Give Me Liberty by Richard Brookhiser

One of the myriad reasons for the near-death of this blog is that I simply don’t have the time, focus or energy to put into serious reviews of serious books. I read a decent amount of non-fiction but review very little of it. I feel caught in a catch-22, if I could write serious reviews of non-fiction I could get paid to do it and yet I rarely get around to posting quick reviews of the same books because I want to do the book justice.

Well, if this whole #StayHomeAndRead thing is going to work I am going to have to post some short blog reviews of non-fiction books. So let’s start with one of my favorite authors, Richard Brookhiser, and his latest book Give Me Liberty.

There are two things happening in this book: one is a simple history of America through the lens of our pursuits of liberty, the second is an argument about American nationalism.

The first thread creates the structure of the book

This book focuses instead on thirteen documents, from 1619 to 1987, that represent shots from the album of our long marriage to liberty. They say what liberty is. They show who asked for it, when, and why. Since no marriage is ever simple, they track its ups and downs. These thirteen liberty documents define America as the country that it is, different from all others

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Brookhiser on Bob Dole’s Salute & Custom

But we have customs that train us in how to behave, curbing our emotions and memories. Every conservative writes about them: Don’t tear down the great English oak unless you know why it was built, etc. etc.

Sometimes the customs go wrong, sometimes very wrong. Then people stir, wise men think, demagogues shout “Drain the swamp!” But often customs help us do and think the right thing.

So the 95 year old man was hoisted out of his wheelchair, flicked away the hand supporting his usable left arm, and raised its fingers in a salute to the casket of the 94 year old man.

At ease.

Richard Brookhiser

A Happy Marriage Across Party Lines

Living together so long has taught us that it is possible to tolerate our opposition on serious issues because we agree on what matters most, which is that the camaraderie we have created in every other sphere is more basic, and far more precious, than ideology. Nobody makes me think and laugh, or comforts me when I cry, the way he does. The things that bring us together are deeper than the things that could have torn us apart; we can finish each other’s sentences on every subject but politics. He loves me for what I am, which includes the ways I am maddeningly different from him.

The wife of one of my favorite authors, Richard Brookhiser, discusses marriage with someone on the opposite end of the political spectrum.

Source: A Happy Marriage Across Party Lines

Three non-fiction books I'm looking forward to reading

Photo credit: Read It Forward


Despite my love-hate relationship with non-fiction, I constantly coming across books I want to read. In an attempt to impose some discipline on my reading I thought I would publicly commit and comment on the next couple of books in the queue.

The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload by Daniel J. Levitin

At over five hundred pages, this book is a little larger than I normally take on but it is so fascinating and potentially useful that I had to dive in.  I have just started reading but am going to try to tackle this in bigger chunks so I can 1) finish it and 2) get more out of it.

The System Has a Soul: Essays on Christianity, Liberty, and Political Life by Hunter Baker

This collection of essays by my friend Hunter Baker tackle an important subject and one with great relevance today.  I always enjoy reading Hunter’s take on meaty subject so I can’t wait to be able to finish this collection. Thankfully it is much shorter than the first book in this list!

Founders’ Son: A Life of Abraham Lincoln by Richard Brookhiser

Last, but certainly not least, comes the latest from Richard Brookhiser. I have a simple rule: Brookhiser writes a book, I read it.  He is a master of popular, engaging and insightful history; razor sharp biographies that flush out impact and meaning not just a collection of dates and facts.  This is a must read.

So there you have it, cognitive science and self-help, political philosophy and cultural engagement; and historical biography top my TBR list.

What books are you looking forward to?

My Favorite Reads of 2011

I wasn’t able to post thoughts on the books I read in 2011 by the end of the year so I am doing it this week.  I noted the general statistics yesterday and today want to tackle my favorite reads.  Like last year, I am going to break in out into categories.

Young Adult Fiction

A large chunk of my reading this year was YA (30 of 79 books were roughly in this category) so I had a lot of books to chose from in 2011. So here are ten of my favorites in no particular order:

  1. Cover of "The Wednesday Wars"
    Cover of The Wednesday Wars

    I am going to cheat a little and put two books by Gary D. Schmidt on the list, Okay or Now and The Wednesday Wars.  “Great stories, great characters, imaginative settings and clear writing make these two books great reads. I highly recommend them.”

  2. I am also going to put N.D. Wilson here because I can’t choose just one of his wonderful books I read this year: The Dragon’s Tooth (start of the new Ashtown Burials series) and the entire 100 Cupboards series)  “… if you like large, complex and imaginative fantasy series this one is a must read.”
  3. Icefall by Matthew J. Kirby “Kirby weaves a great tale. There is historical detail, psychological insight, mystery, intrigue and more.”
  4. Skellig by David Almond “It is a simple and yet powerful story of friendship, family, compassion and faith.”
  5. The Search for Wondla by Tony DiTerlizzi “The world DiTerlizzi has created is captivating and mysterious enough that you want to keep reading; not just to see the next illustration but to dig a little deeper into the mystery.”

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WFB Bio, James Madison & Post-Harry Potter

Terry Teachout finds the most recent William F. Buckley bio (Buckley: William F. Buckley Jr. and the Rise of American Conservatismdisappointing:

Sure enough, Buckley is as fair-minded a study of its subject’s career as you could possibly expect from a contributor to The Nation and Tikkun. It deals bluntly but honestly with such difficult topics as his equivocal views on civil rights, and it gives him full credit for having purged the conservative movement of such “loonies” (Buckley’s word) as the members of the John Birch Society. Above all, Bogus recognizes that “Buckley and his colleagues changed America’s political realities,” both by making conservatism intellectually and socially respectable and by turning the GOP into something not far removed from a genuine conservative party.

But Buckley is too soberly written to be of interest to the average reader, and the only full-scale biography, John B. Judis’s William F. Buckley, Jr.: Patron Saint of Conservatives (1988), is both outdated and overly partisan. The best thing published so far about Buckley is Richard Brookhiser’s Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr., and the Conservative Movement (2009), a sympathetic, at times startlingly candid memoir that describes him more vividly than anything other than Buckley’s own autobiographical volumes, of which Cruising Speed: A Documentary(1971) is the first and best. What is now needed is an up-to-date biography written by someone with the twin gifts of literary portraiture and historical perspective. This, alas, isn’t it.

Frustrating because I was looking forward to reading it (and probably still will).

Speaking of Richard Brookhiser, Richard Beeman finds his bio of James Madison worth reading:

The amount of scholarship chronicling these events is immense, and although Brook­hiser is somewhat sparing in acknowledging his debts to historians who have preceded him, his sprightly narrative will serve as an entertaining introduction for those who are making their first acquaintance with Madison. Moreover, Brookhiser’s book is a useful corrective to some of the recent works in the fields of political science and law that place excessive emphasis on Madison the theorist.

For more on Brookhiser from my perspective, see the related articles links below.

And from a completely different perspective, Eloisa James brings a book to my attention (Darwen Arkwright and the Peregrine Pact By A. J. HARTLEY) that I think will be added to the ever-growing TBR pile:

Post Harry Potter, we can all sketch the outlines of a paranormal private school novel. Darwen Arkwright is a far odder and more creative addition to the genre than I have read in years. Darwen has powers of a sort…but he also has the ability to behave like a bumbler, like a dunce, like a grieving boy. The book never relies on paranormal flourishes alone to carry the reader’s interest. A. J. Hartley shows an uncanny, brilliant ability to shape the inner life of an unmoored child, who realizes that the worst thing of all is that there’s no one to be disappointed in him.

This sounds like a great fit for me and a potential read aloud book for my daughter.

James Madison by Richard Brookhiser

There is a tendency by some to look down their noses at politics; viewing it as the grubby fight for power and the inevitable disappointment that results from politicians who promise everything during election years only to deliver hot air and favors for friends once safely ensconced in office.  To be fair, all too often this is what politics actually offers.

But in his biography of founding father James Madison, Richard Brookhiser argues that politics is the working out of our ideals; that for freedom, democracy and republican government to function in the real world requires politics and all the baggage that entails.

We pay much less attention to James Madison, Father of Politics, than we do James Madison, Father of the Constitution. That is because politics embarrasses us. Politics is the spectacle on television and YouTube, the daily perp walk on the Huffington Post and the Drudge Report. Surely our founders and framers lefts us something better, more solid, more inspiring than that? They did. But they all knew – and Madison understood better than any of them – that ideals come to life in dozens of political transactions every day. Some of these transactions aren’t pretty. You can understand this and try to work with this knowledge, or you can look away. But ignoring politics will not make it stop. It will simply go on without you – and sooner or later will happen to you.

Madison is one of, if not the, smartest of the founders but he lacked the stature of Washington, or the eloquence of a Thomas Jefferson or a Patrick Henry, and so his intelligence is sometimes overlooked. Madison may not have been an eloquent speaker – he often spoke so quietly that the audience couldn’t hear him – or writer but he learned to master many of the important skills necessary to move public opinion, pass legislation and build coalitions.

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