Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 10, 2004
By: Kevin Drum

HOLIDAY BOOKS, PART 3....Here's Part 3 of my holiday bookfest for political junkies:

From Robert Tagorda of Priorities & Frivolities

  • Surprise, Security, and the American Experience, by John Lewis Gaddis. "I regard this book, which brilliantly examines the Bush Doctrine in historical context, as bipartisan: while Republicans will take pride in the president's visionary foreign policy, Democrats will find new evidence of his failure to accomplish noble goals. At just 160 pages, it's highly readable, too."

  • Booknotes: America's Finest Authors on Reading, Writing, and the Power of Ideas, by Brian Lamb. "With this recommendation, I pay tribute to the acclaimed C-SPAN show, which ended last Sunday. It's been the hallmark of American public discourse: intelligent, stimulating, civil, and accessible. Note that Lamb, in his usual modest way, edits out his questions and allows his guests ranging from Christopher Hitchens to Howell Raines to Hillary Clinton to tell their stories."

From Marc Danziger of Winds of Change

  • A New Age Now Begins, by Page Smith. "A humanizing look at the Revolutionary War and the founding. Youll understand America much better once youve read this."

  • Stand on Zanzibar, by John Brunner. "A wild 21st century update of John Dos Passos USA Trilogy. The themes running through it are completely useful today. Its sexy, violent, brilliantly written and makes you think. Plus when you finish it, you cant help but go read the original."

    Ed note: this recommendation is in willfull disregard of my request for nonfiction books, but bloggers are so hard to control, aren't they? Besides, I like this book too.

From Henry Farrell of Crooked Timber

  • Great Transformations: Economic Ideas and Institutional Change in the Twentieth Century, by Mark Blyth. "Essential reading for anyone who's interested in the forces driving economic policymaking. Blyth examines how crises lead to the creation of new ideas about how the economy works, and how different groups in society labour, business and state argue over which idea gets to guide economic policy. He arguably overestimates the role of ideas (others usually underestimate them), but his arguments about the ways in which Keynesianism won after the Great Depression, and neo-liberalism and monetarism clawed back territory in the 1970's and 1980's, are directly relevant to what's happening now. The manufactured crisis over Social Security is exactly what Blyth would predict he'd also argue that leftists can't just defend the status quo; they need new ideas of their own."

  • American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare, by Jason DeParle. "Agrees with Blyth in part, but only in part. DeParle documents how Clinton's pledge to 'end welfare as we know it' had its origins in a speechwriter's desire to make his candidate stand out against the competition, rather than in any serious new ideas. Neither Clinton nor his advisers anticipated what would happen when a Democratic ceding of intellectual territory coincided with the Republican takeover of Congress. Yet the effects of welfare reform were neither what conservatives nor liberals expected. Conservatives claimed (mendaciously in many cases) that welfare was creating a culture of dependency the poor needed to be liberated from the system, and would do far better when they were. Liberals saw the end of a lifetime welfare guarantee as a disaster in the making. As DeParle documents, through an in-depth study of the lives of three Chicago women who moved to Milwaukee just before welfare reform got rolling, the results were more complex and ambiguous than either conservatives or liberals would have predicted. As David Glenn suggests in a rich, intelligent review of DeParle's book, his message can't be distilled into a policy tract, and it's all the more important for that."

    Ed. note: The Washington Monthly ran an excerpt of DeParle's book in September. You can read it here.

Kevin Drum 2:58 PM Permalink | Trackbacks

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