Sarah Vowell has attracted some fame with her wit, cleverly sending up the Puritans’ more bizarre aspects while reminding us of their virtues. She focuses on the Boston Puritans, not the smaller but more American-legendary Pilgrims of Plymouth. She reminds us that both groups were writers and intellectuals, very unlike today’s Bible Belt fundamentalists. She notes that Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” vision was about cooperation and interdependence, in contrast to the free-market ideological spin put on it by some politicians of our time. Only after these defenses does Vowell damningly indict the Puritan culture’s intolerance, misogyny and cruelty, including the horrendous massacre of 700 Pequot Indians at Mystic (now Connecticut). Vowell shares with us the American Indian side to her own heritage, though she neither romanticizes or demonizes any group. The wit and charm of this young writer belie a dark vision of our national roots and psyche.
Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court
By Jeffrey Toobin (Doubleday, 340 pp., $27.95)
Reviewed by Jim Geary
Jeffrey Toobin, in his prologue to The Nine, states that from 1992 to 2005 the Supreme Court decisions reflected public opinion with great precision. This was owing to the swing votes of first, Louis Powell, and then of Sandra Day O’Connor, both moderate conservatives.
“That, now,” he adds, ” may be about to change.”
He writes of “a powerful conservative rebellion against the court” that was building during those years. For those behind this offensive, “its agenda has remained largely the same over the decades:” Reverse Roe v. Wade and allow states to ban abortion. Expand executive power. End affirmative action. Speed executions. Welcome religion into the public sphere.
Now that this book has been made into a movie, I want to put up a word about it. Although in some senses it is a crime story, it is constructed as a horror story. That is: From the first choice the protagonist makes — he takes a satchel of money from the scene of a massacre that he comes across while hunting — he is stalked by an inexorable doom. It is an unnerving tale. I cannot recommend it, for it is desperately violent, but if you write or appreciate good writing, you may want to see how this kind of strong effect is created. Or you may just enjoy the thrill. I did.
Barack Obama covers the waterfront in his 2006 book The Audacity of Hope — politics, race, faith, values, international relations, family, the struggles of the poor and the middle class in this country and around the world. A former professor of Constitutional law, he discusses the long history in the development and interpretation of the U.S. Constitution.
He is a superb writer and is obviously a man of remarkable intelligence and sensitivity. Though he comes through as definitely liberal and as wholly at odds with the Bush Administration, he makes a sincere effort to look at opposing views on subjects of the greatest controversy among American voters. He tries to give Republicans and conservatives their due. A professed Christian himself, he even tries to understand some of the holdings of evangelicals. Some liberal readers might find his even-handedness wishy-washy, but this reviewer did not. [Read more…]
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