Have a new book, or one not so new, that you’d like to recommend to PowerBlog readers for packing away to the beach and vacation spot? Add your picks to the comment box on this post.
Let’s begin with five books selected by Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg, who was a contributor to National Review Online’s symposium, “Got Summer Reading?”
By Samuel Gregg
For those who sense we’re presently reliving the 1930s (sigh), this is the book Paul Krugman and the other high priests of the economic left don’t want you to read. Anyone searching for an account of the New Deal that simply tells the truth about how and why it failed will benefit from reading Amity Shlaes’s The Forgotten Man (2008). Her well-written narrative of the Roosevelt administration’s failures and arbitrariness as it wrestled with the Great Depression not only reveals the New Dealers as truly out of their depth; it also indirectly raisesquestions about some disturbing trends in contemporary American political and economic life.
Another book that gets beneath superficial commentary on a subject that needs further discussion is David Satter’s It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway (2012). As we all know, the Left in America and Europe (in fact, everywhere) has never really acknowledged the full barbarity of Communism. Satter’s text, however, underscores just how much denial and downplaying of the sheer moral and physical destruction wrought by the Soviet experiment continue to poison contemporary Russian politics and culture.
On the subject of Russia, anyone who picks up Robert Massie’s latest biography, Catherine the Great (2011), will find it difficult to put down. It’s the fascinating story of how an obscure 18th-century German princess married off to a dolt who also happened to be the heir to the Romanov throne eventually overthrew the dolt to become Czarina of all-the-Russias and the most powerful woman in the world. Apart from analyzing her, ahem, “convoluted” love life, Massie’s portrait of Catherine provides insights into the complicated world of Russia and Europe in the decades before the French Revolution and the grim realities facing those who aspired to be enlightened absolutists.
History as morality-tale: That’s one of the central themes of one of the great works of Renaissance literature, Thomas More’s The History of King Richard III. This never-finished book (written between 1513 and 1518 and never published in More’s lifetime) has always been overshadowed by his other literary masterpiece, Utopia. It is, however, a sophisticated study of how tyranny normally emerges and consolidates itself: not simply through one person’s will to power, but rather through his successful manipulation of others’ moral and intellectual weaknesses. In our oh-so-democratic age, More’s warnings about how easily liberty and the rule of law can be subverted from within are more relevant than ever.
Lastly, for those seeking spiritual refreshment, I’d recommend Francis de Sales’ Introduction to the Devout Life. First published in 1609, this relatively short text authored by one of the Counter-Reformation’s leading intellectual and spiritual leaders was an instant classic, attracting as much admiration from Protestants and Orthodox Christians as from Catholics. Its power (even more apparent in the original French) is derived from the fact that this book was one of the first works of spirituality written for Christians trying to cultivate the theological and cardinal virtues in the world rather than in the cloister.