Christmas Books for Conservatives

My Grandfather’s Son
by Clarence Thomas
HarperCollns, 2007
$26.95, 304 pp.

Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas has written a memoir that every American should read. My Grandfather’s Son is a host wonderful of books in one.

It’s an inspiring rags-to-riches story of a kind possible only in America. Clarence Thomas began life as the poor black child of a single mother in segregated Georgia, and his struggles and triumphs will be an inspiration to anyone facing daunting obstacles in life.

His book is also a loving tribute to the unyielding character of Myers Anderson, who took Clarence Thomas and his brother in and raised them with discipline and integrity. Clarence Thomas’s grandfather was an extraordinary man. He labored under disadvantages almost unimaginable in America today. Raised by relatives who could barely afford to feed and shelter him, he was nearly illiterate all his life. Yet he started his own business (partly because he was afraid that the regular humiliations he suffered as a black employee might push him over the edge into violence) and made a modest living selling ice and heating oil. His fierce independence was a rock the boys could stand on.

My Grandfather’s Son is also a wealth of wisdom about childrearing, and especially about what boys need in order to become men. Clarence Thomas was quite clearly an impressively hardheaded person from birth (when, his mother claims, he was too stubborn to cry). But in his grandfather, the young Clarence met his match. The book is full of stories that show how Myers Anderson refused to yield an inch. To cure them of missing school, for example, he claimed that if they died he would take them to class and prop them up in their desks for three days, just to make sure. 

Finally, the book is a commentary on the failure of our public policies on both race and poverty over the past half century. Clarence Thomas suffered under Jim Crow, but he was also a victim of the affirmative action regime that made his Yale Law degree worth less than the same credential in the hands of a white man. The poverty he experienced was terrible; before their grandfather took them in, he and his brother were often hungry and cold. But his grandfather’s categorical rejection of welfare–it takes your manhood, he told the boys–was essential to his teaching them lifelong habits of hard work and integrity.
This moving memoir suggests a disturbing question. Is the rugged independence of Clarence Thomas’s grandfather a thing of the past?–and not just in poor black communities, but in the American middle class, where increasing numbers of people seem to expect economic security as a birthright, and raise their children to be happy–rather than to be men and women of character?

What’s So Great about Christianity
by Dinesh D’Souza
Regnery, 2007
$27.95, 348 pp.

The past two years has seen a rash of anti-Christian bestsellers, from Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion to Christopher Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Finally, Dinesh D’Souza comes out of our corner swinging.

He doesn’t concede a thing to the “New Atheists.” Instead, he immediately sets out to explain “why religion is winning” and how we’re now seeing “the global triumph of Christianity.” D’Souza takes this fight to the other side’s territory, pointing out, for example, the highly unscientific motivation behind the Darwin agenda in our schools. And he also does a beautiful job of answering the standard anti-Christian canards: on the Inquisition, on the Crusades, on Galileo. But the great strength of the book is D’Souza’s account of the Christian roots of so much of what we value–from the Gospel roots of limited government to the theological basis for science, to the importance of divine law as a foundation for any objective morality.

If Democrats Had Any Brains, They’d Be Republicans
by Ann Coulter
Crown Forum, 2007
$24.95, 288 pp.

The latest book from Ann Coulter is a real blast–the definitive collection of all her most outrageous sayings. Ann’s prose is a powerful energizer of conservatives; her pull-no-punches style will have you leaping to your feet to cheer her on. But this book is a timely reminder that Ann Coulter is more than just a cheerleader.

If Democrats Had Any Brains includes Coulterisms about a number of important issues on which more “serious” conservatives have trouble making themselves heard: abortion; “sex education” in elementary school; the challenge Intelligent Design poses to Darwinian evolution; and the battle over Joseph McCarthy’s reputation.

Think about how the conservative side of these disputes is made to look on television. If we’re lucky, they show clips of frumpily dressed pro-lifers praying outside an abortion clinic, or protesters nervously reading statements of objection before a school board or a town council. We conservatives don’t get a place at the table where the real discussion takes place–the reparte among the perfectly coiffed Washington insiders and professional pundits.

Ann’s unique contribution to the “public discourse” whose level she’s so often accused of “lowering” is this: She brings the conservative point of view on the issues into the mainstream discussion. What could be more shocking than that?

Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight against America’s Enemies
by M. Stanton Evans
Crown Forum, 2007
$29.95, 672 pp.

This long awaited and exhaustively researched account of Joseph McCarthy’s career vindicates McCarthy, demonstrating the extent to which his large claims about Communist infiltration were justified by the facts. But for conservatives already well aware of the Soviet infiltration of our federal government in the 1940s and 1950s, the real surprise here may be the nastiness and dishonesty of McCarthy’s liberal opponents.

And I do mean actual liberals–not the Communists that McCarthy was exposing, but the East Coast establishment folks who were more horrified by McCarthy’s lack of polish, populism, and rude exposure of their blindness to the Soviet threat than they were by the possibility that the government of the United States was, in fact, riddled with Communist spies. The tactics they stooped to, to damage McCarthy in the eyes of the public, will be familiar to anyone who follows politics today. The same establishment (except now it’s not just East Coast but Both Coast) takes the same dismissive attitude toward the rubes in the rest of the country and uses the same vicious tactics to protect themselves from criticism.

Sacred Ground: A Tribute to America’s Veterans
by Tom Ruck
Regnery, 2007
$29.95, 189 pp.

It’s often remarked that we, the American people, are not engaged in the war our soldiers are fighting. How different it is today from World War I and World War II, in which the whole American population was mobilized: all our young men, our industry, even our children–every young boy knew how to recognize German planes and collected tin foil for the war effort. It’s been proposed that we reinstitute the draft–or that at the very least that President Bush should have called for volunteers on 9/11. 

This ideal of a fully mobilized society has its appeal, but it also has its dangers. Government always grows in wartime, and the wartime mobilization of society is every socialist’s model in peacetime. As they used to say in the Progressive Era: “We planned in war.” Sometimes I wonder whether the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century British model might not be more appropriate to a free society, especially in a war likely to last many years: Some men make the army or the navy a career, and they’re rewarded and admired for it; but society as a whole stays on a peacetime footing. (I don’t suggest this lightly or frivolously. Several members of my own family have served in the military since 9/11; two of them have done tours in Afghanistan; and my twelve-year-old son talks about being a soldier.)

But mobilized or not mobilized, any healthy society both venerates its fallen soldiers and admires its living heroes. We’ve done too little of either in America since 9/11. Enter Sacred Ground, a beautiful tribute to those “who offered their lives in defense of their country.” Tom Ruck has made this collection of gorgeous photographs from military cemeteries across the country. Selections, short and long, from speeches and other writing on the soldier’s sacrifice–from Reagan, Lincoln, Churchill, Eisenhower, Patton, Stonewall Jackson, and more–make this book food for thought as well as a feast for the eyes. (All royalties are being donated to the Freedom Alliance Scholarship Fund for the children of fallen soldiers.)

The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible
by Robert J. Hutchinson
Regnery, 2007
$19.95, 262 pp.

The great virtue of the Politically Incorrect Guide series is the opportunity to challenge what “everyone knows”– and, cumulatively over time, to help move us in the direction of a public discourse in which more of our truisms are actually true.

Robert Hutchinson’s Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible is a valuable contribution toward this end, as well as a highly entertaining read. So much nonsense is talked and believed about the Bible today that Hutchinson has plenty to set straight. From the “minimalist” Biblical scholars who will concede even the existence of King David or Pontius Pilate only when new archaeological evidence has (once again) contradicts their outrageous claims, to the various cranks who keep looking for the real historical Jesus everywhere and anywhere — in The Da Vinci Code, in  Gnostic “Gospels” written centuries after the historical events — except in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Hutchinson exposes the lack of evidence, the logical flaws, and the biases of the anti-Christian critics of Christianity’s Holy Book.

Another thing Hutchinson makes crystal clear is that the very standards of justice, of human rights, and of universal benevolence against which critics measure the Bible and find it wanting are, in fact, standards that our culture learned from the Bible in the first place.

Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations
by John Bolton
Threshold, 2007
$27, 496 pp.

John Bolton is a genuine conservative hero. He has taken on the highminded and the gutless in the State Department, the U.S. Senate, and even the United Nations. Surrender Is Not an Option is the story of his career — at once a disturbing read, and an inspiring one.

As Bolton reveals, the culture of the State Department is such that it’s very difficult for the President to make foreign policy effectively. Our diplomatic corps too often has its own agenda, and even Secretaries of State come to see themselves as representatives of the diplomatic culture to the White House, rather than as representatives of the President to the State Department and to the world. The concept that an American diplomat should subordinate his own views and diplomatic instincts to the agenda of the President whom the people of the United States have elected seems to be entirely alien to a large proportion of the men and women serving as American diplomats.

Their visceral distrust of Republicans, American interests, and the will of the American people as expressed at the ballot box is matched by their unquestioned faith in the power of feckless diplomacy — trading technology to Kim Jong Il, for example, in exchange for the North Korean’s worthless promises — to manage the threats posed by power-hungry dictators.

Bolton’s brash style makes his memoir a pleasure to read. But even better, his stories show what can be accomplished by even one man who resists the pressures of the permanent bureaucracy.

The Wit & Wisdom of Ronald Reagan
by James C. Humes
Regnery, 2007
$24.95, 222 pp.

Conservatives are missing Ronald Reagan more than ever this primary season. It’s sadly obvious that no one in the Republican field is a conservative standard-bearer of his caliber. As the conservative movement struggles to find the way forward, it’s a good idea to look back to our greatest past success–and to ask ourselves what Ronald Reagan did right. (Not to mention that it’s a morale booster simply to revisit the fortieth President’s gentle humor and rock-solid principles.)

Included in this collection are “Reagan’s Wisdom” (short quotations on everything from abortion to the welfare state), “Reagan’s Wit” (including jokes and “humorous turns of phrase”), “Reagan’s Saints and Sinners” (the great man’s opinion of other great heroes–and villains), “Reagan’s Zingers” (“the stories behind his most memorable lines”), and excerpts from Reagan’s most important speeches, as well as selections from the memories and opinions of “Reagan’s Friends and Foes.”

This lively collection is a reminder of happier times for conservatives–and also an inspiration to hew to core conservative principles, and to have faith in the American people.

Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life
by Harry Mount
Hyperion, 2007
$19.95, 272 pp.

At least since the Dark Ages, when Gregory of Tours complained that liberal culture had declined to the point at which no one could be found to write a history of the Franks in grammatical Latin (Gregory decided to go ahead and write one with bad grammar), knowledge of Latin has been the hallmark of the educated mind.
Harry Mount’s charming Carpe Diem: Put a Little Latin in Your Life is a delightful introduction to Latin for anyone who never suffered through ablative absolutes and the passive periphrastic in school. It’s also a quick refresher course for anyone who has vague memories of “amo, amas, amat, and all that.” And for everyone, it’s an entertaining memoir of what a classical education was, not so long ago. 
As Mount points out, Latin is illuminating to speakers of English not so much because of what the two languages share, but because of how different they are. The student of Latin understands English better because he’s achieved a new perspective on it, from outside.

Mount’s concluding essay sheds light on the horrifying state of the classics in Britain today–fewer and fewer students in the U.K. study Latin at all, and the overwhelming majority of those who still do are being robbed of a real working knowledge of the language by the infamous grammar-averse Cambridge Latin Course (for which the influence of Noam Chomsky is partly to blame). On this side of the Atlantic, in contrast, things are looking up. Homeschoolers and other devotees of a classical education are driving a real revival in Latin. If you’re not yet riding this bandwagon, Carpe Diem may just persuade you to hop right on it.

Cancel Your Own Goddam Subscription: Notes & Asides from National Review
by William F. Buckley, Jr.
Basic, 2007
$24, 295 pp.

Bill Buckley and National Review have been of incalculable value to the conservative movement. For more than 40 years, conservatives of many stripes have aired their opinions, hashed out their policy differences, and offered conservative ideas to the public in the magazine Buckley founded.

But for sheer entertainment value, Buckey’s regular “Notes & Asides” column was the best part of National Review. In that informal (even, it has been noted, prematurely blog-like) space, Buckley offered readers the benefits of his erudition, his nimble mind, and his conservative principles. He sold conservatism to generations of readers as an intellectually sophisticated outlook on life. Now we can relive decades of edifying fun in this delightful collection.