The EFM Feature

National Review Online does a regular book symposium where they ask some of their contributors to suggest what books to read this summer.
Here are the suggestions from David and me:
DAVID FRENCH

The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq
, by Bing West. This is easily the best book I’ve read about the Iraq War. Political histories of the war, which see the crucial decisions as all having come from Washington or from the (relatively) safe havens in the Green Zone, ignore a reality that West cannot and will not: that strategy matters, but even the best strategies only succeed when applied creatively and courageously by young soldiers and Marines province by province, city by city, and sometimes block by block. West keeps one eye focused on the generals and another eye focused on the troops on the line to describe the war as I experienced it during my recent tour in Diyala Province with the 2d Squadron, 3d Armored Cavalry Regiment. Counterinsurgencies in multi-ethnic, sectarian countries require an enormous amount of flexibility and autonomy at the local level, and West is right to pull back from the big picture to show how battalion commanders, company commanders, and platoon leaders fought (and won) the fight in their own sectors.
The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America, by Walter R. Borneman. Moving from America’s latest war to arguably its first real war as a distinct people, The French and Indian War shows how close we came to following a distinctly different (think French-focused) path. Perhaps the most interesting part of this book is its description of the various Native American tribes not as pawns in a European struggle but as significant power players in their own right, capable of tipping the balance of power — especially early in the conflict. America’s transformation from a series of tiny, struggling colonies to continental power to superpower seems inevitable only in hindsight. As events played out in real time, our history was — to paraphrase Lord Wellington — a near-run thing.
The Rule of Two (Star Wars: Darth Bane, Book 2), by Drew Karpyshyn. I hesitate to let my geek flag fly, but this is NRO, and Jonah has made it a safe space for sci-fi fans everywhere. If you’re like me, and you finished the Star Wars prequels with the nagging feeling that the rebel alliance you unconditionally loved as a youth was — at the end of the day — fighting for nothing more than the re-imposition of a vast EU-style galactic bureaucracy, then this is the book for you. This book (along with the first in the Darth Bane series), traces the “modern” rise of the Sith and casts the Jedi as a sometimes-vainglorious lightsaber-wielding techno-elite. The Jedi command you to deny your human nature (or lose your head), while the Sith go all the way in the other direction and indulge their every desire — so long as it accrues to their advantage. Can’t anyone in the galaxy embrace ordered liberty?
NANCY FRENCH
When my neighborhood book club finally finished reading Les Miserables, we bought T-shirts with Jean Val Jean’s prison number to commemorate the experience and breathed a sigh of relief. So I almost spit out my coffee when someone suggested our next book, The Solzhenitsyn Reader: New and Essential Writings, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. At 633 pages, it took me a while to crack it open. But when I did, I found it was chocked full of poems, short stories, essays, and speeches, as well as excerpts of novels, memoirs, political analyses, and historical masterpieces. Solzhenitsyn is known for the Gulag Archipelago — which is excerpted — but this book contains lesser-known pieces, such as his autobiographical poem “The Trail,” secretly written in the labor camp without the benefit of paper. Also included is his famous Harvard address, a jewel of a short story called “Matryona’s Home,” along with countless other poignant, powerful pieces. New in paperback, more than one-quarter of the book’s material has never before appeared in English. Rick Brookhiser put it best when he wrote, “Reagan and Thatcher ruled states, the Pope ruled a church. Solzhenitsyn had his pen.”

Think Britney Spears, peer pressure, and Twitter are making modern kids sullen, detached, and generally rotten? Think again. Richard Weissbourd’s book about modern parenting trends places the responsibility for kids’ moral well-being squarely where it belongs — on the parents. In his book, The Parents We Mean To Be: How Well-Intentioned Adults Undermine Children’s Moral and Emotional Development, the lecturer at the Harvard Graduate School of Education talks about popular parenting techniques such as being “positive parents,” focusing on self-esteem, and praising our kids excessively.
And the shock is? He’s against these things.
Weissbourd’s countercultural parenting advice suggests that parents’ intense focus on their children’s happiness actually makes kids less happy, that excessive praise stunts character development, and that “over-parenting” can turn children into “fragile conformists. Additionally, he challenges the “self-esteem” craze — the belief that if parents bolster their kids’ sense of self, they’ll invariably turn out to be good people. This is the first time in history that people have succumbed to this backwards idea about morality and explains that bullies, delinquents, and gang leaders often have the highest self-esteem.
I was fully prepared to read his book to figure out why other people’s kids were throwing popcorn in the movie theater, but every chapter challenged my own parenting.
It’s a meddlesome book, in other words. One you should definitely pick up.


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