Our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers.
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IT IS A particular pleasure to be able, in full conscience, to recommend the books of three friends for Christmas. For topicality as we enter a presidential election year, I suggest After America: Get Ready for Armageddon (Regnery) by the great Mark Steyn, now a cultural and virtually a folk figure. He is one of America’s greatest bloggers, has a huge following for his ever-moving printed columns, actually raises the ratings of Rush Limbaugh when he sits in for him on his radio program, and After America is a fitting sequel for his best-selling America Alone.
This book adopts the parlance of Belshazzar’s Feast that America “has been weighed in the balance and has been found wanting,” from the Book of Daniel. All of the failings of the West have been trotted out hilariously, but in a relentlessly gloomy sequence, and with startling illustrations. In the year following the $800 billion Obama stimulus plan, unemployment grew by 2.5 million, despite the addition of 416,000 federal employees. The failings of the service economy, the erosion of U.S. influence in the world, the onslaught of the “conformicrats,” the impending bankruptcy of almost the entire public sector, the collapsed birthrate, rampant obesity (only Samoans and Kuwaitis are fatter than Americans), are all familiar subjects but are presented here in a novel way, and even the secession of some of the states is not ruled out. Fortunately, just as many readers approach the end of the book and may consider putting themselves on suicide watch coming up to New Year’s, Mark Steyn has some useful suggestions for catastrophe avoidance. It’s a rattling good read.
For uplifting history, to put the reader in mind of how much can be achieved by a motivated West with inspired leadership, The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War (Harper) by the eminent, though youngish, British historian Andrew Roberts, is probably the best one-volume history of World War II now available. The strategic genius of Roosevelt and Churchill in encouraging Stalin to take more than 90 percent of the casualties in fighting Hitler, as between the three major allies, while snatching Germany, France, Italy, and Japan, all hostile dictatorships at the end of 1940, back into the West as democratic allies, is rigorously but very readably recounted. The challenge of presenting such an immense drama without lurching syncopatedly between theaters and between command decisions and grinding it out in combat action, is managed very smoothly by this consummately skilled and fluent historian.
For those minded to observe the Christmas season on a more ecclesiastical note, I recommend Edward Short’s Newman and His Contemporaries (T&T Clark Int’l), a familiar subject approached from a new angle. Newman’s relations with his Teractarian allies as an Anglican and after his reception as a Roman Catholic roll quite effortlessly into his relations with what he called “the talent of the day.” The fear that the British Victorian gentry and aristocracy had of the intellectual seduction of Rome, especially when the temptation was limned out by Newman in all his rigor, brilliance, charm, and articulation, is very striking.
Newman’s reflections on 60 years of British prime ministers, from Peel and Melbourne to Disraeli and Salisbury, are also fascinating. Newman found Gladstone “earnest but unamiable,” but thought Disraeli a somewhat down-market novelist and a political conjurer and sharper, but seemed not to warm to his shared qualities of humor, irony, and flamboyant wit, though he did give him great credit for his diplomatic triumph at the Congress of Berlin in 1878.
Finally, from a recently deceased author I did not know, William J. Stuntz of Harvard, I recommend The Collapse of American Criminal Justice (Belknap), a brilliantly scholarly but highly readable account of the evolution of American justice to its present state of extreme uneven and over-persecution, over-sentencing, racial unfairness, and the severe curtailment of the civil rights guarantees of the Bill of Rights. The pattern is traced carefully, statistically, and historically, but without making the narrative disagreeably dry. And it concludes with some very learned and persuasive practical suggestions for reform.
All four of these fine books will generously reward the Christmastime reader.
Conrad Black is most recently the author of A Matter of Principle (McClelland & Stewart). His earlier books include Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Champion of Freedom and Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full, both published by PublicAffairs Books.
SOME BOOKS are conservative, some books are liberal, and some books can break either way. Tristram Shandy, for instance. If you’re a conservative, Laurence Sterne’s classic 18th-century comedy reads like a conservative romp through a morality tale. If you’re a liberal, it reads like a postmodern deconstruction of the whole idea of morality tales.
For that matter, if you happen to be a Venusian—trembling in the watery depths of the second planet as you wait for the apocalyptic return of the Great Old Ones—Tristram Shandy probably seems a comic ride through the social manners of Venus. Some books are mirrors, and we see in them what we bring to them.
Still, there exist genuinely conservative books—monoliths, instead of mirrors—from Donoso Cortés’s 1851 Essay on Catholicism, Liberalism, and Socialism to Richard Weaver’s 1948 Ideas Have Consequences. Most of them are too well known to require recommending. Do you really need somebody to tell you to take a look at Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom? Or Allan Bloom’s The Closing of the American Mind? Or Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square? They’re typical Christmas recommendations for young conservatives, books like training wheels for those just starting out in conservative reading.
So here are five lesser-known choices—five books you may not have read, if you’re a conservative, but ought to read, if you’re a conservative. Ought to read if you’re a liberal, as far as that goes, although the odds are that you won’t.
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?