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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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An Abuse of Discretion, An Issue Unresolved

By 1.21.14

This week’s annual March for Life in Washington, Obama’s HHS mandate, and the ongoing battle over state regulation of abortion clinics offer evidence that the matter of abortion remains unresolved in the body politic. Even liberal feminist Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has expressed regret over Roe v. Wade, claiming “it seemed to have stopped the momentum on the side of change.” Whether change is going her way is an interesting question.

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The Great American Novel

By From the December 2013 issue

Norman Mailer: A Double Life
By J. Michael Lennon

(Simon & Schuster, 948 pages, $40)

This thick block of a book is packed with facts, literary analysis, and well-drawn portraits of the people who played roles in Norman Mailer’s life and career, all written in a carefully modulated and steady prose, with no wasted words.

J. Michael Lennon, professor emeritus of English at Wilkes University, met Norman Mailer in 1972, and since that meeting has been involved in collecting, collating, and editing various Mailer works. As Mailer’s literary executor, he is now editing Mailer’s correspondence for publication.

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Royalties and Royal Ties

By From the December 2013 issue

Mr. Churchill’s Profession: The Statesman as Author and the Book That Defined the “Special Relationship"
By Peter Clarke

(Bloomsbury Press, 347 pages, $30)

Churchill and the King: The Wartime Alliance of Winston Churchill and George VI
By Kenneth Weisbrode

(Viking, 208 pages, $26.95)

The same question has been asked of almost every book on Winston Churchill published over the past three decades (excepting Sir Martin Gilbert’s official biography): Do we really need another book on Churchill? When the book in question is of the caliber of Peter Clarke’s Mr. Churchill’s Profession or Kenneth Weisbrode’s Churchill and the King, the answer is yes indeed.

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Get Smart

By From the December 2013 issue

Smart Power: Between Diplomacy and War
By Christian Whiton

(Potomac Books, 304 pages, $29.95)

Christian Whiton is a man with his country in mind. A shrewd patriot and a master of national security history, he is intent on a root-and-branch reform of America’s foreign policy. Indeed, he would not only renovate some of the current principles of foreign policy as it has been recently practiced, but also clean out the stovepipe bureaucracies of our current foreign policy establishment in order to mobilize and coordinate smart power to vindicate American national interests. His sense of urgency stems from the fact that “the closer one gets to…the biggest challenges to U.S. security—especially China, Iran, and Islamism—the more one must contend…with reasons why we should do nothing.” He concludes that the State Department cannot lead the reform, not least because it is the oldest, most ossified labor union in America.