The weather outside may be frightful, but a good book is always delightful. Here are a few picks from friends and colleagues of the Claremont Institute...
Associate Professor of Politics, University of Virginia
- Napoleon: A Political Life, by Stephen Englund
This well-written volume brings to life both Napoleon and the intensely political nature of his rise, rule, and legacy.
- State-Building: Governance and World Order in the 21st Century, by Francis Fukuyama
Not a page-turning thriller, but a very serious and well-informed argument that improving other countries in matters political is probably as difficult as improving them economically.
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William J. Bennett
Claremont Institute Washington Fellow
Host, "Morning In America"
This has been a heavy writing year for me, and with it, lots of primary and secondary reading. For work, and leisure, five books stood out for me as out of the ordinary and worth recommending, some new, some old:
- The Battle of New Orleans : Andrew Jackson and America's First Military Victory, by Robert Remini
General Jackson was of mixed character, but Remini shows just how great was the great part of Jackson in what some historians call the "greatest American battle."
- The Devil's Teeth, by Susan Casey
The subtitle tells it all: "The story of obsession and survival among America's Great White Sharks." I almost took the boat to the Farralons with my son when we were in San Francisco, but--truth be told--we both got scared of actually being too close to the Great Whites.
- His Excellency: George Washington, by Joseph Ellis
A great biography on, indeed, the nation's indispensable man. As General he lost more battles than anyone in modern history; but his victories, military and political, are nonpareil.
- Colorado's Fourteeners: From Hikes to Climbs, by Gerry Roach
Updated with color maps and pictures of the beloved 14ers.
- Landscape Turned Red: The Battle of Antietam, by Stephen Sears
At Antietam, they laughed, shrieked, and yelled in each others' faces as they shot each other point blank.
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John C. Eastman
Director, Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence
Professor of Law, Chapman University School of Law
- C.S. Lewis's Dangerous Idea: In Defense of the Argument from Reason, by Victor Reppert
With the fight between Evolution and Intelligent Design heating up in the nation's courtrooms and school boards, it is good to revisit this perennial debate at the height of its last incarnation. Victor Repport explores C.S. Lewis's logical proof of the existence of God in this fairly readable account.
- Judging Thomas: The Life and Times of Clarence Thomas, by Ken Foskett
2006 marks Justice Thomas's 15th year on the Supreme Court. With a new Chief Justice and a new Associate Justice, we'll soon know whether his mission to revive the Constitution has gained some new allies. In the meantime, this latest biography of the most thoroughly originalist Justice makes for a good read.
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Claremont Institute Fellow
Political Science Department Chair, California State University, San Bernardino
- The Long Walk: The True Story of a Trek to Freedom, by Slavomir Rawicz
Polish Army officer Slavomir Rawicz was captured by the Soviet Army during the partition of Poland in 1939. He was sent to a Siberian labor camp. The journey to Siberia itself is worthy of a book-length treatment. This, however, was only the beginning. After many months in a gulag, Rawicz and a small band of hearty souls engineer a daring escape and set out for British India. This group, by the way, included an American businessman who was snared in Stalin's purges. Their journey is a remarkable tale of survival and suffering. These men made the decision to "live free or die." Some lived, but most died. Stephen Ambrose identified this book as one of the four he could not put down. Another book on that list isâ€¦.
- We Die Alone: A WWII Epic of Escape and Endurance, by David Howarth
Jan Baalsrud fled Nazi-occupied Norway and joined the British special forces. Baalsrud, along with a strike team of fellow Norwegian expatriates, made a covert landing on an isolated Norwegian fjord. Their mission was to disrupt German occupation forces. They hoped to recruit and train Norwegian partisans to assist in this effort. As happens with many military plans, theirs did not survive first contact with the enemy. Baalsrud finds himself alone. The rest of his team had been killed or captured. The remaining story testifies not only to the heroism of Baalsrud but also to that of the brave Norwegians who risked all to help him.
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John B. Kienker
Managing Editor, Claremont Review of Books
- Reagan's Victory: The Presidential Election of 1980 and the Rise of the Right, by Andrew E. Busch
The University Press of Kansas inaugurates its new American Presidential Elections series with this book by Andrew Busch, an expert on both Ronald Reagan and electoral politics. From Jimmy Carter's inept malaise to the triumphant Reagan Revolution, in Busch's hands, the 1980 election was not just a turning point in American history, it is a great story with colorful characters, a dramatic contest, and best of all, a happy ending.
- God's Choice: Pope Benedict XVI and the Future of the Catholic Church, by George Weigel
In July, I recommended Witness to Hope as a way to appreciate the heroic life of the late Pope John Paul II. This new book is really the concluding chapter in many ways to that opus (as the author himself admits in the Acknowledgements). The first hundred pages cover the previous pope's final years, death, funeral, and legacy, before turning to a fascinating portrait of the conclave, and the worldwide reaction to the election of Benedict XVI. Weigel is very critical of much of the coverage of these events, and the book is a lesson for the media to understand the papacy and the Catholic Church. There is also a short biography of the new pope, and a look at the issues he will need to face, including European secularism, the growth of the Church in Third World, inter-religious dialogue (particularly with militant Islam), a restructuring the Curia, and a reinvigoration of Catholic schools, seminaries, and the liturgy.
- Benjamin Franklin Unmasked: On The Unity Of His Moral, Religious, And Political Thought, by Jerry Weinberger
With the approach next month of the 300th anniversary of Benjamin Franklin's birth, numerous studies of Philadelphia's favorite son have appeared in the last few years. One of the most intriguing is this book, which seeks to raise Franklin's profile among his fellow founders by showing him to be the most philosophical of the lot. Indeed, the book unmasks Franklin, revealing him to be...a Straussian! That is to say, Franklin wrote esoterically, hiding his heterodox beliefs (which owed a lot to Bacon and Hobbes, and even presaged Nietzsche) within shamelessly witty essays that ridiculed everyone and everything. Weinberger says Franklin was never angry enough to be a nihilist and he still claims him as the "First American," but even more so than Gordon Wood's interesting book, Weinberger gives us a Franklin who seems positively un-American, who rejects natural right and recognizes no distinction between virtue and vice. It is a book to contend with.
- Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
Everyone around the Claremont Institute has been taking turns reading this page-turning biography, and I finally found two months to do the same. It is very harsh on Jefferson, and (to a lesser extent) Adams, but it gives a riveting portrait of the political disputes in the early republic, all while presenting a comprehensive portrait of a brilliant and often under-appreciated founder. One passage that struck me was Hamilton's definitive rebuke through the ages to those (like Russell Kirk) who like to claim that all that talk at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence was really just an empty sop to appease the French: "He must be a fool who can be credulous enough to believe that a despotic court aided a popular revolution from regard to liberty or friendship to the principles of such a revolution." Hear, hear!
- The Abolition of Man, by C.S. Lewis
Back in June, our friend Steve Hayward remarked that this book is "a prologue, in many ways, to [Leo Strauss's] Natural Right and History." Well, that was enough for me. Never having read it, I plowed through the slim lectures on public education in a couple of days, delighting in the simple, crisp refutation of relativism with what Lewis refers to as the Tao, his own shorthand for the natural law or the universal recognition of objective moral truths. He points out the obvious self-contradiction in rejecting such truths and the dangers in trying to redefine human nature. "The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man, goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists," he warns. "The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pinz-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany." Hadley Arkes proves the point again in his own magnificent Natural Rights and the Right to Choose.
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Claremont Institute Fellow
Producer, Bill Bennett's "Morning In America"
- Right Turns: Unconventional Lessons from a Controversial Life, by Michael Medved
This political autobiography by Michael Medved is a modern-day equivalent to Chaim Potok's The Chosen in many ways. Politically conservative Jews, conservatives of any orientation, but especially those who have come to conservatism after considering themselves liberals, will see similarities to their life stories and, on the way, receive a great modern history of America—as well as the life of one of America's premier speakers and authors on the cultural issues of the day. It's at once intelligent, historical, and humorous. At over 400 pages, I could not put it down, and read it in three days.
- The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century, by Thomas L. Friedman
Agree with him or disagree with him (and there's plenty to disagree with), to me Friedman is always worth reading. He sees many issues, particularly the issues of globalization and outsourcing, through a different and optimistic lens. Full of interesting statistics and anecdotes, if these issues are of interest to you, this book will not disappoint.
- Inside: A Public & Private Life, by Joseph A. Califano
I grew up reading about Califano's public work in health and drug addiction, and was drawn to many of his televised appearances on those and other political issues. Here is his personal autobiography full of great stories (from practicing law with Edward Bennett Williams, to serving President Lyndon B. Johnson, to his stint as Secretary of HEW under Carter, and beyond) and history. A liberal statesman there are too few of anymore. Today Califano does great work at Columbia University addressing the causes and harms of drug and alcohol addiction. He concludes his book on that work—perhaps some of the most important he has ever done.
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom
A great and inspiring story about life, how we don't always understand the purpose of bad or sad news, but how important it is to persevere as it will all make sense, for a good purpose, in the end. Inspiring, touching, moving. If you are going through a depressive moment or spell—this is the antidote.
- South Park Conservatives, Brian C. Anderson
How the new media is helping us win the culture war. From cable news to talk radio to the blogosphere—this explains it, and gives cause for hope. Anderson makes you proud to be a part of the new movement, and new media—which if you read a blog or write one, you are.
- Education Myths: What Special-Interest Groups Want You to Believe About Our Schools—and Why It Isn't So, by Jay P. Greene
From smaller class sizes to higher teacher pay, Greene analyzes almost all of the education reforms of the past twenty years or so, clearly and concisely. The truth is, as he shows, a lot different than most would lead you to believe.
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Director, Center for Local Government
Some books on America I read since the last Christmas book list and would recommend:
- Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America, by David Hackett Fischer
- Alexander Hamilton, by Ron Chernow
- What I Saw in America, by G.K. Chesterton
Add to these a book I've begun rereading, Harry V. Jaffa's A New Birth of Freedom, and you have the material, formal, and final causes of America. I recommend Chernow's Hamilton for the man who thinks he has everything.
- Freddy and Fredericka, by Mark Helprin
America as teacher of old world aristocracy is one theme of this comic novel. (See my review in Advent/Christmas issue of Valparaiso University's literary and political journal, The Cresset.)
- Adventures of a Bystander, by Peter Drucker
The late Peter Drucker was far more than the "founder of the science of management"—he was a wonderful writer, as this interview with Claremont scholars revealed. Try his autobiography.
Finally, some recommendations befitting Christmas:
- The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis
Read the book, if you haven't, before you see the movie (if you must). Some things are best left to the imagination, not perceptions and sound effects, however well done.
- Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religion, by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger may be the most philosophic of the successors of St. Peter: Of the several books of his I've read, try this one as an introduction. "There is one divine idea of man, and our task is to correspond to this."
- The Five Books of Moses: A Translation with Commentary, by Robert Alter
For those who are severe textualists on these matters and for many others as well, this extraordinary edition of the Torah is indispensable.
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Claremont Institute Adjunct Fellow
Salvatori Visiting Fellow in the American Founding, Claremont McKenna College
- In Praise of Nepotism: A History of Family Enterprise from King David to George W. Bush, by Adam Bellow
A bit on the long side, Bellow's book is well written and cogently argued. It raises an interesting and important question: is nepotism natural? We are all born into certain families, and we learn certain skills and ways of thinking. The son of a doctor is more likely to be a good doctor than someone else chosen at random. How can an egalitarian and meritocratic society accommodate that reality?
- Rule of Law: The Jurisprudence of Liberty in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, by John Philip Reid
The second verse of "America the Beautiful" concludes: "America! America!/ God mend thine every flaw, / Confirm they sole in self-control, / thy liberty in law." The idea of ordered liberty was central to America's founding but has long been under assault. Reid's book is a short, readable introduction to the legal tradition that helped give birth to America, and also an attack on the critics of that tradition.
- Reconstructing America: The Symbol of America in Modern Thought, by James Ceaser
This is the best introduction to European disdain for America. It's not new, and it's not simplistic. Europe's political philosophers have long had it in for America and everything it stands for.
- Journalistic Fraud: How the New York Times Distorts the News and Why it Can No Longer Be Trusted, by Bob Kohn
Unlike other critics, Kohn gives a layman's perspective in this shrewd critique of the paper of record. He is a successful lawyer and entrepreneur who grew up in New York reading the Times. He does more than show that it is biased; his book reads like a devil's dictionary of distortion—cataloging the techniques by which the Times distorts the news.
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Bruce C. Sanborn
President, Upland & Marsh
Chairman, Claremont Institute Board of Directors
- War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
Everyone has read War & Peace but it is worth re-reading, especially with us being at war. Tolstoy, who served in a war-time artillery regiment, knows battle: cannonballs to the right, chaos to the left, some heroes here, strategy up-in-smoke all around. Tolstoy also understands Napoleon and Russia. Napoleon brings war to Europe, then to Russia; all the while, Russia's elite preen and speak in French—up until Napoleon ravishes their homeland. Tolstoy is clear they've forgotten what it is to be Russian. Today some Americans are in the same boat—or maybe it's more accurate to say, in the same salon, sporting berets.
- Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes
From Claremont's Christmas past, I followed Claremont Senior Fellow Tom West's suggestion and read Don Quixote. It's laugh-out-loud funny in parts and eerie how grandees like Napoleon (e.g. addressing the Moscovites in War & Peace) and Saddam (e.g., at his trial) can sound like the Don.
- The Iliad, by Homer
WAR!, what is it good for? Well, for one thing, for keeping America free. For another, for giving Homer material for The Iliad. On a road trip in October, I put Derek Jacobi in my tape deck reading the Penguin-abridged, Robert Fagles translation of the Great Poem. At trip's end I called my college-aged daughter and said, "I get why the ancient Greeks didn't make a big deal about not having Barnes & Noble. If you've got a rhapsode reciting The Iliad to you, well, it's great." My daughter, who sees me as a cross between the other Homer (Homer Simpson) and Inspector Clouseau, asked, "Dad, how sure can you be about the Greeks? I mean, as good as their English was, did they have the Fagles translation?" "I see your point," I noted, "but still."
- Duty-Bound: Responsibility and American Public Life, by Mark Blitz
A political philosophy professor at Claremont McKenna College, Mark Blitz has written a book that is short but not easy to read right; in those two regards, it's like Machiavelli's The Prince. On the back cover (of Duty Bound) Harvard's Harvey Mansfield, a translator of The Prince and a former teacher of Mark Blitz, calls it: "a brilliant and original essay on virtue today"—again then, it's like The Prince, though with the significant difference that Duty Bound is for and about Americans: citizens, statesmen, and political thinkers. The book has a surprise ending that gets the reader contemplating what might bring greater fullness to John Locke's politically influential understanding of happiness, somewhat the way The Iliad might be understood to get a fuller-ness from The Odyssey, the ultimate road trip with a happy ending.
On to more road trips. Merry Christmas.
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Director, National Security Programs
- The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9-11, John Yoo
This book will soon become a must-read for students of executive power and the constitutional issues of foreign affairs. Future writers on the subject will not be able to avoid grappling with Yoo's comprehensive, and persuasive, treatment. The book does not focus specifically on post-9/11 events as the title might seem to suggest, but it need not do so to be relevant and instructive for how to think about the national security problems of the 21st century, both in the war and terrorism and elsewhere.
The book represents a culmination of over a decade of work. Perusing the chapter titles, the book in some ways appears to be a compilation of the many fine law review articles the author has published on such subjects as globalization, the allocation of war powers between the political branches, the use of force in Kosovo, congressional-executive agreements, and the curious collection of issues implicated by the convoluted history of the ABM Treaty.
Some of the constitutional questions he wrestles with are the problem of self-executing treaties and the interchangeablity of treaties and executive agreements. Behind this technical-sounding academic language, however, are principled and basic issues—the relation of the separation of powers and the concern of government by consent. Yoo deals with these issues masterfully.