A Chrestomathy of Christmas Books

Article excerpt


Every year since 1976 we have invited eminences from the arts, scholarship, and politics to proffer book recommendations for our readers' Christmas gift lists. The age of the books did not matter. Nor, for that matter, did the quality: by their book recommendations shall ye know them. Now for our 3oth anniversary issue executive editor Wladyslaw Pleszczynski has culled past recommendations that are at once representative of the times that we have passed through and suggestive of the thought and style of each eminence.

Wlady's choices are inspired. They reveal the ethos of this magazine. James T. Farrell's presence demonstrates the literary link between us and the two men whose style and skepticism we admire to this day, George Jean Nathan and H. L. Mencken. Farrell wrote for both of these editors and for both incarnations of The American Spectator, Nathan's in the 193o's and our later rendition. Then there are Wlady's choices from the other end of the political spectrum. We have always welcomed Democrats' recommendations at Christmas time, even when it means enduring some unconstructive criticism from the likes of the late Erwin Knoll of the Progressive. Well, we can dish it out; and here we prove that we can take it-but only once a year. Finally, Wlady has gathered the historic recommendations of some of the artists, scholars, and public figures we have admired. Their thoughtful selections reveal why. I see that he has included Dick Scaife, Bill Casey, and Richard Nixon. Very puckish of you, Wlady.

This is the season of conspiracy theories. Even the leading critics of conspiracies are themselves conspiracists. The White House whines that a cabal of conservatives is engaged in a conspiracy to spread conspiracy theories about the White House. Dick Scaife is, they say, behind the conspiracy, and he even hornswoggled The American Spectator into participating in what the White House believes is a "media food chain." Surely, Casey and Nixon must have had a hand in it, and from the dates of their appearances in our pages-1988, 1985, and 1983, respectively-you can see how long these guys have been at work in this occult effort.

Which brings us to a final point. Many of those who made these recommendations are now dead. We identify them (and those still living) by the positions they held at the time they made their recommendations. That they are gone and the books remain reminds us of the impermanence of life and the slightly more permanent nature of books. -RET E. DIGBY BALTZELL (1978)

Unfortunately, I am rushing to finish a book and have not been doing much reading this year. However, I was tremendously impressed with a short little paperback, Adams and Jefferson, a Revolutionary Dialogue (Merrill D. Peterson, Oxford University Press, 1976). It is a delightful analysis of the greatest friendship in American history. I love both men but the beauty of the book is that it gives one great insight into the optimistic and pessimistic aspects of our heritage: The popular Jefferson, as Macaulay would have put it, was "all sail" when it came to equality and democracy with a capital "D," while the unpopular Adams saw that even Democrats were subject to sin and needed an "anchor." From my view, Adams in the long run had the greater half-truth than his dear friend Jefferson did, and it is my guess that he will come into his own in the next decade. E. Digby Baltzell is professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Philadelphia Gentlemen and The Protestant Establishment.


I had lunch with Alan Ehrenhalt, then an editor with Congressional Quarterly, several years ago, and he told me of a book he was just beginning to research. It was something about the nature of politics in various places around the country. I wasn't sure what he was getting at. And I wasn't sure he knew what he was getting at. …