Sunday, June 01, 2008

Summer Reading List

May I present for your pleasure and edification the third annual Zeta Woof Summer Reading List. Just as with the first and second lists, these are the best of the books which I have read over the course of the last year and those which I can in confidence recommend to you. Enjoy.

David's Hammer: The Case for an Activist Judiciary by Clint Bolick

In 1982 Clint Bollick emerged from UC Davis.
Armed with a law degree and somehow having managed to convince the California legal cartel that I was fit to practice, I immediately began suing bureaucrats for a living.
In this small book he argues that judicial activism has gotten a bad name, and that what we really need is not less of it, but more.
When their government violates their rights, they must have recourse. Creating the power of judicial review, as the Framers of our Constitution saw fit to do, creates dangers. But that danger is not as great as its opposite: legislative and executive powers unchecked by judicial review.
The Dirty Dozen: How Twelve Supreme Court Cases Radically Expanded Government and Eroded Freedom by Robert A. Levy and William Mellor

"Compiling a 'greatest hits' of the worst American judicial opinions," says Clint Bolick, "is difficult.... so much bad material exists from which to choose." Nevertheless, Levy and Mellor have done just that. Here they are — the twelve worst decisions (and eight dishonorable mentions) of the Supreme Court since 1933.

Some of these cases are well known. Everyone learns of Korematsu in school, and anyone who reads the news is familiar with Kelo. But who knows anything about United States v. Carolene Products? You should.

This highly readable volume sums up in 225 pages the issues that every American who cares about lost freedoms must understand. This is where — and why — we went wrong, and who is to blame.

Good Calories, Bad Calories: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom on Diet, Weight Control, and Disease by Gary Taubes

This is not a diet book. It contains no recipes. Like every book on this list it is primarily a history.
Banting... began dieting in August 1862. He ate three meals a day of meat, fish, or game, usually five or six ounces at a meal, with an ounce or two of stale toast or cooked fruit on the side. He had his evening tea with a few more ounces of fruit or toast. He scrupulously avoided any other food that might contain either sugar or starch, in particular bread, milk, beer, sweets, and potatoes. Despite a considerable allowance of alcohol in Banting's regimen—four or five glasses of wine each day, a cordial every morning, and an evening tumbler of gin, whisky, or brandy—Banting dropped thirty-five pounds by the following May and fifty pounds by early 1864.
Which is, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration persists in telling us, highly improbable.

If, like me, you're disinclined to believe most of what your government tells you, you will enjoy this book. Followed by a nice porterhouse steak.

First Into Nagasaki: The Censored Eyewitness Dispatches on Post-Atomic Japan and Its Prisoners of War by George Weller

This is a story at first censored, and then lost. Anthony Weller tells of the finding:
Six months after he died, in his whitewashed Italian villa gazing out on a sun-blasted sea, I discovered them... In a mildewed wooden crate, apparently unopened since being shipped over from Cyprus and perhaps only opened once since 1945, among sheaf after thick sheaf of miraculously preserved typescripts from the final months of the Pacific war, I at last found the missing carbons: crumbling, moldy, brown with age, but still afire with all they had to say. For the last decades of his life they had been waiting twenty feet from where he sat, ever more faintly remembering.
Restored to life: the eyewitness dispatches of Pulitzer prize-winning reporter George Weller, as fresh as the day he wrote them.

The Second World War by John Keegan

In the foreword Professor Keegan contends that it never really ended.
...the Second World War, or at least its undeniable consequences, persists to this day, particularly in the Middle East....

To understand the world in which we live and which modern statesmen labour to keep at peace we have therefore to understand the Second World War. It was the largest and most complex war ever fought, involving all the countries which then composed the community of nations... and many which did not yet exist. It was the war which, by weakening the power of the old empires, gave them the opportunity to come into being; but it was also the war which bequeathed the troubles with which many are still afflicted, and which leaves them at odds against each other and often divided against themselves.
To understand the present, therefore, we must first understand the past. You could spend three college terms studying the Second World War and it would still be called a "survey course" — the barest framework upon which to build. For the autodidactic historian John Keegan provides an excellent textbook.

Moment of Truth in Iraq by Michael Yon

Independent journalist and former Green Beret Michael Yon has probably spent more time embedded with the troops in Iraq than anyone else. Like many others at the beginning of 2007 he was discouraged:
Al Qaeda and associates had little or no presence in Iraq before the current war. But we made huge mistakes early on and now we pump blood and gold into the desert to pay for those blunders. We failed to secure the streets and we sowed doubt and mistrust. We disbanded the government and the army and we created a vacuum. We tolerated corruption and ineptitude and mostly local talent filled the ranks of an insurgency....
But now in a remarkable turnaround under the leadership of General David Petraeus, we and the Iraqi people are winning again. This is the story of that reversal, that moment of truth, in Iraq.

Destructive Generation: Second Thoughts About the Sixties by Peter Collier and David Horowitz

Should Barack Obama win the nomination &mdash and that is not yet certain — we will no doubt hear a great deal more about his friends Billy Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.
More than anyone else, Ayers and Dohrn embody the odd mix of characters and politics that propelled Weatherman onto the center stage of the American scene in the late Sixties, a strange and frightened augury even for those hypertrophied times.
Collier and Horowitz would know. They were there, editor and writer for Ramparts magazine, the premiere propaganda organ of the New Left. They went on to have second thoughts and wrote this history of that "decade overrated and unmourned." Ayers and Dohrn, on the other hand, have yet to express any regrets.

Storming Heaven: LSD and the American Dream by Jay Stevens

The flip side of the political revolution was the psychedelic revolution:
The hippies actually seemed to think they could subvert America with flowers and a few bags of the most powerful psychochemical ever discovered. How absurd! And yet they seemed so sure of themselves, they really seemed to believe that within ten years America would be a totally turned-on country, full of bodhisattvas instead of bankers. . . . It was laughable, but nobody was laughing.

Like all moments of high drama, the psychedelic movement was part tragedy, part comedy, one of those rich tapestries of coincidence and misdirection that bolster our belief that fiction is often a pale reflection of reality.
Tom Wolfe's Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test provides a fine snapshot, but for a more thorough history this book by Jay Stevens has no equal.

Travels with Charley in Search of America by John Steinbeck

In September 1960 John Steinbeck set off on a road trip.
There was some genuine worry about my traveling alone, open to attack, robbery, assault. It is well known that our roads are dangerous. And here I admit I had senseless qualms. It is some years since I have been alone, nameless, friendless, without any of the safety one gets from family, friends, and accomplices. There is no reality in the danger. It's just a very lonely, helpless feeling at first—a kind of desolate feeling. For this reason I took one companion on my journey—an old French gentleman poodle known as Charley. Actually his name is Charles le Chien. He was born in Bercy on the outskirts of Paris and trained in France, and while he knows a little poodle-English, he responds quickly only to commands in French. Otherwise he has to translate, and that slows him down.
And if you're ever in Salinas, stop by The National Steinbeck Center. Rocinante has been fully restored and placed on display.