The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914, by Christopher Clark
This is an extremely detailed and meticulously researched account of the origins and events leading to the most catastrophic event of the 20th century and one that continues to reverberate in almost every significant foreign policy consideration to the present day. It is long and tedious at times, with literally hundreds of players involved, but it is very readable, worth the effort, and tells a story that is important and instructive for anyone remotely involved or interested in world affairs.
Crisis of the Strauss Divided, by Harry V. Jaffa
Harry Jaffa, the distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute, describes Leo Strauss (1899-1973) as “the greatest mind in political philosophy in the 20th century and possibly in other centuries as well. That, I am aware, is a judgment I share with very few, if any”. This, from a student of Strauss, pretty well sums up the controversial nature of Strauss’s legacy, and this volume is a collection of 19 essays, most of them by Jaffa, but also by other of Strauss’s students, some of whom strongly disagree with their mentor on key philosophical issues. This is pretty wonky stuff and I don’t recommend it to those who have not already been introduced to Strauss. If you are interested in being introduced, I recommend his classic, Natural Right and History.
American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History, by Charles Murray
American exceptionalism is a characterization loosely used by many, including me, and Charles Murray does good work in this small book in providing background on the concept, defining the elements of American exceptionalism, discussing whether or not and in what ways America might still be exceptional, and challenges us as responsible citizens to answer the following questions: Which of the changes that have diminished American exceptionalism are gains to be applauded? Which are losses to be mourned?
The Presidents Club: Inside the World’s Most Exclusive Fraternity, by Nancy Gibbs and Michael Duffy
This is a fun book, but also very informative on the relationships between the U. S. Presidents from Hoover to Obama, and there were to me many surprises and very revealing aspects, many of which involved critical decisions and significant implications for American policy over the past century. I was most surprised by the relationships between Johnson and Eisenhower, Nixon and Johnson, and Nixon and Reagan. And all club members seemed to agree that the loser in terms of rogue behavior and outright duplicity (bordering on treason in the case of the Iraq war) was Jimmy Carter. No surprise there.
After Tocqueville: The Promise and Failure of Democracy, by Chilton Williamson, Jr.
The fall of communism a little over 20 years ago advanced the popular notion that the spread of democracy was inevitable (remember “the end of history”?), but Chilton Williamson challenges this rosy view. Of course, Alexis de Tocqueville believed that democracy was the future and his classic study in Democracy in America (1835) was definitive on this point, but with cautions about some of democracy’s tendencies to self-destruct. Williamson picks up on these points, but also adds challenges that Tocqueville could not have imagined and raises critical questions about the future of democracy, which to me are chiefly about our capacity for self-government as envisioned by our founders. Very good.
Knowledge and Power, by George Gilder
The subtitle of this book is “the information theory of capitalism and how it is revolutionizing our world” and it is vintage Gilder if you are familiar with his writings. The champion of supply-side economics in his classic Wealth and Poverty basically sets aside supply and demand and totally dismisses command and control in driving economic activity in favor of “information theory” which produces what he calls entrepreneurial surprises, the source of economic growth and productivity. And of course, this process is defeated by the “noise” created by government interference in the information channels with regulation, taxation, and inconsistencies in the rule of law. Gilder can be esoteric and a challenging read, but he is enlightening.