Summer Books

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Henry Luce, a journalist, propagandist, idealist, jingoist, and genius of fascinating parts, invented a form of journalism that held up for Americans an idealizing mirror of themselves. “Part of his considerable achievement was his ability to provide an image of American life that helped a generation of readers believe in an alluring, consensual image of the nation’s culture,” Brinkley writes.

Creating Time, Life, Fortune, and Sports Illustrated (plus radio news programs and newsreels, in one of the first multimedia corporations), he “helped transform the way many people experienced news and culture.” In this biography, nearly as larger than life as Luce himself, the man’s partisan conservatism shines through, although “Luce always described himself as a liberal—not a liberal of the left, but a liberal in his openness to new ideas and his embrace of progressive change.” (Knopf, 560 pages, $35)

 

American Dreams: The United States since 1945

by H. W. Brands

 

“Never were America’s dreams more potent and beguiling than at the end of World War II,” writes University of Texas historian Brands. Not that everything went down from there, but most people experienced many roller coaster rides: from prosperity to recession, war to peace, security to anxiety, even from male to female—and in most categories, Americans went from one to the other and back again. The author of biographies of Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, and Franklin Roosevelt, Brands is known for lucid narratives and vividly portraying people within their historical contexts.  In this capsule kaleidoscope of three score years, he reviews kinetic themes and landmark events in all of history’s disciplinary segments: economic history, social history, political, diplomatic, and scientific history. It’s a captivating summary, if not quite a comprehensive analysis. (Penguin, 432 pages, $32.95)

 

The Great Task Remaining: The Third Year of Lincoln’s War

by William Marvel

Arguably one of the greatest speeches ever given, and certainly the most revered by Americans today, the Gettysburg Address is regarded as a declaration of ambiguity and paean of consecration (despite a rhetorical denial of the latter). Historian Marvel offers a contrary interpretation in this, the third volume of his projected reexamination of the Civil War. Lincoln’s great oration, he argues, was an intentional plea to disenchanted Yankees for their renewed support of the Union cause and for the continued prosecution of the war to end the South’s secession. He offers a close analysis of Northern sentiments and declining morale as the Confederacy seemed to rebound after near-mortal defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. In the spring of 1864 “it was the weary and disillusioned who aroused more executive anxiety,” particularly as Lincoln faced the perennial challenge of raising yet another army. Before he could marshal forces to prevail in the field, he had to defeat a widening spectrum of antiwar sentiments and protests on the home front. (Houghton Mifflin, 464 pages, $35)

 

Supreme Power: Franklin vs. the Supreme Court

by Jeff Shesol 

The loudest controversy ever to engage the Supreme Court resulted from President Roosevelt’s 1937 attempt to enlarge it with new appointments after its “nine old men” had invalidated most of his New Deal programs that were intended to ameliorate the deepening Great Depression. The president knew his proposal would infuriate the political right, but it also unsettled many on the political left who cherished the principle of an independent judiciary. Though Roosevelt lost this battle, he won the war, Shesol argues, partly because popular opinion favored the New Deal so widely that the Court was already becoming less obstructionist. It also appears that legislation granting federal judges full salaries after retirement also played a part in encouraging them to step down. In any case, a swing justice defected, leading a columnist to write unforgettably, “A switch in time saves nine.” (Norton, 656 pages, $27.95)