March 16, 2008


Fredrickson, George M., Big Enough to Be Inconsistent: Abraham Lincoln Confronts Slavery and Race ( Cambridge, Ma. & London: Harvard U. Press, 2008) (“The strategic aim of this book is to find a middle ground between the hagiographers, who view Lincoln as a consistent and effective opponent of slavery and a sincere, if sometime politically covert, champion of racial equality, and the debunkers, who are fixated on what they take to be Lincoln’s dyed-in-the-wool racism.” “[I]f this book provides any advance over the reams of previous writing about Lincoln, it is because of its attempt to demonstrate the full complexity and ambiguity of Lincoln’s encounter with the great national questions of slavery and race. In some ways,, as W. E. B. DuBois suggested, Lincoln’s greatness and the fact that he was sometimes uncertain or confused about what he should do or think are not incompatible: he was ‘big enough to be inconsistent.’” Id. at x-xi.).

Halberstam, David, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War (New York: Hyperion, 2007) (An alternative title for this wonderful book is ‘The Politics of War: American and the Korean War.’ Also, does not an undated version of this have a familiar ring? "For it was not just Douglas MacArthur who thought that he could fight the North Koreans with a limited number of troops, it was much of the top military and political establishment, and regrettably altogether too many of the troops themselves." Id. at 139.).

Lewis, Anthony, Freedom For the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment (New York: Basic Books, 2008) (a nice little summary of 1st amendment history).

Mihm, Stephen, A Nation of Counterfeiters: Capitalists, Con Men, and the Making of the United States (Cambridge & London: Harvard U. Press, 2007) ("Value, then, was not something inert, something inherent in the note itself, the way that gold in a coin was thought to have an intrinsic value. Far from it: value was something that materialized and became tangible when the note was exchanged, when one person put confidence in the note of another. Only then, at that instant, would an intrinsically worthless piece of paper come to mean something more." "Counterfeiters grasped this essential truth, which applied not only to bank notes, but also to the emergent market economy as a whole. Confidence was the engine of economic growth, the mysterious sentiment that permitted a country poor in specie but rich in promises to create something from nothing.... Counterfeiters, arguably the most ubiquitous and sophisticated of all confidence men, likewise understood that confidence was fragile, incapable of withstanding close scrutiny. Anyone who looked too carefully at what stood behind a bill would destroy it, just like the farmer in the fairy tale who, in trying to find out how the goose laid golden eggs, killed the priceless bird. Bills could function whether counterfeit or not, so long as they entered into circulation with enough trust on the part of the person receiving them. At it core, capitalism was little more that a confidence game. As long as confidence flourished, even the most far-fletched speculation could get off the ground, wealth would increase, and bank notes--the very pieces of paper that made it all possible--would circulate." Id. at 10-11).

Miller, William Lee, President Lincoln: The Duty of a Statesman (New York: Knopf, 2008).

Richards, Leonard L., The California Gold Rush and the Coming of the Civil War (New York: Knopf, 2007) (From the jacket cover" "Richards explains how Southerners envisioned California as a new market for slaves and saw themselves importing their own slaves to dig for gold, only to be frustrated by California's passage of a state constitution that prohibited slavery. Still, they schemed to tie California to the South with a southern-routed transcontinental railroad and worked to split off the southern half as a separate slave state. We see how the Gold Rush influenced the squabbling over the Gadsden Purchase, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, the repeal of the Missouri Compromise, and various attempts to take Cuba and Nicaragua...." "When war did break out, efforts were made to push California to secede, but there was little general enthusiasm for secession, and many prominent Southerners went off to join the Confederate Army while others tried desperately to keep California gold from getting to the North and underwriting Lincoln's war machine.").

Teles, Steven M., The Rise of the Conservative Legal Movement: The Battle for Control of the Law (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2008) (“Perhaps one of the most common mistakes that have been made by those who have attempted to learn from the conservative legal movement has been the tendency to confuse direct organizational goals and the desired by-products of activities with other ends. The [Henry] Manne programs in the 1970s and 1980s and the lectures and conventions of the Federalist Society, for example, contributed mightily to the development of academic and professional networks. These networks spurred intellectual productivity, improved the information that conservatives could access in government, and assisted in identifying ideological sympathizers when staffing the federal judiciary and administrative agencies. As import as these outputs were, however, they were by-products, or external benefits, of activities and organizations that worked because they were not aimed directly at these goals. Professors and judges attended Manne’s seminars because they were deeply intellectually stimulating, and, despite the unquestioned presence of opportunists within its ranks, such stimulation remains the main force drawing lawyers and law students to Federal Society meetings. Strong networks of the kind that come from these programs developed because of the emotional and intellectual intensity that come from an activity that knots people together and not because the organizations serve instrumental goals for their members. Even when the objective of organizational mobilization is narrowly political, therefore, it may be more effectively pursued through means that are broader and more indirect.” Id. at 280.).

Wilford, Hugh, The Mighty Wurlitzer: How the CIA Played America (Cambridge, MA, & London: Harvard U. Press, 2008) (“This book … has two main aims. One is to provide the first comprehensive account of the CIA’s covert network from its creation in the late 1940s to its exposure twenty years later, encompassing all the main American citizen groups involved in front operations, not just in Europe by in the Third World as well. The other is to portray the relationship between the CIA and its client organizations in as complete and rounded a manner as possible, combining intelligence history with the specific social history or histories of the groups concerned. My hope is that, by telling both sides of the story, the groups’ as well as the CIA’s, I will shed new light not only on the U.S. government’s conduct of the Cold War, but also on American society and culture in the mid-twentieth century.” Id. at 10.).

Wilson, Eric G., Against Happiness (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008).

March 5, 2008


Bell, Duncan, The Idea of Greater Britain: Empire and the Future of World Order, 1860-1900 (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2007) (“The history of modern political thought is partly the history of the attempt to confront increasingly global interdependence and competition. The Idea of Greater Britain focuses on an important but neglected aspect of this chronicle: the debate over the potential union of the United Kingdom with its so-called settler colonies—the lands we know now as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, as well as parts of South Africa—during the later Victorian age. Straddling oceans and spanning continents, this polity was to act, so its advocates proclaimed, as a guarantor of British strength and of a just and stable world. I explore the languages employed in imagining the settler empire as a single transcontinental political community, even as a global federal state…. I seek to shed light on the ways in which the future of world order—the configuration and dynamics of economics and geopolitical power, and the normative architecture justifying this a patterning—was perceived in an age of vital importance for the development of politics in the twentieth century and beyond.” “The quest for Greater Britain was both a reaction to and a product of the complex evolution of nineteenth-century international politics. The turbulent economic and political conditions of the era engendered profound anxiety, leading to the belief that a colossal polity was indispensable for preserving strength in a world in flux. In this sense it was reactive. But it was a product in the sense that communications technologies facilitating increasing levels of economic interdependence also generated the cognitive shift that was necessary for people to conceive of the scattered elements of the colonial empire as a coherent and unified political unit, and even as a state.” Id. at 1-2.).

Ben Jelloun, Tahar, This Blinding Absence of Light translated from the French by Linda Coverdale (New York: The New Press, 2001, 2002) (Fiction. From the jacket cover: “Ben Jelloun crafts a horrific real-life narrative into fiction to tell the appalling story of the desert concentration camps in which Kling Hassan II of Morocco held his political enemies under the most harrowing conditions. Not until September 1991, under international pressure, was Hassan’s regime forced to open these desert hellholes. A handful of survivors—living cadavers who had shrunk by over a foot in height—emerged from the six-by-three-foot cells in which they had been held underground for decades.”).

Blanning, Tim, The Pursuit of Glory: Europe, 1648-1815 (New York: Viking, 2007).

Eichengreen, Barry, The European Economy Since 1945: Coordinated Capitalism and Beyond (Princeton & Oxford: Princeton U. Press, 2007) (Nice synthesis and summary of European postwar economic history. I would think this a worthwhile background read for law students interested in international trade and business transaction, at least as such pertains to Europe. There is an ongoing debate as to whether, as between the United States and Europe, the United States model and European model will integrate and, if so, which will dominate, if either. This book provides an overview of the European model. On a political note, one of the (many) failures of the Democratic Party in the United States is its failure to articulate a coherent alternative, let alone viable alternative, to the Republican Party and, more important, the status quo with respect to economics, business, and social welfare. Case in point, Senator Clinton’s proposal for ‘universal health care’ which (if I understand it correctly) will be paid for largely by employers. That immediately places employers in political opposition, thereby increasing the prospects that it is dead on arrival or will survive in some much watered down and far from universal form. Coordination requires cooperation, and establish Democrats and Republicans both have mislaid the ability to cooperate with their opposition. Perhaps this book provides a sense of how such coordination and cooperation might look. I am not saying that Europe gets it right, they don’t.).

Elliott, Michael A., Custerology: The Enduring Legacy of the Indian Wars and George Armstrong Custer (Chicago & London: U. of Chicago Press, 2007).

Guha, Ramachandra, India After Gandhi: The History of the World’s Largest Democracy (New York: Ecco, 2007) (One should read this book for a number of reasons: (1) because most Americans are very ignorant of world history; (2) because India is—or will be—an important player in international politics and economics; (3) because, as the subtitle indicates, India is the world’s largest democracy (thus United States does not have a monopoly on it or on how it should function). Yet, I fear, that the following passage still captures the prevailing American attitude towards India and Indians. “Americans, for their part, had their own prejudices about India. They admired Gandhi and his struggle for national independence, but their knowledge of the country itself was scant. As Harold Isaac once point out, for Americans in the postwar years there were really only four kinds of Indians: (1) fabulous Indians, the maharajas and magicians coupled with equally exotic animals like tigers and elephants; (2) mystical Indians, a people who were ‘deep, contemplative, tranquil, profound’, (3) benighted Indians, who worshipped animals and many-headed gods and lived in a country that was even more heathen than China; and (4) pathetic Indians, plagued by poverty and crippled by disease—‘children with fly-encircled wyes, with swollen stomachs, child dying in the streets, rivers choked with bodies.’ Of course these images perhaps the last two predominated. It was no accident that the book on the subcontinent best know in America was Katherine Mayo’s Mother India, which Gandhi had described as a ‘drain inspector’s report.’” Id. at 165 (citation omitted). Of course, today, many Americans would now add, and unfairly blame, a fifth kind of Indian: the Indian whom they think has taken their outsourced job. What is the appropriate label for those Indian who have made themselves competitive in the global economy, while America have simply made themselves global consumers? Still, most importantly, “[t]he history of independent India has amended and modified of democracy based on the experience of the West. However, it has even more frontally challenged ideas of nationalism emanating from the western experience.” Id. at 738.).

Harvey, Robert, The War of Wars: The Great European Conflict 1793-1815 (New York: Carroll & Graf, 2006) ("One of the book's central themes is that the war [i.e., the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars] was a clash of national interests, not merely the whim of one man, Napoleon...." "This books seeks above all to portray the intensity of the struggle between Britain and France during this period--the first between a constitutional and a modern totalitarian power--while also covering the immense continental conflict, which determined the fate of Europe and indeed much of the world for the next century. This book also tries to evaluate the extent to which the French Revolution's and Napoleon's ideals transformed Europe in spite of his eventual defeat." Id. at xi-xii.).

Kershaw, Ian, Fateful Choices: Ten Decisions that Changed the World, 1940-1941 (New York: The Penguin Press, 2007) (“Events in Europe seemed far away and of little direct relevance to most Americans, preoccupied with making ends meet and coping with the travails of daily life as the country struggled along the path of economic recovery. The Atlantic appeared to pose a large enough cushion to protect Americans from the dangers against threatening the incorrigibly warlike continent of Europe. But they wanted to take no chances. Seven out of ten Americans believed in autumn 1937 that Congress should have the approval of the population in a referendum before issuing a declaration of war. A constitutional amendment to that effect, tying the President down, not just to a decision of Congress, but to the result of a popular referendum, was only narrowly defeated in the House of Representatives.” Id. at 191. As they say, times have changed in more ways than one. Yet, one thing true them that remains true today is the fact of bad decision making. “Yet another impersonal force operated within each governmental system. Bureaucratic planning and evaluation of policy proposals contributed to the ‘re-packaging’ of decisions, often as the outcome of in-fighting for influence and resources with organizations.” Id. at 480.).

Lewis, David Levering, God’s Crucible: Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 (New York: Norton, 2008).

Schlink, Bernhard, Homecoming: A Novel translated from the German by Michael Henry Heim (New York: Pantheon, 2008) (“He had written his dissertation on the Nazi interpretation of the Civil Code and saw parallels with the socialist interpretation. He maintained that the cowardice of the judges and law professors in the Third Reich willing to twist the law for their careers’ sake was the same as the cowardice of the judges and law professors in East Germany, that it had been possible to show courage and put up resistance under both systems. ‘We must never make the mistake our parents made,’ he said, laying his hand on my arm. ‘If history hasn’t taught us the lesson of resistance, then history is nothing but one long aimless, senseless bloodbath.’ He squeezed my arm. ‘That is our historical mission. That is why we are here.’” Id. at 147-148. “He smiled at me again. ‘Our friend here is wondering what point there is in all this talk about evil. Are not the great scoundrels dead? Have not the evil empires crumbled or been destroyed? Are not freedom, democracy, and the market spreading over all the earth? Has not peace eternal supplanted the Cold War? Will not the century of good succeed the century of evil within a decade?’” “The class was over…. De Baur waited until the first few [students] reached the door, then started in again. They stopped and turned. ‘Be suspicious. Trust neither the coming decade nor the coming century. Trust neither the good nor the normal. Truth first reveals itself in the face of evil and in the moment of crisis.’” Id. at 212.).

Perez-Reverte, Arturo, The Painter of Battles: A Novel translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden (New York: Random House, 2008).

Robb, Graham, The Discovery of France: A Historical Geography from the Revolution to the First World War (New York: Norton, 2007).

Sowell, Thomas, Economic Facts and Fallacies (New York: Basic Books, 2008) (a nice little read).

Vollmann, William T., Riding Toward Everywhere (New York: Ecco, 2008) (“[My father] taught his students without fear or favor, never missing a lecture in all the decades of his career. He worked hard, lived the life he chose, and said precisely what he thought. On his desk lay a paperweight engraved with his favorite motto: BULLSHIT BAFFLES BRAINS.” Id. at 2. So true!).