Politics & Policy

Bring a Book to The Beach

A summer-reading list.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Hot fun in the summer time! It’s the time of year when–hopefully (it all depends on William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Conner, doesn’t it?)–things slow down a little and we all get a chance to catch up on reading. Too many books to choose from? Here some NRO writers share their wish list for summer reading and make a few recommendations. (Thanks to NR’s Erin Carden for compiling.)


On an episode of Nickelodeon’s Jimmy Neutron, the skyscraper-coiffed boy genius invents a way to consume a book in pill form. Were that available I would go after three monster biographies on my shelf, illuminating (in order) Benjamin Disraeli, Theodore Roosevelt, and Winston Churchill. But that’s about 2,200 pages, give or take, so failing Jimmy’s pills:

1. The Haj by Leon Uris. I read Exodus a few years ago and I find Uris to be an overwrought melodramatist and a fascinating historian. I have no idea whether he’s accurate or not.

2. Thank You for Smoking by Christopher Buckley. No sucking up here. I’ve been meaning to get to this for some time. I know someone’s making a movie of it. I’m wondering if there isn’t a cool South Park Con sitcom in there, too.

3. Disney War by James Stewart. I have worked for Disney for 6 years of the last 12, and I just can’t get enough of the plucky little underdogs.

What should others read? I greatly enjoyed Blink by Malcolm Gladwell, though at first I thought I wouldn’t, and doesn’t that blow the whole theory? Anything by Bill Bryson, especially A Walk in the Woods. Anything by David Sedaris, especially Me Talk Pretty Some Day.

Warren Bell, a regular contributor to NRO’s “The Corner,” is a 15-year veteran of the sitcom business and a not-so-secret conservative.


I’m writing a book; too busy to read any.

Recommendations for others? Idylls of the King, Alfred Lord Tennyson. Is there anything he can’t do as a poet? (Well, a couple, but still…) Surprise bonus: the politics.

T.S. Eliot, The Wasteland and Other Poems. Defy the yobs and their flatterers who infest The Corner, where he has been attacked. Surprise bonus: the laughs.

Horace in English (it’s a Penguin, out of print I fear). Translations from the 16th to the 20th century. Great poet, great lesson in translating. Surprise bonus: John Quincy Adams shines.

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.


Two books I’m reading this summer proceed from the fact that we’re at war.

One is Waugh’s Sword of Honor trilogy, based on his experiences in WWII. The usual Waugh drollery mitigated by a solemn earnestness. This war ends for the hero Guy Crouchback, as our current one might, with disillusion as the victory over one totalitarianism, followed immediately by the advance of another.

The other book on my list is John Hubbell’s P.O.W.: A Definitive History of the American Prison of War Experience in Vietnam. I especially recommend this to those who fret over the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo. Hanoi helped define torture: broken bones and suppurating wounds; starvation; cruel use of abused prisoners for propaganda purposes. Many of the same people who now profess to be shocked by Gitmo, moreover, felt that the American POWs, whose state was an infinitely worse, had it coming.


The Books I Plan to Read This Summer, Toddler Permitting: Since starting a regular blog for the Hollywood-based Huffington Post, I’m immersed up to my eyeballs in all things Tinseltown, including William Goldman’s classic, Adventures in the Screen Trade. Next in line is the modern companion to Goldman’s book, Hello, He Lied: And Other Truths from the Hollywood Trenches by Lynda Obst.

And what would summer be without revisiting the complete works of Raymond Chandler?

Some big fat beach books I recommend, which can also double as sand coasters: The Way We Live Now, by Anthony Trollope: I’ve been shoving this on my friends for years, but it’s never been more relevant than it is now, with all the recent downfalls of corporate titans. Augustus Melmotte is perhaps the greatest such titan wandering literature. No one but Trollope has ever described so well the toxic combination of ambition, greed and sheer chutzpah that propels these grand characters to their rise and inevitable fall.

American Pastoral, by Philip Roth. This is Roth for those who don’t like Roth (me included), uncharacteristically writing as a reflective neo-con: A gorgeous fin-de-siecle view of America.

Last one. If you haven’t read the new One Nation Under Therapy by Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel, stop reading this and buy it right away!

Danielle Crittenden is author of What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman and Amanda Bright@Home


A. I am in the situation–it is not at all a sad situation, and I don’t mind it–of having no time to read except for money. My hope for the summer, therefore, is to get through the stack of books people have asked me to review. The one I am most looking forward to is the new Mark Helprin novel–I don’t read half as much fiction as I’d like.

B. Some, like me, read for money; some read for self-advancement or -improvement; some read for pleasure. I recommend you figure out which kind of reader you are, and read accordingly. Speaking very broadly and generally, I wish more people would read for pleasure. It’s hard to argue against self-improvement, though.


Hoping to read: Witness, by Whittaker Chambers: This is one I want to reread. For years friends and colleagues urged me to read Witness, but for some reason I held off until last year. I should have read it years earlier.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning: 1977, Baseball, Politics, and the Battle for the Soul of a City, by Jonathan Mahler: Son of Sam, the blackout, looting, Bella Abzug, Studio 54, Reggie Jackson’s three home runs on three pitches in the World Series–lots of material to work with here. I’m interested to see what Mahler makes of it all.

Recommend reading: American Brutus: John Wilkes Booth and the Lincoln Conspiracies, by Michael Kauffman: I didn’t think much more could be said about the Lincoln assassination, but Kauffman’s years of meticulous (nearly obsessive) research have produced all kinds of fresh insights.

2) Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer: A Road Trip into the Heart of Fan Mania, by Warren St. John: A fascinating–and hilarious–book about sports fandom. (Full disclosure: This is a Crown title, but I’d recommend it no matter who the publisher was.)

Jed Donahue is senior editor at Crown Forum.


My plan is to read through what I haven’t already read of the oeuvre of Japanese-born, British-raised Kazuo Ishiguro, who is probably best known for his novel The Remains of the Day, which was, in turn, made into that film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson. Ishiguro’s writing is clear, spare, and somehow spectral; but as with Graham Greene, the clarity is deceptive.

You must pay close attention, for Ishiguro’s narrators are never quite reliable, and it is only through their recounting of their memories, and the odd reaction of others to them, that the reader realizes just how unreliable the protagonist is–and begins to grasp the troubling dimensions of the world the narrator inhabits. In the last month I’ve read Remains (post WWII England), An Artist of the Floating World (post WWII Japan), and When We Were Orphans (Shanghai on the brink of Japanese invasion). Still to come are A Pale View of Hills, The Unconsoled, and his latest, Never Let Me Go, which is available only in hardback, alas, so farewell to $$$.

Meghan Cox Gurdon writes “The Fever Swamp” column for NRO.


It’s so much easier to recommend books for other people. At my last physical exam, my doctor gave me a stern lecture about my eating habits and my weight, and as he hectored on, my eyes kept drifting to his (much) larger girth, and to the way he seemed to be bursting out of his white lab coat, like a giant baked potato. He noticed my noticing, and said in a tiny, defensive voice, “I’m just telling you what would be good for us both.”

So what I think would be good for us both, is for you to read Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism by my friend Timothy Naftali. It’s a gripping work of history that reads like a spy novel, and it’s even-handed enough to provoke and disturb. Reagan comes off very well, for those of you that need to achieve a certain comfort-level before you shell out the eighteen clams.

You may also profit from diving into something by the great Charles McCarry, who writes elegant and juicy spy novels. Maybe something like Tears of Autumn or Old Boys, or my favorite, The Last Supper, which chronicles the life and work of master spy and Yale man Paul Christopher. Good beach reading, but also great on a summer night, with a chilly cocktail in a sweating glass, and the sound of a distant bug zapper zapping away.

Finally, I think I recommend this all the time, but only because it’s the most under-rated and under-read American novel of the past 40 years, written by an overlooked genius. True Grit by Charles Portis is funny, moving, exciting, and all-American. Read it and be astonished.

Well, that’s what I think you should read. Here’s what I’m going to read:

First, I’m going to read Getting Things Done, by David Allen, because I tend to be disorganized and late with things, and I’ve been told that it’s a pretty basic, guru-jargon-free book that works.

Then, I’m going to put the book to the test, because what I really want to read is the four volume set of The Dream of the Red Chamber (sometimes called The Dream of Red Mansion or The Story of the Stone) which is a long, loopy work by an 18th-century Chinese author called Cao Xueqin. I’ve started and stopped this book so many times that it’s become one of those books that needs Getting Things Done to get done.

And then, when That’s Done, I’m going to read Maximum City by Suketu Mehta, which I’m told is a dazzling history of the city of Bombay, and then it’s Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City. I think I’m reading them because it’s been about five years since my last really long trek–back then I went from China to India to Tashkent and then overland to Istanbul, ending up in Vienna; took many months–and I have itchy feet. But there are worse things than to be stuck on a beach in southern California with a good book.

Rob Long, a television writer in Hollywood, writes the regular “Long View” column for National Review.


Like Derbyshire, I am in a terrible habit of almost only reading books I get paid to read. (Hey, don’t judge: There are bills to pay!) That said, like Meghan Gurdon, I am determined to read Kazuo Ishiguro’s latest novel Never Let Me Go. I’m embarrassed to say I have never read Mike Ledeen’s Freedom Betrayed: How America Led a Global Democratic Revolution, Won the Cold War, and Walked Away and I’d like to do it before summer’s end. I also hope to read David Horowitz’s new book The End of Time, a very different kind of book for him, more morality than ideology.

I just got my galley copy of my friend Raymond Arroyo’s much-anticipated Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles and that’s for this weekend–out this fall. From what I know of her and what I have been hearing about the book (as Arroyo was working on it), it’s the untold story of a relatively under-the-radar woman pioneer with a faith in Divine guidance anyone of any faith can admire. I suspect it will be on my gift-recommendation list come Thanksgiving time, after it’s out.

Finally, I am not ashamed to say, I have been meaning to read Jon Stewart’s Presents America (The Book): A Citizen’s Guide to Democracy Inaction and should do so one summer afternoon.

Speaking of cool people, I’m overdue for a good classic biography, but I haven’t settled on one as of yet. There’s always Living History, which really just serves as a doorstop. I’ve tried 12 times or so to break through and just cannot. I’m certain it’s a physical impossibility. I wish I could be convinced the same about a Hillary Clinton presidency.

I recently got paid to read Smut. (How’s that for a conversation stopper.) The book Smut is by a porn-industry guy and dad (Gil Reavill) who is outraged by the pornification of mainstream culture. Even he sees a problem. It’s a unique look at the state of our pop culture which I found worthwhile and have been recommending (review here).

Now to some friends (I can’t help it if I’m around some talented folks): Our colleague Byron York’s The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy is an in-depth and yet never dense look at the Left’s organization in 2004 and where it hopes to be in 2008. Read it before we weep. Because the courts are where it’s at–for worse, mostly–Mark R. Levin’s Men in Black: How the Supreme Court Is Destroying America should be read nationwide. Betsy Hart’s It Takes a Parent : How the Culture of Pushover Parenting Is Hurting Our Kids–and What to Do About It is coming out next month. It’s an honest, spirited, funny, non-patronizing parenting guide. Reading the galley on a recent plane ride, I confess I was tempted to “accidentally” drop it in the bag of the parents across from me, whose toddler was out-of-control in the most unnecessary ways. They’d think me obnoxious at first, but then thank me.

For the college kids/recent grads I always recommend Another Sort of Learning by Fr. James Schall, just because it’s relatively light but important.

Finally, it’s far from light, but it is an important project: Can we make sure every member of Amnesty International has to read Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History?

Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.


Hope to read:

The Wrong Side of Brightness by Austin Bay and The Day Before Midnight by Stephen Hunter–two novels from two of my favorite non-fiction writers that I’ve been itching to read.

Recommend: Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell and Checkpoint by Nicholson Baker. Not because I enjoyed them, but because they give invaluable and revealing glimpses into the unhinged liberal mind. Porn Generation by Ben Shapiro. Ben argues valiantly on behalf of modesty in a flesh-baring world.

Michelle Malkin is a syndicated columnist and author of Invasion: How America Still Welcomes Terrorists Criminals & Other Foreign Menaces to Our Shores. She blogs at michellemalkin.com.


I plan to read Donald Kagan’s The Peloponnesian War. Three reasons: (1) to fill one (of many) gaps in my education, (2) I’m reliably informed that it sheds light on contemporary international affairs, and (3) because it’s much easier to read than Thucydides’s history.

I also plan to read Agents of Innocence by David Ignatius, because I like spy stories (if they don’t involve Joseph C. Wilson IV) and this is one of Jim Woolsey’s favorites.

And I’m ashamed to admit I haven’t yet read my good friend Michael Ledeen’s Machiavelli on Modern Leadership. I expect to be in Tuscany for a week this summer and plan to read it then (though it may inspire me to plot ways to get others to cook dinner and clean up).

As for recommended reading, start with The Case for Democracy by Natan Sharansky (Bush, Cheney, and Condi have read it–shouldn’t you?), and Bernard Lewis’s From Babel to Dragomans, as thoughtful a collection of essays on the Middle East as you’ll find.

Clifford D. May, a former New York Times foreign correspondent, is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.


I’m going to read Fred Siegel’s biography of my old boss, Rudy Giuliani The Prince Of The City: Giuliani, New York And The Genius Of American Life. I’m a Fred fan and a Rudy fan, so it’s a rare win-win. If I have time, I will finally finish Jude the Obscure as part of my hopeless project to read the books I should have read 25 years ago. I now also feel compelled to read Philip Hamburger’s Separation of Church and State because Ed Whelan says I should (which seems like a pretty good reason to me).

I’d recommend Conor Cruise O’Brien’s thematic biography of Edmund Burke (The Great Melody) because it’s one of my favorite books, so I always recommend it. I’ve also just finished the wonderful Scalia Dissents–Writings of the Supreme Court’s Wittiest, Most Outspoken Justice, edited and with commentary from Kevin A. Ring. If you read that, plus the Great One, Mark Levin’s Men in Black, you will know why the current debate about the judiciary and democracy is so important–while being entertained at the same time.

Andrew C. McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor, is a senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.


For me: I’d like to reread something by Arthur C. Clarke, because it has been too long. Maybe Childhood’s End, because it’s often regarded as his best, or perhaps Rendezvous with Rama, because it was a personal favorite years ago.

For others: I recently finished C.S. Lewis, by A.N. Wilson–one of the best-written biographies I’ve ever encountered and good preparation for this fall, when The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe arrives in movie theaters. Not everything in it will sit well with readers, especially those who want to sanctify Lewis. Yet it is a mostly favorable treatment and the prose is splendid.

John J. Miller is national political reporter for National Review and the co-author, most recently, of Our Oldest Enemy: A History of America’s Disastrous Relationship with France.


A delightful choice of reading material this summer would be NRO contributor Susan Konig’s Why Animals Sleep So Close to the Road (And Other Lies I Tell My Children)–which is, for those who will get the reference, a Please Don’t Eat the Daisies for the 21st Century. It’s fun and funny and true and goes down very easily if you only have time for a brief chapter every night. And if you haven’t read Anthony Trollope’s least-well-known great novel, Framley Parsonage, make this the summer you give it a shot. It’s the best book ever written about what it’s like to be in debt.

As for me, I’ll be reading a lot of stuff about contemporary politics for a book I’m writing, and don’t think I’m happy about it at all.

John Podhoretz, a regular contributor to NRO’s “The Corner,” is a columnist for the New York Post and author of Bush Country: How Dubya Became a Great President While Driving Liberals Insane.


I hope to read Red Star Over Hollywood by Ron Radosh; Black Rednecks and White Liberalsby Thomas Sowell; and One Nation Under Therapy by Christina Hoff Sommers and Sally Satel. All because their other books have always been so great.

I recommend The Case For Democracy by Natan Sharansky because it can help you understand the big picture on democratizing the Middle East. The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy by Byron York is also great. An older classic you may have missed is Radical Son by David Horowitz, a book that changed my life (for the better).

For non-political beach books I recommend The Liars Club by Mary Karr; The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing by Melissa Bank; All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot; and anything by Jack London. Last but not least, try to squeeze in H. G. Wells’s classic The War of the Worlds before somebody comes along and makes a bad movie out of it!

Ned Rice is a staff writer on the new and improved CBS talk show The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson. Rice is also an NRO contributor.


I’ve got a couple of books I plan to read this summer. One is The Conquest of Gaul, by J. Caesar. Most of the contemporary war reporting I encounter is on television, and not so good. JC knew how to wage war and could write pretty well too. I’m also going to try to read through the collected short stories of Flannery O’Connor. I haven’t read much fiction in the last decade or two and now find myself writing a novel. Miss O’Connor had a great eye and voice, and I may try to borrow a bit of both.

As for my suggestion to other readers, I always suggest trying to track down The Natural Science of Stupidity, by Paul Tabori. It was published by Chilton Books in 1959 and went out of print, no doubt because of too high a truth level. Nor can one go wrong with The Sixteen Satires of Juvenal. I read the Penguin version, which is very accessible and full of trouble. In the spirit of self-interest, I also suggest Exodus: Why Americans are Fleeing Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity, simply because I could use the dough.

Dave Shiflett is the author of Exodus: Why Americans are Leaving Liberal Churches for Conservative Christianity.

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