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This Year, March Really Did Bring “Madness”

Whereas “March Madness” is usually the moniker for the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, the term seemed to have a wider meaning.

Who saw a new Cold War, land war in Europe AND the St. Peter’s boys in the Elite Eight? I doubt if anyone had ALL those things in their brackets, just weeks ago.

My book choices were flavored by unfolding events:

“Patriotism is Not Enough” by Steven Hayward (2017) Hayward’s modest about his own conservative intellect, but the stars of this unusual book are two famously-feuding thought-leaders of the American right, Henry Jaffa and Walter Berns. Over their long lifetimes (they both died on the same day in 2015!), they wrestled with questions that have new urgency in the Trump era: what is “love of country”? What’s the difference between nationalism and patriotism, as well as the overlap? What do conservatives want to “conserve”? Hayward produced a book you will love reading slowly, discussing with friends, and keeping as a reference.

“Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What It Doesn’t, and Why It Matters” by Steven Koonin (2021) As above, this book’s an intense, slow read with a lot of charts, but Koonin is making a careful, precise point: we need to be sure about climate and human influence over it, such as there may be, because the policies people are proposing to “address climate change” are far-reaching, drastic and expensive. This Obama Administration science advisor has walked a careful pragmatic path that I think you’ll find persuasive.

“Kissing the Gunner’s Daughter” by Ruth Rendell (1993) One of my favorite mystery writers; one of her best books featuring Inspector Wexford. Read through to the end to learn what the title actually refers to.

“Light in August” by William Faulkner (1932) These are the kinds of American classics they probably shouldn’t assign in school. Not because it’s controversial, but because it’s densely brilliant. Unforgettable characters haunt a bleak Southern Gothic landscape, but the writing and vocal are modernist, even kind of hipster. Religion gets an unflattering light, and contemporary racism gets a bright one. A plot summary is virtually impossible, but everyone in this book is looking for someone or something. As I guess we all are.

“Against All Odds: Ultimate Courage and Survival in WWII” by Alex Kershaw (2022) Kershaw’s a terrific writer, but I question the approach here. He’s taking us into battle with four of the most decorated U.S. soldiers in the war. Each deserves his own book, but overlook that and you will be moved and enlightened. The writing is crisp and lean, and the research is impressive.

“Intrepid’s Last Case” by William Stevenson (1983) Follow this: William Stevenson, a Canadian historian, is writing about Sir William Stephenson, a master British spy. When I read the other volume in this set as a kid (“A Man Called Intrepid”, I thought it was weird that the man wrote about himself in the third person. Much later, I figured it out. Taken together, the Intrepid books are an amazing history of several decades of Allied spycraft, including much of the Cold War. Much more detail and anecdotes than most other works. Almost nothing people are lamenting about the current intelligence services is without frustrating precedent.

“Deadline at Dawn” by Cornell Woolrich (1944) His books are always about desperate anti-heroes racing the clock and seemingly defeated by forces beyond their control. “Why me?” In this one, a young man who’s stumbled into trouble in NYC runs into a young woman who happens to have grown up in the same small midwestern town. If they help each other out of trouble, they may be able to move back there and escape the ultimate villain, the city itself.

“House of Spies” by Daniel Silva (2017) Another globe-spanning terror thriller with Israeli super-spy Gabriel Allon and his intel team, on the trail of an ISIS mastermind known as Saladin. Silva’s the true successor to past masters like Robert Ludlum.

The Tragedy of X” by Ellery Queen (1932) A stockbroker no one likes, except his new chippy, gets the poison needle on a crowded commuter train car. Everyone’s a suspect, and no one knows anything. Police turn to an eccentric Shakespearean actor, Drury Lane, who’s helped them before. Lane is a mash-up of these authors’ (Dannay and Lee are the actual authors) eponymous detective, Ellery Queen, with some Hercule Poirot and Nero Wolfe added to the recipe. I love the writing and the era.

As always, I’d love to know if you pick up any of these, or what you are reading these days.

 



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