by Anatol Lieven and John Hulsman (Pantheon)
Two foreign-policy hands with divergent politics make common cause to argue against the messianic excesses of current U.S. foreign policy. Lieven and Hulsman are passionate in their sobriety and remarkably concrete about the steps to be taken, calling for a realistic assessment of national interest and a skeptical restraint à la Reinhold Niebuhr.
The Conservative Soul
by Andrew Sullivan (HarperCollins)
Reacting against a similar strain of moralistic maximalism, a New Republic senior editor and prominent blogger attempts to resuscitate a conservatism rooted in limits, humility, and doubt. Sullivan’s conception of “conservatism” is quite narrow, however, defined as it is in opposition to a vague “fundamentalism” (which here seems to run the gamut from leftism to Bushism to Islamism); the result is an abstract creed, oddly self-congratulatory in its self-effacement.
The Trouble With Diversity
by Walter Benn Michaels (Metropolitan)
A withering examination of how the celebration of cultural and ethnic difference obscures our yawning economic divide. Michaels argues that “diversity” is a shibboleth because it presents a false ideal of social justice, one that in fact serves the interests of the most educated and advantaged segments of society. This is a refreshing, angry, and important book.
by Karen DeYoung (Knopf)
Although this biography is not the long-awaited (and possibly never-to-be) tell-all in which Colin Powell reveals everything he was really thinking during his tenure in the Bush administration, it is a consistently interesting recollection of his varied career, shot through with heavy doses of duty, honor, and rectitude.
by Christopher Tyerman (Harvard)
Tyerman, an Oxford scholar, combines vigorous argument and nuanced analysis in this deeply learned chronicle of the Crusades. A work that concentrates on the “utopianism armed with myopia; the elaborate, sincere intolerance; the diversity and complexity of motive and performance,” it’s the best single-volume treatment of this still-controversial and fraught subject.
by David S. Landes (Viking)
An economic historian examines the divergent legacies of eleven powerful business families. Although today’s conventional management wisdom looks askance at the family firm, Landes argues that it is crucial as a business model, both for its inherent stability and for the powerful example it offers entrepreneurs in the developing world.
Norman Rockwell: The Underside of Innocence
by Richard Halpern (Chicago)
An occasionally ridiculous but nevertheless persuasive Freud-tinged assessment of the myriad perversions (sexual and otherwise) that lurk just beneath the surface of the illustrator’s wholesome oeuvre. Rockwell emerges not as a dirty old man, but rather as an engaged artist fiercely alive to the complexities of the subtitular virtue.
Awake in the Dark
by Roger Ebert (Chicago)
A greatest-hits collection from the famed movie critic, including interviews with directors, essays on a variety of topics, and the original review of Ebert’s favorite film from each year between 1967 and 2005.
The Homework Myth
by Alfie Kohn (Da Capo)
Parents take note: this is a stinging jeremiad against the assignment of homework, which the author, a prominent educator, convincingly argues is a wasteful, unimaginative, and pedagogically bankrupt practice that initiates kids into a soul-sucking rat race long before their time.
Through the Children’s Gate
by Adam Gopnik (Knopf)
A collection of the longtime New Yorker writer’s essays about his family’s return to Manhattan after five years of living in France. If you like your provincial cosmopolitanism delivered in flawless prose, then this charming, insufferable book is for you.
The Blind Side
by Michael Lewis (Norton)
The author of Moneyball turns his analytical gaze to football, and the sequence of events by which the left offensive tackle—once an anonymous outpost for oafish fat kids—has become the second-highest-paid position in the NFL. Interwoven less than seamlessly is the gripping and uplifting tale of a promising left-tackle prospect who overcame a rough childhood in inner-city Memphis to make it to the college-football big time.
Point to Point Navigation
by Gore Vidal (Doubleday)
In a sort of sequel to his excellent 1995 memoir, Palimpsest, Vidal chronicles the past forty years of his life among various clutches of literati, glitterati, and royalty. Mortality haunts this volume (the most affecting passages cover the recent death of Vidal’s partner of fifty years), but what’s perhaps most poignant is the book’s unevenness—a fierce literary wit having grown somewhat weaker with age.
Things I Didn’t Know
by Robert Hughes (Knopf)
The noted art critic recounts his Australian boyhood, his deepening romance with the art world, and the heady atmosphere of 1960s London, as well as the horrific 1999 traffic accident that almost took his life and made him a pariah in his homeland.