Sunday, January 30, 2011

Lincoln & Douglas

Lincoln and Douglas: The Debates that Defined America, by Allen Guelzo and The Long Pursuit: Abraham Lincoln's Thirty-Year Struggle with Stephen Douglas for the Heart and Soul of America, by Roy Morris.  These two books are both in paperback now.  These books seem to throw historical light on the recurring issue of whether the idea of democracy requires principles that majorities must respect or whether democracy means that majorities rule regardless of adherence to other principles.  The question is not easy to answer, but our leaders have been thinking about it for years.

Safire on Lincoln

In February 2009, William Safire reviewed Lincoln books here at The New York Times.  Safire wrote, "The way to honor the hero who did most to force use to stay united is to absorb the ever-better histories that illuminate Lincoln's character, his humanity, his genius in expression and, above all, his sure grasp of high political purpose."  

Safire spoke approvingly of Ronald C. White, Jr.'s A. Lincoln: A Biography.  The book is now available in paperback here.

Safire described as "a magisterial enterprise" Michael Burlingame's two-volume box set of Lincoln biography for a list price of $125.

Safire liked In Lincoln's Hand,  a book of Lincoln's original manuscripts edited by Harold Holzer, who has been a prolific Lincoln producer.  He produced a book for  Writers Library of America called a Lincoln Anthology, which includes works on Lincoln by a variety of authors.

There's so much high-quality work in this area.  More of us should be inspired by this unifier.

Friday, January 28, 2011

The World War II that the US ignored

Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, by Timothy Snyder, a history of Nazi and Soviet mass killing on the lands between Berlin and Moscow.  And The Show Went On, by Alan Riding, about how the Nazis occupied Paris and gained cooperation from French cultural figures. Germany 1945, From War to Peace, by Richard Bessel.  These books appear to intend to show the ambiguity of the stories that the winners tell. 

The Cold War became the dominant US preoccupation, but millions of people were affected by other considerations.  These books help us remember those millions.

Nuremberg Legacy: How the Nazi War Crimes Trials Changed the Course of History, by Norbert Ehrenfreund, successfully weaves personal anecdote, historical record and legal analysis into his account of the trials and their legacy, according to a 2008 review in the New York Law Journal.

Collectively, these books remind us that if you kill one person you're a murderer, but if you kill hundreds of thousands, you're a general, and if you kill millions you're a patriarch, so long as you stay in power.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Teapot Dome

Why does corruption in American Government persist notwithstanding the lesson that the country should have learned from the Teapot Dome Scandal?  See The Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country, by Laton McCartney.  Click  here. Or here   Here's the review in The New York Times.

Al Capone

Recently, I finished the Kindle version of Get Capone: The Secret Plot That Captured America's Most Wanted Gangster, by Jonathan Eig.  Here's the link to the web page.  Like so many books, the book is longer than the really meaty material.  The author obviously found some interesting material in the records, and the author works hard to show how there's a secret plot.  But modern Americans know that when government fixates on a target----like terrorists today---the government has lots of weapons at its disposal that may bypass the normal limits that the government usually observes.

The author was able to show how what we think of as modern political attitudes such as "law and order" and anti-immigrant prejudice have roots that run way back in American politics.  

Oh, and it portrays Elliot Ness in a whole new way.  Myth-making about law enforcement has a long history.


The book The Bomb: A New History, by Stephen M. Younger, this link  is now out in paperback.    

Economics and the Civil War

The book Clash of Extremes: The Economic Origins of the Civil War, by Marc Egnal, who teaches in Toronto. His web site for this book is here.  My friends who appear to be economic determinists argue to me that economics cause wars, but I am skeptical.  I just don't think young men volunteer to go off for adventures based on patriotic feeling because it makes somebody rich.   The idea that most of the young men (now young women, too) sign up for the military based on national economic results does not correspond to what I have seen.  On the other hand, economics makes wars possible.  Economics may even induce governments to make belligerent decisions.  Governments obvious manipulate the circumstances.  However, I don't see the immediate link between economics and mass volunteering for war.  I guess I need to read this book.

The Antebellum Slave Question persists

In his 2009 book called Deliver Us from Evil, Lacy K. Ford describes in details the tensions arising out of the relationships of slaves and slave-owners in the upper South and in the lower South.  The book is referred to here at the Publisher's site.