(This column is crossposted from Pundit League at http://www.punditleague.us/editorials/5-books-i-enjoyed-in-2010/.)
Considering how busy this year was, when I reflect back on it, I’m astonished at how many books I managed to read. Yes, I do take a bit of pride in that; also, it makes me feel that, perhaps, I did a slightly better job of ordering my priorities in 2010 than I had initially thought! I am unequivocally convinced that if conservatives are going to continue to dominate in the arena of ideas in the years ahead, more of us need to be regular readers.
In that spirit, I offer brief reviews of five widely disparate books that left an enduring impact on me this year. Just in case you still, two days before Christmas, have a handful of presents remaining on that yet-to-purchase list, all of the following come highly recommended, in the order in which I read them:
1. If you enjoyed Game Change by Mark Halperin and John Heilemann (about the 2008 Presidential campaign), then you’ll love Rendezvous with Destiny: Ronald Reagan and the Campaign that Changed America, by Craig Shirley. This minutiae-filled recounting of the 1980 campaign between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter by someone who was along for the ride sets the record straight on a number of fronts, where the passage of time has tended both to cloud memories and empower subsequent erroneous narratives.
As George Will observes in the Foreword, “Looking back…it all seems so inevitable. But it did not seem so—it did not feel so—at the time. And in fact it was not so.”Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan seesawed back and forth in the polls, from the time Reagan secured the Republican nomination until the week before the election, when Reagan finally pulled away. Some of you will remember what a chief contributing factor was in those last few days. Whether you do or not, this is a volume replete with colorful anecdotes, riveting intrigue…and highly informative background information on many who are still major players on the political scene today.
2. My conservative outlook was influenced years ago by David Horowitz’ memoir Radical Son. My friend Bethany Murphy had advocated Horowitz’ A Cracking of the Heart to me for some time before I finally purchased it. Of all the books I consumed this year, this one stands out, due to the crucial importance of its stirring contents.
David Horowitz converted from radical Leftism to staunch conservatism in early middle age. By this point, his daughter, Sarah, was close to adulthood. Sarah only lived to age 42 and suddenly passed away in early 2008. A Cracking of the Heart recounts the highs and lows of David Horowitz’ relationship with his daughter over a period of several decades and culminates in his racking sorrow over Sarah’s untimely departure from this life. This book is not pleasurable reading, but it is deeply moving and necessary. If you agree that philosophical differences must never trump appreciation for the human factor in our relationships with those we love, you’ll find much of value here.
3. Until I saw him on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, I was unaware of the publication of Arthur Brooks’ newest book, The Battle: How the Fight Between Free Enterprise and Big Government Will Shape America’s Future. Excusable ignorance since I quickly remedied it with a purchase and devoured the book in a couple of days…not a difficult feat, since minus the extensive notes, it runs only 128 pages in length.
Don’t let the large print fool you. This book is a must for those who desire to be equipped to argue the case for free market economics in the coming years. Brooks contends that our case is correct, but our semantics are not. We have not done well in persuading our fellow Americans that an opportunity society (to borrow a phrase from Congressman Paul Ryan) is a charitable one. Perhaps the most compelling principle advanced in The Battle is the reframing of wealth and the accrual of money as “earned success”, which Brooks explains provides the gratification that leads to rewarding life, as opposed to government largesse or an unmerited windfall. I’ll be rereading this book soon, more than once.
4. I have esteemed Thomas Sowell for years. He is peerless as a 21st century conservative economist and thinker. I read his newest, Intellectuals and Society, this last summer and was spellbound from start to finish. As a decades-long academic himself, Sowell knows whereof he speaks when he portrays intellectuals as, all too often, “easily…sealed off from feedback from the external world of reality and…circular in their methods of validation.”
With chapter titles such as “Intellectuals and War”, “Intellectuals and the Law” and “Intellectuals and Social Visions”, Thomas Sowell amply proves repeatedly how staggeringly often those whom the media and publishing houses exalt as the “best and brightest” among us are frighteningly wrong. Not just theoretically mistaken, but shockingly misguided, in tragic proportions that equate to reputations tarnished and even lives lost. All of Thomas Sowell’s books are essential reading for conservatives today. Intellectuals and Society is as good a place to start as any, although I’ll confess that The Vision of the Anointed remains my favorite.
5. As a fervent Christian, I’ll concede that it is unlikely that I would include a memoir by one of the most committed atheist voices in modern times. Nonetheless, Christopher Hitchens’ autobiography, Hitch-22, was one of the most gripping, multi-dimensional life stories I have ever encountered in my whole life, not just in 2010. Along the way, Hitchens details his rise to journalistic fame, his persistence in religious antagonism and his odyssey from pseudo-Marxian enthusiasm to becoming a citizen of the United States. (9/11 played a huge role in the latter, which he hauntingly describes.)
This volume is not for the literarily insecure. I had considered myself decently well read prior to opening this book; by the time I had made it past the first 50 pages, I was already hopelessly subsumed in unfamiliar (to me!) authorial references. William Styron? Sylvia Plath? Cesare Pavese? This sort of thing continues unabated on virtually every page. Yet, this book struck all the right notes for me. It eloquently challenged me to a higher level of understanding, while unfolding a fascinating narrative of an exceedingly colorful life. My fellow (much brainier) Christian, Bill Bennett was correct when he described Hitch-22 as “a very important book.” It is that.