Customarily, as a year draws closer to an end, I devote a column to books. I usually offer commentary and recommendations on newer books, mostly non-fiction and often biography, focused primarily on politics and public policy.
Additionally, however, I often mention interesting fiction too, and that's the case this year. One book of fiction that definitely deserves notice is "Where the Crawdads Sing" by Delia Smith. It is a book that sticks with you, the captivating story of a 6-year-old reclusive girl living in the Carolina marshlands, an unlikely topic for a best seller.
Other fiction to note includes the 20th novel from Anne Tyler, with her slice-of-Baltimore-life stories, the latest being "Redhead By the Side of the Road." Another prolific fiction writer is Alan Furst, the historical spy novelist. Many of his books are set in and around World War II. Furst, who was a Fulbright Scholar, has some similarities in style and content with John le Carré. Furst is a master of Cold War stories.
We have seen a change in the way campaigns and elections function. With polarizing candidates and issues and with blame and criticism heaped upon the media, the citizenry is faced with decisions of great importance to the nation's direction.
This has obviously been a political year, a highly exceptional year. Much has been written and will be written about this controversy-laden period and the time of virus.
Bob Woodward has clearly had the most significant impact of any journalist or pundit in this period. His "Rage" is a particular volume that stands out thus far. With his dogged interviewing, Woodward is deeply serious about his work as he escorts the reader through the sometime maddening pathway to calamity.
Woodward is author or co-author of 19 books, many of them consequential, some less so. He is best known for his Watergate investigative reporting, but over the years has displayed a remarkable ability to get inside politics and government. At times he has drawn criticism for relying on anonymous sources. But in this case he has meticulously recorded 17 on-the-record interviews for "Fear: Trump in the White House" and "Rage," his most recent book, which provides powerful evidence of Trump's actions or non-actions and his assertions that the pandemic would soon fade away. Many see similarities between Trump and the fictional lead character in "All the King's Men," based to an extent on Louisiana politician Huey Long, who had presidential aspirations.
One who was very much involved in the Trump White House and its jousting with the media in the administration's early days as Trump's press secretary was Arkansan Sarah Huckabee Sanders. She was not around for the home stretch of the presidential race, but in "Speaking for Myself," she describes her time in the White House.
For a deeper look at the media role and perspective, see the thoroughly titled "Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth." CNN media correspondent Brian Stelter and some of his colleagues examine the influence of Fox News and multi-billionaire Rupert Murdoch's media empire.
One of the better-known authors of biography, political journalism and history is Jon Meacham, who has received favorable reviews on subjects ranging from Thomas Jefferson to "The Soul of America," a book I recommend. Meacham most recently has been a voice of historical authority on the life of civil rights icon John Lewis, the subject of his book. However, Meacham's role in commenting on the just-concluded presidential campaign has resulted in a change of policy at MSNBC, where he has frequently been an on-air analyst.
MSNBC announced last week that Meacham, who describes himself as a historian, would no longer serve as a network contributor, other than as an unpaid guest identified with the Biden campaign. While serving as a guest commentator, he was also advising the Biden campaign team on speeches and has taken some journalistic fire for that. The Washington Post said Meacham was "showing perhaps a greater command of U.S. History than of journalistic ethics."
A strong element in what is published on politics is the undeniable reality of a polarized nation. On this subject, look to Ezra Klein's "Why We're Polarized." Klein, co-founder of Vox Media, explores the causes and effects of polarization.
Mention should also be made of the first volume of "A Promised Land," Barak Obama's memoirs, worthy of a more-thorough reading and Jonathan Alter's portrait of Jimmy Carter, "His Very Best: Jimmy Carter, A Life," in which Alter describes Carter as "perhaps the most misunderstood president."
Hoyt Purvis is an emeritus professor of journalism and international relations at the University of Arkansas. Email him at [email protected]