Making the click-through worthwhile: Kick off Cyber Monday with all the books from NR editors and staff; an Iowa farmer’s obliviousness to Joe Biden is funny but revealing; an important lesson about evaluating talent, brought to us by Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Gardner Minshew; and a bit of post-Thanksgiving gratitude.
Cyber Monday Shopping Guide!
Thanks to Thanksgiving arriving later in the calendar, Cyber Monday comes later this year, and we’re down to three weeks until Hanukkah and 23 days until Christmas! Do not dilly-dally on that shopping list! Order all your gifts now, have them delivered, and you’ll be chuckling as your friends are worrying in mid-December.
Andy McCarthy’s Ball of Collusion: The Plot to Rig an Election and Destroy a Presidency was the hit of the late summer. The Chicago Tribune called it, “A critically important read for thoughtful people,” and Powerline called it “The best book of its kind since Woodward and Bernstein’s All the President’s Men.”
The religiously attuned but busy folks on your shopping list will love Kathryn Jean Lopez’s new book A Year With the Mystics, a day-by-day journey of reconnection with God and faith in a noisy world full of distractions. Everything Kathryn writes is with great spiritual insight, and this book has yet to get anything less than five stars on Amazon!
What was the most controversial book of the autumn? Perhaps Rich Lowry’s The Case for Nationalism: How It Made Us Powerful, United, and Free, denounced by everyone you would expect, and praised in The Federalist and the Washington Examiner. Senator Tom Cotton raves, “Rich Lowry’s learned and brisk The Case for Nationalism defends these unfashionable truths against transnational assault from both the left and the right while reminding us that nationalist sentiments are essential to self-government.” And if you’re not in the mood for nationalism in your stocking, you can check out the boss’ Lincoln Unbound, Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years, and Banquo’s Ghosts, arguably the second-best spy thriller from a National Review editor in recent years.
Arriving in bookstores the same day was Richard Brookhiser’s Give Me Liberty: A History of America’s Exceptional Idea. Joseph Ellis writes, “In his signature style, [Brookhiser] wastes no words, defies the conventional political categories, and invites us to join him in recovering a series of inspirational moments when we all felt the same future in our hearts and minds.” Last year Richard debuted John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court to rave reviews. But all of his biographies are good — and Right Time, Right Place offers a rare glimpse into the inner workings of National Review beyond the founding years.
Earlier this year Michael Brendan Dougherty unveiled My Father Left Me Ireland, a little book that packs a big punch — one part memoir, one part history, one part exploration of what gives us our identity in the modern world. J. D. Vance, author of Hillbilly Elegy, called it, “a heartbreaking and redemptive book, written with courage and grace. It is fascinating reading for anyone who has ever wondered about the pain caused by that increasingly common American problem: sons growing up without their fathers. For those who have endured that pain, it is essential.”
On a cruise more than a year ago, Kevin Williamson described the idea for The Smallest Minority to me, and I was instantly wowed — and he had been contemplating these ideas before his infamously short-lived time writing for The Atlantic. The Washington Free Beacon called it, “stylish, unrestrained, and straight from the mind of a pissed-off genius.” Or you may prefer Kevin’s previous books, from the Politically Incorrect Guide to Socialism to The Case Against Trump.
Our old friend Reihan Salam’s Melting Pot or Civil War?: A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders is one of the rare books that might change the dynamics of a national debate and has something new to say about a highly charged, long-debated topic.
David Bahnsen wrote Crisis of Responsibility: Our Cultural Addiction to Blame and How You Can Cure It.
Also looking back to the American Founding, last year Jay Cost wrote The Price of Greatness: Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and the Creation of American Oligarchy, discussing the two men and their the trade-off that “made the United States the richest nation in human history, and that continues to fracture our politics to this day.”
Those yearning for libertarians and conservatives to finally stop fighting each other and unite against progressive statism will want to pick up a copy of Charles C. W. Cooke’s The Conservatarian Manifesto.
My colleagues past and present write about realms far from politics and history — last year our old friend Ericka Andersen wrote Leaving Cloud 9: The True Story of a Life Resurrected from the Ashes of Poverty, Trauma, and Mental Illness. Or John J. Miller’s fiction and true tales. Or James Lileks’s hilarious strolls through the awful choices of food, fashion, and interior décor that most would prefer to erase from history.
Yuval Levin’s A Time to Build: From Family and Community to Congress and the Campus, How Recommitting to Our Institutions Can Revive the American Dream looks good, but it doesn’t come out until January.
You knew I would be nagging you about Between Two Scorpions, right? $12.99, $3.99 on Kindle. The 156 Amazon reviews are mostly rave, and Brad Taylor, author of the New York Times-bestselling Pike Logan series called it, “A thoroughly researched thriller with a threat vector I wish I’d come up with — and a bite of humor rarely seen in the genre.” Readers keep coming back with three observations: 1) Hey, this thing didn’t drag at all, and I like the characters. 2) Holy [expletive], this idea would actually work, I hope real-life terrorists never try something like this. 3) This is hilarious, it’s as if they cast a Tom Clancy novel with acerbic ’90s comedians.
The first draft of Book Two is getting feedback from friends, and they’re spotting those little details like when I wrote five characters enter a particular location, but then I only write about four of them leaving, and people start to wonder if that fifth character just got left behind there and no one noticed.
And of course, you could always gift a subscription to NRPlus.
You Don’t Need to Know Who Joe Biden Is, but . . . Shouldn’t You?
Natasha Korecki, a correspondent for Politico, was on the trail with Joe Biden in Iowa, and noticed a gentleman in the Corn Stalk Cafe with no interest in the hubbub surrounding the former vice president. When she asked him moments later if he just wasn’t a fan of Biden’s, the man, who said he was a farmer in the Missouri Valley, said he had never heard of Biden.
This man may be a terrific farmer and a swell guy — or he may have just wanted to keep watching the game and wasn’t interested in talking to a reporter — and most people are just enjoying this as a funny anecdote about the indignities of running for president. But Biden’s been, on and off, one of the most prominent figures in American politics for about four decades now — probably the entirety of this farmer’s life. On the one hand, freedom must include the freedom to not care about what’s going on in your country’s government. But on the other, self-government presupposes that the people know what they want and care about what they get.
Remember those “Jay-walking” segments when Jay Leno hosted the Tonight Show, where he regularly found people on the street or in line at Universal Studios who couldn’t name which country we fought in the Revolutionary War, or what the Emancipation Proclamation was, what month Election Day was in, what the three branches of the government were, and so on? Some of these people were accomplished in other fields; they simply saw no need to know any of this.
What happens to the government being accountable to the people if the people just aren’t interested?
And it goes beyond recognizing politicians who have been on TV and radio and in newspapers and magazines for decades. Americans score poorly on survey tests about using the Internet securely and safely. We’re okay on some basic science concepts, shaky on others. We know the basics of Christianity, but struggle with basic questions about other religions. (Just 20 percent knew that Protestantism, not Catholicism, traditionally teaches that salvation comes from faith alone.) One of the reasons that Medicare for All is polling poorly in recent months is that a segment of the public just now realized that the proposal wouldn’t let people keep their private insurance if they like it — suggesting a lot of folks missed the “for all” part.
Every November, federal, state, and local governments come to the people and essentially ask them what they think: about who should represent them, about referendums, about school budgets, even who should be a judge or a sheriff. And a lot of people respond with a metaphorical, “uh, I don’t know, I’ve never thought about it.” We’re free to tune out, but that decision amounts to wasting a great gift that is still pretty rare in this world. Right now, only about 57 percent of the world’s countries are considered fully Democratic with free and fair elections. Freedom House’s annual reports have assessed the world moving in a less democratic direction every year for the past thirteen years — more countries with elections that aren’t really free or fair, with coercion, fraud, or gerrymandering.
Because if you can tune out the existence of Joe Biden, you can tune out a lot more.
In the most recent nationwide Morning Consult poll, about 6 percent of registered voters said they had never heard of Elizabeth Warren, 11 percent said they had never heard of Kamala Harris, 19 percent had never heard of Pete Buttigieg, and 30 percent had never heard of Tulsi Gabbard.
Poor Deval Patrick; 47 percent of registered voters in the survey have never heard of him.
This Week’s Non-Jets Football Observation
Sunday the Jacksonville Jaguars finally listened to superfan Charlie Cooke and replaced faltering quarterback Nick Foles with the backup, Gardner Minshew, and while the Jaguars lost the game, Minshew gave the team a bit of a spark in the second half. (Charlie reveres the mustached demigod, who went in for the previously injured Foles earlier in the year and tore up the league for a few games before returning to mortal status.)
A cliché in sports writing is that the backup quarterback is always the most popular player with fans, because they overestimate and idealize how well he would play while he’s sitting on the bench. But I disagree with that assessment, because fanbases are rarely stubbornly in favor of one particular player. The fans rarely get to see the practices, aren’t in the huddle, and have little idea of what these guys are like off the field. Fans don’t care who the owner likes better, or whose reputation is riding on a particular draft pick or free-agent signing. All we have to judge them on is what they’re doing on the field — and that can often be clarifying. For the most part, fans just want to see their team win — and if they think the backup gives them a better shot, they don’t worry as much about previous decisions, contracts, locker room chemistry, or other factors. Perhaps this reflects being a fan of the Jets and living in Redskins territory, but I keep seeing coaches and teams making a particular decision and then insisting, week after week, that the decision is going to pay off in the face of overwhelming counterevidence. Sometimes the sixth-round draft pick rookie will just play better than the superstar free agent with the four-year, $88 million contract.
ADDENDA: Hope your Thanksgiving was great; Giancarlo Sopo kindly listed me among many great conservative writers and thinkers worth our gratitude this year.
Sunday afternoon brought my own out-of-nowhere moment for gratitude: My sons and I went to our usual restaurant where we watch football games, there was a table available with no wait that had a clear view of the television that had our game on, the place was full and boisterous with lively fans but not too crowded and not too much audible profanity, good food was on the way, Christmas commercials were starting, the restaurant was warm with miserable wet weather outside . . . and everything was just perfect. It was one of those moments where you realized you had everything you really needed close at hand.
And then the Jets got blown out, of course.