Isaacson Reprises His Themes of “Science, Genius, Experiment, Code, Thinking Different” in Book on CRISPR

(p. 12) The landmark research that brought Doudna and Charpentier to the pinnacle of global acclaim has the potential to control future pandemics — either by outwitting the next viral plague through better screening and treatment or by engineering human beings with better disease resistance programmed into their cells. The technique of gene editing that they patented, which goes by the unwieldy acronym of CRISPR-Cas9, makes it possible to selectively snip and alter bits of DNA as though they were so many hems to take up or waistbands to let out. The method is based on defenses pioneered by bacteria in their ages-old battle against viruses.

. . .

The CRISPR history holds obvious appeal for Walter Isaacson, a biographer of Albert Einstein, Benjamin Franklin, Steve Jobs and Leonardo da Vinci. In “The Code Breaker” he reprises several of his previous themes — science, genius, experiment, code, thinking different — and devotes a full length book to a female subject for the first time.

. . .

Isaacson keeps a firm, experienced hand on the scientific explanations, which he mastered through extensive readings and interviews, all of which are footnoted.

For the full review, see:

Dava Sobel. “Deus Ex Machina.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 21, 2021 [sic]): 12.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 8, 2021 [sic], and has the title “A Biography of the Woman Who Will Re-Engineer Humans.”)

The book under review is:

Isaacson, Walter. The Code Breaker: Jennifer Doudna, Gene Editing, and the Future of the Human Race. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2021.

9,000 Years Ago 10,000 Humans Lived in the City of Catalhoyuk

The Catalhoyuk section of Four Cities appears germane to the question: how long have humans more or less like us existed on earth? Apparently at least 9,000 years. But only in the last few hundred years have some humans flourished. The bigger question is: what novel economic system has allowed the the flourishers to leapfrog previous humans?

(p. 16) Nine thousand years ago, the people of Catalhoyuk, maybe 10,000 of them, lived in cuboid clay houses packed against one another above the Konya Plain of south-central Turkey. Their dwellings were uniform, suggesting a highly regulated society: one or two rooms, painted in white or with red ocher designs. You exited not via a front door but by climbing a ladder to the roof. Much of life was lived up there: cooking, socializing, ambling along sidewalks that ran across the top of the city.

Let me say that again in case you missed it: This was 9,000 years ago. In terms of human society, that is just an imponderable span of time. The oldest of the books of the Hebrew Bible date to roughly 3,000 years ago; the pyramids of Egypt go back about 5,000 years. These were not prehumans or near relatives. They were like us: complex, organized, alive to meaning and living at a time beyond reckoning.

. . .

At Catalhoyuk, Newitz hangs out with Ruth Tringham of the University of California, Berkeley, who has devoted years to humanizing the remnants of this city of the dim past by focusing on one skeleton, of a woman she has dubbed Dido. Dido replastered her walls regularly, kept her home swept clean, covered the floor in reed mats and decorated the place with art: clay figures of animals and stylized human females. In other words: much like us.

Catalhoyuk was founded by pioneers of urban living. “When the earliest construction began,” Newitz writes, “many people coming to live at Catalhoyuk were only a generation or two removed from nomadism.” It was brand-new, this fixed settlement thing, but it proved remarkably successful. By the time Dido was born, the city was about 600 years old. I’m tempted to repeat a number yet again. Think of the settled, structured history Dido could look back on. As evidence of her awareness of the past, Dido, like everyone else in town, buried her ancestors in her home, beneath her bed. Some were given a special honor: Their skulls sat in niches in the walls. Dido could enjoy the comfort of her forebears’ empty eye sockets following her as she went about her daily chores. In other words: not so much like us.

. . .

Perhaps looking back 9,000 years can yield practical guidance on how to move forward from where we are. For me, the effect of reading “Four Lost Cities” was more meditative. This is a long, long, long ride we are on. Much is beyond our control. Humanity trundles on.

For the full review, see:

Russell Shorto. “In Ruins.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, March 14, 2021 [sic]): 14.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Feb. 25, 2021 [sic], and has the title “Searching for Our Urban Future in the Ruins of the Past.”)

The book under review is:

Newitz, Annalee. Four Lost Cities: A Secret History of the Urban Age. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2021.

“We Rarely Get the Disaster We Expect”

I disagree with the reviewer quoted below on much that is in his review. I have chosen to quote passages that emphasize what I think is interesting and promising in the book.

If Ferguson is right that “we rarely get the disaster we expect,” then we might be better off growing our general capabilities, rather than invest huge taxpayer funds in preparing for the wrong specific disaster. The best way to grow our general capabilities is to defend an economic system of innovative dynamism.

(p. 16) Niall Ferguson is, in many ways, a historian of the old school. He was trained in the history of business and finance, but over the past two decades his interests have broadened.

. . .

Ferguson’s latest book, “Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe,” . . . [seems] to wave away concerns about climate change . . . in favor of extended speculation about “Black Swan” and “Dragon King” events that defy efforts at prediction? His bewildering answer is that “we rarely get the disaster we expect, but some other threat most of us are currently ignoring.”

. . .

“Doom” is often insightful, productively provocative and downright brilliant.

For the full review, see:

Damon Linker. “Catastrophe Is Coming.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, May 16, 2021 [sic]): 16.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date May 4, 2021 [sic], and has the title “Niall Ferguson Examines Disasters of the Past and Disasters Still to Come.”)

The book under review is:

Ferguson, Niall. Doom: The Politics of Catastrophe. New York: Penguin Press, 2021.

Most Israelis Are Refugees, or Descendants of Refugees; Some Who Survived the Holocaust

It is unpleasant to think about the Holocaust, so I don’t think about it very often. But the anti-Israel response of much of the world to Hamas’s murderous aggression on October 7, 2023, suggests that Holocaust deniers have gained considerable ground, even at prestigious U.S. universities. So it may be worthwhile to occasionally remind ourselves of the evidence of what happened.

(p. 10) “Cold Crematorium,” a memoir by József Debreczeni, an accomplished journalist and poet from Hungary, was originally published in Hungarian in Yugoslavia in 1950. The book remained obscure for decades, squeezed by Cold War politics — too Soviet-philic for the West, too Jew-centric for the East. It’s only now, more than 70 years later, that the book has been translated into more than a dozen languages and become accessible to the wider world.

Debreczeni recounts his deportation to Auschwitz, and from there to a series of camps. This isn’t the sort of book you can get a sense of from a plot outline. Debreczeni suffers; he survives (or, more accurately, he does not die); he observes. His powers of observation are extraordinary. Everything he encounters in what he calls the Land of Auschwitz — the work sites, the barracks, the bodies, the corpses, the hunger, the roll call, the labor, the insanity, the fear, the despair, the strangeness, the hope, the cruelty — is captured in terrifyingly sharp detail.

In Paul Olchváry’s exquisite translation, scene after scene, image after image — it is wrenching. Prisoners propping up a dead bedmate, extending his arm, so that they might receive an extra piece of bread. A prisoner expiring midsentence. The lice, “silvery-glistening colonies of larvae,” that torment, endlessly.

The details are so precise that any critical distance collapses — nothing’s expected, nothing’s dulled by cliché. It is as immediate a confrontation of the horrors of the camps as I’ve ever encountered.

. . .

The finest examples of Holocaust literature — and “Cold Crematorium” is so fine it transcends its category — aren’t merely bulwarks against obscurity; they do more than allow us to never forget. They offer a glimpse, one that is unyielding and unsoftened by sentimentality, one that is brutally, unbearably close.

For the full review, see:

Menachem Kaiser. “Death Camp Chronicles.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, February 25, 2024): 10.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the review has the date Jan. 23, 2024, and has the title “How to Talk About Auschwitz.”)

The book under review is:

Debreczeni, József. Cold Crematorium: Reporting from the Land of Auschwitz. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2024.

Mirsky Saw Communist “Soldiers Shoot Parents,” Doctors and Nurses Trying to Help Students in Tiananmen Square

(p. A21) Dr. Mirsky was a professor of Chinese language and history at Dartmouth College when he visited China for the first time, in 1972. An antiwar activist and a self-described “Mao fan,” he went as part of a group representing the Committee of Concerned Asian Scholars, a radical coalition dedicated to ending the war in Vietnam.

. . .

Not long after arriving in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, the visiting group was whisked off to meet what was described as a “typical Chinese worker family.” Mr. Mirsky came away impressed. The family seemed prosperous, with a nicely appointed home. Crime, the group was told, was nonexistent.

The next morning, on a stroll around the neighborhood, Dr. Mirsky bumped into the father from that “typical” family. He invited Dr. Mirsky, who was fluent in Mandarin, into his real home, a shabby apartment, and explained that the group had in fact been in a show apartment arranged by the Chinese authorities for “foreign friends.” The man said further that there was no shortage of crime.

“I returned to the hotel, stunned by what I had seen and heard,” Dr. Mirsky recalled in an account of the trip that was published in the 2012 book “My First Trip to China: Scholars, Diplomats and Journalists Reflect on Their First Encounters With China,” edited by Kin-Ming Liu. Afterward, he wrote, he became “suspicious of every venue, every briefing, and every account of how everything should be understood.”

In just 48 hours, Dr. Mirsky went from being a “Mao fan” to a disillusioned skeptic, foreshadowing a similar shift in how left-leaning American intellectuals would come to see the Communist government in China.

“He had a sharp eye for the abuses of totalitarian dictatorship,” said Mr. Garside, the author most recently of “China Coup: The Great Leap to Freedom” (2021). “He was early to denounce the evils of the Mao regime before it became fashionable to do so.”

Dr. Mirsky maintained that skeptical stance even as he made the transition from academia to journalism.

As China correspondent for The Observer, he was at Tiananmen Square in the early morning of June 4, 1989, when the People’s Liberation Army, acting on government orders, launched a bloody crackdown on peaceful protesters. About 3 a.m., he was leaving the scene to file a report with the newspaper when he came upon a group of armed police officers. When they found out he was a journalist, they beat him, fracturing his left arm and knocking out multiple teeth.

Dr. Mirsky managed to dictate his article, which would appear on The Observer’s front page, by phone. The next morning he returned to Tiananmen, where, he said, he saw soldiers shoot parents trying to enter the square to look for children who had not returned home. They also shot doctors and nurses who had come to help the injured, he said.  (. . .)

“Tiananmen Square became a place of horror,” Dr. Mirsky wrote in his article on the day of the crackdown, “where tanks and troops fought with students and workers, where armored personnel carriers burned and blood lay in pools on the stones.”

He was named international reporter of the year at the 1989 British Press Awards ceremony for his Tiananmen coverage.

. . .

Dr. Mirsky was unsparing in his criticism of China’s Communist rulers and the Western leaders whom he believed were overlooking Beijing’s rights abuses to preserve economic ties. Throughout his career he wrote of the Communist Party’s insistence on controlling the narrative of China and, in his view, the deleterious effects this had on Chinese society as a whole.

“For the Chinese, lying creates a universe of uncertainty in which one of the commonest answers to questions is ‘bu qingchu’ — ‘I’m not clear about that’,” he wrote in The Observer in 1993. “There is virtually no aspect of life outside the immediate family or close circle of friends where one can be certain about the truth.”

For the full obituary, see:

Amy Qin. “Jonathan Mirsky, 88, Scholar on China Affairs.” The New York Times (Thursday, September 30, 2021 [sic]): A21.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the obituary was updated Sept. 29, 2021 [sic], and has the title “Jonathan Mirsky, Journalist and Historian of China, Dies at 88.”)

Mirsky’s account of the experience that changed him “from being a ‘Mao Fan’ to a disillusioned skeptic” appears in Mirsky’s section of the edited book:

Liu, Kin-ming, ed. My First Trip to China: Scholars, Diplomats, and Journalists Reflect on Their First Encounters with China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2013.

The book by Garside, mentioned above, is:

Garside, Roger. China Coup: The Great Leap to Freedom. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2021.

Apple’s Bold “1984” Super Bowl Ad, Had Failed Marketing Test

(p. C4) Conceived by the Chiat/Day ad agency and directed by Ridley Scott, then fresh off making the seminal science-fiction noir “Blade Runner,” the Apple commercial “1984,” which was intended to introduce the new Macintosh computer, would become one of the most acclaimed commercials ever made. It also helped to kick off — pun partially intended — the Super Bowl tradition of the big game serving as an annual showcase for gilt-edged ads from Fortune 500 companies.

. . .

FRED GOLDBERG The original idea was actually done in 1982. We presented an ad [with] a headline, which was “Why 1984 Won’t Be Like ‘1984,’” to Steve Jobs, and he didn’t think the Apple III was worthy of that claim.

. . .

HAYDEN Steve Jobs was excited but frightened by it. Steve Wozniak offered to pay to run the commercial himself.

SCULLEY Before the commercial ran, we had to take it to the board of directors. The board sees the commercial, and then there’s just dead silence in the boardroom. They turn and look at me, and [a board member] says, “You’re not really going to run that thing, are you?”

HAYDEN As the closing credits scrolled up, the chairman, Mike Markkula, put his head in his hands and kind of folded over the conference table, and then slowly straightened up and [proposed hiring a different ad agency].

SCOTT I made it. I thought it was pretty good. But I was thinking, “Really? They’re going to run this on the Super Bowl? And we don’t know what it’s for?”

GOLDBERG I had them do a theater test. We get back the results, and it’s the worst business commercial that they’ve ever tested, in terms of persuasiveness.

SCULLEY The board said, “We don’t think you should run it. Try to sell the time.”

GOLDBERG And it was Jay Chiat who told us to drag our feet, basically, when we were told to sell off the time on the Super Bowl.

HAYDEN At long last, it came down that we would run the “1984” commercial once.

For the full story, see:

Saul Austerlitz. “The Super Bowl’s Big Ad Touchdown.” The New York Times (Saturday, February 10, 2024): C4.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added. The bracketed words in comments from Goldberg, Sculley, and Hayden were in the original.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 5, 2024, and has the title “40 Years Ago, This Ad Changed the Super Bowl Forever.” In the print and online versions, the names of panelists were in capitalized and bold fonts.)

Apple’s bold and famous “1984” Super Bowl ad could only be understood by those who were familiar with:

Orwell, George. Nineteen Eighty-Four. New York: The New American Library, 1961 [1st published in 1949].

Palestinian Group Defaces Portrait of Balfour, Who Tried to Save Jewish Lives

Pro-Palestinian slashes portrait of Arthur James Balfour at University of Cambridge. Source: NYT article quoted and cited below.

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 advocated the establishment of a Jewish homeland (Dershowitz 2003, p. 35). “In 1937, 1947, and 2000-2001,” Jewish leaders accepted the establishment of a Palestinian state, but Palestinian leaders “each time . . . rejected the offer and responded with increased terrorism” (Dershowitz 2003, p. 159). If Israel had existed by the 1930s, “hundreds of thousands—perhaps even a million or more” European Jews could have immigrated to it before the Holocaust, saving their lives (Dershowitz 2003, p. 52). Arthur James Balfour’s portrait should be honored, not “slashed and spray-painted” (article quoted below).

(p. A6) A pro-Palestinian group slashed and spray-painted a century-old portrait of Arthur James Balfour at the University of Cambridge on Friday [March 8, 2024], defacing a painting of the British official whose pledge of support in 1917 for “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” helped pave the way to Israel’s founding three decades later.

For the full story, see:

Marc Tracy. “Balfour Portrait at University of Cambridge Is Defaced.” The New York Times (Saturday, March 9, 2024): A6.

(Note: bracketed date added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 8, 2024, and has the title “Activists Deface Portrait of Balfour, Who Supported Jewish Homeland.”)

Dershowitz’s heavily referenced book, cited above, is:

Dershowitz, Alan. The Case for Israel. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2003.

“Xi Is Dampening the Energy and Optimism of the Chinese People”

(p. A1) A song called “Tomorrow Will Be Better” became a sensation in mainland China in the 1980s, when the nation was emerging from the poverty and turmoil of Mao Zedong’s rule.

Its inspirational lyrics, which exhorted listeners to “look upward for the wings in the sky,” came to represent a generation that was starting to believe in a brighter future.

Now people in China are listening to the song again—but for a very different reason. Videos of the song are circulating on WeChat and other communications apps, often with taglines expressing sadness about the end of that era.

“The 1980s are gone forever,” wrote one listener. “So long, those years of burning passion,” wrote another.

For many Chinese, especially those who came of age during the past 40 years of reform and opening, China appeared to be on an irreversible path forward toward more growth, openness and opportunity.

But now China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is restoring aspects of Mao’s rule, forcing people to confront a more uncertain future rooted in China’s past.

Xi’s predecessors, beginning with Deng Xiaoping, embraced market forces, growth and limited freedoms. Xi, by contrast, is placing national security over the economy, tightening government control, and putting the Communist Party—and himself—at the center of Chinese society.

A Dec. 16 [2023] article published by the party’s influential journal, Qiushi, elevated Xi to the same historical status as Mao, calling Xi “the People’s leader”—a title previously reserved for China’s Great Helmsman.

Gone is the booming China that inspired many young people and entrepreneurs to take risks and bet on the future. Home prices are falling, youth unemployment is at a record high, private investment is shrinking, the financial system is drowning in debt and deflation is setting in.

. . .

(p. A9) “Xi is dampening the energy and optimism of the Chinese people,” said Susan Shirk, a former senior diplomat during the Clinton administration and author of a recent book, “Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise.”

“In a system so dominated by one leader,” Shirk said, “everyone feels powerless to effect positive change.”

. . .

In Shenzhen, Deng’s reform policies helped transform the former fishing village in the shadow of neighboring Hong Kong into a cosmopolitan city of 13 million, home to globally competitive tech companies such as Tencent.

“Time is money, efficiency is life” was the slogan that guided the city’s early development.

Today, Shenzhen has a new slogan: “Follow the party, start your business”—with the party coming first.

Communist Party direction doesn’t seem to be brightening the city’s future. More than a quarter of Shenzhen’s office space sits empty after Xi started a campaign in 2020 to rein in risk-taking at private firms. The regulatory crackdown wiped out more than $1 trillion in market value from publicly-listed tech firms and triggered layoffs and business retrenchment.

. . .

Faced with growing economic headwinds and challenges to order, Xi is doubling down on Mao-style control, embracing a Mao-era tool as a way to ensure national security.

The practice, called the “Fengqiao experience,” is named after a town in eastern China that gained national fame in the early 1960s when Mao praised the way its officials mobilized people to identify and punish so-called enemies of the proletariat—capitalists, traditionalists and the like.

People were encouraged to report on one another, with husbands informing on wives and children on their parents, leading to some of the most brutal aspects of the Cultural Revolution. After that tumultuous period, the “Fengqiao experience” faded into history.

Xi is trying to revive aspects of it to mobilize people to fix problems at the local level before they lead to widespread social unrest.

. . .

John Ling, an e-commerce entrepreneur in Shanghai in his late 40s, recalls a far more liberal environment in the early 2000s. Lured back home by China’s seemingly limitless opportunities after studying in the U.S., he started a business trading goods online.

Back then, “I did feel like you could realize your American dream in China, as long as you worked hard,” Ling recalled.

Year by year he felt greater government interference. As more capital poured into e-commerce, he said, Beijing grew concerned that the sector was diverting resources away from more strategic areas such as semiconductors, an industry in which China still heavily relies on Western firms.

Ling said it became so difficult to raise fresh funding for e-commerce that he decided to shut his venture earlier this year. “It’s all about hard-tech these days,” he said, referring to sectors now favored by the government. “But can you sustain the entire economy with just hard-tech?”

“It feels like nothing is possible” nowadays, he said.

For the full commentary, see:

Lingling Wei. “China Is Looking to Move Ahead, But Xi Revives Mao-Era Playbook.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Dec. 29, 2023): A1 & A9.

(Note: ellipses and bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was updated December 28, 2023, and has the title “China Wants to Move Ahead, but Xi Jinping Is Looking to the Past.” The fourth and eighth paragraphs quoted above appear in the online, but not the print, version of the commentary. In other sections where the online version is more detailed than the print version, the passages quoted above follow the online version.)

The book by Shirk mentioned above is:

Shirk, Susan L. Overreach: How China Derailed Its Peaceful Rise. New York: Oxford University Press, 2023.

Super Agers “Have a Purpose”

I have personally benefitted from Vernon Smith’s longevity, since he graciously wrote two drafts of a positive blurb for my Openness to Creative Destruction book.

(p. A5) Vernon L. Smith, 97, is a very busy man.

The economist at Chapman University just finished writing a book about Adam Smith and works about eight hours a day, seven days a week in his home office in Colorado Springs, Colo. He enjoys chatting with friends on Facebook and attending concerts with his daughter.

“I still have a lot of stuff to do. I want to keep at it,” said Smith, who won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002.

. . .

(p. A10) Researchers studying “super agers,” people over 80 who have mental faculties of people decades younger, said strong social relationships are important for keeping brains sharp.

The same is true for people who live beyond 100, said Stacy Andersen, a behavioral neuroscientist at Boston University and co-director of the New England Centenarian Study.

“They have a purpose. They have things they want to go out and do every day,” Andersen said.

Smith says his work and his family keep him motivated and driven.

“I want to go to at least 106,” he said.

For the full story, see:

Dominique Mosbergen. “Several Factors Help Ward Off Mental Decline.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, Feb. 16, 2024): A5.

(Note: ellipsis and bracketed year added.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated Feb. 15, 2024, and has the title “How to Stay Mentally Sharp Into Your 80s and Beyond.” The last sentence quoted above appears in the online, but not in the print, version of the article.)

My book mentioned above is:

Diamond, Arthur M., Jr. Openness to Creative Destruction: Sustaining Innovative Dynamism. New York: Oxford University Press, 2019.

Modern Law Tries to Rule Out Error and Accident at the Expense of Individual Freedom

(p. C9) Philip K. Howard’s “Everyday Freedom: Designing the Framework for a Flourishing Society” is a slim book propounding a colossal, sometimes unwieldy, thesis. Beginning in the 1960s, Mr. Howard argues, American law was transformed from a system designed to guard individual freedom and accountability into one in which bad outcomes are impossible. Modern law, he writes, is “an elaborate precautionary system aimed at precluding human error. Anything that goes wrong, any accident or disappointment, any disagreement, potentially requires a legal solution. Instead of charging officials to do what’s sensible, modern law presumes that the gravest risk is to leave room for judgment of people in positions of authority.”

The consequence, he observes, is a society of people who feel they can’t make decisions without thick rule books explaining best practices and legal protections if their decision turns out badly.

For the full review, see:

Barton Swaim. “Bring Back the Smoke-Filled Rooms.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, March 2, 2024): C9.

(Note: the online version of the review has the date March 1, 2024, and has the title “Politics: ‘The Primary Solution’ by Nick Troiano Plus ‘Everyday Freedom’ by Philip K. Howard.”)

The book under review above is:

Howard, Philip K. Everyday Freedom: Designing the Framework for a Flourishing Society. Garden City, NY: Rodin Books, 2024.

King George III and George Washington Both Admired Cato, Defender of the Roman Republic

(p. C7) George III (1738-1820) enjoyed one of the longest reigns in British history, but he is known mostly for his turbulent early years as king and the loss of Britain’s American colonies. Thomas Paine called him “a wicked tyrannical brute”; Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, said his character was “marked by every act which may define a tyrant.” As if such charges weren’t enough, George III suffered in his later years from bouts of mental illness that eventually curtailed his reign.

In “The Last King of America,” Andrew Roberts sets out to reclaim George III by drawing a portrait of the man in full and recalibrating modern judgments, not least the judgments of Americans who may share Jefferson’s view. Far from a tyrant, Mr. Roberts argues, George III dutifully supported Britain’s parliamentary constitution of limited monarchy.

. . .

. . . in 1751, . . . the shy, introverted teenager next in line to the throne aimed to be a patriot king.

What did that mean? One gauge, Mr. Roberts observes, is a prologue (written by his father) that George declaimed as a 10-year-old at a performance of “Cato,” a play by Joseph Addison dramatizing the life of the Roman republican. The prologue expressed a pride in England and a love of liberty. (Ironically, “Cato,” performed at Valley Forge, was George Washington’s favorite play.) And indeed, George III later upheld the parliamentary supremacy established by the Glorious Revolution of 1688. No monarch, he believed, could rule justly without the consent of his realm.

Had British statesmen possessed the diplomatic acumen of Franklin and Washington, Mr. Roberts argues, a way through the impasse in North America might have been found. Many colonists had hoped that George III would take their side against Parliament. The king himself spoke of “fighting the battle of the legislature.” Instead, the British establishment—the king included—determined to crush what they viewed as a conspiracy of the colonial elite.

For the full review, see:

William Anthony Hay. “The Method & the Madness.” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021 [sic]): C7.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the review was updated Oct. 29, 2021 [sic], and has the title “‘The Last King of America’ Review: The Method and the Madness.”)

The book under review above is:

Roberts, Andrew. The Last King of America: The Misunderstood Reign of George III. London: Viking, 2021.