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Category: American History

Book Review: Age of Fracture
(Daniel T. Rodgers)

When I first started reading this book, which I pulled more or less at random off my shelf, I was a little mystified why I had bought it.  I thought, from its title, it would be political philosophy, but instead it was intellectual history, of the last quarter of the twentieth century.  The book seemed crisp and dispassionate at first, though it quickly revealed itself as somewhat meandering and biased.  After a little research, I realized that in 2012 Age of Fracture had won the Bancroft Prize, awarded to books of American history.  Most people probably haven’t heard of the Bancroft Prize, but it is regarded as very prestigious, so I must have bought this book because it was publicized in that context.  But when I finished reading it, the more I thought about it, the more I disliked this book.

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Book Review: Mormon Country
(Wallace Stegner)

Wallace Stegner, writer about the American West, is famous mostly for his novel Angle of Repose.  This book is not famous, but it is worth reading.  Mormon Country is a travelogue centered on the areas settled by the Mormons—basically Utah, of course, but also parts of Colorado, Nevada, Wyoming, Arizona, and New Mexico.  It is not a book about Mormons, though they appear prominently; it is about the country, as it was in the 1930s.  Stegner did not write this book to make a point.  There is no ideological overlay, and Stegner is neither pushing nor denigrating Mormonism.  He was not Mormon, but he respects them and their culture.  Mormon Country draws a picture of the area and its history, as of the time of writing, and offers intriguing tales (many of which have modern postscripts).

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Book Review: Why Liberalism Failed (Patrick J. Deneen)

Poor Francis Fukuyama.  He has been a punching bag ever since he unwisely declared the End of History, more than twenty-five years ago.  Fukuyama, of course, meant that the globe had, at the end of ideologies, reached an equilibrium, an even, calm sea of liberal democracy, and all that was left was cleanup.  Patrick Deneen is here to kick Fukuyama some more, and to announce that not only is liberalism a defective ideology, it is doomed just as were the other, more flash-in-the pan ideologies.  The systemic failure of liberalism is on the horizon, or underway, and Deneen’s project is to offer thoughts on how we got here, and what is next.  Thus, Why Liberalism Failed fits squarely into my current interest, Reaction—the call for the creation of a new political order built on the ashes of the old.

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Book Review: Red Platoon: A True Story of American Valor (Clinton Romesha)

Americans have always liked fighting stories: autobiographical and third person, fictional and non-fictional.  From dime novels about outlaws and Indians to, more recently, war movies, Americans have vicariously enjoyed American combat, and American successes in combat.  There are even meta fighting stories: an organizing frame of Clint Eastwood’s movie Unforgiven is a biographer trailing Eastwood’s character to write a dime novel.  As far as the recent Afghanistan and Iraq wars, early movies (i.e., under Bush) were mostly high-profile flops attacking America (Rendition; Lions for Lambs).  Later movies (i.e., under Obama, where it was no longer regarded as necessary by those controlling the film industry to attack Bush rather than make profits) included some such, but moved toward depicting American heroism (Lone Survivor; American Sniper).  Not incidentally, those two latter movies were based on autobiographical books, rather than the fever dreams of Hollywood leftists, and this book, Clinton Romesha’s Red Platoon, falls squarely into that genre.

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Book Review: The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker
(Katherine J. Cramer)

In the past few years, a variety of liberal academics have adopted a Gorillas in the Mist sensibility when trying to understand conservatives.  Like Dian Fossey, they creep, wearing a ghillie suit, through thick and steamy jungles alien to them, hoping to grasp what it is that makes these creatures tick.  Sometimes they become fond of these primates, and in their own clumsy way, try to improve their lives by protecting them from threats they appear too dumb to see.  Like Fossey, most of them are obsessives with tunnel vision, bound in chains by premises invisible to them.  Katherine Cramer, author of The Politics of Resentment, fits right into this model, even if Wisconsin is a long way from Rwanda, and a lot colder.  She offers us a book that is half morality play, half sociology study, and all clueless.

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Book Review: Makers and Takers
(Rana Foroohar)

Imprisoned inside this book is a good book screaming to get out.  Buried alive, like the Man in the Iron Mask, this Hidden Book offers worthwhile insights into, and criticism of, the crony capitalism that has choked the free market out of our finance system.  But the Hidden Book has disappeared from view under the crushing weight of authorial ignorance and an idol of, or rather an entire marble temple erected to, Elizabeth Warren.  So each time the author of Makers and Takers, Rana Foroohar, yet again prostrates herself yet again before her idol, I think I can hear a tinny shriek from the dungeon, as the Hidden Book realizes that its message will never, ever, fly free.

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Book Review: The Idea Factory
(Jon Gertner)

Jon Gertner’s The Idea Factory is a mild corrective to the commonly found anguished certainty that America’s days of innovative scientific greatness are behind us.  In its exploration of the might and works of Bell Labs, this book reminds us that genius requires the right cultural environment to flourish, and it addresses whether collective or individual genius is the mainspring of scientific advancement.  Ultimately, Gertner’s account gives the obvious answer—scientific advancement stands on a three-legged stool, dependent on all of the broader culture, muscular group effort, and heroic individuals.   Ayn Rand would not agree, but then, what did she ever actually accomplish?

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Book Review: World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech
(Franklin Foer)

Franklin Foer’s World Without Mind is an excellent book.  It identifies important problems, ties the problems to their historical precedents, and suggests some reasonable solutions.  The book is not complete, or perfect, but in the emerging literature of why and how to curb the power of giant technology companies, this book is a useful introduction, although there is a long way to go from here to there.

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Book Review: The Earth Is Weeping (Peter Cozzens)

The Earth Is Weeping offers an almost painfully even-handed look at the conflicts between the United States and American Indian tribes after the Civil War.  Of course, given the historiography of the past fifty years, an even-handed look necessarily inverts the traditional narrative.  Here, Team Indian does good and bad, and Team White does good and bad, each according to its own internal dictates of morality and external dictates of practicality and need.  The Sioux are expelled from their land—which they conquered only ten years before by slaughtering the previous inhabitants with extreme brutality.  The white man (and the Mexican, and the white man’s numerous Indian allies) usually breaks treaties and sometimes kills women and children.  Here is no morality tale, but the old and inevitable tale of nomad vs. nomad vs. state—new, perhaps, in Sumer, but not new in 1870.

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Book Review: The Once and Future Liberal (Mark Lilla)

Mark Lilla has been a bad, bad boy.  He has dared to point out the feet of clay upon which stand King Liberal, and he, like Cassandra, will not be thanked.  Still, this short book is an excellent political analysis, and it points the way, if only loosely, to a wholly new order of things, thus starting to answer my perennial question, “What is next?

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