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Editorial Assistant, Claremont Review of Books
American Government and Politics: Deliberation, Democracy and Citizenship, by Joseph M. Bessette and John J. Pitney, Jr.
To call this new textbook "thorough" is to do it a disservice—"monumental," "ambitious," or even "epic" would better describe the depth and detail the authors give to the history, institutions, and culture of American politics. Their survey begins shortly after the world cools, and covers pretty much everything from then until now, including federalism, civil rights and liberties, elections, the media, and political socialization. Throughout the text, the authors carefully and almost seamlessly integrate the theoretical and practical importance of deliberative democracy. The institutional chapters especially stand out. Navigating the complexities of the Congressional committee structure, the president's war making power, or the nuances of Footnote 4 of United States v. Carolene Products Co. and making it understandable to 18-year-olds is a daunting task, but one handled masterfully by the authors. American Government and Politics also works well with a varied student body. There is enough breadth and theoretical depth in the text to provide a challenge for advanced students, but the clarity and attention to basic details ensures that the text is also appropriate as an introduction to government in a large survey course such as mine. The authors clearly worked hard to be accessible to a broad audience, and included relevant human interest stories in the text in order to relate the (understandably) drier aspects of government to the students personally. My favorite is the sentimental-but-touching story of John McCain's friend "Mike" who, after hours of beating, used a makeshift bamboo needle to stitch a small American flag to his shirt, so that he and his fellow prisoners could recite the Pledge of Allegiance in a North Vietnamese prison camp. I can usually count on that story to pull my students' attention away from their computers and hidden phones long enough to slip in a short guilt trip about the importance of civic duty. I was also impressed by the authors' willingness to include appropriate context even when the facts may not support the dominant political opinion. The section on the Scopes trial, for example, reminds the students that as revolutionary as the new, Darwinian textbook was, it also contained blatantly racist and unscientific arguments in favor of eugenics. Given the flavor of most government textbooks, it's refreshing to find a text where the focus remains objective.
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Matthew J. Franck
Director, the Witherspoon Institute's William E. and Carol G. Simon Center on Religion and the Constitution
Wilson D. Miscamble's The Most Controversial Decision: Truman, the Atomic Bombs, and the Defeat of Japan is an outstanding account of one of the most fateful decisions ever made by a statesman. Miscamble debunks various myth-makers who hold that Japan was "on the verge of surrender" before the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or that the use of the bomb was the opening U.S. move in the chess match of the coming Cold War with the Soviets. The book is already engendering controversy for the extent to which the author is forgiving of Truman on moral grounds (Miscamble is a Catholic priest as well as historian at Notre Dame, and has unimpeachable pro-life credentials). But no one who wants to consider Truman's situation intelligently can skip this book.
Reading Eamon Duffy's The Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor is, if anything, an even more jarring experience than reading Miscamble's book. Duffy convincingly shows that in the brief five years of Queen Mary's reign (1553-58), there was a remarkable recovery underway of English Catholicism, which should be regarded as an abortive success story in the Counter-Reformation. Even the burnings of some 280 Protestants—which gave rise to the sobriquet "Bloody Mary"—are, in Duffy's telling, made somehow...understandable. Though he calls the executions a "horrifying moral blot on any regime purporting to be Christian," he argues that it is "quite mistaken" to regard them as counterproductive in the struggle to restore England to its ancient faith. This is thought-provoking historical revisionism of the first order.
Harvard law professor Mary Ann Glendon's The Forum and the Tower: How Scholars and Politicians Have Imagined the World, From Plato to Eleanor Roosevelt is a wise and wide-ranging book, focusing on the intersection of intellectual and political life. The book is episodic, with chapters on particular personalities, and readers might wonder about candidates who might have been included (Thomas More, for example, or Woodrow Wilson), but that would have made for a longer book, and not necessarily a better one. Cicero and Edmund Burke are Glendon's heroes, men who "are remembered for important contributions to political thought as well as for distinguished public service." Men we might rank higher as philosophers—Plato, Machiavelli—did not fare so well in political life. Glendon helps us ponder why.
Michael Novak and William E. Simon Jr.'s Living the Call: An Introduction to the Lay Vocation is a thoughtful gift for any Catholic friends or family members who might benefit from thinking more deeply about their role in the life of their Church. By precept and example, Novak and Simon encourage a deepening of faithful involvement.
You'll laugh, you'll cry about the state of American higher education when you read Andrew Ferguson's Crazy U: One Dad's Crash Course in Getting His Kid into College, and then Naomi Schaefer Riley's The Faculty Lounges, and Other Reasons You Won't Get the College Education You Paid For (which I liked more than my friend Jim Stoner, who reviewed it for the CRB).
Last of all, I recommend a new addition to the Everyman's Library: The Everyman Chesterton, edited by Ian Ker, and gathering together major works of G.K. Chesterton's literary criticism, Christian apologetics, fiction, and poetry in a singly handsome volume.
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Distinguished Professor of History, Ohio University
George F. Kennan: An American Life, by John Lewis Gaddis
In 1981, when George Kennan reached an agreement for an authorized biography with John Lewis Gaddis, he surely knew that he had made a pact with a kindred spirit. Kennan gave Gaddis, America's premier diplomatic historian, full access to his personal papers, waived any review of the manuscript, and stipulated only that the book should not appear until after his death. Neither could have imagined that he would live for another 24 years before passing away in 2005 at 101 years of age. The book is worth the wait. Gaddis tempers his admiration for Kennan with a critical perspective that reveals his subject's flaws and contradictions.
Democracy in America, by Alexis de Tocqueville (trans. Arthur Goldhammer)
A Fortnight in the Wilderness, by Alexis de Tocqueville (trans. George Lawrence)
Letters from America, by Alexis de Tocqueville (trans. Frederick Brown)
Tocqueville's Discovery of America, by Leo Damrosch
Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy's Guide, by Joseph Epstein
If there is such a thing as an American character, the musings of a young French intellectual writing nearly two centuries ago remain the essential guide to it. An aristocrat whose family had—barely—survived the French revolution, Tocqueville combined liberal sympathies with doubts about mass democracy. His two-volume summing-up, well-translated in the Library of America edition, defies easy reduction to a simple argument, but provides numerous insights that both tell us much about the America of the early 19th century and ring true today. His short essay on his excursion into frontier Michigan and his letters to family and friends provide a contemporary context for his experience. Leo Damrosch chronicles a journey that begins in New York City, moves up through New England, detours into Canada, moves west to the Missisippi, then back up the east coast to an uncomprehending meeting with President Andrew Jackson. Joseph Epstein's brief, shrewd biography lacks the breadth and depth of Andre Jardin's more definitive work, but succeeds brilliantly in its assessment of the man and his American mission.
Alfred Kazin's Journals, edited by Richard M. Cook
This thick well-indexed volume, excerpting the daily musings over a half-century of a distinguished literary critic, is best dipped into selectively. It reveals the thoughts and character of a smart young Jewish boy from Brooklyn who achieved recognition as a major social commentator—in short, a charter member of the "the New York intellectuals." Kazin grapples at various stages with Marxism, Jewish identity, and existential angst. The one rather surprising aspect is the anger that runs steadily through the book, directed at intellectual antagonists, close friends, wives, lovers, almost any target other than a son whom he loves dearly.
Hitch 22: A Memoir, by Christopher Hitchens
From here to eternity with the often entertaining, sometimes infuriating, gadfly who sketches a progression from Jewish heritage through military upbringing, the English school system, countercultural self-indulgence, and revolutionary camp following to something that might be mistaken for neoconservatism, but which he more accurately describes as "positive non-belief."
The Publisher: Henry Luce and His American Century, by Alan Brinkley
This fine biography gives us the career of an entrepreneurial giant who founded a new style in American journalism. Brinkley cautions that Luce's influence on actual policy was slender, but his insight into trends, which he promoted earnestly was great. What observer did more to give us "the American century" and "modern Republicanism"?
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Steven F. Hayward
F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow, American Enterprise Institute
Senior Fellow, Pacific Research Institute
Keynes-Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics, by Nicholas Wapshott
The Keynes-Hayek debate—so central to current controversies in political economy—isn't just for YouTube any more. British journalist Wapshott explains the substance of their debate in the form of a narrative history—an excellent genre that is hard to pull off, but Wapshott succeeds.
Heidegger, Strauss, and the Premises of Philosophy, by Richard L. Velkley
Another elemental debate of the 20th century, though unlike Hayek-Keynes, this one was conducted more indirectly. For all of the work on Strauss, this is one of the few extended treatments of the fundamental contrast between these two philosophers. The winner of this debate will probably determine the fate of Western civilization in the 21st century.
The Constitution of Liberty: The Definitive Edition, by F.A. Hayek
Hayek's greatest book—much superior to The Road to Serfdom—was published exactly 50 years ago, yet reads almost like a Thomistic commentary on the errors of the Obama Administration. This new edition is annotated and includes updated footnotes on the bottom of the page instead of in an endnote section—very useful since Hayek did a lot of work in his footnotes.
Edison to Enron: Energy Markets and Political Strategies, 1878 - 1984, by Robert L. Bradley, Jr.
Bradley, an independent energy analyst, has embarked on something almost never done any more: a serious but readable multi-volume history of a knotty, long-run problem in political economy. Edison to Enron is actually the second volume of a planned trilogy under the general title of "Political Capitalism" (the first volume, published in 2009, was entitled Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy), and as this general heading suggests Bradley explains how the politicization of the energy sector, going back almost a century now, has delivered us to our present confused state where a free market for energy barely exists. The third volume will take us through the collapse of Enron and up to the halcyon days of Solyndra.
A Constitutional Conversation: Letters from an Ohio Farmer (a project of the Ashbrook Center)
The letters from an Ohio Farmer are written for the Tea Party Congress elected in 2010, and are intended, like The Federalist, to "refine and enlarge" the constitutional populism of the present moment. The several authors of the Letters are anonymous, though their writing style might appear familiar to CRB readers.
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Daniel Walker Howe
Rhodes Professor of American History Emeritus, Oxford University
Professor of History Emeritus,UCLA
King James Bible: 400th Anniversary Edition, with an Afterword by Gordon Campbell
A big, fat volume that will be a treasure for anyone who loves the Christian religion, English literature, or (as I do) both. Includes the Apocrypha along with Old and New Testaments. It keeps the original archaic spellings e.g. "vpon" for "upon." With its leather binding and gilt-edged paper, it maintains the wonderful tradition of giving bibles as gifts. There are lots of books that have come out recently about the making of the King James Version; one that has already been out for a while and has attracted a lot of favorable notice is God's Secretaries by Adam Nicolson. I judge it will be especially helpful for people who don't usually read the Bible.