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Fun at the Old Ballpark

By 3.25.14

A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred 

By George Will 

(Crown Archetype, 
223 pages, $25)

T.S. Eliot, who in his later years sounded more British than the British, was actually born in St. Louis and by all rights should have been a Cardinals fan. He could have been diverted in his middle years by Dizzy Dean, Pepper Martin, Ducky Medwick, and the rest of the highly entertaining Gas House Gang. But no. Our Thomas Stearns packed off to Old Blighty, there to become a poet, essayist, editor, and all around purveyor of High Culture.

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Our Prophet 
of Peace

By From the March 2014 issue

By A. Scott Berg

(Putnam, 832 pages, $40)

This is an interesting book about a very interesting subject, on whom the needle of agreed judgment has failed, more agitatedly than with most American presidents, to settle on a consensus. To his detractors, Woodrow Wilson was a naïve interloper, infusing deadly serious strategic considerations with sophomoric nonsense about “open covenants openly arrived at”; a hyper-righteous, puritanical Presbyterian inflicting absurd restraints on America’s natural allies for the benefit of her enemies; an innocent abroad in a diplomatic Babylon whose ineffectual, feckless amateurism inadvertently assisted dictatorial aggression and the development and spread of totalitarianism. His positions of “watchful waiting” and “being too proud to fight” were just pusillanimous humbug.

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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.