Arlie Hochschild has gone the extra mile, and then some, to understand conservatives. I would say that she exemplifies the (pseudo-) Indian saying, “Never criticize a man until you’ve walked a mile in his moccasins,” except that is not politically correct, so I will not say it. Nonetheless, Hochshild has spent a lot of time and effort genuinely trying to understand a group of Louisiana conservatives, and the result is a very interesting book. Sure, it’s not perfect, in part because Hochschild, like most of us, can’t fully overcome her own biases that sometimes lead her to engage in unsophisticated analysis. But she is never once contemptuous or patronizing of these people, whom she seems to really regard as her friends, and she never caricatures the individuals, who actually vary from each other quite a bit. This enables her to, overall, do an excellent job (and a better job than Joan Williams in the more recent White Working Class, which covers very similar topics in an obtuse way).
Joan Williams wants to “Overcome Class Cluelessness in America.” This is an admirable goal, and in many ways this is an admirable book (or brochure—it’s very short). But reading White Working Class (which, despite its title, gives equal time to both the white and black working class) makes the reader squirm. The reader appreciates the author’s, Joan Williams’s, attempts to objectively examine her class, that of the “professional-management elite,” or “PME,” but winces at her frequent inability to actually understand the working class, or to view the working class other than primarily as potential foot soldiers in the march of progressive politics.
It is hardly news that the West has led the world economically for the past 200 years, or more. This superiority (let’s be honest—that’s what it is) academics commonly call the “Great Divergence,” a term coined by Samuel Huntington in 1996, though the study of Western economic superiority began much earlier. There are many sub-questions one can ask—e.g., what constitutes “the West”? Is it England? England and parts of the Continent? How does America fit in? When exactly did this takeoff begin? Are other countries now catching up, or even passing, the West? But these sub-questions are all small change compared to the most important question—why did the West diverge from the rest of the world at all, when all of world history up to that time exemplified the Malthusian Trap, where productivity increased too slowly to increase per capita output even when aggregate output increased?
Already before I began writing this review, I was worn out reading books with a similar theme, that of Christian renewal, including Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option and Charles Chaput’s Strangers in a Strange Land. I was already going to retire and turn to reading biographies for a while. It is not, of course, Reno’s fault that this is the final book I read in the chain. I have tried to ensure that my being worn out does not color my perception of the book. Nonetheless, I was disappointed in this book. While what it says has value, and Reno’s heart is in the right place, his book is largely derivative and superficial, and it omits, for all practical purposes, any real plan for achieving the goal of its title.
This is a famous book. Together with Marshall Hodgson’s three-volume The Venture of Islam, it is the touchstone of modern long-form histories of the Islamic world. A History of Islamic Societies, as its title implies, covers both history and theology. Given that I like history, and that I have a particular interest in comparative theology (primarily as between Christianity and Islam, with forays into other religions, living and dead), you would think reading this book would be, for me, an ideal way to spend my time. But it nearly defeated me.
This is the second volume of historian Steven Hayward’s voluminous biography of Ronald Reagan. As with any modern, widely documented life, “voluminous” does not mean “comprehensive”—there is no such thing, and Reagan in particular is the type of man who, when writing about, the biographer must select his facts and weave them into a coherent whole that takes the measure of the man. In this Hayward succeeds brilliantly, while simultaneously illuminating the America of the 1980s—for as I noted when reviewing the first volume, this biography is about the Age of Reagan, not merely Reagan himself. But compared to that first volume, this volume, subtitled The Conservative Counterrevolution: 1980-1989 is much more about Reagan and less about his times. Or rather, it is about his times, but viewed nearly exclusively through the prism of Reagan, who after all molded those times more than any other human being. The first volume viewed the times largely through other prisms, including most notably Richard Nixon and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Here, the focus settles and stays on Reagan himself.