The hard-working staff here at Spoiler Alerts is taking the rest of the year off. If you want my take on Jim Mattis’s resignation as defense secretary, watch my Bloggingheads dialogue with Heather Hurlburt. If you want to keep track of the #ToddlerinChief thread, check Twitter. I am going on vacation.
My wife likes to joke that the only difference between me at work and me on vacation is that I read a different stack of books. Even that exaggerates the distinction at times, because I read far more nonfiction than fiction while on vacation. I do not say this to brag or suggest any superiority in that choice. My preference might be the calcifying of habit, me trying to fortify my knowledge base against the decay of time, or some more optimistic reason that currently escapes me.
Whatever the reason, here are three books I recommend perusing this holiday break, and if your brain is hard-wired like mine, maybe you will find these books of interest to you as well.
Sarah Kreps, Taxing Wars: The American Way of War Finance And the Decline of Democracy. The Kantian logic that republics are more pacific is based on the idea that a citizenry will be reluctant to sacrifice blood and treasure for frivolous wars. One can argue that the shift from conscripted to volunteer militaries has reduced the reluctance among the citizens who know they will never have to fight. Kreps tackles the treasure part of this equation, and reaches some sobering conclusions. She argues, persuasively, that the American way of war financing has shifted. In the past, the United States applied wartime taxes that demanded sacrifice from all Americans. From the Korean War onward, however, the United States has borrowed rather than taxed. As the debates about America’s forever wars bubble to the surface, Kreps’s history of war finance offers up a sobering reminder that the sacrifices of armed conflict now are not what they used to be.
Michael Lewis, The Fifth Risk. Michael Lewis is such a good writer that he made a book about baseball statistics gripping enough to be turned into a film starring Brad Pitt. There is no better author to make the federal bureaucracy an exciting read. “The Fifth Risk” addresses how the transition between the Obama and Trump administration presaged the mix of incompetence and ideology that President Trump’s appointees brought to places such as the Energy Department, the Agriculture Department and the Commerce Department. I challenge those of you who believe that none of these agencies do anything important to read the book and try to maintain that conviction. Furthermore, what Lewis writes about in “The Fifth Risk” tracks exactly what I and others have observed in the national security/foreign policy agencies.
Jill Lepore, These Truths: A History of the United States. If a genie granted me some wishes, one of them would be to write as cleanly and carefully as Jill Lepore. This is the general history of the United States that you both want and need. Lepore is your dream tour guide to navigate the shining moments and the worst warts of this country’s past. Buy and read this book.
See you all in 2019!