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Summer Reading

Before hitting the pool or the beach, catch up on all of the important essays you never got to the first time around. This material will be on the exam.

12:00 AM, Jun 10, 2002 • By LEE BOCKHORN
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IF, LIKE ME, you're a voracious reader--someone who maintains a steady diet of not only novels and biographies and important new works on current affairs, but also good journalism--then you're probably familiar with a particular kind of despair: knowing that you don't have enough hours in the day to read all the things that look like essential reading. This problem has worsened since September 11, as the new world we find ourselves inhabiting has inspired many journalists to strive for higher levels of excellence in writing about subjects that are, literally, matters of life and death.

If you'll allow me to display a little institutional vanity, I've been particularly proud of our own magazine in this respect, as we've been on a hot streak lately. To cite just a few examples: David Brooks's article on "Bourgeiosophobia" as an explanation for elite Europeans' disdain for America and Israel; Christopher Caldwell's brilliant reporting and analysis on anti-Semitism in France; David Tell's definitive look at how the FBI is bungling the anthrax investigation; Stephen Schwartz's tireless unveiling of the ties between the Saudi royals and the virulent Wahhabi strain of Islam that fuels the efforts of al Qaeda; and of course, practically everything written by Reuel Marc Gerecht. And to top things off, this week's issue features Mary Eberstadt's "The Elephant in the Sacristy," which I suspect will prove to be one of the definitive treatments of the priest-sex crisis in the Catholic church.

All this, just in our magazine. Now add to that all the great stuff being published everywhere else, and it's easy to go nuts trying to devour it all. (At least as an editor I get paid to read the stuff in our magazine.) One of the blessings of blogs is the service they provide in tracking down good things to read and helpfully summarizing them, allowing a reader to choose which ones he wants to set aside time for. In that spirit, I'd like to play blogger-for-a-day and draw your attention to some great reading from sources that the blogosphere sometimes overlooks.

First, for those dense enough (perhaps our Joint Chiefs of Staff, for starters) to need a reminder of just how tyrannical, dangerous, and bizarre Saddam Hussein is Mark Bowden's terrific cover story on Saddam in the May issue of the Atlantic is a must-read. It's long, but well worth the effort, and yet another example of what a terrific reporter Bowden is. (As if we needed any more evidence after "Black Hawk Down.")

My only qualm about Bowden's article is that there's always something a little dangerous about revealing the "human side" (if one can call it that) of a tyrant. After all, a few idiots will inevitably ask: How truly menacing can a man be who enjoys a quiet evening watching "The Godfather"? (Speaking of which--isn't it fascinating how even the most maniacal "Death to America" types can't seem to get enough of our popular culture?) Fortunately, Bowden provides enough chilling details to prevent all but the most deranged from feeling any sense of sympathy for Saddam. Combined with the much-touted piece on Iraq by Jeffrey Goldberg in the New Yorker not too long ago, this profile ought to be more than enough to refute those who still insist that merely keeping Saddam "in his box" somehow leads to greater "stability" in the Middle East.

Speaking of foreign policy, you should also take a look at Power and Weakness, the lead article in the new issue of Policy Review. Written by Weekly Standard contributing editor Robert Kagan, it's an elegant examination of why the United States and Europe see the world so differently now--and particularly how we each define the appropriate use of power in international affairs. The issue also includes what looks to be a wonderful article by Stanley Kurtz on Francis Fukuyama (i.e., "The End of History") vs. Samuel P. Huntington ("The Clash of Civilizations") in the post-September 11 world. I haven't had a chance to read it yet, but if it's up to Kurtz's usual standards, it will be well worth your attention.