For people who give books as Christmas presents to political junkie friends, here are my 2020 gift book picks:
“Last Subway: The Long Wait for the Next Train in New York City” by Philip Mark Plotch.
For readers interested in understanding New York’s sad transit history, this is the book to crack open. In readable prose, Plotch exposes politicians of every stripe who made great promises and failed to deliver on upgrading and expanding the region’s mass transportation system. “Last Subway” focuses on the greatest boondoggle of all: the Second Avenue subway extension. What was to be the “most modern futuristic subway in the world,” faced delays for decades, soaring cost overruns, and project cutbacks. The first three stations, finally completed in 2017 and opened to much fanfare by Gov. Cuomo, cost an astounding $4.6 billion. Plotch points out that the 1.5-mile subway line “cost more than four times as much as new subway lines in Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, Paris and Tokyo.”
“The Man Who Ran Washington: The Life and Times of James A. Baker III” by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser.
Baker was one lucky guy. A friendship nurtured on the tennis courts of the Houston Country Club with George H.W. Bush catapulted him into the inner sanctum of Washington power centers. He would go on to manage five Republican presidential campaigns between 1976 and 1992, serve as Reagan’s chief of staff and Treasury secretary, and as Bush’s secretary of state. In 2000, he led the Florida recount legal team for George W. Bush.
Like other Texas political icons—Speaker Sam Rayburn and President Lyndon Johnson—Baker understood power and was not afraid to use it. He was ruthless in protecting his political turf and did not hesitate to throw friends and foes under the bus.
Baker was a political survivor, but an unlikeable one. He was an “avatar of pragmatism over purity and deal making over division, a lost art in today’s fractured nation.”
“The Crisis of Liberalism: Prelude to Trump” by Fred Siegel.
Dr. Siegel, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and a City Journal contributing editor, is the nation’s top social scientist. His 2014 work, “The Revolt Against the Masses: How Liberalism Has Undermined the Middle Class,” is must reading for anyone interested in understanding our political milieu.
“The Crisis of Liberalism,” is a collection of Siegel’s most trenchant essays focusing on the 1960s liberal crack-up and the left’s growing disdain for America’s working-class.
“These essays,” the distinguished historian Vincent Cannato has observed, “are deeply relevant to understanding the turbulence and divisions that plague our nation today.”
“The Daughters of Yalta: The Churchills, Roosevelts and Harrimans: A Story of Love and War” by Catherine Grace Katz.
This is a pleasant, behind the scenes, narrative of the famous Yalta conference in February 1945 that created the roadmap for the post-war world. While much has been written on the last Roosevelt-Churchill-Stalin meeting, this book is different. It centers on the three women—Anna Roosevelt, Sarah Churchill and Catherine Harriman, daughter of U.S. Ambassador to the Soviet Union Averell Harriman—who accompanied their fathers. “Daughters of Yalta” describes how these politically astute women aided and protected their fathers during the grueling conference.
“Trump’s Democrats” by Jon A. Shields and Stephanie Muravchik.
Since the late 1960s, working-class New Deal Democrats, feeling unwanted by their party’s elitist leadership, have been shifting their political allegiance to Republicans. This shift was most evident in 2016 when millions of rust-belt Democrats cast the votes that put Trump over the top in the Electoral College. While Trump lost in 2020, these “deplorables”—as Hillary Clinton called them — stuck with Trump.
In “Trump’s Democrats,” the authors, who spent time interviewing folks in small communities populated by white working-class citizens, explain why these voters have viewed Trump as the best president since John F. Kennedy. And they reveal that, unlike most cosmopolitan Democrats, their “primary political allegiances are to their town or country — not racial identity.”
“Mario Cuomo: The Myth and the Man” by George J. Marlin.
Please pardon a bit of self-promotion: Readers interested in understanding why among all the 56 men who have served as New York governors, Mario Cuomo was the most complicated, endearing, brilliant, pugilistic, and exasperating, should pick up a copy of my new book.
Happy reading in 2021!