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Category: Charles

Book Review: The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It (Angelo M. Codevilla)

I stay away from the shouters, such as Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin.  Sure, they’re right in their conclusions, most of the time, but the lack of nuanced thought annoys me.  There are plenty of ways to get easily worked up today, without seeking out more that don’t offer a corresponding benefit.  Angelo Codevilla is not a shouter, but this is at least a half-shouter book, as shown by that Limbaugh wrote the Introduction.  As is the case with most books of conservative woe, it has nothing of substance to offer about how to fix the problems it identifies.  Still, it has one interesting insight, and one cautionary lesson.  And I am here to offer the solution to the problem Codevilla talks about.  It’s not even radical!

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Book Review: Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It (Richard V. Reeves)

This isn’t a great book, but it’s a starting point for discussions that are worth having.  Richard Reeves gently flogs his own class for their sins, an act he thinks is very daring, though he uses a thin, silken cord and doesn’t put any muscle into it.  The upper middle class, he says, is pulling up the bridge to the Castle of Success, protecting its own sons and daughters from the dragons outside, at the expense of the peasants milling about on the other side of the moat.  He thinks this is bad, although he is confused as to exactly why that should be, since it seems “unfair,” but he can’t say what that is with any precision, and, after all, isn’t personal choice the most important thing of all?  So this book mostly goes nowhere, but it can tickle the mind into some genuine thought.

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Book Review: The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss
(David Bentley Hart)

Although this is a book written by one of today’s most prominent Christian theologians, it is not a Christian book.  David Bentley Hart’s purpose is to demolish atheism, not to support Christian revelation.  Hart’s core point is that all theistic traditions, including the Abrahamic but also the Hindu and Buddhist, and even “various late antique paganisms,” share sophisticated reasoning about God and have arrived at certain conclusions which, if not ironclad, are much more reasonable and much more convincing than atheist arguments, which are, mostly, some combination of simplistic and irrelevant.  While I am not the target audience, it seems to me that an honest reader of this book is very unlikely to leave an atheist, even if he entered one, so if that is true, Hart’s book is a success.

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Book Review: The Unintended Reformation: How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society (Brad S. Gregory)

Exhaustively documented, and in some ways just exhausting, though at the same time exhilarating, Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation is a towering achievement.  It synthesizes centuries of history and multiple avenues of thought to analyze how we arrived at certain negative aspects of modernity.  Gregory’s claim is that we got here as the result of the unintended consequences of choices made in response to “major, perceived human problems.”  Those choices were, initially, the Reformation’s religious choices, which ran counter to the entire worldview of medieval Christianity.  But the Reformation did not solve the problems—it made them worse, in a declining spiral, accelerated and exacerbated by subsequent secularization, itself partially the result of the Reformation.  The result is a world in which the ability of humans to find meaning in their lives has been crippled, rather than enhanced.  We would, implicitly, be better off with something more like the High Medieval synthesis destroyed by Martin Luther.

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Book Review: Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup
(John Carreyrou)

While pretty much everyone in this book who is rich and powerful comes off looking bad, it is less a tale of typical fraud, like a Ponzi scheme, and more a tale of human foibles.  These were expertly played on by Elizabeth Holmes, a very young woman of little productive talent and no particular evident intelligence, but with a natural gift for sales and embodying the icy manipulative abilities of the sociopath.  Fascinating stuff, all of it, and worth reading just to make sure that you don’t fall into a similar trap in your life.  And, more broadly, the arc of Theranos has much to say about supposedly imminent advances in technology, from artificial intelligence to flying autonomous cars.

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Book Review: The Great Revolt: Inside the Populist Coalition Reshaping American Politics (Salena Zito and Brad Todd)

Most honest postmortems of Trump’s election are by Democrats focusing on what they missed.   Usually, they are either narrow exercises in vote counting or more holistic attempts to understand Trump voters.  In the latter group are Joan Williams’s White Working Class and Ken Stern’s Republican Like Me.  The common thread in these is discovery, a dawning realization that there are people out there with legitimate, even compelling, reasons to vote for Trump.  Republicans, on the other hand, haven’t engaged much in postmortems.  They have engaged in recriminations, or a facile triumphalism, but few seem to have analyzed Trump’s election in a focused, professional, way.  The Great Revolt fills that gap.

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Book Review: Koh-i-Noor: The History of the World’s Most Infamous Diamond (William Dalrymple and Anita Anand)

Koh-i-Noor is not about the diamond, to my disappointment.  Oh, sure, it makes an appearance here and there in this book.  But very little is actually said here about the diamond itself, probably because the Queen of England hasn’t made it available for analysis and study, and prior generations didn’t record much about its specifics.  Rather, this is a book of cultural history revolving around people who have owned the diamond.  That’s interesting, in its own way, but not what I was promised.

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Book Review: The Power of the Powerless (Václav Havel)

This book was once famous, but was mostly forgotten when Communism died and so-called liberal democracy seemed ascendant.  It is increasingly famous again, and relevant, in these days of a new creeping totalitarianism, this time in the West itself.  Such timelessness is the signature of a classic work, so my goal today is to explicate Václav Havel’s thought, and to show why its time has come round again.

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Book Review: All on Fire: William Lloyd Garrison and the Abolition of Slavery (Henry Mayer)

William Lloyd Garrison is one of those nineteenth-century American figures about whom most people know a little, realizing they are important to American history, but whom few can discuss with expertise.  Into that same category I’d put men like Henry Clay, John Fremont, perhaps even Stephen Douglas, and quite a few others.  Garrison is probably more neglected than those figures.  But this book is an excellent corrective, not only showing the importance of Garrison for his time, but showing us how his principles apply today in a similarly fraught moral climate, and offering lessons in how society’s powerful approach, or fail to approach, moral issues, then and now.

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Book Review: Suicide of the West: How the Rebirth of Tribalism, Populism, Nationalism, and Identity Politics is Destroying American Democracy
(Jonah Goldberg)

I think this book is meant as a #NeverTrumper manifesto, an attempt to create intellectual backbone for that wispy band of conservative holdouts, who crouch behind the crenellations in their National Review fastness, wondering why the final assault on them has yet to begin—not realizing it is because everyone has forgotten about them.  Strictly speaking, though, I have no idea what the point of this book is, because it’s a jumble of thoughts, anecdotes and superficial facts, strung together with no clear audience and only the most simplistic of analysis.  It’s a boneless mess.

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