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How the American political system has fallen prey to corruption

George Washington Plunkitt, a functionary in the tentacular Tammany Hall machine of Gilded Age New York, wrote in the 19th century about his approach to “honest graft” in politics: “I seen my opportunities, and I took ‘em.”

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.

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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.

‘A call to action for the 46 states that know better’

William Bennett, who served as secretary of education under Ronald Reagan and director of national drug control policy (or drug czar) under George H.W. Bush, has long been known for his strong and clear articulation of conservative principles in a number of best-selling books, among them "The Book of Virtues."

Vive la difference

Like family traits, national characteristics may evolve or dilute over the generations, but they never really go away. As with family DNA, national DNA is reinforced by attitudes, traditions and surroundings — nature working hand in hand with nurture. This is especially true in countries with long-standing national and linguistic unity and a strong sense of cultural identity.

Finding a killer driven by ‘nuclear rage’

The investigating team of Alex Delaware and Milo Sturgis is coping with unsolved "cold cases" and an ice-cold killer in this crafty and cleverly plotted mystery.

Celebrating family love and national pride

For those of us who thrilled to the movie made of Rodgers and Hammerstein's last Broadway collaboration, "The Sound of Music," it is hard to believe that a half-century has passed since it claimed its unique place in American film.

The politics that surrounded the sinking of the Lusitania

A lawyer friend of mine routinely asks a question when preparing the defense of white-collar clients accused of high-dollar crimes: "What were you thinking?" The question comes to mind often when reading Erik Larson's harrowing and intriguing resurrection of the infamous but misremembered sinking of the British liner Lusitania by a German submarine, the 1915 catastrophe that did not trigger America's entry into World War I.

How Ronald Reagan countered a nuclear threat

Life and professional partners, the Andersons completed this, their last book together, not long before Martin passed away. It is a model of careful research and clear writing and a tribute to a man, Ronald Reagan, whose vision of a world without nuclear weapons and his determination to bring it about led to the end of the Cold War.

Louis Zamperini gestures during a news conference Friday May 9, 2014 in Pasadena, Calif. Ninety-seven-year-old World War II hero and former Olympian, Zamperini has been named grand marshal of the 2015 Rose Parade.(AP Photo/Nick Ut)

'Legacy of Faith' bonus tells the rest of the story of the 'unbroken' Louis Zamperini

- The Washington Times

The first three acts of Louis Zamperini's life were captured in "Unbroken," the blockbuster film that covered Zamperini's childhood, his track star years and the harrowing experiences of being lost at sea for nearly seven weeks and then sent to a Japanese prison camp. The next important chapters of his life are now available in "Legacy of Faith," a special edition bonus disc included with Tuesday's home release of "Unbroken" on Blu-ray and DVD.

A tangled Middle East after World War I

For obvious reasons, most English-language books published on the Great War of 1914-1918 are Eurocentric, focused on the grinding trench warfare of the Western Front. Even the occasional glances eastward seldom got beyond the Gallipoli campaign, and even these accounts stressed the role of Australian and New Zealander troops, not the Middle Eastern armies.

Collaborating with Billy Wilder

Charles Brackett was the writing partner of legendary Hollywood movie director Billy Wilder. Their productive, brilliant and sometimes combative collaboration during a 14-year period produced such masterpieces as the "Lost Weekend" (1945) and "Sunset Blvd" (1950) — iconic and award-winning movies of Hollywood's Golden Age.

Abraham Lincoln: A man of his words

Most presidents are defined by what happened while they were in office and what others write about them afterward. Few paint enduring self-portraits in their own words. In the 20th century, only Franklin Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan embedded themselves in history largely through their living words and images — FDR via radio and film, Reagan using television as well

Revisiting their Waterloo

As Napoleon Bonaparte's troops assembled for battle outside the Belgian village of Waterloo in June 1815, the deposed French emperor spoke scornfully of the opposing British commander and his soldiers: "I tell you that [the Duke of] Wellington is a bad general and the English are bad troops. The whole affair will be no more serious than swallowing one's breakfast!"

Understanding the heir to the throne

Time magazine journalist Catherine Mayer is an experienced observer and chronicler of Britain's royal family. In the course of several cover stories on Queen Elizabeth II and her family, she has traveled with and — to the extent that any journalist can — interacted with them. But for this book, she had to walk a tightrope in order to gain sufficient access to the enigmatic and unpredictable heir to the throne, while still maintaining her objectivity and, consequently, her all-important credibility

When the factory jobs went to Mexico

As children, we rarely called it "Maytag." It was simply known as "The Factory." Back in the 1970s, my buddy Shawn would point a finger at the giant refrigerator plant on the edge of Galesburg, Ill., and say, "My dad works there." It was a point of pride in our small town. Those were good jobs.

Hlynsky Book jacket

Revisiting the privations of the Soviet world

This is one of those books which affirm the occasional power of images over even the most thoughtful words. The 176 photographs taken between 1986 and 1990 in the Soviet Bloc of Eastern Europe by David Hlynsky, an American-born Canadian photographer, speak so loudly and clearly here that his explanatory introduction and two analytical essays by academics seem, despite their undoubted aptness, superfluous.

Dangerous tours in Botswana

The terror of a massacre on safari in Botswana is linked to the gruesome killing of a Boston taxidermist in "Die Again," a fast-paced thriller.

How bad housing policies led to the financial crisis

Peter Wallison's important, engaging and alarming "Hidden in Plain Sight" is the definitive work on the financial crisis and a must-read for policymakers, the commentariat and citizens wanting to pierce the populist anti-Wall-Street, anti-bank fog.

From the book jacket

How China pursues global domination

Reading "The Hundred-Year Marathon" was a bittersweet experience. Sweet because this one-time "panda hugger" (as Michael Pillsbury describes himself) has now joined ranks with those of us who have long seen China as bent upon global domination. Bitter because China's secret strategy to replace America as the sole superpower is well on the way to success.