Visit Homepage
Skip to content →

Category: Book Reviews

Book Review: Discourses on Livy
(Niccolò Machiavelli)

Niccolò Machiavelli is known today for two things: the adjective “Machiavellian,” and the book from which that adjective is derived, The Prince, which provides advice for monarchs who accede to power.  But Machiavelli wrote more than one book, and his second-most-famous book is this one, Discourses on Livy.  In it, he provides advice for the founding, structuring, governing, and maintenance of republics, along with advice to individuals holding power, and a good bit of practical military advice.  All this he extracts primarily from the extant writings of the historian Livy (64 B.C.– A.D. 12) on early Roman history, although he also brings in much other matter, including his own personal experiences and then-current events (Machiavelli wrote Discourses about 1517).  Thus, this book is part history, part mirror of princes, and part advice to those holding power in a republic on how not to get killed.

One Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: The Third Reich at War (Richard Evans)

Reading this third volume of Richard Evans’s massive study of the Third Reich, scenes from the TV show The Man in the High Castle kept flashing before my eyes.  That show (based on a Philip K. Dick book) posits a Nazi victory in World War II, and depicts how the postwar Greater German Reich affects the people who live under it.  The problem with Evans’s book is that it fails to paint such scenes for the actual Third Reich.  Rather, it is an endless litany of dead innocents and how they were killed, mixed with occasional talk of political and military happenings, along with a tiny bit about daily life for average civilians.  And while listing how millions of innocents were killed is certainly a task that could fill many, and longer, books, after a while it becomes a chronicle of atrocity, not a work of synthesized history.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: The Punic Wars
(Adrian Goldsworthy)

The study of history is dead.  That may seem an odd assertion, given that I am reviewing a very good work of history, Adrian Goldsworthy’s The Punic Wars.  But books like this are read by a tiny audience—hard to say how big, but I would be shocked if more than ten thousand people had read this book, and it is by a known author.  As far as I can tell, nearly nobody in public life, whether in politics, the media, popular entertainment, big business, or even most of the academic world, knows anything about actual history.

2 Comments

Book Review: Naked Economics
(Charles Wheelan)

Sometimes I think it is a fool’s errand to study economics and hope for enlightenment.  Much economics knowledge is too simple for that goal—for example, the relationship of supply and demand to prices.  Such facts are easy to grasp through direct personal experience.  But beyond that, actual enlightenment never comes, because, as everybody knows, economics is not a science.  Economists can’t even analyze the past with any precision or unanimity, much less the future.  Because I thought highly of the explanations of monetary policy in Charles Wheelan’s Naked Money, I hoped that by reading this book I would at least move further down the curve toward enlightenment.  But even the best writers cannot spin straw into gold.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: How to be a Conservative (Roger Scruton)

English traditional conservatives today exhibit a depressed passivity.  They ruminate, probably with a glass of claret in hand, on how good the past was and how little can be done about today.  Doubtless this enervation has to do with living in The Place Where Great Britain Used To Be, which is, like most of Europe (other than Hungary and Poland), a den of thought suppression and self-hatred, cursed with leaders who are mealy-mouthed, emasculated men and women of no use or value.   Caught with wine glass in hand, the prolific Roger Scruton, who somehow manages to combine the highest quality thought with constant output, offers us a combination of worthwhile philosophy and worthless enervation.  At best, this combination is unsatisfying.  More importantly, this book is not timely, because it is inwardly focused and passively philosophical, in an age when too much focus on philosophy, and too little focus on brute action, has, like Judas Iscariot, betrayed conservatism into the hands of its enemies.

Leave a Comment

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.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion (Jonathan Haidt)

In today’s world, discussion about morals is a lost art.  In part, this is because stupidity is on display everywhere, and encouraged to be so, even though most people’s thoughts and opinions are less than worthless, as a glance at Facebook or The New York Times comment sections will tell you.  More deeply, it’s because America is dominated today by the nearly universal (but wholly unexamined) belief that the only legitimate principle of moral judgment is John Stuart Mill’s “harm principle”—that no restriction on human action can be justified other than to prevent harm to another.  The Righteous Mind is an extended attack on the usefulness of the harm principle as the sole way to understand and justify human morality, combined with detailed explanations of the much broader ways in which people can and do view morality.  The author, Jonathan Haidt, uses this framework to understand political differences, and to plead for an increase in rationality and civility to arise from that understanding.

One Comment

Book Review: The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History (Tonio Andrade)

The Gunpowder Age succeeds in its lesser goal, which is convincing the reader that the common belief the Chinese only used gunpowder for fireworks is wrong.  But it fails in its greater goal, which is convincing the reader that except for a brief period in recent history, China has been the equal of the West in the technology of warfare.  And, in the wreckage of its failure, it confirms and reinforces the accurate perception that China has, for a thousand years, been lacking in scientific and cultural innovation.  Since a lack of innovation has negative implications for the Chinese future, and by modern Western standards is a negative judgment on Chinese society, this is probably not the effect that the Sinophile author of this book, Tonio Andrade, intended to achieve.

Leave a Comment

Book Review: Leviathan Wakes
(James S. A. Corey)

Leviathan Wakes is extremely well written, with a tight plot and carefully chosen prose.  This alone separates it from the vast majority of today’s science fiction.  Nor is it tendentious message fiction, further separating it from most modern science fiction, which is all about the navel-gazing identity of the characters, mostly as thinly veiled metaphor for present-day political conflicts.  Thus, the taut, straightforward story here has broad appeal, which is doubtless is at least part of the reason it has been serialized into a TV series (on SyFy), called The Expanse.  I haven’t seen the series, but if it is reasonably faithful to the book, it is probably very much worth watching.  Most importantly, it shows how a modern version of Manifest Destiny could work, a consummation devoutly to be wished.

Leave a Comment