There's nothing quite like a good book for ensuring the merriest yule cheer and a happy new year. Here are a few picks from friends and colleagues of the Claremont Institute...
Edward Ney Professor of Jurisprudence, Amherst College
This is a remarkable, scholarly achievement by a young scholar. Paul de Hart makes the case for the moral telos of the Constitution in the most compelling way. I've never really understood what "metaethics" is supposed to mean, for ethics must finally involve the grounds of our judgments on the things that are right or wrong, just or unjust. We are led back then to principles of judgment, and I never saw where the "meta" came in. I could never see how the supposed "metaethical" principles could be either more abstract or more precise. But de Hart manages to show how the logic of the Constitution must lead back to an understanding of natural law—and he does that without the need to discuss a single case. Yet, there is nothing here in the clouds. The writing is precise, flowing, clear. And the conclusions come with an accumulating force.
It's all here, the complete package—those so-called "life issues," the most vexing matters in our politics, connected at the moral core. Patrick Lee and Robert George take the reader beyond the surface of things to find the philosophic roots that are bound up with the issues of euthanasia, abortion, homosexuality, and same-sex marriage. They draw the reader back to the understanding of hedonism, and then, further back, as people become curiously drawn to a version of "dualism," as though they could conceive their real selves as "persons" somehow disembodied—detached from the bodies that are, irremovably, theirs. This is not, then, a collection of essays; it is a comprehensive statement of the philosophic problem, and it will have to be addressed by anyone who would seriously enter the debate in this field.
Bob Novak, as a journalist, has always seemed more concerned to get the story told or to lay out the argument clearly, with uncluttered prose. But quite evidently he has never been detached from the youngster who majored in English at the University of Illinois and absorbed himself in the poetry of Ezra Pound. For the writing in this memoir was not churned out in bulk. The sentences were crafted, and they moved; they carried the reader through a story, unfolding over 50 years, of a young reporter becoming seasoned and accomplished in his trade. There are vignettes of encounters with John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, and with just about everyone else of consequence—politicians and writers—who filled the landscape of politics, since the late 1950s. In a recent listing of writers recommending books, Bob was brash enough to recommend his own. And I think he was right. If a book is deeply commendable and rich, why should one hold back from commending it to others just because it is one's own? (That may give me an incentive to plug yet again Natural Rights & the Right to Choose, in paperback!) But Bob's book is to be savored, with the only drawback that, with 638 pages, it is just a bit too short.
Michael Uhlmann and I had been planning to write a People's History of the New Deal, an account that would put in a central place the saga of Jacob Maged. Maged, a tailor in Jersey City in 1934, 49 years old, an immigrant from Russia, was fined $100 and sentenced to four months in prison, And what had he done? Knowingly, deliberately, he had pressed a suit for 35 cents instead of the 40 cents mandated by the local Cleaners and Dyers Board under the National Recovery Act. When people look back with benign memories of Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, they seem to filter out these parts of the New Deal, which the courts put away. And when the courts put them away, they did not all come back. Amity Shlaes beat us in writing that book. Or something close to it. She doesn't give over a large portion of the book to the stories of the Jacob Mageds and the casualties of the New Deal among ordinary people. But they are recognized in the broader sweep of the history she recounts, with policies misfired and misconceived. There are many reasons still to revere FDR, but the urban legend of the New Deal bringing us out of the Great Depression is one of those stories spun, and happily preserved, by the liberal historians. And it is preserved as the liberal writers reserve the academy for people like themselves.
Shlaes sweeps past the haze of nostalgia and benign fables. She writes with that sense of being grounded in the world, that sense we find among people who have become practiced in writing about business and the economy. And with the hand of a writer who has learned her craft, the account moves and unfolds, at each step, a story worth remembering.
John Bolton visited us recently in Amherst, and even I was struck by his political "presence." He has acquired "star quality" and rightly so, for he is substantive, smart, anchored in the grounds of his judgments. He is not unhinged by the critics he encounters when giving talks—or by senators debasing themselves at hearings for confirmation. I had heard many good things about John Bolton from others over the years, but I hadn't understood the thickness of his preparation for the job as Ambassador to the United Nations. There was law school at Yale, private practice as a litigator in an important firm, and service in the State Department in the administration of the first George Bush, overseeing the whole system of the United Nations.
But to read his account of life at the U.N. is to realize how mind-numbing it had to be: the hours spent agonizing over the language in a resolution, negotiating that language with different countries—and to what avail? Most likely, the resolution would not be enforced anyway. Bolton was clear-headed about the U.N. as a place mainly hostile to the United States and Israel. His own mission was to protect and advance American interests, and there he was persistently finding himself undercut by his own government, or the State Department. This is a story of a Secretary of State (Rice) virtually taken over by her Department. But most of all it is a story of a State Department that feeds the main vice of the United Nations: a notable leaning to the side of meetings and conferences and negotiations, but with less interest in the substance of what is negotiated. Bolton told the president that the U.N. was a place rich in targets, and in making mischief he found, by his account, some real fun. Still, what comes out is the account of an administration and State Department sleep-walking through crises over Iran and North Korea. Deadlines come and go, with no result, and no consequences. The White House becomes seized up over Iraq, with little nerve or energy for initiatives in other places. Bolton muses about the instinct of the U.N. to go for the "capillary," not the jugular. And he wonders why he spent several weeks in Florida, in November/December 2000, checking "hanging chads," for the purpose of bringing forth this kind of foreign policy.
Bolton has left the government with the sense of returning to the public arena, where he can join the argument more fully. He should be a preeminent candidate for Secretary of State in a Republican administration. But on the other hand, it may be easier, and more fitting, to run him for president, rather than trying to get him confirmed as Secretary of State.Building Democracy," Summer 2007). Greenberg reminds of a classic architecture that takes its measure of scale from the human body, and its decorum or sense of ordering from the city, the polis, the regime, in which the building is to find its place. I had remarked in my review that this book, done by Rizzoli, is just a bit too beautiful. I had entered the plea for a smaller, less striking edition so that it could be fitted into the backpack of every undergraduate in the country. For it brings us back at once to the classic principles of architecture and politics, and to the things distinctively American.
Vice President, the Claremont Institute
In his newest book, Herschensohn once again demonstrates his prescience in world affairs, specifically those dealing with Asia. This is a must read for anyone concerned about Taiwan's freedom and China's ambitious plans.
Professor of International Relations, Boston University
The stars are the face of God—beautiful and majestic beyond description. A thoughtful glance at the heavens naturally awes us as we sense our own insignificance. And yet our rudimentary understanding of what we see betokens kinship with what The Divine Comedy's climactic lines called "the love that moves the sun and the other stars." Thanks to the Hubble telescope's exoatmospheric location and marvelous technology, now we can see nebulae and novas and galaxies galore in unprecedented splendor. This book and several others like it also contain the essentials of astronomy. I recommend astronomy—or just gaping at the heavens' awesome beauty—because from my earliest age they have been for me reality—antidotes to the secularism that seeps into us from our culture. Ponder the meaning of the mathematical concept of infinity. Then ask how sub-microbes on a speck of cosmic dust manage even to formulate it. Recall Socrates' injunction in Republic Book 6 to study the stars' movements to understand their mover. And when you leaf through this book, have handy Psalm 8: "When I consider thy heavens, the work of thy fingers, the moon and the stars which thou hast ordained; What is man that thou art mindful of him, and the son of man that thou visitest him?
Outside of the classics, no book has had a greater influence on me than this. Of history's and literature's teachings none is more poignant than that the greatest evils are perversions of the greatest goods, and that we are all tempted to pervert. Norman Cohn illustrates the intellectual and social mechanisms by which some Christians have twisted some of the pillars of the faith into warrants for rebellion against the human condition. The steps and consequences of this process have been remarkably constant through the centuries. Indeed, Cohn shows that Nazism and Marxism merely put secular flesh onto heresy's old skeleton. Those familiar with Cohn's history will see that the Wahabi sect's relationship with Islam is very much akin to that between Christian heresies and orthodoxy: the heretic fakes fundamentalism, and frees himself from all doctrine except that which serves to smite his enemies. How easily do men turn themselves into monsters!
Editorial Assistant, Claremont Review of Books
Critics fault Cheever with confining his stories to the narrow, inauthentic world of upper-middle-class Northeastern bourgeoisie. But Cheever sought to reveal some timeless truth about man in his stories. In this world of train schedules and cocktail parties, suburban swimming pools and coastal vacations, he shows men struggling to live in society with all their anti-social and much-too-social passions. These stories show man needing society to live the good life, but society needing man to forget himself for the good of the whole—surely a timeless lesson.
Shirer's account of the rise of Nazi Germany and the coming of war as seen in his years as foreign correspondent in Berlin for the Chicago Tribune and a fledgling CBS radio is both high adventure and depressing truth. Shirer has his blind spots—his repeated praise for the New Deal side-by-side with his queries as to why millions remained without work in the United States on the eve of the war is nearly comical—yet is spot-on in telling the most important part of the story: how the Western democracies, "through impotence, confusion and appeasement" lost both their self-confidence and a clear understanding of their self-interest, enabling Nazi Germany to loose hell on an ill-prepared Europe.
Our greatest source for understanding the works of the much-maligned philosopher de Selby, this book is highly recommended to anyone who troubles their mind about the shape of the universe, the nature of darkness, the existence of the soul, or the nefarious effect excessive bike riding has on both bike and rider. It does little justice to this great work to label it a comical mystery—but there you go.
F.K. Weyerhaeuser Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute
This book, by veteran British journalist Jeremy Paxman, is not out in a U.S. edition and is several years old by now, but is readily available from Amazon.UK in paperback. (I ran across it in a bookshop in London.) It is a splendid look at the character of Britain's political class and contains great descriptions of life in the House of Commons and on the campaign trail. It's a great read. (Sample: Paxman quotes Margaret Thatcher's one-sentence putdown of Michael Heseltine, who attempted to bring down Thatcher with a flamboyant cabinet resignation: Whereas both of us are ambitious, Thatcher said, "whereas with me it is certain political principles that provide a reference point and inner strength, for Michael such things are unnecessary."
For a thoughtful treatment-and defense-of political ambition and therefore a good companion to Paxman, see this new book just out from Yale University Press. Faulkner rescues political ambition from the slights and deprecations of social scientists, cynics, and egalitarians, surveying examples and analysis from antiquity through Lincoln and Churchill. This book deserves a wide audience among serious students of politics and statesmanship.
Piereson offers a remarkably fresh analysis of what should have been obvious for a long time: liberalism suffered a nervous breakdown in the aftermath of JFK's killing, couldn't process the significance of the fact that his killer was a hard-core Communist (thus making JFK a martyr of the Cold War), and hasn't put itself back together again in the four decades since. (My Weekly Standard review of the book can be found here.)
Goldberg's book isn't officially available until January 8 of next year (I got an advance galley), but it's worth pre-ordering. It is a deeply sober and serious book, and Jonah's well-known wit and snark from National Review Online is conspicuously absent. His research is staggering and wide-ranging, and he makes a solid case that American Progressivism, and its heir, contemporary liberalism, rests on the same philosophical and historicist assumptions that generated European fascism. The left is already raising hackles about the book before it is even released (its Amazon page has been hacked, and is already the scene of flame wars), so buckle your seat belts, this is going to start some fights. I think Jonah is up to it.
Fresh off his fine biography of Phyllis Schlafly, Critchlow offers this new synoptic history of how the conservative movement triumphed within the Republican party. And he got Harvard University Press to publish it! Worth reading a fresh treatment in this season of conservative discontent.
Senior Vice President, TCF National Bank, Minneapolis
Fellow, the Claremont Institute
In the area of foreign policy, I found Norman Podhoretz's World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism perhaps the most important book of the year. It is an elegantly written assessment of the long war in which we are engaged, and a passionate defense of the Bush doctrine. As such, it provides a thought-provoking counterpoint to the editorials and essays published on the same subject in the Claremont Review of Books. Michael Ledeen's The Iranian Time Bomb: The Mullah Zealots' Quest for Destruction addresses the Bush Administration's greatest foreign policy failure. And John Bolton's Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations is an invaluable memoir that provides more than a glimpse of the secret war of the permanent bureaucracy on the Bush Administration's foreign policy. Not coincidentally, it provides the indispensable context of any fair critique of the administration's foreign policy successes and failures.
Winston Churchill is of course one of the preeminent heroes of the Claremont Institute and the Middle East is the field of our most intense current interest. Churchill had a hand in shaping the modern Middle East. What did he think of it, or of the place of the Jews in it? Somewhat surprisingly, no authoritative book had addressed the subject until this year, and now there are two. Official Churchill biographer Martin Gilbert's Churchill and the Jews: A Lifelong Friendship documents with the author's customary thoroughness Churchill's remarkable friendship with British Jews and his long advocacy of a homeland for the Jewish people within the Palestine Mandate. Gilbert begins with an essay Churchill wrote as a young student and traces his views to the end of his active life in politics. Of particular interest is Gilbert's account of Churchill's visit to Palestine as colonial secretary in 1922.
Gilbert's book, however, needs to be supplemented by Michael Makovsky's Churchill's Promised Land: Zionism and Statecraft. Makovsky persuasively demonstrates the occasional inconsistency of Churchill's Zionism. Nevertheless, Churchill himself is seen to be utterly lacking in the anti-Semitic prejudices of his class and his colleagues. As in so many areas of his life, Churchill stands out as a man of extraordinary magnanimity. Makovsky is a former Claremont Institute Lincoln Fellow; he credits his fellow Lincoln Fellows with helping him formulate the title of his book.
One could draw obvious comparisons between Winston Churchill and Samuel Johnson as great Englishmen. One lover of language notes somewhat more obscurely that they were both masters of chiasmus. Like reading about Churchill, reading about Johnson is an entertaining as well as ennobling enterprise. Prominent biographer Richard Holmes's Dr. Johnson and Mr. Savage is a small masterpiece addressing Johnson's friendship with the disreputable poet Richard Savage. Henry Hitchings's Defining the World: The Extraordinary Story of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary is an engaging account of Johnson's first great work, his dictionary of the English language. Hitchings explains the magnitude of Johnson's achievement, on which Johnson labored eight years. And yet, however great Johnson was, James Boswell saw that his greatness was not fully manifest in his literary work. Boswell therefore devoted himself to producing a biography of Johnson that would be the equal of his life. The dramatic story can be found in Adam Sisman's Boswell's Presumptuous Task: The Making of the Life of Dr. Johnson.
Director of Programs, the Claremont Institute
Dipping into diplomatic history almost always rewards one a better sense of foreign relations. With its charming historical anecdotes, The Practice of Diplomacy by John W. Foster—one time diplomat, Secretary of State, and grandfather to Allen and John Foster Dulles—reads better than most contemporary manuals. Foster reviews the usual subjects of the diplomatic corps: proper dress, the perennial problem of ambassadors not being paid enough to support themselves, the problem of accepting gifts, privileges and immunities of diplomats abroad—all from the perspective of American practice. But among these technicalities one finds fascinating nuggets: early American ministers' fastidious concern about proper dress (respectable, but not too showy), for example, was in keeping with their concern for representing the American national character.
A recent work on a related subject is Michael Ramsey's The Constitution's Text in Foreign Affairs, which revises and adds to a number of previously published articles on such important cases as Curtiss Wright (presidential authority and the inherent sovereign powers controversy), Paquete Habana (customary international law of the sea), and U.S. v. Belmont (the place of executive or presidential agreements). As one of the better volumes commenting on the foreign relations law, it is comparable to John Yoo's The Powers of War and Peace: The Constitution and Foreign Affairs After 9/11 and Louis Henkin's Foreign Affairs and the United States Constitution, to which he partly responds. Ramsey's thematic emphasis, as one might guess from the title, is on the constitutional text itself. The carefully crafted Constitution may not tell us everything about the relationship between Congress and the president on matters of war, diplomatic recognition, and so forth, but it goes a lot further than is often recognized.
For last year's Christmas list, I recommended Charlie Wilson's War: The Extraordinary Story of the Largest Covert Operation in History by George Crile. The book is a non-fiction account of how one Texas congressmen led the charge to aid Afghani mujahadeen against the invading Soviets in the 1980s, on the principle that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. This year, I'd like to recommend (sight unseen, I must add) the movie adaptation, starring Tom Hanks, Julia Roberts, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. If it is half as fun as the book, it will be well worth seeing over the holidays (releases December 21).
Managing Editor, Claremont Review of Books
It's a Christmas miracle to see a book from a big publishing house addressing Woodrow Wilson's pernicious influence on American politics. Jonah Goldberg shows how Wilson, by seizing upon war as a pretext for reshaping the government's role at the expense of the Constitution, set in place the pattern for progressive liberalism ever since. Carefully researched, Goldberg's first book traces the thread of fascism woven through FDR's New Deal, the myth of John Kennedy's "Camelot," the street violence of the late 1960's, and Hillary Clinton's child-raising "village." Liberalism's successes have relied on crisis politics, using actual war or merely the "moral equivalent of war" (the Great Depression, the War on Poverty, global warming, the children) as the means to building an all-encompassing state.
Naturally, Goldberg is at pains repeatedly to note the crucial differences between America's fascism and its uglier European cousin (and to acknowledge the fascist strains in the rhetoric of right-of-center figures like George W. Bush and Patrick Buchanan). He chalks up the difference to America's cultural exceptionalism, but rightly observes, "it in turn may have replaced the fist with the hug, but an unwanted embrace from which you cannot escape is just a nicer form of tyranny."
Liberal Fascism may yet be denounced as beyond the pale of polite conversation in all the fashionable circles...but won't that just prove Goldberg's point?
In this lively, engaging, and funny account, Andy Ferguson presents tales from his own a cross-country tour to try to understand how Lincoln still figures in our national memory. The statues have gotten smaller, the museums more politically correct (and garish), and the historic sites more inauthentic, as Lincoln has been reduced from a towering icon to an almost pathetic curiosity, kept alive by mushy-headed historians, fanatical collectors, compulsive impersonators, and other eccentrics (including a Thai restaurant owner who sets out a fresh meal each day before the statue of Lincoln he keeps in the back room). The author's odyssey culminates on the steps of the grandly republican memorial in our nation's capital, where, despite all the weirdos who've populated his tale, Ferguson still sees Lincoln's greatness clearly.
The scholarly exchange included here may be too specialized for anyone outside of academia, but Jim Ceaser's main essay is a must-read. In this expanded lecture, he presents a crisp, sweeping overview of nature's replacement by history as the American political tradition's foundational concept. His argument brilliantly adapts Leo Strauss's theme of a "crisis of the West" to an American context.
One quibble: Ceaser notes some of the rhetoric in the present-day Republican Party as a sign of hope for a restoration of natural-rights thinking in our politics, but not only has George W. Bush been guided more by evangelical fervor than natural-rights thinking, the gulf between the president's rhetoric and his actions has regrettably allowed the latter to discredit the former, even within his own party.
Ignore the awkward title and the, at times, academic prose, von Heyking's book is the best extended argument I've read for Saint Augustine as a first-rate political thinker (the best short introduction to this theme remains Ernest Fortin's essay, found here).
Like Cicero, Augustine attempted to reign in the Romans' inordinate ambition and love of glory in his masterpiece, the City of God. Von Heyking makes plain that "Augustine's rhetoric veils a deeper meaning. His antipolitical rhetoric in the City of God, for example, covers his substantive political teaching. He did not wish to make his teaching explicit because he did not want to give his audience any reason to think that they could gain salvation through political means."
The book concludes with a chapter carefully exonerating Augustine as an advocate for torturing heretics and unbelievers, a smear he is still tarred with to this day.
A delightful selection of the unusual, witty exchanges that ran in National Review's Notes & Asides section composed of letters to the editor answered by Buckley himself. The earlier ones are my favorites.
When Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., writes to Buckley "In a better world I might have hoped that you would have had the elementary fairness, or guts, to provide equal time; but alas, wrong again," the NR editor begins his reply, "Dear Arthur: I should have thought you would be used to being wrong."
But Schlesinger won't let up. He accuses the National Enquirer and National Review of having "comparable standards of wit, taste, intelligence and reliability," to which Buckley responds "only someone who had difficulty in distinguishing between The National Enquirer and National Review could have written such works of history as you have written."
To one of several complaints included here about his less-than-neat appearance, Buckley writes, "If I were also good looking, don't you think it would all be just too much?Another angry correspondent intones, "Try to improve, which might be difficult for you." Buckley: "For me to improve would be not only difficult, but impossible." Too true.
In the spirit of the season, I shall forego mentioning the merely deliciously self-parodic, like Garry Wills, Jonathan Chait, or Paul Krugman. Nor shall I presume to recommend the great masters—Twain and Bierce, Wodehouse and Chesterton—who cannot be read without a twitch upon the corners of the mouth. So, without further ado, a few recent titles engaging enough that I should hope they could hold the attention of even the most diffident reader:
Observing that P. J. O'Rourke is funny is like mentioning that the part is less than the whole, or that the Clintons are tawdry. These are self-evident propositions; the predicate is contained within the subject. Very well, you say. How self-evidently funny is P. J.? Funny enough to make Adam Smith's magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, into a laugh riot. Now, granted, it's easy to see the lighter side of the theory of specialized labor. But only a comedic genius of P. J.'s caliber can make you chuckle as you engage Smith's critique of mercantilism. Honestly, the only way O'Rourke can outdo himself is to take his readers on a delightful romp through the phone book.
One either likes or dislikes Bill Bryson, I note tautologically, and I suppose I'm one of those who likes him. Sure, he didn't actually hike the Appalachian Trail, and yes, he's insufferably self-indulgent when he's writing about his childhood. But when Bryson writes about science, his mind ranges widely and his wit sparkles brightly. A Short History of Nearly Everything asks the questions we non-scientists have always wanted to ask, but hesitated because we weren't sure how to put it. ("Uhm, what kind of stopwatch do you use to clock the speed of light?") From astrophysics to zoology, it's a delightful survey of all the science that we humanities types have tried so assiduously to avoid.
It is difficult to describe Fr. Rutler's curious little book. Coincidentally tracks an array of historical improbabilities, traces chance contingencies, and explores the innumerable directions that we cannot see. It is, as the good Father suggests, a peculiar sort of chronological punning. But it is more than that. Coincidentally is a demonstration that "the only reason for asking if a coincidence of things has a purpose is the belief that there is a purpose behind things." And it is also, not coincidentally, a work of ebullience and erudition, as improbably perfect as the occasions it describes.
In a book ostensibly devoted to America's memories of the 16th president, Ferguson nevertheless does an unusually good job capturing some of Lincoln's warm humanity-not least, his sense of humor. Which, if William Herndon is to be believed, was rather more earthy than many of us learned in school. (Sample: While visiting England after the Revolution, Ethan Allen was chagrined to discover a portrait of George Washington in an outhouse. Afterwards, his hosts asked him if he was surprised. "Not at all," said Allen, "for there's nothing like the sight of General Washington to make an Englishman s—t.") There are, I suppose, compelling reasons for not immediately buying this book—not only for yourself, but for every person on your gift list. Perhaps you are a certain Dickensian character with a strong aversion to the wasteful consumption of fossil fuels. Perhaps you cannot read the English language. (Wait a second...) But let's be honest. If you won't read Land of Lincoln, it's overwhelmingly likely that you hate puppies, rainbows, and the United States of America.
Roy P. Crocker Professor of American Politics, Claremont McKenna College
It has now been 20 years since Tom Wolfe published his first novel, a sprawling portrait of New York in the 1980s. It remains in print, giving real insight into the social conditions that led to the election of Rudy Giuliani as the city's mayor in the '90s. If you have been to the city lately, Bonfire will also suggest to you how much it has changed in the past 20 years. Al Sharpton, however, is still there. Contrary to urban legend, Wolfe did not base the rabble-rousing Reverend Reginald Bacon on Sharpton. The Tawana Brawley incident, which propelled Sharpton to infamy, took place after the novel's publication. But the Bacon character does provide insight into how a Sharptonesque demagogue goes about his work. In this case, reality has become more absurd than fiction. Whereas the fictional Bacon was strictly a local figure, Sharpton has taken his hustle to the national stage.
The news media report that the prevalence of autism is soaring. What is going on? Is it a genuine epidemic or merely a product of new diagnostic criteria? You can learn much from this excellent book by an anthropologist who has an autistic child. It isn't just a first-person account, but rather a careful analysis of how the definition of autism has changed over the years, and how it varies from country to country. The issue has great significance for public policy at the national level. In recent years, the best congressional advocate for autistic kids was Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, he went down in the 2006 electoral mudslide.
President, Upland & Marsh
Chairman, Claremont Institute Board of Directors
Herodotus of Halicarnassus here presents his research so that human events do not fade with time. May the great and wonderful deeds—some brought forth by the Hellenes, others by the barbarians—not go unsung; as well as the causes that led them to make war on each other.
Herodotus is ancient but the Landmark Herodotus is brand new.
As in its somewhat older cousin (the Landmark Thucydides, also edited by Robert Strassler), the footnotes, maps, cross-references, appendices, and wide margins for making notes in the Landmark Herodotus are just what the student (who may even be a doctor of philosophy) ordered. Want to know where Halicarnassus is? Turn to the colored map on the next page (the book's maps are plentiful, fitting, and well placed). Want to know why the translator, Rosalind Thomas, used "research" in line 1 instead of the more customary "history?" Look at her footnote at the bottom of the page: "These opening words crudely translated run: ‘What follows is a performance [literally ‘display'] of the enquiries of Herodotus of Halicarnassus.'" My research tells me that in Herodotus the Greek word history means enquiry. That is, Herodotus learned by looking and asking around, and then from the wealth of his learning he sang of great and wonderful things, things often tied to war and always tied to different ways of living, some noble, some wise, some brutish, some colorful. For instance, when Persia's King Xerxes marched against the Hellenes he brought all sorts of his peoples, like the Ethiopians, who, Herodotus tells us, "wore the foreheads of horses which had been skinned, with the ears and mane left intact. They wore the mane as a crest, with horse's ears pointing up straight. And instead of shields they carried cranes' skins in front of them for protection."
Those who have enjoyed (and learned from) Algis Valiunas's essays in the Claremont Review of Books and Commentary magazine will find credible my praise: his book is artful and wise. Consider his opening words and listen for echos of Herodotus and Thucydides: "Winston Churchill's writings are of a sort that, the times being what they are, seems a throwback to an earlier epoch.... His histories are largely tales of war, and they delineate the actions of great captains and political men, but they also honor the heroism of ordinary men, individually and in the mass."
Urged by Saul Bellow and Alan Bloom to read Churchill's histories and encouraged by Ralph Lerner and Harvey Mansfield to write about them, Valiunas treats us to Churchill's histories of the Imperial Wars (e.g., the River War and Malakand Field Force), World War I (the Great Crisis), Marlborough, the English-Speaking Peoples, and the Second World War.
"Prudence is not only history's theme; it is also its purpose." Valiunas makes intelligent points like that while quoting Churchill often and to good effect: enabling us to delight in Churchill's rhetoric, histories, virtues, and statecraft—and become better citizens. As Valiunas quotes Churchill saying, "It is my earnest hope that pondering upon the past may give guidance in days to come, enable a new generation to repair some of the errors of former years and thus govern, in accordance with the needs and glory of man, the awful unfolding scene of the future."
In this slender, elegant book, Valiunas sees what Churchill saw: "that a man amid the hurly-burly of politics can be a noble one," that politics can be done well, and that Winston Churchill, the historian and statesman, was a great man.