The book, Things that Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics, is an electric, engaging as well as a witty collection of columns and essays written by Charles Krauthammer, one of America’s most widely read thinkers. The book is divided into sixteen chapters, all of which comprise primarily columns and shorter magazine pieces that Krauthammer wrote for Time, The Washington Post, The Weekly Standard and The New Republic. There are also five long-form, denser essays that address Jewish destiny, embryonic research and the role of America as the world’s superpower. Someone who is familiar with the regular weekly columns that Krauthammer wrote will realize that these essays need much more than the attention of a casual reader. The materials are classified into four sections: Personal, political, historical and global.
The title of the book gives the reader a glimpse of what the book is about, a hint that is also provided in the introduction. In the opening lines of the autobiographical introduction, Krauthammer raises various essential questions, and also discusses things that matter most to him:
“What matters? Lives of the good and the great, the innocence of dogs, cunning of cats, the elegance of nature, the wonders of space, the thrown outfield assist, the difference between historical guilt historical responsibility, homage and sacrilege in monumental architecture, fashions and follies and the finer uses of the F-word …. Manners and habits, curiosities and conundrums social and ethical: Is a doctor ever permitted to kill a patient wishing to die? Why in the age of feminism do we still use the phrase ‘women and children’? How many lies is one allowed to tell to advance stem cell research?”
A lot of the articles and essays in the book relate back to American politics, but the author does not write them from a right-leaning ideology; instead, he writes from the standpoint of logic as well as rationality that he developed and honed during his educational journey. The different pieces reflect expositions along with proposed solutions to a myriad of problems stemming back from the ’80s, but which are still unsolved today. In the book, the author cuts neither party slack, criticizing primarily the modern political climate that tends to too easily disregard the history of the nation and the world as well. The central thesis of the book is that the society has no choice but to pay attention to politics foremost because it inevitably shapes the world.
Krauthammer’s Things that matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics, is a nonfiction book, and was published on October 22, 2013, by Crown Forum. Krauthammer dedicates the book to his wife and son – Robyn and Daniel – and makes it clear that what matters most to him is his family. After its release, the book spent 38 weeks on New Times best seller list of nonfiction books. During this period, also, it debuted second on the Times nonfiction list. In just its third week on the shelves, it reached No.1 on the Times nonfiction list and remained in that spot for ten consecutive weeks. In approximately a year after it was published, Things that Matter had sold over one million copies (Johnson para. 1).
Speaking to Crown Forum’s announcement of the milestone the book had achieved in 2014, Krauthammer said that he wrote the book to leave something of his ideas as well as his prose in case he “got hit by a bus” (Johnson para. 3). He was, however, amused by the success of the book, and said that it was gratifying to find that it had appealed to such a broad audience. Currently, the book exists in all formats, including digital, audio and print.
About the author
Krauthammer, a physician, political commentator and syndicated columnist was born in 1950 in New York City but moved to Montreal at the age of five, together with his parents. He attended McGill University, where he graduated with First Class Honors in political science and economics. Krauthammer was a Commonwealth Scholar in politics at Balliol College, Oxford.
During his first year at Harvard Medical School, Krauthammer suffered a diving board accident that left him permanently paralyzed from his waist down. After spending 14 months recovering in a hospital, he went back to school, receiving his M.D. from Harvard Medical School in 1975. During his residency in psychiatry in the Massachusetts General Hospital, he was involved in the creation of the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders III.” In 1978, Krauthammer quit psychiatry and joined the Carter administration where he became a director of Psychiatric research. He eventually became a speechwriter to Vice president Walter Mondale in 1980.
Between the late 1970s and early 1980s, Krauthammer embarked on a career as a political commentator and columnist. He joined The New Republic as both a writer and editor in 1981. After three years, his New Republic essays won the “The National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism.” Krauthammer began writing a monthly back-page essay for Times in 1983, and a syndicated column for The Washington Post in 1985. The latter won him the Pulitzer Prize two years later. He was also a Fox News Channel contributor. In August 2017, he stopped writing his column and being a Fox News Contributor due to his battle with cancer, and died on June 21, 2018.
While Krauthammer often took a conservative stance on numerous hot-button topics, readers will be surprised throughout the book by him admitting that he sees both sides of given issues. In given columns, he defies the status quo and shares his independent views on evolution, the death penalty, and feminism. Krauthammer’s newfound admirers may not know that he was once a Democrat during his work as a speechwriter for the Carter administration. Overall, the book appeals to readers across the political spectrum as well as those who loathe politics.