February 24, 2007

The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World by John O'Sullivan

"Changed the World" is the hottest phrase in titling books these days. We have books with titles like "The Map That Changed the World: William Smith and the Birth of Modern Geology." I'm hardly the first to notice this. Richard Adams wrote in The Guardian in 2005:


Anyone contemplating writing a book on current trends in the publishing industry might consider this as a catchy title - Book: the book about the book that changed the world about the fish that changed the world. It's the fault of American author Mark Kurlansky. In 1999 he wrote a book that set off the fashion for what Waterstone's categorises as "biographies of things", called Cod: a biography of the fish that changed the world… According to the trade press, a whole army of "changed the world" titles is ready to be launched. In September we will be able to buy a book on concerts subtitled "gigs that changed the world". In June we can get our hands on a book about the sheep that changed the world. And next month there's the chance to buy a book on gunpowder, the explosive that changed the world (presumably by blowing up bits of it). The list goes on and on - anyone fancy a forthcoming text with the subtitle "the 1976 wine tasting that changed the world"?


At last, though,we have a book where the subtitled is justified: The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister: Three Who Changed the World by John O'Sullivan, the former editor of National Review and a long time aid to the Prime Minister in the title. It's a triple biography of Ronald Reagan, John Paul II, and Margaret Thatcher and how they won the Cold War, with a particular focus on Poland.


O'Sullivan pays a lot of attention to the view from within the Kremlin. I hadn't realized how early the Soviets had felt the cold wind of doom blowing over them. O'Sullivan argues that at the time of Solidarity's rise in August 1980, the Soviets believed their economy too weak to absorb the sanctions that would result from an invasion of Poland in the style of 1968 or 1956. So they bluffed the West into thinking that eventual December 1981 crushing of Solidarity by the Communist Polish general Jaruslewski was an act of forbearance by the Soviets, when in reality it was the best they could have hoped for.

There's lots more of interest in this fine, wide-ranging, quick paced book.


My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

If the Soviet economy had declined from 1968 to 1980 to the point that the Soviets couldn't crush an already occupied country, why give John Paul II, Ronnie and Maggie credit for winning the Cold War? Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that a non-workable economic system lost the Cold War?

c23

Anonymous said...

Read the book--and find out! :)

Anonymous said...

This fetish for changing the world! Seems related to the alleged need for "creative destruction." Mustn't stay still! Tear down! Then build! Then tear down! Then build! Then...

On this view, the world perpetually requires repair or restructuring in its every aspect. The Jews call this "tikkum olum" (repair the world).

This view is not necessarily necessary or inevitable. There are other views. One is "if it ain't broke, don't fix it." However, we won't get much of this from the New York publishing world - unless Jeff Foxworthy or his equivalent is spoofing it.

The Broken Window Fallacy of Bastiat/Hazlitt seems related as well. Smash the window (or Iraq)? Why? So we can replace (rebuild) it: this will create jobs! Certainly it will create something to talk about and fret over - and new books to sell.

Aaron Haspel said...

Give Andy of I, Ectomorph a little credit here; the man's on your blogroll after all:

http://iectomorph.blogspot.com/2006/12/changing-world-one-book-at-time.html

Anonymous said...

John O'Sullivan edited National Review back before it was a neo-con organ.


The individual in the past 15 years Im most dissapointed in is none other than William F. Buckley. How could he have let his once fine magazine be infiltrated and taken over by neo-Trotskyite.....oops, I mean J Pod..........

Anonymous said...

"If the Soviet economy had declined from 1968 to 1980 to the point that the Soviets couldn't crush an already occupied country, why give John Paul II, Ronnie and Maggie credit for winning the Cold War? Wouldn't it be more accurate to say that a non-workable economic system lost the Cold War?"

It didn't just end - it ended almost without bloodshed. Also, there is no telling how the autocratic "Chinese" path would have turned out if the Russians had tried that instead. But who knows?

joshrandall said...

Im currently hard at work on my new book!"Chester A. Arthur:The Man Who Left The World Pretty Much As he Found It-Except Maybe For A Few Tweaks Here And There" My editor is Judith Regan! :)

Ace said...

The tomb that changed the world?