Ben Boychuk and Pia Lopez

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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. (www.city-journal.org/california)

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.

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