Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | May 29, 2013

Collection of Book Reviews

Bismarck and his dogs

1. Anderson reviews Jonathan Steinberg’s Bismarck: A Life. His verdict: “More than once, there’s this weird effort to blacken Bismarck by digressing into unrelated figures, as if the man did not have enough faults. Unfortunately the book does not focus on JS’s intent as announced up front, to focus on ‘how Bismarck exercised his personal power.’ That would be interesting, but it turns out to mean quoting the many people whom Bismarck treated badly, without analysis. How did a man so awful as JS paints him hold power so long and accomplish so much? The answer to that would have to focus on Bismarck’s relationship with Wilhelm I, and we get far too little of that odd couple. As it is, the many quotations from letters and journals are indeed interesting — they constitute the main value of this book — but JS’s announced intent to favor ‘evidence’ over ‘comment’ is both not honored, and altogether too much honored.” And so on. (For previous discussion of this book, see item 4 in this post.)

2. A review of Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed. A taste: “While the whole of And The Mountains Echoed is bittersweet, it is a lovely bittersweet that doesn’t turn acidic. The story begins with the heart breaking tale of two siblings torn apart by circumstances beyond their control. It is a novel that encompasses the greatest of all human emotions and actions and not just of the two children in the beginning, but of parents, cousins, and caretakers throughout the generations from 1952 to 2010 and that spans all over the world.”

3. Harvey Silverglate at Reason reviews The Terror Courts: Rough Justice at Guantanamo Bay, by Jess Bravin. An excerpt:

Bravin, a Supreme Court reporter for The Wall Street Journal, describes with dismay how the George W. Bush administration attempted to create a shadow justice system for dealing with foreigners and Americans whom the executive branch considers perpetrators and facilitators of terrorism. Wielding no partisan ax, Bravin laments President Barack Obama’s failure to renounce many of the same executive powers.

But Bravin also describes an intriguing civil war within the national security establishment. As Bush’s most hardened hawks rounded up suspected terrorists, others within the government fought, both overtly and covertly, to protect constitutional procedures.

It is no secret that sectors of civil society—civil liberties groups, the organized bar, much of the news media—battled Bush and his henchmen (and now Obama and his henchmen) over abuses of civil liberties by military tribunals. Bravin shows that such critics had allies within the government. To the extent that liberty and due process have survived, they endure largely thanks to government employees and military officials who rebelled against, and in subtle ways worked to undermine, what they saw as threats to the nation’s fundamental institutions. …

4. Todd Kelly at the League provides a list of books “which, taken collectively, best represent the principled pragmatism I argue about so strenuously and continuously…” Included on Kelly’s list are such works as Parliament of Whores by P.J. O’Rourke, The Lucifer Principle by Howard Bloom, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Others propose and discuss some worthy titles in the comments as well.

5. Chris Blattman discusses his favorite novel of the year (so far), Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Prof. Blattman writes: “It’s a book about emigrating to America, and then emigrating home again. The main character comes to America, discovers race politics, and the fact she is now a black, and starts a blog explaining the race to NABs–non-American blacks. Funny and poignant. This is easily the most interesting part of the book, but not the main storyline–it is also about belonging, love and hair. Everything about it is excellent.”

Image Credit: Bismarck and his dogs Tyras and Rebecca, July 1891. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

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