Undocumented: A Dominican Boy’s Odyssey From a Homeless Shelter to the Ivy League, by Dan-el Padilla Peralta (New York: Penguin Books; 320 pp., $17.00). I read Dan-el Padilla Peralta’s memoir of his illegal residency in the United States last week while on vacation in Germany, another country arguing about immigration. The book answered several questions long brewing in my mind. To start, how exactly does one jump from a homeless shelter, to an elite private high school, to college at Princeton and graduate school at Oxford and Stanford? Answer: innate ability and incredible luck. But that’s a taboo topic in today’s environment where the right race, class, gender, and now immigration status are the only acceptable merits. Peralta’s daisy chain of success started after a serendipitous encounter with an alumnus of the elite private high school who noticed his intellectual precocity. Once attached to that high school, an express elevator of influential connections then whisked him to the penthouse of America’s collegiate skyscraper. If the recent college admissions scandal bothered you, wait until you read about the little-discussed, old boy network still thriving between America’s elite high schools and its exclusive universities.

But I had picked up the book for other reasons. First, with caravans marching through Mexico toward our border and an uncountable population of illegal aliens already resident within the U.S., I wanted to give their case a fair hearing rather than convict them without trial. As a representative of that group, Peralta provides little more than cliché reminiscences of an early life in the shadows, hungry nights, and fear of his unpredictable future.

Second, I wanted to learn what might drive a student in today’s bleak humanities environment to earn a Ph.D. in classics, as Peralta did. Sadly, that potentially interesting tale gets jettisoned in the recounting of his own immigration “odyssey.”

That mildly interesting yarn turns toxic in the epilogue, when Peralta’s inner Ilhan Omar takes over to spit in the faces of all American citizens: 

And to the haters, a final word: Demography is a bitch. Holla at me if you want me to break it down for you. You can find me chilling with the Muses, studiis florentem ignobilis oti.

My sympathy for Doctor Peralta “thriving in the pursuits of inglorious leisure” completely evaporated as I, a U.S. citizen, obeyed U.S. immigration law by waiting two hours to get through passport control upon my return from Europe.

The Return of Marco Polo’s World: War, Strategy, and American Interests in the Twenty-First Century, by Robert D. Kaplan (New York: Random House; 304 pp., $28.00). If you’re reading Chronicles then I would guess you don’t subscribe to The Atlantic, The American Interest, or The Washington Post. You’d have to sift through a lot of chaff to uncover the rare worthy piece in any of those periodicals. Luckily, Random House has done realist, non-interventionist conservatives a favor in compiling a selection of Robert Kaplan’s best foreign policy articles from those publications. This collection includes 16 previously published gems from those journals, along with a few from The National Interest, a realist foreign policy journal. 

Kaplan introduces the collection with an opening essay surveying today’s geopolitical environment. Instead of a list of Republicrat talking points and future war plans, Kaplan analyzes the present global maelstrom through the eyes of important historical thinkers like Fernand Braudel, Halford J. Mackinder, and Reinhold Niebuhr. He argues for the U.S. to widen its emphasis toward naval power, à la Alfred Mahan, as well as the need to keep abreast of developments in Turkey, Iran, Bulgaria, and all the former SSRs. While U.S. policy experts maniacally focus on trade balances with China, Russia’s evil-ocracy, and the mess in the Middle East, China has locked up the land axis between Europe and Asia through its Belt and Road initiative. Kaplan ominously predicts “the tightly wound interconnectedness of weakening states and faded empires across Eurasia” could ignite another WWI-like conflagration “as older imperial legacies [China, India, and Russia] move to the forefront.”

After that uplifting opening, the essays address “Strategy,” “War and Its Costs,” and “Reflections,” none of which stand out. But in “Thinkers” Kaplan rightly defends three vilified realist thinkers: Henry Kissinger, Samuel Huntington, and John Mearsheimer. He respectfully deems Mearsheimer’s suicidal 2007 book The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy, “a tightly organized marshaling of fact and argument that does not necessarily delegitimize Israel, but does delegitimize the American-Israeli special relationship.” Kaplan does quibble about the book’s “tedious” nature and failure to investigate U.S. politicians’ motivations with regard to Israel. But his assessment is one of the fairest I have come across after reading dozens of reviews, most of which amounted to nothing more than ad hominem attacks. And if you’re worried about reading an author who supported the Iraq War, relax. He apologizes for that mistake several times in the text, unlike the unrepentant cabal of Kristol, Boot, and Podhoretz. But if you just can’t get over that hump, then you better be consistent in your views and turn off Tucker Carlson, who committed the same sin.