All posts filed under: Book Reviews

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.

Singapore: Unlikely Power (John Curtis Perry)

Singapore is, in some ways, the modern Venice, a maritime city made wealthy by being in the right place, with the right assets, at the right time. Also like Venice, it doesn’t loom large in the modern American imagination. Mostly, if we think of Singapore, it’s as the setting for Crazy Rich Asians. It should get more attention—Singapore is interesting for its history, its economics, and for combining democracy with limitations on the popular will, a particular interest of mine. So, wanting to learn more, and given that this book is the only recent overview of Singapore, by a noted Asia expert, I thought it would be a good choice. Not really. This book is dull, plodding, and a bit of a fraud.

Empty Planet: The Shock of Global Population Decline (Darrell Bricker and John Ibbitson)

Anybody who has been paying attention has long grasped the truth: underpopulation, not overpopulation, is our problem. This will soon be true on a global scale, it is already true in most of the developed world. Empty Planet explains why this is undeniably so. Unfortunately, the explanation is shrouded in confusion and ideological distortion, so the authors are never able to provide a clear message. Instead, they offer rambling, contradictory bromides combined with dumb “solutions” until the reader throws his hands up in despair, as I did. But then I got a stiff drink, finished the book, and now am ready to tell you about it.

A Humane Economy: The Social Framework of the Free Market (Wilhelm Röpke)

This classic book, by a long-dead and almost-forgotten German economist, is suddenly relevant again. I have had a copy on my bookshelf for thirty years, never read, and I was startled by how timely A Humane Economy is. Today, elements of Left and Right are ganging up to kick neoliberalism when it’s down, aiming to break the long-dominant alliance between the corporatist Left and Right, and thereby to overturn the instrumentalist view of humans as fodder for an economic machine. We are simply awaiting the next crisis to see what will emerge. Wilhelm Röpke foresaw the problems we face today, because he lived through their early days—though I am not sure his solutions are practical, at least until a lot more chaos first sweeps across the land.

A History of Venice (John Julius Norwich)

This long but smoothly written book, by the very recently deceased John Julius Norwich, scion of English nobility, covers more than a thousand years of Venetian history. Nowadays Venice is mostly known as an overloaded tourist destination, or as a victim of environmental degradation, rather than as the world power it was for most of its history. Norwich, who loved the city and talks in detail not only about its past but also its architecture, often tying the two together, ably restores the place of Venice in history. And in so doing, he manages to both be interesting and to show us viable alternatives to the dead end into which “liberal democracy” has led us.

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.

Eumeswil (Ernst Jünger)

Ernst Jünger’s Eumeswil, one of the famous German’s last works, published when he was eighty-two years old, is often regarded as an exposition of libertarian thought. This is understandable, but completely wrong. Such a reading attempts to shoehorn concepts in which Jünger had little interest, or toward which he was actively hostile, into an exploration of unrelated themes. Moreover, it ignores that in this book, though somewhat masked, Jünger has more contempt for so-called liberal democracy than dislike for what some call tyranny. Thus, this book is not a call to rework society, or individual thought, along libertarian lines. It is instead a call for human excellence, and a criticism of the modern West for failure to achieve it, or to even try.

The Language of the Third Reich (Victor Klemperer)

Victor Klemperer is famous today for his diaries covering the Nazi era in Germany. But those were published in 1995, thirty-five years after his death. The only book he published in his lifetime was this one, in 1947: The Language of the Third Reich. Its original title, Lingua Tertii Imperii: Notizbuch eines Philologen (i.e., Notebook of a Philologist), with the Latin evoking Imperial Rome, is more precise and informative, but I suppose we’re too uneducated today for that title to be used. Either way, this book is fascinating in its description of the twisting of language by the Nazis, who, like all ideologues, turned words to their own ends of power.

48 Hours (William Fortschen)

I’ve read all of William Fortschen’s books.  They’re among the best of apocalypse fiction, a genre dominated by potboilers, so naturally, I preordered this book.  My big question was if the author could write something new, especially since at first glance it appears the apocalypse in 48 Hours is very similar to the EMP found in Fortschen’s most famous book, One Second After.  Without giving the story away, I can tell you this book is quite original.  And to me, the most interesting matter that Fortschen covers, indeed the plot driver of the entire book, relates to a long-running apocalypse concern of mine.  Namely, that the government, at any level, is not our friend, and would be our enemy in any real crisis where someone has to lose.

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.