Adams—like Hamilton and in contrast to Washington and Jefferson, who were more guarded both in deed and word—reminds us that our founding fathers wereAdams—like Hamilton and in contrast to Washington and Jefferson, who were more guarded both in deed and word—reminds us that our founding fathers were not the demigods they are sometimes made out to be, but simply men, albeit great men, thrust into a turning point in history. Like all men, they could be petty and they could be cruel.
Ferling’s academic background shows in a way I find quite wonderful. When he comes to some particular facet of the many-faceted man under his microscope, the interpretation of which is in contention between vying historians, Ferling gives quick summaries of the position of each. One of the joys of post-grade school study of history, for me, was the discovery that history was not immutable, that it was something for continuous discovery and debate. Ferling recognizes and validates this. Unfortunately, he abandons this technique before he gets to Adams’s presidency.
Plenty of attention is shown to Adams’s role as a young lawyer in a series of events that helped lead to the American Revolution. The experience of one of Adams peers shows how easily Adams might have gone another way. Jonathan Sewell came from an almost identical background, but each was led in a different directions by their respective legal mentors.
Adams served as a leader in the Continental Congress, including as almost a de facto Secretary of War, and served most of the interval between the Declaration of Independence and the framing of the Constitution as a diplomat in Europe.
Ferling does not examine the relationship Adams had with in depth, but he provides sufficient information for the reader to come to some conclusions of their own. Adams’s dedication and ambition kept him away from his family for extended periods of time, but he also went curiously long intervals without writing many members of his family. His relationship with Abigail was particularly complex and evolved over time; Ferling fittingly gives it greater attention.
Adams had strange thoughts on monarchy. Like many Federalists, his experiences during the Revolution and immediately after tempered his radicalism (such as it ever was). Ferling sees Adams as holding, during Washington’s presidency, an ideal middle ground between conservatives biased toward the rich such as Hamilton and populists biased toward the poor such as Jefferson. But Ferling’s comments on Hamilton’s financial plan seem to suggest a poor understanding of the underlying economics (the incredible importance of Hamilton’s insistence that the federal government honor the bonds purchased from veterans by speculators is disregarded).
But then Ferling obviously subscribes to the exceedingly negative opinion of Hamilton. He loses a proper biographical detachment in the section on the Adams presidency, especially whenever he talks about Hamilton. Ferling gives an unfair impression of the man by stating very strongly all the negative things so many thought about Hamilton, and stating very weakly the lack of evidence for it and without mention of evidence those rumors were planted by Hamilton’s enemies. Ferling sees Hamilton as the sort of chess master often seen in fiction but rarely in reality. He goes so far as to believe “devious machinations by treacherous men” only driven by “electioneering” purposes almost led to war with France. Despite long since establishing Adams’s unreliability, Ferling recounts conversations between Adams and Hamilton as told by Adams without giving a reader not conscientious enough to check the footnote any reason to believe there may be reason for doubt.
Ferling is an academic by trade, but his prose is lively. He does work too hard at showing off his expansive vocabulary. I don’t believe ‘the tramontane west’ really the best way to describe the lands across the Appalachian Mountains, nor do I warranted using a half dozen or more times.
This review is of the Kindle edition. There were a handful of typos. Reading a book like this with endnotes on the Kindle has certain advantages; you can easily jump back and forth between the text and the endnote. Given Ferling’s word choice, the Kindle’s excellent dictionary is both handy and extremely convenient as well....more
“If I ever get through a course of study I don’t expect any one will ask me what kind of coat I wore when studying, and if they do I shall not be asha“If I ever get through a course of study I don’t expect any one will ask me what kind of coat I wore when studying, and if they do I shall not be ashamed to tell them it was a ragged one.” --James Garfield
James Garfield, the 20th president of the United States, was a remarkable man. Born into poverty and obscurity, he raised himself through hard work, a powerful intellect, and a gift for oratory from canal driver to college professor to U.S Congressman to president. But even, ahem, amateur history buffs such as myself hardly recognize his name because Garfield’s first term was cut short by an assassin’s bullet.
Much as Millard’s River of Doubt interweaves the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s expedition down an unmapped Amazon tributary with Amazonian ecology, Destiny of the Republic interweaves the story of James Garfield’s assassination with late 19th century advances in science and technology, particularly in medicine. Not a true biography, it splits its attention between President James Garfield; Charles Guiteau, his shockingly delusional assassin; Alexander Graham Bell, the brilliant and driven inventor of the telephone, who invented a device in an attempt to save Garfield; and the arrogant resistance of American doctors to Joseph Lister’s discovery that sterile surgery could prevent infection. Significant attention is also given to Garfield nemesis and political machine boss Roscoe Conkling and his charge, Garfield vice president Chester Arthur.
The focused, rotating format gives Destiny of the Republic a lot of narrative punch. As she did in River of Doubt, Millard deftly weaves in quotes from the principals without breaking the flow or sounding clunky. The attention to medicine and technology give the book a context often lost in more traditional works of history, and we are treated to a story of a great leap forward in science and the last vestiges of truly Jacksonian democracy normally lost amongst Reconstruction and robber barons. Garfield was an amazing man, and the story of his assassination is appalling all around. On the other hand, Garfield as presented is hardly human, possessing no faults but perhaps verbosity. Absent a more humanizing depiction, exacerbated by many pages without Garfield present and his virtual silence after the shooting, I had difficulty identifying with and feeling for Garfield (although this is significantly mitigated by the quotes from Garfield that lead each chapter)....more
Famously beginning with the Nixon-Kennedy debate, televised presidential debates have defined the modern era of presidential elections. But after theFamously beginning with the Nixon-Kennedy debate, televised presidential debates have defined the modern era of presidential elections. But after the Nixon-Kennedy debate another presidential debate was not held until the Carter-Ford debate in 1976 (the first vice presidential debate was also held in 1976). They have been a mainstay of the quadrennial presidential election season ever since.
Jim Lehrer is uniquely qualified to write an account of the presidential debates. He has moderated 11 of the 34 televised presidential-vice presidential debates. He also interviewed all but three of the participants from the 1976 debates onwards for an oral history project.
Lehrer relies heavily on quotes from the debate participants, both from interviews and from the debates themselves. This is an inherently clunky approach, but it works well enough in the hands of a journalist as talented as Lehrer.
Lehrer is eminently fair to his subjects, letting them respond to major moments in their own words and printing a page worth of the Admiral Stockdale’s opening statement after his famous open of “Who am I? Why am I here?”. All of the major moments are covered, from Ford declaring that he didn’t believe Poland was dominated by the Soviet Union to the first Bush president checking his watch to Gore’s sighs (Lehrer missed the last two, as he was watching the candidate answering).
Lehrer also gives us an inside baseball account of the debates, from taut (and petty) negotiations over format to embarrassing logistical issues, including the secret service trying to stop him from entering the stage mere minutes before the debate was to start (“I’m the moderator! There are three people who have to be out there on the stage, and I am one of them!”). I enjoyed the personal anecdotes. For one example, Lehrer, continuing a personal tradition, bought a new tie for one of the 2004 debates the day of with his daughters; that evening he gave the $145 tie to a grandson for his thirteenth birthday.
The book is structured in roughly chronological order. In the last couple chapters, Lehrer covers other debates he has moderated through the years (including a disastrous post-9/11 debate) and muses on the “guts” of serving as a moderator.
Tension City is a short and easy read. Lehrer has an easy confidence, a self-deprecating wit, and a sharp eye for interesting anecdotes. His willingness to admit error is refreshing (and shocking). He points out that he missed Clinton’s use of the present tense in their interview the day the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke (a mistake of Lehrer’s that was ignored in the media storm to follow). I would recommend this book for anyone interested in how American presidents are chosen....more
The only difference between the petty math teacher Leach discusses early in this book and the ESPN and Texas Tech powers-that-be is that the math teacThe only difference between the petty math teacher Leach discusses early in this book and the ESPN and Texas Tech powers-that-be is that the math teacher had the common decency to retreat when called on his BS.
I started this book with low expectations, even for an iconoclast like Leach. Coaches and other politicians seldom write interesting books. Leach quickly shows that he is an exception. Leach is one of those people with an incurable compulsion for telling it like it is and beating his own path—the bane of bureaucrats everywhere.
Leach did not follow a traditional path into coaching. He did not play college football. He has a law degree. He entered the field with no personal connections. He was willing to put academics above football. He never hesitated to chuck the conventional wisdom when in doubt of its actual wisdom. Despite this, or perhaps in part because of it, Leach became one of the most successful coaches in college football before his ignominious firing from the head coaching job at Texas Tech.
Leach covers the birth of his “pirate” reputation. A well read man, Leach is a particular aficionado of pirates. He leveraged this for a post-defeat team meeting, bringing in a sword as a memorable prop.
The book is written in a conversational, easily readable style. Leach is famously meandering in conversation which shows here, but it works by providing an easy way to insert insights into the traditional biographical structure and avoid the rut of merely reciting events. Leach’s erudition shows through, e.g., he uses “institutionalized” and “coaching caste system” in a single sentence, but it never becomes pedantic or results in overly dense prose.
Leach’s non-conformity is well demonstrated in the appendix covering his game week preparations. For example, he ran shorter practices to keep his players fresh, but he also tried to keep everyone moving and relied heavily on his graduate assistants to work with the third- and scout-teamers to maximize the time.
This book is not primarily focused on the controversy that embroiled Leach at the end of his tenure at Texas Tech, but it is covered at great length. Leach shows, with support from depositions and emails between key players, that the Adam James controversy was used as a pretext by a Texas Tech administration more concerned with petty politics than the best interests of the university. They were greatly assisted in this by a media conglomerate, ESPN, that was more than happy to present its employee’s side of the story as plain fact while ignoring the other side (reported by other news outlets) as “irrelevant.” Numerous inconsistent statements were made by administrators and the Jameses (Adam James essentially recanted his entire story when deposed), and a PR firm was hired to smear Leach.
ESPN writer Bruce Feldman helped edit this book. Despite signing off on his work in advance, the ESPN powers-that-be suspended Feldman shortly after it was released. They then reinstated him less than a day later after an outpouring of support via Twitter but, true to form, claimed that Feldman was never suspended.
As a college football fan, I fervently hope that Leach returns to the sidelines post-haste. As an N.C. State fan, I fervently hope that Leach does not return to the sidelines in the ACC....more
Scipio Africanus, to the extent he is remembered, is remembered as a Great Captain. Hart goes farther, proudly proclaiming him in the title as “GreateScipio Africanus, to the extent he is remembered, is remembered as a Great Captain. Hart goes farther, proudly proclaiming him in the title as “Greater than Napoleon.” Not bad for someone who tends to be overshadowed by his arch-nemesis, Hannibal (who in turn is overshadowed by an Anthony Hopkins, but that’s hardly his fault), despite having decisively defeated him at Zama. This is likely in part due to a paucity of material on Scipio, something Hart sets out to remedy with admirable success.
Hart is a military historian. Unsurprisingly, it is on Scipio as a soldier that he focuses. By the first paragraph of the preface he has asserted his hypothesis that Scipio’s “military work has a greater value to modern students of war than that of any other great captain of the past.” Napoleon employed tactics to great effect that are no longer viable; Scipio’s stratagems are timeless. Hart was a WWI veteran and wrote this book in 1926, but I venture he would say the same today.
Hart’s philosophy shows. Frequent mentions are made of WWI and of, in particular, another Hart object of study—T.E. Lawrence (it was this book that led me to Seven Pillars of Wisdom: it deserves a good review for that alone). For someone with only a tepid interest in military history, I was as interested in what Hart’s book says about the Lost Generation as what it says about war and Roman history.
Why will study of Scipio prove more fruitful to a student of war than study of other great captains? For one, unlike Napoleon or Alexander, Scipio was the employee of a republic. He needed, and had, an understanding of the interplay of military, economic, and political forces that was no less necessary for a general in WWI or for a general today. Consequently, although the bulk of the book is devoted to Scipio’s major battles and campaigns (sadly, with fewer maps than I would prefer), Hart also spends time on Scipio’s patrician bearing, his fondness for Greek culture, and his political career....more
The premise of The Inheritance is simple: what are the greatest foreign policy problems Obama inherited? It’s a difficult subject to address without cThe premise of The Inheritance is simple: what are the greatest foreign policy problems Obama inherited? It’s a difficult subject to address without criticizing Bush, and Sanger pulls no punches, but it’s really about what Obama will face. As such, it was an excellent primer on foreign policy when I originally read it shortly after the election. I believe it remains valuable today. Sanger, pointedly avoiding Iraq, identifies five countries as the greatest challenges to the US: Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, North Korea, and China (it is not by accident he avoids Iraq, Sanger sees its greatest cost as one of opportunity). Other countries remain troublesome (notably, Russia and Venezuela; more recently, Mexico), but I think these are still our five greatest threats.
Three years later Sanger’s work still holds. Iran continues to press forward in its nuclear ambitions while the US balks at Israel’s preference for a preemptive approach. Pakistan proved to have been the hiding place of Bin Laden. North Korea replaced its leader, but we would do well to remember it has turned the rope-a-dope into an art of strategic statecraft. Recent events threaten to undo all the good work of the past few years in Afghanistan and China marches on untrammeled by pressure from the US.
Sanger devotes considerable attention to nuclear proliferation. One might be tempted to make this a point of criticism, given its lack of political salience these days, but let there be no doubt—nuclear proliferation is the greatest threat to America. It was in 2004—when both Bush and Kerry immediately answered as such during a debate—and it remains so today. Sanger devotes considerable space to detailing our failures to prevent nuclear proliferation during Bush’s presidency. At the epicenter was a Pakistani scientist named A.Q. Khan. He was selling nuclear secrets going back to the administrations of the elder Bush and Clinton. Covert work to thwart his efforts with Libya was highly successful, less so with Iran. It was Khan who sold vital technology to the North Koreans.
At first blush China seems an odd choice for the “Big 5.” But it makes a lot of sense when you consider the implications of an autocratic dictatorship as your major economic rival. Sanger sometimes falls victim to seeing the mote in America’s eye but failing to see the plank in China’s—it’s frankly laughable to think of equating the U.S. with China in human rights or regulatory environment—and he can turn a blind eye to history—he compares U.S. reaction to China today to reaction to Japan in the 80s without drawing the connection that neither had a sustainable economic model—but Sanger’s understanding of the China problem is generally excellent. Bush’s “soft” approach to China is the rare policy to meet Sanger’s approval (I don’t know that I agree). China is pursuing a “puncture strategy” militarily— defeat America’s superior technology however possible, whether by shooting down satellites, with anti-aircraft carrier missiles, or cyberattacks. Sanger sees China’s rise to become a “peer competitor” as inevitable, so we better embrace it. But China will never become our economic equal without massive reforms that are by no means inevitable. But they may, and they will likely remain an second-tier (with America lonely on the first tier) economic superpower. There is some good news, e.g., China has shown a grudging responsiveness to international pressure.
The China section also contains a perfect example of soft power. Emergency relief can be “the single best way to make use of America’s soft power while delivering a subtle message about America’s hard power.” Admiral Keating “recalled an incident from the winter of 2007, when two American C-17 cargo planes were dispatched to Guangzhou Province in China with blankets because the area had been hit with a brutal cold spell that threatened mass deaths from exposure. It took less than seventy-two hours, he said, between the time the Chinese asked for some help and the arrival of the first American planes, which immediately offloaded pallets full of blankets.” I assume China got the message....more
Mere Christianity is a Christian apologetic, that is, a reasoned attempted to defend and argue for Christian faith. The Christian apologetic is a bitMere Christianity is a Christian apologetic, that is, a reasoned attempted to defend and argue for Christian faith. The Christian apologetic is a bit of a lost art these days (the atheist apologetic, on the other hand, is all the rage). Christian apologetics fell out of fashion perhaps in recognition that apologetics, whether Christian, atheist, or other, are doomed to failure. They attempt to by reason defend and argue for that which must, ultimately, be accepted as a matter of faith. Lewis magnifies his task by taking a particularly rationalist tack.
Lewis also devotes a large part of Mere Christianity to laying out the basics of Christian belief. Frankly, I think this is more important than the apologetic, so I’m glad Lewis includes it.
Lewis is certainly one of the great writers on Christianity of the 20th century. Mere Christianity is the most fundamental, basic, and broad of his religious books. I must say it pales beside A Grief Observed, though. But then pretty much any book pales beside A Grief Observed (I’m waiting to review it until my petition to Amazon to add a seventh star comes through).
While Lewis’s work, in my mind, is in most ways and in general superior to Chesterton’s (The Everlasting Man), faith is not well suited to a rationalist explanation. It’s called faith for a reason. Chesterton understood this and to his credit focused on the unexplainable to demonstrate the possibility of the unexplainable. Chesterton’s prose in The Everlasting Man reminding me of that of, of all people, Christopher Hitchens. For both their own literary flair can obfuscate their point. For all his success writing fiction, Lewis never lets his prose get in the way of his persuasion. As another reviewer notes, he writes in “clear, concise, conversational prose.”
I do highly recommend Mere Christianity to anyone looking for an attempt at a rationalist argument for Christianity and the basics of what Christians believe. I also think it would make it onto the list of one or two dozen books every Christian should read at some point in their life....more
I’ve been a fan of Joe Scarborough since he moved to the mornings on MSNBC. He’s got the substantive knowledge (after time spent as a back-row ContracI’ve been a fan of Joe Scarborough since he moved to the mornings on MSNBC. He’s got the substantive knowledge (after time spent as a back-row Contract with America congressman), a license to (constructively) criticize Republicans (from a conservative standpoint) on the famously liberal MSNBC, and perhaps most importantly a softened edge leading an ensemble during the kinder, gentler morning hours. Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day is hurt in part because it was written by the old, fire-breathing Joe of Scarborough Country.
Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day was timely when it was written in 2004 and its timely today (in 2012). Scarborough is an old-fashioned deficit hawk—the kind whose hawkishness on the debt doesn’t evaporate as soon as his favored party is in power. It’s chum for a fellow deficit hawk such as myself, although there is sadly little substance behind it. Scarborough is pretty sure deficits make interest rates rise, but he’s not exactly sure how. He’s preaching to the choir, but I would like to see some numbers, such as Pete Peterson provides in spades in his anti-deficit book Running on Empty. Similarly, the best parts are of Scarborough venting the frustrations of the famously feisty freshmen Republicans swept into office by Gingrich’s Contract with America, not any analysis of that Congress’s policies. He has a lot more criticisms to throw around than solutions.
As is expected of this sort of popular politics book from a public figure, its heavy on anecdotes. Many are quite enlightening, from the big M machine that runs University of Alabama student government politics to what it’s like for a back-row congressman to meet the president. A congressman (ANY congressman) is officially an Important Person, but he’s hardly in the stratosphere of the leader of the Free World. It didn’t help Scarborough that both Clinton and the younger Bush have a charisma that could knock down a bull at a dozen paces. They would be Scarborough’s first recruits were he tasked with begetting a super-fraternity for the ages (he would make Clinton his social chair and Bush his rush chair). Scarborough has a lot to say about fraternities. Have bad experiences and talk about it in the section of your book covering your college years—I’m ok with that. But if sneering references toward frat boys seep into your entire book the problem may not be entirely theirs....more
UNC-CH, NC State, Duke, and Wake Forest, the titular ‘four corners’ of ACC basketball, have won 50 of 58 (and 17 of the first 18) ACC tournament champUNC-CH, NC State, Duke, and Wake Forest, the titular ‘four corners’ of ACC basketball, have won 50 of 58 (and 17 of the first 18) ACC tournament championships. North Carolina’s spot at the center of college basketball universe was driven by the rivalry between the four schools. Both storied venues, NC State’s Reynolds Coliseum was modeled on Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium. When legendary Indiana high school coach Everett Case arrived to coach the Wolfpack, he looked at the bare girders that had sat since WWII broke and declared, “It needs to be bigger.” Duke would respond to the Wolfpack’s dominance by hiring a Case disciple, Vic Bubas, to put them on the map. Billy Packer went to Wake Forest in retaliation for Duke waffling on a scholarship offer. Beating out UNC-CH for David Thompson cost NC State a year’s probation.
Basketball really hit the big-time in North Carolina with the wild, wild west days of Everett Case (NC State) and Frank McGuire (UNC-CH). They opened up pipelines from Indiana and New York City, respectively, to bring some of the best talent in the nation to North Carolina. Case also worked tirelessly to promote the sport within the state (it worked—NC produces some of the best home-grown talent in the nation today). They, along with a colorful whiskey drinking Baptist preacher named Bones McKinney at Wake Forest, built teams that could play with anyone in the country. UNC-CH toppled Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1957 national championship game. NC State toppled UCLA and Bill Walton in the 1974 Final Four before going on to win their first national championship. It was a rough-and-tumble time: NCAA rules were bent and differences on the court were sometimes settled by blows.
The section surveying the early years of the Big Four is by far the best. Menzer has a storyteller’s flair and plenty of stories to tell. But the later sections may give a hint why those stories were so good. Four Corners is by no means a work of journalism. Menzer is here to tell good stories, not get it right. He repeats a number of apocryphal anecdotes of NC State coach Jim Valvano, a legendary raconteur, as if true. He quotes Charles Shackelford as saying he was “amphibious” (Shackelford never said that; it was another one of Valvano’s apocryphal anecdotes and V didn’t even make up the joke). He says Peter Golenbock’s piece of yellow journalism, Personal Fouls, was “quickly” picked up another publisher after Simon & Schuster dropped it under threat of lawsuit by NC State (it was actually only picked up by another publisher after the Raleigh News & Observer printed Golenbock’s most salacious claims as if they were true). Menzer’s desire as a local sportswriter to keep in the good graces of the reigning powers in the state may have influenced him as well. Describing the infamous Final Four incident, he says Duke player Christian Laettner “tapped” a Kentucky player (unfortunately for Menzer, YouTube is now available to show just how ridiculous his use of that term is). He fully buys into UNC-CH coach Dean Smith’s “aw shucks, Old Well and education” routine (Menzer characterizes Smith disclosing information on the SAT scores of two Duke players, likely in violation of federal law, as Smith just “trying to do what he thought was right”). He describes the Cameron crazies as “creative” (they’ve brought us such creative cat-calls as “you suck”).
But all-in-all, Four Corners captures the heart of Big Four and ACC basketball: outsize personalities, high-flying athletes, terrible officiating, a center of gravity firmly in the state of North Carolina, and a view of history rooted as much in legend as fact....more