The year in books

In 2004, I read more books than I have in a long time. Three stand out in my mind for the attention they deserved but failed to receive and the pleasure I took in reading them.
Gerald Eskenazi covered sports for the New York Times for almost 50 years. Along the way he wrote biographies of Bill Veeck and Leo Durocher as well as as-told-to autobiographies of Carl Yastrzemski and Willie Mays. From his perch at the Times Eskenazi has covered just about every noteworthy sports story of the past 50 years.
Now Eskenazi has written his very own (!) autobiography, A Sportswriter’s Life: From the Desk of a New York Times Reporter. The book tells the great, all-American story of a second generation American who lived out his wildest adolescent professional dreams. Eskenazi’s book reminded me of the criterion Holden Caulfield applied to measure the quality of books in The Catcher in the Rye — does the book make you want to call the author and talk to him? The book scores a ten out of ten on the Caulfield Index.
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Eskenazi covered the 1980 Olympics, where he met up with Herb Brooks. When the film “Miracle” was released earlier this year, the Wall Street Journal published Eskenazi’s column on his 1980 encounter with Brooks. It’s the best short profile of Brooks I have ever read. (Click here for my post on Eskenazi’s column on Brooks with a link to the column.)
Having written the profile for a newspaper with a circulation of a million, Eskenazi surprised me when he emailed his thanks for our mention of the column on Power Line. As for the book, I finished it while sick in bed this past spring, simultaneously laughing, crying, and coughing.
Jeremy Rabkin is professor of government at Cornell Universiy. He is also the only such scholar I know of who has thought through the peril to constitutional government posed by international institutions such as the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. I believe that Professor Rabkin’s timely restatement of The Case for Sovereignty: Why the World Should Welcome American Independence is one of the few books published last year that met an unfilled intelllectual need.
In the Wall Street Journal last summer, Professor Rabkin used the decision of the International Court of Justice at the Hague on Israel’s West Bank security fence to illustrate his concerns regarding the attack on sovereignty: “Lawfare.” The column’s title pays tribute to the thesis that international institutions have become the tool of parties warring against free countries.
In a 14-1 advisory opinion, the ICJ ruled that Israel’s security fence violated international law. Professor Rabkin devoted most of his column to a lucid explanation of the sinister procedural shenanigans that produced the court’s ruling. On the substace of the ICJ opinion, Rabkin wrote:

The terror war against Israel, launched in the summer of 2000, has by now resulted in the deaths of nearly a thousand Israeli civilians. The security fence, by greatly impeding the movement of would-be terrorists into Israel, has helped to achieve a sharp decline in terror attacks over the past year. Nonetheless, the ICJ admonished that the nations of the world are obligated, not to pressure Palestinians to abandon terrorism, but to pressure Israel to dismantle its security fence.
Most of the Court’s reasoning, based on arguments advanced by British barristers, is superficially plausible — so long as one ignores the actual political context of the dispute. Perhaps the Children’s Rights Convention or the Fourth Geneva Convention do provide arguments against disrupting the free movement of innocent Palestinians. But the arguments are more plausible if one ignores the terror threat to Israeli lives, as the Court essentially does. In concluding that the fence sits on “occupied territory,” the Court assumes that the armistice lines of 1949 are Israel’s final borders, though never accepted as such by Israel’s neighbors. In concluding that Israel cannot undertake intrusive measures to protect “illegal settlements,” the Court assumes that Jews had no claim to return to places, like the Old City of Jerusalem, from which they were forcibly expelled by Arab armies in 1949…
In effect, the ICJ now claims that countries beset by terrorism must ignore terror threats and focus on the Court’s priorities. It is a dangerous precedent for the U.S., which has often contended for interpretations of its rights, under international law, that a majority of U.N. members might dispute. To those who argue that the U.S. should join the new International Criminal Court, because that new court will be moderated in its rulings by the influence of European members, this ruling of an older U.N. court should be sobering.
The ruling raises still broader questions about the U.N.’s capacity to contribute to any serious international effort against terrorism. Even U.N. judges, we now see, have other priorities.

Finally, the most politically incorrect book of 2004 deserves recognition both for its courage and its intellectual distinction. In Taking Sex Differences Seriously, University of Virginia Professor Steven Rhoads summarized the voluminous social science research marking the natural psychological and behavioral differences between men and women. As the father of three daughters, I read the book with feelings of gratitude and relief. As a fan of the Roman poet Horace, I read the book with Horace’s famous observation regarding the consequences of driving out nature with a pitchfork constantly in mind (Epistle 1.10: “You may drive out Nature with a pitchfork, yet she will ever hurry back, and, ere you know it, will burst through your foolish contempt in triumph”).

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