“This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War” by Drew Gilpin Faust
This Republic of Suffering is an illuminating study of the American struggle to comprehend the meaning and practicalities of death in the face of the unprecedented carnage of the Civil War. Faust explores the impact of the Civil War’s enormous death toll from every angle: material, political, intellectual, and spiritual. She details the logistical challenges of preserving, identifying, and burying the dead, and describes the ways death changed not only individual lives, but the nation as a whole and its understanding of the responsibilities of citizenship. She explores how a deeply religious culture struggled to reconcile the slaughter with its belief in a benevolent God in this profoundly moving and informative book.
“The Unraveling: High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq” by Emma Sky
The Unraveling is a fantastic first-hand account and bipartisan skewering of how everything fell apart in Iraq. It is written from the unique perspective of the brave and intelligent Emma Sky, who volunteered to help rebuild Iraq. Her assignment was only supposed to last three months, but she ended up serving there longer than any other senior military or diplomatic figure, giving her an unrivaled perspective of the entire conflict. Sky, a woman of the Left, takes both Bush and Obama to task in this fantastic book that often reads like a novel. It is a detailed, and frequently darkly humorous, account that tries to understand everyone involved, Iraqis and Americans, on their own terms. You will go from shaking your head in anger to feeling a lump of pride in your throat for great Americans like General Odierno, who tried so hard and came so close to getting the job done. One of a handful of fair, must-read books on the Iraq War.
I chose this poem this week because I am currently reading Daniel Hannan’s book, Inventing Freedom: How The English-Speaking Peoples Made The Modern World. Hannan excerpts this poem in a section on how language is a prerequisite of mutual understanding and how it influences one’s perspective and ideas. Hannan notes that English as a language is “protean, freewheeling, and voracious.” It is unregulated, and when you have freedom of language you have freedom of ideas. Societies with more tightly controlled language also tend to have governments that more tightly control the people. The English language has been a vehicle and a guarantor of liberty for centuries and has enabled the English-speaking peoples to understand each other and work together, to the immense benefit of mankind. Thinking in terms of how language alters our perspective and understanding of one another also helps explain things like why diplomacy between nations can often be so difficult and why it’s so important that immigrants learn and use the language of their adopted country in order to be properly assimilated.
“The Stranger” by Rudyard Kipling
The Stranger within my gate,
He may be true or kind,
But he does not talk my talk–
I cannot feel his mind.
I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,
But not the soul behind.
The men of my own stock,
They may do ill or well,
But they tell the lies I am wanted to,
They are used to the lies I tell;
And we do not need interpreters
When we go to buy or sell.
The Stranger within my gates,
He may be evil or good,
But I cannot tell what powers control–
What reasons sway his mood;
Nor when the Gods of his far-off land
Shall repossess his blood.
The men of my own stock,
Bitter bad they may be,
But, at least, they hear the things I hear,
And see the things I see;
And whatever I think of them and their likes
They think of the likes of me.
This was my father’s belief
And this is also mine:
Let the corn be all one sheaf–
And the grapes be all one vine,
Ere our children’s teeth are set on edge
By bitter bread and wine.
Excellent interview of Charles C.W. Cooke about his excellent new book:
The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 by Lawrence Wright
This book is a must-read for anyone interested in trying to understand the global threat and radical evil of our time. And if you’re a responsible citizen, you should be. Wright’s skill as a writer makes The Looming Tower read with the lyrical ease of a novel and his talent as an exhaustive researcher makes the book one of the most valuable historical masterpieces of the modern era. Every great writer is present everywhere and visible nowhere. Any ideologies Wright believes in or personal politics he adheres to are nowhere to be found in these pages. He simply explores the complex history of the radical Islamist movement as a whole, explaining not just the rise of al-Qaeda, but the roots of the Muslim Brotherhood as well. His account of just how badly the Clinton administration and our intelligence bureaucracies botched the many opportunities to stop 9/11 will make your blood boil, but it’s a story that MUST be told. This indispensable book ends rather abruptly and literally stops immediately after 9/11, and that’s really the only criticism I have of it. I wanted more! Add it to your must-read list immediately. It is captivating, absorbing, appalling and informative and if you’re the kind of person who can finish a book in one night if it’s good enough, I have no doubt you will do it with this one. It’s THAT hard to put down.
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham
This is one of the best books I’ve read about Jefferson. Meacham focuses less on his personal life and more, as the title suggests, on how he wielded political power. He lauds Jefferson, but never fails to point out that he was a flawed human being like all of us. Meacham shows how his early days in Virginia and France shaped him and details how Jefferson managed some of the most significant moments in our early history (i.e. the Louisiana Purchase, the Barbary pirates, etc). Mostly, this book will make you awed by the founders and sad that we have fallen so far from their vision, and that we don’t have leaders anymore who are even remotely capable of thinking and orating like they did. You will pine for Jefferson in light of our current troubles when you come across sentences like this, written by Jefferson in a letter to James Monroe: “We are ruined, Sir, if we do not over-rule the principles that ‘the more we owe, the more prosperous we shall be,’ ‘that a public debt furnishes the means of enterprise, etc.'” Most of all, Jefferson had a profound understanding of basic human nature. He was distrustful of politicians staying in Congress (or any position of power) too long because he recognized that political power corrupts, or as he put it, “Congress is human nature writ large.” He gained the respect of his political opponents through personal relationships with them, over dinners with conversation on all manner of topics. Jefferson recognized that winning a friend meant, “not convincing them you were right, but that you care what they think.” This is a sharp contrast to the Saul Alinsky mindset of the current administration, which is, to quote Alinsky himself, “Never have a conversation with your enemy, because that humanizes them; and your goal is to demonize them.”
Out of all the founding fathers, Jefferson was probably the most necessary, most valuable and most complex and fascinating. America may not have survived its infancy without him. He dedicated his life to making it the great bastion of individual liberty and the hope of humanity. As Henry Adams put it, “Mr. Jefferson meant that the American system should be a democracy and he would rather have let the whole world perish than that this principle, which to him represented all that man was worth, should fail.”