In the Stacks, July 31, 2012

By Duane Shank 7-31-2012
Photo by Tischenko Irina/
Photo by Tischenko Irina/

Among my must reads are the Sunday New York Times Book Review and other book reviews I come across in various media outlets. There are too many books being published that I would love to read, but just don’t have the time. So, I rely on reading book reviews as one way of keeping in touch with what’s being written. 

Here are my picks in this week’s books of interest:

‘The Obamians’

By James Mann, Reviewed by Leslie H. Gelb

Introducing the new Democratic foreign policy elite.

"This book gives us the story of the new Democratic foreign policy elite, mostly obscure Washingtonians raised up by President Obama to be his loyalists, along with a few luminaries to protect him politically. The people at the inner core need to be more widely known because they will hover for decades to tutor future Democratic leaders and hound Republicans. The most trusted of them occupy key slots on the National Security Council staff, while the next tier fill top positions in the Defense and State Departments. They are centrists, not ideologues like the neoconservative Republicans who preceded them. Strikingly, however, they do not cling religiously to the middle ground come what may. Rather, they regard the center as a jumping-off point for complicated and often contradictory positions. In “The Obamians,” James Mann tells us who they are, what they think and how they use power."

A House Divided

DO NOT ASK WHAT GOOD WE DO: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives

By Robert Draper

IT’S EVEN WORSE THAN IT LOOKS: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism

By Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein.

Reviewed by Michael Crowley

"Two new books explore the radical politics of the 2010 Tea Party freshmen.

The ferocious Republican opposition to Obama’s agenda, Draper says, inflicted real damage to his presidency. At the same time, Draper shows the startling speed with which these conservative revolutionaries grew frustrated and disillusioned. Almost immediately upon arrival, they learned that their own party’s leaders thought the huge budget cuts on which they campaigned were unrealistic. At one point the House majority whip, Kevin McCarthy, explained to them that politics is like baseball. You can’t always swing for the fences, he said. “Sometimes you bunt.” But the freshmen considered themselves sluggers."

"Freshman year may have left the Republican class of 2010 feeling stymied. But Thomas E. Mann and Norman J. Ornstein contend that they’ve already changed Washington — disastrously so. “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks” argues that the debt limit fight revealed a crisis-level dysfunction in our political culture that has left Washington paralyzed and unable to address America’s urgent problems. "

‘The New Religious Intolerance’

By Martha C. Nussbaum, Reviewed by Damon Linker

When it comes to religious toleration, the United States has a thing or two to teach Europe, Martha C. Nussbaum shows.

"Nussbaum is one of America’s leading liberal thinkers. In “The New Religious Intolerance,” she turns her attention to the rise of antireligious — and specifically anti-Muslim — zealotry since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Though she writes in her opening chapter that intolerance disfigures “all Western societies,” it quickly becomes clear that there have been far fewer incidents of bigotry in the United States than in Europe — because of America’s vastly superior approach to guaranteeing the rights of religious minorities. When it comes to freedom to worship, at least, Nussbaum is an unabashed proponent of American exceptionalism."

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