From The American Spectator‘s December 2007-January 2008 issue: Part I of our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.
Troublesome Young Men by Lynne Olson (Farrar, Straus and Giroux). An unexpected page-turner about the group of young Tory MPs whose tenacious rebellion against the despotic hand of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and the appeasers leaves you longing for such political courage today.
Nureyev: The Life by Julie Kavanagh (Pantheon). The definitive biography of ballet’s greatest star whose ego was as supersized as his talent. Derived from a cache of new letters, interviews, and unseen videos, it’s a luxurious winter read, full of Russian theatrics.
Ike: An American Hero by Michael Korda (HarperCollins). America and its allies would likely have lost World War II if any one of a number of generals other than Dwight Eisenhower had been in charge of the combined forces. Korda makes a highly readable case that Ike’s particular brand of charm, concealing his secret ambitions, kept prima donnas like Monty, Patton, and Bradley — and Winston Churchill and Charles de Gaulle — on the same team.
The Blair Years: The Alastair Campbell Diaries by Alastair Campbell (Knopf). Invaluable and juicy diary of day-to-day life at Number 10 Downing Street under the British Prime Minister who won an unprecedented three-time Labour victory but finally left office in June 2007 despised by his own people for his stand on the war in Iraq.
John Osborne: The Many Lives of the Angry Young Man by John Heilpern (Knopf). Revealing, funny biography of the playwright whose Look Back in Anger exploded on the British stage at a time when middle-class torpor and censorship were killing the theater. John Heilpern absorbed Osborne’s DNA — literally. When he visited the widow — whose cooperation he received — she lent him Osborne’s boots for a ruminative walk on the moors.
Tina Brown is an editor and author (most recently of The Diana Chronicles).
M. Stanton Evans
Not having done much current reading for a while, I’m pretty well disqualified from making recommendations of that nature. I’m happy, however, to suggest a list of hardy perennials that ought to be in any well-stocked conservative library, or any other, and would make excellent gifts for people who don’t already have them. The ultra-short version of my list, in alphabetical order by author, is as follows:
Although there are many more books that might be added from these and other authors, these five provide a good conspectus of the conservative-libertarian thought that fueled the counterrevolution of the 1960s and led to the Goldwater and Reagan political movements. Recommended especially for younger readers — but for some older ones as well who could use a refresher course about the basics.
M. Stanton Evans is author most recently of Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joseph McCarthy.
East of Eden, John Steinbeck. If Oprah’s endorsement (her first literary classic designee) dissuades you, don’t give Oprah that much power. There are more precise observations about the strengths and weaknesses of man and mankind in this volume than any book I’ve ever encountered. Its wisdom is sturdy, unflinching, and raw and, thus, authentically American. This is the only book I’ve ever read three times, and it’s my answer to the age-old question, “Which book would you carry with you to a deserted island?” Not in this life or any other would I subject myself to a tattoo. But if I did, it would be “Timshel.”
Lone Survivor, Marcus Luttrell. A Navy SEAL’s first-person account of battlefield valor as measured by tactical courage and moral suasion that is uniquely American and, in this case, unimaginably tragic. A story of the barbarism of our enemies and the soul-searing virtue of the warriors we’ve asked to confront them.
Practical Intelligence, Karl Albrecht. You may never have heard of this author and you may think you’re a thinker’s thinker. You probably are. But that doesn’t mean you can’t think more nimbly or more creatively. If fact, thinker’s thinkers always can. That’s why this book’s for you.
April 1865: The Month that Saved America, Jay Winik. Yes, you know the Civil War. Yes, you know Abraham Lincoln’s assassination story. But here you discover and feel the pressures on our tender Republic at its moment of maximum vulnerability. Nothing, of course, is static in history. But there are variations in the velocity and frequency of moments freighted with national importance. Never before or since has a single month packed more perils or opportunities or revealed more about the tinsel strength of American individualism, American republicanism, and American resolve than April 1865.
Major Garrett is a congressional correspondent for Fox News and author of The Enduring Revolution: The Inside Story of the Republican Ascendancy and Why It Will Continue .
Team of Rivals, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, is the masterful account of how Abraham Lincoln selected nearly all of his political rivals for his Cabinet and saved the union. I am reading it this year and find it an invaluable political primer on making friends with one’s enemies from the last battle.
The Last Playboy, by Shawn Levy, is a lively page-turner on the life of Porfirio Rubirosa, the Dominican diplomat and international playboy, played out against the turbulent political scene and appealing social scene of the 1940s and ’50s. Rubirosa was an unforgettable figure who lived several careers and lives until they were cut short too soon.
If I Found a Wistful Unicorn, by Ann Ashford, a timeless book of moving verse and illustrations that, more than anything I have read, summarize both friendship and love beautifully. I do not mind admitting that, without fail, every reading of the Unicorn book has tearfully moved me and made me reflect on my feelings toward others.
Adventures of Morris the Moose, by Bernard Wiseman, the classic trilogy of children’s stories about a slightly madcap moose who learns about new things (he can’t read or write so he goes to grammar school with children) and how to accept and learn from mistakes — or “Moose-stakes,” as Morris says. Not only do I regularly give Morris to the children of friends, but I have cited and quoted from the moose in articles and letters as an example of learning from error and going on.
Advise and Consent, Allen Drury’s epic novel about a controversial nomination before the U.S. Senate and the intrigues in official Washington, packs as powerful a wallop today as it did when it was first published in 1959. Drury’s insights on the Washington press corps in this and the five successor novels in the A&C series were critical to my own pursuit of a career in reporting and as a White House correspondent.
John Gizzi is political editor of Human Events.
I am confident I will not be the only one recommending what surely is the conservative book of the year, My Grandfather’s Son, by Clarence Thomas. Candid, moving, and well written, it chronicles the life of a truly remarkable man who may well be the single greatest living American office-holder. Also, as long as we are in the subject area of the Supreme Court, I heartily recommend Jan Crawford Greenburg’s Supreme Conflict: The Inside Story of the Struggle for control of the United States Supreme Court, and also Originalism: A Quarter-Century Debate, edited by Federalist Society co-founder Steven G. Calabresi.
For two more books on the fundamental civic values that shape this great nation, read Democracy and the Constitution, a set of wonderful essays released last year by the American Enterprise Institute’s esteemed Walter Berns, and The Theme is Freedom, a 1993 study, by legendary conservative journalist M. Stanton Evans, of the mutually supportive roles of faith and freedom.
Because baseball this summer was so badly marred by Barry Bonds’s tawdry climb atop the all-time home run list, it is worth going back to find 1979’s Willie’s Time, by San Francisco sportswriter Charles Einstein, who died in March of this year. Einstein does a fine job weaving in an account of the career of the incomparable Willie Mays (Bonds’ godfather) with a pretty decent thumbnail social history of the times in which Mays played. You can’t read this book without loving the Say Hey Kid.
As long as we are on the subject of authors who died this year, two wonderful children’s authors did so, and their books are well worth re-reading. I refer to Lloyd Alexander, whose Prydain series is an evergreen for tweeners on the cusp of adulthood, and Madeleine L’Engle. The latter is most famous, of course, for the wonderful (and sometimes controversial) A Wrinkle in Time, but a better book for conservatives to give to tweeners is her first children’s novel, the ode to faith and family called Meet the Austins.
Another great book for tweeners, this one a new one, is Alabama Moon, by debut author Watt Key. Winner of the 2007 E.B. White Read Aloud Award for Older Readers, it tells the adventures of an orphaned ten-year-old survivalist — and in doing so, celebrates the virtue of self-reliance throughout, while gradually showing the virtues of community and family in the long run. Really good stuff.
Quin Hillyer is a senior editor of The American Spectator.
War Footing, by Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
The Language of God, by Dr. Francis S. Collins.
How Democracies Perish, by Jean-Francois Revel.
Whatever Happened to the Human Race? by Dr. C. Everett Koop and Francis A. Schaeffer.
Mike Huckabee is former governor of Arkansas and author of From Hope to Higher Ground:12 STOPS to Restoring America’s Greatness .
These Christmas Book recommendations appear in the December 2007-January 2008 issue of The American Spectator. Part II of this year’s recommendations will appear tomorrow. To subscribe to our monthly print edition, click here.