You will forgive me if I recommend new books by my colleagues. They’re all good — both the colleagues and the books.
John J. Miller has written The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football. JJM loves football, loves America, and loves stories. These loves shine through every page.
William F. Buckley Jr. once described Alan Reynolds as “a young man born to explain economics.” Kevin D. Williamson is a young man born to explain the consequences of our burgeoning state. His latest is The Dependency Agenda.
Richard Brookhiser will leave behind a shelf of books on the American Founders, some of the most important people who ever lived. Rick understands them (and much else, of course). His latest contribution is James Madison.
Jonah Goldberg delivers truths and opinions in a most pleasurable way. You want to gulp what he writes, not just read it. Gulp down The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas.
I prize Roger Kimball for erudition, wisdom, and style — and humanity. That’s just for starters. Reading him is like learning from one of the best professors you’ll ever have. His new book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia.
David Pryce-Jones is pretty much incomparable, as a historian, as a novelist, as a reporter, as a critic, as a biographer . . . Each of us is unique, of course, but can I stretch the language and say DP-J is especially so? I give you Treason of the Heart: From Thomas Paine to Kim Philby. A total winner.
— Jay Nordlinger is a senior editor at National Review and author of Peace, They Say: A History of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Most Famous and Controversial Prize in the World.
Books for the summer, like books for the spring, fall, and winter, divide into two categories: books I have to read for work and those I read for pleasure. Some books, mercifully, fall into both groups.
Alan Riding’s history of cultural life in occupied Paris, And the Show Went On (Alfred A. Knopf 2010, Vintage Books 2011), does so. Mr. Riding was the Paris correspondent of the New York Times for twelve years, and it shows. This is a work of original research, fine reporting, and smoothly readable prose. The story of France united in Resistance has long been discredited; but the story of France as compliant Collaborator is hardly less accurate. Some resisted, some collaborated, some pretended to do both, some betrayed friends, some saved enemies, some simply sat it out. There is a story of secret heroism, hypocritical cowardice, subtle evasion, or double-dealing on every one of Mr. Riding’s pages. And you will be surprised at how many among a vast cast of characters in the Occupation drama you know, especially in the film and theater chapters: Maurice Chevalier, Jean Cocteau, Danielle Darrieux, Porfirio Rubirosa, Jean Anouilh, Colette, Jean-Paul Sartre, etc., etc. A wonderful book.
Modris Eksteins’s Rites of Spring (Vintage Canada, 2012) was first published in 1989 to great and deserved critical acclaim. It’s also a cultural history but one far harder to classify. It begins with the arrival of the Ballets Russes in Western Europe, takes in the First World War, and ends with the Nazi Götterdämmerung in 1945 Berlin. No summary can do it justice, but here goes: It’s the history of the modern spirit rejecting rules and conventions in the arts that exploded like fireworks on the night of the premiere of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and then spread quickly and ominously to politics, social thought, and war. And there’s a wonderful anecdote on every page. Don’t believe me? Read the book.
And if you want to know where it all led, read Erik Larson’s In the Garden of the Beasts (Crown Publishers 2011), a deserved best-seller in which Larson tells the story of how Roosevelt’s first ambassador to Nazi Germany and his family (not least a ditzy, promiscuous daughter) arrive in Berlin and are initially persuaded that things are not too bad, even for the Jews, and will probably improve shortly because people are reasonable. The book is the story of their gradual awakening, in several beds in the daughter’s case, until they eventually realize that their suave dining companions are almost literally beasts of prey. The book is a tragicomedy written with all the pace and excitement of a thriller.
On a more domestic note, a good companion book to go along with Jonah’s hilarious dissection of liberal rhetoric in The Tyranny of Clichés (which I take as a given is in every conservative’s beach-bag) is Kenneth Minogue’s The Servile Mind (Encounter Books, 2010). In a different way, this books skewers liberals as people whose concept of politics is a never-ending series of ethical poses on world problems that they instantly forget when the next world problem comes along. Their commitments are skin-deep; Minogue’s skewer goes deeper. Still no sign, incidentally, of liberal books that skewer conservatives as effectively as Goldberg and Minogue skewer them.
A final category of book I keep by me through the summer is the reliable one of books I’ve read before, enjoyed, and know will entertain me without fail. Obviously, Wodehouse falls into this category; ditto Sherlock Holmes, Eric Ambler, Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene, Rafael Sabatini (or any books about pirates or swordsmen, really), James Hilton (an underrated popular novelist of the Thirties and Forties), Raymond Chandler (or any hard-boiled thrillers — my latest addiction is to the Norwegian Jo Nesbo), adventure stories (try Lionel Davidson’s The Rose of Tibet, set chronologically in 1950 but emotionally in the 1930s), and — finally — the dozen or so “Scarlet Pimpernel” novels by Baroness Orczy. These are intricately plotted romantic thrillers. They have a dire villain in the Jacobin zealot, Chauvelin, a meltingly beautiful but foolish heroine in Marguerite, a dashing hero in the form of Sir Percy Blakeney, an apparent fop secretly leading a group of English gentlemen to save French aristocrats from the guillotine, and not least a sound and solid hostility to the French Revolution. Give them to your adolescent son; he may annoy you subsequently by wearing a monocle at the breakfast table but he would never vote to sustain Obamacare.
— John O’Sullivan is editor-at-large of National Review and author ofThe President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World.
In the light or darkness of the Obama regime’s secular-fundamentalist war on religion, I heartily recommend Christopher Blum’s Critics of the Enlightenment (ISI Books 2004) as an antidote to the “progressivist” poison that informs state-centralist ideology. In the same context, In Defense of Sanity (Ignatius Press 2011), a compilation of the best of G. K. Chesterton’s essays, will also provide balm to the soul and the intellect in the midst of the modern “progressive” madness. The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius, and Loss and Gain, by Blessed John Henry Newman, two of the new batch of Ignatius Critical Editions, offer superb tradition-oriented readings of these timeless Christian classics. Finally, John Beaumont’s Roads to Rome (St. Augustine’s Press, 2010) provides a comprehensive compendium of converts to Catholicism over the several centuries since the Reformation.
— Joseph Pearce is a visiting fellow and writer-in-residence at Thomas More College in New Hampshire.