Americans have short memories. Our failure to read history leads us to believe that nothing in our past could equal the dangers posed by the crises that threaten us today. We forget those times when the nation’s very existence hung in the balance. 1776, when the American project might well have foundered in its infancy. 1861, when the country shattered into two warring states. 1941, when we entered a global war we could have lost. And 1971. Then, movements for radical change erupted in every corner and 2,500 terrorist bombs went off in the United States. More than 300,000 US…


Geopolitical analysis — the subject of this fascinating book — has been on my mind almost throughout my life.

I had recently turned three when the Allies invaded Normandy, beginning the long, last phase of World War II in Europe. I have no active memory of the invasion, but I learned to read by studying the news about the event and its aftermath. My father read the newspaper at dinner, and I sat opposite him, leaning over the table so I could see the headlines — upside down — and ask him to tell me what the words meant. I…


You’re certain to have come across at least one of the thirteen books highlighted in Americanon. In fact, you may well have read several of them, and few if any will be unfamiliar. From The Old Farmer’s Almanac (1792) and Webster’s Dictionary (1828) to How to Win Friends and Influence People (1936) and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (1989), McHugh has selected “nonfiction how-to books that have consistently sold the most and influenced the greatest number of people throughout history.” In short, these bestsellers helped define American values.

Defining American values

An academic scholar of cultural history might approach this subject…


Austrian citizens crowding a plaza in Vienna to hear Hitler’s declaration of annexation. Image: Wikipedia

There’s something strange about the French. I suspect that any American publisher would have rejected this peculiar little book. But it wasn’t just published in France — it won the country’s most prestigious literary award, the Prix Goncourt. And this despite the fact that in fewer than 150 pages the author wanders from one anecdote to another and still manages to find room for off-topic digressions along the way. Oh, there’s a topic, all right: The Order of the Day is (mostly) about the diplomatic maneuvering and manipulation that led up to Nazi Germany’s Anschluss with Austria in March 1938…


The Deepwater Horizon oil spill wreaked havoc on the Gulf Coast and the Gulf itself for years afterward. This overlay image shows the extent of the damage. Future spills like this are inevitable. Image: SkyTruth

Until recently, when Amazon emerged as such a deserving target of opprobrium, ExxonMobil was, without doubt, our country’s most-hated corporation. The two companies may compete for that distinction today. Private Empire is Steve Coll’s admirable attempt to explain the truth about ExxonMobil — how and why the world’s most profitable private oil company became a pariah, and it has changed in recent years. Oh, yes, it has changed. And recently, years after the publication of this book, shareholders won a rare victory to change it even more.

John D. Rockefeller’s favorite offspring

Unless you’re under the age of 40, you were already aware of the…


In May 2019, my wife and I spent three days in Rwanda’s charming capital city, Kigali, on a side trip from a visit to Kenya. We were enchanted by the rolling hills and by the spotless, flower-lined streets and sidewalks that conjured up memories of Singapore. At the Kigali Genocide Memorial, we walked slowly in shocked silence through the garden planted over the bodies of 250,000 victims of the 1994 massacre. In writing about the visit to friends at home, I rhapsodized about Rwanda’s explosive economic growth rate — the highest in Africa and nearly equal to China’s — and…


Henrietta Lacks was thirty-one years old when she entered Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore early in 1951. She was Catholic, the mother of five children, and African-American. Hopkins was one of the nation’s most prestigious medical schools — and the only hospital in the area that admitted Black patients. The doctors there biopsied a tumor on Lacks’ cervix and diagnosed cervical cancer. She underwent radiation treatment for several months but died of the disease on October 4, 1951. However, without her knowledge, the doctors had cultured cancerous cells removed from her cervix — and those cells gave birth to one…


This chart illustrates estimates prepared by British economist Angus Maddison for GDP per capita at purchasing power parity in 1990 dollars for selected European and Asian nations between 1500 and 1950, showing the explosive growth of Western Europe and Japan from the early 19th century. Image: Kanguole via Wikimedia Commons

In his Pulitzer Prize-winning 1997 book, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies, Jared Diamond delved into biogeography to explain how the West developed faster and soon became much richer than the rest of the world. The book was an early effort to explore the gap between the Global North and Global South.

Why is the Global North so much richer?

The fundamental reason, Diamond asserted, lay in accidents of geography: the Eurasian landmass straddles the globe laterally from East to West, imposing relatively uniform climatic conditions and creating habitats congenial for large animal species such as the cow, the pig, and the sheep that could…


This chart slows the dramatic shifts in the flow of immigrants to the US. Image: Metrocosm

On as many as a dozen occasions in the course of the twentieth century, the United States Congress attempted to write the rules for immigration. Twice the result was major legislation signed by the President. The first was in 1924, with the passage of a racist bill that strangled the flow of immigrants for four decades. The second passed in 1965, reopening the floodgates. One law sharply reduced the percentage of foreign-born residents. The other dramatically increased it once again — and, in the process, changed America’s ethnic composition. Now, in One Mighty and Irresistible Tide, journalist Jia Lynn Yang…


How does a company get to be as big as Amazon in just twenty-seven years? And how does a man become as rich as Jeff Bezos? After all, as of this writing Amazon employs nearly 1.3 million people and is valued by the stock market at $1.7 trillion. That’s trillion, with a T. And Jeff Bezos, with a fortune estimated today at about $195 billion, is the second-richest person on Earth. In Amazon Unbound: Jeff Bezos and the Invention of a Global Empire, journalist Brad Stone’s second book on the company and its founder, the answers emerge. …

Mal Warwick

Author, book reviewer, serial entrepreneur, board member

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