guilt: An Essay on Western Masochism, by Pascal Bruckner
Speaking of sin and guilt: this is a wild ride of a book, and in some ways a typical product of French intellectual culture (i.e., much stronger on assertion than on proof), Bruckner's study nonetheless bravely raises the question of why the West has become so pervasively guilt-ridden in our times, and insightfully notes all the ways that quasi-religious judgments have insinuated themselves into the thinking of a supposedly secular world. As a consequence, guilt has become a cultural pathology, and it threatens to disarm and demoralize the West at a time when it can ill afford it. Bruckner also counsels his fellow Europeans to knock off the cheap anti-Americanism, and recognize that they have no future without a strong, capable America. I'm not sure he understands America very well, but one nevertheless welcomes the warm sentiments.
The Man in the Middle: An Inside Account of Faith and Politics in the George W. Bush Era, by Timothy S. Goeglein
Tim Goeglein spent nearly eight years in the White House as a domestic policy advisor, with particular responsibility for liaison with the social-conservative and religious communities. This memoir, despite the absence of either kissing or telling in its pages, offers an absorbing glimpse into that world, and an admiring look at the leadership style of the 43rd president. It will tell you a lot about Goeglein that he chose to begin his book with an account of his own personal downfall, a plagiarism scandal that cost him his job. He could have buried the story, or treated it as a sidebar. Instead, he led with it, and presented his own story as an account of redemption and gratitude.
The People of the Book: Philosemitism in England, From Cromwell to Churchill, by Gertrude Himmelfarb
Everything issuing from Gertrude Himmelfarb’s pen is worth reading and worth pondering, and this small, imaginatively conceived book is no exception. It has several levels of significance. On the surface, it is a graceful account of the very real, if neglected, strain of philosemitic ideas and sentiments running through British history, from Cromwell's support for the readmission of the Jews to Britain in the 17th century, to Churchill's strong support for the creation of the modern nation of Israel in the 20th century. But on a deeper level, it is a rebuke to the dangerous and impoverishing idea that the core of Jewish identity is anti-Semitism and almost nothing else. It is at the same time a grateful tribute to the nation and people to whom Himmelfarb has devoted most of her scholarly energies in a long and brilliant career. And finally, it is an expression of hope that the British nation will prove worthy of its legacy in the years to come.
Why Trilling Matters, by Adam Kirsch
Adam Kirsch may well be the best younger literary critic of our time, and those who do not yet know his writing would do well to start with this small book. It is a defense of the great literary critic Lionel Trilling against his often mindless detractors. But in defending Trilling it is chiefly defending the things that Trilling defended: the independence of the imagination, the seriousness and moral gravity of art, the indispensable importance of literature, and the value of the individual sensibility, over against all the forces that impinge upon it and coerce it. And one might add, it supports the value to our culture of the very kind of literary criticism that Kirsch now so impressively practices. Kudos to Yale University Press, too, for initiating this "Why X Matters" series, which is a great way of reintroducing a whole generation to formative figures of the past who have been silenced or caricatured by the regnant conventional wisdom.
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Manager, the American Enterprise Institute's Program on American Citizenship
spent a month in China last summer, and quickly became a fan of travel writer Peter Hessler. Hessler is an official MacArthur Foundation “genius” (he won earlier this year), but don’t hold it against him. He is also the author of three extraordinary, closely observed books about modern China: River Town (2001), about teaching English in rural China as a Peace Corps volunteer; Oracle Bones (2007), a collection of portraits (including an oracle bones expert, a factory worker, and a Uighur trader); and Country Driving (2011), a journey through China’s new car culture.
If I had to choose a favorite, it would be the delightful Country Driving. As he begins his 7,000-mile trip along the Great Wall, Hessler describes the joys and hazards of driving in a country new to automobiles—the long stretches of open road, the sketchy maps and absent street signs, and a driving test which features such questions as:
If another motorist stops to ask you directions, you should
a. not tell him
b. reply patiently and accurately
c. tell him the wrong way.
As funny as Country Driving can be, it’s also a deeply affecting book, exploring the impact of China’s extraordinary economic expansion on its people. In the book’s middle section, Hessler takes a break from driving to chronicle the life of a poor family in the farming village of Sancha, where a new highway promises to bring in new business but at the cost of the residents’ traditional way of life. While never sentimentalizing the farmers’ poverty, Hessler shows exactly what is gained and lost as the once-dying village reinvents itself to become part of the “New China.”
My second recommendation is Lin Zhe’s epic novel, Old Town (translated by George A. Fowler, for whom it was a labor of love). Old Town tells the story of the marriage of Ninth Brother Lin and Second Sister Guo across nearly a century of Chinese history. Together, they endure years of separation, hardship, and political persecution, sustained by their Christian faith and deep love for one another. Few novelists today dare to write about happy marriages, and fewer still about religious belief, but Zhe does both beautifully, without mawkishness or preachiness.
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Fulmer Professor of Political Science, Rhodes College
Senior Fellow, Miller Center of Public Affairs, University of Virginia
ere’s my theory of good writing: the less you notice it the better it is. Good writing is like a perfectly clear window looking out on an interesting scene—the virtue of the window is that it allows you to see the scene perfectly. In the mannered, pretentious era of literary fiction dominated by obscurantists such as John Barth, Donald Barthelme, and Thomas Pynchon, the best popular fiction owned that virtue. There’s a reason why books by, say, John Grisham, Lee Child, and Michael Connelly sell so well, and it has as much to do with their transparent writing as with their page-turning plots. Each of these authors, by the way, published yet another terrific book in 2011: The Affair (Child), The Fifth Witness (Connelly), and The Litigators (Grisham). There’s nothing guilty about the pleasure of reading them, on the beach, in bed, or anywhere else.
What’s especially heartening about the past few years is that the new trend in literary fiction is to be as smart as literature and as readable as bestsellers. Chad Harbach, an editor of the journal n + 1, recently pointed out that unlike the academy-based “MFA” author, whose income comes from the university, the self-employed “NYC” author “has to earn money by writing.” For the latter but not the former, “to speak obliquely is tantamount to not speaking at all.”
Harbach identifies Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom as “the best American novel of the young millennium.” He’s right: it’s an extended treatment of freedom in all its forms that floats on a fast-moving river of characters you care about, a plot that makes you wonder what happens next, and humor that is biting yet affectionate. Harbach himself wrote a terrific novel in 2011. The Art of Fielding not only shares these qualities but also manages to donate to the treasure of literary observations about baseball a comparison of the endless series of batter-pitcher confrontations with the duel-structured Iliad. And add Jeffrey Eugenidea’s wonderful The Marriage Plot to the list of new novels that not only enrich the mind and soul but make you want to turn the page.
Astonishingly—appallingly—not one of these was nominated for a National Book Award or Pulitzer Prize. Take this as a commentary not on the books but on the warped MFA culture that pervades the judging for these awards.
* * *
John J. Pitney, Jr.
Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics, Claremont McKenna College
One Nation Under AARP: The Fight over Medicare, Social Security, and America's Future, by Frederick R. Lynch
In 2011, the first members of the Baby Boom generation turned 65. Toward the end of the year, the Census Bureau reported that senior citizens made up 13% of the total population, the largest share that it had ever recorded. Therefore, the timing of this excellent book could hardly be better. Lynch offers a detailed look at the demographics of graying boomers, explaining that ethnic, racial, and cultural differences deepen potential conflicts with younger generations. He also analyzes the internal politics of AARP (formerly the American Association of Retired Persons) and its role in debates about Social Security and Medicare. In 2012 and beyond, those debates will be crucial to the nation’s economic fate. If you want to ponder what lies ahead for you and your country, read this rigorous and fair-minded study.
The Statistical Abstract of the United States, by the U.S. Department of Commerce
I know what you’re thinking: “The Statistical Abstract on a holiday reading list? How nerdy can you get?” But there is a reason why it’s here. The federal government has published this rich reference book annually since 1878. But because of budget cuts, the 2012 edition will probably be the last. The decision to stop publication is justifiable. Most of the information in this book is accessible somewhere on the internet, usually in a more elaborate form. So if we have to slash spending somewhere, I’d rather cut books for my fellow geeks than tanks for the Army. Still, those of us who enjoy research will miss this amazingly convenient book and the stories it tells. For instance, take a look at page 65, which shows that there were 23.7 births per thousand people in 1960 but only 14.0 in 2008. Those two numbers explain a lot about the looming entitlement crisis that Fred Lynch discusses.
Autism and the Law: Cases, Statutes, and Materials, by Lorri Shealy Unumb and Daniel R. Unumb
A law book may seem like another unusual entry, but this one is a most useful guide to an important public policy issue. It is the first major compilation of key cases, statutes, and other materials on the legal questions surrounding autism. Researchers reckon that about one in 110 Americans is on the autism spectrum, a much greater prevalence than in the past. No one can be sure how much of the difference stems from a true increase, as opposed to greater awareness and changes in diagnostic criteria. But there is no question that autism poses enormous legal challenges to the schools and many other institutions. Moreover, people with autism are asserting their own rights in a variety of ways. This book provides more evidence for what Tocqueville wrote: “There is hardly a political question in the United States which does not sooner or later turn into a judicial one.”
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Robert R. Reilly
Senior Fellow, the American Foreign Policy Council
ive years ago, Walter Simmons published Voices in the Wilderness: Six American Neo-Romantic Composers (now available in paperback). As a work of music criticism, Voices is as close to a model of its kind as anything I have ever read. The great good news is that it is the first in a series of books proposed by Simmons, under the title Twentieth Century Traditionalists, which will examine the entire range of those ‘who failed to conform to the approved version of music history.’ They were the ones refused to accept Arnold Schoenberg’s premise that tonality had been exhausted by the end of the 19th century.
Simmons’s goal is “to bring the most rewarding of these [forgotten or obscured] voices to greater public awareness.” I continue to recommend this book as one of the best works written about American 20th century music, or about music, period. As is well known to the readers of Fanfare magazine, this man is simply the best writer on American music that there is.
Now we have the second volume of Simmons’s ambitious enterprise, titled The Music of William Schuman, Vincent Persichetti, and Peter Mennin: Voices of Stone and Steel. It continues in the vein of the first, with the same level of eloquence, insight, and constructive criticism. Simmons eschews musical historicism. He writes: “I reject the assumption that the evolution of the tonal system proceeded according to a liner progression that led inevitably to the dissolution of tonality altogether. More broadly, I reject the view that music is fruitfully studied as any sort of liner progression, with some hypothetical goal toward which all contenders are racing.” This perspective allows Simmons to appreciate the merits of various composers as they are, without ideological blinders.
In the 400-page book, he takes the three composers mentioned in the title, and discusses “their importance through biographical overviews and comprehensive critical assessments of their outputs, including both strengths and weaknesses, and identifying their more important and representative compositions, their distinguishing stylistic features. . .”
As the “stone and steel” of the title suggests, the music of Schuman, Persichetti and Mennin is tougher than that of the neo-Romantics with whom Simmons deals in the first volume: Ernest Bloch, Howard Hanson, Vittorio Giannini, Paul Creston, Samuel Barber, and Nicolas Flagello. Nevertheless, that is not too tough at all. In fact, it can be bracing. And I would defy anyone not to be swept away by Schuman’s Third Symphony. None of it verges on the musical indigestion Schoenberg and his disciples generated. Accompanying the book is a CD; so you can decide for yourself. You get not only to read, but to listen. It contains: Schuman: Judith, Gerard Schwarz, Seattle Symphony; Persichetti: Concerto for Piano Four, Hands, Georgia and Louise Mangos, duo pianists; Persichetti: Serenade No. 10 (six excerpts) Samuel Baron, flute; Ruth Maayani, harp; Mennin: Symphony No. 6, David Alan Miller, conductor; Albany Symphony Orchestra.
I cannot overemphasize the importance of Simmons’s work. In his first two books, he has laid the cornerstone for the rehabilitation of American 20th-century music. May we soon have the third.
One of my favorite CD finds of the past year is Boris Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 2, released on the Profil label, with Pieces for Piano. This recording comes from a tape of the première performance in 1967 by the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra, under Kyrill Kondrashin. Like many such Soviet-era historic performances, it has a raw quality about it but with playing of the kind only given by those who believe their lives depended upon it. Tchaikovsky (no relation to Peter) was a student of Shostakovich but his music is less beholden to him than, say, Mieczyslaw Weinberg’s in its style. The huge 50-minute symphony is a quicksilver, kaleidoscopic work of considerable brilliance and verve. The first movement is a jeu d’esprit. It begins pizzicato in the strings, and then develops its main theme. The exposition given by strings and harp is repeated note for note in the winds and percussion. This is riveting, mercurial music. The Symphony is accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s utterly charming Piano Pieces, played by the composer. This CD is indispensable for anyone interested in twentieth century Russian music.
Toccata Classics immediately reinforced my impression of Tchaikovsky as first rate with a CD containing Song-Cycles and Chamber Music. The songs, based upon poems by Josef Brodsky, Mikhail Lermontov, Pushkin, and Kipling are full of character, highly expressive and attractively melodic. The Trio for violin, viola and cello shows that Tchaikovsky wrote on as high a level for chamber groups as he did for symphony orchestra. The Two Pieces for Balalaika and Piano, written in 1991, are a sheer delight. This is the kind of discovery that sends me on a crusade. I am embarking on an effort to find as much of this man’s music as I can.
Another Toccata Classics release (TOCC 0001) that I had somehow overlooked from several years ago deserves the highest praise. It features the orchestral music of Julius Berger (1897-1995), one of the Viennese composers who fled the Nazis. In the United States, he fell into almost complete obscurity. The music on this CD is so good that if Martin Anderson had not invented Toccata Classics precisely to make such works available, someone would have to do it. The character of this music shows its Viennese provenance. Burger was a student of Franz Schreker, but his music does not have the overheated quality sometimes found in the works of his contemporaries. It is more redolent of Franz Schmidt, Joseph Marx, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold. It is written in the full flower of a tradition in which one does not yet sense decay or neuroses. The two radiant songs for baritone and orchestra, Quiet of the Night and Legende, are perfect examples. The texts are exquisitely and richly set, but without the kind of suspicious sumptuousness that one finds in Strauss's songs. Nothing is overboard. The Scherzo for strings is a lively confection that could compete at the highest level of comparable British works for strings. The Cello Concerto is a deeply beautiful work. The Adagio is very moving (dedicated to his mother, whom the Nazis shot). How can anything this fine not have been heard for more than 50 years? The Variations on a Theme by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach is a delight. The performances by the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, baritone Michael Kraus, and cellist Maya Beiser, under conductor Simone Young are inspiring. The sound quality is superb. The Toccata Classics motto is to offer "forgotten music by great composers, great music by forgotten composers." It has fulfilled the second half of its mission with this release.
* * *
Bruce C. Sanborn
Chairman Emeritus, the Claremont Institute’s Board of Directors
ne night a rich, East-coast liberal and a former Vietnam platoon leader (not the same person) recommended Matterhorn to me. Mark Bowden (author of Black Hawk Down) has called Matterhorn a great novel, "the first great one [about the Vietnam War]." Its author, Karl Marlantes, came from a small Western logging town, went to an East Coast college, and led a Marine platoon in Vietnam. Like the Iliad, Matterhorn begins in the middle of war: the Marines, a mix of races and economic classes, are at each other's throats. Raised free in America and steeped in democratic equality, they seek the respect of each other and their country, a nation divided against itself, uncertain of its purpose, and losing authority. The jungle and foreign enemy press hard on the Marines, who bear the brunt of their country's political and psychological disarray. This impressive novel, which has an immediate, real-time-and-place, natural feel, unveils man's bloody, ugly, and noble heart.
Pierre Manent's slim, elegantly-written book, Democracy Without Nations? The Fate of Self-Government in Europe, considers the trouble Europe is having defining and sustaining—and governing—itself, not as an economic body but as a political one. It turns out that being dedicated to borderless universal democracy and humanity-in-the-abstract may not be enough to achieve self-government and answer a question like: should Turkey—the Eurasian, commercially able, democratic, and largely Islamic nation—be in the European Union? Brotherhood is very fine, and whether a brother is from another mother, worships a different God, and lives in another nation is important for human deliberations and relations. Among the political forms Manent describes, he pays special attention the form of the nation, its relation to liberal democracy and importance for self-government. His discussion clearly has implications for America and our approach to democracy at home and in foreign lands.
Read Joe Sachs's translation of, and introduction to, Aristotle's Poetics to understand the purpose of poetry: the art of imitating—and seeing the meaning of—the acts of people who are, as Aristotle says, "either of serious moral stature or of a low sort." Read J.V. Cunningham's Woe and Wonder: The Emotional Effect of Shakespearean Tragedy for help appreciating how well Shakespeare understands Aristotle. These two little books contemplate the ancient and Elizabethan views of deeds (especially poetic ones) that form and unveil character, and excite wonder—wonder, as Aristotle notes, being concerned with, among other things, first causes of what exists.
* * *
Carl J. Schramm
President, Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation
Obliquity: Why Our Goals Are Best Achieved Indirectly, by John Kay
A gifted columnist for the Financial Times, Kay has written an ingenious consideration of effective management, reflecting on the linear approach to business strategy. Consultants and business professors have convinced the world that planning—written plans rich with data and analysis—are necessary for companies to proceed in an orderly way that will produce results and give comfort to investors. But Kay argues that indirection is the way that the most effective managers bring about the kinds of changes that really spur growth and lead to innovation. Oblique reasoning and ability to synthesize insights from the widest range of sources are what make for managers who effectively move their organizations into the future in ways that they not only survive but flourish. This intuitive approach to management is seldom discussed or taught.
The Triumph of the City, by Edward Glaeser
Glaeser's book is a delight on many levels. For one, it is a reasoned analysis of city growth that looks at cities over a long span of time and includes both failed and growing cities. So much research relating to cities is focused on the physical environment. Even those who set out to eschew the architect and planner's visions of how to make a city seldom can escape the gravity of buildings, streets, light rail, and downtown stadiums and entertainment districts. Glaeser offers a serious rethinking of the city as a machine of commerce. This optimistic book suggests that the city is one of man's greatest inventions because of its singular contribution to making its inhabitants smarter and healthier. Given that within the last few years the majority of the world's populations have decided to live in cities this is a book worth reading to understand what life might look like for our offspring.
Grand Pursuit, the Story of Economic Genius, by Sylvia Nasar
This book recounts the lives and the insights of the most important economists starting when the discipline began to take shape in Victorian times. Nasar, the author of A Beautiful Mind, tells a wonderful story of people obsessed with trying to explain why people do what they do in seeking to advance their own welfare inside a system that mysteriously gains for all by the self-seeking of each. Of course, not all economists saw it this way. The discipline was, before it assumed the cloak of science, known as political economy. This is still the best name for a discipline that ever since Marx has had to contend with its power to drive politics. Control of the state as a means of making markets work towards one vision of how welfare expands or an antithetical view (think Keynes versus Schumpeter) has been the name of the game for economic theorists from the beginning.
* * *
Michael M. Uhlmann
Visiting Professor of Political Science, Claremont Graduate University
here 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.
* * *
Senior Fellow, Ethics & Public Policy Center
ometimes 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 him 30 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.
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Jean M. Yarbrough
Professor of Government, Bowdoin College
Nietzsche's Enlightenment, 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 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
y 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.
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.
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.