Ben Boychuk and Pia Lopez

0 comments | Print

Head to Head: Page-turners: What should you be reading this summer?

Published: Thursday, May. 31, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 9A

THE ISSUE: Summer's nearly here, and the time is right for a good book. Or several. Ben and Pia offer their suggestions for good reads. (Those with back problems might want to download a few of these doorstops on their e-readers.)

Ben Boychuk: Economics, politics … Santa Claus?

Summer reading isn't supposed to be too heavy, so I've kept the French political philosophers and Austrian economists out of my recommendations – this time.

But this is still a politics 'n' policy nerd's list. If it makes you feel any less self-conscious, feel free to replace the dust jackets from all these with one from E.L. James' latest high-toned smutfest.

For tea partyers, Occupiers, or both: "A Capitalism for the People," by Luigi Zingales.

An Italian émigré who teaches economics at the University of Chicago and a regular contributor to City Journal, Zingales warns that the United States is beginning to resemble the country of his birth – a country where innovation is punished and cronyism reigns.

Zingales argues, among other things, that America needs to recover an ethic that is "pro-market, not pro-big business." But Zingales offers more than rehashed Friedman or Hayek. It's a book that should appeal to tea partyers and the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

For Congress watchers: "Do Not Ask What Good We Do," by Robert Draper.

I'm getting a kick out of this fly-on-the-wall account of the Republicans' struggle to redeem themselves and take back Congress after their 2008 electoral drubbing. The title comes from a letter by the great Massachusetts Federalist, Fisher Ames. "Do not ask what good we do," Ames wrote in 1796, "that is not a fair question, in these days of faction." The 112th Congress is neither as knowledgeable nor as wise as Ames, but the factions persist, and another election is just five months away.

For the kids: Although I hate having the reputation as the guy who reads nothing but nonfiction, I'm afraid the description fits. But I do enjoy reading to and with my children.

My soon-to-be 10-year-old son and I are making our way through William Joyce's new series, "The Guardians of Childhood," which imagines the back stories of such beloved characters as Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy. Why do these characters exist? Where did they come from?

The origins Joyce imagines are a delight. The first two books, "Nicholas St. North and the Battle of the Nightmare King," and "E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at Earth's Core," are rousing adventure tales, at times dark, but never condescending to the young reader.

Ben Boychuk is associate editor of the Manhattan Institute’s City Journal. (

Pia Lopez: Politics … and Dr. Seuss

If you want nonfiction as riveting as a suspense novel, pick up Robert A. Caro's fourth book in the "The Years of Lyndon Johnson" series: "The Passage to Power." How could a chronicle of the vice presidential years keep readers on the edge of their seats? Well, the hatred of epic proportions between Robert Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson alone fills the book with Shakespearean-scale drama.

Pick it up and you won't put it down until it ends on page 605.

Caro shows how LBJ – the "youngest majority leader in history, the most powerful man in the Senate after just a single term there"; a man who made the Senate "for the first time in over a century, a center of governmental energy and creativity"; the man who in 1957 passed the first civil rights act since Reconstruction – became a non-entity as vice president.

Deadlock and division was the rule in Congress – blocking President John F. Kennedy's agenda. Not one of Kennedy's major domestic legislative proposals became law. Yet in 1961, LBJ spent exactly 10 hours and 19 minutes alone with the president; in 1963, one hour and 53 minutes.

Why didn't the Kennedys take advantage of LBJ's legislative skills? LBJ had said, "Power is where power goes" – and, the Kennedys knew that had always been true. They realized, as Caro recounts, that "if he ever got off his leash," he'd be "very difficult to rein in again."

The heart of the book is the 47 days between the assassination and Johnson's first State of the Union address.

The deadlines were crushing – a joint address to Congress on Nov. 27, the State of the Union address in six weeks, a budget due 14 days after that. The first presidential primary, in New Hampshire, was less than four months away. As Caro notes, "No vice president had ever come to office with so little time in which to establish a record on which he could run in his own right." But he did it. Not least was signing the Civil Rights Act on July 2, 1964.

Johnson had said, "Timing is essential. Momentum is not a mysterious mistress. It is a controllable fact of political life." That shines through on every page.

Not to be outdone by Ben on children's books, I have a favorite: "I Can Read With My Eyes Shut!" Dr. Seuss has an inimitable way with words, colors, places, characters like Foo-Foo the Snoo and, for kids who don't like to read, an intriguing concept. "I can read with my eyes shut! That is VERY HARD to do!" And a few lessons on what you might miss if you keep your eyes shut.

Pia Lopez is an editorial writer at The Bee.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

About Comments

Reader comments on are the opinions of the writer, not The Sacramento Bee. If you see an objectionable comment, click the "Report Abuse" link below it. We will delete comments containing inappropriate links, obscenities, hate speech, and personal attacks. Flagrant or repeat violators will be banned. See more about comments here.

What You Should Know About Comments on is happy to provide a forum for reader interaction, discussion, feedback and reaction to our stories. However, we reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments or ban users who can't play nice. (See our full terms of service here.)

Here are some rules of the road:

• Keep your comments civil. Don't insult one another or the subjects of our articles. If you think a comment violates our guidelines click the "Report Abuse" link to notify the moderators. Responding to the comment will only encourage bad behavior.

• Don't use profanities, vulgarities or hate speech. This is a general interest news site. Sometimes, there are children present. Don't say anything in a way you wouldn't want your own child to hear.

• Do not attack other users; focus your comments on issues, not individuals.

• Stay on topic. Only post comments relevant to the article at hand.

• Do not copy and paste outside material into the comment box.

• Don't repeat the same comment over and over. We heard you the first time.

• Do not use the commenting system for advertising. That's spam and it isn't allowed.

• Don't use all capital letters. That's akin to yelling and not appreciated by the audience.

• Don't flag other users' comments just because you don't agree with their point of view. Please only flag comments that violate these guidelines.

You should also know that The Sacramento Bee does not screen comments before they are posted. You are more likely to see inappropriate comments before our staff does, so we ask that you click the "Report Abuse" link to submit those comments for moderator review. You also may notify us via email at Note the headline on which the comment is made and tell us the profile name of the user who made the comment. Remember, comment moderation is subjective. You may find some material objectionable that we won't and vice versa.

If you submit a comment, the user name of your account will appear along with it. Users cannot remove their own comments once they have submitted them.

hide comments
Sacramento Bee Job listing powered by
Quick Job Search
Used Cars
Dealer and private-party ads


Price Range:
Search within:
miles of ZIP

Advanced Search | 1982 & Older

Find 'n' Save Daily DealGet the Deal!

Local Deals