You thought the moral rot took hold in the sixties, didn’t you? Wrong, says conservative commentator David Frum in How We Got Here (Basic Books, $25). The real culprit is the seventies – “that slum of a decade,” as one of the book’s blurbists has it – wherein the transgressive urges of the relatively few (college radicals, eggheads) became the laws and mores of the many (whether the many wanted them or not) through the coercions of the media, Hollywood, and the liberal courts. Frum is smart, and whether one agrees with him or not, one learns things here – about Foucault, opec, snail darters on the Little Tennessee River. But the indictment loses its edge in the conclusion, where the author rejects nostalgic pining for Ward-and-June-ism – the fifties weren’t perfect either, he says – and advocates instead what he fuzzily calls “remoralization.” It won’t have him teaching queer theory at Duke, but it won’t be enough for Alan Keyes, either.
When we last left Bridget, she was on her way to Smug Married-dom, but as Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason (Viking; $24.95) begins, we discover that she’s not picking out her Vera Wang just yet. Fielding’s ADD-friendly writing style, with its short dispatches keyed to Bridget’s fluctuating weight and the number of minutes since her last shag, is carried over from the original. This version, however, is decidedly more action-packed (a holiday in Thailand ends with Bridget behind bars, quelling a band of lesbians with her Wonderbra) and even a bit more grown-up (yes, there’s a wedding finale, but we won’t say whose). New additions to the Bridget lexicon? “Mentionitis,” a disease typified by persistent name-dropping, and “pashmina,” one who fancies an indifferent friend; the friend, of course, is a “Pashmaster.”
It’s absurd to say Americans have no sense of history when they can’t get enough of the past. The Civil War is more alive to us than the Crimean War is to any Englishman, and even a half-decent Lincoln book is always a solid publishing bet. Take Lincoln: A Foreigner’s Quest (Simon & Schuster; $23), by British travel writer Jan Morris. No matter how often the story’s told – devious, ambitious lawyer with no political philosophy miraculously morphs into Greatest American Who Ever Lived – it still resonates. Morris reverently revisits every sacred Lincoln site, even managing a few fresh insights. Lincoln’s willingness to kill Southerners in order to save them, she notes, is an essentially imperial idea that laid the ideological groundwork for America’s global domination.