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The Literary Sportsman Scores

By 2.23.15

Masters of the Games: Essays and Stories on Sport
By Joseph Epstein
(Rowman & Littlefield, 309 pages, $24.95)

You could probably fit everyone who can discourse in an equally learned and entertaining way about both Marcel Proust and Jake LaMotta into Joseph Epstein’s living room with space left over. That’s because, as far as I’m aware, Epstein is the only writer doing this for our benefit today. Read Epstein’s 25th book, Masters of the Games, and my guess is you’ll agree.

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America in Retreat

By 2.10.15

Bret Stephens has written not just a good book on American foreign policy. He has written an important book.

As Islamic radicalism rampages through the Middle East on a global drive to create a caliphate, the Chancellor of Germany is trying to deal with Vladimir Putin’s aggressions in the Ukraine, the Chinese navy is on track to outnumber the U.S. Navy by 2020, and America’s allies have understandable doubts about America’s lack of resolve, not to mention U.S. credibility. That doesn’t even touch the Iranian mullahs and their relentless drive to possess nuclear weapons. Or the craziness that goes on in North Korea.

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‘Treasure Planet’ Is a Delightful Mashup

By 1.15.15

“Well, I suppose a human being isn’t the best judge. You humans do it differently from us. We are not kind. But deep down you are utterly ferocious on a level we Kzin can’t reach. All the truly frightful things you can’t face, you let your subconscious handle. That’s how you beat us. Only you don’t see it, you won’t let yourself see it; you fool yourselves into thinking there’s something nice at your core. But down there in the id, you have a monster lurking, little Peter. You can’t see it, but I can.”

If you were to hold a cutlass to my throat and force me to name the greatest adventure story ever written, I’m pretty sure I’d have to say Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. I’ll never forget how much I loved it as a boy; how deeply satisfying it was at a primal level. Better yet, it still works when I return to it as an adult. Other great adventure books were written before and have been written since, but Treasure Island just rings true. It’s hard to imagine a way to make it better.

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Who Was Dalton Trumbo, Screenwriter and Stalinist?

By 1.6.15

Dalton Trumbo: Blacklisted Hollywood Radical
By Larry Ceplair and Christopher Trumbo.
(University of Kentucky Press, 640 pages, $36)

One of the dangers for a biographer, particularly when his subject shares the same ideology, is to display his love for him. This temptation is never more true for the Cold War Left and New Left than with regard to Dalton Trumbo — the author of the anti-war classic, Johnny Got His Gun, and the screenwriter who singlehandedly broke the blacklist.

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Christmas Books

By 12.10.14

This year, Christmas shopping may be an especially welcome respite from the ugly events going on across the country, as mobs take to the streets because grand juries that examined evidence reached different conclusions from those reached by mobs who made up their minds without examining that evidence.

Perhaps more than in other years, shopping malls can become shopping mauls. One of the ways to make Christmas shopping less stressful is to give books as presents — after ordering them on the Internet. There is a good crop of new books to choose from this year, as well as some old favorites that can make good gifts.

For people concerned about current racial issues, Jason Riley’s new book Please Stop Helping Us cuts through so much of the current toxic rhetoric spread by politicians, hustlers and media pundits. It is amazing how refreshing plain English and common sense can be, especially when backed up with hard facts that are seldom discussed in the mainstream media.

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The Cold War in Retrospect: How Historians Still Get It Wrong

By 12.2.14

Myths of the Cold War: Amending Historiographic Distortions
By Albert L. Weeks
(Lexington Books, 154 pages, $76)

Are Western historians going soft on the Cold War that the Russians waged against the West for 45 years? A new look at trends in this gray area of history indicates that many writers and younger generations now contend the threat of hostilities, including nuclear exchanges, can be blamed primarily on American post-war posture, not solely on that of the Russians.

But historian Albert Weeks, a former State Department official and long-time academic, has produced a concise and polemical book to confront this “lamentable historiographic distortion.” Now 91 and retired in Florida, he seeks to set the record straight.

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The Bush Family Ties

By 11.21.14

George W. Bush’s critics, if they bother to read 41: Portrait of My Father, will likely complain that what the book shows best is nepotism, the doors that can be opened by tribal connections. To the less cynical eye, however, this volume is a testament to the meaning and value of the institution of the family.

It is not a stretch to say that the book is, as much as anything else, a storehouse of examples of parents shaping children’s lives—from George W.’s opening dedication to his father and mother, to the last paragraph, which reveals his grandmother’s enduring influence. “George H.W. Bush is a great President and an even better father,” his son writes at the beginning of the book. If this comment seems surprising, remember that the elder Bush, when asked about his most important accomplishment, said, “The children still come home.”

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Paul Likes Ike — We Should Too

By 11.13.14

Eisenhower: A Life
By Paul Johnson
(Viking, 136 pages, $28.95)

Paul Johnson’s short book on the long and consequential life of Dwight Eisenhower might well have been entitled, Ike: A Quick Review. Or perhaps, Eisenhower: a Primer. It’s far too elegantly written to be, Ike: The CliffsNotes. But I’m sure the notes on some other Eisenhower biographies take up about as much space as this 123-page (less Further Reading and index) mini-bio. It’s Eisenhower for people who are double-parked.

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A Lady With the Spark of Wit

By From the Sept/Oct 2014 issue

The Informed Air: Essays
By Muriel Spark
(New Directions, 352 pages, $24.95)

How do you do it?” asked Evelyn Waugh in a letter to Muriel Spark. He had just finished reading The Bachelors, her fifth novel, and was “dazzled” by it. “Most novelists find there is one kind of book they can write (particularly humorous novelists) and go on doing it with variations until death. You seem to have an inexhaustible source.”

How did Spark do it? Twenty-two novels and not a dud in the bunch. And then there are the critical biographies, plays for stage and radio, a children’s book, a volume of memoir, and collections of short stories and poetry. Spark, known for her wit, dark humor, and versatility, was the queen bee of the postmodernists, and arguably one of the most innovative British novelists writing in the second half of the twentieth century.