December 18, 2009
Every year at this time we begin to see lists of "the best of." Best television shows of the year. Best movies. Best books. I pay attention, to these lists and see what I've missed and to test my sensibilities against others. You can find my own list of "Best Books of 2009" on our website at pbs.org. A word of caution: they're "best" by a very subjective standard, my own. Each held me from the first to the last page, and I learned something from all of them.
There's one book in particular I would put in everybody's stocking if I could. It's not new - it was actually published three years ago. But I read it again this month, and found its message more relevant than ever. This is it: NEMESIS: THE LAST DAYS OF THE AMERICAN REPUBLIC, by Chalmers Johnson.
A long-time authority on Asia, a prodigious researcher, Johnson has produced a trilogy on America's role in the world and the consequences for us at home. His first bestseller, BLOWBACK, revealed how the CIA's clandestine efforts abroad came back to explode in our face. "The Sorrows of Empire" analyzed how our determination to police the world compromises our own safety. NEMESIS picks up on the subject of empire and how it poisons our politics and economy.
Now, I know many people bridle at the word "Empire" -- "America's a Republic, not an Empire," they say. I once used the word in a speech and afterward a man came up to me and said in a very nice way, "Friend, there's only one American empire-and if you haven't tasted it, you've missed out on the best apple in the world." I didn't get his name and address, or else I would send him a copy of NEMESIS.
Read it for yourself and see why. I won't give away the ending - the story's not really over - but I will tease you with the frontispiece, where Chalmers Johnson explains the namesake of the title. "In Greek mythology," Nemesis was "the goddess of retribution, who punishes human transgression of the natural, right order of things and the arrogance that causes it." The Greeks, you see, were big on divine, or cosmic justice - nature's way of declaring, "this far and no further." Just a myth? Maybe, maybe not. Check out Chalmers Johnson.
There are other books on my list, some quite joyful, even hopeful, believe it or not. Send us your suggestions for best book of the year, and we'll add it to ours. Here's to the holidays… and good reading.
I'm Bill Moyers. See you next time.