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The Great American Novel

By From the December 2013 issue

Norman Mailer: A Double Life
By J. Michael Lennon

(Simon & Schuster, 948 pages, $40)

This thick block of a book is packed with facts, literary analysis, and well-drawn portraits of the people who played roles in Norman Mailer’s life and career, all written in a carefully modulated and steady prose, with no wasted words.

J. Michael Lennon, professor emeritus of English at Wilkes University, met Norman Mailer in 1972, and since that meeting has been involved in collecting, collating, and editing various Mailer works. As Mailer’s literary executor, he is now editing Mailer’s correspondence for publication.

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Royalties and Royal Ties

By From the December 2013 issue

Mr. Churchill’s Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book That Defined the “Special Relationship"
By Peter Clarke

(Bloomsbury Press, 347 pages, $30)

Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI
By Kenneth Weisbrode

(Viking, 208 pages, $26.95)

The same question has been asked of almost every book on Winston Churchill published over the past three decades (excepting Sir Martin Gilbert’s official biography): Do we really need another book on Churchill? When the book in question is of the caliber of Peter Clarke’s Mr. Churchill’s Profession or Kenneth Weisbrode’s Churchill and the King, the answer is yes indeed.

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Get Smart

By From the December 2013 issue

Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War
By Christian Whiton

(Potomac Books, 304 pages, $29.95)

Christian Whiton is a man with his country in mind. A shrewd patriot and a master of national security history, he is intent on a root-and-branch reform of America’s foreign policy. Indeed, he would not only renovate some of the current principles of foreign policy as it has been recently practiced, but also clean out the stovepipe bureaucracies of our current foreign policy establishment in order to mobilize and coordinate smart power to vindicate American national interests. His sense of urgency stems from the fact that “the closer one gets to…the biggest challenges to U.S. security—especially China, Iran, and Islamism—the more one must contend…with reasons why we should do nothing.” He concludes that the State Department cannot lead the reform, not least because it is the oldest, most ossified labor union in America. 

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Christmas Books

By 12.10.13

As Christmas approaches, the shopping mall can become a shopping maul. One of the ways of buying gifts for family and friends, without becoming part of a mob scene in the stores, is to shop on the Internet. However, for many kinds of gifts, you want to be able to see it directly, and perhaps handle it, before you part with your hard-earned cash for it.

One gift for which that is unnecessary is a book. Books are ideal Christmas presents from the standpoint of saving wear and tear on the buyer.

There are the traditional coffee table books, featuring marvelous photographs by Ansel Adams or the moving human scenes in the paintings of Norman Rockwell, both of which are very appropriate books for the holiday season. But there are also more serious, or even grim, books that some people will appreciate as they read them in the new year.

One of these latter kinds of books is the recently published "Why We Won't Talk Honestly About Race" by Harry Stein. It is a bracing dose of truth, on a subject where sugarcoated lies have become the norm.

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Lewis and the Technocracy

By 12.6.13

The fiftieth anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s death has come and gone, perhaps little-noticed by many who were busy memorializing John F. Kennedy, murdered by an assassin on the same day, or rereading Aldous Huxley, who passed away hours later. Most of the encomiums to Lewis that were written focused on his apologetics and his children’s fiction, the Chronicles of Narnia series.

But Lewis wrote fiction for adults too. His best novel, That Hideous Strength, was published in 1945 as the third installment in his science fiction Space Trilogy. Whereas the first two novels, Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra, follow the interplanetary travels of the professor Elwin Ransom, That Hideous Strength takes place almost entirely on earth and stars academics Mark and Jane Studdock, with Ransom playing a secondary role.

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Baby You’re a Rich Man

By 12.4.13

Beatles vs. Stones
By John McMillian
(Simon & Schuster, 320 pages)

The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones is a debate long waged, with cases mounted in high school cafeterias and counterarguments teased out in the basement dens of baby boomers. Contrarian dorm rats pick apart "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "When I'm Sixty-Four" while championing the obscure Mellotron moans of Their Satanic Majesties Request. Ragged copies of The White Album rub grooves with beat-up pressings of Beggars Banquet. Idealism and realism, order and chaos, innovation and authenticity; comparisons between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones reduce to hyperbole fraught with clichés.

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When Neither Lunch Nor Speech Is Free

By 12.3.13

The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Homes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America
By Thomas Healy
(Metropolitan Books, 336 pages, $14.99)

Those of us who review books for fun and profit rarely go back to read a tome a second time. We give a review our best shot and then move on. So many books, so little time. But with this biography I have gone back to it again because of a nagging doubt I had with its very title. 

Did that whited sepulcher for civil libertarians, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes Jr., really change his mind on free speech? And has the constitutional guarantee of free speech really changed? And if not, as I suspect, just how great a dissent could his carefully hedged demur in a 1919 sedition case have been? 

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The Shadow of Debt

By 12.2.13

Riots, massive unemployment, hyperinflation, savings accounts wiped out, financial markets in chaos — these are potential scenarios for America’s future, but exactly when and how the nation’s debt crisis will unravel is still a matter of speculation. Most economists doubt that the United States will soon experience the kind of catastrophic meltdown that struck Greece in recent years, but the U.S. national debt is now more than $17 trillion and growing, with no plans to pay it back. The national debt, which was about $11 trillion when President Obama took office, is now larger than America’s annual gross domestic product (GDP), and is expected to increase by about $700 billion in the next year.

Even though budget sequestration has slowed the rate of deficit spending, the federal government continues hemorrhaging red ink, and the national debt will be nearly $20 trillion by the time Obama leaves office in January 2017. America already has the ninth worst debt-to-GDP ratio in the world, and the piling up of unpaid debt cannot continue forever, says Murray Holland.

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