For those who sense we’re presently reliving the 1930s (sigh), this is the book Paul Krugman and the other high priests of the economic left don’t want you to read. Anyone searching for an account of the New Deal that simply tells the truth about how and why it failed will benefit from reading Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man (2008). Her well-written narrative of the Roosevelt administration’s failures and arbitrariness as it wrestled with the Great Depression not only reveals the New Dealers as truly out of their depth; it also indirectly raisesquestions about some disturbing trends in contemporary American political and economic life.
Another book that gets beneath superficial commentary on a subject that needs further discussion is David Satter’s It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway (2012). As we all know, the Left in America and Europe (in fact, everywhere) has never really acknowledged the full barbarity of Communism. Satter’s text, however, underscores just how much denial and downplaying of the sheer moral and physical destruction wrought by the Soviet experiment continue to poison contemporary Russian politics and culture.
On the subject of Russia, anyone who picks up Robert Massie’s latest biography, Catherine the Great (2011), will find it difficult to put down. It’s the fascinating story of how an obscure 18th-century German princess married off to a dolt who also happened to be the heir to the Romanov throne eventually overthrew the dolt to become Czarina of all-the-Russias and the most powerful woman in the world. Apart from analyzing her, ahem, “convoluted” love life, Massie’s portrait of Catherine provides insights into the complicated world of Russia and Europe in the decades before the French Revolution and the grim realities facing those who aspired to be enlightened absolutists.
History as morality-tale: That’s one of the central themes of one of the great works of Renaissance literature, Thomas More’s The History of King Richard III. This never-finished book (written between 1513 and 1518 and never published in More’s lifetime) has always been overshadowed by his other literary masterpiece, Utopia. It is, however, a sophisticated study of how tyranny normally emerges and consolidates itself: not simply through one person’s will to power, but rather through his successful manipulation of others’ moral and intellectual weaknesses. In our oh-so-democratic age, More’s warnings about how easily liberty and the rule of law can be subverted from within are more relevant than ever.
Lastly, for those seeking spiritual refreshment, I’d recommend Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. First published in 1609, this relatively short text authored by one of the Counter-Reformation’s leading intellectual and spiritual leaders was an instant classic, attracting as much admiration from Protestants and Orthodox Christians as from Catholics. Its power (even more apparent in the original French) is derived from the fact that this book was one of the first works of spirituality written for Christians trying to cultivate the theological and cardinal virtues in the world rather than in the cloister.
— Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute.
STEVEN F. HAYWARD
Everyone should get around to reading Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial and Error in Business, Politics, and Society. Think of it as the serious person’s version of every Malcolm Gladwell book you’ve never read.
Roger Scruton’s new book is How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism. I’ve got a complete review of the book coming out shortly in NRODT; suffice it to say here that it’s the best book on environmental philosophy in 20 years.
And everyone should put on their fall to-read list Charles R. Kesler’s forthcoming title, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism. The book will be released on September 11; I’ve been reading the advance galleys for a review, and it’s terrific — a grand tour of how Obama’s ambition to be the fourth great wave of modern liberal reform built on the previous three (Wilson, FDR, LBJ). Kesler’s treatment of theoretical liberalism goes along very nicely with Jay Cost’s terrific history of practical liberal politics in Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic. Read these two books together, and you’ll know everything you need to know going into the fall campaign.
— Steven F. Hayward is author of the two-volume Age of Reagan.
In the virtual nonfiction aisle I have three choices in addition to my own The Brief Against Obama (thank you, K-Lo, for the interview): Jay Nordlinger’s Peace, They Say, Dennis Prager’s Still the Best Hope, and Joby Warrick’s The Triple Agent. Nordlinger explains so much about how the rest of the world sees us; Prager shows why that worldview is so flawed; and Warrick provides a page-turning thriller of the real war that rages between the Islamists and the West whether the West wants to acknowledge it or not.
On the fiction side, I nominate authors, not books, because these eight never disappoint me, and while two are dead, long may the others write!
James Clavell and Patrick O’Brian have gone to their writing desks in the sky, but their wonderful imaginations and epic research left books that continue to grab and hold me even as I write this, with five of Clavell’s six novels in his Asia series just reread — Whirlwind is not available for iPad, for some strange reason — and O’Brian’s 20-volume sea-story epic of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin my morning companions for the past many months — and with ten novels to go, many more. I recently gave Townhall’s Guy P. Benson Clavell’s Tai-pan and was gratified to hear him sing the praises of a novel published in 1966. I suggest readers start with Shogun and follow it with Tai-pan, Gai-jin, King Rat, and Noble House, but all stand alone.
My other suggestions this year — C. J. Box, Bernard Cornwell, Vince Flynn, Ken Follett, Daniel Silva, and Stephen Pressfield — can all be reliably counted on to provide a few hours of great reading every year, but except for Pressfield, their books and the characters they create should be met and followed through their lives in the order they were lived. Joe Pickett, Richard Sharpe, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Nathaniel Starbuck, Mitch Rapp, and Gabriel Allon could hardly be more diverse, but all take you places you have never been and leave you with great doses of knowledge you’d never otherwise have. (I hope the deaf-mute Hwtt in Cornwell’s latest Saxon chronicle isn’t a reflection of his assessment of our conversation last year.)
Because I am just about to interview Silva about his latest — The Fallen Angel – I am right now deep inside the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. See what I mean about learning things you’d not ordinarily pick up in the world of nonfiction? But as with all these writers, start with Silva’s first Allon novel, The Kill Artist, and fly through all twelve to truly enjoy watching a character develop over time. There is a Wikipedia entry for each of these authors that provides easy-to-follow guides to the chronology of these characters’ lives.
Except for Pressfield and Follett.
There is a reason why every warrior I know loves The Gates of Fire and those who have returned from Afghanistan love his novels of Alexander the Great. If you have a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine in your life, read Gates, and if he or she is a veteran of Afghanistan or Iraq, read all of Pressfield’s fine works of war.
Ken Follett’s latest won’t arrive until August, but if you haven’t read the first in his trilogy of the 20th century, The Fall of Giants, start now and your timing will be perfect for when Winter of the World appears. It is easy to teach young people 20th-century history if you use these two books, Napoleonic history if you use Cornwell, etc.
One of the greatest pleasures of my dozen years on the radio has been extended interviews with all of these authors save those who had departed the world when I began. All of those interviews are available in the archive at the Hughniverse. Now if I could only find Colleen McCullough to discuss her epic of ancient Rome . . .
— Hugh Hewitt is author of the The Brief Against Obama: The Rise, Fall & Epic Fail of the Hope & Change Presidency.