Tag: Book Reviews

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Popular histories of the fall of the Roman Republic are not in short supply. There are excellent entries in this crowded field. One can look to Tom Holland’s Rubicon or the recent New York Times bestseller The Storm Before the Storm by popular podcaster Mike Duncan. Into this crowded field we have Mortal Republic by Edward J. Watts.  Dr. Watts is Professor […]

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Greetings Fellow Ricochet members. After a few years away I have relaunched my book review blog. I will be running the reviews here as well. I read in a lot of fields. I don’t actually remember learning how to read, but family lore says I was two years old. Here you will see both fiction […]

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“A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read.” – Mark Twain Yesterday someone asked me about the books I review, how I decide to pick them, and how I got into reviewing books. I read. Boy, do I read. I have always been a voracious reader – even in first […]

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I am currently reading Jonah Goldberg’s “Suicide of the West” and Patrick Deneen’s “Why Liberalism Failed” for a doctoral class. Finding myself about halfway through the former I had the following review retweeted into my timeline this morning and it held exactly the critique of Goldberg’s thesis that was digging at me. I want to […]

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‘Suicide of the West’ Review

 

I just finished Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West last night. Overall, I think it’s a very good book and one that people on both the Left and Right will benefit from reading. The book is not full of pop-culture references and humorous or snarky asides, which may disappoint regular readers of his G-File newsletter.  It’s definitely a serious book, more in the style of his first title, Liberal Fascism, than his second, The Tyranny of Cliches. While I generally agree with the overall premise and conclusions, I do have a few quibbles about some of his writing decisions. Before I get into those, here’s a quick summary.

The basic premise is that we have reached a pinnacle when it comes to finding a way for humanity to prosper, and that if we aren’t careful we will throw it all away. He starts by observing that for most of human existence, life has been pretty miserable. We first appeared about 250,000 years ago, and for 99 percent of that time nothing changed. He points to about 300 years ago, when what he refers to as “the Miracle” happened, that life really started to improve drastically. The values of the Enlightenment combined with the economic benefits of capitalism combined in a place where they were allowed to develop (England) and then were given a true home here in America where they have flourished and changed the world. But the “Miracle” goes against human nature. We didn’t evolve in such a way to ensure the “Miracle” happened and if we let human nature take its course, we’ll lose what we have gained.

In fact, Goldberg makes a good case that we’ve already dropped below the pinnacle. The progressive movement of the early 20th century damaged the balanced structure that the Founders designed by letting an administrative state transform into a shadow government unchecked by the formal system defined in our Constitution. In that sense, I found the book to be kind of depressing. At this point, it would take a new revolution to free ourselves from the bureaucracy that we’ve allowed to take over so much of our formal government, and there’s no sign that people have the slightest interest in doing anything of the sort. Unfulfillable promises to “drain the swamp” aside, the administrative state is here to stay.

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(In the light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. I thought this 2014 post from Chicago Boyz might be of interest here) There has been much discussion recently of Catalist, a database system being used by the Democratic Party to optimally target their electioneering efforts…see Jonathan’s post here.  I’m reminded of Eugene Burdick’s 1964 novel, The 480.  The book’s […]

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Dreamland – A Review

 

Billed as “the true tale of America’s Opiate epidemic,” Sam Quinones’s Dreamland is a pretty quick read considering it’s about 350 pages. The blurbs on the back promise “expert storytelling,” and I suppose it is. The storytelling is good enough to make me wonder how heavily Quinones selected for stuff that would make a good story, while other stuff, equally true and relevant, but less dramatic, got discarded along the way. Quinones focuses on the marketing of OxyContin as a safe prescription drug, its subsequent abuse, the spread of a new means of dealing black tar heroin, and the connection between these, telling the tale of several colorful characters along the way.

To Quinones, the spread of opiate use to white America – not just to impoverished “rust belt” regions, but also to the offspring of the wealthy, managerial class – is fraught with moral meaning, though perhaps contradictory moral meaning. Heroin tempts us when we’re too wealthy, when we’re too poor, because we feel entitled to pain relief, because we don’t feel entitled to stop when it hurts but instead succumb to pressure to tough it out by any means necessary; it tempts us when we’re underwhelmed by life, it tempts us when we’re overwhelmed… Opiates are both the new party drug and the new drug of social isolation… Addiction is simultaneously a moral indictment of American consumerist excess during the pre-crash boom, a testament to post-crash misery, and an illness which deserves less moral stigma than it gets. Forgive me for suspecting at times that, to Quinones, opiates serve mostly as a random moral generator.

Which isn’t to say Dreamland is a bad book. There seems to be plenty of impressive journalism in here, crime journalism especially, although the science journalism falls rather short: there are multiple errors in describing how drugs are metabolized; in describing the drugs derived from the opium poppy (in particular, using “the morphine molecule” as shorthand for all of them); and sometimes there’s just illiterate wording, like calling what’s not statistical mechanics “statistical mechanics” or calling a lumbar sprain “a sprained lumbar” (a sprained lumbar… what?). Still, for someone like me – someone who uses opioids conservatively as part of a pain-management regimen, considering them a not-very-fun occasional treatment reserved for pain that inhibits productivity even more than being doped up would – Dreamland is a tour of a world Quinones, if his story is to be believed, claims I could easily have become a part of, yet haven’t.

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For $1.99: Economics Through Everyday Life: From China and Chili Dogs to Marx and Marijuana  Look for my report to let you know whether it’s any good–if you don’t end up purchasing it this time around.  If there’s a lot of politically charged bunkum, two dollars is worth the risk. The author–an economics professor–seems like he would […]

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Mr. Lincoln’s T-Mails was on sale for Kindle recently, and I’m sorry I didn’t announce it when it was $1.99. Although the writing is a bit repetitious (the author keeps spiraling back to ideas already stated), this is so far an engaging read with many satisfying “huh!” moments. They are savory enough that I re-read […]

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I’ll just make a few remarks about three more of the Afghanistan genre. You can read the first and second reviews here and here.  The Bookseller of Kabul is the account of a Norwegian journalist who spends three months at the home of an Afghani bookseller, one who has gone to great lengths to save books through […]

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I write a weekly book review for the Daily News of Galveston County. (It is not the biggest daily newspaper in Texas, but it is the oldest.) My review appears Sunday. When it appears, I post the previous week’s review on Ricochet. Seawriter Book review An inside look at Texas Rangers Posted: Sunday, March 29, […]

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Rob Long on Bill Cosby

 

bill_cosby_68416Ricochet co-founder Rob Long reviews Mark Whitaker’s Cosby: His Life and Times over at Commentary. From the piece:

When the sticky issue of Cosby’s infidelity forces its way into the narrative, it’s always cast in the past tense. He and his wife, Camille, are forever “working harder on their marriage.” They are said to have “moved on.” Cosby is described many times as “cutting back on his womanizing ways.” When he is accused, publicly, of fathering a child out of wedlock, his wife says: “All personal negative issues between Bill and me were resolved years ago. We are a united couple.” In other words, Whitaker’s book manages to make sex and infidelity uninteresting, which is in its way quite an accomplishment—especially because in the wake of allegations that Cosby drugged and then raped more than two dozen women since the late 1960s, it’s fair to say that sex and infidelity are very big parts of Cosby’s Life and Times.

Read the whole thing here.