The Age of Eisenhower

William I. Hitchcock (Simon & Schuster)

If you are in the mood for reading about a president of the United States other than the current one, I have just the thing for you. The overused “Age of . . .” formula is far too grandiose, but the subtitle is on target: “America and the World in the 1950s,” as seen in Eisenhower’s presidential priorities, his responses to crises both foreign and domestic, and his managing of political alliances and conflicts. Once treated with condescension by historians, Eisenhower is now (rightly) much more highly regarded. Hitchcock is readable if prone to clichés; I do wish he’d given more attention to religion.

A Good Comb

Muriel Spark, edited by Penelope Jardine (New Directions)

Three cheers, I say, for the centennial of the Scottish writer Muriel Spark (born on February 1, 1918). How fitting that her longtime companion Penelope Jardine compiled “The Sayings of Muriel Spark” to make this tasty little bedside book. The pithy extracts, mostly from Spark’s fiction, are organized under topical headings: “A Few Words of Advice,” “Sex & Love,” “Religion,” “The Observing Eye,” and so on. For instance: “The beautiful and dangerous gift of faith, which, by definition of the Scriptures, is the sum of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.”

Lincoln’s Sense of Humor

Richard Carwardine (Southern Illinois University Press)

Before you groan (“Not another Lincoln book!”), let me assure you that this compact volume by a leading Lincoln scholar is both illuminating and very funny, containing as it does many instances of our greatest president’s humor, in many different registers, from coarse jests to the driest wit. “Lincoln’s sense of humor . . . must be taken seriously,” Carwardine writes, and the elegant simplicity of that witty formulation should assure you that you will be in good hands. This is an analysis, not simply a compilation, but you can tuck it beneath the Muriel Spark volume in that stack beside your bed.

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