Years ago, in college, perhaps the best teacher I ever had —a man who, ironically, never got tenure and thus was stuck as an adjunct teaching “survey” classes on the history of the American Civil War to confused college students— told me that I would NEVER be able to understand the soul of America in the 1850s, or the minds of the Americans who went to war in the 1860s, without reading the New Testament and the heart wrenching classic, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Those two books were the two books the average American soldier who bled at Chickamauga or Gettysburg were most likely to have read. A hundred and fifty years later they are still a window into the souls of men and women who lived and died more than a century ago.
Dr. Mark taught me to love history by looking at history in a humble way. Trying to figure out what inspired people, rather than memorizing dates and places or reading the hashed over post-modernist monographs of people publishing in an effort to get tenure.
We should all be lucky enough to have a Dr. Mark in our lives. I fell in love with history that semester. An invisible student in the back of the class. Sadly, we have an educational system where whether or not you love history, or love America, depends on luck. Most people aren’t lucky enough to encounter a Dr. Mark when we need him.
But the books are there for everyone, if you know where to look.
In 2021 we need inspiration. We need courage. We need to turn off the television and tune out the podcasts and cool it with the daily e-mail feed and focus on the topics that matter. Maybe we even need to take another look at the classics.
It takes courage to focus on what matters. It takes time too… but learning to fall in love with history can give us a sense of perspective that makes the current day, and the future, seem less scary.
And thus, for courage, for perspective, for the love of America and in a desperate need to connect and reconnect and take a long heartfelt look at some serious topics, the idea of the Marin Republican Women’s bookclub was born.
This is also, of course, a rather personal list. But it includes both classics, books that SHOULD be classics, and controversial modern on topic books. We think this list reflects what it truly means to be human, most of all, it reflects the problems we face as individuals and Americans.
“Nineteen Eighty Four” by George Orwell. Orwell wasn’t even the author’s birth name, but that doesn’t really matter. Like many of us, Eric Arthur Blair, made his own way in a world where he was never expected to succeed. A wildly talented author, “Orwell” began his writing career when the sun never set on the British Lion. He grew up in the age of Empires and witnessed too many wars, but he always focused on the individual even as his writing increasingly focused on the horrors of totalitarian regimes. A man of the “Left,” he spent the last years of his life writing heart wrenching dystopian novels warning of the dangers of soulless and tyrannical “utopias.” If you have ever heard the phrases “some animals are more equal than others” or “Big Brother is Watching” you have encountered the faint shadow of Orwell’s greatest works. By the end of the Second World War Orwell knew he was dying. Nineteen-Eighty-Four is a poignant horror novel first published in 1949 and never out of print since. It depicts a fictional —or maybe not so fictional— future world where hate is love and war is peace and freedom of thought is dangerous even in the huddled recesses of the tragic hero’s own mind. Wonder where “cancel culture” came
from? “Historical revisionism”? “Fake News”? Orwell predicted it all. Read it and be afraid.“
"Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s” by Frederick Lewis Allen. This book is nearly ninety years old, and hasn’t been out of print since 1931. If you think a book that is nearly a century old is too old and fusty to read today, think again. In many ways this is a book that is both tragic and inspirational. Written as the world spiraled into the Great Depression it is a “history” of the 1920s written as the decade had barely closed. It is important because of what it is NOT. Realistically, we should assume the world would have spiraled into depression and despair after the end of the Great War (aka the First World War or the “War to End All Wars”). People had weathered the hell of war and the despair of a global pandemic. Tens of millions had died. But, post war America chose a different path, because post war Americans chose to embrace life and chase happiness. As is the case with most bookclubs, the Marin Republican Women’s bookclub is mainly female (we do have male associates however) and thus “Only Yesterday” is important to us because the decade of the 1920s was the decade American women first truly marched into the work sphere and the political sphere. Now, in the 2020s, it may be more important than ever to remember what the world was like when women first roared.
“The Future Once Happened Here: The Fate of American Cities” by Fred Siegel. The Future Once Happened Here is an autopsy of sorts of the failed policies of the leadership of three American cities from the 1960s on. Siegel’s book is one of those books we should probably list as a “modern” classic. Twenty years old now, you can buy a used copy online. Dive deep into it and it is, in many ways, the second chapter to “Only Yesterday”… it is the sad coda to the optimism of America’s roaring cities of the 1920s. It is the tale of predictable and repetitive bureaucratic disasters and policy fails. Siegel lays out the economic impulses and intellectual orthodoxies that turned the glitter of hope into the grime of grinding failure in America’s greatest cities. This is a story of the built in collapse, in a political sense, of America’s cities from the 1960s through the present day. It should be mandatory reading for anyone who wants to know why we spend more money than ever before on “social programs” but genuinely have collapsing societies in our once great cities.
“Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” by Abigail Shrier. This seems like an odd segue from the bleak, officially sex-less world of Ninety-Eighty-Four, but maybe this is the perfect “modern” book to confront the odd reality of the 2020s. The author, Abigail Shrier, was one of the first mainstream authors to face a modern “cancel culture” mob of “liberal” identifying social media wolves intent on silencing her uncomfortable work. Despite that, Irreversible Damage has become a surprise best seller. We may live in a selfish age, but at heart we all care about children more than we care about ourselves. We recognize the vulnerability of children and teenagers. Physically, legally and emotionally teenagers are far too easy to victimize even as they are eager to spread their metaphorical wings. Abigail Shrier had the courage to do something few conservatives have had the courage to do for nearly thirty years; she confronts a trending “social craze” head on. And she does so with facts, dignity and compassion. We should all have the courage to read Ms. Shrier’s book and confront the crisis that teenage girls are confronting today. That crisis, shockingly, is the “censorship” and “cancel culture” that is coming for womanhood.
“Dopesick” by Beth Macy. We don’t even bother using the phrase “war on drugs” anymore. Conservatives don’t like the phrase because they figure it isn’t a good “message” to reach the pot smoking contingent. However, it is cold eyed and soulless political realpolitik to try and trade away reality for 4 points in a state wide election. Sadly while everyone who can has been looking away the illicit drug trade has been stealing the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans. If you aren’t related to someone, or don’t know someone, who overdosed in the last few years you are probably very lucky, or very unaware. My neighbor’s son died of an overdose just before Christmas. He’d been using since he was a teenager. Each death is a tragedy, but the statistics are a nightmare. On average every year for the past 8 years more Americans have died of overdoses than died during the Vietnam War. Imagine a dozen black walls like “the Wall” in DC and you will begin to see the scope of this nightmare. Sometimes a problem is so big we don’t know how it evolved. Beth Macy as an author confronts the oxy-heroin-fentanyl epidemic head on by tracing the lives of a handful of fairly ordinary American teenagers who got hooked in the early 2000s and died by pieces over the course of a decade. This is a story about big money, unaware parents, a disinterested society, and designer narcotics that are cheaper and easier to get than ever before. We should all read this book so that we can begin to confront the now “forever” crisis that is murdering hundreds of thousands of Americans and damaging millions of American families.
“Detroit: An American Autopsy” by Charlie LeDuff. We’ve read about the drug epidemic, social contagion and the decline of both American culture and American cities from both a cultural and a political perspective. Detroit, once America’s richest and most middle class city is today the epitome of the dying post-industrial urban disaster zone. Charlie LeDuff is a native son of the greater Detroit area, and a writer who is, frankly, too smart for the New York Times. So he turned down the elite jobs and went home to Detroit a couple of years ago to write this tragic modern day masterpiece of reportage. LeDuff may truly be one of America’s greatest living writers. Too often a “great topic” attracts, at best, a mediocre writer. The tragic opera of Detroit has attracted Charlie LeDuff to write the autopsy. The least we can do is write about a once great working class industrial city in an era when our elite are busy talking about a post-industrial landscape. Guess what? Detroit is the post-industrial landscape. Maybe the lesson of Detroit should teach us to have some commitment to buying American made products. “Economic Warfare” is real. Detroit is one of the victims of a battle we refused to acknowledge we were fighting.
“Warning Order: China Prepares for Conflict & Why We Must Do the Same” edited by Fred Fleitz. This is a book that by its very existence answers the question that anyone rational asks when confronted by modern day Detroit. If we lost the economic war, if we let our industries be murdered, if we allowed millions of Americans to lose all hope of decent paying jobs on the assembly line —maybe not “cool” or “woke” jobs, but decent paying enough to have a house, a family and a vacation— who won? Well… China won. Maybe there are some members of the coastal elite who feel like they won too. But the bigger question is, who will win the NEXT war? And can the United States afford to remain oblivious and in denial? This is an anthology of pieces written over the past twenty or so years. No longer a new book, but more relevant today than ever before.
“The Revolt Against the Masses” by Fred Siegel. So… what has the point of it all been? Why have we allowed a drug epidemic to grow and rage for twenty plus years? Why did we allow the city of Detroit, and American manufacturing in general, go into a half century of decline? Why have we allowed a media to rise that is addicted to creating narratives rather than reporting news? Why don’t we hold the “caring professions” of social work and teaching accountable? Millions of people take to the streets to protest the “police” if there is a questionable death in custody, but we have allowed incompetent Progressive social workers to fail to “serve” the community in any meaningful way for half a century. Fred Siegel has a lot of facts, a depth of knowledge you won’t find on a youtube video, and a sense of history that gives a solid rooted weight to his words. The reality is that for at least a century the “liberal elite” or the “Progressive activists” combined with the “ivory tower academics” have genuinely despised the blue collar workers, middle class strivers, the savers, the small independent business people and the rural agriculturalists who have traditionally made our economy tick and our culture have vibrancy. And so… they laughed at America, and celebrated every oxycontin death that impacted “flyover country.” This book explains the rooted cultural disdain that is part of the new class war of America, and explains it in a way that lays out all the facts.
“The Beards’ Basic History of the United States” by Charles and Mary Beard. Charles and Mary Beard were one of the great academic and literary marriages of the twentieth century. They were titans of the historical academic world. They literally wrote the book on American history among many other books. Conservatives spend a lot of time attempting to apply political litmus tests to authors and then getting disappointed when an author is a “RINO”… Frankly, history should be about history, not the packaging. I don’t care about the Beards’ politics, I care that they loved America enough to write what is still probably one of the best basic histories of the United States. This is a readable book, user friendly. A college student can read it, or a parent can read it to a precocious five year old. A classic should be for all ages. This is the sort of classic we should all own, read, and keep on our bookshelves. Remember, wikipedia is not your friend. The internet is fake. Search engines show you what the tech titans ALLOW you to see. The Beards wrote about America, the good, the bad and the inspiring. We live in an era of toppling statues and libraries being stripped of “controversy” even as curricula is being gutted of inspiration. American history is complicated. The Beards’ will give you a good basis. Make you fall in love with what matters about America. Reacquaint you with some of our worse days, and perhaps inspire you to understand that we can and have overcome worse. This is a book every American should own, and every American should read at least once a decade.
“Suburban Warriors” by Lisa McGirr. Ok you wonder, after one of the best and most readable serious history books of the twentieth century why oh why are we reading an “ivory tower” twentieth century publish-to-get tenure academic tome? Easy, the topic is something we should confront. The Beards published their great book before the end of WWII and before the blossoming of post war suburbia. Lisa McGirr is a modern academic who probably would genuinely fear being associated with a “conservative” book list. But, as a research topic she chose the fascinating world of suburban Orange County, California, conservative politics in the late 1950s and early ‘60s, notably the Goldwater primary campaign. Historians, rightly, see the Goldwater campaign as a disaster for the Republican Party. (Barry Goldwater got crushed in the general election.) But something very special happened in Orange County during the Goldwater primary; those years truly witnessed the renaissance of the “modern” conservative grassroots. The activists of Orange County may have helped push Goldwater onto the national stage and then towards an epic national defeat. But less than fifteen years later those self same activists got Reagan elected. The Reagan campaign, the Reagan presidency, was born in the cauldron of Orange County Goldwater activism of the early ‘60s. This is a serious book about the kitchen table activists who licked their wounds off after defeat, buckled down for a decade of hard work, and triumphed. It is worth a read just to learn the story.
“The Right Women; A Journey Through the Heart of Conservative America” by Elinor Burkett. Once again this is a book ABOUT conservatives written by someone who probably didn’t much like conservatives, or only liked them in spite of her elite desire to despise them. But this book is important because of the subject matter. Written in the 1990s it is a good follow up to the tale of the 1960s era suburban housewives who got political. This is a story of the 1980s and ‘90s era generation of political women who chose conservatism as their battle, and probably took the Republican Party in a direction the elite did not want. To borrow a phrase from the left however, the ladies resisted and persisted, and they won. Now it is time to take another look at what worked, what didn’t and what we want to do.
“Digging For Mrs Miller" by John Strachey. We began our year of must-read and must-own books with a classic, “Nineteen-Eighty-Four.” It is only appropriate that we end the year with another classic that should never be forgotten. George Orwell wrote his dystopian horror novel in the aftermath of the Second World War, Strachey wrote this oddly heartfelt and inspiring novel -mainly based on things he experienced as he was writing this book— during the darkest days of the London Blitz. Like Orwell, Strachey was what you might call a literary man of the Left. Like Orwell, Strachey had become increasingly horrified by BOTH Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin in the lead up to the invasion of Poland. Already middle aged during the Blitz, Strachey’s book is about the people on the ground in London as the bombs fall. From a political point of view this is the perfect companion to Nineteen-Eighty-Four because, while Orwell warned about a future of total war, crushed individuality and endless hate, Strachey writes about the humanity of civilians on the ground from all walks of life coming together to work together to put out the fires, dig through the rubble to rescue the living and gather the dead, and keep a candle of civilization alive in the dark of a bomb shelter. If Orwell warned us of a hopeless future, Strachey wrote about the hope all people of courage and decency carry within them regardless of how dark and dangerous the world is. If you read Orwell you must read Strachey for your own peace of mind. We may not live in peaceful times, but with courage and strength we can endure and triumph.