What follows are summer reading recommendations. For the most part, the suggestions constitute not light but enlightening fare. The editors will be pleased to learn in due course what our readers gain from them.
There could be no more foolhardy an undertaking than to name a candidate for the most important novel of Henry James-something I shall now all too incautiously do. The novel I wish to name is The Bostonians, in essence the story of a war for the soul of a charismatic young woman. The combatants are, on the one side, a fierce suffragist who wants to possess her completely as well as to exploit her powers for the cause of women's rights, and, on the other, an intelligent and serious man who wants to make her his wife. The Bostonians was published in 1888, and yet nothing need be added to James' account in describing the emotional duplicity of the movement nowadays known as women's liberation, or the terrible tug-of-war in the hearts of young women between what they want and what they are now told it is their duty to believe. Great novels illuminate permanently, which is why we call them great.
My understanding of the current issues in the Middle East and of the terrorism against the United States was greatly enhanced by reading Bernard Lewis' The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2000 Years. Lewis is professor emeritus at Princeton and the outstanding historian of the Middle East and its relations with the West. I read the book with the confidence that I was in the hands of someone who was both accurate and deep in his analysis. Since the book was written in 1995 it brings a perspective that might be missing in something that looks at the Middle East just in the context of the recent events. The book is very readable and is meant for those of us looking for an introduction to the thinking and culture of the region as well as the historic record.
Among the books that made a profound impression on me when I first read it twenty years ago was Christopher Sykes' biography of Orde Wingate (London: Collins, 1959), which is a great book not by virtue of the writing so much as of the subject matter. Wingate-founder of the Haganah and organizer of the Ethiopian resistance against the Italians, who ultimately died fighting the Japanese in the Chindit raid in Burma-had to be one of the most remarkable individuals of the 20th century. Compared to our own colorless bureaucrats and orientalists, Wingate was an eccentric who liked to meet in the buff and eat raw onions, and inevitably ended up siding passionately with the people he was sent to help to the point of imagining vast conspiracies on the part of his own government. Great preparation for a life in international politics.
When Eric Hoffer published The True Believer in 1951, his masterwork on the social psychology of fanatical mass movements, we may safely assume that fundamentalist Muslims were not the believers he held foremost in mind. But anyone with knowledge of fundamentalism and neo-orthodoxy in Muslim societies today is certain to shudder with recognition at Hoffer's observations. Aside from his conclusion that poverty and misery as such are false sources of violent fanaticism, consider only this one remark: "There are many who find a good alibi far more attractive than an achievement. For an achievement does not settle anything permanently. We still have to prove our worth anew each day. . . . But when we have a valid alibi for not achieving anything we are fixed, so to speak, for life."
Owen Harries :
Recently, I finally got around to reading Robert K. Massie's Dreadnought: Britain, Germany and the Coming of the Great War. It is an example of popular history at its best: a gripping story beautifully told; and a tremendous cast of characters (from Bismarck and Salisbury to Tirpitz and Churchill). Perfect summer reading, and not irrelevant to what is happening in the world today. As an accompaniment, try Chapter xix of Raymond Aron's magisterial Peace and War, entitled "In Search of Morality: Idealism and Reality." Among other things, it lucidly explains the difference between the prescriptive, value-laden Machtpolitik of Wilhelmine Germany, and the (mainly) descriptive form that realism assumed in America after making the journey across the Atlantic.
The current massive wave of immigrants has made their assimilation a central issue for the future of American society, culture, identity and unity. Milton Gordon's Assimilation in American Life: The Role of Race, Religion, and National Origins, published in 1964 just before the new wave began, remains the most thoughtful and comprehensive analysis of the assimilation process. Gordon identifies four types of assimilation: cultural, structural, marital, identificational. He argues that cultural assimilation is the easiest and most prevalent form but does not necessarily lead to structural assimilation. Structural assimilation, however, does promote the other forms of assimilation. Gordon was unduly pessimistic about the prospects for structural assimilation of the offspring of the pre-World War I immigrants, but experience has shown him absolutely right on the positive effects of structural assimilation on the overall integration of newcomers into American society.
For a good whiff, alternately amusing and depressing, of present-day anti-Americanism in Europe, you must read Henryk M. Broder, Kein Krieg, nirgends: Die Deutschen und der Terror (Berlin: Berlin Verlag, 2002). You'll find such luminaries as Nobel Laureate Günter Grass plus a nice cross-section of Germany's chattering classes stereotyping and demonizing America in the post-9/11 era-in a language that can be heard up and down in Europe these days. Broder is such a trenchant observer because he is the classical outsider-looking-in. The son of Polish-Jewish survivors and a journalist at Der Spiegel, he started making a name for himself in the early 1980s when he cast a merciless light on the German Left's neo-anti-Semitism masquerading as "anti-Zionism." He is sharp-eyed, polemical and funny as he dissects a mindset that defines much of the current public discourse on America, terrorism and Islam in Western Europe. Alas, you have to be able to read German.
It is called What Went Wrong, but it might have been called Why They Are Angry. Bernard Lewis's rumination on the decline of Islamic civilization over the last 500 years is brilliant, authoritative and short (as all good books should be). This tour through Islamic history, reviewed by David Pryce-Jones in the Spring 2002 issue, manages to be both piquant and elegant. The sections on the Ottomans are particularly fascinating. Required reading for anyone who wants to understand why some are trying to kill us.
If you wish to understand the French better than they understand themselves, read Adam Gopnik's From Paris to the Moon. The fancy, pseudo-literary title is misleading. Gopnik not only writes very well, but he has insights into the French mind, the French way of life, the French approach to politics, child-rearing, even foreign policy. It really is perfect summer reading.
If the United States is, as observers from Tocqueville to Kennan have thought, constitutionally ill-designed and temperamentally unsuited to conduct a steady, coherent foreign policy, how did it become the world's pre-eminent power? How did the Inspector Clouseau of the international system attain a dominant status unmatched since the days of imperial Rome? The answer, according to Walter Russell Mead in his book Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World, lies in the multiple traditions of foreign policy on which the nation has been able to draw, mixing and adapting them to suit the various circumstances it has encountered in its two hundred-plus year history. There are, Mead believes, four such traditions: the Hamiltonian, which prescribes an expansive international role emphasizing commerce; the Jeffersonian, for which the protection of democracy at home is the primary concern; the Jacksonian, which can mobilize the considerable energies of the American public against any individual or group unwise enough to provoke it; and the Wilsonian, which seeks to spread American values and institutions to those beyond America's borders who need them, even, sometimes, when they do not recognize the need. Like Walter McDougall's similar and similarly admirable 1997 book Promised Land, Crusader State, Special Providence distills the elements of American foreign policy's past that are pertinent to its present and its future.
Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor published The Generals' War in 1995, by which time it was clear that Desert Storm, also known in some places as "Kuwaitus interruptus", was one of history's greatest near misses. With Saddam's Republican Guard in the crosshairs of American forces, we let them-and him-get away. We are still paying for that blunder and, if President Bush meant what he said in the State of the Union message, we will go on paying until we finish the job begun 11 years ago. This fascinating account reminds us that Colin Powell, now the chief architect of American foreign policy, had it wrong back then, just as current reporting of his views suggests he has it wrong now. It was a war General Powell did not wish to fight then just as the war to remove Saddam is one he does not wish to fight now. Gordon and Trainor, in their careful, convincing account, report Powell as understanding the importance of destroying Saddam's ground forces. But when it came to it, he wanted even more to end the war as soon as Saddam was driven from Kuwait-and well before his army could be destroyed. It is still there. And The Generals' War is still worth reading.
The Middle East remains enigmatic and much-discussed. Why do the leaders and peoples of that region see everything so differently from Americans? For example, they were simultaneously joyous at the events of September 11 and unwilling to accept that Middle Easterners had perpetrated them. The best explanation of this profound chasm is found in a book not written by someone deeply immersed in Middle Eastern studies but a many-talented journalist-David Pryce-Jones. After finishing his Closed Circle: An Interpretation of the Arabs (Harper Collins, 1991), I for the first time had a sense that I knew what was going on politically in the Middle East. Other readers will no doubt have the same sense upon completing his very readable analysis (republished in 2001 by Ivan Dee).
If one wishes to grasp America's faceoff with terrorism before 9/11-as well as to capture the atmosphere and ethos of do [Directorate of Operations] officers-one can scarcely do better than to read the gripping experience of Robert Baer in See No Evil (Crown, 2002), particularly the segments on the Middle East. It demonstrates that fighting terrorism is not an intelligence black hole, as sometimes portrayed. We know (and if we energetically dig we can know far more) about its perpetrators. Our failure before 9/11 was not the absence of clues, but a reluctance to act on available information. One need not embrace Baer's strictures on Washington, its bureaucrats or its policymakers. This is not a high-level policy perspective, but the distinctive view of a (good) operator in the field-though in some sense, a worm's eye view. What it does make clear, if only indirectly, are the dilemmas of a society based on openess and "a decent respect for the opinions of mankind" in taking the most effective measures in countering terrorism.
If you want to understand how quickly "new world orders" can come to grief, try John Maynard Keynes' insider indictment of Wilsonianism at Versailles. The Economic Consequences of the Peace, first published in 1920, is one of those books that almost everybody has heard of and very few have read. To take it on vacation, you needn't feel like Mike Dukakis at the beach with those big Swedish land-use studies; this is a high-class, briskly argued kiss-and-tell book. Keynes is funny; his portrait of Wilson will embarrass you more than you expect. He is mean; Wilson's advisors he dismisses as "dummies." He is brilliantly clear in explaining how the pre-1914 world really worked ("trickle-down" economists will enjoy his approving analysis of how the rich promoted economic growth). In his gloom, Keynes was wrong about how long it would take for the lights to come on again in Europe, but he understood that the Great Powers' exhaustion was spiritual as well as physical-and would have terrible consequences. "We have been moved already beyond endurance, and need rest", he concluded. "Never in the lifetime of men now living has the universal element in the soul of man burnt so dimly."
Robert W. Tucker:
"It is quite in keeping with man's curious intellectual history that the simplest and most important questions are those he asks least often." This statement of Norman Angell serves as the frontispiece for Glenn Gray's now classic 1959 book, The Warriors: Reflections of Men in Battle. In the midst of yet another war, this is a book well worth reading, or re-reading (particularly Chapter 2, "The Enduring Appeals of Battle"). Gray, an intelligence officer during World War II and subsequently a professor of philosophy at Colorado College, asked the "simplest and most important questions" about men in war. The answers he gave seem to me to be as relevant today, despite the vast changes that have occurred in the conditions of war, as they were when written.Essay Types: Book Review