What We’re Reading: May Edition

By on 5.19.14 | 1:47PM

After a short hiatus, we're back with what we're reading:

Matthew Walther, Assistant Editor and Book Reviewer

John Lahr, Tennessee Williams. This very readable life of the playwright, with whose work I have never had much sympathy, by an old New Yorker drama hand has an interesting pre-history. It is, technically, the second volume of an earlier biography whose publication was delayed by Williams's estate. Still in galley, but something to look forward to in September.

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I’m Moving On

By 5.14.14

An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of States: How Taxes, Energy, and Worker Freedom Change Everything
By Arthur B. Laffer, Stephen Moore, Rex A. Sinquefield, and Travis H. Brown
(Wiley, 368 pages, $29.95)

We move around. About half of Americans live in a state other than the one in which they were born. It might be painful to pick up stakes and head to a new town, in a new state, but sometimes the emotional costs of staying put exceed the costs of relocating. And so we move. It’s like a game of checkers, where someone shakes up the board, and half the pieces stay where they were and half move over to a new square.

Shelf Life

Bring On the Anti-Gravity Shield!

By 5.9.14

The Perfect Theory: A Century of Geniuses and the Battle over General Relativity
By Pedro G. Ferreira
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 288 pages, $28)

On November 25, 1915, Einstein presented his new equations to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in a short three-page paper,” this author tells us. Thus was the General Theory of Relativity born, after of course some years of gestation in Einstein’s remarkable brain.

With the centenary of that event almost upon us, a historical survey is in order. In The Perfect Theory, Pedro Ferreira, a professor of astrophysics at Oxford University, has supplied one.

Shelf Life

Chinese Lives

By 4.23.14

Hard Road Home
By Ye Fu

(Ragged Banner Press, 176 pages, $17)

Taking humanity at large, perhaps the greatest service any person of our time could perform for future generations would be to bring rational, consensual government to China. That such a populous nation, with such high general levels of industriousness and intelligence, and with such a glittering cultural legacy, should be ruled by a clique of gangsters who do not even believe their own professed ideology, is a civilizational tragedy. It is also a danger to the rest of us.

All honor and glory, then, to those Chinese who speak up for an open society at the cost of their own careers and liberty—and still sometimes, even today, their lives.

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11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative

By 4.17.14

The 2014 election season dawns, with 2016 closing close behind that.

Make book that before both are over, the most quoted or cited person in Republican campaigns — and not infrequently in Democrat campaigns as well — will be Ronald Reagan.

There is a reason for this, as Reagan biographer — and American Spectator contributor — Paul Kengor notes in his newest Reagan book 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. In addition to being a prolific Reagan scholar, Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College and the executive director of the college’s Center for Vision & Values.

Why is this book important — a classic — particularly as the next two elections loom?

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King Barack’s Crown Government

By 4.15.14

The federal government threatens a Nevada rancher with the loss of his private property. A Long Island man loses his life to Obamacare while a Virginia woman’s family says, “Obamacare killed my sister." IRS bureaucrat Lois Lerner is held in contempt of Congress, having emerged as the key figure in a scheme to deprive conservatives of their rights.

Shelf Life

21st Century Spock

By 4.11.14

The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting
By Alfie Kohn

(Da Capo, 280 pages, $25.99)

Child-raising is something everyone can have an opinion about. We were all children once. We interacted with other children—siblings, classmates. If we are middle-aged, we have probably raised children of our own. Many of us have worked as teachers, struggling to engage with half-formed juvenile minds. Practically everyone has a good base of experience to opine from.

Alfie Kohn’s opinions are of the type that flatters itself as “progressive,” the idea being that we should cast away old, bad ways of doing things and embrace new, good ones. The particular old, bad ways he urges us to reject—what he calls “the traditionalist sensibility”—include punishment, deference to adults, competitive games, rewards for achievement, graded examinations, science fairs, encouragement of “grit,” and, yes, dodge ball.

Shelf Life

I Think Therefore I Am…What?

By 3.28.14

Thinking: The New Science of Decision-Making, Problem-Solving, and Prediction
Edited by John Brockman
(Harper Perennial, 432 pages, $10.90)

Before mass media came up in the mid-twentieth century there was the public lecture, at which some person of eminence or accomplishment would address a hall full of curious citizens. The Internet equivalent is supplied by nonprofit foundations like and, which spread interesting ideas by inviting thinkers to give online talks.

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Escaping Economic Frenzy

By 3.26.14

Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society
By John Horvat II
(York Press, 400 pages, $21.95)

America has been on a “never-ending party cruise” for decades, according to John Horvat II, and the economic crash of 2008 was evidence that the hedonistic pursuit of consumer thrills cannot continue indefinitely. In this sense, our $17 trillion-dollar national debt stands as an indictment not merely of our federal government, but of the irresponsible attitudes of the American people, who have likewise piled up debt to fund their “unsustainable” lifestyles.