The Lamb Lies Down On Booknotes

C-SPAN’sBooknotes is no more. Host Brian Lamb is calling it quits after 15 years on the air.

Going to miss that show, primarily because my blog was in some limited way inspired by Booknotes, a place where, every Sunday evening, literature and politics met. Some of my favorite writers have been guests on the program, including

  • Jeffrey Meyers, author of Orwell: The Wintry Conscience of A Generation

  • Robert Conquest, author of Reflections of a Ravaged Century

  • William Gildea, author of Where the Game Matters Most

  • Simon Winchester, author of The Professor and the Madman

  • Sam Tanenhaus, who wrote a well-received biography of Whitaker Chambers (which warranted a two-part discussion on Booknotes), and who is currently the editor of The New York Times Book Review

  • Andrew Sullivan, author of Virtually Normal, and who currently maintains of one of the most popular blogs on the internet

  • Milton Friedman, who was a guest on the program simply for having written the introduction to the 50th anniversary edition of F.A. von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom

  • Roger Kimball, author of Tenured Radicals


I initially wondered how Gildea made it onto Booknotes. I mean, Where The Game Matters Most is a book close to my heart: it’s about the 1996 season of open tournament high school basketball in Indiana — the very last season in which any school of any size could potentially win the state basketball tournament. One of the smallest schools in the state, Milan High School, won the tournament back in the 1950s, and proved to be the inspiration for the movie “Hoosiers.” Following that season, Indiana would, for the first time in its history, group together in tournament play and then crown three state high school basketball champions based on the school size. Gildea spent the entire basketball season that year criss-crossing the state, documenting the final season of open tournament play. So I still found myself wondering how a book about Indiana high school basketball make it all the way to Booknotes? And then I remembered: like me, Brian Lamb’s from Indiana.

According to this Wash Post chat, Washington Post Bookworld editor Michael Dirda would welcome the opportunity to take over for Brian Lamb. As a confirmed bibliophile, I’d welcome it, too. Most certainly would take on a decidely literary bent.

One of my favorite literary anecdotes is about an author I list above, the noted Sovietologist Robert Conquest. In the mid-Sixties Conquest published a book called The Great Terror, which basically claimed that in the ’30s Stalin’s enforced famines and massacres killed about 10 million people. The leftist press at the time denounced the book, rationalizing Stalin’s actions in ways that only apparatchiks can. Conquest and his book were rather viciously attacked and summarily dismissed. Of course, as history (and the Mitrokin archives) later proved, Conquest actually underestimated (by about 15 million) the number of people that Stalin killed, and on the 25th anniversary of the book Conquest’s publisher decided to reprint a commemorative edition, complete with a new introduction detailing how prescient Conquest actually was. Conquest met with his publisher’s rep over lunch to discuss the details. The rep thought everything they discussed sounded good, but floated the idea of coming up with a new title, or at least a subtitle to update it. Conquest took a sip of wine, thought for a moment, and then said, “How about ‘I told you so, you fucking fools’?” So he did.

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