Sunday, December 4, 2011

What Was Christmas Like in 1941? A Book Review

Pearl Harbor Christmas: A World at War, December 1941, by Stanley Weintraub. Cambridge, Mass.: Da Capo Press, November 1, 2011. 224 pp., $24.00.

“Pearl Harbor Christmas” may sound like the title of a 1960s-era TV holiday spectacular set in Hawaii, in which Bing Crosby had sung a duet of “Mele Kalikimaka” with Rosemary Clooney.

It’s not.

It is actually a tightly-packed but readable account of the “12 days of Christmas” beginning two weeks after the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet in Pearl Harbor (Sunday, December 21 to Thursday, January 1). It begins with the arrival of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Washington for talks with President Franklin D. Roosevelt and ends with the ceremonial signing of the “Joint Declaration of War Aims” by representatives of the nations allied against the Axis Powers.

In between, author Stanley Weintraub takes his readers on a day-by-day (sometimes hour-by-hour) account of the political, diplomatic, and military events of that crucial week and a half. He circles the globe, drawing on public documents, letters, and diaries from not just the United States and Britain but also from the Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaya, Singapore, Australia, France, North Africa, the Soviet Union, Germany, and Japan.

I picked up Pearl Harbor Christmas by chance at a local bookstore and bought it on a whim, thinking that it primarily would focus on the home front in the weeks following the Pearl Harbor attack and how Americans adjusted their holiday celebrations to the new realities of having been thrust into war.

The book has some of that, and Weintraub is able to draw an adequate picture of what the Christmas season of 1941 was like.

Wartime black-out rules had not yet dimmed Christmas lights, and Christmas trees themselves, Wientraub says, “were plentiful, seldom priced at more than a dollar or two.” Rockefeller Center presented its annual Christmas show, featuring the Rockettes, and people were still reading comic strips and going to the movies.

“The hit book for Christmas giving,” he writes in a prelude, “at a hefty $2.50, was Edna Ferber’s Reconstruction-era romance Saratoga Trunk. For the same price, war turned up distantly yet bombastically in a two-disc set of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, performed by Artur Rodzinski and the Cleveland Orchestra.”

Weintraub goes on to list the prices of crates of citrus fruits (“$2.79 at Bloomingdales”) and new cars (“soon to be unobtainable”) for $900. Silk stockings were $1.25 a pair, and nylon stockings – which would also quickly disappear as the fabric was needed for parachutes – were $1.65.

In a clever, parenthetical turn of phrase, he writes about upscale clothing shops:

“Hattie Carnegie’s designer dresses began at $15. The upscale Rogers Peet menswear store offered suits and topcoats from a steep $38. (At recruiting stations nationwide, the army was offering smart khaki garb at no cost whatever to enlistees.)”

The book, however, is mostly about politics, not domestic life.  And the politics and diplomacy that are the focus of Weintraub's research are fascinating in themselves.

Churchill’s extended visit to Washington included bibulous dinners at the White House, a joint press conference with FDR, two visits to local churches (on Christmas and New Year’s Day), a speech to a joint session of Congress, a side-trip to Ottawa to address the Canadian parliament, and the British Prime Minister’s only shared public appearance with the American President, at the annual lighting of the White House Christmas tree.

The account of the Christmas Eve speeches is one of several sections of the book that could have used a better editor’s eye, because Weintraub’s writing is redundant on two facing pages.

On page 80, Weintraub writes that Churchill began his speech with the phrase “This is a strange Christmas Eve,” and then quotes extensively from his remarks, including a passage about “war, raging and soaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and our homes.”

Three paragraphs later, on page 81, Weintraub repeats the passage:

“It was, [Churchill] conceded, ‘a strange Christmas eve,’ with war ‘raging and roaring over all the lands and seas, creeping nearer to our hearts and homes.’”

This is not an isolated incident of sloppy editing.

In a description of how actor Robert Montgomery – by December 1941 an officer in Naval Intelligence assigned to the White House – set up a map room for the President’s use, Weintraub writes on pages 75-76:

“Space was limited; toilets and sinks were removed from a ladies’ cloakroom in the basement, as Montgomery superintended the conversion of a ladies cloakroom in the basement into a secure information center...”

Similar repetitiveness is found on page 92 (“Rarely seen at religious services at home, Churchill accompanied the President to Foundry Methodist Church…”) and 94 (“Churchill – not a churchgoer at home…”).

Still, these errors, while distracting, do not significantly mar the flow of the story that Weintraub tells, and Pearl Harbor Christmas is a real page-turner as the narration flies from place to place, sometimes describing high politics and sometimes describing the hardscrabble efforts at survival of seamen and grunts.

The book reveals how, simultaneously, the United States was caught unawares by the Japanese attacks in the Pacific, leading to the quick fall of the Philippines under what Weintraub seems to characterize as arrogant and incompetent military leadership of General Douglas MacArthur – but that it was also able to turn on a dime and, within weeks, ramp up its military and industrial operations to meet the needs of facing down hostile enemies in both Europe and the Pacific.

The 12 days of Christmas in 1941 included delicate negotiations about how the war would be pursued. As a direct result of the attack on Pearl Harbor, the American people were angry and eager to take the war into the Pacific and strike back at the Japanese immediately. Churchill and Roosevelt, however, recognized that the greater threat came from Hitler’s Germany and that the initial focus of the war should be in Europe. Japan would have to wait.

In the course of events, the war was fought on both fronts, but the defeat of Hitler came first, with Japan to fall several months later.

What’s remarkable to see, in that regard, is the predictions made by military and political leaders of that time about how long it would take to bring the war to an end. Not precisely correct, Churchill thought that a frontal invasion of the European continent would occur sometime in 1943, with the war to end by 1944. He was off by a year but, on the general shape the war would take, he was eerily prescient.

The intersection of wartime and Christmastime is a particular focus of Stanley Weintraub's prolific work. He is also the author of Silent Night: The Story of the World War I Christmas Truce (2002); 11 Days in December: Christmas at the Bulge, 1944 (2007); and General Sherman's Christmas: Savannah, 1864 (2009); as well as General Washington's Christmas Farewell: A Mount Vernon Homecoming, 1783 (2007).  Could Christmas in Kandahar be next?  (There is already a song by that name but, so far, no book.)

If one is primarily interested in social history (as I was, when I purchased this book), Pearl Harbor Christmas could turn out to disappoint, because it is primarily about political and military history. In my case, the initial disappointment ended quickly, because the story that Weintraub tells is compelling, with many revealing details about the first weeks of the Second World War that otherwise would be buried in archives and dusty memoirs.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Author Interview: GU philosophy professor Jason Brennan on 'The Ethics of Voting'

“Every day you see the same message: ‘get out the vote, get out the vote, get out the vote,’” says philosophy professor Jason Brennan.

Jason Brennan
“What if all the sentiments underlying that were just wrong?” he asks. What if they “could be shown to be wrong pretty easily?”

According to Brennan, his new book, The Ethics of Voting, in fact shows those underlying sentiments to be wrong.

Brennan, an assistant professor of business and philosophy at Georgetown University, recently summarized his book at a Cato Institute forum. After his presentation, he spoke with me about what motivated him to write The Ethics of Voting, how the book has been received by academics, and his new research on private behavior and the common good.

Brennan has long been interested in the topic of the ethics of voting.

“Growing up,” he said, “I kept hearing, over and over again, the American civic religion [says] that voting is special, that political participation is special, that serving in the military makes you an especially good person.”

These claims were not satisfying to Brennan, he explained.

“I never found myself gripped by that,” he said. “I always wondered: What were the grounds underlying that? Why did people believe it?”

He also discovered, he continued, that “at the same time, there’s a kind of interesting philosophical question about what you should do in situations where we as a group are doing something bad but that your individual input doesn’t make a difference. That happens a lot in politics.”

Those two different but related things brought him to this topic.

He had read some of the literature about voter behavior but George Mason University economist Bryan Caplan’s 2008 book, The Myth of the Rational Voter, provided extra stimulus to write his own book.

“After reading that, I asked myself, suppose he’s right that voters are irrational. What does that mean about what they should do?”

The answer is not simple, he said. One cannot simply say, “Well, if they’re rational they shouldn’t vote, because individual votes don’t make a difference.” Instead, “it’s actually a real philosophical puzzle as to why it would even matter at all [with regard to] what an individual does and why they should vote well or not.”

Caplan’s book, Brennan said, was “like the last straw” in how it “pushed me over the edge to have to write something more about the philosophy behind” the ethics of voting.

Brennan has received feedback from other academic philosophers, as well as from political scientists. Most of it has been positive.

The reaction he has had from philosophers, he said, “has been overwhelmingly very positive. Even if they disagree with the conclusions -- and many of them do -- what they’ve tended to like about it is that it takes on common sense. What it does is start with rather simple, plausible premises and leads to counterintuitive results. Philosophers tend to like that.”

Moreover, he added, “what a lot of philosophers have recognized, too, is that there are just a lot of unfounded assumptions about how politics works and what we should do. At the very least, I’m being a devil’s advocate in challenging” those assumptions, and that challenge makes philosophers “recognize that common sense [claims] about voting need to be justified, if they are justified” at all.

The reaction of political scientists, he said, “has largely been the same,” but faculty in political science departments who do political theory, “which is sort of philosophy but done in political science,” have a tendency “to be more skeptical because they tend to have a much more strongly emotional attachment to democracy than philosophers do.”

Brennan is now conducting new research on how private behavior contributes to the public good, something “that ended up being a major premise even in this book.”

He explained that “we can express civic virtue anywhere: by running a good business that helps people [and] makes them richer, by coming up with inventions, by making art, and so on.”

All these things, he said, help “promote the common good. They’re doing as much good as politics is doing, perhaps even more.”

The practical effect of this for individuals is that, “if you’re a person who is publicly spirited and you want to promote the common good, that doesn’t mean you have to get out of the market and go to the forum,” Brennan explained. “It might instead mean you should stay in the market and work there.”

Giving two prominent examples, Professor Brennan pointed out that “Thomas Edison did a lot more for us with his inventions than he ever would have done as a voter. Michelangelo did a lot more with his art than he ever would have done as a voter.”

He concluded by noting that “private civil society is really important for promoting the common good. If civic virtue is about promoting the common good, then private civil society might be the way to do it.”

Brennan wrote The Ethics of Voting while he taught at Brown University; it was published in April by Princeton University Press.

(An earlier version of this interview appeared on on July 31, 2011.)
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Friday, June 3, 2011

Author Interview: Garrett Peck Writes History of Prohibition-Era Washington, D.C.

When Woodrow Wilson left the White House in 1921, he moved to a 12,000-square-foot home in Kalorama, an elevated section of Washington that provided him and his wife with an unobstructed view of the city all the way to the Potomac River.

Moving his household necessitated a special dispensation from Congress because Wilson had a large collection of fine wines and, under the terms of the 18th Amendment and the Volstead Act, the transportation of alcoholic beverages – even within a city, even over a distance of barely a mile – was illegal.

This anecdote is one of many contained in a new book by Garrett Peck, a writer based in Arlington, Virginia, who has a keen interest in local Washington history and the history of alcoholic beverage regulation. (His previous book was called The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet.)

So it was no surprise that the book party celebrating the publication of Peck’s Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t was held at the Woodrow Wilson House, now a museum (in fact, the only presidential museum in the District of Columbia), which still holds one of the largest remaining collections of Prohibition-era wine.

Starting with the ‘Temperance Tour’
Peck explained in an interview that the Wilson house is the final stop on the “Temperance Tour” of Washington that he has led since 2006. This walking tour gave him the idea for his most recent book and also provided him with much of the material for it.

Garrett Peck at Woodrow Wilson House
Using primary source material, including newspaper databases, microfilm, diaries, memoirs, and magazine articles, Peck prepared a chapter “on spec,” which he presented to his eventual publisher, The History Press.

That chapter was called “The Man in the Green Hat,” and it was about George Cassiday, who was the personal bootlegger to Members of Congress during Prohibition.

One he sold the idea for the book, he dived deep into his source material.

“I used a lot of primary material,” he said, such as “the Washington Post online archives. I went to the D.C. Public Library and dug through microforms of different newspapers.”

He discovered that there are “actually a lot of biographies from the 1920s, so I used a lot of those. Probably 90 percent of the book is primary research,” he explained, which included interviews with descendants of some of the key players of the era.

Surprising and unexpected
Three things struck Peck as surprising as he conducted his research.

One was the “size of the brewing industry before Prohibition,” in Washington, he said, “which was huge, and then seeing it just collapse with Prohibition. That was really surprising.”

He also wrote a chapter on African-Americans in Washington during Prohibition.

Nobody, he pointed out, had previously written about that community, “because the press was segregated at the time.”

That lack of coverage had the result, Peck said, that the chapter on Washington’s African-American neighborhoods absorbed “about half of my research time, just trying to come up with an answer to, ‘What did black people think about Prohibition?’”

The difficulty of researching that topic “really surprised me,” he said.

The third surprise he found were the “back-to-back stories of Rufus Lusk and George Cassiday,” which came out in the press “within about a month of each other” in the fall of 1930. Lusk, who founded a real estate records firm that still bears his name, had published a map of Washington showing all the speakeasies in the city, meant to demonstrate how ineffective Prohibition enforcement was.

Cassiday “spilled the beans about bootlegging in Congress” in a series of articles for the Washington Post. That, together with Lusk’s map, Peck explained, “just had a huge impact for the wet cause and helped shift the country towards repeal” of Prohibition, which finally came in December 1933.

3,000 speakeasies
In remarks at his book launch party, Peck noted that prior to Prohibition – which, according to his book, actually began two years earlier in D.C. than in the rest of the country, thanks to the Shepard Act passed in 1917 – there were 300 saloons in the city of Washington. During Prohibition, there were at least 3,000 speakeasies (illegal drinking establishments), an increase by a factor of ten.

1922 Woman putting flask in her Russian boot, Washington, D.C. Prohibition
D.C. woman putting flask in her boot, 1922
The explosive growth is easy to explain, he said.

It makes sense “from an economic standpoint,” he explained.

“It was an economic opportunity for a lot of people. People still wanted to drink.”

The law of supply and demand meant that, “if there are people who want to drink, there are going to be people to meet that supply.”

According to Peck, “Plenty of people realized, ‘Hey, I can make a good living selling booze to people, whether it’s in my apartment or if I set up a club.’ Here in D.C.,” he explained, speakeasies were located in “a lot of apartments or [in] a room above a business so it looked like it was legit.” Many of these were hidden in plain sight, as shown on the widely-seen map published in 1930 by Rufus Lusk.

Local Prohibition history
While he prefers to “stick with DC” because it’s the city he knows best, Peck acknowledges that Prohibition in Washington, D.C. could be the start of a series of volumes of local history along the lines of “Prohibition in St. Louis,” “Prohibition in Milwaukee,” or “Prohibition in Buffalo.”

“I would certainly encourage historians in those other cities to explore those questions, especially where they know in fact there was a huge Prohibition culture,” he said, adding:

“I think Cleveland could write a story, Detroit could certainly write a story, Boston. Each one could definitely tell its own story about how the mayhem unfolded in their particular city. I would encourage that. I think the History Press would love to see more proposals like that.”

Garrett Peck will be speaking about his new book, Prohibition in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, June 9, from 7:00 to 9:00 p.m., at the Arlington Central Library, 1015 N. Quincy Street, in Arlington, Virginia.

Peck also noted that his book is available for purchase in the gift shop of the Woodrow Wilson House and available through on-line booksellers and Barnes & Noble.

(An earlier, slightly different version of this article originally appeared on in two parts on May 27, 2011.)

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Author Interview: Grove City Political Scientist Paul Kengor on His Latest Book, 'DUPES'

Research in the archives of the Soviet Comintern led Grove City College political scientist Paul Kengor to write his most recent book, DUPES: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century.

At the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Kengor autographed copies of DUPES and his previous book, The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism. (See "Author Interview: Professor Paul Kengor on ‘The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism,'" published March 3.)  He also took a few minutes to talk to me about his research.

Looking at the Communist International’s files on the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), Kengor said, “I got to the very first reel of microfiche and it was obvious” that “there was a very close collusion between the American Communist Party and the Soviet Communist Party,” corroborating the views held by anti-Communists throughout the twentieth century.

“In fact,” Kengor pointed out, “the very first document you get in the microfiche are the comrades in Chicago in September 1919 sending a letter to the comrades in Moscow at the Comintern, saying, basically, ‘We did it, we did it!’”

The document he cites is included in his book, and it celebrates the founding of the Soviet Union by the Communist Party and predicts that “America will be communist soon.” Those who wrote that letter, Kengor said, were “thrilled about this.”

As he continued in his research, he explained, he discovered “an eye opener.”

Cynical, shrewd, conniving
It showed that the Communist Party USA “very carefully, cynically, shrewdly, in a very conniving way, targeted American liberals and progressives for manipulation.”

Kengor was careful to note that “the liberals and progressives weren’t communists.”

They were, however, “also on the Left” and were therefore targeted in “a very deliberate campaign that went on for a long, long time and, I would argue, even to some extent takes place today, where the communists would lie to the liberals and progressives.”

The communists “wouldn’t tell them that they were communists. They very intentionally tried to mislead and manipulate them and with tremendous success, especially among academics (Columbia University, in particular), and also sadly among the religious left, the social-justice religious left,” Kengor said.

‘Biggest suckers of them all’
God and Ronald Reagan : A Spiritual LifeHe added that, “as one veteran investigator of the American communist movement told me for this book, the religious left were the biggest suckers of them all, especially the mainline Protestant denominations.”

Groups like the National Council of Churches, he said, “fell over and over and over again for the wolves in sheep’s clothing.”

Kengor plans to do more research on the churches during the Cold War, and his next project will “probably be a follow up to DUPES -- but I need to people need to buy DUPES for me to have the incentive to follow it up.”

‘Sad state’ of reading
The author then took an opportunity to lament the current state of publishing and reading.

“It’s a very frustrating thing right now,” he said. “People are not buying books, so you’ll spend years researching all this information” but even enormous publicity for the book “doesn’t always translate into sales.”

The problem is, Kengor said, “if people aren’t going to read these things, you wonder if you should even bother writing them.”

Consequently, he is evaluating his next project based on how well DUPES does.

“I’m finding that to get the word out there,” he said, “to spread the word on what’s in the book, you have to do countless op-ed pieces, countless media interviews, countless radio interviews, [and] do Q&As because people aren’t buying books.”

Instead of buying books, he said, people are “watching TV and reading things off the internet.”

That, he concluded, is “a very sad state.”

(This article appeared in a slightly different form on on February 27, 2011.)

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Sunday, April 24, 2011

Author Interview: Kristin Swenson on ‘Bible Babel’ and Her New Research Project

Kristin M. Swenson has been teaching in the School of World Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, where she specializes in the history and literature of ancient Israel. On May 16, she takes up an appointment as visiting professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville.

Kristin Swenson
Dr. Swenson is the author of Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked about Book of All Time, which was first published by HarperCollins in 2010 and came out as a Harper Perennial paperback in March of this year. She is also the author of Living through Pain: Psalms and the Search for Wholeness and co-author with Esther Nelson of What is Religious Studies?:  A Journey of Inquiry. Bible Babel is also scheduled to be published in translation in Brazil and South Korea in 2012.

I spoke to Swenson last month at the 2011 Virginia Festival of the Book, where she moderated a panel discussion entitled “Speaking of God” with authors David Baggett (Good God: The Theistic Foundations of Morality), Winn Collier (Let God: The Transforming Wisdom of Fenelon), Alex Joyner (Hard Times Come Again No More:  Suffering and Hope), and Clare Aukofer and J. Anderson "Andy" Thomson, Jr. (Why We Believe in God[s]: A Concise Guide to the Science of Faith).

She was pleased with the way the discussion turned out, she said.

“It was a terrific discussion in that it was civil. We had folks who believe that the Bible is the word of God and God is very much a living part of the world,” she explained, “and we had people who believe that religion is a completely human construct and brain moderated beliefs of god are nothing more than biology. So it was a lively group.”

The conversation among the authors and the audience was so lively, she said, that not only could it have continued an hour beyond the allotted time, but “we could have gone on 24 hours.”

In an earlier interview (at the 2010 Virginia Festival of the Book), Swenson described Bible Babel like this:

“The book is for general readers. It does not take a particular religious perspective. It’s also not dismissive of persons of faith but provides background information about the Bible: what is the Bible, where does it come from, [and] what’s in it, so that folks can make sense of the way the Bible shows up in contemporary culture.”

She said that the book has been well-received by reviewers and by readers.

“It’s gotten a nice reception so far, I’m happy to say. People both of faith perspectives and secular folks who feel they need to know more about the Bible are finding it very useful and fun reading, so I’m getting some nice responses.”

One such response was in a review by Michael Dirda in The Washington Post (February 18, 2010). Dirda wrote that “despite its sometimes overbright prose, this is a solid, readable work that doesn't shy away from the tough issues. For instance, Swenson lists and interprets the Bible texts that seem to comment on evolution and creation, homosexuality, abortion, whether God wants you to be rich, environmentalism and the care of the Earth, anti-Semitism, and the position of women.”

Similarly, Martin Sieff started off his review in The Washington Times (March 9, 2010) enthusiastically:

“Hats off to Kristin Swenson: She has done what I really thought was impossible. She has produced an accessible, freewheeling newcomers’ guide to the Bible aimed at attention-deficit-disordered teens, twenty-somethings and soccer moms that manages to avoid being lame.”

Swenson’s latest research project focuses on a more narrow, but no less interesting, topic.

She is looking into “a very fascinating man who is forgotten in history. I think of him as the “forgotten Messiah”: Cyrus, the founder of the Persian Empire.”

Cyrus, she said, was “instrumental in the development of the Bible and in the development of civilization, [yet] we know very little about him, especially in the West, though he is lionized in Iran today.”

In the Bible are “references to Cyrus as the anointed one that God chose to save the ancient Israelite people. He’s mentioned by name in the Book of Isaiah,” and those passages are often cited in the New Testament as references to Jesus as the Messiah (a word that means “anointed one.”)

Cyrus, Swenson noted is, “also sometimes referred to as the author of the first declaration of human rights,” based on “an inscription called the Cyrus Cylinder, in which he articulates some of what we think of as basic human rights.”

Asked if the admiration for Cyrus in modern-day Iran causes a conflict with that country’s Muslim theocracy, Swenson replied:

“That’s an interesting question. There does seem to be a distinction that some of the population make between Arab Islam and Iranian Persia.”

Many Muslim Iranians, she explained, “identify with Cyrus as a great leader who pre-dates Islam, someone [whom] they can all share and admire.”

She then added that “it’s interesting that we can admire Cyrus as well, so in Cyrus there is room for Americans to agree with Iranians.”

Swenson is unsure when her book on Cyrus of Persia will be published, since she is still in the research stage. Her agent, however, has a proposal in hand and the book will develop over “the next couple of years.”

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Book Review Blog Carnival #66: Doris Day Edition

Welcome to the April 3, 2011, edition of the Book Review Blog Carnival -- number 66 in the series! The 65th edition can still be viewed at I'll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book! Two weeks from today, look for the next edition at Izgad.

Doris Day: The Illustrated BiographyToday is the 88th birthday of actress, singer, animal-rights activist, and America's sweetheart, Doris Day, who herself has been the subject of several books in recent years, including Doris Day: The Untold Story of the Girl Next Door, by David Kaufman (2009); Doris Day: The Illustrated Biography, by Michael Freedland (2009); Doris Day: Sentimental Journey, by Garry McGee (2010); Doris Day: Reluctant Star, by David Bret (2009); and Considering Doris Day, by Tom Santopietro (2008). All in all, that's a lot of attention paid to a film star who hasn't made a movie since 1968.

And now, on to the carnival ...

children's and young adult books

Alexia presents Book Review: Darkness Becomes Her posted at Alexia's Books and Such..., saying, "A fun new entry into the Young Adult market!"

Jim Murdoch presents Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli posted at The Truth About Lies, saying, "Beginning as the Germans invade the city we follow an innocent and ignorant young boy who only knows himself as Stopthief because he survives by stealing. He is given the name Misha by another boy who befriends and protects him and his family becomes a group of homeless orphan boys scratching out a life on the streets and eventually get rounded up and locked inside the Warsaw Ghetto where they provide an essential service as smugglers."

Read Aloud ... Dad presents Incredible Illustrated Editions: Jonathan Swift`s Gulliver posted at Read Aloud Dad, saying, "I felt it would be a shame if I could not find a way to get my young twins acquainted with Swift's masterpiece and its principal motifs. So I found the best illustrated edition!"

fiction and literature

Alexia presents Book Review: Pale Demon posted at Alexia's Books and Such..., saying, "A 5/5 amazing read! Best Rachel Morgan story in the whole series!"

Angela England, Feature Writer presents Classic Tales by Irish Authors posted at Blissfully Domestic, saying, ""In fact, some of literary circles most poignant novels have been penned by Irish authors. ""

Marisa Wikramanayake presents Dead Man’s Chest (2010) posted at Jacket & Spine.

Mark Baker presents What's On My Nightstand March 2011 Edition posted at Random Ramblings from Sunny Southern CA, saying, "Here's a review of The Baker Street Letters by Michael Robertson. I enjoyed this debut mystery."

Mon presents Love, Again posted at ink + chai.

Thomas Burchfield presents Nabokov's Gift to a Midnight Reader posted at A Curious Man, saying, "My delightful experience reading The Gift by Vladimir Nabokov."

At Man of la Book, Zohar presents Book Review: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, as well as Book Review: The Stairway to Heaven by Therese Zrihen-Dvir, Book Review: The Help by Kathryn Stockett, and Book Review: 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan.


Marisa Wikramanayake presents Spinner (2010) posted at Jacket & Spine.

Scott presents Review: Gay New York posted at A Canadian Lefty in Occupied Land, saying, "A book review of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940."

Clark Bjorke presents The World That Made New Orleans posted at I'll Never Forget the Day I Read a Book!, saying, "World history from the point of view of the Big Easy."  Ned Sublette's book's subtitle is the intriguing "From Spanish Silver to Congo Square."

The Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner presents a two-part interview with political scientist Paul Kengor, who teaches at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.  Kengor talks about his book, The Crusader:  Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, a historical analysis of the final years of the Cold War.

non fiction

D. J. McGuire reviews James A. Bacon's Boomergeddon: How Runaway Deficits and the Age Wave Will Bankrupt the Federal Government and Devastate Retirement for Baby Boomers Unless We Act Now in "Why the sky won't necessarily fall" at The Right-Wing Liberal.

Jim Murdoch presents Minding my Peas and Cucumbers by Kay Sexton posted at The Truth About Lies, saying, "If you’ve ever thought it might be nice to have an allotment then this is the book you should read first. It traces author Kay Sexton’s experiences from novice to finally getting her own allotment; it takes a looooong time to get an allotment. So while you’re waiting it might be a good idea to read this mix of memoir, mystery novel, gardening book, etiquette guide, cookbook and science textbook."

Marisa Wikramanayake presents Wardrobe 101: Creating your perfect core wardrobe posted at Jacket & Spine.

Mike Sprouse presents Second Review of The Greatness Gap posted at Open Mike.

Trevor Schmidt presents Book Review: Lone Survivor posted at Bookophile Reviews, saying, "Check out the rest of my book reviews @ Bookophile Reviews!" Written by Marcus Luttrell, Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10 is "the story of four Navy SEALs who fought against a force of as many as 150 Taliban and the one SEAL who made it out alive."

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Melissa Batai presents Bookin’ It: Working Writer, Happy Writer posted at Mom's Plans, saying, "If you are looking to make money from home and would like to work as a writer, I highly recommend Working Writer, Happy Writer."

Penny Zang presents Best Book on Writing. Ever. posted at Miss Good on Paper. She writes: "There is one book I return to again and again, though. It is the book I recommend to all aspiring writers and the book from which I make copies for my students: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott."

shameless self-promotion

Last month was the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, and I had an opportunity to interview some of the participants, including the chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Jim Leach, and the president of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, Robert Vaughan.

As I noted in the interview with Vaughan,
... the annual Virginia Festival of the Book brings about 25,000 visitors to the city to hear and engage with authors, publishers, book reviewers, and bibliophiles.

The 2010 festival hosted 160 events featuring 307 authors, drawing visitors from 35 states and at least six foreign countries.
For his part, NEH Chairman Leach (a former Republican congressman from Iowa), gave several illustrations to explain why it is important to study and support the humanities:
“If you read literature, you put yourself in somebody else’s shoes. You learn from great figures in literature. You can learn lessons not to repeat from [those who] might be considered characters that you don’t identify with.

“History provides a sense of where we’ve been and lessons that can be taken forward.

“Philosophy gives one a barometer [of] ethics of how we could and should lead our life,” he continued, “so I think the humanities have never been more important, particularly as the world becomes so change-intensive.”
I also recently had the opportunity to interview (by telephone) playwright, screenwriter, and novelist Michael Slade about his new musical play, And the Curtain Rises, which had its world premiere at Signature Theatre in Arlington, Virginia, on March 27. Slade has written children's theatre, scripts for several daytime soap operas, and a young adult novel, The Horses of Central Park.

In explaining how he wrote And the Curtain Rises, which tells the story of The Black Crook, arguably the first musical comedy produced on Broadway, Slade told me:
“I love the process of researching,” Slade said.

“I was not the best student in school, but afterwards I discovered how much fun research was. One can do almost everything on line these days but there’s something about going places and handling real books and articles.”
"Real books and articles" -- that's what we readers are all about, no?

With that, we close the 66th edition of the Book Review Blog Carnival. Submit your blog article to the next edition using the carnival submission form.  Past posts and future hosts can be found at the blog carnival index page.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Author Interview: Professor Paul Kengor on ‘The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism’

Paul Kengor teaches foreign policy and twentieth century history in the department of political science at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He is the author, most recently, of DUPES: How America's Adversaries Have Manipulated Progressives for a Century, a history of the relationship between the Soviet Communist Party and the Communist Party of the United States (CPUSA) from World War I to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Paul Kengor at CPAC, February 2011
Kengor also wrote The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism, which examines how Ronald Reagan planned for and stimulated that collapse.

At the 2011 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington, Kengor spoke to me about The Crusader and how he came to write that book.

The process of researching and writing The Crusader “began when I realized that a lot of people in academia – and, really, generally -- didn’t realize, didn’t know, didn’t understand that Ronald Reagan actually intended to undermine the Soviet Empire,” Kengor said.

In a sense, he explained, “they knew from his rhetoric and his speeches,” such as the June 1982 Westminster address, the May 1981 Notre Dame speech, and the so-called “Evil Empire” speech before the religious broadcasters in March 1983 that “he thought that Soviet Communism was evil. They knew that he predicted it would end up on the ash heap of history.”

At the same time, however, these observers “thought that might have been rhetoric” rather than an expression of intention.

“What they didn’t realize,” Kengor went on, “is that behind all of that was a very specific campaign on multiple fronts, probably about a dozen to maybe two dozen different things, where Reagan actually intended to peacefully undermine the USSR.”

To back up his thesis, Kengor looked directly at recently declassified government documents, particularly NSDDs, or national security decision directives.

He contrasted his research with that of other academics who have not availed themselves of these documents.

“If academics are going to be scholars,” he complained, “they need to read primary sources, like they tell their students to do. But they don’t. They read each other and they cite each other. They don’t learn anything.”

The proof of Reagan’s intentions is in these documents, Kengor said.

“All this information has been declassified. You look at NSDD 32, NSDD 66, NSDD 75, and you see here a clear intent to roll back, undermine, and as one of the documents says, bring political pluralism – [it] actually uses that word, pluralism – to the Soviet Union.”

The collapse of the Soviet empire, Kengor asserts, “was intended and there’s a paper trail to prove it.”

His research did not end with the documents, however.

“Beyond the paper trail,” he explained, “all the people who were involved in this are either still alive or died in the last 10 years” and were available to tell the story.

“I’ve interviewed all of those people,” he said. “I mean everybody that I could find: Bill Clark, Cap Weinberger, George Shultz, Richard V. Allen,” naming, respectively, the director of the CIA, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, and the National Security Advisor of the Reagan administration.

Those people, he noted, “will tell you this, that [undermining the Soviet system] was the intention.”

The title of the book, The Crusader, emerged from research Kengor did in the Soviet archives.

As Kengor was reading the Soviet documents, he explained, such as Pravda, Izvestia, and transcripts of a TV program called Studio 9 (“the Moscow version of 60 Minutes”), and memoirs of Soviet officials like Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin and foreign minister Andrei Gromyko, he discovered “they called Reagan ‘the crusader.’”

The Soviets, he said, “understood better than American liberal academics that Reagan, beginning in the 1950s, had signed up for groups like General Lucius Clay’s Crusade for Freedom [and] Dr. Fred Schwarz’s Christian Anti-Communist Crusade.”

Reagan himself, Kengor noted, “had been using that word. He didn’t mean it in a religious sense, although Reagan was religiously inspired to undermine this viciously atheistic empire. (As Gorbachev said, the Soviets pursued a war on religion.) But Reagan meant the word crusade in the sense of crusade for freedom, a crusade to undermine” the USSR.

The now-declassified documents that Kengor used in his research were not kept hidden from the Soviets during the 1980s.

“They were classified at the time,” he explained, “but there was some leaking. I think it might have been intentional leaks, to get out some of the NSDDs” into the Soviets’ conversation.

According to interviews released a few years ago, NSDD 75, which was written by Harvard Sovietologist Richard Pipes while he served on the staff of the National Security Council in the White House, was intentionally but only partially leaked.

“When the Soviets heard that that was out, they were apoplectic. They wanted to find out, what’s in that document? They badly wanted to know what was in that document because the Soviets knew that Reagan had drawn crosshairs on their empire. They were in the crosshairs of the crusader,” Kengor said.

The Soviets, he continued, “were hungry to find out what specifically the Reagan administration was doing and they knew that Reagan was coming at them from multiple angles,” something that became clear to Kengor through interviews with former Soviet officials.

Beyond the history analyzed in his book, Kengor said, he wanted to express a criticism about scholarship.

“I would tell young people, in particular,” he said, that “if you run into a liberal professor who denies that Reagan had anything to do with the Soviet Union [collapse], that professor needs to know that the Soviets disagree with him, that the Poles disagree with him, that the people behind the former Iron Curtain disagree with him.”

That professor, he pointed out, “needs to know he is in a very tiny minority and doesn’t have evidence for his assertions.”

Kengor offered the theory that “maybe that’s why they avoid the primary source documents. They’re afraid that it will dispel a lot of their sacred cows about how Reagan allegedly had nothing to do with” the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War.

(This blog post has been adapted from two articles previously published on on February 23, 2011.)

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Author Interview: Christopher Horner on 'Power Grab'

Author Christopher Horner's most recent book is called Power Grab: How Obama's Green Policies Will Steal Your Freedom and Bankrupt America, published last year by Regnery Press.

Horner lives near Charlottesville but works for the Washington-based public-interest group, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, where he is a senior fellow at CEI’s Center for Energy and Environment. A lawyer by training, his previous books include Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud and Deception to Keep You Misinformed and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Global Warming and Environmentalism.

In an interview in Richmond on January 11, Horner said Power Grab is “about the latest excuse to impose the statist agenda on the American economy, the latest vehicle to make people live the way that a certain class demands we live, the class says there are too many people – sorry, too many other people – taking up too much space using too much stuff with too much liberty because they might use it.”

In the book, Horner cites quotations by key policymakers in the Obama administration – including environmental policy advisor Carol Browner, former “green jobs czar” Van Jones, and even the President himself – and explores what they meant when they said those things “and how they plan to go about that agenda.”

Horner’s intended readers include “all of those who are wavering, those who nod at the cocktail party level,” and say, “Oh, sure, we have to do something and after all, this is something, therefore we must do this.”

Christopher Horner
He wants those people to start asking questions.

“I want people to start thinking this through,” he said.

“Do they really want people to have the option to reject certain lifestyle choices, or do they want those choices to be moved from the individual to the state? That, frankly, is what this is about.”

During the interview, Horner repeated several times something that then-candidate Barack Obama said during the 2008 presidential campaign: “We can't drive our SUVs and eat as much as we want and keep our homes on 72 degrees at all times.”

Horner’s reaction to that? “I don’t know how much plainer it could have been expressed by somebody pushing this organization of society.”

In researching and writing his book, Horner tried to go back to original source material.

“I started by trying to figure out what are they doing that requires further explanation, because when the president says things like that and they sort of fall on dead ears, they get around the blogosphere then they move on.”

Horner wanted to bring these quotations out of a musty archive and make them part of the current debate over energy and environmental questions.

“How do we put the meat on the bones of what this means to you, as a matter of policy? How does the state decide whether or not you can drive what you want? How do these folks see the state deciding where you keep your thermostat?”

Horner pointed out that “these are senior elected and appointed officials who really believe it is their business, not yours, what you drive, how much you eat, what you eat, and where you keep your thermostat.”

Once he decided what he was looking for, he then “went about getting quotes to say, who are you going to believe? Which time are they lying, essentially? When they say this is really their objective or when they airbrush it away?”

To find the truth, Horner said, he “went through the proposals. I went through the admissions of the greens, the assertions of the greens, the records before they were in office of what they said, the statements of their allies, the people who say, ‘Oh, no, no, no, the green jobs agenda is just our way to make sure we have those resources to provide the energy we need.’”

The green activists, he said, “might actually believe that, but it depends on what the meaning of the term ‘need’ is. They think you need much, much less than you think you need.”

He dug up statements from people who said things like “providing people the energy they need would be like giving an idiot child a machine gun.”

Some of his sources “were videotaped discussions at rallies. Some were statements made in long-ago speeches. Some were in outlets that most of the public would never consider reading because it was intended for a particular audience.” His book, he says, now gives “a broader audience the opportunity to hear what Van Jones was saying back before he was Van Jones.”

For the green activists, he discovered in his research, including activists who now serve in the Obama administration, “it always comes back to transforming this country, [which] they see as so deeply flawed. [It] comes down to there are just enough of them, way too many of you and me, we use too much stuff, take up too much space, we have too many freedoms, and darn it, we want to use [them], and they don’t think that’s right.”

The book, he noted, comes with dust-jacket recommendations from talk show host Mark Levin, Spanish environmental economist Gabriel Calzada, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, and both Stephen Moore and John Fund of the Wall Street Journal.

“Even before it came out,” Horner said, Power Grab “got its best reviews. I have to say that there were so many of us writing so much about ‘you have to pay attention to this statement and this evidence.’ There were a lot of us. We may have gotten lost in each others’ arguments.” This book, he says, helps cut through the clutter.

(A substantially shorter version of this article appeared on as "Charlottesville writer Christopher Horner examines environmental ‘Power Grab'.")