Saturday, April 25, 2015

book notes

James M. McPherson, Embattled Rebel: Jefferson Davis as Commander in Chief. (Penguin, 2014)
Being Jefferson Davis was, it turns out, a lot like being Abraham Lincoln. You have all these generals who talk big about what they're going to do to the enemy, but never seem to get off their duff and do it. You have one in particular who thinks he's an absolute genius and that you're a hopeless idiot, but is himself spectacularly incapable of demonstrating any of his genius. (If you're Lincoln, his name is McClellan; if you're Davis, his name is Beauregard.) You have an impatient and disrespectful Congress. The difference is that, if you're Lincoln and you get martyred in victory, everyone forgets about the three years you spent fumpfing around and proclaims you a national hero, while if you're Davis and get captured ignominiously, you get blamed for everything whether it was your fault or not. A very short and concise book.

Barney Frank, Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)
The famously un-self-reflective retired Congressman manages a little reflection here, from what drove him into politics and what personal satisfaction he gets out of it, to how he felt about staying in the closet for so many years. (I like the comment that at least he outed himself early on as Jewish by being Bar Mitzvah.) However, his real passion is policy wonkery, and you'd better like it too, because there's a heck of a lot of it in here. A very long and rambling book.

The peril of browsing around a bookstore without my glasses is that I'll see, from a distance, a display rack with a book titled The Winnie-the-Pooh Cookbook and think it says The Vladimir Putin Cookbook. I'm not interested in recipes from either of them.

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