To My Students, to my Friends, and to my Readers: A Summer Reading List
Published: May 19th, 2020
With affection and appreciation, here is a summer reading list for those who have been my students across the years, from the college level in the late 1970s through my most recent years teaching in common education
It is also worthy of the consideration of those who engage with my reporting and commentary, past and present.
Only two female writers (one a co-author of mine) are here listed. One day soon, I’ll prepare a separate list of books which sketch the efforts of several writers I admire – Margaret Thatcher, Peggy Noonan, Connie Marshner, and many others – who are not featured here.
The list below emerged as I updated end-of-the-year material I first prepared for students I taught at Oklahoma State University, in U.S. History and Sociology of Education, from 1976-80.
The list in this form and content is for high school juniors/seniors and older.
A book given to me by Sister Margaret Landis when I was graduating from Bishop McGuinness High School in 1972 is first.
“Five Ideas That Changed the World,” by Barbara Ward, was written in 1959. I have not reread it since college.
Ward covered, in a manner I have never forgotten, philosophies and ideas that transformed the world in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries – nationalism, industrialism (incorporating capitalism), colonialism, and internationalism.
After reading the book I had a feeling that helped define my life: “So, this is what everyone’s fighting about.”
Second on my list is “God and Man at Yale,” by William F. Buckley, Jr. It is the story of Buckley’s struggle against the dominant culture he encountered at Yale – explaining his motivations for opposing it, and what he learned by doing so.
The book’s subtitle is “The Superstitions of ‘Academic Freedom’.” It was published in 1951. I read the book during my first year at Oklahoma State University.
Buckley in this book and others prepared me for a lifetime of struggle as someone who – like him – did not, and does not, agree with most of the dominant philosophies within modern academia.
Third is “Profiles in Courage,” by John F. Kennedy. Written with the help of Ted Sorenson and published four years before he ran for (and won) the presidency, the book is a largely positive assessment of eight different U.S. Senators. Kennedy’s generosity of spirit toward even those he disagreed with deeply influenced my approach to public policy, politics and life itself.
Fourth, “Where’s the Rest of Me?,” the first autobiography of Ronald Reagan. The book was published in 1965. It chronicles Reagan’s journey away from youthful liberalism (including ardent support for Franklin D. Roosevelt) toward the conservatism for which he later became known during his service as governor of Calilfornia (two terms) and as president (two terms).
I have read biographies and autobiographies of several American presidents. This book, which includes deeply personal reflections about his father and others who influenced him, is my favorite by or about an American president.
Fifth, “A Pope and a President” by Paul Kengor. Published in late 2017, the book – written with access to previously undisclosed letters and reports — details the close ties between Reagan and Pope John Paul II which led, among other things, to methodical anti-communist policies. Their shared views and many shared policies were I believe instrumental (fundamental, in fact) in the fall of Russian Soviet communism soon after the end of Reagan’s presidency.
Sixth on the list is “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,” by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, my favorite author of all. This is the fictional story of a man imprisoned unjustly by the oppressive communist government of the Soviet Union. It covers a single day in his life, from his rising in the morning to going to sleep at night. It is the shortest of Solzhenitsyn’s books.
It is not particularly a “fun” book, but it is a masterful work in which the reader encounters men from every level of Russian society during the brutal rule of Josef Stalin.
Seventh on the list is “The Gulag Archipelago,” Solzhenitsyn’s most influential non-fiction work. It chronicles in massive and unprecedented detail the brutality and oppressiveness of life in the prison camps where millions of Russians and others, in the “Union of Soviet Socialist Republics”, suffered unjustly and often died violently.
The single volume edition is a good place to start but I recommend that serious students seeking to understand the Twentieth Century read the entire work.
Eighth, Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala (Sioux) by Michael F. Steltenkamp. This is an accurate work of historical scholarship about the life of a warrior who fought at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.
Black Elk became a devout Roman Catholic and is, in fact, now under consideration for canonization.
I explicitly do NOT recommend, “Black Elk Speaks,” which some historians consider more fictional than factual.
In his latter years, Black Elk carried a Rosary with him at all times, reciting it multiple times a day. He is a neglected historical figure in many ways, who once reflected, “There can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which is within the souls of men.” Yes, those words are included in the “Speaks” book.
Ninth on my list is Booker T. Washington’s “Up From Slavery.” The title pretty much says it all. Washington is a complex and sometimes misunderstood person. His personal journey is one of the most impressive life stories in all of American history.
Tenth, “The Autobiography of Frederick A. Douglass,” which is actually the result of at least three different autobiographies by one of the greatest orators of the Nineteenth Century. I encourage students to find a version of the “autobiography” which encompasses all of the works drafted with that name during his long life. I have used Douglass’ speeches and writings with every age group I ever taught. He is among the five persons I most admire in U.S. history.
Eleventh, “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” ghost-written with the help of Alex Haley, the author of the “Roots” novel. Focused on the man born as Malcolm Little, this choice for my students or for anyone else may be considered controversial by many.
Malcolm engaged in criminal enterprises as a young man. He became a member of the Nation of Islam, and adopted anti-white views which influenced his philosophy before he became a deeply influential writer and speaker in the modern civil rights movement. He said and did many controversial things, including horrid comments about the assassination of President Kennedy.
Malcolm’s worldview transformed, however, during a trip to Mecca as an adult. He rejected racism after that experience, which is detailed in the autobiography.
His shift was so profound that he was a threat for some – to the point that he was stalked and murdered in 1965.
I read his autobiography soon after its release, re-read it frequently during college, then “revisited” it during the 1980s, when I lived and worked in the nation’s capital.
I recommend the book highly to high school students and older – not as an endorsement of certain of Malcolm’s views, but as a stark presentation of the realities of one important man’s views and the beginning of changes in his heart.
His was a consequential life. To understand American history requires, among other things, reading his story.
Finally, I commend to your attention “Ninth Justice: The Fight for Bork,” which I wrote with Dawn M. Weyrich. It is an autobiographical work prepared with the help of my co-author, a reporter who became a trusted friend.
When President Ronald Reagan nominated Bork to the U.S. Supreme Court in July 1987, it began the most significant domestic political confrontation of the Reagan presidency – and the most difficult three months of my life.
When the battle began, I served as chairman of the 721 Group, a group of conservative and libertarian activists who supported President Reagan in most policy disputes, and in the Bork conformation battle.
Lest those last few sentences drive away potential readers, I note that the book received favorable notice and reviews even from many liberals. The narrative includes lengthy quotes from, and explanations of the views of, individuals who did not share my admiration for Judge Bork. The book also features some criticism of Reagan, whom I consider the best president of my lifetime, and among the best in all of American history.
The design of the book was deliberate and methodical. I wanted it read by those who did not and do not share my personal beliefs on important matters.
Among the most interesting experiences after my return to my home state of Oklahoma in 1990 (where I entered journalism full-time) came on a visit to Washington, D.C. – while talking with several employees of the Clinton White House about Ninth Justice.
That chat with the Clinton crowd was a cordial and substantive exchange which took place at a Washington, D.C. restaurant.
The highlight of that evening was not the Clinton conversations, but time I spent catching up with a friend – a man who had done Senate Judiciary Committee work for a fellow from Delaware, a U.S. Senator named Joe Biden.
That guy who worked for Biden and I began as opponents, and ended as friends.
There is, I pray, a message somewhere in that.
That is a story, one among many, worth another book or two, at another time.
This list is presented respectfully and with affection, to my students, to my friends, and to my readers.
NOTE: A journalist and educator, Patrick B. McGuigan is the author of three books and editor of seven, including “The Politics of Direct Democracy,” “Crime and Punishment in Modern America” (edited) and “Ninth Justice: The Fight for Bork.”