Back to D.C., and Ever More Books to Read

I’m back in the federal district and trying to get back to work on a variety of projects. (Cato University went well, or so the participants told me.)

In the meantime, I did get through Richard Fletcher’s Bloodfeud: Murder and Revenge in Anglo-Saxon England, which was interesting but offered a rather confusing narrative. I recommend it, mainly because I learned some quite interesting things about English history, but I’d have to warn readers to work hard to keep the narrative and the names and relationships straight. I also read John V. Orth’s Due Process of Law: A Brief History, which was useful and informative, but which suffered from a rather snooty disdain for substantive due process of law when applied to merely “economic” rights (not to mention an annoying dismissal of “erotic minorities,” which was interesting in the context of the Supreme Court’s recent vindication of liberty in the Lawrence et al v. Texas decision). It’s short; it’s well organized; and I learned from it. (I’m going to write a short piece in a day or two on its shortcomings, but I would still recommend it to someone who wants a brief treatment of due process in English and American law.)

And I’m a few pages short of finishing up Vladirmir Nabokov’s Invitation to a Beheading, a description of the utterly irrational imprisonment of a young man for the indefinable crime of “gnostical turpitude.” I had tried to read it over a year ago and set it aside. Now that I’ve read Anne Applebaum’s Gulag: A History, I think I understand the book better. One of the distinctions that Applebaum draws between the concentration camps of the National Socialists and those of the Communists is that in the former most victims knew why they were there (for being Jews, enemies of the state, dissidents, Roma, etc.), whereas in the latter, a great many people had no idea whatsoever why they were there. In that context, the bizarre imprisonment and sentence described by Nabakov takes on significance. Communism, in its attempt to organize everything rationally, created a social order that seemed to defy rational comprehension. (While on the subject of writing by Nabokov, I have the following advice. To anyone interested in being immersed in the sheer beauty of language, I recommend that writer’s wonderful and enchanting stories, as collected in The Stories of Vladimir Nabokov. They’re short, so you’re not commited to a novel, and each story is written in language so beautiful it cannot itself be described in language.)