Christmas-shopping season is on, and these National Review Online writers know some books that can help make your shopping season stress-free. Click and enjoy.
I recommend Breakfast with the Pope by Susan Vigilante and The Art of Tony Millionaire by Tony Millionaire. The first is about joy and suffering, the second is about glee and suffering. Different but complementary. Both for adults.
— Rick Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review.
The War for Righteousness, by Richard M. Gamble: British people think about World War I far too much, nursing a romantic cult of poets and aesthetes mowed down by machine-gun fire in hopeless charges across No Man’s Land under blundering upper-class-twit-type generals.
Americans, by contrast, think and read about that war too little. There are important lessons to be learned from World War I. Conservative historian Richard Gamble teaches one of them in this illuminating book: that progressive Christianity, given its head, will turn into a no-expense-spared effort to put the whole world to rights. To put the U.S.A. to rights also: It’s dismaying how easily the “social gospel” lurched over into federal bossiness, even into Bolshevism.
If you have ever wondered how a Jeffersonian commercial republic became a big-government missionary enterprise, here is a key piece of the puzzle.
Free Trade Doesn’t Work: What Should Replace It and Why, by Ian Fletcher: I noted this book briefly on the Corner a few weeks ago. The trick to writing an anti–free trade book is to show the follies and deformations of economic dogmatism without slipping into Buchananite why-can’t-it-be-1955-again nostalgia. Fletcher pulls it off very elegantly, with clear arguments discreetly repeated to drive his points home.
My thought on finishing the book was: First thing we do, let’s kill all the economists . . . except Ian Fletcher.
The German Genius, by Peter Watson: I love grab-bag books with big, vague themes, and I have a well-thumbed copy of Watson’s 2000 book The Modern Mind on my shelf. I’m also a keen Germanophile, so I had to get this one.
Just started in on it and, so far, it’s well up to expectations. If you are one of the, oh, 99 percent of Americans who think that modern German history began in 1933 and ended in 1945, it’s time you got acquainted with the greatest national flowering of European civilization. Any impartial observer of 100 years ago, asked to name the most advanced, most promising nation in Europe, would have said “Germany” without hesitation.
And if you must obsess about how it all went so horribly wrong, I’m betting there are clues in here somewhere.
— John Derbyshire is a contributor editor of National Review.
This being NRO, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of good nonfiction recommendations, so let me supply a few (as it were) novel ideas.
If anyone missed Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, it’s terrific. The Tudors for grown-ups, with some of the best writing I’ve read in a while.
Prince of Thieves, by Chuck Hogan, is the crime novel on which Ben Affleck based his new film The Town. Hogan is under-read, but he writes beautifully and his story is top-notch — much better than the movie, though the movie’s not bad either.
House of Leaves, by Mark Z. Danielewski, is a postmodern cyber-textual something-or-other and so not an easy read, but if you have the energy, it’s worth it. It’s ghost story that essentially deconstructs deconstruction by demonstrating that all the intellectual blather in the world is as nothing compared to the love between a good woman and a brave man. But, of course, NRO readers already know that.
— Andrew Klavan’s latest thriller is The Identity Man.
KATHRYN JEAN LOPEZ
Times are tough and trips to Europe are expensive: This is not the moment for 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. But it is the moment for The Pilgrim’s Guide to Rome’s Principal Churches, an affordable coffee-table book that has just been reprinted by Angelus Press. It’s a pilgrim’s guide in the traditional sense — short of a human expert talking you though the churches of Rome, I can’t think of a better walk through what you’re looking at. It’s also great for anyone who wants to know Rome better but can’t get there, for financial, health, or other reasons. History and faith and beauty: It’s a trip and a treat.
Speaking of Rome, The End and the Beginning: Pope John Paul II — The Victory of Freedom, the Last Years, the Legacy, the second volume of George Weigel’s biography of John Paul II, is out. Parts of it read like a novel. Read about it here, and then get the book. It’s history, but it’s also inspiration, his chapter on the pope’s last encyclical — how he died — especially.
If you need a gift for someone who hasn’t read Mary Eberstadt’s Loser Letters, it’s a great choice; I promise they’ll thank you for it.
For folks who like easy-to-read fiction: Michael Walsh and Ralph Reed both have novels for you this year, and I’ve even got something for those who like nun stories. The tea-partier on your list might like Michael Walsh under another name, “David Kahane”; his Rules for Radical Conservatives: Beating the Left at Its Own Game to Take Back America just came out.
Apart from books, I always recommend holy, wholly reliable soap. You can also try coffee, mustard, and caramels. (Some related recommendations here.) And there’s always the option of donations to the National Review Institute, or DVDs of Firing Line.
Speaking of which: If you’re reading this, you know someone who would be delighted by Athwart History: Half a Century of Polemics, Animadversions, and Illuminations: A William F. Buckley Jr. Omnibus.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is an editor-at-large of National Review Online.
HEATHER MAC DONALD
For potential or full-fledged opera lovers, I recommend the Decca CD of Donizetti’s Don Pasquale (Istvan Kertesz conducting the Vienna State Opera), which I have just discovered and am gorging on. Comedies are the true calling of bel canto opera — and arguably of opera itself — and Donizetti’s hilarious, humane masterpiece pulses with energy and style in this 1964 performance — particularly the Vienna State Opera chorus, whose speed and precision resembles machine-gun fire. It puts the Metropolitan Opera chorus, swaddled in layer upon layer of civic boosterism, to shame.
JOHN J. MILLER
For the Civil War buff: As we head into the 150th anniversary of the War Between the States, armchair historians will want to keep up with the sesquicentennial. There is no shortage of excellent guides to the conflict. A recent one that I’ve enjoyed dipping into is The Grand Design: Strategy and the U.S. Civil War, by Donald Stoker. Rather than a blow-by-blow account of battles and operations, it describes the strategic objectives of North and South and how civilian and military leaders tried to realize them.
For the English major: Harvard University Press has just published The Beowulf Manuscript, the first facing-page translation of the Beowulf poem plus the four texts that appeared with it in the original document once owned by Sir Robert Cotton. A good companion volume is The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation, a forthcoming book that includes pieces by Seamus Heaney, Robert Pinsky, and other contemporary poets.
For the Tea Party activist: Defiance of the Patriots, by Benjamin L. Carp, provides the definitive history of the Boston Tea Party — why it happened and what it wrought. The book retails for $30; my podcast interview with Carp is free.
— John J. Miller is NR’s national correspondent and the author of The First Assassin, a historical thriller.
First published in 1977, A Severe Mercy is a memoir recounting how, through the friendship of C. S. Lewis, Sheldon Vanauken and his wife Davy became Christians while at Oxford. Upon their return to the U.S., Davy faced a swift and untimely death in 1955. Vanauken continued to receive counsel from Lewis, whose own wife, Joy, was struggling with a terminal illness at the time. Lewis was able to illuminate for Vanauken how the loss of Davy was a manifestation of God’s mercy — “a mercy that was as severe as death, a death that was as merciful as love.” Only by losing Davy could Vanauken’s heart be readied for its true fulfillment in God.
A Grief Observed was first published in 1961, the year following Joy’s death. It is also a “therapeutic” book of a sort, in which Lewis hashes out his personal experiences of bereavement within the context of Christian belief. But the feelings of pain and desolation, of looking for and not quite yet finding God’s comfort, are palpably conveyed. Still, the lesson is one of promise: “My jottings show something of the process, but not so much as I’d hoped. . . . There was no sudden striking and emotional transition. Like the warming of a room of the coming of daylight. When you first notice them they have already been going for some time.”
— Michael Novak is George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.
HANS VON SPAKOVSKY
The Man from U.N.C.L.E.: The Complete Series: For the woman whose husband or significant other has reached the 50-ish mark, here is the perfect Christmas gift to remind him of the aspirations of his youth. The Man from U.N.C.L.E. was the television version of the James Bond films. It followed the adventures of Napoleon Solo (played by Robert Vaughn) and Illya Kuryakin (played by David McCallum, who plays “Ducky” on NCIS today). The crime-fighting organization, U.N.C.L.E., operated out of its secret headquarters in New York City, with access through a hidden door in a dry cleaner’s. The action was enthralling, the stories were interesting and full of gadgets, and the shows were filled with beautiful women who were, of course, always charmed by the very cool secret agents of U.N.C.L.E. Every young boy who watched the show (like me) knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up: the next Napoleon Solo!
Next Christmas, if it finally comes out on DVD, you’ll be able to get a show that was almost as cool, It Takes a Thief, in which Robert Wagner played the debonair, sophisticated playboy Alexander Mundy, the world’s best cat burglar. But he was only the best because his father (played by Fred Astaire) was retired. Can anyone think of a better combination than that?
— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a former Justice Department official.
There have been plenty of books on George Armstrong Custer lately, including James Donovan’s A Terrible Glory in 2008, but now Nathaniel Philbrick has come along with The Last Stand: Custer, Sitting Bull and the Battle of the Little Bighorn, which tells the thrice-told tale from both the wasichu and the American Indian sides. The result is a clear and clear-eyed description of the famous battle that reminds us why the story of the headstrong “Autie” and his rendezvous with destiny will never lose its appeal. Give it to a young person and introduce him or her to this fascinating chapter of American history.
James Ellroy’s Blood’s a Rover is the third in his trilogy of books about America in the ’50s and ’60s, which began with American Tabloid and continued with The Cold Six Thousand. With the latter book, Ellroy had boiled down his hard-boiled style to near nothingness in a tour de force of subject-verb-object sentences that turned noir into poetry. The resolutely un-P. Blood’s a Rover backs away from that linguistic abyss and delivers the kind of wallop we’ve come to expect from the Demon Dog of American literature. Give it to a liberal and watch his head explode.
Speaking of exploding liberal heads — a thing devoutly to be wished — here’s a plug for my close friend David Kahane’s Rules for Radical Conservatives, which was conceived right here at NRO.
— Michael Walsh is the author of Andrew Lloyd Webber: His Life and Works and, under another name, Rules for Radical Conservatives: Beating the Left at Its Own Game to Take Back America.