This is the tenth year I've shared my summer reading with our readers. My reading, of course, goes on all year, but it is somehow different in summer. Knowing it will result in a column means the going is a bit slower; I take more time to appreciate and understand the author's intentions, skills and achievements--or lack thereof. Winter reading, for me, is what in school we used to call "pleasure reading." Here then are reviews of some of the books I read during this summer of 2002.
The first covers a hitherto-neglected aspect of President Ronald Reagan's career. It is Reagan's War: The Epic Story of His Forty Year Struggle and Final Triumph Over Communism, by Peter Schweizer (Doubleday, $26, available Oct. 15). Schweizer is an old friend and is one of the foremost historians of the Reagan era. He begins his work, appropriately, with negative comments about Reagan by such intellectual giants as Clark Clifford. Schweizer traces in great detail Reagan's struggle against the communist infiltration and domination of Hollywood in the 1940s, as well as its effect on Reagan's presidency in the 1980s.
The monumental achievement of Reagan's lonely, lifelong struggle against communism was his final victory in the Cold War. And make no mistake, it was Reagan's victory. Schweizer's summation tells all: "Those virtues that Reagan so admired--courage and character--are what the nearly half-century battle against communism required most of him. Sometimes his strong views brought physical threats against his life and family. More often, they would prompt ridicule or denunciation of him as a dangerous ignoramus. In either case, Reagan unflinchingly pressed on, opposed by old friends,cabinet officers, and sometimes even members of his own family."
As Ronald Reagan said: "We must be guided not by fear, but by courage and moral clarity." This is precisely what we most need today. We are fortunate to have in President Bush a leader who knows and follows the same beck-oning light.
Another Cold War warrior, William F. Buckley Jr., has once again turned his exceptional, indeed Renaissance-like, skills to writing a novel about a pivotal historic event. Nuremberg: The Reckoning (Harcourt, $25) brings to life the complex tale of the victorious Allies' attempts to bring to justice the surviving perpetrators of the Nazi horror. Through his great skills of storytelling and character development, Buckley blends fictional characters and actual his-tory and makes the reader feel he is a participant.
Buckley has used this device before in his books on Joseph McCarthy; James Angleton, the CIA operative; and, oddly enough, Elvis Presley. Nuremberg is Buckley's 15th novel and is one of his best. It is so masterfully written that you are compelled to go back to some of the original source material to verify that such things really hap-pened.
Lady Margaret Thatcher's two-volume memoir was a huge bestseller in Europe and here. In it she wrote of her constant struggle against the conventional wisdom, her determination to change the world and her ultimate successes. She is one of the few people whose strong presence on the stage of history has changed and improved that history. Along with President Reagan, and perhaps one or two others, Lady Thatcher should be given credit for bringing the thrall of communism to an end and for restoring capitalism, freedom and democracy.
Margaret Thatcher's newest book, Statecraft (HarperCollins, $34.95), is about the future, and should be read for what it is: the wise counsel of a supremely successful stateswoman and Britain's greatest peacetime leader. Statecraft relays how the West won the Cold War and "created the basis for today's freedom and prosperity." To give permanency to these achievements, we must remain "vigilant and strong," and Lady Thatcher details how this can and must be done. Her ideas are rightly and persuasively argued--and lead the reader to the famous Thatcher conclusion: "There is no alternative." Those who object to such polemicism should recall how often Margaret Thatcher was right and be grateful for her unambiguous and unnuanced conclusions and advice. Hers is the kind of guidance we urgently need. And the more it is followed, the better off we will all be.
Double Lives: Stories of Extraordinary Achievement, by David Heenan (Davies-Black Publishing, $24.95), tells the story of ten remarkable people who, not satisfied with their own extraordinary "day jobs," carved out second vocations equally, if not more, fulfilling. Winston Churchill is Heenan's prime example. In addition to being a statesman, Churchill was an author, painter and orator--and excelled at all. Theodore Roosevelt was likewise a great statesman, but he was also a historian and scientist. Another example: pediatrician and poet Dr. William Carlos Wil-liams.
Heenan describes the common characteristics of these doubly (and sometimes triply) endowed people as appar-ently boundless energy, firm independence and a willingness to challenge conventional wisdom. He himself exemplifies the multifaceted qualities he has found in his subjects: He is a university teacher, writer and trustee of the fabulous James Campbell Estate in Hawaii. Double Lives may make some readers envious, but it will stimulate others to do more every day.
Within the flexible boundaries of a novel that has substance, style, and a firm grip on the plot, Buckley has fashioned a story of action against a real historical background the trials at Nuremberg. Sebastian Reinhard, a German-born American, becomes an interpreter at the War Crimes Tribunal and an interrogator of one of the Nazi Brigadef hrers. In this latter capacity, he learns disturbing truths about his national origin and about his father, an MIT-educated civil engineer who superintended the construction of an extermination camp. Buckley achieves a good working compromise between actual events and people (U.S. Chief Prosecutor Robert Jackson, defendants Hermann G ring, Joachim von Ribbentrop, Albert Speer, etc.) and the many fictional characters who weave in and out of his narrative. Before the powerful ending, every thread has been pulled remorselessly tight. This is National Review founder Buckley's 14th novel, and it's one of his best. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 2/1/02.] A.J. Anderson, GSLIS, Simmons Coll., Boston Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
The 15th novel by the conservative intellectual godfather and gadfly is a brainy thriller cut from the same cloth as Spytime (2000): fast-moving and based on historical events only all too real. Civil engineer Axel Reinhart prepares to leave Hamburg with his wife Annabelle and 13-year-old son, Sebastian, for a stay in America. The Gestapo refuse Axel permission to leave Germany, and the narrator thereafter shifts to his family's years in America, with briefly juxtaposed glimpses of both Axel's unwilling involvement in Nazi projects and flashbacks to the histories of his own and (especially) his wife's families, in which we learn what Sebastian himself does not yet know: that he is of part-Jewish ancestry. The bulk of the story records Sebastian's growth to young manhood; his OCS training, and selection to work as a translator at the International War Crimes Tribunal in Nuremberg in the years 1945-46; and his eventual disillusionment as he learns what happened to the father he never saw again after leaving his homeland. Buckley creates vivid cameo portraits of such crucially involved historical figures as Hermann Goering and American Justice Robert Jackson, and matches them with in-depth characterizations of stoical, thoughtful Sebastian and of the steely, infuriatingly self-possessed concentration camp commandant (named "Amadeus"!) to whom he's "assigned." An enormous amount of information is packed into the story, and Buckley doesn't altogether solve the problem of mingling exposition with drama, especially in the early going. But the dialogue (always one of this author's strong points) is crisp and revelatory, and the dramatic momentum of the final hundred pages-in which the tribunalreaches verdicts and Sebastian finds in himself the capacity to rethink the imperatives of right and wrong-has a tumbling intensity reminiscent of Richard Condon's sardonic fictions. Literate, absorbing, and thought-provoking. Buckley at his best. Author tour