For readers who enjoy, as I do, giving books as Christmas presents to political junkie friends and relatives, here are my 2018 gift book picks:
“Churchill: Walking with Destiny” by Andrew Robert. Great Britain’s top narrative historian has done it again. His new book on Churchill has rightly been declared by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and the London Times Literary Supplement as the best one-volume biography ever written about the man who saved the West from Nazism.
That’s quite an accomplishment considering there are 1,005 one-volume bios of Churchill in print. But Andrew’s success is easy to explain: he’s a fine writer — in the same class as David McCullough and Robert Caro — possesses a jeweler’s eye for research, and Queen Elizabeth gave him access to the diaries of her father, King George VI, Britain’s monarch during the Second World War. Robert’s book is a monumental achievement.
“The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War” by Benn Steil. One of the great unsung heroes of World War II and the post-War era is General of the Army George C. Marshall. Considered by President Franklin Roosevelt to be the indispensable man, Marshall, as army chief of staff, was the “organizer of victory.”
Revered by President Harry Truman, he served as his Special Envoy to China, secretary of state and secretary of defense. Benn Steil’s book focuses on Marshall’s tenure as secretary of his state and his efforts to save Western Europe from economic collapse and starvation and from Soviet domination.
The Marshall Plan described in his commencement speech at Harvard, in June 1947, was enacted in the spring of 1948 and known as the European Recovery Plan. Steil skillfully relates how the program not only rebuilt Europe but how it drove “the creation of NATO, the European Union and a Western identity that continues to shape world events.”
“Heirs of the Founders: The Epic Rivalry of Henry Clay, John Calhoun and Daniel Webster” by H.W. Brands. This immensely readable work encapsulates the political clashes of “The Great Triumvirate,” Clay, Webster, Calhoun, and how each in their own way attempted to protect the legacy of the founding fathers and to preserve the Union. Brand vividly describes The Missouri Compromise, the Bank War, the Webster-Hayne debate, and the Compromise of 1850.
“The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure” by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt.
This book’s thesis is that parents and university administrators have created a safety bubble, one that “interferes with young people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development.”
The seeds of disaster, the authors argue, have been planted by helicopter parents who do not steep their children in traditional moral values, orderliness and respect for authority that guided earlier generations.
To save the next-generation, Lukianoff and Haidt call on parents and educators to raise children to be “anti-fragile,” and to educate them more wisely by encouraging open inquiry and by also preparing children “for the road not the road for the child.”
“The Red and the Blue: The 1990s and the Birth of Political Tribalism” by Steve Kornacki. This is a good overview of the rise to power of two baby-boomers, Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich.
To get to the “top of the greasy pole”—as British statesman Benjamin Disraeli described political advancement—Clinton and Gingrich used scorched earth tactics that left plenty of bodies on the political battlefield. Their “bare-knuckle brawls that brought about massive policy shifts and high-stakes showdowns,” continue to influence America’s political landscape in the Age of Trump.
“The Revolution of ’28: Al Smith, American Progressivism and the Coming of the New Deal” by Robert Chiles. One hundred years ago, on January 1, 1919, Alfred E. Smith was sworn in to the first of four terms as New York’s governor.
“The Revolution of ’28” charts the Smith record and concludes he enacted policies that were the foundation of F.D.R.’s New Deal. Chiles agrees with political analyst Samuel Lubell’s observation, “Before there was a Roosevelt Revolution, there was an Al Smith Revolution.” To understand why Smith is considered New York’s greatest governor, read this book.
Happy reading in 2019!