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John Dickinson, the Opposite of Chickenhawk

By 3.21.14

The Cost of Liberty: The Life of John Dickinson
By William Murchison
(ISI Books, 252 pages, $25)

Nearly a decade after the Orange Revolution, Ukrainians removed the man they had installed just a few years after it. Such is the perpetual fate of popular uprisings. From the English Civil War to the French Revolution to the Arab Spring, worse replaces bad. So when Founding Father John Dickinson urged caution on the colonists in cutting the chord to the Mother Country, he had history on his side. But 238 years later, he doesn’t appear on the side of history. 

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A Tiger of a Book

By 3.19.14

Professor Amy Chua of the Yale law school is better known as a “Tiger Mom” because of her take-no-prisoners, tough love approach to raising children. She and her husband Jed Rubenfeld (a fellow Yale law professor) have written what may turn out to be the best book of this year.

It is titled The Triple Package because it argues that three qualities are found in spectacularly successful groups in America. These three qualities, they say, are a superiority complex, insecurity, and impulse control.

Whether you buy their theory or not, you will be enormously enlightened by their attempts to prove it. In the process they shoot down many of the popular beliefs about upward mobility in America and about the kinds of people who succeed.

At a time when so many in academia and the media are proclaiming that the poor are no longer able to rise in America, Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld point out that a major research project on which that conclusion has been based left out immigrants.

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The Anti-Hillary Solution for Israel

By 3.5.14

The Israel Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East 
(Crown Forum, 324 pages, $25)
By Caroline Glick

Hillary Clinton essentially has been coronated the next Democratic nominee and first woman president of the United States 33 months before the 2016 election. This media-driven certainty ignores her many negatives, including the Benghazi debacle on her watch, the circus sideshow of her husband Bill, her tendency to give off an unlikable vibe, and the possibility that another green amateur could swoop in out of nowhere to defeat her in the primaries like Barack Obama did in 2008.

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A New Russia Roadmap

By 2.25.14

To the casual observer, the past three years in Russia have been particularly mystifying — bold protest marches, campaigns calling the Duma majority “crooks and thieves,” the imprisonment of some, but not all, leading dissidents, and gulag time for the outrageous Pussy Riot girls. Russia’s own Islamic jihadists even threatened to blow up Sochi during the Winter Olympics.

But President Vladimir Putin carries on, outwardly unperturbed.

Now, along comes the book we need, a kind of roadmap of what has been going on inside Russia while we were confused. Kicking the Kremlin: Russia’s New Dissidents and the Battle to Topple Putin reveals the strengths and the weaknesses of the current Kremlin team and explains, in conclusion, why Putin cannot be toppled. Yet.

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Absolut Prose

By From the January-February 2014 issue

The Trip to Echo Spring: Why Writers Drink
By Olivia Laing

(Picador, 340 pages. £20)

Here, on the fecund subject of drink, are two famous novelists:

I began writing in fearful earnest—my mind zoomed all night every night, and I don’t think I really slept for several years. Not until I discovered that whisky could relax me. I was too young, fifteen, to buy it myself, but I had a few older friends who were most obliging in this respect and I soon accumulated a suitcase full of bottles, everything from blackberry brandy to bourbon. 

Whatever part drink may play in the writer’s life, it must play none in his or her work.

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Let Them Eat Candy

By 2.15.14

Candy: A Century of Panic and Pleasure
By Samira Kawash
Faber, 416 pages, $27

I love candy. Last year I turned 21 and had my fun, but any pleasure gained from legal drink pales in comparison with the thrill I felt at 14; employed at a local butcher’s and deli, I would take my little paychecks and peruse the candy aisles. Charleston Chews, Haribo Gummi Bears, Necco Wafers, Sour Blue Raspberry Bubble Tape: The fruits of the modern world were mine. My tastes in clothes, poets, and people changed as I matured, but I continue to appreciate the sweet stuff.

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Portrait of a Lady

By From the January-February 2014 issue

Margaret Thatcher: Power and Personality
By Jonathan Aitken

(Bloomsbury, 764 pages, $35)

In his splendid Nixon: A Life (1993), the book many credit with setting in motion the serious reevaluation of Richard Nixon and his presidency, Jonathan Aitken writes in a note: “Nixon’s childhood duties as a junior shopkeeper bear an intriguing similarity to the upbringing of Margaret Thatcher….who was raised in a small, family grocery store in Grantham, Lincolnshire, working hard in both shop and school with after-hours tuition from her highly political father, Alderman Roberts.”

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