A sampling from our annual December issue list of Holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers. (Click here to subscribe.)
MUCH OF MY 2004 was spent reading — and scanning over — hundreds of recently published nonfiction books. As a judge for the National Book Award, I was in the difficult position of whittling 200 entries down to five. One book which I found especially superb was Washington’s Crossing, an historiographically balanced account of a pivotal turning point in the Revolutionary War. (It’s also a shrewd analysis of the enduring mythology surrounding George Washington as a guerrilla warfare general). With deft precision, Fischer interweaves the history of Emmanuel Leutz’s popular painting with the strategic realities of Washington’s military maneuvers. He masters both Washington’s panoramic operational view of the battlefield and the soldiers’ perspective on the ground. Imbued with rigorous research, Washington’s Crossing is a harrowing, one-of-a-kind portrayal of Washington, his men, their enemies, and the legacy of the monumental military campaign of 1776 and 1777.
One book which wasn’t submitted for National Book Award consideration was Bob Dylan’s brilliant Chronicles. What a pity. The mercurial Dylan’s storytelling about growing in Minnesota’s North Country and coming-of-age in Greenwich Village’s Folk Clubs is flawless. Not a word out of place. Because Newsweek excerpted Chronicles, even putting Dylan on their cover, the memoir rocketed up the New York Times bestseller list — as well it should have. Reading Dylan made me want to listen to old Dave Von Ronk, Woody Guthrie, and Neville Brothers albums.
Besides these two non-secular books, try a religious offering. As a Midwest-bred Catholic, I was raised to celebrate the Virgin Mother (Mary) over the Christmas season. She is, after all, the start of the Bethlehem drama. Yet, most readers don’t know much about the historical Mary. So buy Lesley Hazelton’s fine Mary: A Flesh-and-Blood Biography of the Virgin Mother. Hazelton allows the reader to see Mary as poor villager, sage woman, and medicinal healer. And she was also an extraordinary teacher/activist.
Another biography which captured my attention was Landon Y. Jones’s wonderful William Clark and the Shaping of the West. Not only did Clark co-captain the famous Corps of Discovery with Meriwether Lewis, but he was the principal military figure in the Black Hawk War of the 1830s.
As for literary biographies, I enjoyed Charles C. Calhoun’s informative Longfellow: A Rediscovered Life and Robert K. Landers’s definitive An Honest Writer: The Life and Times of James T. Farrell.
Douglas Brinkley is a professor of history at the University of New Orleans and the author of Tour of Duty: John Kerry and the Vietnam War, as well as biographies of Dean Acheson and Jimmy Carter.
SOME OF THESE I HAVE READ, some are on my “To Do” list, so I shall keep my endorsements brief in hopes that the reader won’t be able to tell the difference.
The Case for Sovereignty by Jeremy Rabkin:
Don’t be fooled by the boring academic title! I learned everything I know from Professor Rabkin. It’s just that he is a political science professor at Cornell and faculty meetings would have been even more uncomfortable than I imagine they already are if Rabkin had given his book a more fitting title, such as “F— the French.” The main point of Rabkin’s book (at least up to Chapter 3) is that you cannot be a “Superpower” if you hate and fear weapons. (Yeah we’re bad: We have every kind of cheese!) It’s that little bit extra — a military capable of defending the nation — that makes you a true Hegemon in the world. “Moral power” (or “stylistic power” or whatever it is the French think they deploy) is not reliable power in the world and shouldn’t be. And until we can talk to the French Superpower to Superpower, no one in America cares what they think about the Dixie Chicks or anything else. Neither will their good friends the Germans. Countries like Russia, China, India, and Japan already know this. Perhaps that’s why their leaders were not panting for the candidate in the U.S. election who won the most Palmes D’Ors at Cannes.
So Many Enemies, So Little Time by Elinor Burkett:
Like so many these days, Elinor is a recovering liberal, just past the denial stage. She’s a magnificent writer, despite the fact that she graduated top in her class from Columbia Journalism School and has written for the New York Times. In this bizarre and hilarious travelogue, Burkett describes her travels to the Axis of Evil and beyond in the year following the 9/11 attack. Her description of “why they hate us” is the best I have heard: They hate us because we are the Prom Queen. If America were wracked with poverty, disease, and self-doubt, the “rest of the world” would like us again. This explains a lot about the Democrats’ policy proposals.
Unfit for Command by John E. O’Neill and Jerome R. Corsi:
Anyone reading this magazine who has not already read Unfit for Command has hereby earned the title: “Tucker Carlson.”
The Supremacists: The Tyranny of Judges and How to Stop It by Phyllis Schlafly:
Given all that she’s already done to save America, it’s amazing that Schlafly is still the intellectual Energizer Bunny, precisely when and where the country needs her. While liberals set to work looking for more Anita Hills to deploy against President Bush’s possible Supreme Court nominees, conservatives should be memorizing this highly readable and important book.
Because He Could by Dick Morris and Eileen McGann:
Another terrific book by the one man who survived working for Clinton (and the woman who saved him). Inasmuch as Morris was the evil genius behind the decadent buffoon, it is a testament to what great fun Morris’s books are that we haven’t deported him.
Ann Coulter’s latest bestseller is How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must).
HEREWITH A FEW SUGGESTIONS of books for Christmas. Of recent books, two stand out: Bill Buckley’s delightful memoir, Miles Gone By, a resurrection of pieces published during more than half a century; and Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton. A book from last year is Jim Powell’s FDR’s Folly, which serves to set the record straight on the actual economic and political effects of the New Deal. For a classic, few economists can resist the temptation to name Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations, published the same year as the Declaration of Independence and just as alive today.
Milton Friedman is an economist, a senior research fellow at the Hoover Institution, a Nobel Laureate in economics, and author of Capitalism and Freedom and Free to Choose.
MY BOOK SUGGESTION is The Bible. My own personal choice is The Daily Walk Bible from the Walk Thru the Bible series (Tyndale). I begin and end my day reading the scriptures and studying God’s Word.
Joe Gibbs is the head coach of the Washington Redskins.
FOR LOVERS OF GREAT FICTION and fearless reportage, there can be no better holiday gift than Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons. The long-awaited new novel from the most pre-eminent social observer of postwar American life unfailingly delivers the Wolfean goods. Set at a major modern university, I Am Charlotte Simmons chronicles in unsparing detail the complete collapse of civility among monied white youths, and their consuming obsessions with sex and status. That Wolfe is now in his seventies only makes his achievement in accurately — painstakingly — observing and chronicling the lives of American teenagers, the ways they walk, talk, dress and behave, all the more impressive. John Updike and Norman Mailer can furrow their brows and wonder whether Wolfe has blessed us with a work of journalism, literary fiction, or mere “entertainment”; the rest of us will sit around and howl at Wolfe’s comic genius, and wish there were more, or even one other author, like him.
To please the history buff in your circle of loved ones, log on to www.bibliofind.com and order him or her a copy of Gitta Sereny’s out-of-print 1995 landmark, Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth. This is the best nonfiction book I have ever read, on any subject. An Austrian native who witnessed Hitler’s speech at the 1934 Nuremberg rally — the subject of Leni Riefenstahl’s epic propaganda film Triumph of the Will — Sereny later became one of the leading chroniclers of the Third Reich, plumbing its depths of evil through her searingly personal interview style and meticulous research methods. Her previous work, Into That Darkness, gave us the life of Franz Stangl, commandant of Treblinka, a man with more than a million deaths on his hands. Like that book, Sereny’s Speer biography was based on dozens and dozens of hours of taped interviews with her subject, in the latter case, Hitler’s friend, architect, and minister of production. Speer was the lone major figure in Hitler’s inner circle to work actively against the Fuhrer’s scorched earth policy at the close of World War II, and the only Nuremberg defendant to show even a hint of remorse for the atrocities of the Third Reich. Spared the death penalty, he spent twenty years in prison and the remainder of his life, up to his death in 1981, producing acclaimed autobiographies, forever trying to shade and shape history’s view of him. Could the organizational genius whose manufacturing triumphs depended on the use of slave labor possibly not have known about the crimes of the Holocaust? Sereny lays out her cards, one by one, over the course of a riveting 800 pages. By the time she is done, the reader can be in no doubt.
Finally, unmask your inner superhero with Neal Adams’s Batman Illustrated: Volume II, from DC Comics. This second installment in the planned three-volume set of deluxe hardcover slipcase editions continues collecting all of the master’s work on various Batman titles (Detective Comics, Batman, Brave and the Bold, World’s Finest, etc.) from his prime period between 1968 and 1976. With his peerless command of anatomy, realism, perspective, and layout, Adams revolutionized both the process and product of comic books, effecting a quantum leap over the windowpane layout and stocky, expressionless oafs that defined the three preceding decades of comic book art. For these new editions, Adams has recolored much of the artwork, mostly to its enhancement, but some purists, craving the old-school four-color candy-dot hues, should surf eBay to procure the originals.
James Rosen is a Fox News White House correspondent and author of the forthcoming The Strong Man: John Mitchell, Nixon and Watergate (Doubleday).
Donald J. Trump
SINCE I’VE BEEN WRITING BOOKS for close to twenty years and reading them since childhood, I think books make great gifts. I always like receiving books, especially ones I can learn from. That’s why I’d suggest three of my books in particular, The Art of the Deal, How to Get Rich, and Think Like a Billionaire, because they are full of good advice — advice that is based on experience. I also think Norman Vincent Peale’s classic, The Power of Positive Thinking, is valid and helpful to people of all ages. My father liked that book and so do I. And because words are powerful and important tools in life, I like to have updated dictionaries on hand. A lot of new words enter our language every year, and it’s a good way to keep up with them. I get a new one every year.
Donald J. Trump is president and CEO of The Trump Organization and host of The Apprentice.
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr.
LET ME SUGGEST THREE. First, Tom Wolfe’s I Am Charlotte Simmons is his finest novel to date. A college campus was bound to be a feast for Tom, but with elegant prose and hilarious insight, he has evoked every aspect of the place — sounds, smells, ludicrous language, and a certain randy governor.
Next, let me suggest Chris Buckley’s send-up of Saudi Arabia and of our government’s treatments of that repellent place, Florence of Arabia.
Finally, let me do justice to a book we should have reviewed months ago. Presidential Leadership: Rating the Best and the Worst in the White House, edited by James Taranto and Leonard Leo. It is a superb collection of essays on American presidents by some splendid taxonomists. The professor who presided over my Ph.D. pursuit and civilized my prose, Robert H. Ferrell, is there with a fine essay on Herbert Hoover. My favorite lawyer and adviser to the Bait Shop Junta, Ted Olson, writes scintillatingly on William Howard Taft. Harvey Mansfield and Paul Gigot are memorable on their subjects, Ronald Reagan and George I, respectively. There are other essays that particularly fetched me, Paul Johnson on a certain randy ex-governor, for instance. The great Bob Bartley has a sapient essay on leadership, and he certainly demonstrated that capacity in helping us revitalize AmSpec. But the writer I want to pay special homage to is James Taranto. His essay on leadership is very good but, more importantly, let me state it here: he is the most original journalistic voice of his generation, as can be seen daily on his “Best of the Web Today” at the Wall Street Journal‘s OpinionJournal.com.
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the editor in chief of The American Spectator.