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Steigerwald's slowly growing exasperation with Steinbeck's dissembling is a joy to read, as is his incredulous reaction to Steinbeck scholars who wave away the esteemed author's flagrant bullshitting. But best of all is the contemporary America that Steigerwald discovers. Where Steinbeck inveighed against comic books and processed food and crabbed that the nation had grown spiritually “flabby” and “immoral,” Steigerwald is positively Whitmanesque in his celebration of the country. Self-published as an ebook, Dogging Steinbeck also embodies a do-it-yourself culture that was just gearing up in a big way in the early 1960s.
"There's something...obvious about America that's never pointed out by the media," writes Steigerwald. "The states and counties and cities and villages and crossroads are filled with smart, good Americans who can take pretty good care of themselves. They prove it every day. People in Baraboo and Stonington and Amarillo know what's best for them. They'll adjust to whatever changes that come."
Ed Krayewski, associate editor
Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, originally published in 1962, was reissued by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. One of Dick's most celebrated works, The Man in the High Castle established the alternate-history genre as serious fiction.
The novel imagines the year 1962 as it might have looked if the Axis powers won World War II. In Dick's own world, of course, the Cold War was in full swing, with America's tense relations with the U.S.S.R. shaping the political atmosphere both at home and abroad. In the novel, the same situation is mirrored, with a victorious Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan engaged in a global Cold War and the United States cut up by and wedged between the two. As usual, Dick's characters are rich and full of life, realer than characters in works of nonfiction sometimes appear.
Though the United States is no longer engaged in a Cold War with a mortal enemy, some of the themes in the novel resonate with contemporary affairs. The Man in the High Castle's America is without purpose, uncertain about its future, imprisoned by its past, and crushed by its present. The macropolitics of the novel might be quite different from 2012 America, but the characters' lives and struggles and doubts are presciently relevant.
Katherine Mangu-Ward, managing editor of Reason
Don't be put off by the soft-focus Oprah-ish cover on the paperback. Octavia Butler was not just any lady. She was—I think it's safe to say—the most famous dyslexic black lesbian science-fiction writer of the 20th century. And her books are badass.
Butler's anti-authoritarian streak is as wide as the abandoned California highways on which her characters walk, searching for safety from police, crusaders, and other state-sanctioned thugs, rapists, and robbers. Her near-future governments, cozy with corporations and churches, are believably awful. In Wild Seed (1980) and the other books in her Patternist series, a large, linked cast struggles to fly below the radar while building self-sufficient communities with new kinds of rules about dispute resolution, religion, and sex.
The 2012 ebook release of Wild Seed has a new, even more terrible cover. Buy it as a digital edition, ignore the cover, and enjoy.
Andrew Napolitano, columnist
In 2012 I reread two masterpieces, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by Bernard Bailyn and Crisis and Leviathan by Robert Higgs. I love those books even more today than the first time I read them in my youth. They are perfectly honest, deeply profound intellectual bookends for the long American march from freedom to statism.
The most memorable new book that I couldn't put down this past year is a short paperback by Laurence Vance, a brilliant writer and college professor, called The War on Drugs is a War on Freedom. I am in the business of defending personal liberty, and hence I read freedom-defending works almost every day. Laurence Vance has written one of the most compelling arguments for personal bodily autonomy I have read in many years.
This is not a book that preaches the joys of personal drug use. Rather, it calculates the cost of the drug war in lives, resources, and constitutional freedoms. It demonstrates how every person in America has lost freedom as we march toward a police state, triggered by a nanny-state mentality in Congress and statehouses, a Victorian blindness in the White House, and a supine judicial response to the government's misguided zeal. It damns the feds and the police for their ineffective defense of the Constitution, and it is the most effective indictment of the unintended consequences of the government's war on drugs, and one of the most articulate defenses of personal freedom, to come along in a generation. It will warm every libertarian's heart, and maybe wake up some politicians in Washington and in some state capitals. It should be given to every public office holder and cop in America.
Damon Root, managing editor of reason.com
My favorite book published in 2012 is a superb new anthology of indispensable old writing. American Antislavery Writings draws from pamphlets, sermons, speeches, letters, newspaper reports, poetry, and fiction to provide something of a documentary history of the long struggle to abolish human slavery in America. With contributors ranging from the former slave Olaudah Equiano to the novelist Herman Melville, it's also a showcase for some of the best political prose of its time.
My only modest criticism is that editor James G. Basker failed to include anything from the Massachusetts antislavery polemicist Lysander Spooner, whose masterful 1845 work The Unconstitutionality of Slavery was at the center of a fierce debate within the abolitionist movement over whether the Constitution was, as William Lloyd Garrison famously put it, a pro-slavery "covenant with death and an agreement with Hell." Among those who sided with Spooner's antislavery interpretation was the great Frederick Douglass, who declared the Constitution to be "a glorious liberty document" in a powerful 1852 speech, which is included here. If you're interested in 18th and 19th century American history, you'll want to spend some quality time with this fine collection.
Ira Stoll, columnist
John Allison is known as the new president of the Cato Institute, a funder of capitalism programs on college campuses, and the longtime CEO of the banking firm BB&T. He's also the author of the book The Financial Crisis and the Free Market Cure.
Allison's combination of free-market perspective and firsthand experience as a bank executive make him a valuable guide to understanding what happened in 2008. "The panic atmosphere during the recent financial crisis was totally the result of massive mishandling of the financial system by government policy makers in the Bush administration," he writes. "When the head of the Federal Reserve, the Treasury, and the president announced that Western civilization would end unless Congress approved a $700 billion bailout, people panicked."
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