FIRST Principles/THOMAS E. RICKS

As readers of this blog may know I am a fan of John Adams and have within these pages questioned historian Gordon Wood and others regarding objectivity concerning Adams, in particular in comparison’s to Jefferson. Thomas E. Rick’s new book FiRST Principals, WHAT AMERICA’S FOUNDERS LEARNED from the GREEKS and ROMANS AND HOW THAT SHAPED OUR COUNTRY makes a herculean effort to connect the thinking of the Founding Fathers with that of the ancient Greeks and Romans as they organized their governments and laws.

Ricks authors an in depth analysis of the political and ruling organizations of those ancient times and attempts to connect them to the thinking of those who founded the fledging America. You will need to judge whether or not he succeeded.

In addition to the ancient perspective, throughout the book Ricks finds ways to circle back to his passion of comparing the thinking of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson during America’s daybreak. Like historian Gordon Wood his writing becomes clouded with his reverence for Jefferson and I think disdain for Adams. So often, Ricks seems to go out of his way to demean Adams’s thinking while praising, and in this readers view, making excuses for Jefferson’s shortcomings. He brushes past Jefferson’s slaveholding, his virtual disappearance during the Revolutionary War and his relationship with fourteen-year-old Sally Hemings. The book does not recognize the depth of Jefferson’s disdain for Federalism and his advancement of the superiority of states rights over a strong federal government. ( The continuation of the “Plantation” economy and expansion of slavery.)

In fairness, I think Ricks is himself conflicted about John Adams. On the one hand he references Adam’s best known work A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America as, The sole piece of writing he finished that is longer than an essay. However just two paragraphs later Ricks writes, Adams in turn wrote , there can be no government of laws without a balance and there can be no balance without the three orders. Sounds like executive, judicial and legislative to me. No surprise here because John Adams is credited with authoring the Massachusetts Constitution which in 1788 became the blueprint for the U.S. Constitution.

With regard to what the founders learned from the Greeks and Romans I must confess that Ricks gives Adams his due. Quoting from a famous John Adams essay in the Boston Gazette in 1765 titled Let Us Dare , Let us dare to read, think, speak and write. Let every order and degree among the people rouse their attention and animate their resolution. Let them all become attentive to the grounds and principles of government, ecclesiastical and civil. Let us study the law of nature; search into the spirit of the British Constitution; read the histories of ancient ages; contemplate the great examples of Greece and Rome.

This essay was written just as the Stamp Act was passed by the British Parliament which many consider to be the final spark that ignited the American Revolution. This is Adam’s prescient thought in the opening lines of Let Us Dare. Liberty. . .which has never been enjoyed, in its full perfection, by more than ten or twelve millions of men at any Time, since the Creation, will reign in America, over hundreds and thousands of millions at a Time.

Getting past my defense of Adams, Rick’s book creates a superior condensed history of the Revolutionary War, the rise of George Washington, the telling of the Adams, Jefferson, Burr election of 1800, the impact of James Madison and the evolution of political parties in America. His epilogue ” What We Can Do” is filled with positive responses to what America has learned from history and the founding fathers.

First Principles is a great read for those who are looking for a deep dive into a slice on early American history.

THE LAST AMERICAN ARISTOCRAT/ HENRY ADAMS

This blogger is a champion of John Adams, our second president.  When I came upon a new title referencing his great grandson, Henry Adams, it piqued my interest. The book is THE LAST AMERICAN ARISTOCRAT, The BRILLIANT LIFE and IMPROBABLE EDUCATION of

Henry Adams by historian Davis S. Brown.  As it turns out, Henry Adams is a “famous” Adams in his own right, in addition to being the grandson of President John Quincy Adams.

Raised in the elite environment of Boston’s Gilded age, the late 19th century, ADAMS was of course thought of as a third Adams in the White House.  That was not to be but the book is a wonderful study of the transition of Boston’s political power and national influence from Beacon Hill to Washington D.C.

Henry Adams, ordained not to be among the politically chosen becomes the observer, even the muckraker and attains worldwide recognition as an author and columnist. His memoir The Education of Henry ADAMS becomes and remains a literary classic. Henry Adams in his life and writings, “Became a transitional figure, one bridging the chasm between ‘colonial’ and ‘modern’” America.  Brown’s book is also a deep dive into Adam’s personal life, the highs and lows and how it was to be the Adams who had to be satisfied by building a home on Lafayette Square in Washington, DC, which was as close as this Adams would come to the White House.

A fascinating figure in American history, Henry Adams influenced the dialogue during the country’s transition through industrialization, becoming a world power and witnessing the explosion of scientific invention.  Without political portfolio with the exception of the Adams name he socialized with and influenced such legendary figures as Secretary of State John Hay, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge and Teddy Roosevelt.   He was the “outsider” very much on the inside.

RAGE/ Bob Woodward

The theme that clearly dominates Bob Woodward’s latest book RAGE is the enormity of Donald Trump’s ego. In each of Woodward’s seventeen interviews for the book, Trump repeatedly urges Woodward to treat him fairly but always adds, “Even if you don’t, that’s OK too.” Here is Trump, even after Woodward took him to the woodshed in his previous book FEAR, flattering himself by having the famous Woodward, write yet another tome about him. It seems to this reader that Trump cares little about what he is saying or how he is interpreted, but simply relying on the old ego building political adage, “Just spell my name right.” 

I did not purchase RAGE upon its release as I often do with Woodward’s books, therefore the content was pretty much common knowledge by the time my number came up on the wait list at the library.  However, Woodward’s reporting and his contextual clarity leaves no room for any relief from his previous Trump title, FEAR. The title was prescient.

Says Woodward, “When his performance as president is taken in its entirety, I can only reach one conclusion: Trump is the wrong man for the job.”  In my view, this closing observation in RAGE is more than kind. 

Readers of gordonsgoodreads know of the esteem in which I hold Robert Caro.  He had this so say of Woodward and RAGE.  “He is one of the great reporters of our time. Bob Woodward has been reporting like that for 45 years. He never—no matter how famous and legendary he has become; he has never stopped looking for facts.”  

RAGE clearly documents that in every issue surrounding his presidency, Donald Trump has no interest in “facts.”

RUTH BADER GINSBURG, A LIFE

RUTH BADER GINSBURG, A Life, by Jane Sherron De Hart is an in-depth scholarly biography and an academic journey for the reader.  The book, completed a year before the justice’s death, is an intimate look at the life of RBG that quickly transforms into a study of the workings of the Supreme Court, its personalities, and of course the major cases with which RBG was intimately involved.   In many ways the book is a study of cultural change in America during RBG’s tenure on the court. 

My takeaway is that SCOTUS is anything but impartial and that all important decisions are influenced to varying degrees by the personal heritage and deeply held views of individual justices. The term “strict constructionist” is often used to rationalize deep personal beliefs, while “loose interpretation,” can work toward a more liberal view of the law.  “Social movements in dialogue with public opinion forge new understandings of the Constitution’s meaning even as contestation continues.” 

Yes, all the famous cases are here in detail.  Roe v. Wade, Bush v. Gore, Brown v. Board of Education, Lilly Ledbetter, Plessy, VMI, Violence Against Women’s Act, Partial Birth Abortion, Voting Rights Act, Citizens United and more and more and more. A total of 554 pages and hundreds of defining notes, and with De Hart’s brilliant research every single word counts.  I left these pages and cases convinced that SCOTUS is and always has been a political body. It is a human organization and does not reside in a rarified atmosphere set apart from the ever-changing values of society. Of course, you may not agree, but what a delightful discussion for your book club.

RUTH BADER GINSBURG, A life, is a wonderful personal insight into a remarkable woman and a brilliant study of exactly how the Supreme Court deliberates and decides. 

Stamped FromThe Beginning/ Ibram X. Kendi

Ibram X. Kendi’s STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING, The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America leaves no stone unturned and no one escapes the continuing story of racism as it moves from the old world to the new.

Every aspect of racism is explored dating to the earliest fabrications regarding the evolution of the black race. The work traces racism from early Europe to the slave ships, the Puritanical Great Migration to America, slavery, the early abolitionist movement, the American Revolution, the U.S. Constitution, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the modern day Civil Rights Movement, the NAACP, and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Kendi misses no one in painting this enormous 500 page canvas. Cotton Mather (Salem Witch Trials), Thomas Jefferson, William Lloyd Garrison. W.E.B. Dubois, Booker T. Washington, Lincoln, Grant, Obama, Eugene Debs, Roger Taney, Dred Scott, John Brown, Angela Davis, Malcolm X, Hip Hop, Rap, and the list moves on to infinity. No one, at least by degree, escapes the racist brush.

In this day of George Floyd, Black Lives Matter, the 1619 Project, Trump, STAMPED FROM THE BEGINNING is an essential read to gain a broad perspective of why racism and denial continues to embroil American Society and the body politic. Kendi’s research is absolutely all encompassing.

The book is enlightening and yet frightening, but despite history the author remains hopeful. “There will come a time when Americans will realize that the only thing wrong with black people is that they think something is wrong with black people.” “There will come a time when we fight for humanity, we are fighting for ourselves.”

THE GENERAL THEORY/ JOHN MAYNARD KEYNES/ A WARNING FROM 1936

The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money by renowned economist John Maynard Keynes is a powerful academic work.  No easy read and in parts a real struggle.  But if you have the  time and patience and wish to dig deep into the history of the devastating income inequality that is crippling America today you will find Keynes rewarding you with some answers.   His concerns and  predictions of unbridled capitalism formed before, during and after the Great Depression hit the target’s bullseye. Keynes’  forward thinking correctly  predicted that run-away Laissez-faire capitalism, without  enlightened government intervention, would create unsustainable income inequality.  Many of the 21st Century’s leading economists believe we have arrived at that juncture.

The subject of income in-equality is deeply rooted in America’s social structure.  It will become even more so as the nation deals with racial injustice, poverty, health care, housing and global warming. The beauty of The General Theory is that it treats the subject absent of polemics.

Appropriately, The General Theory is one of Prometheus Books Great Minds Series.

Search gordonsgoodreads for other works by John Maynard Keynes

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME/ TA-NEHISI COATES

TA NEHISI COATES, BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME . A letter to an adolescent son.  Not unlike  The Soul of Black Folks by W.E.B. Dubois. ( search gordonsgoodreads).  An extraordinarily powerful book. Toni Morrison is correct, “This is required Reading.”   Think of writing this to your own son or daughter:  At the onset of the Civil War, our stolen bodies were worth four billion dollars, more than all of America industry, all of American Railroads, workshops and factories combined.

BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME  could not be more relevant than in today’s discourse. The  messaging is profound, deep, touching and real.  The type of book that those who need to read it most likely will not.  Please choose yes and be enlightened.

THE DEFICIT MYTH/ A MUST READ FOR THE TIME

Stephenie Kelton’s book The DEFICIT MYTH, Modern Monetary Theory and the Birth of the People’s Economy explodes the economic myths that have been dictating the U.S. economy for generations.  The title speaks for itself and I could not recommend a more timely read to understand and explore a new approach for our economy to serve the needs of this generation. Kelton’s explodes  time honored “bromides:”   “We can’t afford it, We are mortgaging our children’s future, SS will go broke,”  ” If our generation continues to use the wrong lens, we will not make the right investments at the scale and pace needed to avert ever greater social and ecological crises.”

Kelton’s Modern Monetary Theory pushes the envelope of economic thought and the book is even more appropriate during the current pandemic and economic disaster.  Kelton advances MMT as new wave problem solving that ironically has its roots in 1936 with John Maynard Keynes.  A perfect read for the time for those who are looking for answers beyond the myths of current economic thinking.

This is an A List recommendation from GGR.

MY DEAR HAMILTON/GOOD READ BEFORE THE MOVIE OR SHOW

I recommend another very good “HAMILTON”  read in addition to Ron Chernow’s popular biography.  MY DEAR HAMILTON, A NOVEL OF ELIZA SCHUYLER HAMILTON by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie is an excellent work of well researched historical fiction. If you have not seen either the Broadway production or the movie HAMILTON read this novel first as a  guide through the nuances of the story line. Additionally, it is an excellent stand alone summer read offering insight not only insight into Eliza’s and Hamilton’s relationship and the Revolutionary War but also the life style of 18th century New York City and the wealthy Dutch plantations along the Hudson.

The entire cast is in the book: Eliza, Hamilton, Angelica, Washington, Burr, Lafayette, Madison, Monroe, Adams, Lauren’s, Jefferson,  King George, the Schuyler sisters and Hamilton children.  A painless, enjoyable lesson in American History.

Dray and Kamoie  also authored America’s First Daughter.

Another excellent Hamilton biography is ALEXANDER HAMILTON, A LIFE by Willard Sterne Randall.

A LONG PETAL TO THE SEA/ ISABEL ALLENDE

Novelist Isabel Allende in her new book A LONG PETAL OF THE SEA takes her readers on a journey beginning with the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s and ending in her native Chile.

Refugees from Franco’s takeover of Spain crowd over the French Border seeking asylum somewhere, anywhere. Poet-diplomat Pablo Neruda becomes a non-fiction co-narrator of the novel as the ship Winnipeg transports the disposed across the globe to his native Chile.

“Life is how we tell it” and so begins the story of lives lived and lost, loves of convenience and passion, glimpses of ruling classes, military juntas, Allende, Pinochet, escape to Venezuela and a return to the petal of the sea.

I have enjoyed Allende’s Daughter of Fortune, Island Beneath the Sea and The Japanese LoverA LONG PETEL OF THE SEA is no exception. (Search this blog.) Wherever you may find yourself this summer, Allende’s new book or any of the aforementioned will be good company.