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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. 

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Reading the Reformist Manifesto

By From the Sept/Oct 2014 issue

Room to Grow: Conservative Reforms For a Limited Government and a Thriving Middle Class
By Peter Wehener, Yuval Levin, et al.
(YG Network, 121 pages, Free)

Conservatism, properly understood, requires a healthy respect for the past as well as a clear-eyed appraisal of the present. So on paper, reform conservatism—billed by proponents as a movement to find new ways to apply conservative principles to contemporary problems—should appeal.

Many conservatives, however, find reform conservatism elitist, if they think of it at all. In the movement’s earliest iterations shortly after Barack Obama was elected president, it seemed to be pitched as a self-conscious alternative to the kind of conservatism embodied by the Tea Party.

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The Mattera-Hannan Treatment

By 10.9.14

When you pick up Jason Mattera’s eye-opening new book Crapitalism and Daniel Hannan’s masterful Inventing Freedom, you wouldn’t expect such different works to lead you to the same destination. But despite the former being about “Liberals who make millions swiping your tax dollars” and the latter being the story of “how the English-speaking peoples made the modern world,” each leaves the reader with a palpable combination of anger and inspiration at what the U.S. could be as compared to what it currently is.

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Ecuador, Chevron, and the Leftist Lawyer Who Stopped at Nothing

By 10.7.14

Law of the Jungle: The $19 Billion Dollar Legal Battle Over Oil in the Rain Forest and the Lawyer Who’d Stop at Nothing to Win It
By Paul M. Barrett
(Crown, 304 pages)

As Eric Hoffer observed, “Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket.” In Law of the Jungle, Paul Barrett, an assistant managing editor and senior writer for Bloomberg Businessweek, tells the story of how a crusade to clean up oil pollution in the Amazonian jungle followed that inevitable trajectory, turning into a corrupt enterprise that appears to have failed to accomplish what it set out to do. That’s because the lawyer running the show, Steven Donziger, turned the case into a cause for which, as the subtitle has it, he stopped at nothing.     

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Malice Toward None

By 9.25.14

America was divided, seemingly irreconcilably so. On March 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln took the oath to begin his second term as President of the United States. In the presence of an audience that included both his soon-to-be assassin John Wilkes Booth and the abolitionist, one-time slave Frederick Douglass, Lincoln delivered his second inaugural address. A speech that would exceed in eloquence even his own Gettysburg Address. Both are today inscribed on the walls of the Lincoln Memorial.

Jack E. Levin, whose first book Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address Illustrated was reviewed here back in 2010, has once again delivered a remarkable line-by-line examination of a Lincoln speech central to American values.

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The Book on Late-Talking Children

By 9.16.14

Anyone who knows what anxiety, and sometimes anguish, parents go through when they have a child who is still not talking at age two, three, or even four, can appreciate what a blessing it can be to have someone who can tell them what to do — and what not to do.

That someone is Professor Stephen Camarata of the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, whose recently published book, Late-Talking Children, gives parents information and advice that they are not likely to find anywhere else. And it does so in plain English.

Professor Camarata has been researching, diagnosing, and treating children with speech problems for decades. Moreover, he knows from personal experience what it is like to be a parent of a late-talking child, and he himself was three and a half years old before he began to speak. So he has seen this problem from many angles.

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Otto Confronts Slava

By 8.29.14

Slava Gelman emigrated to America from the Soviet Union when he was only a child. Though the rest of his family lives in South Brooklyn, he barely sees them; he lives alone in an almost empty apartment on the Upper East Side, where he desperately attempts to strip himself of his Russian Jewish roots. He does these things because he believes he will eventually be published in Century, the New Yorker-esque magazine where Slava works as an assistant for what seems to be their version of Andy Borowitz.

But one morning, Slava gets a call from his mother: his grandmother, who he loved best of his family and who he has barely seen for the past year, has died. She died alone in her hospital room, at a time when, even a year ago, Slava might have been with her. Though he is on the cusp of finally achieving publication at Century, it no longer matters; the person for whom he wanted that success is gone. He abandoned her for nothing.