From The American Spectator‘s December 2007-January 2008 issue: Part III of our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.
Robert D. Novak
The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years of Reporting in Washington by Robert D. Novak. Yes, I have broken the unwritten rule against an author recommending his own book (though I am told Jacques Barzun committed the same offense). But this is the only memoir I will ever publish, and I hope it would be enjoyable reading for the many political junkies who subscribe to The American Spectator.
The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression by Amity Shlaes. This is the book of the year: a terrific journalist’s insightful, unsentimental look, without blinders, at Franklin D. Roosevelt’s mean-spirited onslaught on public utilities, chicken pluckers, and other businessmen that unnecessarily prolonged the Great Depression.
Until Proven Innocent: Political Correctness and the Shameful Injustices of the Duke Lacrosse Rape Case by Stuart Taylor Jr. and KC Johnson. This is a fascinating account by a leading legal affairs writer and a history professor of the scandalous performance by a runaway prosecuting attorney. Beyond that, it lays bare the politically correct hypocrisy of academia and the news media.
Lords of the Land: The War For Israel’s Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar. Translated from the Hebrew by Vivian Eden. This is the eye-opening 2004 bestseller by two courageous Israelis, a prominent historian and a leading columnist. It exposes the prolonged military occupation and massive construction of settlements that pose such an obstacle to peace.
Witness by Whittaker Chambers. This epochal human narrative of the Cold War should be read by every American, and I shall always put it on my Christmas list. It is a wonderful spy story, an exposition of high-level politics, and an account of one courageous American surmounting pain and suffering in the Cold War.
Robert D. Novak is a nationally syndicated columnist and a commentator for Fox News.
I read biographies and history books for a living, and one of the best I have read in the past decade has been Conrad Black’s Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full. By no means a whitewash since Black points out some pertinent character failings of the president, this hugely well-researched, fluidly written, and above all highly intelligent book was a complete pleasure to read. It is long, but Nixon’s astonishing life deserves nothing less, and in Black he has found a generally sympathetic but above all judicious and engaging biographer.
Our very own Bob Tyrrell has also written about a president, but in The Clinton Crack-Up one realizes how far superior Nixon was to Bill Clinton in every possible way (not excluding personal honesty). For the U.S. to allow that couple back into the White House would be a clear sign that moral degeneracy faces your nation.
John Adamson’s The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I posits the revisionist view that it was the aristocracy who destroyed the Divine Right of Kings; a fascinating thesis strongly argued. In Michael Barone’s equally thought-provoking Our First Revolution, it is passionately argued that the template for the Founding Fathers’ revolt of 1776 was the Glorious Revolution of 1688-89 in Britain, and it puts that later upheaval into perfect perspective.
A truly gorgeous book for its sumptuous pictures, but also very well written, is Barney White-Spunner’s Horse Guards, a comprehensive 350-year history of the Blues and Royals, Britain’s two oldest and grandest cavalry regiments in the Household Division. A truly sumptuous book, which shows that for all the pomp and circumstance attached to those historic regiments, they are still tremendously effective fighting machines today.
Finally, Norman Podhoretz’s World War IV places the War on Terror squarely into its proper historical, political, and military perspectives, and provides a powerful reason for electing as your next president only someone who instinctively understands these vital truths.
Andrew Roberts is most recently the author of History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900.
Larry J. Sabato
The Prince by Machiavelli (1505). In The Prince, Machiavelli conveys the problems with the ruling class and suggests a series of solutions to bring about the reunification of Italy under the Medici family of Florence. Machiavelli suggests a variety of tactics for the prince to secure his power and argues that because humans are inherently evil, the ends are able to justify the means. Machiavelli proposes that politics and religion are separate and that future rulers should be concerned with securing power, not adhering to a strict moral code.
The Responsible Electorate: Rationality in Presidential Voting, 1936-1960 by V. O. Key, Jr. (1966). Through analyzing public opinion data and electoral returns, V.O. Key made the case for rationality in voters’ choice and suggested that voters choose to re-elect incumbents based on their performance in office.
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946). A work of fiction that closely mirrors the political life of Governor Huey Long of Louisiana, the novel tells the story of the rise and fall of southern governor Willie Stark. The story is narrated by Jack Burden, Stark’s political right hand, who is able to maintain his integrity while watching Stark rise to political power through dirty politics and back-room deals. In the end, Stark rises to political fame but pays a high price for his path to power.
The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay (1787 & 1788). Written during the years 1787 and 1788, the Federalist Papers eloquently argue for the ratification of the United States Constitution and explain why this new form of government was the best choice for America. Through 85 essays, Hamilton, Madison, and Jay explain how the government would function and explain the theory of democracy. While the papers were originally published in several New York newspapers to persuade New York citizens to ratify the Constitution, the papers remain perhaps the best documentation of the thinking of our Founding Fathers regarding the birth of American democracy.
Plunkitt of Tammany Hall by William L. Riordan (1905). This book provides a look into the world of big city “machine” politics from the first-person perspective. Journalist William L. Riordan published the series of interviews with George Washington Plunkitt, New York state senator and Tammany Hall ward boss.
A More Perfect Constitution by Larry J. Sabato (2007). This book will ask readers to set aside their own political loyalties, to look past the current “values” debates and hot-button issues, to consider this very real possibility: that the failure of the nation to update the Constitution and the structure of government it originally bequeathed to us is at the root of our current political dysfunction.
Larry J. Sabato is Center for Politics founder and Robert Kent Gooch Professor of Politics at the University of Virginia, and the author of over 20 books on the American political process, including Feeding Frenzy: How Attack Journalism Has Transformed American Politics. His latest book, A More Perfect Constitution: 23 Proposals to Revitalize Our Constitution and Make America a Fairer Country, is on sale now.
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.
Let me begin by saying Clarence Thomas has written what I consider the Best Book of The Year, which is not an accolade that I confer easily, as my book on Boy Clinton’s ribald life in retirement (and Hillary’s rise to presidential plausibility) is now out, The Clinton Crack-Up. Yet there you have it. My Grandfather’s Son: A Memoir is a powerful book about the racism that Thomas had to overcome both in the Jim Crow South and in the liberal Kultursmog: at Yale Law School, in official Washington, and before Senate confirmation hearings that were the most unjust assault on a presidential nominee in American history. Thomas’s memoir is also a powerful account of spiritual growth and the role faith can play in saving a man from certain destruction. This is a narrative on Justice Thomas’s growth from poverty, through 1960s radicalism, and on to public service at the highest level — a struggle that has left him the most noble figure in American public life today.
Another book I recommend purchasing this season is James Piereson’s Camelot and the Cultural Revolution. Drawing on a wide array of materials, Piereson offers an intriguing explanation of how the dominant American political movement in the 20th century, liberalism, declined into the adolescent anger that is now its essence. In sum and in fine, Piereson believes that the Kennedy assassination was a blow from which the liberals never recovered.
After writing a superb biography of FDR, Conrad Black has now taken up the challenge of Richard Nixon and in an engaging style supported by wide-ranging research removed the prefix “disgraced” from the president’s name. Black convinced many conservatives that Roosevelt deserved a more favorable appraisal than they had given him for generations. Will Black’s case for a more charitable appraisal of Nixon persuade any liberals? I have my doubts. They are very angry.
By the way, not all conservatives are willing to reassess FDR in a rosy light. Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression reveals how little FDR (and Herbert Hoover) knew about economics and how the New Deal prolonged the Great Depression. Had Roosevelt had access to Milton Friedman rather than Rexford Tugwell, the Great Depression might not have been so great.
Finally, two other books have fetched my admiration. Not surprisingly, John Adamson’s chronicle of the uprising against Charles I is a stupendous history. I say not surprisingly because in this very issue Andrew Roberts recommends The Noble Revolt: The Overthrow of Charles I, and Andrew’s assessments of history are unassailable. And for the last word on Arthur Schlesinger, read his delightful Journals: 1952-2000. While he was alive I enjoyed ribbing him. Now after his death I shall go on the record. I relished reading him.
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator. His latest book is The Clinton Crack-Up: The Boy President’s Life After the White House (Nelson Current).
These Christmas Book recommendations appear in the December 2007-January 2008 issue of The American Spectator. Part IV of this year’s recommendations will be posted tomorrow. To read Tuesday’s Part I, click here; to read yesterday’s Part II, click here.
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