The year in reading

Scott has done a great job handling the year-end list department. But I thought I would add Tevi Troy’s discussion of his year of reading.

Tevi offers praise for two books about the 2012 presidential race — Mark Halperin’s Double Down and Dan Balz’s Collision 2012. As much as I respect Tevi, I’m going to pass on these two works The 2012 campaign was too painful, and I could never read a book called Double Down.

I do intend to read Peter Baker’s Days of Fire, for which Tevi offers high praise and which Scott also liked. It’s a history of the Bush presidency. Tevi served in the Bush administration, so his praise of the work of Baker, a mainstream media mainstay, carries extra weight.

Tevi has many more recommendations, so do read his entire piece.

As for my year in reading, Tevi’s own book What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweated holds a very high place. However, first place goes to Anthony Powell’s twelve volume masterpiece A Dance To The Music of Time, which I reread this year. It took me four years to read it the first time; this year I devoured the series in three months. Ah, the joys of retirement.

A good portion of my reading in 2013 was devoted to studying the years shortly before and after the end of the 19th century. The best novels I read from the period were Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence and Henry James’ Portrait of a Lady. I also very much enjoyed William Dean Howells’ The Rise of Silas Lapham, though I don’t think it’s great literature.

My favorite works of history dealing with the period were Jean Yarbrough’s Theodore Roosevelt and the American Political Tradition and All The Great Prizes, John Taliaferro’s biography of John Hay — both recent publications. I also recommend Easter in Kishinev, an account of the 1903 pogrom in what was then Russia and is now part of Moldova.

The latter part of 19th century American history is either ignored or derided (mostly the former) by most historians. Yet it was to this America that my grandparents and so many other Europeans flocked.

Pogroms like the one in Kishinev help explain why my grandparents wanted to emigrate, but why did they want to emigrate to America? And what kind of country did they find here? A country, it seems to me, that had much more going on that was positive than dismissive liberal historians care to admit.

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