- Bringing Justice to the People: A Story of the Freedom-Based Public Interest Law Movement, edited by Lee Edwards traces this vital movement, which has won key cases on school choice, religious liberty, and racial preferences.
- Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas, by Ken Foskett is a fair biography of our leading conservative Justice on the Supreme Court, and the man who may succeed William Rehnquist.
Scott W. Johnson
Senior Vice President, TCF National Bank in Minneapolis
"The Big Trunk," Powerline Blog
I want to hear American singing! Unlike Walt Whitman, however, I need some help. These books have deepened my understanding of American popular music and enhanced my pleasure in listening to it. They are both pleasing in themselves and instructive in their field. Who could ask for anything more?
When Mark Steyn's British publisher commissioned a book on the history of musicals, I doubt that Broadway Babies Say Goodnight: Musicals Then and Now is precisely what it had in mind. This eccentric book slices and dices the elements of Broadway musicals, recapitulating them with Steyn's characteristic learning and humor. Steyn observes in passing that "to recite the titles of the American song catalogue is to celebrate the American language," and then gives more than twenty examplesone of many cheers that Steyn sends up in the book. But his catcalls are also among the book's highlights.
In Poets of Tin Pan Alley: A History of America's Great Lyricists, Professor Philip Furia brings his formidable skills as a literary critic to bear on the artistry of the American songbook's foremost lyricists. Professor Furia wears his learning lightly, but he deploys it to great effect. The book culminates in a vivid account of Johnny Mercer's composition of the words to "Midnight Sun" in 1955 while driving between Newport Beach and Hollywood listening to the original instrumental jazz version on his car radio.
Will Friedwald has written good books about and in collaboration with singers such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. In Stardust Melodies: A Biography of America's 12 Most Popular Songs, Friedwald tells the story of the composition of songs including "As Time Goes By" and "Lush Life." Friedwald also digs into the recording history of each song, exploring the interpretations that successive artists have brought to their performance of the songs. One of Friedwald's criteria for selecting the songs is the existence of a multiplicity of interpretations, thus ruling out, for example, "Over the Rainbow." Friedwald's approach yields many surprises and pays big dividends.
Peter Guralnick may be the best writer ever to devote himself to American popular music. He has a gift for writing profiles and narrative as well as unfailing good taste in music. In his two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, he joins a scholar's mania for detail and accuracy to a fan's enthusiasm. The result is definitive. But Guralnick's Sweet Soul Music: Rhythm and Blues and the Southern Dream of Freedom, is my favorite of his books. In it Guralnick tells the history of soul music, taking a kind of sidelong glance at the civil rights era in America. The history is deeply affecting; Guralnick helps us not only to hear America singing, but to hear what it means. This book has echoed in my mind long after I first read it fifteen years ago.
Director, Center for Local Government
- In Defense of Internment: The Case for 'Racial Profiling' in World War II and the War on Terror, by Michelle Malkin. With the publication of this book, it no longer suffices to beg the question in national security arguments by asserting that such-and-such a policy would be like the internment of Japanese Americans. See here for more thoughts.
- From Babel to Dragomans: Interpreting the Middle East, by Bernard Lewis. A diverse collection of essays from the master of Middle East studies. Helpful in my recent trip to Turkey.
- The Case for Sovereignty: Why the World Should Welcome American Independence, by Jeremy Rabkin. It's us against the world, and the world should be grateful.
- Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, by Allen C. Guelzo. A superb exposition of the principled statesmanship behind this prosaic document that changed America. See Peter Schramm's review in the Spring 2004 Claremont Review of Books.
- Abuse of Power: How the Government Misuses Eminent Domain, by Steven Greenhut. At last a book on how local government has become the most tyrannical element of the American polity. See my review in Local Liberty.
- Roman Catholic Political Philosophy, by James V. Schall, S.J. A masterful teacher and scholar reflects on the unity of reason and revelation. See my "review" of the book.
- Prester John, by John Buchan. Read this 1908 tale of South Africa together with Greenmantle (1916) for insight into the current Middle Eastern war by the author of The Thirty-Nine Steps. And finally, the model of all Westerns: Xenophon's Anabasis.
Daniel C. Palm
Associate Professor of Political Science, Azusa Pacific University
Project Coordinator, Doctors
for Responsible Gun Ownership
- The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler's Gathering Storm , by Joseph Loconte. With this excellent collection of Christian writers from the 1930s and '40s, Joseph Loconte reminds us of a time when prominent Christian intellectualsincluding Karl Barth and Reinhold Niebuhrwere still assessing Hitler, Nazism, and debating a Christian response. Their lively discussion as offered here makes for fascinating reading, with obvious implications for our present contest with Baathists and radical Islam.
- The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660-1783, by Alfred Thayer Mahan. Three cheers and a salute to Dover Press for keeping in print this classic and historically important bookfirst published in 1890in a solid yet very affordable paperback edition. Mahan's influential work might be heavy going for some on your list, but this is must reading for the serious student of military history or American foreign affairs. Ditto for Dover's reprinting of a substantial collection of the strategist's writings, Mahan on Naval Warfare: Selections from the Writings of Rear Admiral Alfred T. Mahan.
- Samuel Johnson's Dictionary: Selections from the 1755 Work That Defined the English Language, edited by Jack Lynch. Until the happy day that a publisher once again offers the complete text of this milestone dictionary that was contemporary to the American founding, we must make do with this nicely produced abridgement. A fine gift this would be for a student of history and politics, or anyone who simply appreciates English.
- The Complete Arkangel Shakespeare: 38 Fully Dramatized Plays. Professor Harry V. Jaffa brought to his students' attention the great value in listening to, rather than watching, a quality rendition of a Shakespeare play. This 98-CD collection (sold only as a complete set) brings us the whole of Shakespeare's dramatic works, unabridged, in a world-class production. At something less than $400 from online retailers it looks to this reviewer like a steal38 unabridged plays, over 400 classically trained actors, a $3 million production. The perfect gift to consider for your local university or public library.
Bruce C. Sanborn
President, Upland & Marsh
Chairman, Claremont Institute Board of Directors
Richard Hannay's courage is intelligent and positively delightful. John Buchan entangles Hannay in a foreign scheme to undo Britain, and Buchan's novel is even better than Alfred Hitchcock's movie of it. Read Thirty-Nine Steps, and doubtless you will be moved to send the Claremont Institute a year-end contribution out of gratitude for the recommendation and to help in Claremont's intelligent and delightful fight to keep America from being undone.
Did I say fight? Some years ago Dr. Larry P. Arnn went from being president of the Claremont Institute to being president of Hillsdale College. He and Hillsdale are pitted against the contemporary notions of education the federal government and the bureaucracies of the Progressive administrative state try to impose on schools. Arnn wrote Learning & Liberty describing the clash. (Call the Hillsdale Press at 800-437-2268 to order a copy.) With noble simplicity, the book starts with America's founding thoughts on education and the measures America's founders took to promote decent schools in the territories and states, for instance under the Northwest Ordinance. Doubtless, gratitude will move you to send a contribution to Hillsdalegood, but remember: Claremont first.
Yale professor Donald Kagan's one volume Peloponnesian War
is a direct, clear read, with helpful maps. (Kagan also has a more scholarly four volume account). Unlike Oliver Stone's Alexander, Kagan's work complements the ancient texts. Kagan helps satisfy a reader's desire to see what Athens, Sparta, and their generals, statesmen, and allies were up to, and what the huge motion of war is all about. Doubtless, you don't need me to tell you to avoid Oliver Stone's movie but did you know Stone has his narrator say Alexander was killed by his generals? It appears they were sick and tired of being dragged all over the world to help Stone's Alexander satisfy his gay and multicultural urges and get away from his mother and her Freudian fetish for snakes. If the generals didn't really kill Stone's Alexander, I believe the audience would have.
From Martin Gilbert's multi-volume biography of Winston Churchill, I found out the great statesman loved C.S. Forester's Horatio Hornblower books and the movies made from them. A&E has a new Hornblower production out. "My family loved the series, and in the case of my daughters, it didn't hurt that the actor playing Hornblower is so good looking," a friend told me. While making his way up the ranks of the British Navy, Horatio battles Napoleon. Each of Horatio's adventures includes a moral perfect for those who would be good sailors, citizens, and statesmen. No wonder Churchill liked Horatio. The A&E series is out in a DVD boxed set. Of course, I know movies are not books but I declare Hornblower in any form makes a terrific Christmas gift.
Thomas G. West
Professor of Politics, University of Dallas.
Senior Fellow, the Claremont Institute
In my line of work, we tend to read more old books than new. This will explain why 4 of my 5 recommendations were published before 1750.
- Leviathan, by Thomas Hobbes (in the Hackett edition, which is the most readable), especially Part I. Prompted by my recent revisionist reading of Locke, I gave Hobbes a second chance and learned to my surprise that he is much more sensible than my Straussian training had prepared me for. Hobbes's unique achievements include his brilliant analysis of the problematic nature of happiness; the obstacles thereto; the special problems of pervasive human ignorance and of the useful yet often self-destructive concern for honor; and the inevitable tension between the need for "power" (the means to happiness) and the desirability of peace for the successful pursuit of happiness. In sum: Hobbes is much more oriented toward life, happiness, and pleasure, and much less preoccupied with death and privation, than he is often said to be.
- The Spirit of the Laws, by Montesquieu. This is a strange book, and it is very long. But it contains a most important lesson, for his time and ours. Montesquieu's most urgent concern seems to have been to warn his French countrymen that representative democracy, so powerfully celebrated in the widely admired Locke, was not for everyone. Montesquieu saw that the best hope for France, in the foreseeable future, was a reinvigorated but much limited monarchy. The French failed to heed his advice, with disastrous consequences. Montesquieu ought to be required reading for American politicians who dream of bringing democracy to the Middle East in the near future. I recommend listening to it on tape or Ipod while commuting, if you don't happen to have a spare week or two to lavish on it. (I received a tape of it for Christmas last year.)
- Don Quixote, by Cervantes. (Get the tape.) It starts out like "Dumb and Dumber," but after a while you realize that it is wonderful. It is a critique, in the spirit of the classics and of Locke, of the despotic temptation inherent in Christian politics, as well as a critique of the dangers of romantic love. The book implicitly recommends a more sober and even utilitarian approach to love, a more republican approach to politics, and a more law-based (instead of love-based) understanding of Christian duty. In one of the first scenes in the novel, Don Quixote demands that someone he meets at random affirm that Dulcinea (a lowly peasant whom the Don adores) is the most beautiful woman in the world. The man asks to see her picture first, so he can judge based on his own observation, but Don Quixote paraphrases the Bible: Faith in things unseen is more worthy. When the man refuses, the Don assaults him and would have killed him if he, Don Quixote, had not been beaten up first. Here are the roots of what Machiavelli called "pious cruelty," presented comically. The Don was very much to the taste of the American founders. John Adams used to carry a copy wherever he went when he was young. Don Quixote was Locke's favorite novel. His assessment: "There is another use of reading, which is for diversion, and delight. Such are poetical writings, especially dramatic, if they be free from profaneness, obscenity, and what corrupts good manners; for such pitch should not be handled. Of all the books of fiction, I know none that equals Cervantes's History of Don Quixote in usefulness, pleasantry, and a constant decorum; and indeed no writings can be pleasant which have not nature at the bottom, and are not drawn after her copy."
- Eros and Empire: Politics and Christianity in Don Quixote, by Henry Higuera. This book is very helpful in making sense of what is going on beneath the surface of Don Quixote. Higuera's very clever and insightful suggestions about the hidden meaning of the various stories is both convincing and entertaininga rare combination in a scholarly book. I do wonder if Higuera overstates Cervantes's opposition to modern political philosophy and to Christianity. I would prefer to say that Cervantes points to the kind of sober politics advocated by the most thoughtful moderns, and also to the kind of moderate, non-bloody Christianity that became the consensus version of American Protestantism.
- The Religion of Protestants: A Safe Way to Salvation, by William Chillingworth. Those tempted to convert to Catholicism because of the supposed superiority of the Catholic theological tradition would do well to read Chillingworth's once famous classic. Judging by its printing history, The Religion of Protestants was a steady best-seller for over 200 years. The book is set up as a dialogue with a Catholic critic of Protestantism. In each chapter of the book, the Catholic critique is printed first; then Chillingworth follows with a powerful point-by-point refutation. All the major topics of the Catholic/Protestant debate, now mostly known only in superficial slogans, are covered. Chillingworth was raised an Anglican. He converted to Catholicism and studied for four years at the Catholic university of Douai in France. In spite of this study, or perhaps because of it, he converted back to the Church of England, in which he became a priest.