While serving in the Secret Intelligence Service during the Second World War, Hugh Trevor-Roper decided, illegally and under the threat of a court martial, to keep a diary. Inspired by Samuel Butler’s Note-Books he polished his entries continuously, arranged them in not quite chronological order, and prepared an index for them. They remained a secret during his lifetime, unknown to everyone, even his wife, Alexandra.
In the fall of 2009, a new book captured the attention of President Obama’s national security staff.
Lessons in Disaster, an account of Lyndon Johnson’s decision-making during the Vietnam War as seen through the experiences of McGeorge Bundy, his national security adviser, became the “must-read book for Obama’s war team,” wrote George Stephanopoulos. Obama’s aides were enmeshed in a debate about how to fulfill their boss’ campaign pledge of winning the “good war” in Afghanistan, and they found Lessons—authored by scholar Gordon Goldstein—particularly instructive.
When articles are written about the American Enterprise Institute, space is frequently devoted to cataloguing the eccentricities of its president, Arthur Brooks. Brooks is not a stereotypical, or even typical, conservative. In his 20s, he was a professional French hornist in the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, and politics was far from his mind. He changed tack a few years later, earning an economics degrees by correspondence and entering academia. Now he is president of a Washington institution that is working to recast conservatism in both its practice, and its perception.
More than three decades ago, a professor of mine commented about the futility of learning about the horror of the Josef Stalin years in the Soviet Union by reading Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s Gulag Archipelago. “The numbers are mind-numbing,” he said. “It’s like reading a telephone directory [this was back in an era when we all still had those monstrosities with a yellow cover] because you cannot comprehend the numbers of victims—millions of them. If you want to understand the Stalin years, read One Day In The Life Of Ivan Denisovich, because it is a story based on one person and that person’s single day in a Soviet Gulag—this is something that we can all relate to.”
The day in 2009 that C-SPAN’s Book TV went to Annapolis to interview Eva Brann, the Blue Angels were performing there for the U.S. Naval Academy’s commissioning week. At about the 16:15 mark in the interview, Brann, a former dean of St. John’s College and recipient of the National Humanities Medal, is discussing her long career when the Angels buzz her book-packed little house, shaking the place a bit and briefly halting the conversation.
On the final day of fighting at Gettysburg, the blood had mixed with the dirt, darkening the mud in the Pennsylvania fields. Bayonets were fixed, swords drawn, and the casualties were heavy. Formal Napoleonic tactics maneuvers culminated in brutal episodes of hand-to-hand combat. One Confederate soldier fought through the chaos by bludgeoning five men with the stock of his rifle and shooting another. The Federal flag that was his objective was, finally, just an arms-length away from him. As he reached for it, a fellow soldier cut in and picked it up. As was often the case during the Civil War, the lucky soldier who managed to secure the enemy’s colors was rewarded with leave by the commanding general. His comrade claimed victory, and also won a ticket home. The other soldier’s fate is not certain.
In late 1944, Charles Kaiser’s uncle, a U.S. Army lieutenant, stayed for a while at the Paris residence of two sisters, Christiane and Jacqueline Boulloche. So began a relationship that would eventually lead Kaiser to write his new book, The Cost of Courage. An American journalist, Mr. Kaiser has designed this book about the French resistance for an American audience. This account of the resistance provides unique insight into the history of one French family and a courageous struggle against Nazism.
There are those whose love for J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis is so fervent that no amount of detail about these writers is too much. These are the people who read and re-read not just Tolkien’s ring trilogy but also The Silmarillion and Unfinished Tales; not just Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia but also his science fiction novels and letters and lectures and maybe even his 1936 scholarly work, The Allegory of Love: A Study in Medieval Tradition.
The bestseller, like its much more expensive cousin, the blockbuster movie, is a poorly understood phenomenon. Publishers have been trying and failing to consistently produce them ever since shortly after Gutenberg went all in on the Word of God. An editor may be certain he detects a bestsellerish je ne sais quoi in an author to whom he extends a six-figure advance, but confirmation of his hunch is available only after the fact.
In The Quiet Man, John Sununu, former governor of New Hampshire, writes affectionately of the presidency of George HW Bush. As Bush’s chief of staff, Sununu was with the president for all of the significant moments of his consequential term in office. Though admittedly biased, this assessment of Mr. Bush’s record is made worthwhile by the new details it brings to old stories.