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John Wayne Rides Again

By 5.27.14

John Wayne: The Life and Legend
By Scott Eyman 

(Simon & Schuster, 658 pages, $32.50)

Scott Eyman’s large treatment of John Wayne’s very large life is worth the considerable time it requires to get through. It’s not the best of the large biographies of the Duke. Randy Roberts and James S. Olson’s John Wayne: American of 1995 remains the gold standard in this category. But it’s readable, it’s fair, it’s almost numbingly thorough, and it throws light on the man who was America when America was at its grandest. Eyman’s subject may have phrased it thus: “Don’t argue with me, Pilgrim. Just read the book.” 

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A Forgotten Waugh

By From the May 2014 issue

American literary feuds: meh. So Gore Vidal called Bill Buckley a “crypto-Nazi”? So Buckley retorted, “Listen, you queer, I’ll sock you in the goddamn face”? Kids’ stuff. John Updike gunning for Tom Wolfe? A mere gentlemen’s disagreement, old fellow.

Norman Mailer denouncing Mary McCarthy for, um, terminal femaleness? That was much ado about nothing (or, more precisely, it resembled Beatrice and Benedick).

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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

By From the May 2014 issue

What Should We Be Worried About?: Real Scenarios That Keep Scientists Up at Night
Edited by John Brockman

(Harper Perennial, 500 pages, $15.99)

Fifty-five years ago British novelist, mandarin, and ex-scientist C.P. Snow gave a lecture at Cambridge titled “The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution.” Snow deplored the mutual aloofness that, he said, existed between scientists and those educated in the humanities. The lecture set off a major public debate, and the phrase “two cultures” was for a time current all over the civilized world.

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Thomas Piketty’s ‘Le Capital’

By From the June 2014 issue

Capital in the Twenty-First Century
By Thomas Piketty 
Translated by Arthur Goldhammer 
(Belknap/Harvard, 685 pages, $39.95)

Thomas Piketty doesn’t seem like a man at the vanguard of a revolution. A professor at the Paris School of Economics, he is unassuming and soft-spoken, a clean-cut forty-something who prefers an open collar to a stuffy tie. Yet for months now his name has been on the lips of seemingly every would-be reformer in America.

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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.

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When America Had Too Few Bullets

By 4.29.14

The Burning Shore: How Hitler’s U-Boats Brought World War II to America
By Ed Offley
(Basic Books, 312 pages, $27.99)

When World War II got underway my father was not beyond draft age, but he was near the top of the range. In early 1942 Dad was married with one child and another on the way (my very own personal self). He was also working at a defense job at the local shipyard where liberty ships were being built. So he spent his war in Tampa dodging hot rivets rather than bullets.

But Dad was still in uniform. He signed on for port security duties with the Coast Guard auxiliary. I remember as a youngster looking through the family photo album and seeing a shot of Dad and another young man wearing what looked a lot like Navy chief petty officers’ uniforms walking down a pier. They were both packing .45s.

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A Study of Reading Habits

By From the April 2014 issue

By Rebecca Mead
(Crown, 304 pages, $25)

Here is a variation on a phrase you will encounter often in the course of reading about Middlemarch: “When I was such-and-such years old, I read Middlemarch for the first time.” Everything else unfolds from there.

This is, of course, very close to how Rebecca Mead opens My Life in Middlemarch, her literary memoir. But Mary Gordon used it in 1994, for her New York Times article “George Eliot, Dorothea, and Me.” Patricia Meyer Spacks used it in “The Power of Middlemarch,” an essay in a recent issue of Daedalus. Zadie Smith has used it in an interview. I’ve used it. I’m using it right now: I read Middlemarch for the first time at sixteen and I wrote in my journal that I was sure it would predict a miserable end for me. (It didn’t.)

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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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Padding the Résumé

By From the April 2014 issue

By Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes
(Crown, 448 pages, $26)

Groundhog day, all over again, and we’re already off and running. Out in front of the pack for 2016, just as in 2008, is HRC, which is what Hillary Clinton told Ellen DeGeneres to call her. Whatever she’s called, she’s still ahead in the polls and, as usual, a media favorite. But there are miles to go, and she’s dragging a heavy load of baggage from decades past, to say nothing of the new luggage acquired during her tenure at the State Department: a destabilized Middle East and North Africa, where we’ve abandoned old friends and made new enemies, and where those who once feared us now laugh.

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