Our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers.
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Andrew Ferguson is a senior editor at The Weekly Standard.
In A Country of Vast Designs: James K. Polk, The Mexican War and the Conquest of the American Continent (Simon & Schuster), Robert W. Merry accomplishes for President Polk what David McCullough achieved for John Adams: a revived interest and insight into an underrated one-term president whose courage, ambition, pride, difficult personality, and political guile made an impact on American history both profound and prophetic. Adams was a founding father and Polk completed the story of America’s Manifest Destiny. Merry, former editor in chief of Congressional Quarterly, captures the clashing debates of an earlier epoch with a practiced eye for their impact today.
If you like this book you’ll want to get his Taking on the World (Penguin), still available in used book stores, about the brothers Joseph and Stewart Alsop, whose robust journalism from the end of World War II to the end of the Vietnam War reminds us that the oft-tasteless and factless “columny” of today has a noble ancestry.
For those who want a break from the bells, whistles, and beeps of their cell phones, emails, and Twitters, The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science (Pantheon) by Richard Holmes offers intellectual respite as it recounts how science, technology, and the imagination joined forces at the end of the 18th century offering poetic wonder inside the latest technological advances. Think Keats looking through the latest telescope at a new planet and comparing the experience to his first reading of Homer.
If you know a young reader victimized by political correctness, whose school or college places Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad on the endangered species list for being “racist,” this wonderful novel written by a man whose first language was Polish is a pearl beyond price.
Suzanne Fields is a columnist with the Washington Times.
I’ll restrict my list this year to books either released within the past year or that became newly and particularly relevant in the past year. And they must be books that conservatives especially will want or need to read. That said, I heartily recommend the following:
Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America (Intercollegiate Studies Institute), by Craig Shirley. I was honored to have a front-row seat as a copy editor for Shirley’s masterful, exhaustingly and lovingly researched, absolutely definitive account of how Reagan went from defeat in 1976 to a stunning victory in 1980. What people forget today is how stunning, and hard-fought, Reagan’s landslide was. Of particular note are Shirley’s lively accounts of the full backstories behind the famous Nashua “I paid for the microphone” debate, the flirtation with the Reagan-Ford “dream ticket” that probably would have been a nightmare, and the debate briefing book purloined from Jimmy Carter’s campaign. Conservatives and historians will owe Shirley a debt of gratitude for decades for this book.
Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto (Threshold Editions), by Mark Levin. As a million-seller already, Levin’s book hardly needs a boost from me, but it is such an accessible and well-explained exposition of fundamental American political philosophy that everybody who loves this country should thank Levin for his efforts.
Life Without Lawyers: Liberating Americans from Too Much Law (W.W. Norton), by Philip K. Howard. On the heels of his best-selling The Death of Common Sense, reformer Howard makes an important case for reining in lawsuit abuse, cutting way back on bureaucracy, and restoring both authority and personal responsibility to teachers, principals, trial judges, and other people in what should be decision-making positions. In short, it’s more good old-fashioned common sense in a world too short on that virtue.
Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals (Vintage), by Saul Alinsky. Sorry to need to prescribe castor oil, but this evil tome has become essential reading for conservatives in order to understand what we’re up against. It’s uncanny, and not a little frightening, to recognize in this text the exact tactics — and, more eerily, often the exact same — language-used again and again by President Barack Obama and his minions. Conservatives should not adopt most of the tactics, because they are too underhanded for honorable people — but we can figure out how to overcome them. We also can and should learn from some of Alinsky’s acute insights into motivational psychology, which are no less applicable or acceptable for use for conservatives than for the radical left. In short, conservatives should not emulate Alinsky, but we must learn how to effectively do political battle against his disciples in the White House.
Up From the Cradle of Jazz: New Orleans Music Since World War II — new revised edition (University of Louisiana at Lafayette), by Jason Berry, Jonathan Foose, and the late Tad Jones. My friend Jason, anything but a conservative, might be appalled to be in the company of the books above — but his greatly expanded edition of this classic book of cultural musicology is a fascinating read from beginning to end and a great reminder of what a treasure my beleaguered hometown is, and why all Americans should care about this most personality-filled of American cities no matter how many political shortcomings it possesses. Jason Berry’s new, lengthy foreword is absolutely lyrical, and two new chapters at the end tell how the city’s musicians have done more than its politicians to bring the city back. As Jason writes: “Politics failed, culture prevailed.” That’s a good lesson for all of us, conservative and liberal alike.
Quin Hillyer is a senior editorial writer at the Washington Times and senior editor of The American Spectator.
Book publishing is such an odd business. Industry officials claim 90 percent of books never recoup their production costs. That is why it is so puzzling when publishers rush to sign authors who have a track record of writing books that fail to sell. Consider that former president Jimmy Carter has delivered more bombs than the Israeli Air Force, yet publishers continue sending book contracts his way.
I read biographies and nonfiction books that deliver new information in a thoughtful and sometimes innovative manner. But I do have standards regarding what I read. I have no interest in tomes written by a bitter, aging spinster working as a New York Times columnist; by a bimbo whose second-most infamous act was the failure to properly launder a protein-stained dress; or by a morbidly obese filmmaker who is only one all-you-can-eat buffet plate away from going “code blue” but has the gall to lecture others on optimal health practices.
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.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?
H/T to National Review Online