With Christmas bearing down on us, here are six interesting, smart and/or provocative books about geography, war, the New Deal, the environment, Andrew Jackson and Alexander Hamilton that would make good last-minute presents - and help out the print industry.
"The Power of Place: Geography, Destiny and Globalization's Rough Landscape" (Oxford University Press) -- geography prof Harm De Blij's 30th book -- proves two things: Geography is never boring in his hands and the world is, pace Tom Friedman, not even close to being flat, literally or figuratively. Nor are the globe's diverse peoples as similar, interconnected or mobile as is often claimed: Fewer than 3 percent of us live in countries other than the ones in which we were born. Bill Moyers says Blij and his many maps do for geography what Carl Sagan did for cosmology, while Jeffrey Sachs says it is "a fascinating and deeply knowledgeable" account of the crucial ways in which "place" continues to shape economies, politics, languages, cultures and national power.
"We Who Dared to Say No to War: American Antiwar Writing from 1812 to Now" (Basic Books) reminds us that our anti-war streak is a lot wider, deeper and more all-American than today's flag-waving proponents of the Iraq war think. Edited by lefty Murray Polner and libertarian Thomas Woods Jr., this anthology includes forgotten or often neglected essays, speeches, articles and poems from the likes of John Quincy Adams, Abraham Lincoln, Randolph Bourne, Robert Taft, Russell Kirk, Robert McNamara, Murray Rothbard, George McGovern, Pat Buchanan and professional peaceniks Howard Zinn and Country Joe & the Fish. Whether for religious or secular reasons, these conservative and liberal patriots protested wisely, eloquently and often bravely against the wars our leaders have accidentally or deliberately dragged us into, from the War of 1812 to Iraq and the war on terror.
"American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House" (Random House) is Jon Meacham's readable retelling of the familiar story of America's controversial seventh president and first populist chief executive. New York Times reviewer Andrew Cayton felt Meacham was too soft on the pro-slavery president's "darker qualities" -- which included a lust for political revenge, a dangerous habit of pandering to populist resentments and a near-genocidal mistreatment of American Indians. But overall, history professor Cayton calls "American Lion" "enormously entertaining, especially in the deft descriptions of Jackson's personality and domestic life in his White House." Historian Michael Beschloss praised it as a "spellbinding, brilliant and irresistible journey into the heart of Andrew Jackson and his unforgettable circle of friends and enemies."
"Hamilton's Curse: How Jefferson's Archenemy Betrayed the American Revolution -- and What It Means for Americans Today" (Crown Forum) does to Alexander Hamilton what its iconoclastic author Thomas J. DiLorenzo did previously to Abe Lincoln in his "The Real Lincoln": It throws sharp libertarian rocks at Hamilton's shining reputation. DiLorenzo argues that Hamilton, the country's first treasury secretary, was -- like his soulmate Lincoln -- a huge fan of big government who helped create a country that Jefferson and other Founders would not only not recognize, but hate and fear. Hamilton's legacy, as carried on by his political heirs, includes a weakened Constitution; a bloated, centralized, interventionist federal government (at home and abroad); an imperial presidency and a government system built on graft, spoils and patronage. No wonder Congressman Ron Paul recommends the book "to my fellow Jeffersonians."
"Greener Than Thou: Are You Really an Environmentalist?" by Terry L. Anderson and Laura E. Huggins (Hoover Institution Press) Anderson, the godfather of free-market environmentalism, and Huggins are proponents of using market principles and economic incentives instead of government regulations to protect the environment, improve air and water quality and manage public and private land. Their book quickly and clearly explains how by giving well-defined property rights to natural resources -- land, water, flora and fauna -- the public ultimately benefits because the owners of the resources will use them wisely and conserve them when their own wealth is at stake. Using the truism "No one washes a rented car," Anderson and Huggins make the link between property rights and the responsible care of the environment -- which they say we should see not as a problem for society to fix with rules and regulations but as an asset that can be improved and protected by capitalism and markets.
"New Deal or Raw Deal? How FDR's Economic Legacy Has Damaged America" (Simon & Schuster) is Burton Folsom's contribution to the now-popular but long-overdue demythologizing of the New Deal. Liberals, schoolchildren and anyone yet to read Amity Shlaes' "The Forgotten Man" still believe FDR's policies saved us from the Great Depression -- and that we need more FDR-like solutions today. But Folsom shows that it was foolish or harmful government interventions, not private enterprise, that brought us the Great Depression, prolonged it until World War II and left us with a crippling legacy of high taxes, unnecessary regulations and fiscal time bombs like Social Security. Plugging the book, The Wall Street Journal's Stephen Moore says the New Deal's agenda "caused more human suffering and deprivation in America than any other set of ideas in the twentieth century."