Monday, December 5, 2005

Books I Read During the Year and Capsule Reviews

1491” by Charles O. Mann [Knopf, 2005] purports to describe how the Indian population in South America had built cities that far outstripped cities in Europe, only to fall into dissolution as the Indians caught the diseases brought by those awful Caucasians. I bought it thinking it would spare the liberal rhetoric and present something new. It doesn’t. When I saw Ward Churchill quoted, that decided it. Discard.

The Clash of Civilization and the Making of World Order” by Samuel P. Huntington [Simon & Schuster, 1996]. Yeah, I know, I just got around to reading it. Brilliant and ever-new. A good forerunner to my favorite book of the year, “The Pentagon’s New Map” by Tom Barnett (who has written another which I will try to get). Read.

Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center” by David Okrent, [Viking, 2003]. I became a fan of Okrent when he was the New York Times’ public editor for a year and had the temerity to tell the world that The Times is a liberal Democratic newspaper. Gifted writer, he pictures the economy in the 1930s with breathtaking realism. Funny, it tells of the day when “Junior,” the son of old John D. Rockefeller, who never asked to be rich and who always sought to measure up to the Rockefeller reputation but was tormented by self-doubt, got a note in green ink from his father when the old man was 94 and Junior was in his 60s. The old man had calculated that Junior owed him $14 million for two years rent! Imagine, the richest man in the world writing to his son, the second richest, in journeyman’s account-style about money both could easily ignore. Junior retorted with a masterpiece of a letter, wallowing in guilt and self-abasement only to find out that the old man had forgotten he wrote the letter and was mystified at what Junior was talking about. Wonderful. Okrent is candid about everyone in the family, all their foibles except, intriguingly, how Nelson died. But it gives you a vibrant sense of the family. Read.

Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller” by Ron Chernow [Vintage, 1998]. This should be read precedent to the above as Chernow, one of this nation’s best biographers, draws the portraits of the Rockefellers. He makes the case which I believe that in the days the old geezer made his pile, there was no moral opprobrium to doing what he did which is strong-arm the railroads and every other economic segment to do his will, all the while going to the Baptist church regularly to sing his psalms. Guilt came later when we all could afford it. Read.

Royko: A Life in Print” by Richard Ciccone [Public Affairs, 2001]. I didn’t know Royko at all so the tortured person behind the alcoholism came as a revelation to me. Enough admiration exists but no punches are pulled. Read.

The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt” and “Theodore Rex”—two volumes in a three-volume series on his life (the third volume to come soon) by Edmund Morris. Superb biography by the man who butchered Ronald Reagan’s. Morris’ liberal leanings show through by his not mentioning TR’s support of family life as the boon of the nation (it wouldn’t comport to today’s secular views) as shown in “The American Way” by Allan Carlson (ISI: 2003] which I also read. Reading the two Morris books and knowing how John McCain is trying to emulate TR you get a scary look at what would happen if McCain got the presidency. Read.

The Prince of the City” by Fred Siegel [Encounter, 2005], the biography of Rudy Giulianni who I really think could be an outstanding president in the George W. Bush mould if he could change his views on social issues. Outstanding presentation by a New York urbanologist on how Rudy tamed New York. Lord, I wish he’d get his act together for 2008. Read.

Cinderella Man” by Jeremy Schapp [Houghton-Mifflin, 2005], the background of the legendary film, showing how Jim Braddock rose from a welfare recipient to heavyweight champion of the world. Good, fast page-turner. Read.

Cinderella Man” by Michael DeLisa [Milo, 2005]. Second rate rehash of the first book. Skip.

“Art: A New History” by Paul Johnson [Harper Collins: 2003]. If you’ve ever dozed in art appreciation class as I did and want to read the full sweep of great art, sculpture and architecture by one who is a superb artist himself, this is the book. Johnson is, of course, a brilliant journalist who wrote “Modern Times” and “The Birth of the Modern.” Costly book with beautiful pictures. Read.

“Cardinal Ratzinger” by John Allen, Jr. [Continuum, 2003], a well-written biography but totally unfair to Ratzinger by the legendary (I think) Rome correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter. Noteworthy for Allen’s prediction that Ratzinger could never be elected Pope. But it’s a valuable study if for no other purpose than Allen changed his mind and wrote another biography after the election of Benedict XVI. Read.

“The Rise of Benedict XVI” by John Allen, Jr.[Doubleday 2005]. Allen tried to stop republication of his “Cardinal Ratzinger” after the election but couldn’t so he wrote another book which is a marked change from his earlier one—but full of humility which shows the kind of decent man Allen is. Brilliant. Read.

Opus Dei” by the self-same John Allen Jr.,[Doubleday 2005], the best thing written by anyone of the so-called super-secret prelature within the Catholic Church which was honored by John Paul II who canonized its founder. It washes clean the stain left by “The Da Vinci Code”’s author Dan Brown. The most insidious thing about this novel is the note on the first page that says “The Priory of Sion, a European secret society founded in 1099—is a real organization.” In this Brown ought to be chastised for trading on ignorance and bigotry to command a best-seller, almost as if one concocted a story about the Elks Clubs, linking them to some secret devil-worshiping claque. Allen methodically tells the story of “Opus Dei” with great credibility stemming from his very liberal Catholic mind-set. Read.

More tomorrow.

1 comment:

  1. Many worthy works with Chicago connections. Please consider these, also with Chicago connections:

    China, Inc., by Ted Fishman
    Dying to Win: The Logic of Suicide Terrorism, by Robert Pape

    Chain of Command, by Seymour Hersh

    No Chicago connection, but also consider:

    In Sam We Trust, by Bob Ortega

    I haven't yet read the following yet, but am looking forward to it:

    Dark Alliance: The CIA, the Contras, and the Crack Cocaine Explosion, by Gary Webb

    Iraq Confidential: The Untold Story of the Intelligence Conspiracy to Undermine the UN and Overthrow Saddam Hussein, by Scott Ritter

    Haven't read any fiction in a year or so, but the work of RK Narayn is on my list.

    No about those conservative candidates supporting Milton Friedman's position on the commercialization of narcotics: when will they speak up?