“Be careful how you make those statements, gentleman.” Barack Hussein Obama had been president of the United States for all of two months. He was lecturing the titans of American finance who were struggling to explain to him, a man with no meaningful business experience, how high salaries are necessary if American companies are to compete for talent in a global market.
“The public isn’t buying that,” scoffed the president. He wasn’t talking about the public, though. “My administration,” he warned, “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” The pitchforks: that’s his public.
Buy the Book
A Literary Education and Other Essays
By Joseph Epstein
(Axios Press, 636 pages, $24)
Word has gotten around. Most who appreciate the form agree that Joseph Epstein turns out the best essays—of the literary or familiar kind—of any writer on active duty today. It would be false modesty if Epstein should deny this. So he jokes in the introduction to this latest essay collection that he has so often heard or read, “Arguably Epstein is the best essayist writing in English,” that to cash in on the acclaim he’s considering changing his name to Arguably Epstein. (His friends, he says, may call him Arguably.)
Sagebrush Rebel: Reagan’s Battle With Environmental Extremists and Why It Matters Today
By William Perry Pendley
(Regnery Publishing, 256 pages, $27.95)
In the late 1970s, the policies of the Carter Administration and its Department of the Interior generated an angry response from the Western States, including Colorado, which then had a Democratic Governor. That response became known as the “Sagebrush Rebellion” and contributed to the election of President Reagan.
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.”
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).
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.
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.
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.