STEPHEN K. BANNON
Tonight We Die as Men, by Ian Gardner and Roger Day
The 3rd Battalion 506th Regiment 101st Airborne — not the famous “band of brothers” of Stephen Ambrose/HBO fame — is the focus of one of the best accounts of the daily life of a combat soldier ever written. “The Forgotten Battalion” landed in the dead of night before the D-Day invasion to capture and hold two wooden bridges — the only way off Utah Beach. Heroism at its most real.
The Civil War: A Narrative, by Shelby Foote
This is America’s War and Peace. Foote began as a novelist and brings the techniques of fiction to bear on a nonfiction narrative of incredible power. The work formed the intellectual framework for Ken Burns’s The Civil War. There’s no better way to begin one’s understanding of the conflict during the 150th anniversary.
Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe, by George Dyson
How did “code” take over the world? Dyson shows us the origin of the “most powerful technology of the 20th century — software not the atomic bomb.” This is a journey with the team that destroyed “the distinction between numbers that ‘mean’ things and numbers that ‘do’ things.”#ad#
Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China, by Ezra Vogel
One cannot understand the modern world without first understanding China. I believe the key to understanding modern China is contained in these two classics — the Taiping civil war in the 19th century and Deng’s revolution in the late 20th. The reader will come away with an understanding of both why China fears Christianity and “grass roots” movements and why Deng is called “the steel factory.”
What the ‘Bleep’ Just Happened? by Monica Crowley
Nationally syndicated radio host, Fox News analyst, and rising conservative star Crowley delivers a 400-page smackdown of the Age of Obama. The snarky title aside, this is a serious, tightly argued indictment of this administration from somebody who will not “drop the mic.”
— Stephen K. Bannon is a former conservative filmmaker, radio host, Breitbart CEO, and the White House Chief Strategist to the Trump Administration
Perelandra, by C. S. Lewis
For many discriminating readers, Perelandra is Lewis’s finest work of fiction. The drama of the first sin plays out on another planet with a man from Earth there to witness it and perhaps intervene. Though the book is part of a trilogy, it stands alone. A truly beautiful novel.
Ancestral Shadows, by Russell Kirk
In this outstanding collection of ghost stories by the great conservative man of letters, you can read about a half-lost soul in an English bar somewhere between suicide and starting over; a big, gentle giant of an ex-con trying to take heaven by storm; a family of hermits who keep to themselves for good reason; and an exotic minister-without-portfolio named Manfred Arcane who could easily be the inspiration for the “most interesting man in the world.” These tales and many others make for one of the most absorbing reading experiences possible.
This trilogy is written in the voice of a first-person participant whom some have mistakenly believed to be Klavan himself. The sad, wise, and unexpectedly tough Weiss and the wild, edgy, violent Bishop make an amazing team, almost like Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin plus a half-century of cultural decline. Probably the best hard-boiled crime stories I have ever read, but much less well known than his novels Don’t Say a Word or True Crime.
Lancelot, by Walker Percy
A southern moderate-liberal is slowly fading out of his own life. He doesn’t know what his purpose is or where his marriage and family are going. Then, something strange happens. He discovers there is such a thing as evil. Percy won the National Book Award for The Moviegoer, but Lancelot is my favorite. The last few pages cause the hairs on the back of my neck to rise as a priest answers questions of cosmic significance with a single word.
The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, by Robert E. Howard
Howard is much better known for creating his most popular character, Conan the Barbarian (and his Atlantean predecessor Kull the Conqueror), but he first had success with Kane. Solomon Kane is probably the world’s only Puritan hero of pulp fiction. The tall, dark-haired “landless wanderer” with a corpse-like pallor is the most frightening foe monsters, murderers, and slavers will ever encounter this side of the grave.
Year of the Warrior, by Lars Walker
Walker tells the story of Erling the noble Viking warrior and Aillil, the Irishman who becomes a real priest by first pretending to be one when he is purchased at a slave auction. The novel perfectly illustrates the tension between Viking paganism and a nascent Christian faith under the old system of “his rule, his reign.” A book that will stir you emotionally. Amazingly, unjustly out of print, but available used. Let’s hope Baen issues a new edition.
Witness, by Whittaker Chambers
A colleague recently read this book at my insistence. He texted me, “Whittaker Chambers is a genius.” Surely, the greatest memoir of any man of the Right. Possibly, the greatest memoir ever. If you want to really understand what was at stake in the Cold War, read Chambers.
The End of Economic Man, by Peter F. Drucker
Drucker was the most well-known management theorist of the 20th century. His works in social and political thought are less well-remembered. This book masterfully explains how the desire for security and yes, social justice, can be twisted into totalitarianism. Winston Churchill supposedly issued it to the British officer corps.
Four books on Lincoln, all old, all good.
1. Crisis of the House Divided, by Harry V. Jaffa.
Maybe the best Lincoln book of the second half of the 20th century. Jaffa joins the skills of a political philosopher with the insights of a political reporter. He occasionally ladles in the Aristotle with a heavy hand. But Lincoln wasn’t Aristotle — he was a hick lawyer who turned out to be smarter than Aristotle. A brilliant book all the same.
2. Abraham Lincoln, by Lord Charnwood.
Maybe the best Lincoln book of the entire 20th century. Lots of Englishmen like Americans, but hardly any of them understand us, the national temptation being to treat us as entertaining animals. Charnwood got Lincoln and his political environment cold. Teaser (a description of John Calhoun): “His intellect must have been powerful enough, but it was that of a man who delights in arguing, and delights in elaborate deductions from principles which he is too proud to revise; a man, too, who is fearless in accepting conclusions which startle or repel the vulgar mind; who is undisturbed in his logical processes by good sense, healthy sentiment, or any vigorous appetite for truth.”
3. Herndon’s Life of Lincoln, by William H. Herndon and Jesse W. Weik, edited by Paul M. Angle.
Herndon was Lincoln’s law partner, acolyte, and industrious biographer. All the materials of the Lincoln myth are here. Henry Steele Commager thought Herndon was a great psychobiographer, a genre he identified with Plutarch, Saint-Simon, Boswell, Parson Weems, and the autobiographies of Franklin, Davy Crockett, and Frederick Douglass.#ad#
4. Herndon’s Informants, edited by Douglas L. Wilson and Rodney O. Davis.
Herndon did not just record his own lively impressions, he interviewed everyone he could collar about Lincoln’s early life. Here are his raw notes — letters and interviews, polished, illiterate, all over the lot. A case study of how we stumble around great men, feeling a foot here, a proboscis there.
— Richard Brookhiser is senior editor of National Review and author, most recently, of Madison.
I don’t know whether I’d go quite so far as Ann Coulter, who blurbed it as “the greatest book since the Bible,” but M. Stanton Evans’s Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies (Random House) is pretty close to the top of the list. Though it was published five years ago, I am only just catching up with it and marveling with almost every page at the light it casts on a chapter of American history that once seemed hopelessly obscure. It also frequently brings to mind Coventry Patmore’s great lines in the conclusion of his poem “Magna Est Veritas” — “The truth is great, and shall prevail/When none cares whether it prevail or not.”
Peter Collier’s Political Woman: The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick (Encounter) is beautifully written and full of insight not only into the life of his subject but into the political culture of America during the Reagan years.
Another new book, and one that will delight Jane-ites, is Elizabeth Kantor’s The Jane Austen Guide to Happily Ever After (Regnery). It would make a great gift for literary-minded young women who otherwise might not think of taking dating advice from Jane Austen.
But apart from Stan Evans’s masterpiece, the best book I have read so far this year is Simon Raven’s The English Gentleman: An Essay in Attitudes. Though it was published in 1961 and is long out of print, it is still possible to find this on one of the used-books sites, and as an account from the inside of what happened to the old honor-culture in Britain, it can’t be beaten. Like Jane Austen, Raven understands the uses of hypocrisy, which, but for their elucidation in books like this one, may soon be a lost art for all but the most ungentlemanly.
Bring Up the Bodies, by Hilary Mantel. The sequel to Mantel’s award-winning Wolf Hall. For lovers of fiction about the Tudor era, these books are a treat — meticulously researched and gorgeously written. Mantel takes the road less traveled by making Thomas Cromwell into a sympathetic character, but so skillful and complex is her portrayal that she simultaneously manages to show how his pragmatism and well-developed survival instincts lead to his corruption.
The Jane Austen Guide to Life: Thoughtful Lessons for the Modern Woman, by Lori Smith. In the interest of full disclosure, Lori is a personal friend. But I would enjoy and recommend this book even if she weren’t. At a time when too many girls and women equate maturity with sexual looseness or even exhibitionism, Lori uses the well-loved stories and heroines of Jane Austen to make a convincing case for dignity, modesty, and good character in general.
God and Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author, by Gary Colledge. Anyone who has even the faintest interest in Charles Dickens — who happens to be celebrating his bicentennial — should read this book. I’m reviewing it for another publication, so I can’t say too much here, but I will say that I believe it to be one of the most important books about Dickens to come along in recent years.
CHARLES A. DONOVAN
Against the idea that summer reading should be light or at least brief, The Letters of T.S. Eliot: 1898–1922 (Yale University Press, 2011) will keep the edges of any beach blanket from furling up in the wind. It’s a massive volume and gives one’s conscience, as letter collections do, a tweak of thrilled regret at peering over another human being’s shoulder as they set private words to paper. But the private words here, in addition to the usual “revelations” about where the author will dine or vacation next week, provide insight into the tensions that swirled around Eliot’s career, the launch of The Criterion, his relationships with his first wife and with colleagues, and the publication of The Waste Land in the year where this first volume breaks off. Ninety years on, our world remains very much mired in Margate Sands.
Of more inspiriting character for this time is Jeffrey Bell’s new book on the benefits (for the survival of American ideas of liberty) of social-issue controversies, The Case for Polarized Politics: Why America Needs Social Conservatism (Encounter, 2012). Bell is both a political analyst and an historian of ideas, and in this book he makes a compelling case for the success of conservative coalitions — economic, social, and defense-oriented — when they overcome their internal antagonisms and work together. The data he produces from modern presidential campaigns is persuasive, as is the sharp contrast he draws between the strength of U.S. conservatism versus the faltering European brands. To top everything off, Bell writes with, well, bell-like clarity. His message and his evidence are more important than ever in 2012.
Another political book that demands attention is Robert Zubrin’s Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism (New Atlantis, 2012). Zubrin thoroughly documents the depredations of the neo-Malthusians who have dominated the West’s campaigns of population control, often by forcible means, against the people of developing nations. He makes quite clear that, far from fading from the scene, the grim forecasters of doom are still with us and hard at work deploying their profound pessimism in human affairs. Whatever one thinks of global warming, as Zubrin meticulously reports, the inhumanity of these elites is poisoning the West and making the modern world a colder and crueler place.
Finally, no summer reading list would be complete without a mystery. I remain partial to Arthur Upfield, a mid-20th-century Aussie writer, born in England, whose stories always plant the reader firmly in another time and place remote from personal experience. His hero-detective is the half-aborigine, half-white Napoleon Bonaparte, or “Bony,” whose gift for tracking and knowledge of the bush country advantage him over malefactors of all kinds. Almost any Bony will do, but in honor of the season, try Death of a Lake (Doubleday, 1954), where the main character is literally a body of water that is steadily drying up in searing heat, slowly revealing the clues and the answer to an improbable murder.
— Charles A. Donovan is president of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.
For those who sense we’re presently reliving the 1930s (sigh), this is the book Paul Krugman and the other high priests of the economic left don’t want you to read. Anyone searching for an account of the New Deal that simply tells the truth about how and why it failed will benefit from reading Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man (2008). Her well-written narrative of the Roosevelt administration’s failures and arbitrariness as it wrestled with the Great Depression not only reveals the New Dealers as truly out of their depth; it also indirectly raisesquestions about some disturbing trends in contemporary American political and economic life.
Another book that gets beneath superficial commentary on a subject that needs further discussion is David Satter’s It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway (2012). As we all know, the Left in America and Europe (in fact, everywhere) has never really acknowledged the full barbarity of Communism. Satter’s text, however, underscores just how much denial and downplaying of the sheer moral and physical destruction wrought by the Soviet experiment continue to poison contemporary Russian politics and culture.#ad#
On the subject of Russia, anyone who picks up Robert Massie’s latest biography, Catherine the Great (2011), will find it difficult to put down. It’s the fascinating story of how an obscure 18th-century German princess married off to a dolt who also happened to be the heir to the Romanov throne eventually overthrew the dolt to become Czarina of all-the-Russias and the most powerful woman in the world. Apart from analyzing her, ahem, “convoluted” love life, Massie’s portrait of Catherine provides insights into the complicated world of Russia and Europe in the decades before the French Revolution and the grim realities facing those who aspired to be enlightened absolutists.
History as morality-tale: That’s one of the central themes of one of the great works of Renaissance literature, Thomas More’s The History of King Richard III. This never-finished book (written between 1513 and 1518 and never published in More’s lifetime) has always been overshadowed by his other literary masterpiece, Utopia. It is, however, a sophisticated study of how tyranny normally emerges and consolidates itself: not simply through one person’s will to power, but rather through his successful manipulation of others’ moral and intellectual weaknesses. In our oh-so-democratic age, More’s warnings about how easily liberty and the rule of law can be subverted from within are more relevant than ever.
Lastly, for those seeking spiritual refreshment, I’d recommend Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. First published in 1609, this relatively short text authored by one of the Counter-Reformation’s leading intellectual and spiritual leaders was an instant classic, attracting as much admiration from Protestants and Orthodox Christians as from Catholics. Its power (even more apparent in the original French) is derived from the fact that this book was one of the first works of spirituality written for Christians trying to cultivate the theological and cardinal virtues in the world rather than in the cloister.
— Samuel Gregg is research director at the Acton Institute.
STEVEN F. HAYWARD
Everyone should get around to reading Jim Manzi’s Uncontrolled: The Surprising Payoff of Trial and Error in Business, Politics, and Society. Think of it as the serious person’s version of every Malcolm Gladwell book you’ve never read.
Roger Scruton’s new book is How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for an Environmental Conservatism. I’ve got a complete review of the book coming out shortly in NRODT; suffice it to say here that it’s the best book on environmental philosophy in 20 years.
And everyone should put on their fall to-read list Charles R. Kesler’s forthcoming title, I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism. The book will be released on September 11; I’ve been reading the advance galleys for a review, and it’s terrific — a grand tour of how Obama’s ambition to be the fourth great wave of modern liberal reform built on the previous three (Wilson, FDR, LBJ). Kesler’s treatment of theoretical liberalism goes along very nicely with Jay Cost’s terrific history of practical liberal politics in Spoiled Rotten: How the Politics of Patronage Corrupted the Once Noble Democratic Party and Now Threatens the American Republic. Read these two books together, and you’ll know everything you need to know going into the fall campaign.
— Steven F. Hayward is author of the two-volume Age of Reagan.
In the virtual nonfiction aisle I have three choices in addition to my own The Brief Against Obama (thank you, K-Lo, for the interview): Jay Nordlinger’s Peace, They Say, Dennis Prager’s Still the Best Hope, and Joby Warrick’s The Triple Agent. Nordlinger explains so much about how the rest of the world sees us; Prager shows why that worldview is so flawed; and Warrick provides a page-turning thriller of the real war that rages between the Islamists and the West whether the West wants to acknowledge it or not.
On the fiction side, I nominate authors, not books, because these eight never disappoint me, and while two are dead, long may the others write!
James Clavell and Patrick O’Brian have gone to their writing desks in the sky, but their wonderful imaginations and epic research left books that continue to grab and hold me even as I write this, with five of Clavell’s six novels in his Asia series just reread — Whirlwind is not available for iPad, for some strange reason — and O’Brian’s 20-volume sea-story epic of Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin my morning companions for the past many months — and with ten novels to go, many more. I recently gave Townhall’s Guy P. Benson Clavell’s Tai-pan and was gratified to hear him sing the praises of a novel published in 1966. I suggest readers start with Shogun and follow it with Tai-pan, Gai-jin, King Rat, and Noble House, but all stand alone.
My other suggestions this year — C. J. Box, Bernard Cornwell, Vince Flynn, Ken Follett, Daniel Silva, and Stephen Pressfield — can all be reliably counted on to provide a few hours of great reading every year, but except for Pressfield, their books and the characters they create should be met and followed through their lives in the order they were lived. Joe Pickett, Richard Sharpe, Uhtred of Bebbanburg, Nathaniel Starbuck, Mitch Rapp, and Gabriel Allon could hardly be more diverse, but all take you places you have never been and leave you with great doses of knowledge you’d never otherwise have. (I hope the deaf-mute Hwtt in Cornwell’s latest Saxon chronicle isn’t a reflection of his assessment of our conversation last year.)
Because I am just about to interview Silva about his latest — The Fallen Angel – I am right now deep inside the Temple Mount of Jerusalem. See what I mean about learning things you’d not ordinarily pick up in the world of nonfiction? But as with all these writers, start with Silva’s first Allon novel, The Kill Artist, and fly through all twelve to truly enjoy watching a character develop over time. There is a Wikipedia entry for each of these authors that provides easy-to-follow guides to the chronology of these characters’ lives.
Except for Pressfield and Follett.
There is a reason why every warrior I know loves The Gates of Fire and those who have returned from Afghanistan love his novels of Alexander the Great. If you have a soldier, sailor, airman, or marine in your life, read Gates, and if he or she is a veteran of Afghanistan or Iraq, read all of Pressfield’s fine works of war.
Ken Follett’s latest won’t arrive until August, but if you haven’t read the first in his trilogy of the 20th century, The Fall of Giants, start now and your timing will be perfect for when Winter of the World appears. It is easy to teach young people 20th-century history if you use these two books, Napoleonic history if you use Cornwell, etc.
One of the greatest pleasures of my dozen years on the radio has been extended interviews with all of these authors save those who had departed the world when I began. All of those interviews are available in the archive at the Hughniverse. Now if I could only find Colleen McCullough to discuss her epic of ancient Rome . . .
— Hugh Hewitt is author of the The Brief Against Obama: The Rise, Fall & Epic Fail of the Hope & Change Presidency.
“Tolle lege” — “take and read.” That’s what the child’s voice told St. Augustine in Confessions, and the passage from St. Paul that he chanced upon (“Not in riots and drunken parties,” etc.) precipitated his conversion. Confessions is an amazing book, an extraordinarily moving spiritual autobiography, and were this Lent or close to Lent, I’d suggest that. I try to reread it every Lent myself. But it’s summer, not Lent, so let me suggest something in a different register.
Are you philosophically inclined? Have you also reacted with snorts and muttering contempt when confronted by postmodernist accounts of science, according to which the insights of science are strained through the meat grinder of epistemic skepticism, emerging at the other end as a series of more or less nonsensical pronunciamentos? Are you, moreover, impatient with the dictates of political correctness and the reign of our academic diversity mongers dispensing their species of group-think? If you answered Yes, let me recommend the work of the Australian philosopher David Stove (1927–94). A handy-dandy anthology of his work is available under the title Against the Idols of the Age, edited, and with an introduction by, one R. Kimball, viz me.#ad#
Since I mentioned R. Kimball, let me also urge you to tolle lege his new book, published just a day or two ago, The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia. Modesty forbids me dilating on the book’s many excellences, but on the principle that you can judge a book by its cover, let me note that it features a beautiful cover reproducing Thomas Cole’s Mt. Etna from Taormina. What’s inside the book is pretty nifty, too.
Finally, let me mention a classic work of travel literature, deeply pertinent to the journey we are taking in this country. I mean of course Hayek’s classic, The Road to Serfdom, the perfect vade mecum for the fiscally incontinent Age of Obama.
— Roger Kimball is editor of The New Criterion.
Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Volume I, Christian Moral Principles (1983). I think this is a new classic (“new” as classics go that is): a groundbreaking Catholic moral-theology book that answers the call for renewal made by Vatican II — solid, packed full of original insights, and, I think, inspirational.
Germain Grisez, The Way of the Lord Jesus, Volume II, Leading a Christian Life (1993). This volume treats the specific issues (e.g., life in chapter six, marriage in chapter eight, justice in chapters six and eleven). One can find well-argued apologetics here (chapter one), a rigorous defense of traditional morality regarding life and sex, and even the principles of a political philosophy.
Michael Korda, Ike: An American Hero (2008) was a fun read. Korda obviously likes Ike — which I think is a good feature of a biography. I was also convinced by Korda’s defense of Eisenhower against detractors of his roles as a strategist in World War II and as president a decade later — in any case Korda explains clearly the disputes.
Ross Douthat, Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (2012). My one book from this year brings one up to date on how religion has thrived or declined in the last century in America, and develops what I think is an accurate diagnosis of our present religious condition with a realistic assessment of how it can be improved. This is well argued — his interpretations always account for wide ranges of facts and so explain a great deal — and sometimes his views are even inspirational.
— Patrick Lee is the John N. and Jamie D. McAleer Professor of Bioethics and the director of the Institute of Bioethics at Franciscan University of Steubenville.
CLIFFORD D. MAY
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, by Amity Shlaes
I should have read this earlier, but now is a great time, because the economic-policy mistakes that FDR made are being repeated by the Obama administration. (The political strategy that FDR followed is also being repeated.)
Power, Faith and Fantasy, by Michael Oren
Until you read it, you cannot possibly understand the history of U.S.–Middle East relations. What amazes is how consistent have been the themes and conflicts since Thomas Jefferson first pondered what to do about Islamist hijackers (of ships).
Freedom Betrayed: Herbert Hoover’s Secret History of the Second World War and Its Aftermath, edited with an introduction by George Nash
Completed more than 50 years ago, it’s just been made public. I’m only beginning to dig in (it’s over 800 pages) to this tough critique of FDR’s foreign policies. Seems fascinating.
One Second After, by William Forstchen: If you, like me, have been left without electricity for days by the recent “Derecho,” you should read (or reread) this account of what an electromagnetic-pulse attack would do to America.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.
JOHN J. MILLER
We’re in the middle of baseball season, but it’s never too soon to think about football — and my favorite recent football book is Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Michigan Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football, by John U. Bacon, who watched up close as disaster struck a beloved team. You won’t find a better inside account of what it’s like to be a part of a big-time college program.
— John J. Miller, director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College, hosts Between the Covers for NRO and is the author of The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football.
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.#ad#
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.
LAWRENCE W. REED
Given the weight of all that hangs in the balance in this critical election year, not the least of which is liberty as we’ve known it in America, we should be reading books that could save the republic. Two short but powerful classics could accomplish just that if enough citizens took them to heart.
The Law, by the French classical liberal Frédéric Bastiat, first published 162 years ago, is perhaps the most eloquent assault on the “false philanthropy” of the welfare state ever written. The author explained why the “legal plunder” of socialism is nothing less than a reprehensible perversion of what genuine law should be about.#ad#
Economics in One Lesson, by economist Henry Hazlitt, can change in one evening and forever the way one sees the world of economics and public policy. It’s the best antidote to Keynesian malarkey and Paul Krugman columns. But I repeat myself.
Both books are available for free download at www.fee.org.
— Lawrence W. Reed is president of the Foundation for Economic Education.
Wish You Were Here; Travels Through Loss and Hope, by Amy Welborn
A newly-widowed mom takes her children to Sicily for three weeks. Why Sicily? When “home” has been torn out from under you, why not? This almost-lyrical little book is a dose of hope no matter what motivates your need for it.
A Good Man: Rediscovering My Father, Sargent Shriver, by Mark Shriver
Shriver was perhaps the last great, ardently, unapologetically pro-life Democrat who never got silenced or ignored. He managed to embrace a pro-life stance while not distancing himself from other social-justice issues, which these days would make him something of a rare fish outside the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops itself. A good reminder to Catholics on the right and the left that Catholicism itself strives for wholeness rather than polarization.
The Man Who Was Thursday, by G. K. Chesterton
A weird political espionage fantasy that speaks rather keenly, in a way, to our weird political times. Engaging, smart, and a little troubling, as a good book on weird political espionage should be. My elder son devoured it in a gulp and pronounced it “delicious.”
As we approach the most important election in our lifetime, an election that will decide the fate of our republic, I have immersed myself in some incredible, must-read nonfiction that should be added to everyone’s summer reading list. I also love the escape of exceptional fiction and have a suggestion there as well.
Cowards, by Glenn Beck
Glenn has a sixth sense for predicting just what the country needs and then delivering it to them. His books are always packed with fantastic information, but they’re also accessible and often written with a great sense of humor. In Cowards, Glenn deftly lays out 13 critical subjects that politicians, radicals, and the media do not want us looking into. It is one of my top summer must-reads.
Another top summer must-read is Monica Crowley’s latest. I love her on Fox and bought her new book the minute it came out. Monica is another author with a terrific sense of humor and she had me laughing from page one. Not only did she get me laughing, she also got me excited. America is on the verge of a magnificent, conservative-led comeback, and if you want to know how to help make that happen, you need to read this outstanding book.
The Great Destroyer, by David Limbaugh
I had the honor and the pleasure of reading a galley copy of David’s book before it went to press. Repeatedly, my jaw dropped as I uttered the words, “My God . . . ” I was stunned as David meticulously used Barack Obama’s own words and actions to build an airtight case against one of the greatest threats our republic has ever seen. This is not only a must-read, it’s a must-read before the election.
The Tyranny of Clichés: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, by Jonah Goldberg
I have long held that leftism can only succeed in the free marketplace of ideas if it is dressed up and sold as something completely different than what it is. You can imagine what a thrill it was when Jonah gave me a sneak peek at his manuscript, which was devoted to that exact premise. I love how he brilliantly dismantles the clichés used by the Left to sell its lousy bill of goods and, what’s more, how he courageously calls them out to fight in the bright light of day.
One Second After, by William Forstchen
No summer reading list would be complete without some fantastic fiction. One Second After is one of the absolute best thrillers I have read in the last 20 years. I simply cannot say enough good things about this gripping novel. A solo effort by Newt Gingrich’s writing partner, One Second After begins as an electromagnetic pulse is detonated above America, the lights go out, and life as we know it is changed forever. If you love reading great thrillers, you have to get this book.
— Brad Thor is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Black List (July 24).