Books for Christmas

By Aitken, Jonathan; Barone, Michael et al. | The American Spectator, December/January 2008 | Go to article overview

Books for Christmas

Aitken, Jonathan, Barone, Michael, Black, Conrad, London, Herbert, May, Clifford D., Regnery, Alfred S., Stoll, Ira, Tyrrell, R. Emmett JR., Williams, Walter E., The American Spectator

Our annual list of holiday gift suggestions from distinguished readers and writers.


MY CHRISTMAS READING CHOICES fall into three categories: power, money, and contemplative spirituality.

The best book on power that I have read for a long time is Masters and Commanders: How Roosevelt, Churchill, Marshall and Alanbrooke Won the War in the West (Allen Lane) by the British historian Andrew Roberts. The Masters are Churchill and Roosevelt. The Commanders are Eisenhower, MacArthur, Montgomery, George Marshall, and Alan Brooke. All come alive in Roberts's elegant prose as fascinating human beings on top of their military and political roles as giants of history. The interaction between them was packed with disagreements, yet unlike their opposite numbers they harnessed their strong wills to a common cause in collective teamwork. By contrast, concludes Roberts, "the lack of a collegiate Chiefs of Staff system was one of the major reasons why Germany lost the Second World War." A riveting and beautifully written overview of how and why the Allies won it.

Collegiality was not one of Richard Nixon's virtues, but his complexity is well explained and favorably (perhaps too favorably!) interpreted by Conrad Black in his magisterial biography Richard M. Nixon: A Life in Full (PublicAffairs). The strength of this book is Black's perceptive understanding of the good and bad sides of Nixon's inner character together with a strong historical grasp of the outer political pressures with which he had to wrestle.

Turning to money, two new books I have enjoyed this year are The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea by Steve LeVine (Random House) and The Snowball: Warren Buffett and the Business of Life by Alice Schroeder (Bantam).

LeVine's merry romp through the new oil Klondike of the 21st century is a page turner chronicling the exotic activities of oligarchs, oil majors, explorers, crooks, wheeler dealers, pipeline builders, and Caspian politicians. We will hear more about this colorful cast if Russia continues to flex its muscles on energy supplies in the region.

The Sage of Omaha has become almost everyone's favorite guru in the new era of financial adversity. Buffett comes across in this poorly written official biography as a genuine man of principle who throughout his life has been critical of corporate greed, frugal in his lifestyle, generous in his philanthropy, and steadfast in his support for civil and human rights. But his public ethics are not matched by his "almost pathological lack of empathy" which drove his devoted wife away while he lived with a younger woman in Omaha.

It will be a relief at Christmas-time to turn away from war, politics, and greed to practice a little contemplative spirituality. Two gifted 20th-century guides to this search for peace and faith are Thomas Merton and Evelyn Underhill. This is the 50th anniversary of Merton's untimely death and the 70th anniversary of the first publication of his classic The Seven Storey Mountain (Harvest), one of the greatest monastic autobiographies of all time. It was memorably described by Bishop Fulton Sheen as "a 20thcentury form of the Confessions of St. Augustine."

Evelyn Underbill's The Ways of the Spirit (Crossroad) is another classic for contemplatives. It consists of her hitherto unpublished retreats which focus on such issues as God's call, Inner Grace, and the Perfection of Love. Both Merton and Underhill drew much inspiration from The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis which in its many editions remains the world's best-selling Christian book of all time after the Bible. I shall try to reread all three masterpieces this Advent.

Jonathan Aitken is The American Spectator's High Spirits columnist, is most recently author of John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace (Crossway Books). His biographies include Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed (Doubleday) and Nixon: A Life, now available in a new paperback edition (Regnery). …

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Books for Christmas


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