Welcome to yet another Federalist year-end books column. If you haven’t encountered this column before, we do things a little differently than most year-end books lists. The books below aren’t necessarily books that came out in 2022.
Rather, they’re just books Federalist staff and contributors happened to read this year, regardless of when they came out, and want to recommend. As usual, the selection is quite eclectic, and something for almost every adventurous reader made the list.
Anyone grappling to better understand the violence plaguing Eastern Europe should read Orlando Figes’ “The Story of Russia.” The author of a brilliant cultural history, “Natasha’s Dance” (among many others), examines the mythologies and historical roots that shaped the modern Russian psyche. And the indispensable “Not One More Inch: America, Russia, and the Making of Post-Cold War Stalemate” by M. E. Sarotte is a history of the blunders and miscalculations of the post-Communist world.
“The Bright Ages: A New History of Medieval Europe” by Matthew Gabriele and David M. Perry might not be the first book to debunk the conventional view of a “dark” age, but it is one of the best. Andrew Roberts, biographer of Napoleon and Winston Churchill, is back with the excellent “The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III.”
Matthew Continetti’s “The Right: The Hundred-Year War for American Conservatism” is an engaging reminder that the internecine battles the right faces are nothing new.
“Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet” by Marian L. Tupy and Gale L. Pooley debunks many of the Malthusian myths that still plague our contemporary politics. And I read “Human Compatible: Artificial Intelligence and the Problem of Control” by Stuart Russell, a (somewhat!) accessible book on the science of artificial intelligence, to be better prepared for the robot apocalypse.
“Three New Deals: Reflections on Roosevelt’s America, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hitler’s Germany, 1933-1939” by Wolfgang Schivelbusch might be 15 years old, but it details the similarities in the authoritarian ideas, aesthetics, and economic statism that were adopted across the Western world in the 1930s — ideas that are again gaining traction on left and right.
If you’re a fan of “The Godfather” — and what kind of patriot isn’t? — “Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli, The Epic Story of the Making of The Godfather” by Mark Seal offers a fast-moving look at the intrigues surrounding the making of perhaps the greatest movie of all time. I also quite enjoyed The History of Bones by musician and artist — and sometime-recluse — John Lurie. It’s biting and funny and, admittedly, best enjoyed while listening to the author’s baritone voice via audiobook.
David Harsanyi is a senior editor at The Federalist, a nationally syndicated columnist, a Happy Warrior columnist at National Review, and author of five books — the most recent, “Eurotrash: Why America Must Reject the Failed Ideas of a Dying Continent.” He has appeared on Fox News, C-SPAN, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, ABC World News Tonight, NBC Nightly News, and radio talk shows across the country. Follow him on Twitter, @davidharsanyi.
Few best-selling authors, with so few published books, have had as tumultuous a relationship with the publishing industry as Helen DeWitt. Somewhat of a “one-hit wonder,” it took DeWitt more than a decade between the publishing of her first book published in 2000, “The Last Samurai,” which sold more than 100,000 copies and won several awards, and her next book in 2011. In the years between, she developed a cult following, but also attempted suicide twice.
I read “The Last Samurai” in 2016 when it was rereleased by her new publisher, New Directions. Simultaneously playful and serious, DeWitt experiments with unusual line breaks, layouts, numbers, and several different alphabets to tell the story of a young single mom raising her son — a child prodigy who learns calculus, physics, Greek, Japanese, Arabic, and another 17 languages before he turns 10. It’s a scathing indictment of our Western education system and a contemplation on fatherlessness, heroism, and suicide.
All that leads me to DeWitt’s newest novella, published this summer by New Directions as one of their “Storybook” products — which they describe as “the pleasure of reading a great book from cover to cover in an afternoon.” Indeed, that is exactly what “The English Understand Wool” is for DeWitt’s existing fans and newcomers alike.
It’s a memorable character portrait, a clever heist story, and a sharp critique of both media culture and the literary world (with which DeWitt rightfully has a few bones to pick). Read “Wool” as a leisurely weekend-read appetizer, then dive into “The Last Samurai” as the main course.
Madeline Osburn is managing editor at The Federalist. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter.
International politics influences a man’s reading habits, and Europe saw a return to war and territorial conquest this year. Given that superficial Wikipedia-level historical memory is only about the second world war (just type Munich, isolationist, or appeasement, in a Twitter search box) and not enough about the first world war, the debate surrounding any contemporary war is always a binary good-versus-evil and not enough about miscalculations, idealism, hysteria, and catastrophic chain-ganging.
In that light, I was re-reading three classics. The first was “The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914” by Christopher Clarke, which demonstrated how a beautiful civilization goes to fratricidal war in a bout of elite madness and idealism, decades of great power peace that resulted in a stagnating ennui, and media-fuelled mass war hysteria.
The second book I re-read this year was “Chamberlain and the Lost Peace” by Jonathan Charmley, about a much-misunderstood man from a now lost school of Tory Conservative isolationism, one that traces its roots on both sides of the continent, between Canning, Salisbury, Curzon and Lansdowne in Britain, and Washington, Quincy Adams, to Robert Taft in America. It’s an older conservatism predicated on strong defense, global trade, amoral diplomacy, and minimal foreign interventionism.
Finally, I often go back to reading one of my all-time favorites, “The Habsburg Monarchy, 1809-1918,” by A.J.P. Taylor — arguably the greatest post-Victorian English historian — a short, provocative, and tragic history of the collapse of one of Europe’s greatest, multi-ethnic, and cultured empires.
Dr. Sumantra Maitra is a national-security fellow at The Center for the National Interest; a non-resident fellow at the James G Martin Center; and an elected early career historian member at the Royal Historical Society. He is a senior contributor to The Federalist and can be reached on Twitter @MrMaitra.
The conclusion of Canadian writer Collin Glavac’s spy-thriller trilogy, “Cuban Conspiracy,” doesn’t disappoint. The combination of spycraft, quick writing, and local detail made it a highly enjoyable experience and a fitting sequel to “Ghosts of Guatemala” and “Operation Nicaragua.” Not at all formulaic like a lot of thrillers; highly recommended for those looking for a stimulating escape.
It’s perhaps gauche to plug your own book, but I’m proud of the paperback edition of “Supreme Disorder: Judicial Nominations and the Politics of America’s Highest Court” that I put to bed during my Georgetown purgatory this spring. It’s now updated through the confirmation of Ketanji Brown Jackson — and you can also download a statistical/historical appendix that’ll make you popular at all your holiday parties.
Sticking with the Supreme Court theme, “Created Equal: Clarence Thomas in His Own Words” by Michael Pack and Mark Paoletta is effectively the director’s cut of the movie of the same name that Pack directed last year. Drawing on hours of exclusive interviews, the book tells Justice Thomas’s inspiring story in a way that destroys the media’s caricature of a singular individual who makes you think, “only in America.”
Ilya Shapiro is a senior fellow and director of constitutional studies at the Manhattan Institute.
Many Democrats today see public spending as a panacea for all problems we face, private businesses as the embodiment of greed, and our Constitution as a racist document. But more than a century ago, Grover Cleveland, a Democrat elected president twice (in two discontinuous terms), firmly believed in the U.S. Constitution, a limited government, and free market capitalism.
His entire political career was guided by one principle: “government exists to protect the welfare of the people as a whole. And any preference government sows to one individual over another is to be regarded as per se suspicious.” As a president, Cleveland was best known for using vetoes to restrain spending.
In a new biography titled “A Man of Iron: The Turbulent Life and Improbable Presidency of Grover Cleveland,” author Troy Senik argues Cleveland was one of our greatest presidents. The book was well-written, with an engaging style that made even the most boring political discussions enjoyable.
Hong Kong, the once-freest place in the world, has disappeared before our eyes, and what’s left is a Chinese city under communist authoritarian rule. Speaking and writing about Hong Kong takes tremendous courage. The city’s national security law is so vaguely defined that any writer who attempts to say anything about Hong Kong risks being charged with secession or subversion and could face a maximum penalty of life in prison.
Despite the risks, Louisa Lim, a former resident of Hong Kong and a journalist, decided it was her personal and professional duty to write a book about the city and the people she loves. Her book, “Indelible City: Dispossession and Defiance in Hong Kong,” is a timely record of Hong Kong’s true history that has been either erased, revised, or soon will be forgotten. The book was a love letter to a wonderful city and its people, and a reminder why the rest of the world should not forget about them. Especially now, given all the focus on Taiwan, we need to learn lessons from Hong Kong’s disappearance and ensure history does not repeat itself in Taiwan.
Helen Raleigh, CFA, is an American entrepreneur, writer, and speaker. She’s a senior contributor at The Federalist. Her writings appear in other national media, including The Wall Street Journal and Fox News. Helen is the author of several books, including “Confucius Never Said” and “Backlash: How Communist China’s Aggression Has Backfired.” Follow her on Parler and Twitter: @HRaleighspeaks.
Anthony Esolen’s “No Apologies: Why Civilization Depends on the Strength of Men” defends traditional masculinity against its many modern detractors. Rather than being toxic, Esolen explains that true masculinity is what underpins great civilizational endeavors, technological advances, and familial success. As a literature professor, Esolen makes his argument beautifully, drawing on national literatures and histories from across the world. He shows that masculinity is not a mere Western social construct but rooted in the nature of mankind and therefore good.
Stephen Wolfe’s “The Case for Christian Nationalism” is premised on the idea that secular liberal politics is a dead end. A rightly ordered regime, Wolfe argues, would help human beings to achieve both earthly and heavenly goods. Tightly argued, “The Case for Christian Nationalism” is a welcome, yet provocative, sustained argument for a return to a political arrangement that recognizes that man is not a mere consumer but a religious being made for community.
I returned numerous times in 2022 to C.S. Lewis’s “Abolition of Man.” This classic book defends the concept of objective value, an idea almost abandoned in our modern world. In three essays, Lewis demonstrates how accepting the idea that values are merely subjective can lead to a loss of what it means to be human. Although not explicitly named, Lewis’s prophetic work anticipates the modern concepts of transgenderism and transhumanism. Now more than 75 years old, “Abolition of Man” is more relevant than ever in its diagnosis of the problems of our age.
Christian Winter is a doctoral candidate at Hillsdale College studying politics. He lives and works in Michigan.
Mystie Winckler’s succinct “How To Use a Planner Without Wasting Time” came out this year. I read it after I recorded with Mystie for her podcast to talk about how I manage a big family life while helping run The Federalist.
What I like most about Mystie’s writing and podcasts is her very strong ability to discern the mental blocks that are so often behind what seem like simple problems in home and life management. In very few words, she clears out the mental clutter and helps her readers and listeners find their footing. At first, I didn’t think I needed this book because I’m pretty effective at executing my to-do lists, but even for a more disciplined and high-output person like me, this little book was surprisingly insightful.
This book about, as she says, “making your planner work for you” explains that the problem with most people’s planning is not their lack of a shiny product, it’s a lack of habits for working one’s plan. Mystie reveals those needed habits in a simple, approachable, and realistic manner and gives simple and effective strategies for adopting them. For a busy mom like me with very little time to read, think, and plan, it hit the spot and would be perfect to use for your New Year planning.
This summer, while road-tripping to the American West, I read “The World of Captain John Smith,” by Genevieve Foster. It’s a novel-length history text originally published in 1959 and republished beautifully by Beautiful Feet Books in 1999. Beautiful Feet pegs this as a middle and high school book, but my classically educated 10- and 11-year-old children had no problem reading it. Frankly, I think the writing is ageless, and this shouldn’t be seen as a “kids’ book” at all.
Beautiful Feet says Foster “was at the forefront of this new method of historical writing, which viewed history as a cross section of intertwined events and looked at a person in their worldwide historical context. In her books, she integrated global historical events into the telling of a person’s life. Her purpose was to make historical figures ‘alive for children.’”
Her writing certainly does that. I found that her engaging and personal historical narrative helped me remember details about the entire world at the time of Elizabethan England months later. This is an entertaining yet profitable read and surprisingly quick for 406 pages.
A reader could not do better to rinse his or her mind of feminism than to read F. Carolyn Graglia’s 1998 book, “Domestic Tranquility: A Brief Against Feminism.” Please take “brief” to read “a full and comprehensive practical and philosophical case,” not “short.” This is another tome at 451 pages, but I also found it surprisingly quick reading.
Graglia’s writing is energetic, funny, and sharp. She takes on feminism and its poster women with great vigor, defending traditional roles between the sexes with white-hot feminine zeal. I’ve slowly been converting into an anti-feminist in adulthood and have read a lot in this domain. Graglia still offered many, many insights and observations that I hadn’t formerly considered.
Beware: This is not a book for children, and I would hesitate to recommend it to high schoolers, for Graglia (tastefully) discusses some mechanics of the sex act, drawing philosophical conclusions from those mechanics. For college or above, however, I’d rate this one a must-read for both sexes.
Lastly, I’m going to pre-recommend a book that I haven’t read yet, because it came out this year and was adoringly feted by the hosting trio with excellent taste at “The Literary Life Podcast.” That book is “The Medieval Mind of C.S. Lewis: How Great Books Shaped a Great Mind,” by Wyoming Catholic College literature Professor Jason Baxter.
It’s also blurbed by occasional Federalist writer Louis Markos, a Lewis specialist and another man of excellent literary taste, and Lewis authority Michael Ward, an Oxford University professor my husband took a Lewis class with at Hillsdale College. So you know this has to be quite a good book, and I am very excited to read it after I finish my current bedside stack.
Get your audio preview while folding laundry, like I did, by clicking on the podcast link above, or listening to Baxter’s interviews on the book at his personal website.
Joy Pullmann is executive editor of The Federalist, a happy wife, and the mother of six children. Here’s her printable household organizer for faith-centered holidays. Sign up here to get early access to her next ebook, “101 Strategies For Living Well Amid Inflation.” Her bestselling ebook is “Classic Books for Young Children.” Mrs. Pullmann identifies as native American and gender natural. She is the author of several books, including “The Education Invasion: How Common Core Fights Parents for Control of American Kids,” from Encounter Books. Joy is also a grateful graduate of the Hillsdale College honors and journalism programs.
In a world that pushes progress, sometimes life calls for a classic. This year, I dove into C.S. Lewis’s “Till We Have Faces,” and it did not disappoint. The retelling of the classical myth of Cupid and Psyche not only folds in layers of narrative detail and character development, but it also offers insight into a dilemma relevant to every age, especially our own: the apparent silence of God. Orual, the narrator and protagonist of the tale, shows us every kind of natural human reaction, from frustration to confusion to despair to longing, in the face of pain and mystery.
For those seeking to understand the chaos of our culture, historian Carl R. Trueman’s “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self” is the perfect read. Beginning with the question, “How did we end up in a world where the statement, ‘I’m a man trapped in a woman’s body’ is completely normalized?” Trueman takes the reader on a journey through history, philosophy, and cultural analysis beginning with the Enlightenment.
With his knack for making the complex accessible, he explains thinkers like Rousseau, Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche, whose ideas seeped into the cultural mindset and helped create the “anti-culture” of moral relativism and expressive individualism in which we find ourselves today. Trueman doesn’t offer much of an antidote, but his point that we must first understand the world in order to transform it makes this book an essential first step.
Sophia Martinson is a wife, mom, and freelance culture writer for various publications. Her blog, Homemaker Hopeful, explores the skills of taking care of home and family.
Jonathan S. Tobin
In an era where the collapse of corporate media credibility has played an essential role in the assault on democracy and freedom, two books devoted to the subject deserve a reading. Batya Ungar-Sargon’s “Bad News: How Woke Media is Undermining Democracy,” is a remarkable work. The author is a self-described woman of the left, but she gives the most cogent analysis of how the corporate media have embraced and monetized bias as well as deepening political divisions in the country that I’ve read yet. It is a brilliantly written book that places the issue in the context of the history of the American press as well as contemporary cultural trends.
Also deserving of attention is Ari Fleischer’s “Suppression, Deception, Snobbery and Bias: Why the Press Gets So Much Wrong and Just Doesn’t Care,” which provides a systematic analysis of legacy media failure during the Trump years and why it is only getting worse.
Yoram Hazony’s “Conservatism: A Rediscovery,” takes on the task of providing a guidebook to the thinking at the heart of the national conservative intellectual movement that is centered on the Edmund Burke Foundation that the author heads.
I can’t say I agree with all of it, especially his effort to discard the Lockean position on individual liberty. But it is a serious attempt at an important subject that is more necessary than ever at a time when the collapse of traditional liberalism’s defense of Western civilization is obvious. Of greatest interest is the author’s brief memoir in the concluding chapters in which he speaks of his own personal path to conservative ideas and lifestyle that provides inspiration for those seeking to find a way to avoid the worst pitfalls of 21st-century cultural collapse.
At a moment in our political and cultural history when the forces of leftist conformity are seeking to undermine every aspect of traditional Western values, “Against The Great Reset: Eighteen Theses Contra The New World Order” is a book that needed to be written. The collection of essays, edited by Michael Walsh, spans the spectrum from economics to politics to culture, makes clear that the threat from the efforts of the World Economic Forum and its Bond villain chairman Klaus Schwab and the rest of the Davos set to ensure that we all own nothing and learn to like it, is not the stuff of crackpot conspiracy theorists.
Walter Russell Mead’s “The Arc of a Covenant: The United States, Israel and the Fate of the Jewish People,” is simply the best book on American foreign policy and how it works to be published in recent years. More than just an examination of the complicated relationship between America and the Jewish state, it is a scholarly analysis of why national interests, rather than antisemitic conspiracy theories, explain the ties between the countries and why their abandonment by those hooked on abstract theories always leads to disaster.
Any new book by British historian Andrew Roberts, the author of, among many other wonderful works, the best single-volume biography of Winston Churchill, is worth exploring. But his recent “The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III,” is especially rewarding. This biography teaches even those of us who thought we knew a lot about the subject that most of what we know about this controversial figure is wrong. A delightful read, it also provides an example of how it is possible to revisit some of the founding myths of U.S. history without losing sight — as leftist tracts like The New York Times’ 1619 Project do — that the creation of the American republic was a worthwhile endeavor.
Jonathan S. Tobin is a senior contributor to The Federalist, editor-in-chief of JNS.org, and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at @jonathans_tobin.
In a time of confusion and pessimism, perhaps our best way forward as a society is imitating 13th-century rural France. Such is the argument of Michael Warren Davis in “The Reactionary Mind.” It won’t be a new political movement, a new invention, or some worldwide catastrophe that will save us, but a full-on spiritual revival. In order to find happiness, harmony, and peace, Davis argues it’s time to dispense with the vast array of modern conveniences and commit to simplicity, piety, and honest living.
In Davis’s reasoning and language, very similar to G.K. Chesterton, challenges conventional wisdom with wit and depth. And, like Chesterton, he occasionally gets caught up in his flights of fancy, forgetting that many of us might struggle to keep up with him. All this is worth it, though, to see him get under the skin of the Enlightenment cheerleader (and Never Trumper) Jonah Goldberg.
Another antidote to today’s madness is Jane Austen’s “Persuasion,” which speaks to the problems of modern dating. Its protagonist is Anne Elliot, a single woman who has given up on romance and spends her time in helping her friends and family. Ironically, through her modesty and charity, she ends up attracting multiple suitors throughout the novel.
This obviously clashes with the modern narrative of a strong independent woman learning to assert herself. Nevertheless, Anne’s a much more realistic and relatable model who shows what’s possible for people who think of others before themselves.
One final book that addresses today’s challenges is “The New Apologetics,” a collection of essays from today’s best Catholic apologists and philosophers. Expertly edited by Matt Nelson, who keeps the writing concise, clear, and coherent, each essay deserves multiple readings. Even if the book fails to persuade readers to cross the Tiber and become faithful Catholics, it will at least equip both believers and nonbelievers with the proper vocabulary and reasoning for discussing life’s most important issues.
Auguste Meyrat is an English teacher in the Dallas area. He holds an MA in humanities and an MEd in educational leadership. He is the senior editor of The Everyman and has written essays for The Federalist, The American Conservative, and The Imaginative Conservative, as well as the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Follow him on Twitter.
John Daniel Davidson
If you want to understand what’s happening to Western civilization right now, then you need to understand the implicit argument in Tom Holland’s 2019 tour de force, “Dominion: How The Christian Revolution Remade the World.” Holland is a historian, and his project here is to outline and explain the epochal shifts that came with the rise of what used to be called Christendom, and make a case that Western civilization, including our ideas about human rights, individualism, and freedom of speech, springs directly from Christian theology and teaching.
Because he is a historian, the implicit argument remains implicit in this book, which is that without Christianity, Western civilization isn’t viable, and all the things we associate with it will almost certainly vanish. Those who today look forward to the demise of Christianity’s influence on our society would do well to consider that Christendom, in all its iterations, is what kept the darker forces of human nature at bay for these long centuries and that without it, the old gods might soon return.
Much of the conversation on the “New Right” about the failures of the conservative movement, the problems with liberalism, and the path forward for those who want to preserve our republic for future generations owes an immense debt to Patrick Deneen’s 2018 book, “Why Liberalism Failed.”
Deneen argues that liberalism has destroyed community, atomized the individual, stripped the citizen of any meaningful participation in government, distorted man’s relationship with nature, rendered him incapable of true self-government (which is choosing the good), and created a mammoth state with unchecked powers that works in conjunction with an all-consuming marketplace designed to create insatiable desires for weak and isolated consumers. Liberalism, in other words, is destroying our civilization.
He also argues that these effects of liberalism are not aberrations but the logical end of liberal ideology. It was always going to end this way because of the assumptions about human nature and the purpose of political life that are baked into liberalism’s worldview. Whether you accept Deneen’s argument or not, this should be required reading for anyone who wants to join the conversation about what went wrong with our civilization and what we should do about it.
For a counterbalance to Deneen, check out Thomas G. West’s 2017 book, “The Political Theory of the American Founding,” which posits a very different view of liberalism and the American founding. Where Deneen sees the founders as early-modern liberals, whose ideas would inevitably lead us into the disaster we now confront, West sees the founders as proponents of natural law who sought to fuse natural rights with older ideas about virtue to create a republicanism that enshrined both duties and rights, allowing them to coexist in harmony.
Another good source on this subject is Vincent Philip Muñoz’s 2009 book “God and the Founders,” which examines the differing views of religion’s place in public life between Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington.
John Daniel Davidson is a senior editor at The Federalist. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Claremont Review of Books, The New York Post, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter, @johnddavidson.
The joke these days is that the difference between a conspiracy theory and accepted fact is about six months. This year I read two books that explain how we got to a place in American culture where it seems even the most outlandish conspiracies can’t be readily dismissed. I found “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA and the Secret History of the Sixties” by Tom O’Neill with Dan Piepenbring incredibly absorbing.
While much about the book is speculative, it does definitively establish a few things that should reshape our view of the Manson murders, which was a watershed event for American culture. One is that the sex and drug habits of Hollywood celebrities in the ’60s were even more damning than you might imagine. (However much of a bad person and sexual deviant you might think Roman Polanski is, this book reveals things that make him look even worse.)
The book also establishes that some pretty key facts and explanations in Los Angeles District Attorney Vincent Bugliosi’s “Helter Skelter,” long thought to be the definitive book on the Manson murders, simply don’t hold water. That’s likely because before Manson went on his killing spree, he was supplying drugs and pimping the young women under his spell out to a lot of very influential people in L.A., necessitating a cover-up. If you’re wondering why we haven’t seen Jeffrey Epstein’s client list, well the more things change…
And there’s the matter of whether even more powerful forces than Hollywood demanded a cover-up. The rest of the book isn’t as grounded; many of the ideas floated, such as the notion that Manson became a cult leader after participating in acid-fueled CIA mind control experiments in Haight-Asbury, aren’t nearly as far-fetched as you might think. The book makes some less persuasive detours that read the kind of red herrings you might find in a detective novel, but like a detective novel, “Chaos” still keeps you in suspense.
The other conspiracy book I read was “Pale Horse Rider: William Cooper, the Rise of Conspiracy, and the Fall of Trust in America” by Mark Jacobson. For those of you who don’t know, William Cooper was a former Naval Intelligence officer, radio show host, and the author of the 1991 book “Behold a Pale Horse” — a foundational text for modern conspiracy theorists that still sells briskly to this day. What’s interesting is the gamut of people Cooper influenced. To start, he was majorly influential in founding the militia movement that took flight in the ’90s in response to the FBI overreach at Waco, and Ruby Ridge would influence groups such as the Oathkeepers and Patriot Front today.
But Cooper was also wildly popular with another ascendant and far more influential group of Americans: rappers. Cooper and “Behold a Pale Horse” have been namechecked by Jay-Z, Tupac, Wu-Tang, Eminem, and just about every other big hip-hop artist. (Not surprisingly, Cooper’s book was first wildly popular in prison, a subculture that cross-pollinates a fair bit with hip-hop.) Cooper was an early proponent of the idea that the CIA was behind the crack epidemic in the ’80s, and he also claimed that AIDS was a man-made virus cooked up to wipe out black people, theories that are still prevalent in the black community.
However, Cooper isn’t just notable for conspiracy theories, he’s also notable for startling moments of prescience. Eight years before Columbine, Cooper wrote that “the sharp increase of prescriptions of psychoactive drugs like Prozac and Ritalin to younger and younger children will inevitably lead to a rash of horrific school shootings” and that these incidents “will be used by elements of the federal government as an excuse to infringe upon the citizenry’s Second Amendment rights.”
And after watching a CNN camera crew interview Osama Bin Laden on television, Cooper made his most notorious broadcast. “Now don’t you think that’s kind of strange, folks?” Cooper said. “Because the largest intelligence apparatus in the world, with the biggest budget in the history of the world, has been looking for Osama bin Laden for years, and years, and years, and can’t find him! But some doofus jerk-off reporter with his little camera crew waltzes right into his secret hideout and interviews him!” Cooper went on to say that in the coming months there would be a major terror attack on a U.S. city and it would be blamed on Bin Laden. And he said this all on June 28, 2001.
The question that hovers over Cooper and Jacobson’s biography is this: Was Cooper a savant, or was he merely a very smart, if paranoid, guy who started to see the logical effects of elite corruption in American society we now take for granted? Before you answer that question, you should also know that Cooper also predicted he would eventually be killed by the government, and in fact, he died in a shootout with the police at his house in Arizona. Then again, that’s what happens when you refuse to pay your taxes for years and refuse to submit when the cops come knocking on your door.
Jonathan Tobin already plugged Batya Ungar-Sargon’s “Bad News,” but I’ll add to the chorus by saying I’m closing in on a quarter-century of journalism experience and each new year seems to bring more unease about my profession than the past. Ungar-Sargon’s explanation of how the commercial interests of journalism have turned it against the working class certainly jibes with my experience. There’s a lot more to say about a book this insightful, and for that please check out the full-fledged review I wrote earlier this year.
And finally, I didn’t read as much fiction as I normally do this year, but I managed to read James Kestrel’s “Five Decembers,” which won the Edgar Award for best mystery novel. The book starts with a murder investigation in Oahu in 1941 just before Pearl Harbor and spans much of the Pacific during World War II. While aspects of the plot and the hard-boiled protagonist don’t exactly reinvent the wheel, the book still captivated me immediately — it’s just a brilliantly atmospheric noir.
Thanks again for another year of reading The Federalist, in addition to whatever (hopefully) good book is currently on your own nightstand.
This article has been updated since publication.