Discourses After Livy

A detail in last September’s New Yorker profile of Mark Zuckerberg likely struck many readers as odd, odder even than the many other eccentricities of one of the world’s wealthiest men. Zuckerberg, writer Evan Osnos discovered, is obsessed with Augustus Caesar. The Facebook founder’s wife accused him of bringing the emperor along on their honeymoon in, obviously, Rome, and the couple named their second daughter August. Having studied Latin in high school—it’s like coding, Zuck said—he dove deep into Roman history and eventually found himself clinging, like the Roman people, to Julius Caesar’s heir amidst the chaos of the city’s civil wars.

The Mirage of Arab Military Might

Israel’s victory in the Six-Day War; Chad’s defeat over Libya in 1987; the Islamic State’s humiliation of the Iraqi security forces—such episodes of Arab military failure, all too common since World War II, raise several important questions. Why the hell do Arab militaries perform so badly in war? Why do they lose when, by all objective measures, they should win? And when they win, why are their victories so small?

A Hazardous Form of Peace

Austin Bay opens his new book on the world’s flashpoints with a scene from the end of the Cold War. Or, at least, a scene from an American high-school during those strange days, as the Soviet bloc crumbled in the early 1990s. A retired Army colonel turned military historian and novelist, Bay was invited to join a panel of successful people who could tell an auditorium of high-school students and their parents about career development.

Hospitable on Purpose

New Year’s resolutions come in two kinds. Some resolve to sweep away the practices and habits of a prior way of life to produce a fresh start, a blank foundation on which to build a new and freer self. Others resolve to stay a given course, renewing an older dedication to do much as had been done before, but with greater deliberation and reinvigorated intention, seeking independence from what has hampered the effort. To make a joke, perhaps history and assonance allow us to call the first a French resolution, and the second American. Of course, many Americans are inclined to the former view of things.

Influence and Goo

Leadership. Dozens of universities around the country offer courses in its study. Every other year casts up onto the bestseller list another book on the topic. And all of it is basically goo. The people writing about leadership can’t even agree on what it means. A few years ago, Bernard M. Bass pointed out that “a two-day meeting to discuss leadership” will often start “with a day of argument over the definition.” Joseph Rost looked at almost 600 academic papers on leadership and found well over 200 rival definitions of the word, bitterly dueling within them.

Bah, Humbug

In the midst of all the new Christmas books that every year brings us, in the midst of all the made-for-Netflix holiday programs, in the midst of all the productions of The Nutcracker, in the midst of all the seasonal movies (from It’s a Wonderful Life to Die Hard), in the midst of all the Yuletide television specials, it might be worth remembering an indisputable truth about Christmas art: The single most successful bit of seasonal fiction is Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol.

Founders’ Son and Federalist Father

It’s ridiculous that Richard Brookhiser hasn’t received more acclaim for work on the Founding Fathers. Oh, he’s received plenty. The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, for example, have both recently reviewed his latest book, John Marshall: The Man Who Made the Supreme Court. He has authored PBS biographies on the Founders, appeared on countless radio shows, and contributed to dozens of panel discussions of the early republic. But none of it seems enough. In 1996, Brookhiser published a volume on George Washington, and in the years since, he has made the Founding era his own.

Greatness in History

It’s hardly surprising news—more of a book-review section’s perennial subhead—to say that the University of Texas professor H.W. Brands has published a new book on American history. The man is a machine of popular historical writing, and his works appear at a rate only slightly faster than the average person can read. Thus, now as always, Brands has published a new book—this one called Heirs of the Founders, which relates the 19th-century battles among Henry Clay, John Calhoun, and Daniel Webster: the Great Triumvirate of senators and public figures in the decades between the Founders and the Civil War.