All posts filed under: American History

Richard Nixon: The Life (John Farrell)

Richard Nixon’s name is often invoked, but what we hear, for the most part, is not history. Rather it is incantation, much like watching a medieval morality play, where every character has his place, and Nixon’s is Evil. Given this, John Farrell’s 2017 biography performs two services. The first is to go behind the stage and show Nixon in all his lost complexity. The second is to show how the destruction of Nixon has been used as the template in attempts to similarly destroy Donald Trump. For people like me, who did not live through the Nixon years and only know of him through the malevolent mumblings of senile Baby Boomers, lost in their delicious opium dreams of youth and JFK, this book is therefore most enlightening, both of the past and the present.

After the Flight 93 Election: The Vote that Saved America and What We Still Have to Lose (Michael Anton)

Michael Anton is the man who today best communicates the fractures among the Right. He identifies, and exemplifies, growing incompatibilities among conservatives, both on the issues of the day and in beliefs about desirable political structures. Anton first came to public notice under a pseudonym, Publius Decius Mus, writing in 2016 during the brief life of a pro-Trump blog, the Journal of American Greatness. In September of that year, Anton published a famous essay, “The Flight 93 Election.” His first point was that, like the passengers of Flight 93, Americans opposed to the permanent boot-stamping dominance of the Left had an existential choice. They could, as it were, charge the cockpit by taking a chance on Trump. Or they could passively accept Hillary, and face certain political death. His second point was that their behavior when faced with this choice showed that the conservative movement, as it exists now, was wholly worthless. These claims were, no surprise, controversial.

Letters from an American Farmer (J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur)

This is a strange little Colonial-era book that, nonetheless, tells us something about America today. It was written by a protean Frenchman, J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur. Born French, in Caen, he fought on the Plains of Abraham for Montcalm, and was wounded. He then became a British citizen, married, and settled down to farm in the Hudson Valley in 1769. But he did not want to take sides in the War of Independence, so he went back to France, and returned to America only in 1783. This book was published to wide acclaim in 1782, and the most interesting part of it, by far, is Crèvecœur’s anguished description of how, despite his hopes for the Enlightenment making all men better, it didn’t, as shown by the hatreds and violence engendered by the war.

The Age of Eisenhower: America and the World in the 1950s (William I. Hitchcock)

I have always had a fascination with the 1950s, even though they ended many years before I was born. But I know little that is not trivia or surface knowledge. My excuse is that it seems difficult to find good histories of the 1950s that are not either narrowly focused or crammed with ideological claptrap blended with Baby Boomer preening (David Halberstam’s awful The Fifties is an example of such a combination). This book, William Hitchcock’s The Age of Eisenhower, seemed like a reasonable way to try to expand my knowledge.

The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny (William Strauss and Neil Howe)

I am almost ashamed to review this book. It is like reviewing Fifty Shades of Grey—the mere fact the someone publicly admits he has read it degrades both him and his listeners. My only defense is that Steve Bannon has repeatedly stated this book is a major influence on his thought. He’s a clever man. So I sought wisdom by following his lead, but instead, I got a rotten egg. While I still have a great deal of respect for Bannon, having read this book, the Respect-O-Meter has dropped by roughly 60%. He may gain the respect back, for example by correctly predicting the results of, and the impact of, this coming May’s elections to the European Parliament. But it will be a task, after subjecting me to The Fourth Turning.

West Like Lightning: The Brief, Legendary Ride of the Pony Express (Jim DeFelice)

My great-grandfather’s uncle, William Pridham, was a rider for the Pony Express.  This is not a family legend, as are many Pony Express stories; he is listed in the Appendix to this book, which is a crisp, compelling story of the brief life of that once-iconic American enterprise.  The family connection is really why I picked this book to read, and I was not disappointed in my choice.

My Father’s Business: The Small-Town Values That Built Dollar General into a Billion-Dollar Company (Cal Turner)

In 2002, the law firm for which I worked was involved in the Dollar General debacle, helping clean up the mess after the company restated financial statements due to massive accounting fraud.  I didn’t know much about Dollar General at the time.  But I do remember that a firm partner told me that one of the company’s directors had succinctly described their business model to him.  “We sell shit, to poor people.”  Cal Turner, Jr., has written this book to explain that business model and his part in it.

The Curse of Bigness: Antitrust in the New Gilded Age (Tim Wu)

As the ideological tectonic plates shift in America, many apparently settled matters have become unsettled.  This creates, at the same time, both conflict and strange bedfellows, though I suspect the latter will become used to each other soon enough.  Such once-settled matters include hot-button cultural matters like nationalism, but also dry, technical matters of little apparent general interest that are of profound actual importance.  Among these are the place in our society of concentrations of economic (and therefore political) power, the subject of the excellent Tim Wu’s awesome new book, The Curse of Bigness.  What Wu is hawking is “Neo-Brandeisianism,” and I am buying what he is selling.

Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World (Laura Spinney)

Since I am an apocalypse monger, but a practical one, I do not worry about alien invasions or the reversal of Earth’s magnetic field, but I do worry about pandemics.  This book, Laura Spinney’s Pale Rider, is a recent offering in the pandemic literature that has become popular in the past twenty years.  It focuses on the only known pathogen likely to create a future pandemic, the influenza virus, through its greatest past outbreak, the Spanish Flu of 1918.  I read books like these partially for history knowledge and partially to understand what to do in a similar future situation, and Pale Rider is useful for both.

On Conservative Bubbles and the Supreme Court

It has long been an article of faith on the Right, including for me, that the Left has undemocratically imposed its views on the country for decades by using the Supreme Court as a super-legislature.  I had a discussion with a friend of mine this past weekend, an actual centrist (bizarre, I know), who suggested this view is wrong, or rather exaggerated.  He challenged me to demonstrate my position, stipulating that it is obviously true with respect to abortion.  For the most part, I failed his challenge, but today we will explore to what degree and why it matters.