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Amity Shlaes and Robert Novak

Sunday, July 15, 2007  |  posted by Hugh Hewitt
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I spent much of the weekend absorbing two books in preparation for interviews with their authors tomorrow –Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, and Robert Novak’s The Prince of Darkness.

Both are wonderful reads for very different reasons.

Shlaes’ history of the Great Depression is a superbly paced and riveting recounting of the coming and enduring of the terrible years the knowledge of which for most Americans consist of some memories of their parents’ or grandparents’ stern lectures about hard times. Over the whole period hovers the sainted presence of FDR and the ghost of Hoover. Both men receive their due in Shlaes’ account, but there is so much more to the era, and she provides it all, from the details the rush to innovate in ’33 to the prosecution of the poultry-selling Schechter brothers which brought the Supreme Court into direct collision with The New Deal, to wonderful portraits of the era’s deep bench of huge personalities –Tugwell, Mellon, Lilienthal, Wilkie. Throughout there are facts, facts, facts –the sort of cheery but relentless reliance on the record that distinguishes important scholarship from even excellent polemic. Powerline’s Scott Johnson had received an e-mail from Shlaes that caught my attention, and I am very glad it did. Don’t miss the interview.

Or the one with Novak. I generally don’t find the memoirs by journalists to be very interesting. (One great exception: My Own, My Country’s Time by Vermont Royster, from almost a quarter century ago.) Novak’s is riveting on many fronts. Take the chapter titled “Conversion.” It begins with an amazing bit of detail about Novak’s contract negotiations with CNN in 1997 (year one $292,000, year two $442,000 and year three $462,000) before moving to a touching memorial to the late Sandy Hume and a fascinating account of Novak’s journey into the Catholic Church –which accelerated when a bold undergraduate from Syracuse’s College Republicans asked Novak if he was a Catholic, and learned that while he attended Mass, Novak was not a Catholic.

“Do you plan to join the Church?” she asked. “No, not at the present time,” he answered.

“Mr. Novak,” she replied, “life is short, but eternity is forever.” You’ll have to read the book to understand the impact this had on Novak.

As I read through Novak’s long account of his long career, I was struck by the contrast between his approach to reporting and Jake Tapper’s, as detailed here, here, here and here. Novak has never disguised his political views, but only a fool would question the professionalism of his approach and the long record of reporting achievements he has compiled. You may not agree with Novak, but you know where he comes from and I suspect even the liberals who regard him with disdain for his views trust his reporting. His credibility is often higher than most reporters because we know exactly what he thinks of his subjects or the issues on which they are jousting. The memoir of a journalist who has been at the top of the elite media for a long time arrives at exactly the right time for a young generation of would-be Woodwards to profit from it. All political junkies from left to right will enjoy the book immensely. All journalists who want to improve their craft will find it very useful in doing so.

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