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December 19, 2005
BOOK RECOMMENDATIONS: I asked for 'em, and I got 'em! Here goes:
Reader Michael Gebert writes:
For good history, I would champion the author William Lee Miller, who's written two books which knocked the cobwebs off a familiar era-- America around the time of the Civil War. Arguing About Slavery is about the debates in Congress over slavery (and the debate over whether Congress even had the right to debate it, etc.); full of wonderfully overripe chunks of 19th century bloviation from the Congressional records of the day, it also shows how the South, by overplaying its hand, turned Northern public opinion toward abolition, a lesson in the excesses of extremism which certain members of Congress could certainly learn from today. And Lincoln's Virtues is a terrific book about Lincoln the practical politician and how he balanced his ideals with what it took to win office and be effective; a great book about how you can achieve power without losing your soul and, indeed, accomplishing in the end exactly what you set out to do.
The three most interesting/entertaining books that I read in the last year:
The Right Nation, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge. Two British reporters discuss the rise of the American right over 40 years. They are so balanced in their analysis that it is almost impossible to divine the political opinions of the authors. Simply the best book on American politics that I have ever read.
New Glory, by Ralph Peters. Beautifully written, Peters spares almost nobody in this analysis of American geopolitics. Whether on the inside of the Bush administration or to its left or right, there is something in this book that will challenge your assumptions and force you to confront your own biases.
Old Boys, by Charles McCarry. A very thought-provoking spy novel by a former spy, both literate and entertaining. How retired old cold warriors on the outside limber up to rescue a comrade and interdict an Islamist nuclear weapon, all in the same very black op. A stupendous thriller by an unheralded master of the craft.
Jefferson Perkins emails:
Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged. Perhaps the most important philosophical work of the 20th Century, and I don't think it's going to be recommended by most of today's faculty. One liberal friend of mine refuses to even read it, his mind might be poisoned or something -- Written in 1957, it is as eerily prescient as de Toqueville in some matters, such as the expansion in size and power of the federal government.
The Federalist Society's little booklet containing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States.
Hayek's Road to Serfdom. Although it's a little dated, as Hayek focussed on post WWII "Central Planning" rather than other governmental mischief.
J.R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, the best fantasy series ever written, period. I don't know whether these works have been elevated into "English Literature" as yet -- but they should be.
Richard Kemmer writes, "This book about the Reformation is superb."
Kirsten Mortenson emails:
1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles C. Mann. Very well-written survey of the latest research & analysis of pre-Columbian Native American culture. Couldn't put it down.
Shakespeare: The Biography, Peter Ackroyd. This is what I'm reading now. I adore Ackroyd. I've also read "London" and have a couple other of his books on my Amazon wish list. Now if I can just get my dad to part with his complete Shakespeare that he claims to have in the attic :-)
Ernesto Suarez writes: "The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB And The Battle For The Third World. I read it. Itís an excellent and well documented book that definitely gives a different perspective about the history of international relations for the past almost 50. years. I highly recommend it."
Mike Erickson writes:
If you are interested in the history of the space program may want to look at my brother's book.
Since it was written on the government's nickel, you can also download a complete and unabridged pdf.
It is quite interesting to read various expert's opinion of the need (or lack thereof) for human space flight from an earlier era, and how it is echoed by many today.
Hey, if we're going to plug brothers' books, let me take a moment to plug my brother's book, Trading Tastes : Commodity and Cultural Exchange to 1750 -- or his other book, Africa in World History. Buy 'em both -- they're great stocking stuffers!
I'm sure I've missed a bunch, but there are lots more recommendations at the Big Tent history blog.