The Best Reads of 2021
Don’t let our Grinch of a president steal Christmas — check out our gift recommendations for the conservative book lovers in your life!
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr: How long does it take an author to write a very good book? Consider this. I invited Andrew Roberts, who has become the Paul Johnson of his era, to my wedding back in 1998. He gave Jeanne and me on that occasion as wedding gifts two 18th-century Parliamentary proclamations signed by George III, the last king of America. Now, 23 years later, I have on my desk Andrew’s latest book, The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III. Andrew already has written the finest one-volume biography of Winston Churchill and a dozen or so other stupendous studies. So why would this book be any less of an achievement? In fact, I know without reading it that it is a stupendous work. It was reviewed by Paul Johnson’s son, Daniel, a few weeks ago in our online edition, and he found it so.
When I finish working on my memoirs I shall eagerly turn to George III. Another year of President Biden, America’s worst president, and I shall be ready for Great Britain’s “most misunderstood king.”
R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr. is the founder and editor in chief of The American Spectator.
Hannah Rowan: Jonathan Franzen, in case you haven’t heard, is a literary dinosaur, and one the Left wants to be extinct already. He’s white, he’s male, he was friends with the toxic misogynist David Foster Wallace, and every few years he publishes a brick of a novel that critics are obliged to drag through the same old patch of mud. Not transgressive enough. His women are puppets. Too much sympathy for these silly suburbanites getting religion and trying to fix their broken families.
All this may be valid. But that’s no reason not to read him.
Franzen, after all, is an uncomfortable Midwesterner, and he can’t help it: he’s got to be earnest. No matter how much it makes him hate himself (and his characters) at times, he has to reckon with those central novelistic concerns: man and woman, man and family, man and God. And as he’s matured as a writer, he’s found that he has to do it in an old-fashioned way — in a social comedy, following the likes of Anthony Trollope and George Eliot, with tears of real laughter and sorrow alongside its sneers of derision. In his latest, Crossroads, he takes on the 1970s through an evangelical preacher’s family that may not be hip enough to survive the fusion of political idealism, pop culture, and crippling self-doubt that made that decade so tumultuous for the tradition-minded.
Crossroads is the first in a trilogy called, with a nod to Eliot’s Middlemarch, “A Key to All Mythologies.” Does Franzen have that key? Of course not, but he’s one of the few novelists working today who doesn’t assume that he’s found it already in some cocktail of watered-down, narcissistic radicalism, such as the perverted feminism and Marxism lite of the unworthily lauded Sally Rooney.
If Franzen is a fossil, at least he’s one whose bones seem set to last. His new trilogy is worth following.
Hannah Rowan is managing editor of The American Spectator.
Evan Maguire: Always With Honor is the autobiography of General Pytor Wrangel, Commander of the Armed Forces of South Russia during the brutal communist revolution. First published in English in 1929, Always With Honor fell out of print for decades until it was republished in 2020. Wrangel’s writings offer a look into the savagery of the Russian Civil War, the challenges that military officers face with poor leadership, and acts of heroism and humility from both Wrangel and the men around him. At a time when the United States faces hyperpartisanship, an inept military elite, and ever-growing logistical crises, Wrangel’s work is especially relevant.
Evan Maguire is The American Spectator’s development manager.
Leonora Cravotta: My Christmas book pick is Josh Cohen’s How to Live. What to Do: In Search of Ourselves in Life and Literature. Cohen, a professor of Modern Literary Theory at Goldsmiths, University of London and a psychoanalyst, has written an engaging, thought-provoking book which fuses literature and psychoanalytical case study to identify universal recurring emotional problems, patterns, and themes of life and then presents potential avenues for navigating these obstacles to self-actualization and happiness. The book, which takes its title from Wallace Stevens’ poem “How to Live. What to Do,” is divided into eight chapters named for life’s chronological and social development stages. Each chapter integrates a composite case study from Cohen’s practice of a particular developmental phase dilemma, a literary example, and a personal anecdote. The literary references are largely drawn from modern classics such as Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925) and Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) but also include some contemporary works such as Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go (2005).
How to Live, What to Do is a marvelous book, for it not only invites us to revisit our favorite literature but also provides another layer to our understanding of each respective work. And Cohen skillfully integrates his psychological analysis without stripping the works of their inherent poignancy. While I really enjoyed the discussions of some of my favorite books, I was intrigued enough by Cohen’s framework to consider reading the novels I had not yet read and also to revisit those the adolescent me had long ago dismissed as boring.
I highly recommend How to Live, What to Do as a book that entertains, educates, and comforts.
Leonora Cravotta is Director of Operations at The American Spectator.
Paul Kengor: Earlier this year I reviewed at The American Spectator Mark Levin’s American Marxism, a hugely influential book, selling over a million copies since its release last summer. I didn’t review but strongly endorse Italian scholar Roberto de Mattei’s excellent new biography of St. Pope Pius V, published by Sophia Institute Press. But being that my beloved Spectator editors have instructed me to focus on just one book, no doubt because typical Christmas stockings can’t be stuffed with three books, I’d like to particularly recommend a fascinating new work by Julia Meloni, The St. Gallen Mafia, published by TAN Books.
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With outstanding writing and research, Meloni exposes the so-called St. Gallen Mafia, a collection of left-wing prelates that plotted to elect Argentinian Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio the next pope in 2013. Those cardinals were Carlo Maria Martini, Godfried Danneels, Walter Kasper, Cormac Murphy-O’Connor, and Achille Silvestrini. Meloni’s examination of these characters and their connections to Francis is terrifically done, and done with fairness and charity, which was surely not easy to do, given their infuriating scheming behind the scenes. Francis is an enigma, often maddening. It’s hard to know where and when he’s leading or being led, or deceiving or being deceived, by those he has surrounded himself with. To borrow an infamous phrase of Francis, he has “made a mess” of things. This book brings us closer to figuring out Francis through Meloni’s uniquely perceptive lens of the St. Gallen Mafia that plotted to elect him.
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science at Grove City College and a senior editor of The American Spectator.
Jeffrey Lord: It is always a joy to read Fox News Special Report anchor Bret Baier as he continues his non-TV work as a presidential historian. All the installments in Baier’s “Three Days” series have been must-reads, seriously well done studies of presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, and Ronald Reagan and a critical three-day period in each of their respective administrations.
This time around, writing with New York Times bestselling co-author Catherine Whitney, Bret has written To Rescue the Republic: Ulysses S. Grant, the Fragile Union, and the Crisis of 1876. The book is a terrific account of the famous Civil War general turned 18th president. Grant, a considerably unassuming man, is recounted in detail on his remarkable and decidedly all-American journey, which starts with humble beginnings and gradually leads him onto the battlefields of the Civil War, “the violent turmoil of Reconstruction” during his presidency, and, last but certainly not least, Grant’s end-of-term efforts to calm the nation so recently splintered from doing so again as the results of the hotly contested 1876 election that would choose his successor threaten the national unity.
In short, Bret Baier has done it again, producing another presidential history that will last as long as there are presidential history books. To Rescue the Republic is decidedly a great Christmas gift, the fascinating tale of one of America’s most underrated presidents as he faced repeated challenges to hold America together.
Jeffrey Lord is a contributing editor to The American Spectator.
Grover Norquist: John Fund and Hans von Spakovsky have written an important, readable, useful, and sensible book on voter fraud and how to limit it in American elections. In Our Broken Elections: How the Left Changed the Way You Vote, they lay out the real history of real voter fraud in the United States and where and how it has been limited and contained. They see no vast conspiracy. They do see a Democrat Party that has learned that the weak link in voter integrity is “mail-in” ballots. Unlike voting in the voting booth, absentee or mass mailed ballots can be filled out with a Democrat precinct worker and/or someone with a $50 bill in his hand looking over your shoulder. Mail-in ballots are a step backwards from honest elections, reversing the progress made when the “Australian ballot” or “secret ballot” — where you and only you can have seen how you vote — became the norm in the United States. You cannot afford to pay a man to vote for your candidate unless you can watch him or her mark the ballot. You cannot sell your vote unless the buyer can watch. Mail-in ballots make paying for a vote possible. You know what you are buying.
Buy this book. Share it. Win the next set of elections.
Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform and a senior editor of The American Spectator.
Matthew Omolesky: The wealthy banker and collector Count Moïse de Camondo had planned to pass on his sprawling Parisian mansion, and the innumerable masterpieces of 18-century decorative arts proudly displayed therein, to his son Nissim de Camondo. Tragically, however, Nissim died heroically in the defense of his homeland in 1917, and the Hôtel Camondo, located at 63, rue de Monceau in the tony 8th arrondissement, was frozen in amber as a memorial to the fallen scion of the Camondo dynasty, before being bequeathed to the French state upon the count’s own death in 1936. In Letters to Camondo, the renowned ceramicist Edmund de Waal, author of The Hare with Amber Eyes and The White Road, whose own forebears the Ephrussi were once the Camondo’s neighbors, presents a series of 58 open letters addressed to the long-deceased count. Describing his walks “through these rooms with their cabinets and bronzes and marble sculptures and tapestries and gilded candelabra,” de Waal demonstrates how Moïse succeeded in creating “a space to talk to the dead, to welcome them in.”
When Nissim’s sister Béatrice and her family were deported to Auschwitz in 1943, never to return, the Camondo dynasty was no more, but the Camondo collection itself has managed to remain intact. The modern art world, as François Mauriac once lamented, “extends like a dead sea over a dead world, spiritually dead,” but the museum established by Count Moïse, and its sensitive treatment by Edmund de Waal, together serve as timely reminders of the vibrant civilization that existed before the suicidal conflagrations of the 20th century. That world may have largely disappeared, but we can count ourselves fortunate that it lives on in pockets of resistance like the Musée Nissim de Camondo.
Matthew Omolesky is a human rights lawyer, a researcher in the fields of cultural heritage preservation and law and anthropology, a Fellow of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and a contributor to The American Spectator.
Published at Wed, 24 Nov 2021 04:20:37 +0000