Matters foreign & domestic

Alan Wallace
| Saturday, April 27, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

The gun-control controversy brings Glenn Beck back to bookshelves among new and upcoming titles about U.S. foreign policy, an unforgettable electoral battle settled in court, Europe and the world over the past 500-plus years, and how some less familiar White House occupants influenced presidential powers' evolution.

“Control: Exposing the Truth About Guns” by Glenn Beck (Threshold Editions, available Tuesday) — Making its print debut in paperback rather than hardcover form — likely to hasten a release well-timed to capitalize on the nation's ongoing post-Newtown gun debate — this book notes an interesting aspect of the Second Amendment: It includes the Bill of Rights' only admonition that a right “shall not be infringed.” The author — the former Fox News talk-show host who's gone on to found The Blaze website and TV network and has written 10 No. 1 best-selling books along the way (counting fiction, nonfiction, self-help and children's picture-book titles) — wonders why more Americans aren't heeding the importance that the Founders placed on guns as essential for self-defense and liberty. To him, gun control is really about controlling people, not guns. He takes on what the publisher calls “common myths and outright lies that are often used to vilify guns and demean their owners.” Among his targets are the notions that the Second Amendment was meant to apply to just muskets, that gun control works elsewhere, that mass shootings are more common today and/or unique to America, that armed guards in schools are ineffective, and that only fearmongers contend that government wants to take away Americans' firearms.

“Foreign Policy Begins at Home: The Case for Putting America's House in Order” by Richard N. Haass (Basic Books, available Tuesday) — Serving in the Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush administrations before becoming Council on Foreign Relations president in 2003, the author brings impressive credentials to his topic. America's biggest threat, he says, is internal, not external: The nation must address its ever-increasing red ink, crumbling infrastructure, underperforming schools and outdated immigration system if it's to deal successfully with the likes of China, Iran, North Korea and terrorists. He doesn't agree with those who advocate isolationism or proclaim irreversible U.S. decline. He does see globalization, technology and the waxing and waning of various nations' standing creating a 21st-century scenario of more widely diffused power — “a ‘nonpolar' world of American primacy but not domination,” the publisher says. His preferred new U.S. foreign policy would be one of restoration. Underpinned by economic renewal at home, he says, America should change its approach abroad by ending its reliance on reshaping the Middle East militarily. Instead, the United States should focus on preserving the balance of power in Asia, boosting North American energy independence and economic integration, and working with other nations to handle global challenges.

“Inside Bush v. Gore” by Charley Wells (University Press of Florida, available Tuesday) — The author, who joined the bench of the Florida Supreme Court in 1994, retired in 2009 as its chief justice — the title he held when the Sunshine State's “hanging chads” and “butterfly ballots” made the outcome of the 2000 presidential election there unclear, drawing him and his fellow justices into a legal and political controversy still hotly argued in some quarters today. After 36 days of closed-door debate, Florida's high court ruled 4-3 to require a statewide manual recount — with Mr. Chief Justice Wells among the three dissenters. His book provides “an unprecedented play-by-play of those tumultuous days” and what went on in chambers during that time, says the publisher. It includes legal analysis of the case at both the federal and state levels, as well as the author's insider account of relations among the justices, how election laws' ambiguity frustrated them, how difficult separating legalities from politics was, and the role played by the court's support staff. Having the advantages of hindsight and what myriad studies and commentaries have said about the case since it was resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court, Wells concludes that the rule of law ultimately prevailed.

“Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, from 1453 to the Present” by Brendan Simms (available Wednesday) — Its length proportional to its subject's scope, this 720-page book — by a prize-winning historian who directs the Centre of International Studies at Great Britain's University of Cambridge — sees control of Europe's geographic core as linked to world domination over the past 500-plus years, with Germany as the key. In his view, the basic question throughout that time, according to the publisher, has been whether a single force — be it Charles V, Suleiman, Napoleon, Hitler, NATO or the European Union — would control Europe. He explores how America's inextricable links to European affairs came about, growing from efforts to head off more colonization into determination to keep Napoleon, Imperial Germany, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union from becoming that single dominant force. He also says history has vindicated the Anglo-American unity model, which the EU should emulate instead of the Holy Roman Empire that once ruled much of today's Germany. Names, faces, borders, even nations have come and gone, but Europe's main security issues have remained largely the same, he contends. And, he says, today's EU leaders should heed a lesson taught by the last half-millennium's history: When Europe's harmonious, the whole world benefits.

“The Forgotten Presidents: Their Untold Constitutional Legacy” by Michael J. Gerhardt (Oxford University Press USA) — Unpopular, little-remembered presidents, even those widely considered to have failed in the White House, nevertheless have shaped how presidential powers — and their perception in the context of the Constitution — have evolved. In this book, the Samuel Ashe Distinguished Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill chronologically explores strong, unpopular stands taken by 13 such presidents, from Martin Van Buren to Jimmy Carter, that contributed to making the presidency what it is today. He highlights actions they took that expanded and consolidated presidential powers — often at the expense of congressional authority — despite many of those actions falling short of achieving their ostensible goals. Detailing such actions by those presidents — how Van Buren's withdrawal of federal funds from state banks during an economic depression solidified the presidency's capacity for independent action, for example — the author paints a larger picture of “how the presidency's inherent capacity for efficiency and energy gives it an advantage in battles with Congress, regardless of popularity,” according to the publisher. This book almost certainly won't trigger a surge of interest in, say, Chester A. Arthur, but it will remind readers that familiarity is a poor gauge of historical importance.

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or

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