BOOKS IN REVIEW
Adams, Fred, and Greg Laughlin: The Five Ages of the Universe
This is a book on astrophysics for the general reader. I understood a good part of it, but not everything. It’s mostly extremely engrossing and involving, with lots of fascinating stuff, lots of food for thought. For example, it seems the universe will survive for quite a long time — in years, the number 10 to the hundreth power, as a matter of fact.
One also learns about the relativity of time: that is, the greater the pull of some gravitational field, the slower time will pass in that field, since gravity determines the conditions that motion will face. In other words, if one throws a baseball on the moon, it obviously travels further than it would have on Earth — the gravity determined the length of the throw.
In the same way, the gravitational field determines the “speed” that time will pass in that field — since time is only the measure of motion, and since motion’s licentiousness is determined by gravity, then time is determined by gravity, also. There is no privileged speed at which time is supposed to flow. Time is just the experience of the particular density that motion faces in a particular gravitational field (published 1999).
Arendt, Hannah: The Origins of Totalitarianism
Very dense and very demanding reading, but rewarding. Curiously, she was against the Vietnam war. One would think the author who informed the world of the evil of the Soviet Union would also support efforts at preventing a second or third Marxist totalitarian state. Hollywood will always use Nazism as the sole icon of evil, but the Soviet Union or Che Guevara could do just as well. Arendt’s good friend, Mary McCarthy (who referred to herself as “our leading bitch intellectual”), was against the Vietnam war, too (published in the early 1950′s).
Blaskower, Pat The Art of Doubles/Winning Tennis Strategies & Drills
This is a magnificent book on tennis doubles: court positioning, shot selection (where to aim, and with what stroke), and emotional toughness. It’s a very complete analysis of the whole inside doubles game. There’s even a quote from Nietzsche to start one of the chapters: “Life always gets harder toward the summit — the cold increases, the responsibility increases.” (I knew I was in the right place then.) ed. 2 published 2007.
Bloom, Allan: The Closing of the American Mind
Legendary book. Literate and sensible. Very well argued that the 1960′s threw the baby out with the bath water. One of my favorite books, I go back to it every so often. His intelligence is an inspiring standard. He was the first to say things that are standard now among conservative columnists. (published about 1989)
Bolton, John: Surrender Is Not An Option
Terrific book. Extremely interesting and positively fascinating account of behind the scenes in the Perm Five of the UN Security Council. This book cannot be sufficiently praised for how much it’s a page-turner. Makes one proud of America for consistently choosing to do good, rather than choose expediency. This book also teaches one how the world works: what can get done and what not, why, and by whom.
A great anecdote from this book was when George Bush went to visit the U.N. and see the author. Bush entered a meeting room where Kofi Annan sat with our author. Bush said to Annan, “Has Bolton blown the place up yet?” The Secular Pope responded, “John is doing just fine.” (published about 2006)
Brzezinski, Zibigniew Between Two Ages
Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor wrote this book in the early 1970′s, and Carter took to it subsequently like a duck to water. It outlines a foreign policy scheme for America which was excoriated by Jeane Kirkpatrick in a classic article in Commentary in November 1979. This style of foreign affairs adumbrates a very passive role for America, and Kirkpatrick (and more recently, Joshua Muravchik, also in Commentary) points out how many revolutions took place unchallenged across the world which were inimical to US interests. Nicaragua and Iran are the two most prominent, but also Africa had its share of radicals take power, and of course the Soviet Union rolled into Afghanistan.
Brzezinski posits that ineluctable political changes are taking place across the globe, made possible by the information age, and that the best America can do is let them happen. They are fated to happen, so America should merely oversee the changes and make them orderly. But the problem is that these changes have a tendency to be anti-American and pro-Marxist — Carter didn’t care. He took sides against leaders who were allies because they were rightist politically, and he took sides in favor of the revolutions that deposed those leaders only because those revolutions were leftist, and therefore supposedly fated by history to happen. But this is clearly arbitrary.
A disastrous book, at turns fascinating, brilliant, and juvenile, it reminds me of Fareed Zakaria’s book, “The Post-American World,” an updating, by means of economic observations, of Brzezinski’s prescriptions for a less active American presence in world affairs.
To this day, one can see Jimmy Carter in the thrall of Brzezinski’s book, given Carter’s misguided tendency to go automatically as far to the left as possible — we are between two ages, and he is going to make sure the transition is done right.
Chandler, Raymond The Big Sleep; Lady in the Lake; Farewell, My Lovely
All three of these are good, but my favorite is The Big Sleep. His stories are about desperate people and the dire straits they put themselves in. The amount of description of scenery and human character is amazing compared to today’s mystery novels.
Chandler thought that mystery novels should be more than just a logical puzzle for the reader to figure out — he disliked that style. He wrote that he “didn’t care who hit Sir Mortimer over the head with a poker.” He believed that illustrating the human motives was more important, and one has to agree with him, given his achievement. His type of mystery novel was called “hard boiled.” He got his start writing for a now-legendary magazine called “The Black Mask.” If you want mystery done right, try Chandler. (published in the 1940′s)
Chomsky, Noam: Hegemony or Survival
He writes that America is plotting to take over the world by means of a strong military. It couldn’t possibly be, of course, that America has a strong military in order to keep freedom safe from globally aspiring ideologues, like Osama bin Laden, the North Korean potentate, and Ahmadinejad, ect. No — America wants to enslave the world in free-market wealth and the misery thereunto.
Better that America leave the stage of world history, if it’s going to behave like that, so that we can get back to the empty shelves and genius economics of Marxism. Chomsky’s ploy is to accuse the US of doing the very things it’s trying to prevent. For decades, Chomsky has been one of the foremost America Bashers, and this book is no different. It’s fascinating for how relentlessly and insincerely it assumes America is evil. This man is a piece of work. (published mid-1990′s)
Coulter, Ann: Godless; Treason; Slander; Guilty
All three of these are great books, filled with hard work. I love how funny she is, too — the books are very attractive because of this wittiness. My favorite here is Godless, a magnificent book. She explains in detail how Darwinism is more of a political theory now than a biological one, and how science can be taken hostage by partisan politics. Treason is full of passion, and the power of her writing under the influence of this passion is extremely moving. She isn’t all just jokes. Slander is the first of hers I read, and it was an eye-opener in showing the manipulation of the media in spinning things to their liking. Ann Coulter is a supremely intelligent, hard-working person. I hope she just keeps putting out book after great book. Ann Coulter’s books are a good reason to stay alive.
Dobyns, Jay: No Angel: My Harrowing Undercover Journey to the Inner Circle of the Hells Angels
Evans, M. Stanton: Blacklisted by History: the Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America’s Enemies
Ann Coulter called this “the best book since the Bible.” It is indeed an engrossing account of the era, and a strong, convincing defense of Joe McCarthy. Evans shows the hypocrisy in the vilification of McCarthy, while admitting McCarthy’s mistake in accusing George Catlett Marshall of impropriety. A towering achievement in scholarship, based on decades of research by Evans into McCarthy. The standard accounts of McCarthy, written mostly in the 50′s, are put to shame by this book. As Evans puts it, “McCarthy was a good man and true.” Evans tone is invariably mild in contrast to those who vilify McCarthy, and his authority is undeniable. Without this book, the literature on McCarthy is woefully incomplete.
Glazov, Jamie: United in Hate: the Left’s Romance with Tyranny and Terror
Published in 2009.
Goldberg, Jonah Liberal Fascism
A great book, detailing carefully the history in America of the tendencies towards fascism of hard-leftists. Very well documented and involving, definitely a page-turner, and definitely well-worth reading. Goldberg is always well-researched and moderate in expression, insofar as his arguments have great force. He is always provocative, too, but then I’m glad he is: we need him.
Hammett, Dashiel The Maltese Falcon
Hammett was a communist who, ironically enough, served the US in both world wars. The second one he was in Alaska, though, since the government knew by then. The Maltese Falcon (1930) was one of the first hard-boiled detective novels, and one of the greatest. Raymond Chandler had great admiration for Hammett’s achievement.
Sam Spade is a most uncompromising fellow, and it could be that Hammett’s communism is the driving force there. Sam Spade is on the outs with everyone, the original loner, in spite of having a partner in business. He punches a cop and gets away with it, he slaps Joel Cairo with impunity, he baits Wilmer incessantly, he whups the District Attorney in a legal discussion, he does dynamic things every second. He is The Man Against Society, to a ferocious degree.
I see Hammett’s political views driving this because this book can plausibly be interpreted as his taking sides against American capitalist civilization. The hunt for the Falcon is motivated by greed, a greed Spade does not share. He is the vanquisher of greed. He cannot be fooled, like so many other male detectives with women. He is The Morally Untouchable One. He is The Perfect Human Being. If it sounds utopian, then it sounds like what it is. Ultimately, Spade is a one-dimensional figure, given how perfect he is in all things of moral principal.
This is a great read, nevertheless, full of excitement, and it’s one of the timeless novels of American literature.
Hanson, Victor Davis: A War Like No Other
Hanson refers to himself as “the most hated man in the classics.” This because wrote a book, Who Stole Homer?, that brought the classics to a wider audience. That is what he does here, too. A very interesting book about the Peloponnesian War. I like Hanson’s columns, too. He has a powerful mind, and he argues his points persuasively.
Hawthorne, Nathaniel The Scarlet Letter; House of the Seven Gables
Hawthorne wrote in the mid-nineteenth century, and the painstaking quality of his work reflects that, as in that of his admirer, Herman Melville. One of Hawthorne’s distant relatives, a great-great grandfather, I believe, was a judge at the Salem witch “trials” and condemned a young woman to death. Hawthorne devoted a good part of his career to trying to make amends for the excesses of his familial predecessors.
Hawthorne is certainly a great novelist, possibly the greatest America has ever produced, because he had all the gifts one needs: a great story to tell, a mind capable of consistently deep psychological observation, and a great turn of phrase. He was born to write stories.
The Scarlet Letter has been called obsessive by Camille Paglia, for its densely-woven plot. Perhaps she’s right — she, too, is a great observer. She believes it’s a short story spun out to the length of a novel, but it could be said that the characters are so rich (Roger Chillingsworth, for example, the cuckolded husband, is an immensely vivid portrait) that the length can be justified. The marathon that Hester Prynne, the ostracized woman, must go through, also justifies the greater length. This book has an unhappy ending that represents Hawthorne’s indictment of the society he criticizes. One feels as though he’s also criticizing his own contemporary America. He is one of the founding fathers of America Bashing, muted though it was by today’s standards of such bashing.
The House of the Seven Gables is a similarly brilliant story, and again an indictment of those who founded America in the early days of the Republic (this time for land-grabbing and the unscrupulousness needed to hold that land). The characters are less vivid and memorable here, though, some of the portraits are on a lower level of artistic intensity. The story is indeed timeless and involving, nevertheless, and carefully and inexorably presented. I rank Scarlett Letter slightly higher than House of the Seven Gables.
Heidegger, Martin: Being and Time
In this book, you are hereby ordered to be an authentic person. No more slacking off. Authenticity, do you hear?! Heidegger was about as cheerful a person as a bee sting in the eye. He claims that the world has two types of sensibility, that of the inauthentic “they-self” (heaven forbid we should enjoy each other’s company), and that of the truly authentic person, who utilizes “being-towards-death.” To be authentic, you must be aware that you were thrown into life not-of-your-own-accord, and that you will leave that way, too. (No, suicide doesn’t count — you’re just changing the “when” of it, not the “must go” of it.)
This makes you authentic supposedly because you are aware of being a finitude. But why does having a blind spot instead about that make you inauthentic? Because your concerns are then not ultimate and definitive, the plot continues. But Heidegger fails to inspire with this book, ultimately, when we compare his book to James Joyce’s tremendous short story, “The Dead,” which I find to be a much more profound account of the effect on the mind of the sudden realization that this cultural world of ours is not all there is.
We will be leaving this world someday, through our death. We are reminded of this by spontaneously remembering our dead loved ones. Joyce gives us a better account of why it actually matters to see being-towards-death: the transformation of the psychological personality, in the midst of others, to a more significant plane. Remembering our dead loved ones, all of a sudden, unexpectedly, is the trigger for this growth. Joyce puts the experience of being-towards-death in the actual lived world.
Heidegger, on the other hand, gives us no moral valence, no reason to pursue being-towards-death. What he gives us instead is an unrewarding rock of Sisyphus to push up the hill as we concentrate diligently on being-towards-death. There’s no real growth to doing it. But Heidegger would point out that my criticism of his admittedly august book is an example of the very they-self that he derides.
Herman, Arthur: Joseph McCarthy: Reexamining the Life and Legacy of America’s Most Hated Senator
This book is one of the first books in this new, refreshing period of reexamining Joe McCarthy. It’s a groundbreaking book, and a long overdue antidote to those books condemning McCarthy. A lot of those were written immediately, that is, during the era in which McCarthy lived. They lack the long, sober perspective of time that Herman provides. Herman is also a writer for Commentary magazine, and he always provides excellent work. A much-appreciated book that discusses a controversial subject fairly. Published about 1995.
Hitchens, Christopher: god is not Great
This book is very dazzling a lot of the time, to be sure, but it is too often a bizarre book, all in all. A lot of weird sexual liberation stuff, a lot of Rousseau attitude that gets in the way of his central thesis. A disturbing aspect of the book is the moral equivalence he feels justified in asserting between the various religions and their present-day activity. This is about three books crammed into one, to the detriment of all three. Hitchens believes we’d be better off without religion, and he would put in its stead a rational and secular humanism. Religion is “innately irrational” for Hitchens. One could counter this easily by pointing out that political belief is also innately irrational: try telling an anti-Zionist that Israel is small compared to the rest of the Arab Middle East — he’ll rip your head off. I’m not so ready to give the world over to that, since I think, stubbornly, that moral compass has come from religion, and not from “universal morality.” Further, I don’t think that science can posit moral values, it can only gather evidence and conjecture hypotheses. Hitchens would counter by saying religion prevents one from developing any moral compass in the first place. A really weak part of the book, however, is when Hitchens blames twentieth-century totalitarianism on religion, since there is evidence that ancient societies were both religious and totalitarian. The strongest part of the book, on the other hand, is his demonstration that religion is not revealed, but rather man-made.
Thus, the potential success of Hitchens’ book depends upon three things: (1) demonstrating the man-made character of religion, and the violence that religion has been guilty of, in the present and past. This Hitchens does admirably, and his essential decency shines through like a beacon: success (if only he had stopped here); (2) demonstrating the existence of “universal morality” as against morality provided by religion — in this Hitchens doesn’t even try, he just posits the existence of universal morality, so he’s a little question-begging here: failure; (3) demonstrating that religion is responsible for twentieth-century totalitarianism, and secular society is not responsible at all – very iffy, I have to say he can’t get this done in a mere chapter in a book: failure.
Published in 2007. A full book review in the archives for the main page, on March 13, 2009.
Horowitz, David: Radical Son; Unholy Alliance; Party of Defeat
All three of these are worthy books. Radical Son recounts Horowitz’ childhood in a household with both parents ardent communists. We also hear how he escaped that thinking through his experiences, and his arrival at conservatism. Unholy Alliance shows the connections between political liberalism and the bizarre opinions that are so fashionable these days about the Middle East. Very closely documented, with ineluctable arguments. Party of Defeat (with Ben Johnson), shows again that Horowitz is a national treasure — the arguments are extremely powerful, making a mockery of the weakness of those who take him on.
Johnson, Paul: A History of the American People
An absolutely terrific book. Bravo! to Paul Johnson. This book is so supportive of America, it elucidates why America maintains a close relationship with England. With British friends such as Paul Johnson, we’re gonna make it. This book is so readable, erudite, and entertaining, it’s a supreme accomplishment for Johnson. He comes up with so many interesting things, it’s amazing to behold. With Johnson, along with Jean-Francois Revel in France (passed away 2005), America knows it has friends across the Pond (who also can write!).
Kirkpatrick, Jeane: Making War to Keep Peace
This was Kirkpatrick’s last work. In it, she recounts how she traveled to Geneva to go before the U.N. and argue for the legality of the Iraq war. She got the votes. Very learned, very interesting, very readable book. She has convincing views, very sensible, and she possesses a quintessential intelligence. She is the author of the “Kirkpatrick Doctrine,” which states America should support even despotic right-wing regimes, lest they fall to an even worse communist regime. Right-wingers are based on traditional tribal strutures, and constitute a game of “king of the hill.” They tolerate inequities, but do not create them, she explains. Left-wingers, however, do create inequities purposely, and then the real horror begins. Her foreign policy views were the exact opposite of Jimmy Carter’s. Thank Goodness for that.
Lynch, Timothy and Robert Singh: After Bush
This is an amazingly supportive book of Bush’s foreign policy in Iraq. Well-researched and argued, it provides a sensible account of how Bush’s policies are of a piece with American foreign policy throughout the entire history of the country.
Melville, Herman: Billy Budd; Moby Dick
I prefer the novella Billy Budd here. It’s about how civilization destroys a man, a sentiment I share in some cases, but not all. John Claggert is the evil antagonist to Billy, an older man jealous of Billy. Billy innocently spills some soup, for example, and Claggert, the Master-at-Arms, is there to opportunistically punish it. The tension grows and grows until finally it all explodes. Classic story of jealousy and the destruction it brings about in the victim and in the agent provocatuer both. The amazing thing is how the higher-ups, in the story and in real life, have a tendency to take sides in favor of Claggert and his ilk. That’s part of Melville’s point. But there is a hint that it won’t be like this forever. This story is clearly Rousseauistic in that Billy is the innocent, kind, and inarticulate man of nature, while Claggert is the evil and educated man of civilization (published about 1850).
The reason I like Billy Budd better than Moby Dick is that the former has more identifiable icons in Billy and Claggert, and that makes it more involving than the latter. Ahab is too distant in comparison, too larger-than-life. The interesting thing, though, about Ahab is that he is certainly an august figure, and that is what facilitates the extent of his wrongdoing: in other words, it takes the great to do wrong in the biggest way. But Billy Budd is actually a book about two things: on the one hand, it’s about the jealousy of the older man Claggert for the perceived life-of-Reilly of Billy, and the slander thereof that damages Billy. On the other hand, though, it’s about how Billy’s uncontrollable anger destroys him. The manner in which Billy handles the slander is such that it leads to Billy’s psychological destruction, and then to his physical destruction when he is executed. This novel is all about the uncontrollable: Claggert’s uncontrollable jealousy when he meets his idealized alter ego in the form of Billy, and, of course, Billy’s uncontrollable anger at the slanderous accusation of mutiny coming from Claggert.
Moby Dick is one of the greatest novels ever written. It’s also a bit over-the-top in giving us non-fiction parts periodically, to teach us about whales. (Tolstoy had non-fiction parts in War and Peace, and Henry Fielding did in Tom Jones.) There’s even a section in which Melville stops the story to complain about the inauthentic depiction of whales in paintings. But this is a great story about how obsession kills the one who can’t let go, and corrodes his soul along the way. One of my favorite lines in literature is when Captain Ahab, after being asked some trivial favor early on by Seaman Stubb, kicks Stubb in the rear, and the narrator of our story (call me Ismael) says, “Oh Stubb, how little thou knew of Ahab at that time!”
Plait, Phillip: Death from the Skies!
This is a book on astrophysics, an engrossing page-turner about the destructive forces lurking out there, and about how long the universe will endure. As it turns out, not only are there stars a million times bigger than ours, but the end of the universe is 10 to-the-hundreth-power years away. A billion years is nothing, in other words: If a billion years is one tick of the cosmic clock, say, then we’ve had 14 ticks so far. But just to get to the end of stars, the period when all stars will become degenerate, it will take 100,000 ticks of the clock. The universe isn’t even a toddler yet.
Podhoretz, Norman: World War IV; Ex-Friends
Podhoretz is a legend, of course. He cannot be too highly praised. Ex-Friends is an extremely engrossing look behind the scenes of the intelligentsia. World War IV is his argument in favor of the Iraq war. Both highly recommended, both are enriching.
Radosh, Ronald and Allis: Red Star Over Hollywood
A very involving book, showing the process of how Moscow and Stalin penetrated American society in the 1930′s, and how that influence is still at work. An important book for those who wish to understand what the Soviet Union did to America, and why the media are so leftist.
Revel, Jean-Francois: Anti-Americanism
A great book, defending America against the America Bashers and against the Bush Bashers. It’s amazing how a Frenchman can love and defend America so much, and even defend the Iraq War as a necessary instrument of preserving freedom. In the tradition of Alexis de Tocqueville in understanding America, and in the tradition of Lafayette in defending America. The main idea of this book is that Marxism blames America for what Marxism itself has done to the world. That hypocritical essence is the gist of anti-American sentiment. Thank you, Monsieur Revel, you will be missed. (published about 2003)
Sartre, Jean-Paul: Being and Nothingness
The French philosopher had 50,000 Parisians follow his casket through the streets of the City of Lights. Why? He made life into a contest of being the most ridiculously radical, for one thing (and won his own contest), but also, with this book he gave France a new start emotionally, during and after WWII. It caught the French imagination.
An overwrought book that claims consciousness is a “nothingness” that amounts only to an awareness of not being the thing perceived. Very overrated book, humorless in the extreme. I drank this book to the dregs in my late 20′s, reading it several times. It possesses an haute couture, a fashionable nihilism that is very attractive to passive personalities. A vague “metaphysical” authority emanates from the pages of this book. I worshipped this misguided, bizarre thing. But, admittedly, this book has some interesting observations every so often like, “Vertigo is not the fear of falling but rather the fear of throwing oneself over.” I said it was humorless, didn’t I? (published about 1943)
Sommers, Christina Hoff: One Nation Under Therapy; Who Stole Feminism?
Both excellent books. Sommers shows how our lack of self-reliance hurts us, and shows the absurdity of radical feminist politics. She is an exposer of disingenuousness. She is a greatly valued writer.
Sowell, Thomas: Black Rednecks and White Liberals
One of my favorite writers. Explains here the fascinating thesis that immigrant Scots and Irish brought with them to the American deep south (which is where they had a tendency to settle once in America) their culture of laziness and bellicosity, which was inherited ultimately by today’s large American cities.
This culture had come to the large cities of America from the blacks of the American South, living in the countryside and then moving, after slavery, to the cities. In other words, the promiscuity, violence, and drugs in urban culture do not come from white racism, but rather from blacks having inherited that immigrant culture of the outcast Irish and Scots in the deep south, and then moving it to the cities in their own migration there.
Steele, Shelby: White Guilt; The Content of Our Character; A Dream Deferred; A Bound Man
Steele is one of my favorite writers. He’s an opinion maker given his deep psychological insights. All his books are gems, and I’ve read all four of them twice. He’s one of America’s most important writers.
Steyn, Mark: America Alone
Taheri, Amir: The Persian Night: Iran under the Khomeinist Revolution
Thomas, Clarence: My Grandfather’s Son
This book is all about coming clean. Thomas admits that he was immature when he first started out, but that Anita Hill nevertheless got her stories all mixed up. (And browsing through her autobiography, one notices a pompousness and a scatterbrainedness that seems to bear out what Thomas claims.) Thomas gives a very plausible account of their time together on the job, and I’m inclined to believe that he is telling the truth. This is a terrific book, very evocative and moving. Highly recommended.
In fact, this book is good right from the author photo on the cover — the forthrightness is all there from the beginning. There is also a great written portrait of a highly sympathetic character, Thomas’ grandfather, that helps this book tremendously. We should all have such a fascinating person in our life to help out our autobiographies. His grandfather dominates this book, and for good reason — he was a decent man who shaped Thomas’ life almost wholly, and was a man of unusually strong convictions and committment.
The grandfather was a man of the old school of life, where one never tried to break the connection between productivity and reward, as another Thomas, this time Sowell, has put it in another context. I think Thomas’ grandfather would be dismayed at affirmative action policies, as Thomas is known to be.
Zakaria, Fareed: The Post-American World
In short, this book is unconvincing. Zararia writes that America should give up power to become the “global broker.” This is an updating of Zibigniew Brzezinski’s book Between Two Ages, from the 1970′s, which influenced Jimmy Carter greatly, in that it outlines a passive role for America, given the allegedly ineluctable changes taking place in the macro-economic and -political scene. But we saw the disaster of Carter’s foreign policy — do we want the disaster of Zakaria’s economic policy, too?