What We’re Reading (Summer 2012)
Gerald J. Russello
To round out our summer reading lists, I’d recommend Bill Kaufmann’s great book on Luther Martin, which I read last summer. For this summer I’m tackling Roger Scruton’s Modern Culture, Paul Gottfried’s new book on Leo Strauss and conservatism, and one not-yet book: our proposed “Best of the Bookman” volume.
Gerald Russello edits the Bookman.
Jeffrey Dennis Pearce
This summer I’m finally knuckling down to read The Civil War: A Narrative—Fort Sumter to Perryville, Volume 1, by Shelby Foote. This book, the first in Foote’s trilogy on the War Between the States, is a masterful rebuttal to the analysts and statisticians who forget (or ignore) the fact that history is about people, the choices they make, and the intended and unintended consequences of those choices. History is, thus, both an art, and an exercise in moral reflection. Foote, best friend of novelist Walker Percy and devotee of William Faulkner, writes firmly in the Southern tradition of honest and elaborated storytelling. His Civil War trilogy has been called America’s Iliad, Foote himself, America’s Homer. Higher praise is hard to find.
I’m also visiting an old friend, Ray Bradbury, by reading his novel, Something Wicked This Way Comes. “The train skimmed on softly, slithering, black pennants fluttering, black confetti lost on its own sick-sweet candy wind, down the hill, with the two boys pursuing, the air was so cold they ate ice cream with each breath.” There’s something about the way Bradbury uses the English language that’s refreshing and unsettling at the same time. While reflecting on Bradbury’s recent death, I realized that I have read more of his short stories than those of any other author. I’ve also read a few of his novels, but have put off reading this one, until now.
James E. Person, Jr.
Having recently published an article on Marshall McLuhan for Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity, I was spurred to begin reading Essential McLuhan, edited by Eric McLuhan and Frank Zingrone. I worked in the rapidly evolving world of publishing for many years and am fascinated by the way media change the way we think, work, and view the world around us, for as the editors state in their introduction, “Different media, like styles in painting or literature, are special ways of seeing and induce specific states of mind.” To better understand this, to anticipate the ways in which media tend to shape us, and to be on guard against manipulation, the words of McLuhan—however difficult and requiring much critical discretion—are worth attending.
James E. Person Jr. is a writer, editor, and lecturer who was named a Senior Fellow of the Kirk Center in 2011.
I’m reading Marilynne Robinson’s award-winning 2005 novel, Gilead. While not a prequel to her novel Home, published in 2009, both books are really companions in their exploration of the grace, confusion, and sin of two families in mid-twentieth century Gilead, Iowa. Both families are closely united to each other by the deep friendship of the fathers, both of whom are Protestant clergyman.
I have also resolved to finally work through Aristotle’s Metaphysics and St. Augustine’s The Trinity this summer. I want to better understand Pope Benedict’s remarks in Deus Caritas Est that not only love, but liberty as well, requires the doctrine of the Trinity if we are to avoid the abstract atomizing liberty of much of modern thought.
Richard M. Reinsch II is a fellow at Liberty Fund and is the editor of the Library of Law and Liberty. He is the author of Whittaker Chambers: The Spirit of a Counterrevolutionary (ISI Books, 2010).
Michael J. Ard
The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World by Daniel Yergin. The media likes to focus on boutique energy sources like wind and solar, but oil remains king of the world. The new technology to exploit shale oil has become a game changer. Yergin is the best analyst on how energy and geopolitics coincide.
The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb. We underestimate how the unpredictable impacts the world and our individual lives. Does this make future analysis impossible? No, the key is agility in adapting to and taking advantage of major changes.
With Napoleon in Russia by General Armand de Caulaincourt. An excerpt from the longer memoirs of Napoleon’s chief aide and alter ego. This is the story of how one man’s will can impact millions. Recently I’ve renewed my boyhood fascination with the Napoleon and his era. Anyone wishing to understand the “great man” politics of our present era needs to study the Emperor. Caulaincourt’s portrait is penetrating and unforgettable.
Michael J. Ard, Ph.D. is a former naval officer and current government analyst and recruiter. He lives with his wife and five children in Loudoun County, VA.
Francis P. Sempa
This summer I am reading two books about the consummate practitioners of realpolitik: Bismarck: A Life by Jonathan Steinberg and Eminence: Cardinal Richelieu and the Rise of France by Jean-Vincent Blanchard. I am also reading Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941–1945 by Andrew Roberts, which details the wartime relationships between FDR, General George Marshall, Winston Churchill and General Alan Brooke—four men whose decisions affected the destiny of the world.
Francis P. Sempa is the author of Somewhere in France, Somewhere in Germany: A Combat Soldier’s Journey through the Second World War. He is an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Pennsylvania and an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University.
I’m reading . . . Michael Lind’s fascinating, contrarian economic history Land of Promise. Helps check your premises about Jeffersonianism, markets, and big government.
I hope to read . . . Chris Buckley’s satire of neocons and Sinophobes, They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?
Daniel McCarthy is editor of The American Conservative.
I am generally much less high-minded than other University Bookman authors, so this summer will be virtually politics-free. I am presently reviewing Roger Scruton’s Green Philosophy, in which he seeks to reclaim the ecological movement from the post-Marxists who unfortunately have come to dominate it thanks to their energy and Conservative myopia. Scruton is fair-minded and wonderfully civilized, and even when you part company from him whatever he says is worth hearing.
Still on an ecological theme, I plan to read a rather sad little book called Witness to Extinction: How We Failed to Save the Yangtze River Dolphin, by Samuel Turvey. The legendary dolphin was intrinsic to Chinese culture and mythology and was long known to be endangered because of pollution and habitat destruction, and there were countless international appeals for urgent action, yet no serious effort was ever made to save this beautiful and harmless creature, which has now joined the dodo, thylacine, Carolina parakeet, passenger pigeon, and too many other irreplaceable animals on the debit side of humanity’s ledger.
I find myself increasingly interested in places and spaces, so I will also be reading In Praise of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki, a 1933 essay defending traditional Japanese aesthetics against the encroachments of modernity. Tanizaki felt that the West’s dazzling light and cold calculating spirit (as he saw it) would banish life’s mystery, loveliness, and uniqueness, and he rhapsodizes about all kinds of everyday sights that would soon be exposed to the unsympathetic gaze of the world, from the subtle way natural light plays on lacquerware, the softness of candlelight, and the sensually suggestive shapes of geishas. I will follow up that with The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard (1958), a subtle examination of the way we interact with particular types of architecture and even furniture—a highly original meditation on such varied themes as “Shells,” “Drawers, Chests and Wardrobes,” and “Intimate Immensity”.
As part of research for a planning book of travel writing, I shall betweentimes be reading assorted local history books and pamphlets, mostly pertaining to the obscurer parts of Lincolnshire and Yorkshire. Today’s pamphlet is The Medieval Cellar at Pontefract Castle—the Castle a place of sinister memory in England’s history, being where Richard II was starved to death.
And for relief from all these shadows and gloom, I will try Adam Blair—a nineteenth-century sentimental melodrama, but one written by John Gibson Lockhart, Walter Scott’s son-in-law and biographer, and of course a predecessor of mine as Quarterly Review editor.
Derek Turner is editor of the Quarterly Review.
For this summer, I plan to read one of Shakespeare’s neglected plays, The Merry Wives of Windsor. I am curious to see why contemporary critics do not like the play as much as the aristocrat class of Shakespeare’s time. Who is the better judge of taste: them or us?
Lee Trepanier teaches Political Science at Saginaw Valley State University
One of the ways I cultivate a love for my place here in Northern Virginia is by maintaining a certain distance from politics and policymaking, and never more so than in summer. Like Ms. Tushnet, I am also re-reading (via audiobook) Tim Powers’s Declare, a spy novel that puts politics and even the nation-state into perspective. I may move on to his The Bible Repairman and Other Stories.
I’m also looking forward to reflecting on the limits of politics in a more lighthearted vein with Terry Pratchett’s Snuff: A Novel of Discworld, which returns to Commander Vimes, a voice through which Pratchett often ponders the role of tradition and the tensions of order and freedom. And I hope to be able to get to Marilynne Robinson’s prodigal-son story Home and her essay collection, When I Was a Child I Read Books—not to mention Greg Wolfe’s well-reviewed essays asserting that Beauty Will Save the World. Thank goodness that task is not up to governments and NGOs.
Peter L. Edman is associate editor of the Bookman and works for a nonprofit in Northern Virginia.
R. J. Stove
I’m not sure that I can be of use about what I’m planning to read, because the Northern Hemisphere’s summer will be of course Australia’s winter. But here’s what I have in mind:
The History of Keyboard Music to 1700 (1972), by Willi Apel. This tour de force (878 pages, if you please), by one of the twentieth century’s greatest musicologists, is out of date in some respects—Apel’s tendency to dismiss keyboard transcriptions of non-keyboard writing would not be well received these days—but Apel could have forgotten more about musical history than most of us will ever remember. Fortunately for us, he didn’t.
A Scrap-Book (1922), by George Saintsbury, of which thus far I have read only extracts. Near the end of a long and prodigiously active life, this doyen of English critics and essayists explored a more free-wheeling type of analysis than he had hitherto attempted. The P.C. police should steer well clear of his prescient verdicts upon socialist immiseration.
Anything by Irving Babbitt. Not till a recent article in The American Conservative did I appreciate the scale of Babbitt’s work and its relevance of his sane pessimism to the post-neocon world. No wonder T. S. Eliot held him in such respect.
Memoirs of a Superfluous Man (1943), by Albert Jay Nock. I know, I know; it’s ludicrous that I’ve never knuckled down to reading this from cover to cover. Well, soon, Deo volente, I shall.
Right now I’m re-reading Tim Powers’s Declare, a harrowing dark fantasy in which djinn get mixed up in the Cold War. Later this summer, I’ll probably read Helen Oyeyemi’s The Opposite House—she’s a British (and, according to Wikipedia, Catholic) experimental horror writer. I just finished Hans Keilson’s Death of the Adversary, a grim fable about Hitler’s rise to power, written during World War II by a member of the Dutch Resistance. If you like René Girard and Franz Kafka you should read this.
Eve Tushnet is a writer in Washington, DC. She blogs at Patheos.
My summer reading list includes one book I’m re-reading—Russell Kirk’s Enemies of the Permanent Things—and one book I’ve not read before—William F. Buckley’s God and Man at Yale: The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’. I’m reading both as a means to prepare my mind to start teaching again.
A. W. R. Hawkins is senior opinion editor and writer for the Alliance Defense Fund and will be adjunct professor of history at Norwich University this fall.
I am reading through the early work of Peter Drucker. Though many think of him as a management thinker, he was actually trained in international law and wrote early books titled The End of Economic Man: The Origins of Totalitarianism and The Future of Industrial Man. Those works provide the best explanation of Russian and German totalitarianism I have ever seen. He also deals very intelligently with questions of what must happen to avoid the alienation and atomization of human beings in modern society.
Hunter Baker is Associate Dean of Arts and Sciences and Associate Professor of Political Science at Union University and the author of The End of Secularism.
John J. Miller
To prepare for my fall course on political journalism, I’m reading The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington by Robert Novak, one of the great political reporters of his generation. For pure fun, I’m reading The Skeleton Box by Bryan Gruley and Die a Stranger by Steve Hamilton, both mysteries set in northern Michigan, my favorite place in the world.
Posted: June 27, 2012 in Symposia.
Revisionist History at Its Best
Francis P. Sempa