All posts filed under: Biography & Autobiography

Jesus Land (Julia Scheeres)

I think I’m well-positioned to review this book, because I grew up with Julia and David Scheeres. More precisely, we all went to Lafayette Christian School through eighth grade. Both Julia and David were in my brother’s elementary school class, one year ahead of me. Jerome, her older adopted brother, was in the class two years ahead of me. Lafayette Christian figures heavily in the story, although the story itself takes place starting two years after graduation from that school.

The Death of Caesar (Barry Strauss)

“The Death of Caesar” is Barry Strauss’s latest work on the politics and warfare of the Classical World. Strauss is perhaps today’s most prominent author writing histories of this type—highly readable, not too lengthy, cogent analyses that are designed for the general modern reader. Among other topics, Strauss has covered the Trojan War, Salamis, Spartacus, and now Caesar. This is actually the second book in which Strauss has focused on Caesar—“Masters Of Command” includes the life Caesar as one of its three foci, and “The Death of Caesar” focuses on, unsurprisingly, his death.

Masters of Command (Barry Strauss)

This is a great introduction to three of the most important historical figures of the Classical Age. Since lack of historical knowledge is a plague upon the land in these latter days, Strauss does us a great service by providing a popular, concise history of these men. He compounds this service by drawing parallels and contrasts among them, making it easier to understand and remember each, and caps his effort by drawing permanent, generally applicable lessons from the lives of each.

The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (Calvin Coolidge)

I read this book after reading Amity Shlaes’s “Coolidge,” in part because Shlaes more than once refers to the “Autobiography.” While it is not an analytical work, rather a straightforward exposition by Coolidge of the facts of his life, it is an excellent complement to Shlaes’s longer (and also excellent) work. And as with that work, the “Autobiography” shows an America that is dead and gone, but one that contained within itself multitudes of virtues.

Defying Hitler: A Memoir (Sebastian Haffner)

“Defying Hitler” is one of those relatively few books (available widely in English at least) that are contemporaneous memoirs of events relating to the Third Reich. Any book, memoir or not, written after the war necessarily suffers from hindsight perception, so contemporaneous material is particularly interesting. (The classic modern example is Victor Klemperer’s diaries, which cover the war and pre-war period.) “Defying Hitler” was written in 1939, covering events in 1933, and was only published after the author’s death in 1999. The title of the book is a misnomer, because Haffner didn’t defy Hitler at all (which is his point).

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.

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.