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Some recent political books for holiday reading

By Josh Richman
Tuesday, November 24th, 2009 at 12:50 pm in books.

No, I’ve not read Palin’s book. Or Plouffe’s.

Intimate Lives of the Founding FathersBut I’ve very much enjoyed Thomas Fleming’s “The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers” (Smithsonian Books, $27.99), which examines the women behind the men who launched our nation. A young George Washington was head-over-heels for his half-brother’s wife’s hot, young, married sister-in-law long before he met the wealthy widow with whom he would share his life; Benjamin Franklin, while undeniably randy in his youth, was not nearly the elderly horndog his detractors made him out to be; John Adams, while constantly obsessing over perceived slights and his own historical legacy, couldn’t imagine being without Abigail yet endured years apart from her. We’re quick to deify these men, quick to forget they were real people with real lives that helped define the birth of our nation; this very engaging book offers a window into who they really were, and the vital roles their life partners played in making history.

O is for ObamaFar less exciting is “O is for Obama: An Irreverent A-to-Z Guide to Washington and Beltway Politics” (Triumph, $16.95), written by the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank and illustrated by Mark Anderson. “D is for Drudge, who, like Limbaugh and Hannity/Believes that Obama is causing calamity.” It’s just not as light and clever as it clearly had hoped to be, although the illustrations by Anderson – whose work has appeared in publications including Time, The New Yorker and the Wall Street journal – are undeniably delightful.

Among other titles that’ve crossed my desk lately:

California’s Golden Years: When Government Worked and Why” (Berkeley Public Policy Press) – William Bagley, a moderate Republican lawmaker (1960-74) from the North Bay who later served on the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Transportation Commission and the University of California Board of Regents, shares “an insider’s explanation for why politics seemed to work better then than now.”

The Insecure American: How We Got Here & What We Should Do About It” (University of California Press, $24.95) – George Mason University Anthropology Professor Hugh Gusterson and Colby College Anthropology Professor Catherine Besteman edit essays from 19 leading ethnographers “to create a unique portrait of an anxious country and to furnish valuable insights into the nation’s possible future,” touching upon issues including the economy, terrorism, the “war on drugs,” racial resentment, a fraying social safety net, immigration, health care and more. Features a forward by Barbara Ehrenreich.

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  • David

    I always say “the founders” and not “the founding fathers,” because Abigail Adams had as much to do with the founding of the republic as any man. Of course, she was not the only one. But if Abigail Adams was not a founder of this country, then nobody was. And when we say “founding fathers,” we’re missing that.

  • Ulno

    I think the files of the University of East Anglia are fine reading for Christmas. For example, check out the code used to generate the graph of “global warming over the past century” used by the United Nations:

    To quote Eric Raymond, one of the founders of the open source movement:

    “From the CRU code file osborn-tree6/briffa_sep98_d.pro , used to prepare a graph purported to be of Northern Hemisphere temperatures and reconstructions.

    ;
    ; Apply a VERY ARTIFICAL correction for decline!!
    ;
    yrloc=[1400,findgen(19)*5.+1904]
    valadj=[0.,0.,0.,0.,0.,-0.1,-0.25,-0.3,0.,- 0.1,0.3,0.8,1.2,1.7,2.5,2.6,2.6,$
    2.6,2.6,2.6]*0.75 ; fudge factor
    if n_elements(yrloc) ne n_elements(valadj) then message,’Oooops!’
    ;
    yearlyadj=interpol(valadj,yrloc,timey)

    This, people, is blatant data-cooking, with no pretense otherwise. It flattens a period of warm temperatures in the 1940s — see those negative coefficients? Then, later on, it applies a positive multiplier so you get a nice dramatic hockey stick at the end of the century.

    All you apologists weakly protesting that this is research business as usual and there are plausible explanations for everything in the emails? Sackcloth and ashes time for you. This isn’t just a smoking gun, it’s a siege cannon with the barrel still hot.”

  • Josh Richman

    RE:#2, for more on “Climategate” as some now call it, take a look here, if only for the footnotes with copious links to a wide range of coverage and opinion.

  • Ulno

    How about this quote from an email by Phil Jones, director of the Climate Research Unit (CRU) to Michael Mann, Penn State’s lead on climate research oft referenced by the UN reports:

    ‘The two MMs have been after the CRU station data for years. If they ever hear there is a Freedom of Information Act now in the U.K., I think I’ll delete the file rather than send to anyone. . . . We also have a data protection act, which I will hide behind.”

    The two MM’s: Stephen McIntyre and Ross McKitrick,
    two Canadians who fact-check published scientific conclusions by seekign raw data and codes used for climate models and graphs.

    Is this science?

  • tom

    I would have thought Milbank would have given up on his “irreverent” schtick after the “”Mouthpiece Theater” fiasco.

    While not specifically about politics, I’m reading Mark Arax’s “West of the West” which provides some fascinating insights into our wonderful State.

  • bbox231

    History is full of indiscretions by many of our revered political figures.

    I believe that past media and public possessed a healthy maturity about such matters. Not denying the obvious misgivings, but posessing the wisdom to distinguish between public and private matters.

    I have no doubt that if the current media limelight and preoccupation with individual morality were somehow inflicted upon historical politicians, many great men and women would have chosen (as we are witnessing in present-day) to forgo such agony.

    The loss would have been ours.

    Each of us as individuals have been blessed with the good fortune of a mistake that few or no one noticed – and which we as individuals learned from.

    Our political world is NOT made stronger for this kind of – supposedly – moral scrutiny. Instead, the most typical of men and women shy away and I fear that only the most egotistical and arrogant are still willing to pursue a life of public service.