The Post-August Assault on the Media Budget

August is the slow month in the publishing industry. Everyone goes away on vacation and isn’t thinking about reading, so to help the first week sales figures, publishers don’t release titles in August. Being forward-looking in my book buying, I can see that September and October are make-up months and are going to decimate my book buying budget.

In economics there is the already much talked about and guaranteed to make waves title by U.C. Davis Economics Department Chairman Gregory Clark, A Farewell to Alms: A Brief Economic History of the World. Oddly enough, Mr. Clark has chosen a completely general sounding title for what is, in fact, a highly polemical and specialist book. For a taste of the controversy, see the New York Times article on the book (Wade, Nicholas, “In Dusty Archives, a Theory of Affluence,” 7 August 2007). Seemingly just in time for the next economic crisis is Robert Bruner and Sean Carr’s book, The Panic of 1907. In the immense shadow of the Great Depression no one thinks about all the lesser economic crises that preceded it, but as Bruner and Carr argue, the crisis of 1907 was really a watershed. It would, among other things, play a part in bringing about the Federal Reserve six years later in 1913. Robert Reich, one of my favorite writers, has his latest offering, Supercapitalism: The Transformation of Business, Democracy, and Everyday Life out. The cleaver cover is a dollar sign with a forked tongue. His thesis is previewed in the current issue of Foreign Policy (“How Capitalism Is Killing Democracy,” September / October 2007, pp. 38-42). The barn burner this month will undoubtedly be Alan Greenspan’s The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World (due out 17 September 2007). As I previously observed (“Alan Greenspan’s Memoir,” smarties, 6 July 2007), while the title may be accurate, it is, to me, still a little off.

In history I seem to have developed a fixation on the Soviet Union and the Cold War. First is the most recent after some time without, a book on the origin of it all, Evan Mawdsley’s The Russian Civil War. Jumping ahead to the crucible of the century is a book, the title of which does not do justice to the controversial rampage beneath its covers, Norman Davies’s No Simple Victory: World War II in Europe, 1939-1945. To get a flavor for his book, one may consult Benjamin Schwarz’s paragraphs devoted to in his review, “Stalin’s Gift” (The Atlantic Monthly, May 2007). Mr. Davis is an iconoclast come to raise the American mythos, a la Stephen Ambrose, of the Second World War as the good war, to show in fact that it was really a war in which one totalitarian dictator, Joseph Stalin, crushed another, Adolph Hitler, under the sheer weight of men and machines. On the Eastern Front 400 Soviet and German divisions squared off along a thousand mile frontier. There Germany would sustain 80 percent of its war casualties. By comparison, the Western Front, were 15 U.S. and U.K. divisions faced 15 German divisions, was little more than a harassing operation. The battle of Kursk remains the largest armor battle in history and saw the most deadly single day of aerial combat. Mr. Davis sets himself to exploding such myths of the Second World War. Less polemical, Benjamin Schwarz recommended the more scrupulously historical Thunder in the East: The Nazi-Soviet War, 1941-1945 by Evan Mawdsley. But he warned that in the deluge of books on the Eastern Front, even the latest research has “already been overtaken by new sources.” One such book will, I presume, be Chris Bellamy’s Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War.

Moving on in history, one of the most prominent Cold War historians, Melvyn Leffler has a new title coming out, For the Soul of Mankind: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Cold War. It’s another that keeps up the theme of titles not really adequately descriptive of the content. It sounds as if Mr. Leffler’s book might be about the ideological struggle between the West and Communism or about the contending views of human nature, but it is instead a book about five occasions when either side contemplated winding down the Cold War. Though he was killed in an automobile accident in April, what David Halberstam considered to be his finest book, The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War will be published posthumously on 25 September 2007. Most significantly for me is volume three of what Richard Rhodes is now calling his Making of the Nuclear Age trilogy, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race, about what is perhaps my favorite single subject.

But this monomania is all inadvertent and I remain on the lookout for broader histories. Also on the list are the longer histories of Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations by Martin Goodman and The Great Arab Conquests: How the Spread of Islam Changed the World We Live in by Hugh Kennedy. Mr. Goodman has edited both The Journal of Roman Studies and The Journal of Jewish Studies and has been a professor of both Roman and Jewish studies at Oxford so I presume that he is uniquely positioned to do justice to the difficult subject of the clash of Rome and Jerusalem.

In philosophy and intellectual history is Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age which will hopefully be the first title for the book group on this blog and E.M. Cioran’s Notebooks, translated by Richard Howard who has done so much for Cioran’s English language readers. It’s been given a new release date of 3 October 2007 which will hopefully be met as publication has been delayed since, I think, 2005.

Finally, in the snark department, I am eagerly awaiting Stephen Colbert’s I Am America (And So Can You!).

Taken together that’s 7500 pages and $475 (sans tax) of book. Fortunately I only ever really peck at a book so at least the pages shouldn’t be too much of a problem, but the money remains another issue. I just have to shrug my shoulders and confess to a hopeless case of bibliophilia. At least it’s pulp and not poppies.