Articles in politics
Storyteller George Saunders has written his first novel. Lincoln in Bardo hits many of the old, familiar notes, but there is something new and unexpected as well.
A wide-ranging and deeply-researched new book chronicles the history of an influential Washington political salon
Two and a half millennia ago, a war between Athens and Sparta drove Greek civilization to its knees. A new book explores what demagogues and democracies can teach us about the fall of nations.
How could they do it, those young men who, with every reason to live, walked deliberately into machine-gun fire? Joe Sacco gives us a panoramic view of the horror, the labor, and the losses of WWI.
As a new book about Eisenhower and Kennedy makes clear, transitions of presidential power, especially between rival parties, have always been testy.
Jane Seymour is in many ways the most elusive of all the wives of King Henry VIII, dying just weeks after giving the king his longed-for male heir. A new novel delves into the human connection between Henry and his third wife.
He’s forever linked in history with his punning nickname, but a new biography shows there was more to Æthelred than being “Unready”
Who’s at fault for our disastrous politics — both parties? Not a chance, say Washington insiders Ornstein and Mann. Our resident politico fisks their analysis.
How did Donald Trump, a vacuous, bigoted sociopath, get this close to the White House? He did it by being himself.
A thorough and even-handed new book gives readers a tour of the “Creation Museum” in Kentucky – and warns not to dismiss its dangers too readily.
A generation ago, President Johnson enacted a stunning array of social legislation, the full audacity of which has often been overshadowed by the other aspects of LBJ’s presidency. A new book shines a light on the Great Society.
He survived years of dangerous exile, won his crown on the battlefield, and founded one of the most famous dynasties in human history – and yet we still haven’t embraced Henry VII. A spirited biography seeks to change that.
You can set up a flash mob with Twitter, but you can’t run a government with it; Jodi Dean’s Crowds and Party looks at protests in the age of social media.
Jane Mayer’s new book uncovers the overpowering fire-hose of private money now being blasted into the American political system by the robber barons of the new Gilded Age.
Can fiction be overtly political without becoming doctrinaire? A new novel about the Seattle W.T.O. protests succeeds by emphasizing the human complexities involved.
A new book studies the history of copyright and the life and legacy of Aaron Swartz, one of copyright’s groundbreaking interpreters for the new century.
Can realpolitik – the doctrine of intimidation over ideology, force over ideals – actually be a good thing? Matt Ray reviews John Bew’s new study.
Late in 1944, the defeated Nazis staked everything on one last throw of the dice, a massive assault on the Allied forces in Belgium. Antony Beevor’s latest book tells the famous story of the Battle of the Bulge.
Controversial former Vice President Dick Cheney and his journalist daughter Liz have written a book claiming that the exceptional nature of American power is being sullied and squandered by the current occupant of the White House. Greg Waldmann reviews Exceptional.
In Timur Vermes’s bestselling novel, newly translated from the German, it’s 2011, the Führer is back, and he’s not happy at how the world has changed. Is it OK to find that funny?
A polite conversation by two intellectuals about an explosive subject: the rise of militant Islamic groups throughout the world, and the world’s response
In his new book, David Brock, foremost champion of the Clintons, comes to the defense of Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton
A veteran state conflict analyst looks at the mother of such conflicts: the long strife between Israel and Palestine
Many new books – some excellent, some awful – are now seeking to explain the terrorist group ISIS, but the group’s own origins dynamics are dauntingly complex. Greg Waldmann tries to make sense of it all.
Traditional cynicism has always maintained that Benjamin Disraeli married Mary Anne Wyndham Lewis primarily for her money, but a new book argues that the real picture was a good deal more complex – and interesting – than that.
Two books by Mark Leibovitch create a picture of Beltway wheelings and dealings that’s almost unbearably incestuous, with virtually no lines drawn between elected officials and profiteering lobbyists. Greg Waldmann plumbs the depths and reports back.
The 2nd Light Battalion King’s Division played a pivotal role at the Battle of Waterloo, as a slim new history by Brendan Simms demonstrates. Matt Ray reviews the book in his Open Letters debut.
American senator, author, and statesman Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s complex and constantly-evolving political philosophy is the subject of a pointed new book
Two-time National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft kept a low profile (and a negligible paper trail) throughout a lifetime in Washington power-dealing; a compelling new book profiles the ultimate Oval Office insider
Former governor and presidential candidate Mike Huckabee offers a plea for understanding the ‘flyover states’ where, he claims, real people lead real lives
A paradigm-shifting new book looks at the turbulent decade of the 1970s in United States politics and the re-shaping of the world
In his new book City of Rivals, James Grumet takes a gloomy close-up look at America’s deeply dysfunctional Congress and offers some solutions. But are those solutions dysfunctional too?
Two recent votes on independence remind us that globalization has not put an end to nationalism. A new book on the 1995 Quebec referendum highlights just how complicated a people’s “yes” or “no” votes really are.
Once he’d led the Continental Army to victory, General George Washington retired to his Mount Vernon home – but the newborn country wasn’t done with him yet. A new book looks at First Citizen Washington.
Leon Panetta, old Washington fixture and former member of the Obama administration, criticizes the president in his new memoir. But does he have anything to say?
What would you do if your artistic survival suddenly depended on the whims of a brutal dictatorship? How far would you compromise? How much would you risk? A new book studies artists in the Third Reich.
Can a book about the Jewish Diaspora add anything useful on the topic if it’s uninterested in Jewish history and slightly dodgy about the Diaspora? Jordan MaGill gives Alan Wolfe’s At Home in Exile a close reading.
The great critic and essayist Irving Howe laid claim to a great many decayed traditions – and then elevated them all to high art. A new collection of his prose presents some of his gems.
Title Menu: A list of great political books that doesn’t include What It Takes by Richard Ben Cramer
Just in time for the November midterm elections, we do what doubters said couldn’t be done: we present you with a list of ten great political books that doesn’t include Richard Ben Cramer’s What It Takes.
Veteran historian Brookhiser takes a look at the formative influences on Abraham Lincoln – not so much his own father as the Founding Fathers.
In his latest collection of essays, Theater of Cruelty, Ian Buruma launches a series of expert investigations into the springs of cruelty and the perils of victomhood.
A British historian’s richly-sourced accounting of Molotov-Ribbentrop offers fresh insights into this Nazi-Soviet pact of “non-aggression.”
We think of the Middle East as a place of hopeless deadlocks – but once upon a time, an Egyptian president, an Israeli prime minister, and a U.S. president worked for two weeks to hammer out a plan for peace. Lawrence Wright takes readers to Camp David at a turning point in history.
England had been at war with France almost continuously since the Norman Conquest, but in the Hundred Years War, the conflict became especially heightened – and transformative. A new history tells the story as a rattling good yarn.
Uncertain Justice, by Lawrence Tribe and Joshua Matz, suggests that personality plays a greater role than ideology in today’s Supreme Court. David Culberg assesses the arguments.
The third voume of Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland trilogy is sure to fly off the shelves, but those flying copies will be light to the tune of a few needed footnotes, omissions our managing editor finds, to say the least, troubling.
“You can throw out every damn other thing in the Constitution, as long as you don’t touch my guns,” one Southern U.S. Senator famously bellowed, perfectly typifying a certain psychosis. A new book picks fights on history of American gun law.
On Marx, the latest chip off the block of Alan Ryan’s 2-volume On Politics, focuses on the founder of Marxism – but Ryan’s a man in a hurry, and the devil is in the details.
Ronald Reagan single-handedly ended the Cold War at Reykjavik in 1985. And if you believe that, his loyal aid Ken Adelman has a book to sell you.
A kaleidoscopic new book explores one of history’s sharpest paradoxes: the Age of Liberty was also the Age of Slavery
For the past 25 years, the Irish Presidency has been a wonder to behold: a place where passionate eccentrics can embody a complicated country.
Putin’s Soviet predecessors were masters of doublespeak. As Ukraine suffers again, it’s clear that their descendents are now in charge.
For years, pioneering blogger Andrew Sullivan was one of the most vocal supporters of the war in Iraq. Time and the war’s wretched progress gradually forced him to change his thinking, however, and a new collection of his writings on the subject charts the disillusioning step-by-step.
The Russian dissident writers are largely unknown in the West today, but their work was an inspiration at a time when their compatriots were forbidden to dream different dreams.
Every correspondent in Moscow wanted to be the first to find Solzhenitsyn after he won the Nobel Prize in 1970. Michael Johson had that honor – but the great Russian writer wasn’t altogether pleased so see him.
The age of Roosevelt and Taft was also the age of Progressive reform – spearheaded by an amazing team of ‘muckraking’ writers the like of which the United States had never seen.
Campaign books have short shelf-lives – and they deserve them, since most of them have about as much introspection as yesterday’s racing form. Greg Waldmann reads a recent book on the pivotal 2012 U.S. presidential election.
Before he became one of America’s most famous presidents, John Kennedy was a hot-shot senator and a photogenic winner of the Pulitzer Prize. But did the Senate years help to form the Oval Office years?
‘Everyone knows who won the war,’ runs the refrain of Muriel Rukeyser’s Savage Coast; her newly published 1930 novel about the Spanish Civil War shows what it meant to be a witness to it.
Fintan O’Toole is an idealist about Irish republicanism and his books begin a desperately necessary conversation. It’s a bad sign, though, that he can’t quite get past the preliminaries.
The authors have invaluable sources in America’s ‘deep state’ of surveillance and counter-terrorism, but how much secrecy does security justify? And what happened to moral accountability?
Elie Wiesel once claimed “a novel about Treblinka is either not a novel or not about Treblinka.” How does Steve Sem-Sandberg grapple with representing the unrepresentable in his sweeping chronicle of the Łódź ghetto, The Emperor of Lies? A review from our archives.
We’ve long endowed campaign consultants with shamanistic powers, but now a new truth is beginning to emerge–the people behind the scenes who can do most to win elections are the data analysts and stat nerds.
The belief that Jews are the enemy of civilization is one of the West’s most tenacious and systemic ideas. Professor David Nirenberg’s new history offers a vast, seemingly inexhaustible record of a very old, very useful hatred.
Lost to history, here re-discovered, Trinity Chancel –“a daring enterprise in its day, as original an expression and as unique as was the genius of the American people.”
Ben Jonson said that the once wealthy and acclaimed Edmund Spenser died “for want of bread”; a new biography tries to disentangle myth from fact, and to make the case for the great poet’s relevance today
Nate Silver is currently enjoying his status as that unlikeliest of people, the celebrity statistician. Does his bestseller The Signal and the Noise live up to its carefully calculated expectations?
“Truth is Catholic, but the search for it is Protestant,” quoth W.H. Auden, and this month Phillips Brooks is at Lourdes, of all places, his liking for which can only be explained by his experiences at Benares.
Four years ago, Barack Obama won the U.S. presidency on a platform of hope and change. This month, as he fights for re-election, Greg Waldmann takes a detailed look at the incumbent’s first term.
As Americans go to the polls this month to elect a president, some recent biographies examine the lives of five very different men who once held the office.
“Perhaps a little drunk might answer” was Phillips Brooks’s idea of how to view Pre-Raphaelite art, several masterpieces of which he commissioned for Trinity Church. “Centerpiece” continues.
Mitt Romney’s diatribe at a Boca Raton fundraiser may have torpedoed his candidacy. Was he just pandering, or did he actually mean all of those things he said?
Madman, lothario, despot, drug fiend, friend and enemy of Mussolini – and immortal poet. Gabriele D’Annunzio was all of these things and many more in his whirlwind of a life.
Henry Adams on the road to Chartres, Phillips Brooks on the Madonna of the prairie, and John La Farge on why he worried Trinity Church had “no heart” — The Gods of Copley Square continues
Lord Castlereagh lives in infamy as the target of the Romantic Poets’ most vicious insults, but one biography tries to salvage his reputation. Was the statesman a scourge of liberalism or pragmatist of Enlightenment ideals?
Pound wrote The Pisan Cantos on toilet paper while prisoner in an open-air metal cage during WWII, and he spent many of the following years in mental hospitals. “I can get along with crazy people,” he quipped. “It’s only the fools I can’t stand.”
Was General Zhukov the greatest general to order mass executions of his own soldiers? Was he the single most decisive factor in beating Hitler? A new biography opens more questions than it answers.
Lyndon Johnson rained destruction on Vietnam and championed civil rights, amassed a secret fortune and fought for the needy. His paradoxical life continues in the fourth volume of Robert Caro’s epic biography.
A contentious Supreme Court in the headlines is hardly a new thing – nor is the Court being used for partisan politics and the brinksmanship of history, as Noah Feldman’s Scorpions makes clear
“He calls you a swine,” Walter Lippmann once wrote of H.L. Mencken, “and he increases your will to live.” A reissue of Mencken’s 1926 rabble-rouser Notes on Democracy shows the journalist at his insulting, rejuvenating best.
We may never know with certainty what brought Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts to cast the deciding vote to uphold the Affordable Care Act and salvage the chief accomplishment of Barack Obama’s presidency. But …
Just how powerful is Exxon Mobil? Who can they pay off and which governments are they propping up? Steve Coll’s new book explores the dark side of power and light.
She’s occupied the throne of Great Britain and the Commonwealth for 60 years, and in June Queen Elizabeth II celebrates her Diamond Jubilee. Three new biographies try to understand the woman wearing the crown.
MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow has made a career of joking about easy political targets – so what happens when she tries to deliver a factual inquiry of a serious subject? Nothing funny, as Greg Waldmann discovers.
The clash between Brahmin liberalism and the legacy of slave-trading focuses on a monument to the men who redeemed a city and ransomed a nation. “American Aristocracy” continues.
A new book takes readers back to a time when, according to historian Ira Shapiro, politics could sometimes be noble and senators could sometimes be giants.
When the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in 2010, it was given to an empty chair. Its recipient, Liu Xiaobo, was in prison for advocating human rights in China. Though he is still incarcerated, a collection of essays sheds light on his thought and struggle.
To the quintessential virtues the Puritans lent to a fledgling republic – globality, philantropy, and autonomy – the ‘speaking aristocracy’ of the Boston Brahmins added one more: the love of learning
Andrew Breitbart, the brash, conservative media warrior, died a few days ago. He was by all accounts a wonderful husband, father, and friend – but should that matter?
Of his 60+ books, one in particular, The United States, is best representative of his work as a whole and, by readers, best loved. On the Collected Essays of Gore Vidal.
For two terms, first as National Security Advisor and then as Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice was the most – often the only – likeable face of the George W. Bush administration. But does this quintessential team player break ranks in her new memoir?
Maligned as nothing but handsome breeding stock, this German import did more to redefine the role of the monarchy than any subsequent royal, consort or king.
Boston without Brahmins, like Vienna without Jews, frames shifting capitoline visions, visions much more in the spirit than most realize of Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., who actually wrote: ‘It dwarfs the mind to feed it on any localism.’
James Madison was more cautious and purposeful than the temperamental Hamilton or the effusive Jefferson. Indeed, to paraphrase Brookhiser, Hamilton was a rocket, Jefferson was a kite, Madison was a ballast.
He lost his famous mother when he was a boy, became a teen idol, had a storybook wedding, and he’s second in line to be King of England. The monarchy Prince William inherits will be like nothing his predecessors have experienced – if it exists at all. “A Year with the Windsors” concludes.
John Nance Garner famously referred to the vice presidency as being not worth a bucket of warm, er, spit – and yet, during the two terms of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney used that office to wield unprecedented power. The former vice president writes an unapologetic memoir.
Boston, so often reproved for living in its memories, may well be poised to lead the future, not in spite of its history but because of it.
The ethics of Wikileaks (and the antics of its mastermind, Julian Assange) continue to be the focus of controversy – and new books. Greg Waldmann takes a comprehensive look at the entire phenomenon.
Religion is one of those subjects that are too important to be polite about. But can we at least agree to disagree respectfully about the meaning of life?
A pivotal part of the Second World War was fought not on land or sea but under the waves – and a new history attributes heroism to both sides.
If you’re hoping for a heartfelt mea culpa from an architect of two disastrous wars, this isn’t it. Donald Rumsfeld’s memoir is shallow at best, cynically self-serving at worst.
Her reign was epic in length and social impact, but it very nearly didn’t happen at all. She ruled through two generations of her people, and she left the British monarchy very different from how she found it. She is Queen Victoria, and our Year with the Windsors starts as it must: with her.
The United States’ first Civil War, Alan Taylor claims, was fought in 1812. Ivan Lett assesses the revisionist argument.
Nixon’s crimes are known to us all. A new book reveals that his biggest tormentor in the media committed a few of them himself.
No American president in a generation has so polarized the country as George W. Bush, and his new book will almost certainly polarize its readers. Is it defiant agitprop or heartfelt memoir?
He has become synonymous with amoral, cold-hearted political machination, but there was more to Machiavelli than that. A new biography attempts to look at the whole man.
Since the days of T.E. Lawrence, reporters have been providing the West with carefully-wrought (or overwrought) tales of the Middle East. A new book comments on the excesses–and maybe commits a few too.
Stuart Weisberg’s biography of Barney Frank may be scattered and incomplete, but it’s got one huge saving grace: Frank’s own witticisms on nearly every page.
Unlike most prior White House wonks, Matt Latimer aw-shucks his way through history and into deep, deep trouble; Greg Waldmann reviews Speech Less
Edward Lucas, in The New Cold War, puts a modern face on the hoary geopolitical struggle between the Russian bear and the American eagle. Greg Waldmann sorts the players and evaluates the stakes.
For half a century, Senator Ted Kennedy has been carving out a legacy in Congress. The legacy and the man come into focus in Thomas J. Daly’s review of Last Lion.
Ronald Reagan was the only modern U.S. President to keep a daily journal. Steve Donoghue plumbs The Unabridged Reagan Diaries in search of the diarist’s soul.
Evan Thomas, under the aegis of Newsweek, with substantial researcher assistance, after the editing of … well, “A Long Time Coming”, the first post-election account of President Obama’s campaign, got written somehow. Greg Waldmann goes into it with high hopes – and then conducts the autopsy.
A mere month remains until the most fiercely fought and most historically pivotal American presidential election of the last half-century. In July, Greg Waldmann served up an in-depth look at Republican John McCain. Here, just in time for the election, he does likewise for Democrat Barack Obama.
In his latest book (a slim one this time), Robert Kagan again probes the socio-political state of the West. History is back, he tells us—about a week after he told us it was gone. Greg Waldmann helps us to to keep track of the epochs without a scorecard in his review of The Return of History and the End of Dreams.
In covering John McCain’s life and accomplishments, the American press has been, how shall we put it? less than tenacious. There are real stories they’ve yet to explore, or so argues Greg Waldmann in his first piece as Open Letters‘ Politics Editor.
Ted Sorensen was the most loyal of JFK’s retainers and the last to finally spill the beans about the Bay of Pigs, the Berlin Wall, and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Steve Donoghue walks us through the worthy—if somewhat hedging—memoir of an eloquent and haunted man.
Many readers forgave Michael Scheuer the angry bloody-mindedness of Imperial Hubris because of the merciless critiques of the Bush administration, but Greg Waldmann reports that in Marching Toward Hell, illogical anger is about all Scheuer has left
He makes tools; he uses fire; he caucuses with interest groups: this is Dana Milbank’s Homo Politicus. Greg Waldmann assesses Milbank’s field notes, wishing the taxonomist had been more exacting.
Books lamenting our fractured political system are as commonplace these days as polling and pundits, but, as Greg Waldmann discovers, the historical rigor of Ronald Brownstein’s The Second Civil War helps elevate it above its pandering peers.
Does Al Gore’s The Assault on Reason really tell us anything we didn’t already know about our dying national dialogue? Greg Waldmann’s answer is yes.
Aside from the stammering anger they’ve stirred up, have John W. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt added anything substantial to the Middle East debate? Plenty, Greg Waldmann writes, but not for the reasons they wanted.Aside from the stammering anger they’ve stirred up, have John W. Mearsheimer and Stephen M. Walt added anything substantial to the Middle East debate? Plenty, Greg Waldmann writes, but not for the reasons they wanted.