The National Book Awards 2008

This year’s National Book Award winners were celebrated at the awards ceremony in New York on Wednesday evening. Insofar as the nonfiction category is concerned, the awards demonstrate the dominance of the left over the awards. The AP provided an almost comic account of the herd of independent minds at play in mid-town Manhattan during the awards ceremony:

The economy inspired nervous laughter; the name Barack Obama happy, relieved applause. [Awards host Eric] Bogosian called the bookish president-elect, “in the broadest sense of the word, a reader.” Noting that Obama has been openly influenced by Doris Kearns Goodwin’s Lincoln biography, Team of Rivals, Bogosian commented, “That’s just so cool.”

Honorary award winner Maxine Hong Kingston, who, like Obama, spent many years in Hawaii, praised his way of “putting things right by talking them through.” Fellow honorary winner Barney Rosset, the publisher and literary agitator, called Obama “a dynamic leader,” a miracle. Declared the 86-year-old Rosset, who walked gamely to the podium, with a cane, but grinned boldly: “For the first time in recent memory I am not thinking of renouncing my American passport.”

Obama also starred in the acceptance speeches of the nonfiction winner, [Annette] Gordon-Reed, and poetry winner Mark Doty, who cited the election and his recent marriage to his male partner: “We are on a path to equality for all Americans and nothing is going to turn us back.”

Barney Rosset, incidentally, is probably best known to readers of my age as the proprietor of Grove Books. Grove’s backlist included such monuments to high culture as Tropic of Cancer, The Story of O, Lady Chatterly’s Lover and what the New York Times cites as “a very profitable line of Victorian spanking pornography.” At the awards ceremony he received the National Book Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in honor of his many contributions to American publishing. Congratulations are in order, I guess.

In the nonfiction category the judges chose Annette Gordon-Reed’s The Hemingses of Monticello: An American Family as the winner in a group that also included the following nominees:

Drew Gilpin Faust, This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War

Jane Mayer, The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned into a War on American Ideals

Jim Sheeler, Final Salute: A Story of Unfinished Lives

Joan Wickersham, The Suicide Index: Putting My Father’s Death in Order

Interviews with the authors of the books and other information about them are accessible here. I haven’t read any of the books and have nothing to say about any one of them in particular. Many books worthy of recognition published so far this year are not on the list, however, including several I have read. I am quite confident that their omission has nothing to do with their considerable merits, but rather everything to do with their heterodox points of view:

James Rosen, The Strong Man: John Mitchell and the Secrets of Watergate

Jonah Goldberg, Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left from Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning

Douglas Feith, War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism

Andrew McCarthy, Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad

To the list of books I have read I would add one I haven’t, but am confident it is also deserving of recognition as one of this year’s best: Bing West, The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq. And the publication of any book by David Hackett Fischer is an event. His Champlain’s Dream: The European Founding of North America was published on October 14, perhaps too late for consideration this year. Finally, deserving of honorable mention is David Horowitz and Ben Johnson, Party of Defeat.

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