AND THE WAR CAME. . .TO PLEASANTVILLE

Many thanks to The Group, who invited me to come speak about And the War Came at their monthly meeting last Friday at the Mt. Pleasant library in Pleasantville. The very attentive audience asked a lot of good questions, and I am very grateful for the chance to come and talk about the origins of the Civil War. As usual, the anecdote about Lt. Greene stabbing John Brown with too small a sword got the biggest laugh, (If you don’t know this anecdote, you need to invite me to come speak about the origins of the Civil War before your group!) Many thanks to Peter Eschweiler, the Group’s program chairman, for inviting me.

IRONCLADS AWAY!

Thanks once again to Jackie Eberstein, Charlie Schultze and my other friends at the Civil war Forum of Metropolitan New York for inviting me to speak at their monthly dinner last Wednesday. With the sesquicentennial of the duel between the Monitor and the Merrimac coming up on March 9th, and with Lieutenant John Worden, the Monitor’s master, being a Briarcliff homeboy, my topic practically dictated itself, and so for an hour or so, I boomed and clanged my way through the tale. Once again, it was great fun being able to discuss a topic of interest with this highly informed and very interested group. I’m very glad they invited me. (Thanks to Nathan Burkan for the photo.)

SPEAKING TOUR!

The first stop in my 2012 Speaking Tour took me out the door, over the bridge above busy Route 9A, and to the basement of the library for a lovely Sunday afternoon reception of the Briarcliff Manor Historical Society. I had been invited to speak about And the War Came, and it was a lot of fun to speak before an interested and attentive audience about one of my favorite subjects. Thanks to Jan Wagner and the rest of the Board for inviting me, and to Josh Parker, Howard and Susan Code, Chip Wagner, my dear wife and so many others for their support, encouragement, and enthusiasm. Next Stop: Ossining Historical Society on June 2nd.

HURRAH FOR DISUNION!

Disunion, The New York Times’ series on the Civil War which I helped create and worked on, was honored by the New Media Institute with one of its 2011 New Media Awards. This marks the second award for Disunion, which was honored earlier this year by the American Historical Association for Best History Writing on the web. Disunion was chosen in the field of history, and was selected for how well the site used technology to serve and communicate with its audience. Congratulations to my colleagues who helped create such an interesting site.

TALKING THE CIVIL WAR IN OHIO

I had the great pleasure of talking about And the War Came with Jim Fuller and his friend Bill Walker on WOUB radio in Athens, Ohio. Jim and Bill are very knowledgeable about the Civil War, and it was very rewarding to talk with people who are so well informed and so thoughtful about the issues that surrounded the conflict. I am very grateful that I was invited onto the program. Anyone who wishes to hear the broadcast can listen to it here. Thanks, guys!

SPREADING THE NEWS. . .

Mr. Media, a/k/a the charming Bob Andelman, recently interviewed me for his radio program/podcast/column, and we had a delightful time talking about not only And the War Came, but also bygone days at Spy and Playboy. It was a lot of fun. Anyone who would like to listen to the program can find it here. And the War Came also got wonderful treatment at The Nervous Breakdown, a wonderful site devoted to books and authors. As my British friends would say, I am seriously chuffed by their notice, given how youthful and hip and with-it everything else on the site seems to be. Either I am more highly regarded than I thought, or they have some sort of quota they have to fill. Anyone who wishes to take a look can click here. Finally, to help spread the word about And the War Came, my friend Marshal Zeringue asked me to contribute to his wonderful blog Campaign for the American Reader, participating in both The Page 99 Test, and also his What I’m Reading feature. Many thanks to all!

NAIVE DAVID BROOKS GETS SLAPPED AWAKE

David Brooks has been a great columnist for The New York Times because he has always conducted himself like a decent guy. Intelligent, prudent, even-handed, he spends a lot of time giving the other fellow his due, in the obvious belief that he ought to behav in an earnest, high-minded, intelligent way because that is how good people act, and we all owe it to society to hold up our end of the deal.

Which is why it was at once frightening and hilarious to see in this morning’s column Brooks’ world view explode. All it took was the publication of Reckless Endangerment by Gretchen Morgenson and Joshua Rosner to stand Brooks’s world on its ear. Reckless Endangerment is about the Fannie Mae scandal, and how this company’s scandalously loose and self-rewarding financial practices underwrote the irresponsible behavior of Wall Street, cost taxpayers $153 billion so far, and brought about the terrible financial problems of the last several years.

Brooks points to two people who are “egregiously immoral” for their roles in creating and protecting the Fannie Mae mess–longtime Democratic stalwart Jim Johnson and Rep. Barney Frank–but he identifies other establishment stalwarts–Bill Daley, Tom Donilan, Joseph Stiglitz, Dianne Feinstein, Kit Bond, Franklin Raines, Larry Summers, Robert Zoellick, Ken Starr–who acted to protect Fannie Mae’s misdeeds. Brooks, a conservative who believes with all his heart in the collective morality of the establishment, is shocked by their behavior. He writes:

“The scandal has sent the message that the leadership class is fundamentally self-dealing. Leaders on the center-right and center-left are always trying to create public-private partnerships to spark socially productive activity. But the biggest public-private partnership to date led to shameless self-enrichment and disastrous results. It has sent the message that we have hit the moment of demosclerosis. Washington is home to a vertiginous tangle of industry associations, activist groups, think tanks and communications shops. These forces have overwhelmed the government that was originally conceived by the founders. The final message is that members of the leadership class have done nothing to police themselves. The Wall Street-Industry-Regulator-Lobbyist tangle is even more deeply enmeshed.”

Well said, Mr. Brooks! Hear, hear! Let us twitter his words across the length and breadth of this great land. But Dave baby, let me ask you a question: Has it not always been this? Malanowski’s First Iron law of politics is that the rich and powerful will always act in their own self interest. Malanowski’s Second Iron law is that the rich and powerful will then get the rest of us to act in their interest as well, usually by making us believe that we’ll be acting in our own interests, or at least the common good. (Over the weekend I’ll be working on Malanowski’s Third Iron Law, which is that the rest of us figure out ways to act in our own self-interests, the rich and powerful are likely to outlaw whatever we’ve come up with. Eh, Wisconsin?)

I know what you’re thinking: Always? Always? Okay, maybe not always. But it’s always the way to bet.

Poor Brooks. He seems utterly shocked to discover that gambling has been going on in the casino.“ Fannie Mae co-opted relevant activist groups. . . ginned up Astroturf lobbying campaigns. . . lavished campaign contributions on members of Congress. . . .ginned up academic studies. . . .spent enormous amounts of time and money capturing the regulators who were supposed to police them.” Yeah, well, duh. Come on, Brooks, buy yourself a Woody Guthrie album? (Or do us both a favor and buy And the War Came, and see how self-serving slaveholders lied, cheated, manipulated and muscled ther countrymen into secession just to protect their right to own slaves.)

“People may not like Michele Bachmann,” writes Brooks, “but when they finish Reckless Endangerment they will understand why there is a market for politicians like her. They’ll realize that if the existing leadership class doesn’t redefine “normal” behavior, some pungent and colorful movement will sweep in and do it for them.” When that happens, it will be interesting to see if Brooks have joined the pungent and colorful, or if he remains among the respectable.

TECHNO-TAINER!

And the War Came received an excellent write-up in Michael Humphrey‘s blog Techno-Tainers on Forbes.com:

“Byliner’s third Original, “And the War Came,” marches readers chronologically from just before Abraham’s Lincoln’s election to the doorstep of war. We arrive byway of every imaginable thought direction – the passionate abolitionist and adamant slavery defender, the brave-savvy leader and insipid-spineless type, reasoned editorials and rants – they all get a say. Malanowski, a well-respected magazine editor and author of the political novel The Coup, aspires to place us in the minds of contemporary observers, but perhaps the greatest triumph of his writing is we don’t feel forced there. He prefers understatement to breathlessness. If there’s going to be fire spewed, Malanowski puts it in the flaming mouth rather than the narrative. Consider a mob scene outside Virginia Governor John Letcher’s mansion:

Denied a bravura ending by the governor, the crowd devised one on its own. They stormed the Capitol building and scaled its roof, where they raised the Confederate flag. After more boisterous singing and speechmaking, the mob drifted off.

“It works, because the stakes are as unmistakable as the outcome is inevitable. But the point of “And the War Came” is that none of it was inevitable, that false conceit of history class, which only deepens the poignancy of the story. Against that weight, Malanowski’s light touch is just right.”

The write-up includes a brief Q&A with yours truly. Thanks, Michael–I’m glad you liked it.