Our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers.
(Page 2 of 12)
Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (Vintage), by Saul D. Alinsky. The title of this book, at a time when we are ruled by a radical community organizer, says it all.
Bob Barr represented the 7th District of Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003, and was the 2008 Libertarian Party nominee for president of the United States. He practices law with the Law Offices of Edwin Marger, and runs a consulting firm, Liberty Strategies, Inc., headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia.
I spent most of the past year researching and writing my own book, The Persecution of Sarah Palin (Penguin Sentinel), so much of my reading in 2009 had to do with salmon fisheries and the correct way to field-dress a moose. But, whenever I wanted to procrastinate — and that happened a lot — I read for pleasure. Which means there’s a tall pile of books on my nightstand that have nothing to do with snow machines or the incorrigible media elite.
Scanning over the titles on my personal “Good Books in 2009” list, I’m reminded just how organic the writing process is, just how much writing depends on reading. The perspective, insight, voice, and intensity of each of the authors I read this year influenced my own work in various (and perhaps intangible) ways. Here are my five favorites.
Niall Ferguson’s The Ascent of Money: A Financial History of the World (Penguin) is an accessible and entertaining narrative history of Western finance. Ferguson may be the only writer alive who can make bond markets seem exciting. The Ascent of Money won’t make you rich, but it will teach you that financial crises have been around for as long as capitalism has. The two go together like peanut butter and jelly. It’s all part of the creative destruction of the marketplace that’s brought us to where we are today. History encourages us to take the long view, and the lesson of Ferguson’s history is that we’ll survive the current economic troubles. And eventually, we’ll end up more prosperous than we were before. Assuming Obama doesn’t mess things up, of course.
The newspapers are full of scary headlines, but they have nothing on Stephen King. Years ago I decided to read every novel my favorite contemporary American author has written, in the order he wrote them. One of the King titles I read in 2009 was Desperation (Signet), and it’s among his best. A friend recently asked me which of King’s post-addiction novels deserves a place alongside The Shining, The Stand, The Talisman, and It. No question, the answer is Desperation. If you have a high tolerance for literary gore, you’ll love it.
Meanwhile, I finally got around to reading Michael Lewis’s The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game (W. W. Norton), which I heartily recommend to NFL fans looking for something to do in between Sunday afternoons. The fantastically talented Lewis tells the story of the fantastically talented Michael Oher, an offensive tackle who goes from a life on the street to playing football at a preppy Nashville high school and then at Ole Miss. Lewis juxtaposes Oher’s story with a history of Bill Walsh’s West Coast offense (and Lewis’s retelling of a key San Francisco 49ers game from the 1980s is the best part). The Blind Side came out years ago, but one of the satisfactions of reading it now is that you can finish the book and then watch Oher play for the Baltimore Ravens.
Richard Brookhiser’s Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement (Basic) is a gripping memoir of his years at National Review. Most critics focused on Brookhiser’s occasionally strained relationship with William F. Buckley Jr., but I was most struck by his descriptions of life as a junior editor at the great man’s magazine. Brookhiser imparts the excitement that a young person feels as he begins life as an opinion journalist. He conveys the thrill of watching conservatism’s political ascent from within conservatism’s flagship publication. It’s a fantastic entry in the catalogue of National Review books — of which there are almost as many as there are books about the New Yorker.
Finally, Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (Doubleday) will be on many best-of lists this winter, and deservedly so. Reflections is a big, deep, magisterial (there really isn’t any other word) exploration of immigration, Islam, and the European welfare state. But it’s also more: Caldwell takes on globalization, modernity, political correctness, and technology, too. He teases out paradoxes and contradictions in practically every sentence. His takedown of Tariq Ramadan is worth the price of admission alone. This is one of those books you finish and say, “Wow.” Then you drop it in the lap of the next person who tries to convince you that “intellectual conservatism” is “dead.”
Matthew Continetti is the associate editor of The Weekly Standard and author, most recently, of The Persecution of Sarah Palin (Penguin Sentinel).
Is it cheating if i recommend books by people I know — not only know but like, and not only like but envy? I have an excuse. Each of the books was published this year, and each is a landmark in its own way; what I mean is, I’m pretty sure that each of them will be read and talked about and profited from a generation hence.
Michael Burlingame’s Abraham Lincoln: A Life (Johns Hopkins University Press) is the first multi-volume biography of Lincoln published in 50 years, and its appearance is the signal cultural legacy of the hapless Lincoln bicentennial that is now limping to a close. Burlingame very likely knows more about Lincoln than anyone who’s ever lived, including Mary Todd, and his biography, 20 years in the writing, has a revelation on every page, dug out during the biographer’s tireless research into musty libraries and forgotten attics that no one has ever thought to look in before. If there’s anything knowable that you want to know about Lincoln, this is the place to find it.
Joe Queenan is known by readers of this publication and numberless others as a funny writer, and Closing Time: A Memoir (Viking Adult) is a funny book. It’s also something more, though — I was going to say, something unexpected. But Queenanians have always sensed the depth that lurked beneath his jokes; the reservoir of knowledge, thoughtfulness, and sympathy (really) is what makes the jokes so good. Here the deeps are opened up. I think it’s the best memoir I’ve read since Growing Up (Signet) by Russell Baker, though it’s funnier and tougher, and like Baker’s book it will take its place as an American classic — extravagant praise that should embarrass Queenan but probably won’t.
Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West (Doubleday) has mussed the hair and raised the hackles — assuming you can do both at once — of Europe’s decaying intellectual class, which has underwritten and apologized for the campaign of unilateral cultural disarmament that Caldwell describes with clinical precision. The book’s tone is cool and even detached, but it seethes too, unmistakably. You can read it for its grand thesis but also for the obiter dicta. Line for line it has more surprising, inventive, and true observations than almost any book I can think of. (Democracy in America is the only one that comes readily to mind — and I know what I’m saying when I say that.) Another classic. That makes three this year!
Gratitude and good taste require that I also recommend, as a stocking stuffer, the latest book from the man who gave me my first real job in the magazine business. For years people have been wondering when Bob Tyrrell would put together a collection of his great magazine column, The Continuing Crisis. Louis Hatchett, admirer and Hoosier, finally did it for him — modesty having prevented Tyrrell from doing the job himself — and I don’t need to tell you, Mr. and Mrs. Spectator Reader, how good it is. Seeing it all piled up between covers only confirms my opinion that the 40 years of Crisis constitute one of the most sublime performances in the history of American journalism. Only the oeuvre of James “Scotty” Reston comes close. (Joke!) Seriously, though: pick it up and read, say, the entry for November 1987 (page 136) if you want to see the antic heights that our language, in the hands of an inspired master, can sometimes reach.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?