Roundup: Books



  • Maxed Out

    by Ruth Rosen

    Feminists have always known we can't "have it all."



  • Winston Groom: Review of Thomas Fleming's "A Disease in the Public Mind: A New Understanding of Why We Fought the Civil War" (Da Capo, 2013)

    Winston Groom is the author of Forrest Gump and, most recently, Shiloh, 1862. His forthcoming book, The Aviators: Eddie Rickenbacker, Jimmy Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and the Epic Age of Flight, will be published in November.It is no news that the age of political correctness and revisionist history is upon us, and nowhere is it more apparent than in the subject of slavery and the American Civil War. In the past half-dozen years, literature has appeared condemning the Southern general Robert E. Lee as a traitor, slaver, and racist. In Memphis, the city council has voted to remove the names of Confederate leaders from its city parks, and similar efforts calling for the removal of statues and other symbols commemorating the old Confederacy are in progress across the South.



  • John B. Thompson: Review of Stephen Platt's "Autumn in the Heavenly Kingdom" and Tobie Meyer-Fong's "What Remains: Coming to Terms with Civil War in Nineteenth-Century China"

    John B. Thompson (@johnbthomp) is a writer from Columbus, Ohio. He is a PhD student in East Asian history at Columbia University. THIS SUMMER MARKS the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Gettysburg, and November holds the anniversary of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address — “the words that remade America,” according to journalist and historian Garry Wills. Part of the address’ power flows from the image of the dead as martyrs for “a new birth of freedom,” the promise that the unprecedented savagery of the American Civil War was not a departure from the American project but a necessary part of it. We tend to remember this civil war for the positive reasons that Lincoln primed us to believe. But Lincoln’s rhetorical accomplishment makes us forget that death and civil war are more often toxic things. And few here remember that, at the same time that Lincoln was delivering his speech, China was witnessing its own civil war, with even higher costs and more unclear ends.



  • Seth Rosenfeld: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of UC

    Seth Rosenfeld is the author of "Subversives: The FBI's War on Student Radicals, and Reagan's Rise to Power," which received the 2013 Ridenhour Book Prize.Once upon a time, the University of California was a sacred trust, the top tier of a model educational system that helped lift the state to unprecedented prosperity. It was jealously protected from outside political interference.Now UC is more often described in profane terms. The state's entire higher education system has been under assault for decades — free access is long gone; investment per student has shrunk; some rankings have slipped. The passage of Proposition 30 last year will help repair some of the damage, but UC's stature has been diminished and with it the dream of a truly excellent education for every qualified native son and daughter.



  • Jonathan Freedland: Review of Jonathan Sperber's "Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life"

    Jonathan Freedland is an editorial page columnist for The Guardian of London.The Karl Marx depicted in Jonathan Sperber’s absorbing, meticulously researched biography will be unnervingly familiar to anyone who has had even the most fleeting acquaintance with radical politics. Here is a man never more passionate than when attacking his own side, saddled with perennial money problems and still reliant on his parents for cash, constantly plotting new, world-changing ventures yet having trouble with both deadlines and personal hygiene, living in rooms that some might call bohemian, others plain “slummy,” and who can be maddeningly inconsistent when not lapsing into elaborate flights of theory and unintelligible abstraction.



  • Helen Epstein: Review of Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner's "Lead Wars: The Politics of Science and the Fate of America’s Children"

    Helen Epstein is an independent consultant and writer specializing in public health in developing countries, and an adjunct assistant professor at the Columbia University School of International and Public Affairs.In December 1993, a slum landlord in Baltimore named Lawrence Polakoff rented an apartment to a twenty-one-year-old single mother and her three-year-old son, Max.1 A few days after they moved in, Max’s mother was invited to participate in a research study comparing how well different home renovation methods protected children from lead poisoning, which is still a major problem endangering the health of millions of American children, many of them poor.



  • Tristram Hunt: Review of Gillian Shephard's "The Real Iron Lady: Working with Margaret Thatcher"

    Tristram Hunt is Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central."I voted quickly and went over to stand at the exit from the No Lobby. Mrs T as usual was the last one out. She timed her exit so that colleagues wishing to lobby her could do so. 'Shall I follow you, Prime Minister?' I asked. 'People usually do,' was the reply."So Labour MP Frank Field describes one of his regular tete-a-tete's with Margaret Thatcher at the apogee of her pomp and prime. This is a book about those glory days of Gloriana. Crafted as a response to Meryl Streep's portrayal of the former prime minister as a dotty old pensioner in The Iron Lady, it is a set of reminiscences to remind us of Thatcher as a world-historic figure. As such, it is part of the beatification of the blessed Margaret as Britain's finest postwar premier and, when the sad hour arrives, a leader worthy of a state funeral.



  • Richard J. Evans: Review of Eric Hobsbawm's "Fractured Times: Culture and Society in the 20th Century"

    Richard J Evans's The Third Reich at War is published by PenguinEric Hobsbawm was the best-known and most celebrated historian of the 20th century, not just in Britain but all over the world. His major works, four substantial volumes covering the history of Europe in its global context from the French revolution in 1789 to the fall of communism two centuries later, have remained in print ever since their first publication. More than half a century after it appeared, The Age of Revolution is still a staple of university reading lists. The Age of Extremes has been translated into more than 50 languages, and no doubt the foreign publication record of his other books is just as impressive.



  • Alex Joffe: Review of Halik Kochanski’s "The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War"

    Alex Joffe received his Ph.D. in Near Eastern Studies from the University of Arizona in 1991.The adage “history is written by the winners” is no more than a half-truth. Losers, too, have always written history and, more important, enshrined their losses in memory. A new history of Poland in World War II thus has particular significance. The Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth gradually vanished from the map of Europe at the end of the 18th century, when Russia, Prussia, and Austria divided it up among themselves; and the Poles regained their independence only in 1918.  In their new republic, ethnic Poles were a majority, but Ukrainians, Belorussians, Germans and, of course, Jews constituted a large minority.  The Jews alone made up more than 10 per cent of the country’s population.   Mustn’t any history of Poland in the Second World War therefore put the Jews and the Holocaust at the center?  If it does not, is that originality or revisionism?  Halik Kochanski’s The Eagle Unbowed: Poland and the Poles in the Second World War offers important insights into the Polish experience of the war, but her treatment of the Jewish Question is less satisfying.



  • Benjamin Schwarz: Review of Karl Schlögel's "Moscow 1937"

    Benjamin Schwarz is The Atlantic’s literary editor and national editor.In this dazzling 650-page feat of historical reconstruction, Karl Schlögel, a professor at the European University Viadrina Frankfurt (Oder), has summoned up a great city—what was once the New Jerusalem for much of the world’s intelligentsia and downtrodden—as it consumed itself in an orgy of fear, paranoia, denunciations, mass arrests, suicides, and executions.Schlögel’s book is a fragmentary yet meticulous social history of Moscow in the grip of the Great Terror—the period from the summer of 1936 to the end of 1938, when the already sanguinary Bolshevik regime let loose on itself its apparatus of suppression, purging, in waves, all Soviet institutions and at all levels of society, from the nomenklatura, the highest echelons of administrative, cultural, and scientific life, through the high command of the Red Army, to the engineers and apparatchiks, down to the factory workers and peasants. It is an almost impossibly rich masterpiece.

  • Charles L. Ponce de Leon: Review of Douglas Brinkley's "Cronkite"

    Charles L. Ponce de Leon, an associate professor of History and American Studies at California State University, Long Beach, is completing a book on the history of television news.More than thirty years after his retirement as anchor of the CBS Evening News—and over three years after his death in 2009—Walter Cronkite remains an iconic figure. He appears in the opening montage of Aaron Sorkin’s HBO drama The Newsroom, and his name is routinely evoked in laments about the “decline” of broadcast journalism, which invariably remind us that he was the “most trusted man in America,” a courageous truth-teller committed to objectivity and “hard news.”Douglas Brinkley’s long, absorbing biography of Cronkite does little to alter this impression. He tells us lots of interesting things about the man, but relatively little about how he became a mythic figure. Nor does he say very much about the particular kind of journalism that Cronkite and his colleagues produced. This is too bad, since Cronkite was at the center of a fascinating moment in the history of American mass media, and the television news that he came to embody was fleeting and highly unusual—an attempt to produce serious journalism in a medium associated with escapism.



  • Avishai Margalit: Review of Hadara Lazar's "Out of Palestine: The Making of Modern Israel"

    Avishai Margalit is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the winner of the 2012 Philosophical Book Award (Hanover) for his most recent book, On Compromise and Rotten Compromises.The British rule over Palestine lasted roughly thirty years, from 1917 until 1948. In a country that has three thousand years of recorded history, thirty years is a tiny fraction. If we conceive of three thousand years on a scale of one day, the period of British rule takes barely eight minutes. In comparison, Turkish Ottoman rule over Palestine, which lasted four hundred years, takes an hour and forty minutes. Yet the influence of these thirty years was deep and wide-ranging.1 Under British rule, Palestine became a political unit, not a marginal province of something else. The British made Jerusalem the capital city of Palestine; they introduced the idea of professional civil service, and they encouraged a lively civil society; they built roads and airfields, and provided sound legal institutions and reliable police.



  • Ron Radosh: Review of Anne Applebaum's "Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956"

    Ron Radosh is a PJ Media columnist and Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute.At the end of World War II, Eastern and Central Europe were “liberated” from Nazism only to see it replaced by a social order installed by the other great totalitarian nation, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union. In his famous speech at Westminster College in March 1946, Winston Churchill told the world that “from Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an ‘iron curtain’ has descended across the continent.” The left wing at the time saw the charge as outrageous and as warmongering. Anne Applebaum’s book not only confirms the accuracy of Churchill’s understanding that Moscow was establishing regimes that would attempt to duplicate the Soviet system, but she shows that the Soviet-led rulers of those regimes would attempt to eradicate any independent civil society and build a new human being — “Homo Sovieticus,” the new Soviet man — who would accept his essential role as the builder of Communism.



  • John Nagl: Review of Max Boot's "Invisible Armies"

    Mr. Nagl, a retired Army officer, is the author of "Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife" and helped write "The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual."In 2003, I deployed to Anbar Province in Iraq with my armored battalion to conduct counterinsurgency operations. I had spent nearly a decade studying the subject academically, and my reading had convinced me that counterinsurgency was the hardest kind of war, much more intellectually and emotionally difficult than the tank warfare I had seen in Iraq in 1991. Even so, I was unprepared for the blind-man's-bluff challenge of fighting an enemy I could rarely see. I would have been on firmer ground if I had read Max Boot's "Invisible Armies" before I had deployed to Iraq. The prolific journalist and military historian has taken on no less a task than presenting the "epic history of guerrilla warfare from ancient times to the present."...



  • Mackubin Thomas Owens: Review of Allen Guelzo's "Fateful Lightning: A New History of the Civil War and Reconstruction"

    Mackubin Thomas Owens is professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College, editor of Orbis, the quarterly journal of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, and the author, most recently, of U.S. Civil-Military Relations After 9/11: Renegotiating the Civil-Military Bargain.As we mark the sesquicentennial of the Civil War, the publication of Allen Guelzo’s magisterial new account of that conflict is most timely. But given the fact that, by even the most conservative estimates, some 60,000 books and pamphlets have been written about what was once called the War of the Rebellion, the question naturally arises: Why do we need another one? A very compelling reason is that Guelzo is one of our most accomplished Civil War historians, and one of the country’s foremost Lincoln scholars. He is the first two-time winner of the Lincoln Prize—in 2000 for Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President and in 2005 for Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation: The End of Slavery in America, the definitive treatment of that document. In addition, Guelzo’s prose is graceful and erudite—indeed, almost poetic. He is as comfortable with military topics as he is with the political, social, and economic aspects of the war and its aftermath. 



  • Dwight Garner: Review of Michael L. Gillette's "Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History"

    Dwight Garner writes for the New York Times.In 1934, on their first date, Lyndon Baines Johnson asked Claudia Alta Taylor, the woman who would become known as Lady Bird Johnson, to marry him. He was 26. She was 21.They’d been driving around all day. He’d felt he’d been struck by lightning. She was less sanguine. “I just sat there with my mouth open, kind of,” she reports in a crisp and absurdly endearing new book, “Lady Bird Johnson: An Oral History.” She adds, “I was far from sure I wanted to know him any better.”



  • Mary L. Dudziak: Review of Mark Mazower's "Governing The World: The History of an Idea"

    Mary L. Dudziak is Asa Griggs Candler Professor of Law at Emory University. She is the author most recently of War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences.Will there be “but one heart to the globe?” asks Walt Whitman in a poem that provides an epigraph in Mark Mazower’s new book, Governing the World: The History of an Idea. At the center of this expansive work is the question of how Americans and Europeans have imagined the world, its peoples, and its nations. Is there but one global identity, as Whitman surmises? Are the world’s peoples the focus of global politics, or should nations be privileged in international affairs? Do values and culture, or degrees of civilization, set nations apart? These questions inform global affairs over time. This history matters, Mazower argues, as “we find ourselves… in a hierarchical world in which some states are more sovereign than others.”