Politics & Policy

Beach Reading

Kick back with a few good books this summer. Here's what some NRO types are reading.

Richard Brookhiser

I picked up a book of short stories by David Foster Wallace in the bookstore and they seemed good, so maybe I’ll try that. I have to finish The Island at the Center of the World by Russell Shorto (a history of New Amsterdam, a.k.a. New York).

Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of NR and the author of Gentleman Revolutionary: Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution, among other books.

David Frum

This is the first summer since 2001 when I do not have a book to finish (writing) by Labor Day. So I’m planning a massive catch-up on reading that has accumulated on my in-shelf. The shelf numbers more than a hundred books, and I’ll only get through a very small portion of that. But here’s the top of the pile:

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow. Like many conservatives, I have always had an uneasy relationship with Hamilton. I admire his support for a strong and united nation, his vision of the United States as a great trading and commercial power, his empirical cast of mind, above all his insistence on the need for American military power. Much else I disliked: his elitism, his tendency toward authoritarianism, his bursts of nearly insane bad judgment. Russell Kirk had a very shrewd insight into Hamilton: that despite appearances, Hamilton was not at all a modern man. Ron Chernow is a master biographer of our time, and I am looking forward to his judgment on this dazzling and difficult Founding father.

My Life by Bill Clinton. Yes, I will read it. The whole damn thing.

Clinton is another dazzling and difficult character, but of a very different order of course. There is part of me that hopes that Clinton, for all his misconduct as president, might yet shape up as a successful ex-president. I’ll be reading his memoirs looking less for insights into the 42nd president’s past than into his future.

Thy Hand Great Anarch! by Nirad Chaudhuri. Never read this great study of the encounter between East and West. Past time to do so.

Lone Wolf by Shmuel Katz, both vols. It’s the definitive biography of Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of what is now called the Likud party in Israel. You get called a Likudnik often enough–you begin to think you should know a little something about this organization you allegedly support.

David Frum is a contributing editor to NR and the author of The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush.

Meghan Cox Gurdon

My plan this summer is to re-read books that for one reason or another have been tickling at the back of my memory. I’m pretty sure that Richard Adams’s dystopian novel Watership Down contributed to my becoming a conservative, for example, but as I last read it at the age of ten I can’t remember why. So that came in the box from Amazon, along with Christopher Fry’s translation of Cyrano de Bergerac, which I encountered in high school and which gave me my first literary glimpse of fathomless self-denying love. Of books I have not yet read, I’m packing Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome, Charles Dickens’s The Mystery of Edwin Drood, and Matthew Pearl’s recent novel, The Dante Club. I find a little bloodthirstiness works well on a family vacation.

Meghan Cox Gurdon, an NRO columnist, lives in Washington, D.C.

Thomas Hibbs

Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in a new translation from the justly acclaimed husband wife translating team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, a team who have already brought new life to the major works of Dostoevsky. I’m eager to return to this book which I first read as an undergraduate at the University of Maryland, an experience that helped propel me from a business major to literature and eventually philosophy.

David Brooks’s On Paradise Drive. Hammered of late by the Right and the Left, Brooks’ first book, Bobos in Paradise was clever and hilarious. The question is, “what’s next?” More of the same, which itself would be the price of the book, or greater clarity concerning the ambivalence Brooks registered in Bobos over the creative virtues and spiritual vacuity of the new cultural elites.

Dante’s Divine Comedy. Why? I’m rereading it for the first time in ten years as preparation for teaching it for the first time in my career, as part of a Great Texts Course for honors students at Baylor. Now that’s one of the great perks of teaching.

Thomas Hibbs, an NRO contributor, is the author of Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from The Exorcist to Seinfeld.

Victor Davis Hanson

Niall Ferguson, Colossus. After listening to three years of rebuke from Europeans about our imperial intrusiveness, it’s interesting to read from an Englishman that in fact we are not intrusive enough.

George Grote, A History of Greece. I had never read Grote’s 19th-century history through before, and thought I’d try this summer. Beautiful prose. His sympathetic portraits of the Athenian assembly cannot hide its mercurial and often hysterical character; and in the present context it reminds us that such is the nature of democratic culture across time and space. We don’t vote on a whim to execute our own generals–just publish books and make movies alleging that our sitting President is a scoundrel, war criminal, liar, cheat….

Paul Hollander (ed.), Understanding Anti-Americanism. Anyone who thinks the world suddenly “hates” us because of George W. Bush should read this fascinating collection of essays. Being big, rich, powerful, sensitive to criticism, easy to shake down, easier to get into and stay in, globally influential, and seductive to all the apetites that arouse guilt, envy, and shame – all that transcends Messrs. Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld, but goes a long way in explaining the irrational, passive-aggressive nature of our current critics.

Victor Davis Hanson, an NRO contributor, is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and author of The Soul of Battle and Carnage and Culture, among other books. His website is www.victorhanson.com.

John J. Miller

Gilgamesh, translated by John Gardner and John Maier. I’m going to read several versions of this ancient poem, first written in cuneiform. The Gardner/Maier volume looks like it may be the best of the bunch, but ask me again in the fall.

Miles Gone By, by William F. Buckley, Jr. I can put this one on my list because it’s no longer a suck-up! Looks like a fascinating collection of essays, and the closest thing we’ll ever have to an autobiography of a great conservative.

Betrayal, by Linda Chavez and Daniel Gray. My old boss (Chavez) knows Big Labor from the inside, having worked at the AFT for many years before becoming one America’s quintessential neocon Reagan Democrats. There probably isn’t a better book available on how unions corrupt politics.

John J. Miller is NR’s national political reporter and the author of The Unmaking of Americans: How Multiculturalism Has Undermined the Assimilation Ethic.

Ramesh Ponnuru

Brideshead Revisited: Because I want to read at least one Waugh book a year.

Elizabeth Costello: I’ve liked everything else that J. M. Coetzee has written, so I’ll probably like this.

Before the Storm, Rick Perlstein’s book on the Goldwater campaign: Because I don’t know as much about it as I would like.

Miles Gone By: It looks terrific.

Ramesh Ponnuru is a senior editor for NR.

Alexander Rose

Well, I can tell you what I wish I hadn’t read last summer: Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Until then, I had labored under the touching misapprehension that Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six was the worst novel ever written. I can’t even begin to describe the number of flaws in Brown’s plot, and his writing is so wooden it’s an insult to furniture.

Moving upwards and onwards, there is Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, which I’m halfway through (page 576). I don’t usually like long books–I can never finish the things (I still don’t know what happens to David Copperfield in, er, David Copperfield), and so I’ve tended to sympathize with the Duke of Gloucester, who, upon receiving a volume from Edward “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” Gibbon, exclaimed, “Another damned, thick, square, book! Always scribble, scribble, scribble! Eh! Mr. Gibbon?” But I think I shall finish this odd mixture of high-tech skullduggery, treasure-hunting, World War II action, and cryptography.

Also interesting is Donald Thomas’s An Underworld at War: Spivs, Deserters, Racketeers and Civilians in the Second World War, which shows that not everyone pulled together in the Blitz. Some people did rather well out of it.

Just come out is a collection of essays–reprinted from The New York Review of Books over the past three or four decades–by Edmund Morgan of Yale, the leading historian of 18th-century America. Entitled The Genuine Article, the clarity, humanity, and scope of the book puts to shame much of the dreadful writing churned out by half-witted associate professors of Gender Studies and other pseudo-subjects preferred by people who can’t do the tough stuff, you know, like medieval or diplomatic history. Good stuff, and, best of all, each essay is quite short (see Duke of Gloucester, above).

Aside from that, I’ll spend my time watching television and going to bad movies with that nice Andrew Stuttaford.

Alexander Rose is NR deputy managing editor and author of Kings of the North.

Andrew Stuttaford

Summer? It’s much overrated. The television is terrible, the climate is as dank as it is humid, insects bite without pity and the sun gives you cancer. This year the prospect of Olympic obsession only adds to the misery. No wonder that people turn to shades, seersucker, sedatives, strong drink, and the soothing joys of a good book to see them through these sweaty, oppressive months.

Typically, we try to ease the pain of this season with a visit to the seaside. For that reason, there’s more than a touch of the briny about the first of the four books I plan to read this summer, Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander, the first in a stirring saga (French routed! Foreigners in despair! Nelson jokes!) in which I have long meant to indulge. After O’Brian, the nautical theme will continue, far, far less cheerfully, with Crabwalk by Gunter Grass. With his crass leftist politics, the Danzig-born Grass has long been an irritating figure, but he remains a compelling chronicler of the disaster that was mid-20th century eastern Germany. In Crabwalk, he takes up the story of the 1945 sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, the greatest single tragedy in maritime history. In his descriptions of this era, Grass has never disappointed: I doubt that he will this time.

Talk of the horrors of recent history brings me inevitably to Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History. While Simon Sebag Montefiore’s horrifying Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, a sort of Hell’s Page Six, made fascinating reading last year, Applebaum’s typically more restrained approach will, I reckon, be an essential accounting for one of history’s most appalling nightmares.

Finally, and on an infinitely lighter note, I plan on reading Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, the latest from David Sedaris. Sedaris is, quite simply, one of the funniest writers in America. I can think of no better antidote to the miseries of summer.

Andrew Stuttaford is an NRO contributing editor.

Terry Teachout

Like most chronic book reviewers, I tend to spend my summers poring over pre-publication copies of books I’m either planning to review or thinking about reviewing. Currently on my desk, for instance, are bound galleys of the Library of America’s three-volume Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer (out in July), Bill Buckley’s Miles Gone By: A Literary Autobiography (out in this month from Regnery), Michael Barber’s Anthony Powell: A Life (out in September from Duckworth Overlook), and A. J. Liebling’s Just Enough Liebling: Classic Work by the Legendary New Yorker Writer (out in September from North Point Press).

In addition to this not-so-short stack, I’m in the process of revisiting the collected works of John P. Marquand, whose now-waspish, now-elegiac fictional portraits of Boston and its inhabitants (and escapees) are long overdue for a revival. I just finished rereading Point of No Return (my favorite Marquand novel) and The Late George Apley, Wickford Point, H. M. Pulham, Esquire, and So Little Time are next on my list.

This being an election year, there’s a better-than-even chance that I’ll also make time for The Right Nation: How Conservatism Won, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge.

Terry Teachout is an arts critic and the author of The Skeptic: A Life of H. L. Mencken. The Terry Teachout Reader was published in May 2004 .

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