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A very average take on Reagan

Several years ago, I attended an average lecture by an average left-wing college professor about his average book about the anything-but-average George Washington.

Chasing a narrow ideal of beauty

“It’s not my fault. So you can’t blame me.” No disclaimer is more suspect than this, the first line of Toni Morrison’s new novel “God Help the Child.” It’s the mantra of Sweetness, the light-skinned black mother of a midnight-dark daughter. “She embarrassed me,” she explains. She fantasized about killing her, but decided instead to be “strict, very strict.”

Mark Twain’s travelogues

If there has ever been a writer whose works speak for themselves — and for him — it is Mark Twain, and nowhere in his oeuvre is that as apparent as in his prodigious travel writings.

Blaming America for the Cold War

Should I feign surprise? Decades after communism collapsed into rubble, the blame-America crowd — ah, those “intellectuals” — remains determined to blame the Cold War on President Harry S. Truman and British Prime Minister Winston S. Churchill.

Two dynastic cousins and their ups and downs

Even though the United States fought the British in part over the supremacy of dynastic rule, American voters have been more than willing to elect multiple members of the same family to high office. While no Roosevelts have held office for some time, the family continues to cast a long shadow. They, along with the Adams, Bush and Harrison families, are the only ones to have each produced two presidents

What makes America exceptional

“Seminal” is not a word that fits many books, but it fits this one, for “American Beliefs” is both creative and original. It rests on a simple conclusion: This nation became one different from all others because of the nature of its earliest arrivals from Europe.

Fishing, hiking, sin and mystery

Lascivious old men of the world, unite. You have a new champion. Ever since becoming as well-known to AARP and Social Security as he is to his many readers, 77-year-old Jim Harrison, one of the finest American writers of the last half-century, has been featuring male protagonists who are past maturity, or, to be downright factual, old. And yet their amatory accomplishments are the stuff of young men’s dreams.

Related Articles

The Civil War and the generals who fought it

For serious historians of the Civil War, William C. Davis is the ultimate go-to source for reliable information on a conflict that spawned a staggering amount of mythology. He is the author of more than 50 books on the war and the South, and until recently was director of the Virginia Center for Civil War History at Virginia Tech.

Turning a negative into a positive

There's a popular narrative in U.S. politics these days. The Democrats dislike the Republicans. The Republicans dislike the Democrats. The American voter dislikes the Democrats and Republicans for what they've done, and still do, to politics and elections.

When sanctions work and when they don’t

At a time when once again, for the umpteenth time in postwar America, the imposition of economic sanctions and just how they should be applied is a hot-button topic in Washington's corridors of power, here comes this provocative book which seems to be telling us that using them is at best almost useless and at worst actually counterproductive.

Mariel Hemingway writes of painful family memories to help others cope with mental illness

- The Washington Times

Mariel Hemingway was only 6 years old when she learned how to mix cocktails and pour wine as a survival mechanism to keep her parents from arguing. In two new autobiographies, the California native and granddaughter of novelist Ernest Hemingway says she spent her childhood carefully navigating through a "minefield" of alcoholism, arguing, drug addiction, mental illness and suicide.

The little princess who could

Some people deserve to be remembered not because of any towering achievement, but simply because they did their best, sometimes rather clumsily, to make a positive contribution. Sophia Duleep Singh, daughter of the last maharajah of the Punjab, was such a person and Anita Anand's groundbreaking biography, thoroughly researched and written with considerable verve, does her subject full justice — and then some.

How spying shaped modernity

In the wake of the turbulent French Revolution at the turn of the 18th century, crowns rattled atop nervous royal heads throughout Europe. Was beheading monarchs going to become a new continental pastime? Would democratic forces sweep aside regimes whose only claim to "legitimacy" was heritage?

What we see and what we don’t see

Can something be both male and female, present and past, light and dark, alive and dead, in the real world and in a fantasy? These are just some of the questions that arise in Ali Smith's tantalizing new novel, "How to Be Both." In an interview with The New York Times, Ms. Smith explained, "The book was about observation and what we see and don't see when we look, and I had a notion that it should be about time." And so it is, very successfully.

Responding to the attack on Pearl Harbor

Unless you are now 80 or more years old, you could hardly be expected to have memories of those dark days after the attacks by Japanese forces on Pearl Harbor, the Philippines and the British, French and Dutch colonies in the Western Pacific.

A veiled critique of the one-child policy

In outline, Mo Yan's new novel, "Frog," sounds subversive enough: A jilted Chinese midwife turns agent of the state. She is relentless in her pursuit of women who have conceived "illegal" second children. She is pitiless in coercing them one and all into terminations.

Fantasy forged in an evanescent landscape

Few if any contemporary English novelists are more highly esteemed that Kazuo Ishiguro. Four of his novels have been nominated for the Man Booker Prize, and one — "The Remains of the Day" — won it (in 1989). It is the best known of his works, in part because it was made into a successful film starring Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson.

Will black Republicans ever be less lonely?

Frederick Douglass, the great writer, orator and abolitionist leader, was a trusted adviser to President Abraham Lincoln — and a black Republican. In an Aug. 15, 1888 letter, he famously wrote, "I recognize the Republican party as the sheet anchor of the colored man's political hopes and the ark of his safety."

Ornery H.L. Mencken loved baseball

As baseball season thunders down upon us — Go Nats! — let us pause to give loud huzzahs to the Library of America and the Washington writer Marion Elizabeth Rodgers, first for defying self-appointed literary censors, and also for revealing the hidden love of the national pastime by none other than Baltimore's famed scourge of bunkum, H.L. Mencken.