What We’re Reading – Mark G. Brennan

What We’re Reading

In a new seasonal feature, QR writers tell us what’s on their reading lists for the summer. This time – MARK G. BRENNAN

Ah yes, the summer reading list. When the only hobby one has is reading, it makes little difference what season of the year approaches. But if nothing else, the change of seasons marks the turning of a calendar page. So what better time to pause for an inventory of the unread books accumulating around my apartment? An annotated list of “books in need of my consumption” will, if nothing else, spur me to finish a pleasant task. And while pleasant tasks are usually their own reward, the distractions of the Internet, sunny weather, and Obama’s looming defeat, have all diverted me from my typical 250 pages of reading each day. So check back with me on Labor Day to see how many of these books I have actually read.

First off, Derek Turner has asked me to review Barry Bracewell-Milnes’ two-volume Wealth Without Cost for the Quarterly Review. I would give you a snippet or two if I knew anything about these books. But since my editor made the selection for me, I have nothing intelligent to say about them right now. Make sure your QR subscription is current if you really want to know what I think about them. My review should appear in the coming fall issue.

Now for the books I can’t blame on Derek.

I have been carrying around Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations for months now. This well-traveled copy has seen much of Europe and the eastern half of the continental United States. My incorrigible indolence in refusing to put eyeball to paper and just reading the darn thing has nothing to do with the book’s merit. Unfortunately, travel distracts me too much to allow for the concentration required for such an important book. Plus, the summer solstice isn’t until late June. So this one technically doesn’t count as summer reading.

So let’s move to the post-solstice season of haze, heat, and humidity – or what New Yorkers affectionately refer to as “f—–g summer”. John Lewis Gaddis’ biography of a great U.S. diplomat, George Kennan: An American Life, hasn’t moved off my nightstand since the author autographed it for me at a recent talk he gave. I also plan to read another of his works, The Cold War: A New History. As a diplomatic historian myself, I hate to admit that I have not yet read it. But admitting you have a problem is the first step in recovery, or so sayeth the zombies emerging from their “Cult of the Twelve Steps” programs.

Unfortunately, my embarrassment does not end there. I also plan to plow through John Mearsheimer’s seminal work, The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. As the only American figure willing to speak honestly about the United States’ relationship with Israel, Mearsheimer deserves every honest thinker’s respect. I hope his royalty rate is high on sales of this book. How else to reward his bravery?

My political science kick will end with Francis Fukuyama’s The Origins of Political Order. I finally got around to reading Fukuyama’s groundbreaking bestseller The End of History and the Last Man. Just because I hadn’t read it didn’t stop me from opining on it for the last 20 years. But now that I understand his argument, I encourage all those who laugh at his main proposition (“The end of history?  Or “History”?  How silly!”) to follow suit.

On the fiction side, a learned man told me no series of novels depicts what America was, or the model of society to which traditionalists should aspire to return, than Booth Tarkington’s Growth trilogy. These three will be my one sop to fiction for the next quarter.

Finally, several books that I was supposed to read in preparation for my doctoral exams remain, shall we say, “unread”. Don’t get me wrong; I passed my exams (barely). With the help of JSTOR and book reviews, PhD candidates can learn all they need to know about a book without sitting down and, ahem, reading it. These three books did not appear on my exam preparation list by mere serendipity. So now is the time to log off JSTOR, toss out the frayed book reviews, and plow through the actual texts. In no particular order, I plan to “re-read” The Contours of American History by William Appleman Williams, D. K. Fieldhouse’s Economics and Empire, 1830-1914, and The Soviet Tragedy: A History of Socialism in Russia, 1907-1991 by arguably the best historian on the topic, Martin Malia.

Of course, the foregoing assumes that I am in the mood for reading anything after spending the entirety of my working day writing about American Protestant missionaries in Cuba during the first quarter of the 20th Century.

But hope springs (or shall we say “summers”?) eternal!

MARK G. BRENNAN is the Quarterly Review’s American Editor


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