David Garrow’s book of the year

It’s that time of the year when respectable publications offer recommended reading for the coming year. You too can make a new year’s resolution to fill the gaps in your education.

One such source is the Wall Street Journal Review’s annual compilation of “Who Read What” (better this year than last). In its World (or American) edition The Spectator’s December issue performs a comparable service in “The Spectator’s 2023 Books of the year” (“Our writers weigh in”), featuring recommendations by Andrew Roberts and others. These are my comments on the Spectator writers’ recommendations.

I note that three of the Spectator contributors recommend Daniel Finkelstein’s Two Roads Home: Hitler, Stalin and the Miraculous Survival of My Family. Let us say that it comes highly recommended and sounds horribly timely.

Two of the contributors recommend Roger Lewis’s Erotic Vagrancy — Everything about Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, forthcoming on January 23 in the United States. According to Harry Mount, “This is an epic biography that reinvents the form.” According to Laura Thompson, the book “is a stupendous homage to those twin monoliths of sex and excess but also, beyond that, a hymn to the magic of cinema.” The book sounds like fun to me.

David Garrow also contributes to the Spectator round-up. I greatly respect his integrity as a scholar, biographer, and historian. He is a principled man of the left and perhaps the world’s foremost scholar on Martin Luther King and the FBI. I have found him to be a generous email correspondent as well.

Everything he writes is worth reading. Professor Garrow is the author, most recently, of Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (2017). This staggeringly researched book — Garrow spent nine years on it — covers 1078 pages of text (even though Garrow relegates his comments on Obama’s presidency to a 50-page epilogue). Rising Star is full of discoveries that Garrow documents in great detail. The 1078 pages of text are supported by 300 pages of footnotes in a double column with small print. Garrow puts every other biographer of Obama to shame.

This year, by the way, David Samuels interviewed Professor Garrow for the Tablet column “The Obama factor.” It might be the column of the year.

Professor Garrow recommends three 2023 books. He concludes with a choice that was off my radar: “[B]y far the most powerful tome I perused this year is a privately published 640-page Report on the Biden Laptop, authoritatively compiled by Garrett Ziegler and available on the web from his 501(c)3, ‘Marco Polo.’ It’s a transfixing window into the entire Biden family, and the scale of human depravity it relentlessly details is unforgettably disgusting.”

Coming from David Garrow, that is quite a recommendation. The book is accessible online for free at Report on the Biden Laptop

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