Politics & Policy

Summer Books

(Eduard Bonnin Turina/Dreamstime)

Summertime is traditionally a time to read for pleasure and to catch up on books we’ve been meaning to try (or try again). Friends of NR offer their suggestions.


Gina Dalfonzo

For adults:

The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings by Philip Zaleski and Carol Zaleski. An exhaustive study of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the circle of friends that sustained and inspired them. Full of biographical details and insightful literary analysis, this one is essential reading for anyone who wants to know more about the Inklings and the rich spiritual and imaginative legacy they left us.

The Silencing by Kirsten Powers. A lifelong liberal calls out her own party for its move toward “illiberalism,” the mentality that wants to silence and punish anyone who dares to disagree — in the press, on college campuses, and pretty much everywhere else. Important reading for everyone, right, left, or center.

For kids:

Circus Mirandus by Cassie Beasley. Strong writing, close and loving family relationships, and colorful magic balanced with healthy realism make this one a treasure for the middle-school set. (There’s one disturbing scene depicting birds being slaughtered, but it’s not graphic and most young readers should be able to handle it.)

— Gina Dalfonzo is editor of BreakPoint.org and Dickensblog.com.


Jonathan Foreman

The book that has given me the most unexpected pleasure this year (suggested to me by NR contributor Ann Marlowe) is Anthony Trollope’s Autobiography. I’m not a huge Trollope fan and indeed hadn’t read any of the Victorian novelist’s books since high school. But it is fast-moving, funny, honest, and thoughtful in a strangely modern way, with some very sharp portraits of contemporaries such as Thackeray and Dickens. Like Boswell’s London Journal, the autobiography (which was published posthumously) has the wonderful slightly melancholy quality of making you wish you could meet the author or be his friend.

A book that anyone interested in the modern U.S. Army and how it reacts to success and failure in war should read is the terrific The Echo of Battle by Brian McAllister Lynn. It’s a very clever, often funny work of historiography. It shows how over and over again key figures in the peacetime army have chosen to believe that the “American Way of War” always involves the use of massive firepower and technological superiority to achieve victories in conventional campaigns, even though in real life the U.S. Army has fought and won many more unconventional “small wars” than major ones. Lynn identifies three key tendencies in the Army’s thinking about itself that go back more than 200 years: There are the Guardians; who believe that war is a fundamentally scientific, technological enterprise); the Heroes, who, like the cavalryman Patton, believe that success in war is entirely about leadership, dash, and moral courage; and, finally, the Managers, who see success as entirely dependent on administration and planning. That sounds dry, but it’s actually a provocative, amusing, and sometimes enraging book. 

Having finished it, I’ve just started bought Andrew Roberts’s Napoleon the Great, a revisionist take on the Corsican’s career that has provoked a lot of controversy here in the U.K. on the 200th anniversary of Waterloo.

In preparation for the Summer I’m also reading Blue Mind, a gift from a Californian friend. It’s a book-length essay on the general wonderfulness of being on, in, or near water, especially the ocean. 

My current science-fiction favorite is the author James A. Corey (the pen name of Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck), whose Expanse series of novels is about to become a television series. They are very smart and well constructed, and the latest volume, Nemesis Games, is terrific, though best encountered after you’ve read its predecessors.

— Jonathan Foreman is a writer, researcher, and editor based in London and New Delhi.


Diana Furchtgott-Roth

Lynne Cheney, James Madison: A Life Reconsidered. With the Supreme Court reinterpreting the Constitution to give new rights and new definitions, there’s no better time to read about how the document came to be written. Cheney’s book is eminently readable and brings to life the arguments between Madison, Jefferson, Hamilton, and others over the direction of the new Republic.

Michelle Malkin, Who Built That: Awe-Inspiring Stories of American Tinkerpreneurs. America was built by entrepreneurs, many of whom came from other countries. Michelle Malkin picks a fascinating spectrum in her new book. Arthur Hoyt Scott pioneered mass sales of toilet paper, and the Scott Arboretum at my alma mater, Swarthmore College, was donated by his family. Irving Colburn thought of a new way to make sheets of glass by watching the syrup stick to his knife while eating pancakes.

Seth Cropsey, Mayday: The Decline of American Naval Supremacy. As the United States gets ready to remove sanctions on Iran, we need to get ready for a new wave of Iranian-funded terror attacks. To understand fully the decline in America’s military power, there is no more important book than Mayday. Read it, then call your congressman and senators to lobby for more military spending.

Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography. Trollope grew up poor in England during Victorian times and wrote early in the morning while holding down his job at the post office during the day. He invented the iconic British red mailbox and authored 47 books. He wrote, “All material progress has come from man’s desire to do the best he can for himself and those about him. . . . It is a mistake to suppose that a man is a better man because he despises money.”

Anthony Trollope, The Warden. After you have finished Trollope’s autobiography, you might want to start his Barsetshire series, the story of life in a fictional English county loosely based on Wiltshire. The detailed descriptions of the Victorian characters and society make you think you were there. The best part about finishing The Warden is that you still have another six books in the series to read — enough to see you through the summer.

— Diana Furchtgott-Roth is coauthor, with Jared Meyer, of Disinherited: How Washington Is Betraying America’s Young, released in May by Encounter Books.


Richard Brookhiser

Karl Ove Knausgaard, My Struggle (Book 1). A straight, Gentile Proust. Comedy of adolescence, sorrows of a father’s death. We live in Scandinavia now thanks to SCOTUS, might as well bone up.

Fletcher Pratt, Ordeal by Fire. A one-volume history of the Civil War. A few small errors (no, the Gettysburg Address did not flop when it was delivered). But a big picture, lively details, and a blistering style.

Carl Van Doren, Benjamin Franklin. Still the best biography after all these years (publsiehd 1938) — except, of course, for the Autobiography, but read Van Doren if you want truth as well as entertainment.

— Richard Brookhiser is National Review senior editor and author, most recently, of Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln.


Roger Kimball

Look, it’s summer, so my recommended readings will be brief. I take my first text from Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. First published in 1944, this surprise bestseller (a Reader’s Digest version sold some 600,000 copies) is a brisk, compelling statement of some perennial wisdom about the malevolent, humanity-blighting metabolism of socialism. Since the wisdom is perennial, you can more or less count on its being ignored by the beautiful people (including the “dead broke” ones like Hillary Clinton) who rule us. I offer for your delectation two morceaux. The first, from chapter 8 (which is titled after Lenin’s famous question “Who, Whom?”): “Who can doubt,” Hayek asked, “. . . that the power which a multiple millionaire, who may be my neighbor and perhaps my employer, has over me is very much less than that which the smallest functionnaire possesses who wields the coercive power of the state on whose discretion it depends whether and how I am to be allowed to live or to work?” While you are casting about for an answer — does anyone doubt it? — take a nibble on the title to chapter 10, “Why the Worst Get on Top.” The one-word answer is “power.” The slightly expanded answer has to do with the liabilities of centralization: “There is, in a competitive society, nobody who can exercise even a fraction of the power which a socialist planning board would possess. . . . To split or decentralize power is necessarily to reduce the absolute amount of power, and the competitive system [aka ‘capitalism’] is the only system designed to minimize by decentralization the power exercised by man over men.”

Hayek’s Road to Serfdom is a brisk, compelling statement of some perennial wisdom about the malevolent, humanity-blighting metabolism of socialism.

Speaking of men exercising power over men, I offer for my second text not the whole of The Federalist Papers, not even an entire installment, just this passage from Number 51, which was written by James Madison: “In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.” I’d like you to italicize, underline, and boldface the phrase “oblige it to control itself.” Then I’d like you think about my third text, which I take from near the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. After mentioning a few “unalienable Rights,” Thomas Jefferson went on to note a few additional “self-evident truths,” viz.: “That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of those Ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government . . . ” Yes, I know, it’s just words, only words, as we just saw when (I suppose this is my fourth text) Chief Justice John Roberts, in his opinion upholding the (don’t laugh now) “Affordable Care Act,” revealed that the phrase “an Exchange established by the State” doesn’t actually mean “an Exchange established by the State”; rather, it means whatever the Obama administration wants it to mean. To which I say, “Let facts be submitted to a candid world.”

While we await the results of that submission, I want to recommend a book that ponders all of the above and comes to some sobering conclusions. It’s by James Piereson and is called Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order. It’s not officially published for a couple of weeks (I am the publisher, so I know these things), but the nice folks at Amazon will send you an advance copy if you click on the link above to order it. In the meantime, after you ponder the passages assembled above, think about these sentence from Piereson’s introduction: “Shattered Consensus outlines the lineaments of the postwar consensus and the gradual process by which it has come apart. It does not endeavor to specify when or how the current regime will fall or what will replace it. Rather, it only suggests that a certain degree of consensus is required in order for a polity to meet its major challenges and argues that such a consensus no longer exists in the United States.”

Do you want your Martini on the rocks or straight up?

— Roger Kimball is publisher of Encounter Books, and co-publisher and co-editor of The New Criterion.


Andrew Klavan

When I think of summer reading, I think of ragingly entertaining fiction, so if you want to go out and buy my own Werewolf Cop, I’ll understand, really. Unfortunately for me, though, all the best books I’ve read so far this year have been serious non-fiction, and not particularly summery. Here they are:

Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar by Simon Sebag Montefiore. A look at the Soviet Union through the personal life of a mass-murdering psychopath and the people who loved him even as he murdered them. So powerful, it actually lowered my opinion of humankind! My wife asked me to stop reflecting on the book out loud because I was depressing her. So come on, this ought to make for a lovely day of beach reading for one and all!

Shame: How America’s Past Sins Have Polarized Our Country by Shelby Steele. Steele writes so well and thinks with so much humanity and compassion, he’s just a joy to read any time. Here he tells how his personal encounters with both racism and radicalism led him to embrace conservatism as the best way into the new age. I don’t always share his view of the 1960s, but I’m always interested to hear what he has to say. 

John Wayne: The Life and Legend by Scott Eyman. I’m not much for Hollywood biographies but . . . John Wayne. And the book’s terrific, too. Eyman can’t quite comprehend Wayne’s conservatism, but for the most part he puts his prejudice aside and just brings the man to life. And Wayne comes across as a terrific guy, larger than life, vital, talented, modest, and kind. Eyman really understands movies and acting too. It’s a wonderful read.

— Andrew Klavan is author, most recently, of Werewolf Cop: A Novel.


Kathryn Jean Lopez

One of the most beautiful books to hit my desk in a long time is A Short Guide to Praying as a Family: Growing Together in Faith and Love. It’s put together by the Dominican Sisters of Saint Cecilia Congregation (known more popularly as “the Nashville Dominicans”). It includes a foreword from Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia and seems to me a perfect guide to preparing a family spiritually for Pope Francis’s apostolic journey here in September for the World Meeting of Families in “the City of Brotherly Love.”

Also beautiful are some recent books from St. Benedict’s Press, including Manual for Spiritual Warfare and A Year with Mary, both put together by Paul Thigpen. (I interviewed him about the former here.)

When Pope Francis comes to the U.S. he will also be canonizing Junipero Serra, founder of the California missions, as a saint. Junípero Serra: California, Indians, and the Transformation of a Missionary by Rose Marie Beebe and Robert M. Senkewicz.

Encountering Truth: Meeting God in the Everyday is a great introduction to the man Pope Francis (including a not-to-miss section translating his existing homilies). As is Journey to the Sun by Gregory Orfalea.

Dana Perino and Kirsten Powers both have must-read new books, And the Good News Is . . . : Lessons and Advice from the Bright Side, and The Silencing, respectively.

I sometimes describe my life these days as a sea of unread books. I’m trying to make my way page by page through The Catholic Study Bible just now. I’m midway through Rod Dreher’s beautiful How Dante Saved My Life (and, yes, now I want the time to return to the source again). Some of those I especially look forward to reading in the coming weeks include The Wellspring of Worship by Father Jean Corbon.

And among new review copies, I’m looking forward to Finding True Happiness by Father Robert Spitzer, a compendium of Pope Francis’s morning homilies, and I’ve also got in my mind re-reading The Difference God Makes by the late Cardinal Francis George.

— Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute and co-author of the revised How to Defend the Faith without Raising Your Voice.


Matthew Mehan

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Selected Tales and Sketches is a beautiful, wise, romantic, shrewd, and vivid collection from one of the great American literary masters. Haunting descriptions of the White Mountains of Vermont, tragic tales of misguided love, ghost stories, images of American family life and political life, with all its complex contours, especially from the founding period of our country, all told in a warm and engaging style — “beach read” doesn’t quite capture the joy and wisdom of this volume.

Cicero’s On Duties could be the most important book you read this summer (or decade), that is, if you’re interested in one the finest ethical works of all time, framed as a letter from a father to a son and filled with advice for living both a good and useful life. It’s one of those books our Founding Father knew like the back of their hand. Or imagine if Aristotle and John Stuart Mill were mixed into a crisp, cold cocktail on a hot summer’s day . . .

Seneca’s Epistles (volume 1) is an engaging collection of sixty-five mostly brief letters to a young statesman from the wise and witty Seneca. Many forgotten treasures of the arts of liberty, friendship, and self-rule feature alongside musings on the follies of mankind and how to mitigate them in your own life. A great introduction to the lost teachings of humanitas, and a great foundation stone in the much needed rebuilding of #FullJudeoChristianHumanism.

— Matthew Mehan is the director of the Jackson Scholars Program at the Heights School, an adjunct professor for Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship in Washington, D.C., and a fellow of the Center for Thomas More Studies.


Karen Swallow Prior

The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told by Dikkon Eberhart: This memoir by the son of the Pulitzer Prize–winning U.S. poet laureate Richard Eberhart is as remarkable as the title suggests. But amidst all the fascinating firsthand glimpses of twentieth century literary and historical luminaries is a very real and honest account of a son trying to find himself under the shadow of a great father. In this sense, it is Everyman’s story.

How Dante Can Save Your Life: The Life-Changing Wisdom of History’s Greatest Poem by Rod Dreher: Dante. Dreher. Together. Enough said.

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro: This is one of my all-time favorite novels. It is exquisite in both thought and expression. Its themes of endurance, loyalty, restraint, and professionalism seem more quaint with every passing year — but never more compelling than here. It’s a book to savor.

Finders Keepers by Stephen King: I’m recommending the audio version of this just for fun. I’m listening to it on my daily runs right now. Narrator Will Patton is simply the bomb. It’s not a book for the queasy or prudish, but I’m enjoying King’s foray into detective fiction. (This book is sort of a follow-up to Mr. Mercedes, also narrated by Will Patton, and also a great listen.)

— Karen Swallow Prior is a professor of English at Liberty University.


Elizabeth Scalia

This summer, I am revisiting classics: The Daughter of Time, by Josephine Tey. A mystery novel unlike any I’ve ever read: An injured police detective lies in a hospital bed, from which he attempts to solve a 15th-century murder commonly attributed to Richard III. It’s a breezy, surprisingly chummy, fast-reading novel, and incredibly entertaining. As much fun to read as Rear Window is to watch.


Joseph Heller’s descriptions of corrupt bureaucracies run by preening egoists and their smarter underlings are still relevant 50 years after the publication of Catch-22.

The Sirens of Titan: A Novel by Kurt Vonnegut. Science fiction for our time, where the anomalies are regularly scheduled, heroes are only illusory constructs, and all of the privileged people — if they are also “good” people — live a kind of penance in the name of fairness and equality: Beautiful, bright women burden themselves with ugly, stupid men; gifted athletes drag weights, so they might have no advantage over the ordinary, and lovable Harmoniums tell one particular Martian how to get lost. Classic, hilarious, and terrifying.

Catch-22 by Joseph Heller. Rereading it after 40 years, I am struck that Heller’s descriptions of corrupt bureaucracies run by preening egoists and their smarter underlings are still relevant to our time. Whether through the slow communications of the early 20th century or the drone warfare of our time, it seems the people calling the shots never really see the ones pulling the triggers, figuratively or literally.

— Elizabeth Scalia is the author of Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, and the blogger known as The Anchoress.


Brad Thor

Code of Conduct. I set out to create the style of summer thriller that I love to read. Whether at the beach, the pool, or the lake, I want instant escape, and to have it packed with suspense, complete with surprises on every page. Code of Conduct is fiction, but based on two terrifying items straight out of the news. At great expense, someone (no one knows who) erected a series of bizarre, granite slabs (being called the American Stonehenge) in Georgia, which were inscribed with a chilling message. That message was echoed in real-life documents smuggled out of a top-secret meeting in the Austrian Alps several years ago. Both predict an approaching darkness aimed squarely at the United States — the perfect jumping-off point for an edge-of-your-seat, toes-in-the-sand, book-in-the-hand summer thrill ride.

Radiant Angel (fiction) by Nelson DeMille. I have loved Nelson’s books for as long as I can remember. Not only is he a fantastic writer, he has a great sense of humor. This outstanding thriller feels like it could be unfolding in the United States right now.

Pillars of the Earth (fiction) by Ken Follett. This is my all time favorite novel. Set in 12th-century, England it chronicles a cast of amazing characters and the struggle of good vs. evil against the building of the world’s greatest Gothic cathedral. This is one of those books that becomes a part of you and which you will never forget.

In the Garden of Beasts (non-fiction) by Erick Larson. This is one of my favorite non-fiction novels and I have read it repeatedly. This is the terrifying story of the Nazis’ rise to power and how many in America (and Germany) looked the other way. It follows the leftist American ambassador to Germany and his quasi-socialist daughter as people beg them to open their eyes to Hitler and what he and his Nazis are all about. As the father and daughter slowly wake up, we see that they have been too slow to help stop the horror that’s coming. It is an addictive read, incredibly well told.

Michael Vey: The Prisoner of Cell 25 (young-adult fiction) by Richard Paul Evans. This YA novel is fantastic and great for the whole family. My 12 year old loves the Michael Vey series. It is gripping and very well written. I love it for highlighting freedom and individuality.

— Brad Thor’s latest novel is Code of Conduct: A Thriller.


Hans von Spakovsky

Fortunately, I’m sure the NRO summer reading list won’t look like the absolutely atrocious, insipid, boring, politically correct reading lists my three kids got during their years in public school. We can only hope that Congress, the president, and the third, now very political branch, the Supreme Court, go on as long a summer break as possible so all of us can catch up on our reading and stop worrying, if only for a little while, about the latest stupid things they are doing to ruin the country.

I’m recommending books by two friends of mine. With President Obama kissing the rings of the Castro brothers in Cuba, you can’t get a better start on your summer reading list than Mary Lee Malcolm’s new historical thriller, The Cuban Connection. It follows the adventures of Katherine O’Connor, a Reuters reporter who goes to Havana in the summer of 1960, just as Fidel is settling in as the new Supreme Leader. Malcolm (who writes under the name “M. L. Malcolm”) sets O’Connor in the middle of actual historical events, where O’Connor is surrounded by CIA agents, Soviet spies, and, of course, the murderous thugs who helped put Castro in power. Through O’Conner, Malcolm tells the story of what happened in Cuba, especially to those who opposed Castro. If you’re headed for the beach, you’ll want your spouse to drive so you can keep reading.

On another serious and upsetting, but also interesting note, don’t miss Allan Ryskind’s new book, Hollywood Traitors: Blacklisted Screenwriters — Agents of Stalin, Allies of Hitler.” I’ve known Allan for a number of years, since he was an editor at Human Events. He is the son of Marx Brothers screenwriter Morrie Ryskind and grew up in Hollywood, where as a kid he met many famous movie celebrities from the Golden Age of Hollywood, including many of the people he talks about in the book. This in-depth exposure of the true character of the Hollywood writers and actors who were blacklisted will infuriate you. As Ryskind graphically proves, often through their own words, these individuals were unapologetic Communists and Fascists who worked toward, and wanted to see, the violent overthrow of the American government. They wanted a Stalin ruling America. Yet they are treated as “heroes” who stood up for free speech and were somehow sadly mistreated. If any of them had done in the countries they so admired, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, what they had done in America, they wouldn’t have been blacklisted. They would have disappeared into black pits. And they would have been the first to squelch the free speech of anyone who disagreed with their totalitarian views. They were disgusting individuals.

Finally, Kathryn Lopez said we could include classics in our summer recommendations, so I’m going to recommend The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy, first published in 1905. It is an energetic, romantic tale about a dashing group of British noblemen who sneak into France at the height of the reign of Madame Guillotine and smuggle condemned aristocrats out from under the very noses of cruel, inhuman French Revolutionaries. It is a page-turner that you won’t want to put down. And there are several great movie versions, too, including a 1934 classic starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon.

— Hans A. von Spakovsky is a senior legal fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He is the co-author, with John Fun, of Who’s Counting? How Fraudsters and Bureaucrats Put Your Vote at Risk and Obama’s Enforcer: Eric Holder’s Justice Department.


Charmaine Yoest

The Abolition of Man by C. S. Lewis. In the first chapter of The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis demolishes the hidden pretexts of a textbook for young people. In so doing, he quotes Aristotle as saying that ‘the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought.” It’s helpful to read Lewis and see that our battle over subjective reality is not new; and sobering to see his prescience in predicting a disastrous outcome from a feelings-centered educational system. Meanwhile, as I write this, the pop artist Rihanna has released her latest music video, the theme of which centers on torture porn. Within hours, it had millions of views. Read, or reread, The Abolition of Man, because the question of teaching young people what they “ought to dislike” could not be more relevant.

Taking Sex Differences Seriously by Steven Rhoads. And while you’re thinking about the rise of subjective reality, be sure to read Taking Sex Differences Seriously. Of course for years we’ve been told that “gender” was just a social construct. But now we’re hearing that there is such a thing as “the soul and brain of a female,” which is, apparently, different from a man’s. A helpful antidote to this confusion over sex, gender and social construction is Rhoads’s rigorous scholarship on how men and women differ biologically. And, more importantly, a thoughtful exposition on why those differences do matter.

Through Gates of Splendor by Elisabeth Elliot. In honor of author Elisabeth Elliot’s death in June, be sure to read her first book Through Gates of Splendor. Elisabeth tells the story of her marriage to Jim Elliot and their work together with the Auca Indians in Ecuador, who were an unreached, remote, cannibal tribe. Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” And, in fact, Jim and the four men with him lost their lives in their initial effort to reach the Aucas. Elisabeth continued his work after Jim’s death and saw the tribe come to faith.  It’s a compelling and inspiring story of heroism and deep, unquenchable faith.

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