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Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics Hardcover – October 22, 2013
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Author One-on-One: Charles Krauthammer and Dana Perino
In this Amazon One-to-One, Charles Krauthammer and Dana Perino discuss Dr. Krauthammer’s new book Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics. Charles Krauthammer is a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist, political commentator and physician. Dana Perino is a Former White House Press Secretary who worked with President George W. Bush, contributor and co-host of The Five on FOX News. She is a long-time friend and fan of Charles Krauthammer.
Dana Perino: Your new book covers three decades of your writings, divided into 16 chapters, and grouped into categories of the things that have mattered to you in your life. As you reviewed your body of work, were you surprised by anything that you had written? Did you ever think, “I can’t believe I ever thought that”?
Charles Krauthammer: No real surprises—I find that I agree with myself a lot—except for my enthusiastic review of Independence Day. Though I might've been unduly swayed by seeing the premiere with my son, then ten, who announced after the showing that he would see the movie every week for the rest of his life.
DP: The thing that has mattered most to you is your family. Your book opens with a column that could be called “a two-hankie job.” How hard is it to write about the people that you love, to give people a glimpse into your personal life?
CK: I didn’t become a writer to write about myself. In fact, I don't even like using the word "I" in writing an opinion column, let alone a personal one. The only times I really have written about my own life is when it had a purpose outside myself, such as honoring a person, perhaps a friend or mentor, of extraordinary character.
DP: As a long-time fan of yours, there are some of your columns that I remember reading, and where I was when I read it, and how I said to my husband, “That’s exactly what I was thinking!” Do you know when a column is going to be a hit?
CK: Quite the opposite. I'm always amazed how wrong I am. A column that I think will sink like a stone might catch on like wildfire. Others that I'm proud and smug about as I submit for publication, leave no trace. Which is why I'm a writer, not a publisher. I wasn't made for marketing.
DP: The original essay you penned for Things That Matter is like an award-winning exhibit of your heart and mind. What will readers learn about you that they may not have known?
CK: How improbable my life story is. I still wake up simply amazed how I've ended up where I am, mostly by serendipity and sheer blind luck. I started out as a doctor. I ended as a writer. And that's the least of the stunning twists and turns that have defined my life—which I write about, for the first time, in the introductory essay to Things That Matter.
DP: You have become a must-read and a must-see on television news programs. Parents shush their children when you’re about to speak. On the rare Friday when you don’t have a column or when you’re not on Special Report with Bret Baier, your mom gets calls of “Where is Charles?” Disappointment hangs heavy over your fans. But who are your weekly must-reads?
CK: George Will. David Brooks. Mickey Kaus. And for that happy half of every year—April through October—the (daily) box score of the Washington Nationals.
DP: Do you think that your training as a psychiatrist has given you an advantage when observing people in politics?
CK: Actually, no. Psychiatry has everything to say about mental illness, very little to say about ordinary life. It offers no magical formulas for understanding human behavior beyond what any lay person can see. Although I do like to joke that there's not much difference in what I do today as a political analyst in Washington from what I used to do as a psychiatrist in Boston—in both lines of work, I deal every day with people who suffer from paranoia and delusions of grandeur. The only difference is that the paranoids in Washington have access to nuclear weapons.
DP: You wrote a column on September 12, 2001 that is included in Things That Matter. How difficult was that to write under the time pressure of the day, and to keep your commentary to standard column length?
CK: Like the whole country, I was on fire with fury. I felt I simply had to write. The difficulty was less time pressure than emotional pressure—trying to suppress my feelings so I could be as analytical as possible. Sometimes that kind of writing can be disastrous. I think this one came out right.
DP: Given the mention in your essay, and because I have a gut feeling that we’re on the same page, what is your preferred style on serial commas?
CK: With commas the rule should always be: the fewer the better. They are a scourge, a pestilence upon the land. They must be given no quarter. When you list three things, it should be written: a, b and c. If you see a comma after the "b"—call 911 immediately.
DP: Many readers may not realize that you once were a Democrat? Was it a gradual or a spectacular breakup?
CK: Like most breakups, gradual. Like few breakups, however, without regret.
DP: You have covered politics and government since the Carter administration. Do you believe that America’s politics are too strained, too partisan, and too deranged to make meaningful progress?
CK: Not at all. What we need is not a new politics but a new president.
DP: What do you think will be the things that matter 20–30 years from now?
CK: The things that really matter, as I try to explain in the introductory essay—the cosmic questions of origins and meaning, the great achievements of science and art, the great mysteries of creation and consciousness—shall always be with us. Thirty years from now, 300 years from now. I hope that one contribution of this book will be to provide some illumination on these wondrous mysteries and achievements.
DP: If you had a magic wand and could get the U.S. federal government to do three things, what would be your top priorities?
CK: Abolish the income tax code with its staggeringly intrusive and impenetrable provisions and replace it with a clean consumption tax.
Get out of the race business and return the country to the colorblind vision of Martin Luther King.
Kill the penny.
“Required reading…Krauthammer is among the very best—and this is the best of the best, selected by him, with an engaging and fascinating introduction…Amazingly fresh, and full of thought-provoking formulations and arguments.” –The Weekly Standard
“A fantastic read, a cerebral read, a fun read.” –Guy Benson, Townhall
“It’s going to be a big hit.” –Bill O’Reilly, The O’Reilly Factor (October 21, 2013)
“Krauthammer’s assets include steel-trap logic, an epée wit, a profound sense of history, and a withering contempt for journalists who would rather cringe in the dark than bring the truth to light.” –City Journal
America, you’ve got to read this for your own great pleasure and relief.” –Hugh Hewitt (October 31, 2013)
"The best American columnists make their British counterparts look like bumbling amateurs,but none of them writes with more sense,sensibility and sanity than the Washington Post's Charles Krauthammer. Things That Matter, selected from a lifetime of writing, bears comparison with the greatest of American prose." -Daniel Johnson, Standpoint
"Usually thought of as a conserva-tive, this syndicated columnist has won both the left-wing People for the American Way’s First Amendment Award and the right-wing Bradley Foundation’s first $250,000 Bradley Prize. Readers of all political persuasions will find plenty here that’s thought-provoking and worthwhile." -Pittsburg Tribune-Review
“Krauthammer’s first collection in more than 20 years is a priceless introduction to the columnist’s writing. And for those who have thrilled at the sight of a Krauthammer byline for decades, Things That Matter is a window into the master polemicist’s habits of mind, heart, and technique.” -Matthew Continetti, Commentary
“For three decades, Charles Krauthammer has enriched American political discourse with his sharply-honed analysis, humane values, and questing mind. From personal meditations to learned examinations of history and policy, Things That Matterstands as a record of a transformative period in the American experience, and a remarkable intellect at work.” -Henry A. Kissinger
"Charles Krauthammer is not only the most influential conservative commentator in America, his writing transcends the crush of daily events and can be read, with profit, always." –David Brooks, New York Times columnist and bestselling author of The Social Animal
“Amid today's clutter of print and cacophony of broadcast commentary, Charles Krauthammer's lapidary judgments stand out, and stand the test of time. Literature has been called news that lasts. Krauthammer's columns take journalism to the level of literature.” –George F. Will, Washington Post columnist
“Blending high-mindedness with strong conservative values, he has commanded respect on both the extreme and moderate sides of the spectrum, becoming the closest thing the factionalized GOP could have to a spokesperson, a de facto opposition leader for the thinking right.” -POLITICO
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Most readers will know that CK is a noted conservative commentator who was originally trained as a psychiatrist. A diving accident in his first year of medical school left him paralyzed and consigned him to a wheelchair. Nevertheless, he has a specially-engineered vehicle and drives himself wherever he needs to go. He was once a democrat, what many would term (including CK) a ‘Scoop Jackson democrat’; the party, he says, left him.
Most know that he is a fervent supporter of the sometimes hapless Washington Nationals. Not all will know that he is a member of a speed chess club. Hence, the personal section of the book is particularly interesting. He writes of his brother, Marcel, of Paul Erdos the peripatetic mathematician, of the center fielder Rick Ankiel (once a successful and then, suddenly, a failed pitcher), of the brain power of border collies and ‘natural’ childbirth. His writings on science are particularly lucid; his knowledge of contemporary science goes well beyond the average layman’s and serves him well both in terms of argument and in terms of rhetoric.
While CK is somewhere between an agnostic and an atheist, he is a very reverent agnostic who has little patience for flippancy in an area of such importance. He was raised an orthodox Jew and one of the most interesting and cogent essays concerns the gradual disappearance of the Jewish diaspora, a function of both fertility (1.6 average births, when 2.1 are required to sustain the numbers), intermarriage and secularism.
The most important essays may well be those in chapter 16, under the ‘global’ rubric. There he outlines the principal contemporary theories of international relations and offers his own recommendations for a tempered form of democratic globalism, one in which “we are friends to all, but we come ashore only where it really counts.” Ultimately, he sees the lines of division between such views as traceable to one’s position with regard to Hobbes. He opposes Hobbes to Locke; some would oppose Hobbes to Rousseau. Regardless, the pivotal question is whether or not institutional structures can lead us to utopia when human nature is more recalcitrant than one might wish. Plans for a global community managed like a single country must confront the reality of, e.g., a North Korea and the fact that while the Soviet empire was a largely rational adversary, open to the notion of deterrence, many of our current adversaries (as he puts it) long for heaven.
The more profoundly political and philosophic essays are superb, but the ‘cultural’ essays on such subjects as ‘the myth of the angry white male’, social security as ‘of course’ a Ponzi scheme, and ‘the church of global warming’ are delicious in their humor and wit. He has a gift for the acerbic but persuasive example. In talking about President Obama’s notion that we ‘didn’t build that’ but were in fact supported by government infrastructure at every turn, he offers two counter examples: “We don’t credit the Swiss postal service with the Special Theory of Relativity because it transmitted Einstein’s manuscript to the Annalen der Physik. Everyone drives the roads, goes to school, uses the mails. So did Steve Jobs. Yet only he created the Mac and the iPad.”
While some of the essays will challenge the beliefs of others they are neither confrontational nor nasty. They are all interesting and they are all well-written. This is one of those ‘best sellers’ that deserves its position and its sales. Highly recommended.
Krauthammer was a liberal when he was younger, but recounts his journey across the political spectrum and his path from medicine to journalism. While he says that the topics that most captivate the human mind are not political, he reminds us that a society must get politics right if everything else is to flourish, providing Nazi Germany as an example of how demented politics can destroy a society that was advanced in so many other areas.
This collection includes some of the author's most hard-hitting columns of the Obama years in which Krauthammer spells out how liberal policies are weakening America both domestically and internationally. In addition to these columns on topical issues, other columns take a wider view in examining the importance of having conservative domestic and foreign policies. Krauthammer also looks back at figures such as Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, and Martin Luther King, as well as at events such as the French Revolution and the Cold War.
While Krauthammer is known as a political columnist, he applies his superb insights into life and human nature across many other arenas as well—there are fascinating columns in this collection on chess, dogs, baseball, science, mathematics, and much more.
Those who are familiar with the author's work are likely to know that he was paralyzed in an accident when he was young. The volume shows his strength of character in that he touches only lightly on the topic and asserts that one can have a very good life in spite of paralysis. Krauthammer's writing style is nothing short of phenomenal, and this superb amalgam of topical and timeless columns by one of the Right's leading voices will likely be read avidly even decades from now.