Sunday, November 20, 2011

Needs and Wants: This Week in the Book Pages

Bob Gordon (image credit)
This week in the New York Review of Books: Robert W. Gordon (Yale Law) contemplates "How the Justices Get What They Want," and asks "what the lessons are for the decision on Obama’s health care law." It is a review of Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. the Supreme Court (Norton), by Jeff Shesol, and Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR’s Great Supreme Court Justices (Twelve), by Noah Feldman.

More from the latest issue of the NYRB -- on the "third world," the "modern" world, and "mutual understanding" -- is here.

"Never underestimate the power of a cold, calculating and unaffectionate mother to inspire ambition in her child." The line comes from a delightful New York Times review, by Kathryn Harrison, of Catherine the Great: Portrait of a Woman (Random House).  At age 82, author Robert K. Massie "hasn’t lost his mojo," Harrison writes; as ever, he is "a biographer with the instincts of a novelist." Another review, from the Wall Street Journal, is here.

Also in the NYT:
  • A review of Remedy and Reaction: The Peculiar American Struggle Over Health Care Reform (Yale University Press), by sociologist and Clinton policy advisor Paul Starr. The "compact but thorough" book is "an unofficial companion volume to his Pulitzer Prizewinning 1982 book, 'The Social Transformation of American Medicine.'" Reviewer Timothy Noah (of the New Republic) ends the piece by speculating about the fate of "Obamacare" in light of challenges to the individual mandate.
  • A review of Inferno: The World at War, 1939-1945 (Knopf), by Max Hastings. Reviewer Richard J. Evans insists that Hastings, though author of "no fewer than eight books about key campaigns and personalities of the war," has written "a new, original and necessary history." Another recent review is here.

In the pages of the New Republic: The Book, Ellen Handler Spitz (University of Maryland) pits two patriotic children's books against one another: Sweet Land of Liberty, by Callista Gingrich ("the third Mrs. Gingrich"), and Of Thee I Sing, by Barack Obama. Neither wins. "Rather than superficial glosses," writes Spitz, "what children need are American histories that treat important matters importantly." She advocates "books of substance, which connect children to greater horizons by challenging them with unresolved problems and stimulate the growth of their innate powers of empathy, imagination, and responsibility."

In the Chronicle of Higher Education, subscribers may access a review of Margaret Sanger: A Life of Passion (Hill and Wang), by Jean H. Baker. Thanks to Herman Cain, the review notes, the facts of Sanger's life are newly relevant.

Do you, like me, try to give your loved ones the gift of history around this time of year? (What could be better, right?) If so, check out the Wall Street Journal's history book gift guide.