About this blog

This isn't designed to be a blog per se, but just a place to store things I've written for easy reference. Most of it will be book reviews, with a few random essays about the stuff that interests me outside work (i.e. nothing on politics and government).

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Amazon Review of an Honourable Englishman


An Honourable Englishman
Adam Sisman
2012, pp. 672



Adam Sisman’s biography of English historian Hugh Trevor-Roper harkens us back to a time when the writing and teaching of history mattered.  From the 1930s through the 1980s the world was highly ideological, and the interpretation of even the distant past was hotly contested as being intimately relevant to contemporary events surrounding the rise of first fascism and then communism.  As the gladiators in this particular coliseum, certain historians became celebrities in a manner not seen before or since.  Appearing on television and the radio, and writing in newspapers and journals both academic and popular, they were much in demand to provide perspective on events such as trials of Nazi war criminals, the JFK assassination and the Warren Commission. 

Country homes, fancy cars, and exotic foreign travels play as large a role in the Trevor-Roper story as journal articles, conferences and books.  The reader is invited into the arcane world of Oxbridge and the vicious politics that consumed its scholars.  Flamboyant, brilliant, garrulous and out spoken, Trevor-Roper is a particularly engaging protagonist.  One author likened him to a “pop star” in terms of his standing with the public.  Although his academic work focused mostly on the 16th and 17th centuries, Trevor-Roper’s framework for understanding “his” period was in competition with those offered by Marxist historians such as Christopher Hill and Eric Hobsbawm.  Which interpretation prevailed was not seen as irrelevant at a time when a Marxist superpower was claiming that “the West” was irrevocably doomed because of natural historical forces.
Trevor-Roper with his wife:
a passionate yet stormy
relationship

Sisman does a particularly fine job covering the historical issues about which Trevor-Roper and his colleagues discussed and debated, sometimes in vituperative terms.  At the same time, he avoids turning the book into historiography.  The reader will understand just enough about the historical controversies to understand Trevor-Roper, and the controversies in which he engaged with relish, without getting too bogged down.

A typical "young man in a hurry" Trevor-Roper
would come to be frustrated later in life with his inability
to create a masterwork on the 17th century.  His inability
to navigate between complexity and narrative still eludes
many in academia.
Sisman’s generally sympathetic portrayal does not lead him astray when recognizing his subject’s shortcomings.  For example, his summation of Trevor-Roper’s involvement in the controversy surrounding the Warren Commission’s report is particularly harsh (“rashness,” “poor judgment,” “ obstinacy,” “arrogance”).  Trevor-Roper habitually separated the personal from the professional in a manner many others could not and consequently was frequently caught off guard at how personally colleagues took what he intended to be purely professional criticisms.  Sisman’s reliance on Trevor-Roper’s voluminous correspondence reminds us of the daunting challenge that will be met by anyone attempting to chronicle the life of the historians of today.

One final note: the American title of the book is a curiosity (it was not used in England where readers would recognize Trevor-Roper’s name more readily).  Trevor-Roper was not particularly honorable (except that he was incapable of keeping his honest opinions to himself, a sort of academic integrity perhaps) and he might wince at being identified as being more “English” than any other historian of the period, as he was very critical of those who failed to look beyond England’s borders when chronicling events.  Still anyone looking for a biography of Trevor-Roper in particular or for exposure to the world of Oxford dons and historians during their golden age will enjoy Sisman’s book tremendously.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Amazon Review of The Union War

The Union War
Gary Gallagher
2011, 256 pp.

Link to the Amazon review

An often neglected topic of Civil War literature is the role preserving the Union played in motivating the North. Even when the importance of preservation of the Union is acknowledged, it's often relegated to second tier status in favor of emancipation.

 University of Virginia professor Gary Gallagher's latest work replaces preservation of the Union as the primary goal for which the North fought, helping 21st century Americans understand why it was so beloved by those willing to die for it. He differentiates this Northern GOAL from the war's CAUSE, which was "beyond dispute...controversies related to slavery." The Union War provides insight into subjective Union views on topics related to the war's aims, although it does not offer an objective assessment of their accuracy (e.g., whether the Union really afford its citizens, particularly those in urban slums and factories the economic opportunities often claimed). At the same time, it disputes the thesis that emancipation emerged as a goal equal to or greater than Union by the war's conclusion. To the vast majority of the North, emancipation remained a necessary tool to prosecute the war, and restoring the status quo ante was unthinkable given how slavery had nearly destroyed their beloved Union.
Gallagher explains the link between the Union and
 liberty and why northerners, particularly immigrants
cherished it for the opportunities it afforded

In a day when we debate concepts such as "American exceptionalism" there was little doubt that it was exceptional in 1861 in terms of popular government, or self-rule by the common (white) man. As flawed as American republicanism was in the middle of the 19th century, it still stood out as the most progressive form of government (if practiced imperfectly), especially when compared to the aristocratic and even more repressive forms of government found in Europe, which had fought, successfully, against republican inspired uprisings only a few years earlier. Fighting for the Union meant, in their view, fighting for the survival of self government and the rule of law in the world (recall Lincoln's "last best hope" rhetoric). To Union soldiers it also meant preserving the legacy of the founding generation, and protecting the inheritance of future generations of Americans.

Most likely he fought to
preserve the Union rather
than end slavery
 Gallagher reviews recent scholarship on the Civil War that denigrates the concept of Union as a worthy war aim, explaining why the Union was so important to Northerners. Another interesting theme is Union soldiers' hatred of slaveholders and oligarchs who threatened "liberty," but primarily the Union soldiers' own through their non-free labor economy. He discusses the link that Northerners placed between the Union and economic liberty, something Lincoln and others continually stressed, although, again, he does not evaluate its accuracy (he does, interestingly, cite Karl Marx for the view that Union victory would preserve the most progressive form of government heretofore existent and provide many oppressed Europeans with the potential for a small degree of economic autonomy in the form of western lands).

 Overall, Gallagher's work is a "most read" for students of American history. It stands as a reminder that ideas have consequences, and provides us with exactly what good history does: a window into a time period as seen through the eyes of those who lived it, rather than through the distorting lens of time that has led some to condescending, ahistorical conclusions about those who fought and died to preserve the Union.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Amazon Review of Fenway 1912

Amazon Review of Fenway 1912

Fenway 1912
Glenn Stout
2011, 416 pp.

Link to the Amazon review

Note: Fenway 1912 was recently awarded the Society of American Baseball Research's Seymour Medal (best book on baseball history) and Larry Ritter Award (best book on the deadball era). 

Fenway 1912: The Birth of a Ballpark, A Championship Season, and Fenway's Remarkable First Year is the latest in a string of books celebrating the storied ballpark's centennial next year. Three other books about Fenway have already been released this year and another six are on the horizon. In Fenway 1912, Glen Stout, the author of numerous team histories and other sports related books, covers "all the bases," surrounding the park's construction and the 1912 Boston Red Sox championship season.


The 1912 World Series between the Red Sox and Giants was
so monumental it earned the title "The First Fall Classic"
To read Fenway 1912 is to travel back to New England at the dawn of the 20th century. Readers will meet not only the players, but Fenway architect James McLaughlin and head groundskeeper Jerome Kelly while learning something about the early, pre-1920 game both on the field and from a business perspective. Another major character is Boston itself, and Stout spends some time discussing the spate of buildings that had gone up near Fenway Park that still stand, enjoying iconic status in their own right. The Irish pols that took over the reins of city government before the turn of the century and were comfortably ensconced by the time the book opens also play an important role that Stout does not neglect. Street cars weren't just used for travel downtown, but in between towns as well. "Nuf Ced" McGreevy and the Royal Rooters make their appearances as well throughout.
Michael "Nuf Said" McGreevy
The Sox's  most ardent supporter

Fenway is, of course, iconic - its odd shape instantly recognizable to even the most casual baseball fan. Stout opines, however, that Fenway has actually changed so much in its 100 year history that today's Fenway regular, transported back in time to the days of Howard Taft and Smokey Joe Wood would not recognize the ball park he was sitting in. This constant change, not its unchanging image, is the real reason that Fenway has survived while other stadiums from the same era such as Ebbets Field, Shibe (Connie Mack) and Tiger Stadium have fallen victim to the wrecking ball, he writes. Besides dispelling the myth of a timeless, never changing Fenway, Stout demolishes some other myths. For instance, Fenway's shape was dictated by the shape of the land parcel purchased by the owners. There was still undeveloped area around the stadium. Given how far the ball flew in 1912, however, Fenway's dimensions were considered more than adequate and few home runs were anticipated. Of course, the city grew up around Fenway, closing it in and making expansion difficult once the game changed in 1920 with the livelier ball and free swinging, homer seeking batsmen.

Stout demolishes the myth that Fenway's odd shape was
attributable to the scarcity of available land
The Red Sox themselves come alive in Stout's description of the 1912 season and World Series, and the epilogue fills in the rest of their story after 1912. Still, the book's largest character is the park itself. Fortunately, an enlightened ownership and fan base has made the concessions and changes necessary to preserve Fenway, so its story is still being written. While Red Sox fans and Frequent Fenway goers will enjoy 1912 the most, any fan of the game and its history will want to give Fenway 1912 five stars.

To this day, the 1912 team is the winningist in Red Sox history. While fans will be celebrating Fenway's 100 year anniversary with the gorgeous coffee table books spewing forth, they'll also want this excellent history of the stadium's birth and the team that inaugurated it.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Why I Don't Follow College Football (any longer)

Until the late 1950s collge football was much bigger than pro football

Dating my lack of interest in college football is difficult.  Growing up in Michigan, a state with not one but two NCAA Division One FBS football programs, I loved following the Big 10 (historical side note: there really were only 10 teams in the Big 10 once upon a time).  With its passionate student fan bases, marching bands, fight songs and a more exciting style of play than the National Football League, it was always much more fun to watch the Wolverines and Spartans than the Detroit Lions (ok, just about anything was).  Despite the debacle that was his brief presidency of the Detroit Tigers, longtime Michigan head coach Bo Schembechler remains one of my heroes (as does, for some reason not fully understood by me, Alabama coach Bear Bryant).  Yet today I rarely do anything more than check the scores every now and again.  When I do read something about college football in depth it’s usually because of some scandal with deeper societal impact, such as Penn State’s implosion.

Bo Schembechler: he turned down a truckload of
 money to stay at Michigan and became an even bigger legend:
 where are today's Schembehlers?

I think there are a number of culprits, originally having to do with the overregulation of the game and the way it deals with violations.  For the sin of “excessive celebration” for a late go-ahead touchdown, the opposing team will likely get the ball with good enough field position to kick a long game winning field goal, nullifying the heroic long run or 80 yard “bomb.”  A late night out with the teammates that leads to some cheap tattoos?  Goodbye national championship.  With a mindset that would have made perfect sense to Joseph Stalin and at which George Orwell would have salivated to parody, the NCAA has taken to declaring players retroactively ineligible and any games played with them forfeit no matter what the score on the field was or how long ago the final whistle blew.  In short, there’s no guarantee that the outcome of the game you just spent three hours watching won’t be altered by lawyers years later and the $75 Rose Bowl sweatshirt you bought your son to commemorate your alma mater’s gridiron glory rendered an embarrassing reminder best left at the bottom of the drawer.

When there were still ties in college football:
 the 1966 10-10 game between MSU and Notre Dame
 (both undefeated) is one of the true classics
The recent story regarding how Texas Tech head coach Tommy Tuberville walked out of a recruiting dinner and, having just accepted his new position at the University of Cincinnati, simply never returned started me down a new, separate line of reasoning why I’m just no longer interested in college football.  Too many of the game’s most important personas simply lack commitment to their schools.  This wasn’t even the first time Tommy Tuberville let down the program he coached.  Nor is he the first coach to leave his program in the lurch, swearing lifelong fealty to whichever school just hired him only to have already compiled a short list of what constitutes the next rung on their career ladder.  This is certainly not behavior restricted to college football.  Perhaps we have even come to expect this from the head coaches of the college football world, a small band more closely aligned with Machiavelli’s Condottiere than their more immediate predecessors by such behavior.  But that behavior can only exist in the long run because it is countenanced by the college administrators who hire them despite their track records.  In short, there’s simply no longer any “adults in the room” when it comes to college football. 

It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that the world we knew when we were young was a better one, but I’m convinced that the college football one that I knew from the 1970s and 1980s was such a world.  The sport I follow most closely, baseball, certainly had its share of troubles with steroids and imbalance of play, causing me and many others to lose interest in the 1990s.  Somehow, though, baseball came back and by virtually every metric is in great shape.  With all of the recent health issues surfacing about former NFL players and the epidemic of violence becoming associated with pro football both on and off the field, baseball has even arguably reclaimed its place atop the US sports world.

College football has faced an existential crisis in its history that was even more serious than what it faces today.  In the early 20th century the game had become so rough that there were several fatalities each year and a movement to put an end to it.  It was able to clean up its act only after a Presidential intervention by Theodore Roosevelt, whose son played for the Harvard varsity squad.  The NCAA, whose governing status was one of the Roosevelt era reform, seems to have lost its way. 

Perhaps it is time for another outside intervention?


Teddy Roosevelt helped fix college football before: Is there another TR out there?

 

 

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Review of The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction

Amazon Review of The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction
Gil Troy
2009, 168 pp.

Link to the Amazon review

In THE REAGAN REVOLUTION: A VERY SHORT INTRODUCTION professor Gil Troy asserts that Ronald Reagan is our most significant President since FDR.  Trying to explain seeming contradiction of a so-called right wing conservative President pursuing a “revolution” leads Troy to reinterpret Reagan and what his administration was about, analyze the extent to which Reagan succeeded, and evaluate how much of his legacy remains with us today.  Troy is mostly persuasive in his judgments but can occasionally make grandiose claims both for and against Reagan without always convincing his readers, many of whom will likely be disposed toward their own strong views on the subject.
"The PATCO showdown... a
turning point in America’s
economic, psychic, and
patriotic revival."
 
Troy does a nice job of setting the stage by explaining Reagan’s upbringing and personality (a task so daunting to official biographer Edmund Morris that Morris felt the need to invent a fictional character who could interact with Reagan as a character in a work of supposed non-fiction).  Reagan was a “loner who knew how to charm a crowd,” concludes Troy, the result of an upbringing in a lower middle class household that was constantly on the move.  His father’s alcoholism and the other turmoil in his youth led him, out of necessity, to create the sunny optimism that sometimes only he could see, but also could blind himself to others’ struggles.  Troy also provides a succinct history of the trajectory of American government in the 19th and 20th centuries, and how Reagan came to view those events, that led America to the sorry state in which it found itself in 1980.  Such history is important, in Troy’s view, because Reagan was not so much trying to revolutionize America so much as “recover” a period in our history before he thinks we took a wrong turn.
While Troy seems to like Reagan personally and freely credits his political savvy (strongly rejecting the “amiable dunce” caricature popular during Reagan’s presidency), he also seems sympathetic to the views of Reagan’s opponents on many issues.  For instance, Troy credits the New Deal with helping to lift the working class into enough economic comfort that it would eventually become the base for Reagan’s triumph, the so-called “Reagan Democrats.”  Both Reagan critics and admirers will find much to like and dislike in Troy’s account, which does a very nice job covering every significant aspect of the Reagan years in the very limited space allotted by the “Very Short Introduction” format.
Reagan remained an ardent fan of
FDR -"The press is trying to paint me
 as trying to undo the New Deal.… I'm
trying to undo the Great Society"
 - Ronald Reagan.
Troy can contradict himself however, particularly when it comes to Reagan’s true goals.  Sometimes he is sensitive to Reagan’s continued support for New Deal fundamentals, but other times he notes that Reagan was unable to undo the New Deal.    Troy also asserts at length Reagan’s policies and values “personified” a “consumer-driven, celebrity-oriented, and selfish society” but then he points out that such trends both pre and post dated Reagan, undercutting such criticism.  He also seems surprised that Reagan and crew did nothing to roll back the civil rights gains of the 1960s when the only assertion that they would try came from Reagan’s opponents.  There proof may be there for some of Troy’s conclusions but he does not always “show his work.”  He does a better job explaining the seeming contradictions in Reagan’s foreign policy and in explaining how in both domestic and foreign policy, Reagan would surprise both his supporters and critics, proving himself more flexible and pragmatic than the rigid caricature that both sides saw him as.
"Love him or hate him, Ronald Reagan remains
 the most influential president since Franklin D. Roosevelt."
.

 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Review of Mayflower: A Story of Courage, Community, and War

MAYFLOWER: A STORY OF COMMUNITY, COURAGE AND WAR
Nathaniel Philbrick
2006, 480 pp.

Link to the Amazon review

Nathaniel Philbrick’s MAYFLOWER: A STORY OF COMMUNITY, COURAGE AND WAR is essentially a retelling of the story of the settlement on Plymouth Colony in 1620 and the history of that colony though the end of what became known as “King Phillips War.” That conflict, which stretched throughout New England, came close to snuffing out the presence of English settlement in that part of North America. Despite our knowledge of how it all came out, Philbrook manages to create many moments of drama leaving the reader not wanting to put the book down as he recounts many of the individual narratives that make up the dramatic history of 17th century Plymouth and its surroundings.

The traditional story
 of the Pilgrims' first
 Thanksgiving is surprisingly
accurate
 Early on, Philbrick tackles “two conflicting preconceptions.” The first is that the Pilgrims “symbolize all that is good about America”. Its counter is that “evil Europeans annihilated the innocent Native Americans.” His research led him to a much richer, more interesting story: “real-life Indians and English of the seventeenth century were too smart, too generous, too greedy, too brave—in short, too human—to behave so predictably.” In short, there are heroes and villains among both the English and the Native Americans they encounter. This may upset some readers who prefer their preconceptions unblemished, but for the rest of us it makes for a much more interesting story and rings truer to our own experience in everyday life that courage, decency and wisdom are not traits endemic to one group or utterly lacking in another.

Generally, the group Philbrick refers to as the “Leideners” or those separatist English who had left England and moved to Holland because they could not, in good conscience, remain in the Church of England (a legal requirement at the time) come off well. They were extreme in their religious beliefs, and would later deny others the freedom to practice their religion that compelled them to sail to America in the first place. Still, they were dedicated to their God, incredibly brave and determined to establish a place for themselves where they could live the way they thought proper. For the most part, their dealings with the Native Americans they encountered were judicious and wise, and the Thanksgiving story we’ve come to know is, surprisingly, mostly correct if incomplete.

The David Patraeus of
his day, Benjamin Church
revolutionized the New
Englanders' way of war
Philbick’s telling leaves a little to be desired when explaining precisely how the Native Americans came to find themselves in the desperate position they were in when Phillip decided to war against the English. In fact, it sounds as though they were desperate to keep purchasing English goods but unwilling to engage in the sorts of work necessary to earn them. Finding that their agricultural way of life no longer sustainable they chose to sell their capital (land), leaving them in an even worse position. Philbrook lays this out but can’t quite bring himself to say that it was the Natives changing in some ways (longing for English goods) but not others (a willingness to adapt to the changing economy) that forced their hand. He also fails to go into any detail as to how the English governed themselves, mentioning their ultimate decisions but skimping on the decision making processes.

Hardly the benign savage
of legend, Squanto was a
shrewd go between who
exploited the Pilgrims and
Natives' ignorance for his
own purposes.

Philbrick's judgment of Englishmen and Natives is balanced and he carefully analyzes the judgments and misjudgments that led to a war no one wanted or expected that proved so catastrophic for the region and all of its peoples. Readers will likely see parallels to the War on Terror in many aspects of how the English initially fought but then came to adapt when their traditional methods proved unsatisfactory. In sum, MAYFLOWER stands as a very good introduction to the story of the English settling of New England and the first period of the New England colonies’ history.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Gentleman's Gazette Review of Churchill Style


Review of Churchill Style
Barry Singer
2012, 240 pp.

(Published in a slightly altered format in Gentleman's Gazette Ezine)



Winston Churchill is both one of history’s greatest and most stylistically evocative figures.  The British statesman served in numerous government posts of one of the world’s great imperial powers at key moments during the course of the 20th century.  He was called to head the Admiralty (navy) during World War One, serve as Secretary of State for the Colonies during the creation of the Irish Free State, take charge of the Exchequer (treasury) during the tempestuous 1920s and, finally, to reside at Number 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister during World War II (a post to which he would be recalled during the Cold War).  He also wrote numerous books that included several multiple volume histories and delivered countless rhetorical masterpieces in the House of Commons.  But then there is also the exuberant Churchill of great style, the Churchill that was “easily satisfied with the best” in creature comforts ranging from cigars, scotch, automobiles, country homes, food and champagne, right down to his silk underwear and pajamas.



We often portray style and substance as being in tension if not outright incompatible, but Barry Singer’s Churchill Style: The Art of Being Winston Churchill illustrates how Churchill’s lifestyle furthered his substantial career.  As a bonus, the book’s details add a good deal of gloss to the Churchill story, helping us to feel as if we know the great man just a little bit more intimately, just as we know our friends by the brand of beer they drink or the type of car they drive and the other everyday items they love that we come to associate with them.  It’s as if Yousuf Karsh’s famous photograph of Churchill had blossomed into glorious color.

Karsh's famous photo
And much of Churchill Style does concern itself with the items most famously associated with Churchill: the ever present cigars, bow ties, homburgs, dark suits, and whiskey and sodas, the seemingly endless amounts of cognac and champagne, and his ever present, trademark “V for Victory” hand sign.  Singer, the owner of the Churchill-focused Chartwell Books, covers Churchill’s homes and his past times, such as his polo playing, painting and reading.  Readers will be treated to the intimate details of Churchill’s life, often hinted at in other works, via such exhibits as railroad service instructions telling stewards precisely how to stock Sir Winston’s private railway car (canap├ęs, coffee, tea, Johnny Walker Black, Martell extra cognac) and serve his breakfast (tea, juice, eggs and sliced meat), detailed book orders, and the ubiquitous tailors’ bills that were an ever present irritant in the life of a Victorian or Edwardian gentleman.
One of WCs many "Siren Suits"

Churchill’s wardrobe is also covered in extensive detail.  Singer explains the origins of Churchill’s preference for bow ties, relates the criticism Churchill received from Tailor and Cutter magazine for his choice of wedding apparel and explains his penchant for the odd looking “siren suits” (front zippered jump suits).  A full blown “Churchillian Shopping Guide” is appended for those who wish to purchase their clothes and accessories from those same shops frequented by Churchill that remain in existence.

These are, however, only the small and superficial elements of a much broader and meaningful conception of style, namely the approach by which Churchill rose to power in just the right place and at the right time to play perhaps THE critical role in the history of the 20th century.  For Churchill, style and substance were not competing elements or even in tension.  Churchill’s style was a vital aspect of his very being and it is the book’s subtitle, The Art of Being Winston Churchill that best conveys the book’s principle value by describing how Churchill’s lifestyle served to sustain his meteoric, if highly volatile, political career and the writing that ultimately earned him a Nobel Prize.

Picasso himself remarked that Churchill could have earned a living by his landscapes.  For Churchill, however, painting provided a much needed psychological break from the burdens of leadership.   He even went so far as to claim that he couldn't have born the strain without painting as one form of self-expression that he found necessary to live.  Less well known among Churchill’s past times was his passion for horses, both in the form of playing polo and owning race horses.  He also did not shy from manual labor despite his illustrious upbringing, and was proud that his brick laying skills developed to the point of earning membership in a bricklayers’ union.  The never ending projects undertaken to improve Chartwell, his country home, were also doubtlessly a great source of diversion and stress relief.

Chartwell: Churchill's country estate and home base
Singer does not neglect the other vital roles that Chartwell played in his career.  A day away from Chartwell was wasted according to Churchill, and it was both the center of his political life as well as his retreat from it.  A decaying structure dating back to the Elizabethan period, Chartwell was a money pit that helped keep Churchill close to bankruptcy for much of his life.  As Singer puts it, “His singular gift was a stalwart ability to live as he wished, even if it was often beyond his means.”  Yet, it was the need to finance the lifestyle that Chartwell entailed that drove much of Churchill’s journalism and writing.  If necessity is the mother of invention, Chartwell certainly played a major role in Churchill’s literary output.

To be clear, one does not have to emulate Churchill’s particular lifestyle to lead a life of substantial accomplishment.  For at the end of the day Winston Churchill’s style was more than a mere accumulation of homes, horses and autos.  The cigars and brandies were, in fact, mere accouterments and a fascinating diversion for readers.  At its heart, writes Singer, the essence of Churchill’s style lay not in mere things but in “the ambition, the energy, the resourcefulness and the boundless self-confidence…his infuriating conviction he was bound for greatness, as well as fearlessness in pursuing it…”  It was these last elements that allowed him to survive political catastrophes that would have felled a lesser man.  His career could well have been ended (undeservedly) by the failed Dardanelles campaign in 1915, with which he was closely associated or as a result of the decision to return Britain to the gold standard, an ill-fated endeavor he oversaw as Chancellor but of which he did not approve.  As a result his career was viewed as being in such a shambles that when asked by Stalin himself about Churchill’s political future in 1932, his nemesis, Lady Astor, replied simply, “Churchill?  Oh, he’s finished.”

Nancy Astor: Churchill's bete noir
Diverse audiences will find much to enjoy in Churchill Style.  While it is not the ideal volume for a reader wishing to read only a single book about Churchill, it will serve to whet the appetite and make most neophytes wish for more.  Alternatively, dedicated Churchillians will revel in Singer’s numerous details about Churchill’s personal life and the list of Churchill’s chief purveyors still in operation should they wish to imitate the great man’s lifestyle.  All readers will appreciate Singer’s highly intelligent observations about how Churchill’s style contributed to, and was ultimately an integral part of his brilliant career, putting to rest any notion that one need choose between style and substance.
Churchill waves to the crowd outside Buckingham Palace after the German surrender

Monday, November 5, 2012

Amazon Review of Eisenhower in War and Peace

Eisenhower in War and Peace
Jean Edward Smith
2012, 976 pp.

Amazon review is here

Perhaps because of the division in 21st century America between two parties in thrall to extremes, centrist Dwight "Ike" Eisenhower is very much in fashion today in the publishing world. The crown jewel of recent Eisenhower-related output, however, is likely Jean Edward Smith's Eisenhower In War and Peace. Smith, the author of multiple military, political and judicial biographies is the ideal biographer of Ike, and he delivers as perfect a product as could be hoped for in a work that stretches over 900 very well written pages.

Smith begins with the Eisenhower family history, dusting off legends and revealing some uncomfortable truths about Ike's father in particular. Still, he does not dwell too long on family and upbringing and by the end of the first chapter Ike has just graduated from the US Military Academy. The book is fast paced, with each chapter containing a new, interesting episode in Eisenhower's military, academic and then political life. It nicely transitions from Ike's military to political career, noting his speeches upon return to the US. The war's impact on the statesman's understanding of foreign affairs is evident when Ike tells an audience in New York City about the need to remain both strong and tolerant, always considering the rights of others while being unafraid to assert the US's own rights. Smith is fluent in the most recent scholarship. Readers will be presented with an up to date account of every significant aspect of Ike's life and career and Smith's well considered views on many of them.

Although Smith makes clear up front his vast respect for Eisenhower as a soldier and statesman (ranking him only second to FDR among 20th century Presidents), he does not spare the criticism. He notes with disapproval Eisenhower's sometimes leisurely lifestyle during his command in World War II, frequently having large villas and homes secured for his official "family" and always finding time for riding, socializing and card playing. Smith sides with contemporary military historians in faulting Ike as a battlefield commander (as opposed to a theater commander) in operations in North Africa and Europe and is especially harsh of Ike's handling of the drive to Germany and decision to adopt a campaign that pressed equally along all fronts (in conformity with dated US military doctrine long since abandoned by other nations - such a decision prolonged the war, adding countless military and civilian deaths, concludes Smith). He also ranks President Eisenhower's use of the CIA to topple democratic governments in Iran and Guatemala as a wartime mistake on par with Lincoln's suspension of Habeas Corpus and Roosevelt's internment of Japanese-Americans.

Smith rarely falters. A notable example is his characterization of Hoover's reaction to the Depression ("watch[ing] from the sidelines, convinced that natural forces would set things straight"), an outdated view long since abandoned by historians. It's a particularly odd mistake for Smith, whose last work was a major biography of FDR. Another slight failing is Smith's occasional reference to military positions and entities without an adequate explanation for the novice (understandable given his immersion in military affairs for other books). The discussion of the Court's opinion in Brown is a bit muddled. Finally, his unsupported explanation of Ike's renaming of Camp David as "evidently hoping to erase the memory" of his war time patron FDR seems both odd and petty. These, however, hardly detract from what will be the crowning achievement of one of our most gifted historians, and a strong candidate for a Pulitzer Prize.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Point of Order Review of Mr. Speaker!

Mr. Speaker!  The Life and Times of Thomas B. Reed: The Man Who Broke the Filibuster
James Grant
2011, 448 pp.

Link to Point of Order review

James Grant is best known for his financial analysis, shared with those willing to part with a pretty penny, via the eponymous Grant’s Interest Rate Observer (current subscription rate: US$910). For decades, Wall Streeters have prized his contrarian, quirky insights, and those that have been willing to act on his skepticism even during the most bullish of markets have seen their investments in his publication returned countless times over. The Observer has never wanted for historically based pieces, looking into America’s financial past for insight into contemporary markets.

Grant’s love of history, however, has led him to venture into writing full length biographies, the subjects of which have been themselves quirky, interesting characters (e.g. the financier Bernard Baruch, President John Adams). The subject of his latest book, Mr. Speaker! The Life and Times of Thomas B. Reed, the Man who Broke the Filibuster, however, really demonstrates Grant’s talents for uncovering undervalued assets. The result is an intriguing trip with a fascinating guide into a part of American history that’s all too quickly rushed through in a typical history class.

Thomas Brackett Reed is not exactly a household name, perhaps not even in the home of a political historian. A Mainer born and bred, Reed was a Member of Congress and eventually the Republican leader in the House during much of what has now become known, thanks to Mark Twain, as the “gilded age” for what Twain perceived as being only a superficially elegant surface covering a corrupt underbody. Reed rose to the Speakership when the Republicans held the majority in 1889 and 1895 for a combined six years. It was there Reed was to make his mark on the House if not the country.

To fully appreciate the story, it’s important to understand that Reed’s tenure in Congress and Speakership occurred mostly in the period before the Presidency had matured into the powerful office of today. Prior to William McKinley, the occupant of the Oval Office was still more of the “chief magistrate” that earlier generations of Americans had mostly known. Only during crisis such as the Civil War had they seen glimpses of what the office could and would become once America became a world power. As a consequence, Reed and his ilk were able to be far more influential than we might otherwise suppose, living as we do during a time when the President is seen as virtually synonymous with the federal government itself.

Reed himself is a fascinating subject. A very talented lawyer who used his skills in the thrust and parry of congressional debate, he could be at times the most cynical of party hacks, rising to the very top of the greasy pole during an era when corruption and graft were vital parts of American politics. Yet, Reed himself was fiercely honest, living off his congressional salary and living a modest lifestyle when others, such as his Maine rival James Blaine were somehow living the life of a corporate plutocrat on a public salary. In addition, Reed could be deeply principled. He was devoted to women’s suffrage and strongly opposed to the growing bellicosity of US foreign policy. He would resign his seat rather than carry his party’s water during the Spanish-American War. Readers will revel in Reed’s caustic wit and his penchant for one liners and put downs.

Chapters are devoted not only to Reed’s personal life and career (indeed his personal life is given particularly short shrift) but to the important issues of the day. To read Mr. Speaker is to take a course on the political economy of America in the latter half of the 19th century from a writer who has earned a small fortune explaining the most technical, mundane aspects of finance in clear, colorful prose. Grant covers topics such as the commission examining the election of President Rutherford Hayes in which both parties had dirty hands, but where the allegation of a “stolen election” was likely true. Another chapter serves as a masterful introduction to the challenging but vital issue of currency. Much of the politics of the late 19th century revolved around the debate between those who wanted to maintain gold as the only acceptable US currency and those looking to temper the tight monetary effect of the gold standard with silver coins or, horrors, paper money. Paper money that was not convertible to gold had been introduced to pay for the Civil War. After a decade and a half of wrangling, the US returned to the gold standard in 1879. Paper would stay in circulation, but exchangeable for gold at $20.67 an ounce. This of course had the effect of limiting the amount of paper that could be circulated, which both led to tight money and served to guard against inflation. The amount of paper exceeded the amount the US had in gold at this time. The US only had enough gold to redeem $141.9m but there existed $346.7m in paper money. There was the very real threat the U.S. would be asked to redeem more than it could pay out in gold. Yet, when the time came, the American people decided that paper was more convenient after all, and that merely knowing the money was convertible was enough.

Interestingly, the partisan aspects of politics of the late 19th century were almost completely opposite of today’s. Republicans loudly proclaimed their support of the system of “American Protection,” or high tariffs designed to fund the Treasury without the need of the Civil War income tax and bulking up the wages of those employed by protected industries (not to mention the profits of their owners and party supporters). Democrats decried the tariff as just another form of taxation, noting that the inflated wages and profits of those in politically favored industries came at the expense of all Americans in the form of higher costs. The rich government surpluses from high tariffs, in turn, led to “extravagant appropriations,” Democrats charged, which meant an expansion of government far beyond what their still revered Thomas Jefferson would have ever countenanced.

The climax of the book, however, lies in its subtitle “The Man Who Broke the Filibuster.” In Reed’s day, a majority of the House needed to record themselves as “present” during a quorum call in order for the House to vote to pass legislation. Members standing in the Chamber opposed to a measure needed only not answer the roll call, and if the House lacked a quorum (as it often did in the days before the age of modern transportation) it could not proceed, allowing a non-vocal minority to obstruct the People’s business on a frequent basis. Both parties invoked this version of the filibuster often, not least of which was House minority leader Thomas Reed. Yet, eventually Reed’s belief in majority rule led him to dramatically alter the rule while he was in the Chair, directing the clerk to record the presence of those silent members whom he spied. This resulted in an outraged minority who reversed Reed’s ruling when they retook the majority. Yet, after a few years of suffering from Reed’s masterful obstruction tactics, Democrats tacitly acknowledged the wisdom of his views and adopted the Reed rule and similar changes Reed had made to the chamber’s rules making it the relatively more efficient legislative body it is today.

Readers of Point of Order will likely find Mr. Speaker! a fascinating account of the House in the latter half of the 19th century and of the key political issues of the time. Those less versed or interested in political history find may find Grant’s recounting of the minutiae of House debates and his treatment of the gold standard and tariff more tedious. At the end of the day, however, Grant deserves much credit for his lively portrayal of this pivotal 19th century congressional giant and his great impact on the shape of the institution.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Amazon Review of American History: A Very Short Introduction

American History: A Very Short Introduction
Paul S. Boyer
2012, 184 pp.

Link to the Amazon review

American History: A Very Short Introduction provides its reader with as comprehensive a look at American political, social and cultural history as is possible in under 200 small pages (the standard format for the “Very Short Introduction” series, whose books are not only short but small as well) and in a well written manner. Virtually every event, person of significance and movement in American history receives at least a mention, which must have been a difficult task to accomplish given the strictures. What it does not do, however, is provide consistently up to date scholarship or a proper sense of proportion of America’s triumphs to failures. It also contains a few errors and some of Boyer’s interpretations of events will provoke disagreement with those who do not share his political leanings.

Boyer essentially begins with the English settlement of North America, dispensing with the pre-Columbian native peoples, Leif Ericson and non-English Europeans in only a few pages. The colonial period is one of the book’s strengths as Boyer explains the development of the English settlements at Jamestown and Plymouth and the social development of the New World as different from that of the Old. The events leading to the Revolution are also nicely cataloged, and Boyer takes us from the post-Revolutionary war period through the Gilded Age in a fairly conventional manner.

Some of Boyer’s interpretations of events rely on dated scholarship, however. A simplistic search for foreign markets accounts entirely for the Spanish-American War. His account of the New Deal places the stock market crash in the role of catalyst of the Great Depression failing to mention the role of monetary policy, which is at the core of today’s economic understanding. He also dredges up the traditional misconception that Americans’ fondness for coffee dates from the Boston Tea Party and incorrectly cites the date of England’s Glorious Revolution. Boyer also cites a famous utterance by Andrew Jackson in defiance of the Supreme Court that is considered apocryphal.

Although explicitly Boyer strives for objectivity he does not always achieve it. His account is generally well balanced through Reconstruction, but his leftward leanings emerge shortly thereafter and his interpretation of events from the Gilded Age to the present too often becomes predictable and selective. Progressives are, unsurprisingly for a University of Wisconsin professor, lauded and nearly every legislative enactment of the New Deal and Great Society is given space. Like many historians, though, Boyer mistakes these enactments as achievements in their own right, and rarely analyzes whether they, in fact, accomplished their goals. For instance, he credits President Clinton with welfare reform but never asks why a Democratic president would see the need to reform it in the first place. His characterization of today’s Tea Party as an offshoot of the religious right ignores the firestorm that occurred a result of policies that were perceived to “bailout” the impecunious (whether on Wall Street, in the housing market or the auto industry) at the expense of those who had behaved in a fiscally responsible manner in the Tea Party members’ views.

Boyer concludes by cataloging America’s many challenges and faults as he finds them today. Nonetheless, he concludes that “when the balance is drawn, America’s record of achievement in advancing human well-being may ultimately outweigh the rest and prove a more lasting measure of national greatness than transient imperial power, military might, or a mere abundance of ephemeral material goods.” The reader will likely need consult another book to understand, however, why that is.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Amazon Review of Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Jon Meacham
2012, 800 pp

Link to the Amazon review

Throughout our history Presidents as politically diverse as Lincoln, Wilson, FDR, Kennedy and Reagan have enthusiastically embraced the legacy of their predecessor, Thomas Jefferson. Recent scholarship on the Founding generation, however, has unfairly diminished Jefferson in Jon Meacham's view. Biographies of Washington, Adams and Hamilton have all tended to reduce Jefferson to the role of an intriguer lurking in the background, a foil for Hamilton and Adams in particular. In Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, Meacham reclaims Jefferson's prominence in setting America on her course, asserting that most of the Presidents who served between 1800 and 1840 were Jeffersonians, and holds Jefferson up as a role model for today's politicians struggling to reconcile political idealism with the realism needed to traverse the rough waters of democratic politics.

 The Art of Power is a very well written narrative and moves at a fast paced with chapters generally ranging from 10-15 pages. While Meacham clearly admires Jefferson, though, he is able to acknowledge Jefferson's failures and contradictions as well. However, there are several shortcomings that detracted from my enjoyment of the Art of Power.

First, while The Art of Power covers Jefferson's personal and political lives thoroughly, Meacham appears to have been poorly served by certain curious editorial choices. His summation of Jefferson's legacy appears in the Author's Note, and much of the detail necessary to inform the reader of vital details is contained in the nearly 200 pages of end notes. For example the text makes it appear as if there is no question whatsoever regarding Jefferson's paternity of his slave's children. Only in the footnotes will the reader learn of the controversy and evidence supporting both Meacham's conclusion and other possibilities. The complexities involved in other details of the Jefferson story sometimes also seem slighted in order to ensure the narrative pace remains speedy.

 Next, despite his theme of a politician who mastered the art of power to successfully reconcile philosophy with practicality Meacham treads lightly on Jefferson's philosophy (one of very few omissions in his lengthy bibliography, tellingly, is Jean Yarborough's study of Jefferson's political and moral philosophy). This is a shame because his portrait of a Jefferson that does not fit the libertarian mold is provocative and interesting. Meacham's Jefferson is less antipathetic to large government, federal and executive power and commerce than is commonly understood today, but Meacham does little to explore further Jefferson's thinking on these and other matters, nor does he attempt any explanation of why the Jefferson of common perception does not fit Meacham's own reading, which would have been very interesting to me. His is a Jefferson more of action than thought.

 Readers looking for a high readable introduction to the political events of Jefferson's time or personal life will enjoy this work, and it seems to fill the need for a good medium sized Jefferson biography to fill the gap between R.B. Bernstein's very perceptive short study and Merrill Peterson's 1,000 page tome. Those seeking a more rounded treatment of all Jefferson's facets may find themselves disappointed, however. Similarly, readers looking for a more robust treatment of the period may wish to utilize Meacham's exhaustive bibliography for further reading.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Amazon Review of The Greater Journey

David McCullough
The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris
2011, 576pp

Link to the Amazon review

The City of Lights captivates Americans like no other. As true as this has been in the 20th century, it was equally true in the 19th as well. For many Americans of education, culture and means during the 19th century, time in Paris was nearly indispensable. Not only writers, artists, sculptors, but medical doctors and many others went to Paris to broaden their tastes, perspectives and professional training. There they savored art, architecture, music, intellectual discourse and even the discovery of a more relaxed way to enjoy life, which were all available in far more abundance than America offered even in its larger cities. David McCullough's The Greater Journey looks at the many prominent 19th century Americans who spent part of their lives in Paris and catalogs the details of their sojourns.

 As he has done in numerous works, McCullough once again displays his great skill in inserting his reader into the story. He does not neglect the travel itself, explaining the nuances and rigors of 19th century transatlantic crossings and the coach rides needed to get his subjects to their destination. Once in Paris, we read of the city's many delights. Gastronomy, art, architecture, society, music, theater, etc. are all relayed in a vivid manner sure to delight many readers, particularly Francophiles. 

To be sure, Paris had its share of disappointments. Charles Sumner, later to become a US Senator and leading abolitionist detested the constant presence of soldiers in the city. Educator Emma Willard was distraught at the high rate of child abandonment and the sight of parentless infants in the hospital. Still, the vast majority of the book is consumed with the Americans' many delights in what the city offered.

 Rather than the travelers, however, the book's ultimate protagonist is the city of Paris itself. The capital of Europe in a sense, it was truly a mandatory destination not just for the arts but other learned professions during the 19th century. What's all too lacking, however, is WHY this was. McCullough slights the city's history and the reason for its great preeminence in nearly all facets of learning in most cases (medicine is an exception - the willingness of female patients to submit to examinations by male doctors and the easy availability of cadavers were the major reasons Paris was a major center for medical education). This detracted from my enjoyment of the book. In addition, he does not give us a great sense of how and to what extent "The Greater Journey" impacted American arts and letters (again, medicine is the exception). The Parisian influence on the US was surely significant given the importance of the Americans who traveled there and back, but McCullough doesn't always give us a clear idea of how or to what extent this was passed on after their arrival back in the United States.

 Interestingly, however, McCullough relates that their time in Paris often reinvigorated the Americans' self-identity and pride in their own homeland rather than adopting a view if French or European superiority as might be expected. Why this is, McCullough doesn't venture an explanation. Overall, however, readers will delight in the Parisian experience of the book's subjects and those without a background in 19th century American letters, arts and sciences (in this I count myself) will learn a great deal. One wishes for a writer of McCullough's gifts of clear storytelling and a little bit more analytical ability and inquisitiveness, but most will find the Greater Journey highly enjoyable, as I did.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Hardball Times Review of The Imperfect Diamond


The Imperfect Diamond
Lee Lowenfish
2010, 352 pp

Link to the Hardball Times Review


He goes where he is sent, takes what is given him, and thanks the Lord for the life.
-New York Giants shortstop John Montgomery Ward, reflecting on the life of the 19th century ball player


Today’s baseball fan is inundated with information about the Rule 5 draft, revenue sharing and similar concepts that deal with the business of baseball, because increasingly what we see on the diamond is shaped by off-field events. What happens in the offices of general managers, owners, agents and the commissioner is vital to how their team will play this year (and in the not-too-distant past, whether games would even be played at all).

It’s difficult to fully appreciate this off-the-field activity, though, without at least a passing knowledge baseball’s labor history and the long struggle players had to undergo to achieve a fair share of baseball’s gate. It is this history that Lee Lowenfish, a Columbia University lecturer and the author of 
a superb biography of Branch Rickey , recounts in The Imperfect Diamond: A History of Baseball's Labor Wars, recently released in an updated edition.

We’ve come a long way from when major league baseball players were the property of imperious owners free to sell players’ services without restraint and pay them little more than what was merely necessary to keep them playing baseball as opposed to laboring in some other endeavor. 

In contrast, today’s major league baseball player earned at least the league minimum salary of $400,000 in 2009, is eligible for free agency after six years in the big leagues and is eligible to have his salary determined by impartial third parties through arbitration after a mere three. How we got from the 19th century world of John Montgomery Ward and his hard laboring, mistreated colleagues to that of today is a long, complicated, often discouraging tale.

The Imperfect Diamond delivers on its subtitle A History of Baseball’s Labor Wars by providing a clear synopsis of the most significant labor disputes in the game’s past. At just over 300 pages, it explores the historically significant episodes where various players and outsiders attempted to challenge the onerous working conditions that existed for them throughout most of the game’s history.

The infamous reserve clause that purported to bind a player to the ball club that signed him so long as the club wanted him (at whatever salary it was willing to pay him), baseball’s judicially created antitrust exemption that propped it up and the fight to establish a pension fund for retired players and their families are just some of the subjects chronicled. With the third edition, Lowenfish is also able to update the story to include the 1994 strike, the attempts by owners to combat free agency via collusion, and the steroids controversy.

Despite any romantic notions we might have about a time when baseball was an innocent game, prior to being sullied by profits and the inevitable disputes they bring regarding their disposition, our story actually begins as early as 1885. The players, led by Ward, one of the superstars of the day, formed the first organization devoted to protecting them from the worst abuses they suffered; e.g., unpaid signing bonuses, players terminated with little or no notice, etc., the Brotherhood of Professional Baseball Players.

This attempt was just the first of many such ill-fated efforts. The Players’ Protective Association, the Baseball Players’ Fraternity and the American Baseball Guild would all follow over the years. But none would succeed beyond the short term until the formation of the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1954.

The familiar stories are here—tales of the reserve clause and the abuses it engendered, ill-considered judicial opinions that credulous congressional committees were hoodwinked into letting stand, and similar sad affairs. It begins with the 1975 Messersmith-McNally arbitration that resulted in the effective elimination of the reserve clause as it had existed for decades. 
Curt Flood ’s pitiful saga is also recounted in great detail.

Other less well known, but equally important aspects of the story are also present. Among the most interesting is the case of 
Danny Gardella , whose 1947 federal lawsuit (stemming from an attempt by baseball to prohibit him from playing due to his participation in the Mexican League) resulted in a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals that could have effectively ended baseball’s monopoly had the owners not settled. For the Gardella case and some of the issues covered in his new epilogue, Lowenfish was able to directly interview some of the participants, making these passages some of the most compelling parts of the book, particularly the new material covering more recent events.

A good history tells you what happened and why. The "why" in The Imperfect Diamond would occasionally benefit from a deeper treatment of external events as a means of shedding light on why baseball’s labor history developed as it did. For instance, only occasionally does Lowenfish reference labor conditions outside of baseball. Additional discussion of other labor movements, developments in labor law and the public’s perception of labor unions in general would help the reader understand a little better why some players’ efforts succeeded better than others at different points in history.

The book contains a couple of factual errors, none of which undermine the book’s value as a comprehensive history of baseball’s significant labor disputes. For instance, 
Jimmie Foxx  was traded from Philadelphia to Boston in 1936 rather than 1933.

More glaringly, because of limitations placed on what could be altered in the original text, the third edition necessarily retains the now discredited story that Ford Frick placed an asterisk next to 
Roger Maris ’s 1961 home run record. (In fact, Frick had suggested that since 1961 represented the first year with a longer season (162 vs. 154 games) those who kept baseball records (which, incredibly enough, Major League Baseball did not at the time) should keep a separate set of records for the 162 game era going forward.) The myth of an actual, as opposed to a metaphorical, asterisk has been around long enough and deserves to be put to rest.

These are quibbles, however. For those looking for an introduction to baseball’s labor history, The Imperfect Diamond is a splendid choice. Lowenfish writes clearly, and he is transparent enough to acknowledge that he takes the players’ side for the most part. It’s hard to disagree with his position, however. Baseball owners were, like most magnates of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, imperious and impatient with their "laborers" and they saw ballplayers as no different than workers in any other industry.

Things have changed radically in the past century, however, and major league ball players are, ironically, no longer viewed as sympathetically; they have moved from being our neighbors to out-of-reach superstars living in gated communities. How they, and we, got here is the story Lowenfish tells well.

In the spirit of The Hardball Times, I’ll close with a "10 Things I Didn’t Know About Baseball Labor Relations Until I ReadThe Imperfect Diamond":

(1) “Revenue sharing” in its original context did not refer to teams’ sharing revenues among themselves, but compensating players by dedicating a percentage of the revenues to players’ salaries. Owners’ counsel Charlie O’Conner put the concept on the table in 1990, but MLBPA chief Don Fehr wasn’t interested (p. 272-273).

(2) The players fiercely opposed efforts by MLB to reduce use of illegal non-performance enhancing drugs in the 1980s (pp. 261-263). Also, Fehr’s predecessor lost his job, in part, for his tepid stance on the issue (p. 253). Could this partially explain why neither baseball nor Fehr took a harder line against the use of performance related substances during the 1990s?

(3) Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis had a fairly enlightened attitude toward the players, especially considering his era (pp.115-126). He made a number of important pro-player rulings aimed at allowing talented players to emerge, turning back owners’ efforts to keep many of them hidden in the lower leagues even while they were playing major league caliber baseball.

(4) In 2007, Commissioner Bud Selig made $17.5 million—more than all but three players (p. 299).

(5) Baseball’s august counselor at law, George Wharton Pepper, actually argued in court that the reserve clause was not legally binding, but merely an “honorary obligation.” (p.106). Rickey told a congressional committee that perhaps it constituted a “harmless illegality” (p. 175). Apparently someone forgot to tell that players that it was not a legally binding clause until the Messersmith-McNally arbitration of 1975.

(6) The reserve clause and similar elements of what was called "baseball law" were not universally as despised by players as might be thought. Many acknowledged baseball was such a peculiar enterprise as to require peculiar legal rules outside those that governed the non-baseball world (p.22). Even Ward stated that the reserve clause has virtue in that it “compels (rival managers) to keep his hands off his neighbor’s enterprise” (p. 32).

(7) Baseball not only banned players who had, in the view of owners, violated their contracts by jumping to the occasionally operating third leagues; e.g., the Federal League and Mexican League, but anyone who dared play against them even in an exhibition was similarly viewed as ineligible (p. 159).

(8) Kuhn, who would be derided throughout much of his tenure as commissioner, was widely viewed as a marvelous appointee when first named. The legendary baseball scribe Roger Angell opined that Kuhn had the potential to be the “best thing to happen to baseball since the catcher’s mitt” at the time of Kuhn’s appointment (p. 204).

(9) Although this is my conclusion, and not necessarily Lowenfish’s, the success of players in wringing concessions seems closely tied to the emergence of (or prospective threat thereof) of another league, e.g., the 1890 Players’ League, the Federal League, the Mexican Lague, the Continental League (which never actually got off the ground). Concessions made, however, would disappear once the threat dissipated. Baseball, it seems, may have been immune to the laws of man to a large extent, but not those of economics.

(10) The owners lived in fear that their legal arguments would eventually be discovered to be the shams they mostly were. Keeping baseball out of the courts, said Landis’ assistant Francis O’Conner, was Landis’ greatest contribution to the game for precisely that reason (p. 149). This was because Landis himself harbored grave doubts about the legality of a perpetual reserve clause, and O’Conner insisted that had a player requested a contract without one, it would have been granted by Landis (p.123).