Hillary Clinton comes across as a cure for some of the worst ills of contemporary Congress: she is modest while her colleagues grandstand; she accepts small gains in minor bills developed through compromise rather than sponsoring high-profile bills headed to certain failure; and perhaps most important, she makes common cause with members across the aisle, preserving a small corner of collegiality and conversation in a body that has become increasingly acrimonious and partisan. I can see how Senator Clinton may be on her way to a position of Senate leadership.
On the other hand, what I did not see in Joshua Green’s profile was a future president of the United States. Our nation is in crisis: global climate change will soon make us sentimental for a time when we feared terrorists; the rising price of energy will make us all poorer; and the yawning chasm between the very rich and everybody else is making us a plutocratic caricature of democracy. Green did not depict a Hillary Clinton with sufficient vision and courage to lead us back from the brink. Intelligence, knowledge, political astuteness, perhaps even wisdom—these she appears to possess, in marked contrast to the current president. But I fear those qualities are insufficient to lead the nation as it soon will desperately need to be led.
Three Rivers, Calif.
Joshua Green replies:
I’m happy to address Joan Hilty’s criticisms of my Hillary Clinton profile, but let’s dispense with the straw-man comparison to George W. Bush. Surely we can agree that it would be deeply unfair to doom Senator Clinton to the soft bigotry of low expectations. (And if we can’t: Bush ran on the big idea of “compassionate conservatism,” which served him well—at least until he assumed office.) I agree that Clinton has faced extraordinary challenges as a woman in the Senate; indeed, I documented them more thoroughly than anyone else I’ve seen. I also agree that she has taken large risks in her career, such as running for the Senate. My point was that she has taken none as a senator, which has led to a record notable for its caution and risk-aversion—qualities that Americans typically do not seek in their presidents, and ones that I believe will hurt her presidential campaign for the reasons delineated in David Graber’s letter. It isn’t Clinton’s gender but her lack of vision that I think most imperils her bid for the White House.
Benjamin Schwarz marvelously highlights the merits of the latest volume in the New Oxford History of England series, A Mad, Bad, & Dangerous People? (“The Path of Least Resistance,” October Atlantic). Yet I must take issue with his invidious comparison of the New Oxford History of England series with the Oxford History of the United States. The rate of publication of titles in the History of the United States series, which Schwarz calls “unconscionably tardy,” reflects the high standards set by the Oxford Press and the series editors: Richard Hofstadter, C. Vann Woodward, and now David Kennedy. It also reflects a conceptual change in the series, which was originally intended to be a set of chronological political histories, accompanied by thematic volumes on culture, economics, diplomacy, and other topics. Titles now are expected to blend social, political, economic, cultural, diplomatic, and military history into coherent and vividly written narratives with strong interpretive angles—a high bar, especially given the richness of American historiography since the series was inaugurated.
Book reviews are invariably a matter of personal opinion. But the committees of the Pulitzer Prize, the Bancroft Prize, and the Parkman Prize, as well as a great many readers, might disagree with Schwarz’s characterization of Kennedy’s Freedom From Fear and James Patterson’s Grand Expectations, among other titles, as “bloated and intellectually flabby.”
Susan Ferber Executive Editor
Oxford University Press
New York, N.Y.
Benjamin Schwarz replies:
I stand by my invidious comparison. The Oxford History of England series aims to meet the same standards as its American counterpart, and its authors also “blend social, political, economic, cultural, diplomatic, and military history.” Somehow, though, the British writers have managed to produce far more volumes of a generally far higher intellectual and stylistic quality in a fraction of the time. And I stand by my verdict of intellectually mushy storytelling regarding the two titles Susan Ferber mentions (and I’d use the same words to describe Restless Giant, James Patterson’s other volume in the series).