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The Worthy House Posts

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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Book Review: The Digest of Justinian (Translated by Charles Henry Monro)

[Admin’s Note: This is a guest post by Jared, who only recently realised it’s “servandus,” not “servadus.”]

The Corpus Juris Civilis was a monumental achievement. Justinian I of the Eastern Roman or Byzantine Empire set out to collect and condense the disparate laws that had evolved in Rome, and then set them down in a coherent, authoritative text. He didn’t literally do it himself—he was the project’s executive (having imperium, at that), with the low-level work being delegated to an army of lawyers and legal scholars and clerks or what have you. The result was actually three texts: the Codex Justinianus, the Institutiones, and the Digesta, or the Digest. The Digest is, I believe, the largest—essentially an encyclopedia of Roman law, organized by topic and consisting of edited excerpts from renowned archaic jurists: Gaius, Ulpian, Julianus, Paulus, and so on.

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Book Review: Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy
(Dani Rodrik)

I find that my hit percentage on economics books is about 50%.  One out of every two books I read is excellent, and the other is awful. Very little seems to be in between.  Unfortunately for me, this book is in the latter group.  It is supposed to be, I think, an effort to show that a mainstream economist can be less than totally enthused about unlimited free trade and “hyper-globalization,” without being on the side of Trump or “illiberal democracies,” and without giving up his neoliberal ID card.  But Straight Talk on Trade is just a mess.

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Book Review: The Arms of Krupp 1587-1968 (William Manchester)

The late William Manchester, master of twentieth century popular history, made his reputation with this book, published in 1968.  There will never be another book on the Krupp family like it, and not just because it’s so long, nearly half a million words and a thousand pages.  It is also because the Krupps are largely forgotten today, fifty years later—and because Manchester personally talked to nearly everyone in, and connected to, the Krupp family at its height, and those people are all dead.  Just as dead is the firm itself, since the sole proprietorship that was “Krupp” no longer exists in that form or has any connection to the Krupp family.  Sic transit gloria mundi, if “gloria” is the right word.

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Book Review: Ancient Law: Its Connection with the Early History of Society, and its Relation to Modern Ideas
(Henry Sumner Maine)

[Admin’s Note: This is a guest post by Jared, who is most definitely not a lawyer, nor a historian.]

Henry Sumner Maine was an Englishman of the High Victorian era, i.e., the late 19th century.  His Popular Government, a book discussing the properties and deficiencies of broad-suffrage democracy, is often recommended by reactionaries in the vein of Mencius Moldbug.  He included Popular Government in a list of three books constituting the canon of his so-called “Froude Society” (of which I am apparently a deacon).  But while Maine’s work has reactionary implications, it is never polemic. Maine was a sober-minded jurist and historian. The present book, his Ancient Law, is probably his best-known work, and the one most representative of his broader oeuvre. Maine tends to be a bit of a dry writer, but he never fails to deliver on the subject matter, and the book is a pleasure to read.

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Book Review: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work
(Matthew B. Crawford)

This is not a book about how you can make more money as a plumber than by going to law school.  It is, rather, a book of philosophy, revolving around thoughts on alienation, self-reliance, and what we owe to others.  I found it to be both a bit rambling and unexpectedly deep—it manages to connect the thoughts of Marx with those of Aristotle, and it combines practical thoughts on how one should earn one’s bread with advice for living a whole life.  The net effect is worthwhile, though not earthshattering.

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Book Review: American Cicero: The Life of Charles Carroll (Bradley J. Birzer)

Charles Carroll, once famous as the only Catholic signatory of the Declaration of Independence and the last signatory to die, is no longer much in the public consciousness.  If asked to name a signatory, most people would say “John Hancock,” since he wrote his name in big letters.  Thomas Jefferson would also come to mind; perhaps also John Adams, Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin, especially for those who watched the John Adams miniseries on HBO a few years back.  Not that long ago, though, Charles Carroll would also have sprung to mind, and Bradley Birzer’s goal is to, if not restore Carroll, at least clear away some of the dust that has covered his memory.

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Book Review: To Change the Church: Pope Francis and the Future of Catholicism (Ross Douthat)

Ross Douthat has a job that is, I would guess, either enviable or unpleasant, depending on the day—that of being the only regular conservative contributor to the New York Times.  A frequent focus of Douthat’s is that most counter-cultural of doctrines, orthodox Roman Catholicism.  If you want to suffer, you need only visit the comments section in the Times for any Douthat column, especially one on Catholicism.  Exposing yourself to the firehose of bile and stupidity there will show you what Purgatory will be like, although perhaps Purgatory will be an improvement.  Undaunted, Douthat now offers a full-length book on the changes being brought about by Pope Francis.

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