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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 11/20/20

Good morning and happy nearly weekend! POLITICAL BOOKS—HOW THINGS WORK Here are, in my opinion, the best books to describe how instrumentalities of the federal government work. Some are actually about the institution; others are about the most outstanding practitioners in that area of the government; and others are biographies that provide detail and insight on the institution. Enjoy!

  • The United States Senate. For my money, Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, the third volume of Caro’s Biography of LBJ, this covering his years in the Senate, rising to the most powerful Majority Leader ever. Caro has written four volumes (to date; a fifth is coming) on LBJ. This volume provides the best introduction to the history, traditions, operations, and arcana related to the Senate.

  • The Supreme Court. Jeffrey Toobin’s The Nine—Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court is one of the best single volume exposes of the Court and its workings. Meticulous, anecdotal, and fascinating. I loved Louis D. Brandeis, American Prophet, by Jeremy Rosen. And don’t knock The Supreme Court, by former Chief Justice William Rehnquist, for an expansive history from a man positioned with a lot to say.

  • The Presidency. Team of Rivals is a wonderful spin on the Lincoln presidency, focusing on the rivals and competing interests that Lincoln placed in his cabinet. For a more modern appreciation of the presidency, The Age of Roosevelt, by Arthur Schlesinger, No Ordinary Time, by Doris Kearns Goodwin, or any of the three Edmund Morris Volumes on Theodore Roosevelt. But to understand how the modern presidency operates, learn from one of the best, James Baker, in The Man Who Ran Washington; James A. Baker, by Peter Baker and Susan Glasser.

  • The Treasury and Federal Reserve. Start with Ron Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton, upon which the musical is loosely based, for how this all began. Then go to Alan Greenspan’s Capitalism in America and/or his The Age of Turbulence for the modern era.

  • Senior Advisors to the President. The Best and the Brightest, by David Halberstam, for a bittersweet story of hiring the best and ending up with something less. How the smartest guys in the room contributed to the escalation of the Vietnam War.

  • Statecraft. A World Transformed, by George H.W. Bush and Brent Scowcroft. How they orchestrated the “soft landing” of the Soviet Union’s demise. Any of Henry Kissinger’s books—literally, any. Start with Diplomacy, by Henry Kissinger, for a broad overview. Or read his three volumes, White House Years, Years of Upheaval and Years of Renewal. George Schultz’s Turmoil & Triumph is a great read about the foreign policy challenges of his years as Reagan’s Secretary of State.

  • The House of Representatives. I've enjoyed Man of the House: The Life and Political Memoirs of Speaker Tip O'Neill. I have not yet read Burning Down the House: Newt Gingrich, the Fall of a Speaker, and the Rise of the New Republican Party, by Julian E. Zellizer. I hear it's good; albeit with a definite political slant.

THE BOOKS ARE IN ONE PLACE Given that we’re past 250 Musings, I thought it would make sense to aggregate all the Fiction and Non-Fiction recommendations over these past eight months. They are organized by categories (some a bit quirky). I hope you find something to enjoy or just enjoy perusing a list of “old friends”: Fiction: Nonfiction: SOLICITING CONTRIBUTIONS Given that there are a number of new people getting the Musings, I thought I’d take this moment to remind people that comments, ideas and recommendations of all types are welcome. Please email me. Part of the purpose of the Musings is to connect people with each other and with each other’s ideas. You can help! FORGOT THE DAY AND THE DATE Is today Tuesday or Sunday? Does it matter? This morning I woke up not remembering both the day AND the date. Needless to say, this can be disconcerting. I shrugged my shoulders and went back to reorganizing the Nespresso capsules in the pantry… Happy weekend, Glenn

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