Hayward: Christmas Reading List

December 24, 2020


Need a book recommendation this Christmas? Here a few from Steven Hayward:

Amity Shlaes’s book on the Great Depression, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, is perhaps the best book ever written puncturing the pretentions of FDR and the New Deal (said me in National Review), and one sign of its strength is that the Left went to DefCon 1 to attack it. I expect her next book, a new biography of Coolidge, will be equally fine, and although it isn’t coming out until February, you can and should give yourself an early Christmas present by pre-ordering a copy.

Jean Yarbrough’s Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition is simply the best scholarly study of the bully on the “bully pulpit.” Her unequaled depth is matched with an accessible writing style that non-scholars will find engaging.

Let’s do two “crisis” books. The first is the 25th anniversary edition of Robert Higgs’s Crisis and Leviathan: Critical Episodes in the Growth of American Government. This book laid out the “ratchet effect,” whereby government enlarges to deal with a crisis (depression, war, and so forth), but somehow never shrinks back to pre-crisis size or scope after the crisis is over. We’re going through another such ratchet right now with Obama’s post-stimulus lunge to make government permanently larger.

The second crisis title is Harry Jaffa’s Crisis of the Strauss Divided: Essays on Leo Strauss and Straussianism, East and West. It is impossible to give a one-sentence summary or description, beyond saying that anyone who wishes to grasp the essence of the most important issues of modern political philosophy needs to get this book. Plus, some essays offer an inside, personal look at one of the greatest minds of our time.

The virtues and defects of William Manchester’s first volume of his Churchill biography, The Last Lion, were reviewed in the old “vintage” CRB, but the third volume, completed by Paul Reid, is a solid narrative: The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. In an odd way Reid was a great choice, as he came to Churchill with fresh eyes.

The end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union are fast receding into the rear-view mirror of history, but it’s such a remarkable event that we shouldn’t have moved on so quickly. Leon Aron’s Roads to the Temple: Truth, Memory, Ideas, and Ideals in the Making of the Russian Revolution, 1987-1991 walks through the dramatic story, with important lessons for today for understanding events beyond the borders of Russia.

C.S. Lewis used to say that for every two new books you read, you should read one old one. So why not one of his? I suggest his great novel That Hideous Strength, which holds up the best of all the mid-century anti-utopian novels with which it is usually grouped chiefly because, unlike Orwell’s 1984, it isn’t about Communism. It holds up because it’s about the bureaucratic-therapeutic state that looks a lot like what we have today.

Be sure to read more Christmas Reading recommendations from our friends at the Claremont Institute.