All posts filed under: Book Reviews

The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor (William Easterly)

William Easterly is a leading critic of traditional approaches to development—that is, of traditional approaches to bridging the Great Divergence. He, and everyone else studying development, want to know why and how the West and a few Western-influenced countries have become wealthy, and everyone else in the world has stayed poor, despite trillions of dollars spent fruitlessly over seven decades by the West to bring the poor out of poverty.

Coolidge (Amity Shlaes)

My conclusion, after reading this book, is that Calvin Coolidge is grossly under-rated. Actually, that’s not quite right, because to be under-rated, you first have to be known. As far as I can tell, nearly nobody in America today knows much if anything about Coolidge. I certainly didn’t before reading this book. Yet not only is Coolidge a fascinating character study, his political life and his Presidency hold important lessons for today.

Thomas Jefferson: Author of America (Christopher Hitchens)

Typical incisive Hitchens, but marred by his anti-religious obsessions and biases, along with some strange lapses (mis-defining “entail”; mis-using “usufruct”; and others). Also way too much focus on slavery for a book less than 200 pages–it could better have been subtitled not “Author Of America” but “His Views And Actions On Slavery; And Some Other Matters.

Ulysses S. Grant: The Unlikely Hero (Michael Korda)

This is a slight book, but it does not claim to be more. As a basic introduction to the life of Ulysses Grant, once the most famous person in the world and now essentially forgotten, it is very good. I am not qualified to judge the accuracy of the details, of which some other reviewers have complained. But it provides a clear and compelling outline of the man, in his roles as general, President and husband, and serves the important purpose of re-introducing him to modern Americans.

The Better Angels of Our Nature (Steven Pinker)

This is a sprawling mess of a book. Flashes of arguably brilliant insight alternate with meandering musings. Fascinating narrow conclusions are drawn from carefully parsed evidence—and then sweeping conclusions are drawn from highly dubious evidence. Historical insights are used incisively in an argument—then the next argument is undermined by total historical illiteracy. At the end, the reader is left uncertain whether he has read 800 pages of genius, 800 pages of authoritative-sounding-but-meaningless fluff, or something in between. But I’ll go with the last one.

A Study of History, Vol. 1: Abridgement of Volumes I-VI (Arnold Toynbee)

I really wanted to like this book. It’s regarded as a classic, from a time before the study of history became corrupted by political correctness. From a time when the ascendancy of a civilization was taken for granted as a good, and history was not dominated by gender and race “studies,” but focused on the reality of history and what could be objectively learned from it.

Conservative Insurgency (Kurt Schlichter)

Conservative Insurgency is that rare animal: an optimistic look at the future of America through a conservative lens. Framed as a fictitious oral history (think Studs Terkel) from 2041, when a form of conservatism has come to dominate essentially all areas of American life, the book largely succeeds in its goal of showing how such a consummation, devoutly to be wished, might come about—through a decentralized, self-organizing strategy: an insurgency (hence the title).

Ghost on the Throne: The Death of Alexander the Great and the War for Crown and Empire (James Romm)

Who knew how exciting the events of the fourth century BC could be? Most of us have a dim idea of Alexander the Great—conqueror of Greece and points East, all the way to India. But it’s a pretty dim idea. And most of us have very little idea of what happened in the classical world after Alexander and before Julius Caesar. Perhaps we’re vaguely aware that the Egyptian Ptolemaic dynasty was started by one of Alexander’s lieutenants, who took that part of Alexander’s empire, and that the famous Cleopatra wasn’t Egyptian in the least. But mostly our awareness is a blank page. This book fills in a small part of that page.

Gun Control in the Third Reich (Stephen P. Halbrook)

Gun control is one of those few issues where there are zero good arguments on one side. Almost anyone who supports gun control is ignorant. Not a malicious ignorance, necessarily—more of an ignorance born of a love of moral preening. On the other hand, it is true that a few gun control supporters are not ignorant, but rather liars, who understand that gun control arguments make no sense on any level, factual or logical, but use them as a cover to achieve their end of keeping law-abiding citizens from having guns, in order to achieve their greater end of more government control of the citizenry. But mostly it’s ignorance—essentially every supporter of gun control knows nothing about guns, nothing about the insane and criminals, and nothing about history. It’s for that latter lack that this book is an excellent corrective, even though almost certainly no “gun control supporter,” a tautology for “invincibly ignorant person,” will read it. That’s too bad.

Infantry Attacks (Erwin Rommel)

Most people have heard of Erwin Rommel, at least in passing. But most people probably associate his name with only two events: World War Two tank battles in North Africa, and Rommel’s forced suicide by Hitler because of his ancillary association with Stauffenberg’s attempt to assassinate Hitler. And most people probably have a general sense that Rommel was not so bad a guy, relative to the Nazi regime as a whole (as low a bar as that may be). This book contradicts none of that, but provides a broader sense both of who Rommel was, and also provides a different perspective on World War One than we commonly have.