Politics & Policy

A Conservative Summer

Read, relax, be Right.

Summer has arrived, and at National Review Online we know that the season is the occasion of that emblem of the conservative movement: leisure time. Rest, relaxation, and reading are at hand, and we’ve gathered some friends and colleagues and posed a series of reading questions and other diversions. For your reading pleasure . . .

Richard Brookhiser

What’s the best political novel you’ve ever read? Why is it the best?

Henry Esmond, by Thackeray. It shows how a good cause goes bad.

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?

The Complete Poetry of Robert Frost. Not very detailed at the policy level, but lots of reality.

Is there one book that you’d recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer?

Suite Francaises, by Irene Nemirovsky. The fall of France. Come on people, it can be a lot worse.

What’s your favorite WFB book and why?

Cruising Speed. It brings him back.

What’s your favorite political movie and why?

The Leopard, starring Burt Lancaster. I am a sucker for loss.

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do?

I don’t know if Cultural Amnesia by Clive James is a classic, but it’s very interesting. I’m making headway.

Is there any recent book that’s made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases?

Forge of Empires, by Michael Knox Beran. Lincoln, Bismarck, and Tsar Alexander II. I have been talking this up to everybody, but I haven’t bought any because I am cheap.

Are there any summer movies you’re looking forward to?

I don’t see many movies.

Would you rather listen to John McCain’s convention speech or read Dick Morris’s new book?

Could Dick Morris be president?

Name one book we’re going to be shocked you read.

The Naked Capitalist, by W. Cleon Skousen. Sheer insanity. I’m sure the Ron Paul campaign studied it carefully.

– Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and presidential historian.

Mona Charen

What’s the best political novel you’ve ever read? Why is it the best?

I confess that the political novel is not a genre I’ve sampled much. Read Advice and Consent in high school. It was okay. If I’m going to read fluff, I usually choose a thriller or historical fiction. Still, I’ll give you one I did enjoy: Full Disclosure by William Safire. It features a president who is blinded by an assassination attempt. Very entertaining and Safiresque, though no doubt quite dated now — it was published in 1977.

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?

Impossible to name just one! Modern conservatism, that wisest of sensibilities, is composed of many elements: realism about human nature particularly with regard to sex differences, skepticism of state power, appreciation for the American heritage of ordered liberty, hostility to collectivism in all its forms, and impatience with liberals who fail to recognize and confront evil. There is no one book that encapsulates all of that. So here’s a partial reading list taking each of those elements in turn: Men and Marriage by George Gilder; Losing Ground by Charles Murray and anything by Thomas Sowell; John Adams by David McCullough and Free to Choose by Milton and Rose Friedman; The Black Book of Communism by Stephane Courtois et al; and um, with all due modesty, cough, cough, Useful Idiots by yours truly.

Is there one book that you’d recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer?

America Alone by Mark Steyn. It’s the wittiest and funniest book on a dead serious subject I’ve ever read.

What’s your favorite WFB book and why?

Cruising Speed. It was Bill in his prime. His life was outsized in every way — and in this book, he allows the reader to share it for one exhilarating week.

What’s your favorite political movie and why?

In the early 1960s, Billy Wilder made perhaps the only Cold War comedy, One, Two, Three. It starred Jimmy Cagney as a Coca Cola executive working in Berlin just before the wall was built. Hilarious, with plenty of digs at the Soviets and excellent use of The Saber Dance by Aram Khachaturian.

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do?

Ha ha! I already have. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope. Eight hundred pages. Exquisite satire on the Victorians. My only hesitation is the anti-Semitism. Trollope lampoons the anti-Semitism of some of his characters, and yet, and yet, he is not quite above it himself. I’d be interested in readers’ reactions.

Is there any recent book that’s made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases?

I sent out a number of copies of America Alone.

Are there any summer movies you’re looking forward to?

The last movie I saw was One, Two, Three. Okay, seriously, I didn’t even know which movies were upcoming till Kathryn asked, but I am now looking forward to Bottle Shock, the story of how a California wine bested the French in the 1976 Paris competition. Stars Alan Rickman, one of my favorites.

Would you rather listen to John McCain’s convention speech or read Dick Morris’s new book?

Don’t know how to respond to this one.

Name one book we’re going to be shocked you read.

Dracula.

– Mona Charen is a syndicated columnist.

Dinesh D’Souza

What’s the best political novel you’ve ever read? Why is it the best?

Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities. It captures a whole era, dissecting the ideological implications of race relations, money, criminal justice, marriage, and, well just about everything.

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?

Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France. Here is conservatism in an entirely different context, and yet with all the first principles clear and intact.

Is there one book that you’d recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer?

Anything by P. J. O’Rourke, a pessimist who’s funny about it, or Ben Stein, an incurable optimist.

What’s your favorite WFB book and why?

God and Man at Yale. Buckley’s first and best book. It develops a highly original argument about who should run the university.

What’s your favorite political movie and why?

Breaker Morant. It makes the case for colonialism and the case against it at the same time, and then integrates them into a riveting drama

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do?

Pascal’s Pensees. The best apologetic for Christianity, and not so well known.

Is there any recent book that’s made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases?

No. But Bernard Lewis’s Islam and the West should be distributed to Congress at taxpayer’s expense.

Are there any summer movies you’re looking forward to?

No. Maybe Hollywood is past its heyday, but can’t they at least make comedies as good as My Cousin Vinny?

Would you rather listen to John McCain’s convention speech or read Dick Morris’s new book?

Morris.

Name one book we’re going to be shocked you read.

John Milton, Paradise Lost. About which Samuel Johnson wrote, “None ever wished it longer than it is.”

– Dinesh dSouzas most recent book is Whats So Great About Christianity?

Alvin S. Felzenberg

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?

Here we have a tie. William F. Buckley, Jr.’s The Unmaking of a Mayor, and Barry Goldwater’s The Conscience of a Conservative. Both provide perspective on how conservatives and liberals approach questions on public policy. Readers will be confounded at how little the nature of the policy debate has changed in the past half century. Substitute “Islamo-fascism” for the “U.S.S.R.” and it is 1959 all over again.

Is there one book that you’d recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer?

To uplift and inspire, William F. Buckley Jr.’s Miles Gone By.

What’s your favorite WFB book and why?

For reasons stated above, The Unmaking of a Mayor cannot be beat. Second best: Up From Liberalism.

What’s your favorite political movie and why?

Advise and Consent. It is all there and in spades: Washington chicanery, cynicism, idealism, press manipulation and spin. And those cars with those tail fins!

Second pick: A Man for All Seasons. It perfectly captures the essence of the proverbial dilemma public figures face between means and ends, the meaning of oaths, and the nature of public and private integrity.

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do?

God and Man at Yale. Again, so little has changed in 50 years. It did prove easier to take down the Soviet Union than to enhance ideological diversity at major research universities. Who’d have “thunk it?” Read it? I intend to memorize it!

Is there any recent book that’s made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases?

Is this the time to put in a plug for my own book, The Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game? If not, let it suffice that I will be sprinkling the land with Richard Brookhiser’s George Washington on Leadership and Founding Father. Brookhiser has done more for Washington than anyone since Alexander Hamilton. (He also has the sense to stay away from dueling pistols.)

Are there any summer movies you’re looking forward to?

No. But I do think conservatives should start organizing — and big time — in Hollywood. Imagine, the head of the Screen Actors Guild making it all the way to the presidency and to this very day failing to attain the industry’s “life-time achievement award.” I recommend that conservatives even thinking of going to the movies, take the $10. they would have spent on movies and send them to the Reagan Ranch Foundation.

Would you rather listen to John McCain’s convention speech or read Dick Morris’s new book?

When Morris tells me what ever happened to the Condi vs. Hillary thesis or refunds readers’ money, I will pick him over McCain. Actually, I would pick McCain over all pundits and strategists.

Name one book we’re going to be shocked you read.

Not on your life.

– Alvin S. Felzenberg is author of the forthcoming Leaders We Deserved and a Few We Didn’t: Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game.

Mark Hemingway

What’s the best political novel you’ve ever read? Why is it the best?

Depends on how you define “political novel.” There’s a lot of great books that are thematically political (Kafka, Orwell, et al.). However, there’s frightfully few good contemporary novels that address the foibles of our political process and explain with any insight how the political culture and power struggles in D.C. affect ordinary Americans.

Weirdly, I haven’t found a decent novel about contemporary Washington that isn’t satire — and there’s precious few of those that are good at that. Christopher Buckley’s books are uniformly hilarious and also very well observed — my personal favorites are Thank You For Smoking and Florence of Arabia. Jeffrey Frank’s The Columnist is also a worthy satire that has its moments.

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?

P. J. O’Rourke’s Parliament of Whores is not only accessible, endlessly quotable, and laugh-’til-your-sides-hurt, it also has the distinction of being the best book ever written on public policy. That it happens to articulate a conservative worldview is just gravy.

Is there one book that you’d recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer?

I haven’t read Douthat and Salam’s Grand New Party yet, though I plan to and many smart folks seem to be keen on the book’s ideas for breathing life into the Republican party.

And I don’t know if this counts as “inspiring or uplifting,” but Mat Bai’s The Argument and Byron York’s The Vast Left Wing Conspiracy do a pretty good job of demonstrating how incoherent and messed up the Democrats still are even though they’re ascendant. That might make conservatives feel a little more confident in their ability to right their political ship.

What’s your favorite WFB book and why?

Well, “favorite” is difficult, but it’s hard not to dip into Let Us Talk of Many Things: The Collected Speeches and not find something to savor on every page.

What’s your favorite political movie and why?

Alexander Payne’s Election is pitch perfect, and I still feel remiss for not having read the Tom Perotta novel it was based on. Centering around student body elections in a Midwestern high school, it does an excellent job articulating why and how exactly the wrong people are drawn to politics. The film also deftly deals with the flip side of this — how ruinous to your health and sanity it can be when an ordinary person trying to do the right thing gets caught up in the political process. Once you get sucked in to politics, it’s an awfully slippery slope between trying do the right thing and winning at all costs.

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do?

At various times over the last few months, I wanted to pick up either J. P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man, Orwell’s underrated Keep the Aspidistra Flying and Raymond Carver’s Where I’m Calling From and reread them. However, I have a ten-month-old at home and an election to cover, so the odds of this happening range from nada to zilch.

Is there any recent book that’s made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases?

I wouldn’t say I’ve been especially evangelical about anything, but there’s few things I’ve found myself recommending multiple times over the last year strictly as entertainments. As it’s title might indicate, Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts is just about the most entertaining piece of non-fiction I’ve read in a long time. Paul Collins’ Banvard’s Folly: Thirteen Tales of People Who Didn’t Change the World is a fascinating and amusing look at some historical footnotes with unbelievably fascinating life stories. Also, Ross MacDonald’s detective fiction is, uh, criminally overlooked. He’s better than Chandler or Hammett.

Are there any summer movies you’re looking forward to?

Hmmm. Not a lot of high-brow fare in the summer, so I’ll just bite the bullet and admit I’m looking forward to the Batman sequel and I’ll admit Tropic Thunder looks like it could be pretty funny.

I’ll tell you what I’m not looking forward to is the upcoming Brideshead Revisited film — based on the trailer it looks like Merchant Ivory does Falcon Crest. It’s a shame, because Waugh’s one of my favorites.

Would you rather listen to John McCain’s convention speech or read Dick Morris’s new book?

Is none of the above an option?

Name one book we’re going to be shocked you read.

Two years ago, I read a pulp biography of Courtney Love. I still don’t know what possessed me — or what still possesses her, for that matter.

– Mark Hemingway is an NRO staff reporter.

Kathryn Jean Lopez

What’s the best political novel you’ve ever read? Why is it the best?

Would I sound like a suck-up of I said Christopher Buckley? Happens to be true. No one comes close these days.

For cheap but important beach reading, Joel Rosenberg isn’t bad.

But I haven’t read Ralph Reed’s new political thriller — except to note his brilliant NRO mention. (I always knew that guy was smart!)

You know what I bought and havent read? Scooter Libbys novel. Theres something Ill do this summer.

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?

Anything WFB.

Is there one book that you’d recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer?

Miles Gone By.

What’s your favorite WFB book and why?

Nearer, My God. A biography of the soul is by its very nature the most intimate. I reread it the night before his memorial service and felt, well, Nearer.

What’s your favorite political movie and why?

This might be corny, but Mr. Smith always and forever.

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do?

A friend of mine at a Washington think tank and I made a pact to start reading Middlemarch by the start of summer. Bill Bennett, in a recent Eliot debate, inspired this. I think we forgot to nail down which summer we were talking about though, considering neither has started.

I’m working through a lot of Walker Percy right now and loving it. Wish I could just read, read, read more than blogs and the daily news. The blessings and curses of the web . . .

Is there any recent book that’s made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases?

One of the most important books of the century: My Grandfather’s Son, by Clarence Thomas.

I bought multiple copies of George Weigel’s The Courage to be Catholic, Ramesh Ponnuru’s The Party of Death, and this Christmas I gave many people Mark DeMoss’s book Little Red Book. I’ve also handed out some Larry Miller, because he’s funny. I have a few extra copies of Kathleen Parker’s Save the Males and Andy McCarthys Willful Blindness on hand to hand out to people.

You know what would have made a great graduation gift? I just dusted off an old copy of Peggy Noonans public-speaking book. For gals who are naturally shy or men expected not to be — its a skill and a good read, as Peggy always is.

Speaking of gals — Laura Ingraham’s latest is well-done and easy to get through. If you havent … Power to the People.

Finally, I’ve never been into pets. Mark Levin changed me a bit and help me bond with the animal lovers in my life. So dog people have been given Sprite.

Are there any summer movies you’re looking forward to?

I haven’t seen WALL-E yet and am curious. I’ve enjoyed Pixar and the controversy has me intrigued. I’d like to see for myself . . . maybe this weekend. Maybe not.

Would you rather listen to John McCain’s convention speech or read Dick Morris’s new book?

Why do I come up with these impossible questions? I’m fairly certain it’s Sean Hannity’s job to handle Morris. And Rush is finally almost getting paid enough to listen to McCain speeches. So I think it’s all covered.

Name one book we’re going to be shocked you read.

Ex-porn-star Tracy Lords’s memoir. And she thanks Ed Meese for saving her life in it, so it did not disappoint, my friends.

– Kathryn Jean Lopez is the editor of National Review Online.

John J. Miller

What’s the best political novel you’ve ever read? Why is it the best?

Shelley’s Heart, by Charles McCarry — a great Washington thriller by a veteran spy novelist that was pitch-perfect for the 1990s and holds up reasonably well today, I think.

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?

The Conservative Intellectual Movement, by George Nash — This book was a great explainer for me when I first read it in college, on the recommendation of Russell Kirk. It could use a sequel, but for enlightenment on the deep trends in conservatism, this is the ultimate source.

Is there one book that you’d recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer?

Gross National Happiness, by Arthur Brooks — Liberals may win big in 2008, but we conservatives will remain happier. Brooks explains why.

What’s your favorite WFB book and why?

Miles Gone By. It gives the best sense of the man behind the words.

What’s your favorite political movie and why?

Advise and Consent. Still a classic.

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do?

The Nick Adams Stories, by Ernest Hemingway. Most are set in Northern Michigan, my traditional summer retreat, and “Big Two-Hearted River” is one of America’s greatest short stories. Most of Hemingway’s short stories improve upon subsequent readings.

Is there any recent book that’s made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases?

I frequently make gifts of Shelley’s Heart (see #1, above) and Seeing Calvin Coolidge in a Dream, a wonderful novel by our Derb.

Are there any summer movies you’re looking forward to?

Unfortunately, no.

Would you rather listen to John McCain’s convention speech or read Dick Morris’s new book?

McCain.

Name one book we’re going to be shocked you read.

If you know me, this won’t surprise you, but I’d like to get to The Dreaming Jewels by Theodore Sturgeon.

– John J. Miller is NR’s national political reporter.

Jay Nordlinger

What’s the best political novel you’ve ever read? Why is it the best?

Hmm . . . I know I should say Advise and Consent. The problem is, I haven’t read Advise and Consent. Frankly, Primary Colors is damn good. Hate to say it, but it’s true.

Also, I delighted in The White House Mess.

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?

Hmm (again). I know I should say The Conservative Mind. But I would rather say Bill Buckley’s output, as a corpus – but that’s no fair. Maybe name his collection of speeches, Let Us Talk of Many Things?

Is there one book that you’d recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer?

I should probably say the Bible. In fact . . . maybe I will.

What’s your favorite WFB book and why?

Don’t have a favorite — have many. Probably my favorite novel: Stained Glass. Maybe my favorite collection: Right Reason. (But it could be that that just hit me at the right time.) I’m amazed at The Unmaking of a Mayor. This is probably the most dazzling book about American politics I know.

And umpteen other books are dazzlers, too.

Why do I love these books, or all WFB books? For the same reasons one loves him.

What’s your favorite political movie and why?

Would On the Waterfront qualify? Would The Lives of Others? They share a great theme: standing up to the bully.

Mention Casablanca?

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do?

The Odyssey or Hamlet. Zero.

Is there any recent book that’s made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases?

Every once in a while, you read a book that you want to thrust into the hands of every person. You want to say, “See? See?” World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism (N. Podhoretz) is such a book for me. I have bought it for people, yes.

More lightheartedly — Miguel Street, an early Naipaul, is a treat. Just to hear the language of the Trinidadian street (c. WW2) is wonderful. Also, the short stories of R. K. Narayan — an early inspiration for Naipaul.

Are there any summer movies you’re looking forward to?

I should say the Batman movie — but I don’t know . . .

Would you rather listen to John McCain’s convention speech or read Dick Morris’s new book?

Honestly, I have high expectations for both of them.

Name one book we’re going to be shocked you read.

This isn’t especially a shocker, but, when it came out – in 1985 – I read Brooke Shields’s autobiography. Liked it.

– Jay Nordlinger is a senior editor for National Review.

Joseph Morrison Skelly

What’s the best political novel you’ve ever read? Why is it the best?

The best remains George Orwell’s 1984. Through it, fiction becomes a vehicle for expressing truth, namely, the bleak, moral wasteland of communism and Stalinism’s relentless attack upon individual liberty. The collectivist system inexorably grinds down the dignity of each person, or, in the novel’s case, its two leading protagonists. “Do it to Julia!” shouts Winston, in 1984’s macabre conclusion. In their final, pathetic meeting, Julia confesses a similar transgression to Winston: “Sometimes they threaten you with something — something you can’t stand up to, can’t even think about . . . You want it to happen to the other person. You don’t give a damn what they suffer. All you care about is yourself.”

To my mind, we can never read enough Orwell. His essays and books are like intellectual depth charges, detonating the smug operating assumptions of large swaths of our cultural elite. His masterpiece, 1984, written 60 years ago, is relevant today. “Newspeak,” the sterile official language of Oceana, anticipates the politically correct, sanitized idiom of our time, when the Department of Homeland Security has instructed its officials to refer to men like Osama Bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed as “the dangerous cult leaders that they are,” but not as “jihadists,” “Islamists” or “holy warriors.” According to the Orwellian DHS press release accompanying its new guidelines, “Words matter.” George Orwell would agree, which is why, if he were writing today, he would call these fanatics exactly what they are: radical Islamic terrorists, sanguinary butchers, evil murderers.

Thankfully, elements of Western culture are starting to see Orwell’s vision more clearly; his worldview has been reflected in recent works of art, literature, and theater, including a Broadway revival of Shakespeare’s Macbeth that excoriates Stalin, a production recently reviewed by Andrew Stuttaford, NRO’s indefatigable critic of the desolate legacy of the Soviet dictator.

If there were only one book on conservatism you could recommend to a newcomer, what would it be and why?

I would recommend Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom, written with his wife, Rose, and a bracing defense of the free market and limited government. A newcomer to conservatism today will find in it a deep source of national renewal. Start with Capitalism and Freedom, and then read Free to Choose, another one of the Friedmans’ collaborative efforts that changed the way people think about markets and politics, and may do so yet again.

Is there one book that you’d recommend to uplift and inspire depressed conservatives this summer?

Yes, John Lukacs’s volume on Winston Churchill’s famous speech of May 13, 1940, his first to the nation as the Prime Minister of war-time Britain, entitled Blood, Toil, Tears and Sweat: The Dire Warning. This slender, illuminating book can be read on the beach in one afternoon. It will surely inspire NRO readers, not least by reminding them that while the challenges we face today may seem daunting, we have surmounted greater obstacles in the past, and can do so again. This the latest in Lukacs’s series of books on the great British leader, including Churchill: Visionary. Statesman. Historian. and Five Days in London, May, 1940, which describes how Churchill successfully resisted pressure from within his own war cabinet, and from within the British establishment, to sound out Hitler on negotiating an end to the war in Europe. Churchill’s finest hour may have been at a meeting on May 28, 1940, when he told his entire cabinet, as 300,000 British troops were pinned down on the beaches in France and had not yet been ferried home, “Of course, whatever happens at Dunkirk, we shall fight on.” In the dark days after 9/11, Rudy Giuliani was captured on film holding Five Days in London, May, 1940 firmly in his grasp.

These volumes are the best antidote to Pat Buchanan’s injudicious polemic, Churchill, Hitler and the “Unnecessary War”. NRO readers interested in a longer, more balanced treatment of the British statesman (and one of his colonial adversaries) may wish to read Arthur Herman’s excellent new study, Gandhi and Churchill: The Epic Rivalry that Destroyed an Empire and Forged our Age, which is a work of serious historical analysis worthy of its two main subjects.

What’s your favorite WFB book and why?

Selecting a favorite book by William F. Buckley is not an easy task; it is almost like trying to choose a favorite Beethoven symphony. We are blessed with riches. One volume edges slightly ahead for this college professor: God and Man at Yale. His focus on the economics department, for instance, is relentless. There is Professor Lindblom, whose philosophy “is, manifestly, collectivist in the extreme,” and Professor Furniss, who assigned a textbook “that places total reliance for economic welfare on government . . . that decries ‘inequities’ in wealth, that mocks individualist philosophy, that discourages thrift, deplores the gold standard, and encourages deficit spending on the part of government, whose credit is inexhaustible.” Surrounded by such stultifying statist orthodoxy, it is clear why he wished “to stand athwart history yelling Stop!” Indeed, as a young man William F. Buckley had his priorities right: his first book’s dedication reads, “For God, For Country, and for Yale … in that order.” Amen to that.

What’s your favorite political movie and why?

One of my favorite political movies also has religious overtones, A Man for All Seasons, staring the great British actor Paul Scofield, who won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Thomas More. Now, More was not always a saint: as Lord Chancellor of England he prosecuted students at Oxford University for reading unauthorized versions of Scripture and persecuted early Protestants in London, events, alas, that are not covered in the film (nor in the original play by Robert Bolt). For his part, King Henry VIII was not, contrary to Pope Clement VII’s edict of excommunication, a sinner. Indeed, by challenging the Church that More defended he helped to launch the Protestant Reformation, which paved the way for the Protestant Enlightenment, one of the wellsprings of our constitutional system and our political liberties. By the same token, and in a paradox of history, by defying Henry, the overbearing central authority of his era (a stand that conservatives today can surely appreciate), Thomas More contributed in his own way to the consolidation of our individual freedoms, including religious freedom. “I die the King’s good servant,” he uttered as he climbed the scaffold, “but God’s first.”

If you could read or reread one classic this summer, what would it be? What are the odds you actually do?

Several months ago at a local Borders Bookstore, inspired by the HBO series John Adams, I bought a single-volume edition of John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration in Yale University Press’s excellent new “Rethinking the Western Tradition” series. With the Fourth of July soon upon us, when we commemorate the Declaration of Independence and its assertion that “all men are created equal,” the work of John Locke is especially pertinent. I recently purchased another book in the Yale series, Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the Revolution in France. I hope to reread these classics this summer; the odds are 50-50 that I will read at least one of them.

Is there any recent book that’s made you want to buy copies for everyone you know and love? Did you actually make the purchases?

Yes, Washington’s Crossing, by David Hackett Fischer, which, incidentally, was first given to me as a gift. My friend Bill Meyers, who writes on arts and culture for the New York Sun, sent me a copy while I was serving in Iraq with the Army Reserve. I thought I knew the whole story of that Christmas night in 1776, but I was wrong. I could hardly put it down; I remember reading it at night, with my flak jacket on, as explosions detonated across the pre-surge city of Baquba (now calmed considerably). After returning from Iraq I penned a Christmas essay for NRO based on Washington’s Crossing and sent copies of the book to my father and one his close friends, both of whom are veterans – and National Review subscribers. This past January we had a reunion at the site of the Crossing, at a museum on the New Jersey side of the Delaware River and, over the bridge in Pennsylvania, at the Washington Crossing Inn. At the museum we reflected on our nation’s heroic past; at the Inn we toasted those American patriots who braved the icy Delaware to secure victory.

Are there any summer movies you’re looking forward to?

It’s not your typical summer movie, but I would welcome the opportunity to see, if it can secure an American distributor, Katyn, which recounts the Soviet Union’s grisly slaughter of the cream of the Polish officer corps in an isolated forest in early 1940, only months after Stalin and Hitler had carved up Poland. The massacre was carried out by the express order of Joseph Stalin and covered up for years by Soviet propaganda. The film, directed by Andrzej Wajda, whose father perished at Katyn, has received excellent reviews in Europe. It is a natural sequel to The Lives of Others, Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s devastating indictment of the Stasi in East Germany, which won the 2007 Best Foreign Film Oscar and which William F. Buckley described as one of the best movies he had ever seen. On a personal note, soon after General Jaruzelski cracked down on Solidarity and declared martial law in Poland, I joined a protest march at a Polish parish in my hometown. The organizers, immigrants from Warsaw and Cracow, handed me a sign to carry that read, in English, “Remember Katyn.” A young student at the time, I did not know what it meant. Neither did many of the spectators along the protest route. Now they will.

Would you rather listen to John McCain’s convention speech or read Dick Morris’s new book?

I will listen to Senator McCain’s convention speech so long as he promises to include some of the politically incorrect passages in Dick Morris’s Fleeced! “When the Democrats took over the House of Representatives in 2007,” Morris points out, “Nancy Pelosi immediately pledged to bring about one big reform: a five-day workweek. Imagine!” It turns out: “In the entire year 2007, the House of Representatives worked only three five-day workweeks.” Ouch!

Name one book we’re going to be shocked you read.

Readers will not be shocked by the book, Lincoln at Gettysburg, but they may be surprised by its author, Gary Wills, deservedly the bête noir of many conservatives. In this book he presents us with a faithful account, save for a few miscues, of the origins and impact of the Gettysburg Address. For a counterbalance to Wills, NRO’s audience may wish to read Allen Guelzo’s excellent studies of our sixteenth president, Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America. Another option is Harry Jaffa’s superb commentary in the Claremont Review of Books reflecting on the first principles that unify the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address – inspirational reading on the Fourth of July.

– Joseph Morrison Skelly is a history professor in New York City and a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

NR SymposiumNational Review symposia are discussions featuring contributors to and friends of the magazine.

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