I am skeptical of those who predict the future by looking at the past. It’s not that history follows a random walk, like the stock market. Quite the contrary—it is easy to show certain patterns in history. But predicting how and when those patterns will yield any particular result in any given society seems like astrology. Peter Turchin, however, offers a very convincing, and very well-supported, tying of patterns to data. I’m still not sure it’s not astrology, but I’m half convinced. And this is a good book to read in January 2020—because right now is when Turchin predicts, in America, the swelling discord of the title.
Few Americans know much about Francisco Franco, leader of the winning side in the Spanish Civil War and subsequently dictator of Spain. Yet from 1936 until 1975, he was a famous world figure. Now he is forgotten—but not by all. Franco is, and has been for decades, a cause célèbre among the global Left, seen as the devil incarnate for his successful war against Communist domination of Spain. To successfully delay, or worse, block, any Left attempt to establish their permanent rule, thereby revealing that history lacks a progressive direction, is the unforgivable sin. Naturally, therefore, my own impression of Franco was generally favorable. But after reading up on him, my impression of him has changed. Now it is positively glowing.
As with Nicholas II, the last ruling Romanov, how we view Charles I is largely set by how his days ended. And as with Nicholas, we have been further conditioned by generations of propaganda pumped out by the winners and their ideological allies, claiming that it was Charles’s own bad philosophy, coupled with incompetence, rather than mostly bad luck and choices only wrong in retrospect, that led to his death. Leanda de Lisle’s The White King rejects the fake news and offers an even-handed view.
Given that zombie survival manuals and similar how-to books are today all the rage, on sale at every Costco, Edward Luttwak’s Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook seems like a selection from the same genre. Namely, of somewhat jokey books that purport to tell you what to do in a strange, disastrous situation, while effectively acknowledging that if you do end up being chased by zombies, hurriedly turning to the index, finding the entry “When Being Pursued,” then scrambling to locate page 102, isn’t probably the best tactic for survival. But instead, this book is the real thing, I think—an actual practical handbook on how to overthrow the state. More precisely, how to overthrow a weak state, a banana republic, though I will give some thought to relevance in the modern American context.
How the Roman Republic ended is well known, even in these undereducated days, but all the attention focus goes to Julius Caesar. True, he was the pivot of the actual end of the Republic, but what came before and after was more important. What came after, during the long reign of Augustus, may not be as thrilling as story, but it dictated much of the later history of the West (and of the Roman East, now temporarily in thralldom). This book covers the other side of the transition, what came before—a period that nowadays is nearly forgotten, but is perhaps more critically important in what it can teach us today.
William Lloyd Garrison is one of those nineteenth-century American figures about whom most people know a little, realizing they are important to American history, but whom few can discuss with expertise. Into that same category I’d put men like Henry Clay, John Fremont, perhaps even Stephen Douglas, and quite a few others. Garrison is probably more neglected than those figures. But this book is an excellent corrective, not only showing the importance of Garrison for his time, but showing us how his principles apply today in a similarly fraught moral climate, and offering lessons in how society’s powerful approach, or fail to approach, moral issues, then and now.
This book has a not-new thesis, beloved by Marxists and Charles Beard: that economic reasons were the real driver behind the Civil War. Actually, Charles Adams tells us that only one economic reason was the sole driver—increased tariffs dictated by the North. As with all ideologically driven analysis, this ignores that all complex happenings have complex causes. Compounded with Adams’ numerous gross falsehoods, obvious ignorance, and bad writing, the result is Not Fresh.
“Team Of Rivals” is, of course, an excellent biography of Abraham Lincoln. It is readable, compelling, and original. I have no new praises to add. So, instead, I’m writing this review to compare the philosophy and politics of the Civil War era to our philosophy and politics today, on the topic of abortion.
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.