Part one of our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers. Today: Matthew Continetti, Artur Davis, Andrew Klavan, and Harvey Mansfield.
THE POST-ELECTION HOLIDAYS are a good time for conservatives to lick our wounds, reflect on the recent past, and contemplate new beginnings. My three recommendations describe the complicated realities of ethnic politics in America in the 21st century. Conservatives and Republicans have to grasp that the America of Ronald Reagan no longer exists.
First, there’s Tom Wolfe’s Back to Blood. Fans of Wolfe’s prose and sociological insight will not be disappointed as the master turns his gimlet eye to Miami.
Second, there’s Joel Kotkin’s The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. Kotkin argues against American decline. He says immigration from Asia and Latin America will be a force for dynamism, innovation, and prosperity. The challenge will be promoting social mobility and economic prosperity for aspirational Americans.
Third, there’s Thomas Sowell’s Ethnic America, which was first published in 1981. Sowell’s history of American ethnic groups, from Germans and Irish to blacks and Mexicans, is one of the most unlikely page-turners I’ve read. He traces ethnic groups from their first appearance in America to the beginning of the Reagan presidency. What he finds for all groups is improvement in material and social conditions over time. The rate of improvement varies between groups, and often can be interrupted by setbacks, but the United States of America still has been the greatest engine of upward mobility in human history. Someone needs to update Sowell’s book to account for all the ethnic groups that have been added to the mix.
The near future of American politics is likely to be characterized by conflict within and between ethnic groups. “In Miami, everybody hates everybody,” says a character in Back to Blood. In an age of austerity, the melting pot is likely to turn into a boiling pot. These books can serve as an education in ethnic politics. And they’ll go well with a post-election serving of humble pie.
Matthew Continetti is editor in chief of the Washington Free Beacon and a contributing editor to the Weekly Standard.
JONATHAN MAHLER’S Ladies and Gentlemen, The Bronx Is Burning is an undeservedly obscure pleasure. It describes, with a novelist’s acumen for detail, the passion play that was New York City in 1977, when a power blackout and the Son of Sam killing spree brought the city to the edge of a breakdown. Mahler adds to that canvas an epic, brutal mayoral election; the melodrama that was the New York Yankees chasing a title amidst the distraction of Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson blood feuding; and the decadence of the city’s counter-culture in the dawn before AIDS. There are a handful of writers who can seamlessly shift from the burlesque comedy of the Yankee locker room to Mario Cuomo on the cusp of political fame to a blow-by-blow of the dark hell of an urban blackout. This is an ambitious book that can double as a primer on how to transform the journalistic essay into book form. It is stunningly good.
Sean Wilentz’s The Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln is the coffee table tome that actually deserves to be read. It is massive, just under a thousand pages, too big to lug through an airport, but indispensable if one wants to relive the contours of American civic life from the founding of our constitutional democracy to its unraveling under the weight of slavery. This is not the Wilentz, by the way, whom conservatives learned to loathe during the Clinton impeachment saga and who penned an essay dubbing George Bush the “worst president”: it is instead the too-intoxicating-to-browse narrative of a judicious observer who conveys the interplay between ideas, personalities, and blind chance that always drives politics. And any conservatives who can’t get Wilentz’s past polemics out of their system should read the unblinking dissections in the New Republic and Newsweek he made of Barack Obama during the primaries in 2008: if Democrats had listened, the president would have spent the last four years as a chastened senator who aimed too high too soon.
Craig Shirley’s Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign That Changed America is proof that a 30-year campaign can unfold like a suspense novel if it has the right storyteller. This history of the 1980 campaign cycle is a gorgeous reminder that there was nothing inevitable about Reagan’s ascension: the country in the late ’70s was barely a quarter Republican, Edward Kennedy seemed an inevitable president, and the Republican establishment wagered its bets on Howard Baker, John Connally, and George H.W. Bush. How Reagan overcame those odds and refashioned conservatism for the modern era is an account that Shirley nails, and it is one that conservatives ought to read until it is hardwired into their brains. This is the single best book on an American election since Teddy White laid down his notepad.
Mark Frost’s Game Six: Cincinnati, Boston, and the 1975 World Series is so good that it creates the right kind of reader’s remorse: the wish that the author would keep going and tackle Muhammad Ali’s survival of Joe Frazier in Manila, or John McEnroe’s clash with Bjorn Borg at Wimbledon in 1980, or Jack Nicklaus’ last Masters win in 1986. Every sports epic in our youth deserves to be recreated with this level of skill. It is no small gift to breathe drama into the fine print of a game between largely forgotten men played out almost 40 years ago, but Frost does it. This is baseball at its peak, when 75 million Americans stayed up watching Carlton Fisk’s winning home run, when the World Series matched its pretentious title, and when the resolution of its championship was not a month-long bore.
Artur Davis is a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a fellow at Harvard’s Institute of Politics.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
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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?