All posts filed under: Charles

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.

Trotsky: A Biography (Robert Service)

I continue to be fascinated by the Bolshevik Revolution, because in its success there are many lessons.  Unbiased history and biography of the Bolsheviks is a relatively recent phenomenon; prior to 1991, a combination of lack of primary materials and philo-Communism among Western historians meant very few objective books were published.  Since 1991, though, the balance has shifted, even if plenty of Communist-loving propaganda is still published by major historians, because the global Left has always, and continues to, fully support the goals and methods of Communism.  They mostly just keep it a bit more quiet in public than they used to.

The Once and Future Worker: A Vision for the Renewal of Work in America (Oren Cass)

I have often complained that human flourishing cannot consist of increases in GDP that permit us all to buy more cheap Chinese crap every year.  Oren Cass has arrived to say exactly why that is, and what we should focus on instead.  He also adds important related thoughts, including very specific and reality-based policy recommendations.  Thus, in many ways, this book completes my circle of thoughts on political economy, providing the basis for an economic program in opposition to the modern verities of both Left and Right.

Before Church and State: A Study of Social Order in the Sacramental Kingdom of St. Louis IX (Andrew Willard Jones)

Like Diogenes searching for an honest man, I spend my days searching for a useful political program.  Necessarily rejecting all Left philosophies as anti-human and anti-reality, I go searching through the thickets on the Right, where of late various new approaches have arisen, to accompany various old ones that are getting fresh attention.  They do not get much older than the one espoused in this book, Catholic integralism—versions of the idea, in essence, that church and state should be cooperative joint actors in pursuit of a flourishing society, rather than separate spheres of action.  There is a lot to be said for this approach, but as always, its modern proponents spend too much time talking about the past, and too little on how elements of this approach could be used to build the future. Before Church and State is a very detailed examination of the relationship of church and state in the kingdom of Saint Louis IX (r. 1226–1270).  The focus is not so much on the king, although he appears often in the vehicle …

Building the Benedict Option: A Guide to Gathering Two or Three Together in His Name (Leah Libresco)

Creating a social movement is hard.  Creating a social movement of conservatives is even harder, since for the most part progressives derive much of life’s meaning from social action, while conservatives just want to live their lives.  For three years now, Rod Dreher has rung the alarm bell of his Benedict Option, warning that the hour is late, and Moloch is within the gates.  Many are listening and receptive, even eager.  But the Benedict Option faces challenges, of which the first is inertia, since conservatives find it hard to act to change their lives when not directly impelled.  In response, Leah Libresco here outlines an excellent plan to overcome that inertia. When I first started writing this review, I thought I would discuss as well as second challenge—the enemies of the Benedict Option.  But after thought, it is not quite correct that enemies are a challenge that will rise to meet the Benedict Option.  It is more accurate to say that virtue and goodness have enemies and the Benedict Option will be one of their …

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.

Stubborn Attachments: A Vision for a Society of Free, Prosperous, and Responsible Individuals (Tyler Cowen)

Finally, the age of sophisters and calculators has fully arrived, and its herald is Tyler Cowen.  He, economist and blogger, is here to tell us the purpose of life.  It is to die with the most toys.  Well, that, plus maximum freedom to do whatever we want with our toys while we are still alive.  Stubborn Attachments is just about the sort of thing you’d expect from a left-libertarian philosopher, namely a clever and partially accurate construct that is internally coherent, but floats free of human reality and ignores any human value other than that found in the box labeled “Approved By John Stuart Mill.”

Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century (Mark Sedgwick)

This book is an academic study of an obscure movement, Traditionalism.  The name has a specific meaning; it does not mean traditional forms of belief, that is, generically, conservatism.  Rather, “Traditionalism” is a type of Gnosticism, holding that a core of hidden knowledge, contained within all true religion, is the cure for what ails the modern world.  I certainly think that the modern world needs curing, though I don’t think that Traditionalism is what the doctor ordered.  Still, the pull of Gnosticism across time and space must mean something.  But what?  Mark Sedgwick’s book helps us begin to answer that question.

Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939 (Wolfgang Schivelbusch)

This book, a brief work of cultural history, outlines four parallel aspects of three political systems: the American New Deal, Italian Fascism, and German Nazism.  The point of Three New Deals is that these political systems shared core similarities in certain programmatic manifestations.  The author, Wolfgang Schivelbusch, fortunately does not claim that the three systems were essentially the same.  He offers, instead, a discussion of the interplay between the governed and the governors in each of these systems—how each shaped the other, in ways that can be compared and contrasted across systems.  The result is a book of modest interest from which, perhaps, something more can be spun.

The Republican Workers Party: How the Trump Victory Drove Everyone Crazy, and Why It Was Just What We Needed (F. H. Buckley)

Along with left-wing books decrying the supposed Trump-driven decline of democracy, I have been reading right-wing books about the supposed Trump-driven realignment of politics.  They have mostly been tedious, and this one, Frank Buckley’s The Republican Workers Party, has not improved my mood.  It is poorly written, unoriginal, blinkered, simplistic, and annoying.  Worst of all, reading the book is like watching a spastic jumping frog.  It lurches from half-covered topic to half-covered topic, never settling on anything.  Don’t waste your time.