World Order

(by H Kissinger) World Order is a knotty concept prone to interpretations of violent subjectivity.  On the one hand, we have the seers of doom, who see only a world in chaos and inevitable decline (e.g. Mark Steyn).  Farthest from this on the spectrum are the utopian promoters of one world governance (to whom one recommends an urgent reading of Thomas More). Along the way are those who deprecate the notion of order at all, preach heterogeneity and the cult of small-as-beautiful, the barrackers of old powers, cultists for the new such as the revived Middle Kingdom or ISIS, or…

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The Great Gatsby

Grave Fitzgeralds (Image courtesy of JayHenry)

(by F. Scott Fitzgerald) The Great American Novel is an absolute synthesis of all that’s great and rotten at the height of the Yankee century. America is so accomplished and competitive that one tends to overlook the result: a defeated majority.  Hence the American theme of ‘starting over’ in a different place, exemplified in the go-west mantra of the 1800s and the eastern push of the 20th century.  Gatsby emblematised this push, a doughboy made ‘good’ in the new desert of Dr T.J Eckleburg’s New York. Born 1896 in Minnesota, F.S.F. grew into a world of American hegemony but dreamed…

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Thirteen Days

(by Robert Kennedy) (film directed by Roger Donaldson) This matter-of-fact monograph of the Cuban missile crisis by a central figure is very readable and, considering it was probably whipped up ahead of RFK’s tilt at the Presidency, quite fair (note, by contrast, that in the vivid film of the same name, a key, in fact, critical adviser, Llewellyn ‘Tommy’ Thompson, an Eisenhower appointee, is nowhere to be seen). Kennedy needs and wields no purple prose: his writing is clear, taut and free of cant.  For a career politician, this is singular in itself; for an account of a moment on…

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Primary

(dir. D.A. Pennebaker) (1960) (Redux 2013) Very slight and grainy documentary by today’s standards. Clearly an outsider’s view, despite the intimacy of the footage. Hubert Humphrey was the only candidate heard discussing policy: hence you knew he was doomed.

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Parting the Waters

(by Taylor Branch) This is the first of a trilogy re American civil rights politics under the stewardship of Martin Luther King Jnr, covering the years 1954 to 1963, ending with the march on Washington and the death of JFK. This giant work is bigger than a mere bio of King and its scholarship and sheer mass of detail is leavened with clear and eloquent prose and mature reflection. No panegyric, this: King is treated as a human, remarkable though he was, and as the politician he surely was. A wonderful work that demands to be read and read again….

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