Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bookviews - April 2015

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

Does it seem like all we hear about these days is how fat Americans are? Most surely that accounts for the dozens of diet books I receive. Imagine then how pleased I was to read Harriet Brown’s Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight and What We Can Do About it ($25.99, Da Capo Press). In its introduction she says, “We’re in the midst of an epidemic, one that’s destroying both the quality and the longevity of our lives. I’m not talking about overweight or obesity. I’m talking about our obsession with weight, our never-ending quest for thinness, our relentless angst about our bodies.”  Her book tackles the myths and realities of the “obesity epidemic” and exposes the biggest lies driving the rhetoric of obesity. How nice it would be to have a day in which we are not constantly warned about eating sugar or wheat when candy and freshly baked items are among life’s greatest pleasures. Her book offers ways to think about weight and health with more common sense, accuracy, and respect.  You are not likely to read or hear about this excellent book in the mainstream press because of the billions that the diet craze represents in advertising and revenue for physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and diet programs. All the more reason to read it and learn the truth.

A CNN poll whose results were released in March showed that nearly half of Americans believe race relations have worsened over the course of the presidency of Barack Obama, the first half-black man elected to the White House. The poll found that 39% believe relations between blacks and whites have gotten worse, not better, since Mr. Obama took office in January 2009. Just 15% say relations have improved. It found that 45% of whites think relations have worsened while just 26% of blacks think so. If race relations in America is a subject of interest and concern to you, then you will want to read Colin Flaherty’s new book, ‘Don’t Make the Black Kids Angry’ (available from Amazon.Com and other Internet book outlets, $19.72, softcover, $6.99 Kindle.)  I reviewed Flaherty’s first book, “White Girl Bleed A Lot: The return of racial violence in America”  which caused a sensation became a bestseller as it documented and revealed how the nation’s press consistently failed to report a trend in attacks on whites by blacks that were based entirely on racial bias. His new book looks how Americans are being led to believe that it is “white racism” that is causing comparable attacks, but not being told about the attacks such as a thousand Asian immigrants were brutalized for five years before the local newspaper took notice or the 40,000 blacks that rampaged through a Virginia beach town with little media coverage. A thousand such events are reported in his new book by this award winning reporter. At a time when all we read and hear about are black youths being shot by local police, barely being told they attacked the officers who acted in self-defense, this book has much to say and explain the state of race relations in America today.

The global warming hoax is finally beginning to give up the ghost thanks to 19 years in which the Earth has been in a cooling cycle based on the Sun’s reduced radiation, also a natural cycle. Al Gore got the hoax going bigtime with his book, “An Inconvenient Truth”, that was filled with absurd claims that the north and south poles would be melted by now, that polar bears would be extinct and all manner of weather-related events would produce chaos. Philip M. Fishman has written A Really Inconvenient Truth: The Case Against the Theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming ($19.95, MPS Publishing, softcover) that is intended to be read by those who may not have the scientific background or knowledge to make sense of all the claims. Fishman explains all the basics you need to know from the way the scientific method works to the aspects of climatology, the study of long-term trends that confirms that, yes, there were warm cycles, just as there were cold ones. These are the facts the “Warmists” who are still making claims about global warming don’t want you to know. The surprising thing about this highly readable book is the breadth of knowledge it covers without requiring you to read hundreds of pages. At 114 pages it is a breeze to read. Fishman makes no predictions, the common trait of the “Warmists.” Instead, he lays out the science-based information you need to know to refute “the convoluted logic that Theorists have used to spread their ‘Gospel.’”

If all the headlines these days have you concerned about the future of America, you are not alone. Fortunately, James Langston has taken a careful look at what is occurring in his new book, America In Crisis ($11.46 at Amazon.com, softcover). “Lumbering through a moral wilderness of incivility and unreason we are losing the best of ourselves to fear and uncertainty,” says Langston as he asks if we have lost our sense of right and wrong, but notes that, as a nation, “we have gone from fear to faith countless times.”  Langston offers some inspirational analysis of the issues and challenges of our times. Younger readers in particular would benefit from reading Langston’s book that cites our nation’s history throughout, providing a sense of clarity and insight regarding our present problems.

Our headlines are filled with news of barbaric acts perpetrated by the Islamic State (ISIS) in its quest to create a new caliphate from which to conquer and dominate the world. Beheadings, crucifixions, kidnappings and slavery are its stock-in-track. A genocidal attack on Christians throughout the Middle East makes one ask why are they doing this and Hector A. Garcia, PhD provides an answer in Alpha God: The Psychology of Religious Violence and Oppression ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover).  The author, a clinical psychologist, examines religious scriptures, rituals, and canon law, highlighting the many ways in which our evolutionary legacy has shaped the development of religion and continues to profoundly influence its expression. The author focuses on the image of God as the dominant male in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This is not light reading, nor does it provide much comfort, but it does provide an interesting look at the way religions reflect early human societies and affect our present ones.

Bookviews is generally a boost-don’t-knock report on new books. I am going to make an exception to that regarding Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet by Richard Martin ($28.00, Palgrave Macmillan) because, while it acknowledges that coal provides 45% of the world’s electrical power, it also embraces the totally debunked environmental claims that it is causing or will cause “global warming” by putting too much carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. The fact is that CO2 levels have been increasing but the Earth has, at the same time, been in a cooling cycle of some 19 years. It is not warming and, more importantly, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was far higher centuries ago and its vegetation and animal life thrived. At present it represents a miniscule 0.04% of the atmosphere. We could use more, not less CO2 for healthier forests and increased crops. The fact that Martin is the editorial director of Navigant Research, “the premier clean energy (solar and wind) and analysis firm” reveals his bias and the flawed theme of this book. My suggestion is that you ignore it and all the other claims of so-called climate change. The Earth’s climate has been changing for 4.5 billion years and coal has nothing to do with it. What does? The Sun!

Only received one children’s book this past month, but it is well worth recommending. Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking ($18.95, Owlkids Books) by Elin Kelsey is, says the publisher, aimed at youngsters age 4 and up, but the earlier ages will need a parent to read it aloud to them because its vocabulary is for older readers at least 7 and up. A picture book, it is illustrated in ways to stimulate the imagination while its text features examples of how various animals from birds to whales solve problems. It generates respect for other species at the same time it teaches the young reader how to solve their problems. Its artwork makes it fun and its text is imaginative and inspiring.

On the subject of teaching, if you are a teacher or know one, Caroline Alexander Lewis has penned a short, pithy book, Just Back Off and Let Us Teach ($16.99, Dog Ear Publishing, softcover) asserting that if America wants to reform public education and regain its status in the world if must begin to value the good teachers and find ways to remove the poor ones from the classroom. Or as she puts it, unions should not provide job security for bad teachers. Both descriptive and motivational, her book defines five skills effective teachers must either have or acquire. For 22 years she was a teacher and a school principal before moving on to develop new programs in other fields. I would call this book “must reading” for any teacher.

A collection of quotations by Russ Kick is aptly named Flash Wisdom ($14.95, Disinformation Books, softcover) as his selection from poets, philosophers, scientists, and others provides pages of instant insight regarding all aspects of life. This is one of those books you keep handy to energize your mind with quotes that open doors on the best way to live one’s life. Keep it bedside or on your desk.

Memoirs and Memories

We live in a culture that thrives on celebrity news of their lives. This has been true throughout history when the royalty were fair game for discussion. In the Company of Legends by Joan Kramer and David Heely, with a foreword by Richard Dreyfus ($24.95, Beaufort Books) who together have won five Emmy Awards in addition to the twenty Emmy nominations they received, as the producers of many television programs. Their book focuses on the famous folk about whom they produced TV profiles. They included Katherine Hepburn, Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Bette Davis, among others. Noted film history, Robert Osborne, said of their book that it is “a king’s ransom of fascinating stories about colorful, bigger than life people we know, but didn’t know…told by people who actually knew the celebrities they write about…” If you love Hollywood and its legendary actors and actresses, you will love this book.

If you’re a fan of Cindy Williams, one half of the comedic duo, Laverne & Shirley, you will have to wait one month to pick up a copy of Shirley, I Jest! A Storied Life ($22.95, Taylor Trade Publishing, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield) by Cindy with Dave Smitherman, relating her life from her blue collar roots to unexpected stardom. She went from waiting tables at Whisky a Go Go to starring in one of the most iconic shows on television. This is an almost quintessential American story of success and she earned it. Like many bitten by the acting bug, she loves it and still loves her theatre roots, performing in many shows across the nation in addition to starring on Broadway in The Drowsy Chaperon. What makes her book so delightful is that she never took herself or her fame that seriously, demonstrating throughout her wonderful sense of humor while sharing amusing anecdotes about some of the most famous actors in Hollywood.

Not everyone is famous, but that doesn’t mean they have interesting stories to tell. Binoculars: Masquerading as a Sighted Person by Philip F. DiMeo ($24.95, New Horizon Press) is an example. For more than 17 years he pretended to be a fully-sighted person and, despite his growing loss of sight, he drove a car, went to college, became a social worker, a cartoonist, and a coach for two sports teams. As he vision grew worse, a physician diagnosed him as having retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease with no known cure. This is his first person account of what it was like to finally come to deal with that harsh reality, but he had the help of a loving wife and, with his guide dog, Ladonna, a yellow Labrador, became what he calls “a perfect match.” His blindness closed some doors in his life, but opened others. This is a truly inspirational book.

Missing Persons: A Life of Unexpected Influences by Bruce Piasecki is self-described as “a memoir of past, present, and future” ($17.95, Square One Publishers, softcover). Piasecki says “This book is a product of memory and creativity, not of chronology and fact.” He regards memory as an “art form that is accessible to us all. It is through memory that we triumph over loss, and it is memory that renders the impossible probable—and the dead merely missing.” Piasecki takes us from his impoverished childhood to his success as an internationally renowned businessman, as well as a husband, father, friend, and writer. It’s been an interesting life for him and you can read along for an interesting journey through it.

Reading History

If there is one thing I love to read it is history. I never come away without having gained a new or renewed insight to the state of humanity.  Understanding the present is impossible without know the past.

Thomas Fleming is already regarded as one of our nation’s preeminent historians and with good reason. In his latest book, The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation ($27.99, Da Capo Press) he grabs your attention by pointing out that that Washington and Jefferson had dramatically different backgrounds and differing opinions that left their imprint on the presidency. As Fleming notes, Jefferson was an avid bibliophile who attended the College of William and Mary, and went onto study law in his twenties as America inched toward rebellion against British rule. Washington, by contrast, was Jefferson’s senior by eleven years and had spent his youth as a land surveyor and began his military career in the French and Indian War. While Jefferson avoided military service in the Revolution, Washington relentlessly led America to victory. Suffice to say there was much disagreement between the two. Washington came to see him as an enemy and with good reason. Jefferson was all about his love for the French revolution—a bloodbath—and his own ambitions. Suffice to say this is a totally fascinating insight into the two men and their colleagues who brought about a new nation.

Knowing the past of Afghanistan as well as its present is the subject of Abdullah Sharif’s book, Sardar: From Afghanistan’s Golden Age to Carnage ($12.95 @ Amazon.com and other Internet book outlets, softcover), a personal account of his return to his former home after joining the U.S. State Department in 2009. He had been back in 2007 and was horrified by what he saw. In his absence of thirty years, his birth nation was in ruins, the result of invasion by the Soviet Union and the struggles with the Taliban after it withdrew. This is his memoir of his memories of the nation he left in 1976, the golden age to which he makes reference, to its present times. As he notes, his book is not that of an “expert”, but rather of a U.S. diplomat speaking for himself, unofficially of the devastation and corruption he found and an effort to explain the nation’s culture so that the U.S. can take steps to help Afghanistan became an independent nation. For his efforts, he was awarded an Expeditionary Service Award and Meritorious Civilian Service Award. The Governor of Kandahar Province, Tooryalai Wesa, Ph.D, described his book as filled with priceless observations and you will come away with a far better understanding of the nation than from reading official or academic writings on this subject.

America may be a young nation by comparison with others, but it has a long, rich history and The Lost World of the Old Ones: Discoveries in the Ancient Southwest by David Roberts ($27.95, W.W. Norton) begins with his discovery in 2005 with two of his mountaineering friends of what turned out to be a settlement beneath an overhanging cliff a thousand feet above a Utah ranch. It was an enormous granary and, given its location, raised the question of how the ancient natives could have lugged a ton and a half of corn up a sheer cliff. The region around the Four Corners is filled with such mysteries, including why the natives abandoned their homeland in the 14th century. In 1996, Roberts authored “In Search of the Old Ones”, which became an instant classic and this one is likely to be regarding in the same way. Here’s a way to enjoy the mountain climbing and exploration without having to do more than turn the pages of this interesting and entertaining book.

Douglas & McIntyre is a Canadian publisher that quite naturally publishes books about Canada. I suspect most Americans know very little about Canada other than it forms our northern border and that its hockey team is one of the most valuable franchises in the NHL. You can repair that gap in your knowledge, for example, with Allan Levine’s Toronto: Biography of a City ($36.95). It starts on the packed streets of today, whose 2.79 million residents makes it North America’s fourth largest city and a far cry from its earliest days as ”Little York”, comprised of the lieutenant governor’s muddy tent which he shared with his wife and six children. For anyone who is interested in the development of a dynamic city this book will prove very entertaining. I’ll bet most Americans are unaware that there have been three Canadian astronauts. In Canadian Spacewalkers ($29.95) Bob McDonald tells us the story of Chris Hadfield, Steve MacLean and Dave Williams, all of whom stepped outside to confront the universe in zero gravity. A science journalist and commentator on CBC News Network, he has received many honors for his work and when you read his book you will understand why as he takes you along on a trip that explains what it takes to be a spacewalker. The book is greatly enhanced by a hundred color photos. If space and science is your interest, this book is ideal.

University of Oklahoma Press

University presses are often overlooked as sources of interesting books that you might not find in a bookstore or on the site of one of the Internet book outlets. The University of Oklahoma Press is a good example.

We usually think about the “wild West” in terms of the many movies and television shows filled with cowboys and villains, bank robbers and sheriffs, but that period in our history, from between 1800 and 1920 also represents one of extraordinary invention, innovation, entrepreneurship and business. The names of many of the men who shaped our history are well known, from Buffalo Bill Cody to Levi Straus, famed for the slacks we loved to wear. There’s the banker J.P. Morgan, the brewmaster Adolf Coors, religious leader Brigham Young, and inventor Cyrus McCormick whose reaper transformed the task of harvesting crops.  Out Where the West Begins: Profiles, Visions & Strategies of Early Western Business Leaders by Philip F. Anschutz ($34.95) brings together a montage of men who believed they could enrich themselves at the same time they contributed to a still young nation. Many, once they made their fortunes, helped build libraries, parks, and other cultural institutions. You will read of fifty men whose lives opened up the nation to growth and wealth.

There could hardly be a more timely book, Religious Freedom in America: Constitutional Roots and Contemporary Challenges ($45.00, hardcover, $24.95 softcover) as edited by Allen D. Hertzke, a professor of political science and a faculty fellow in religious freedom with the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage at the University. Nine writers contributed to this examination of an issue that is being argued in the courts over issues of same-sex marriage and contraception mandates in ObamaCare, as well as other aspects of the practice of religion. The many perspectives of the issues are well served in this book written from the point of view of historians, social scientists, and jurists who examine the laws, often described as “messy” and you will understand why and learn about the tug of war between the free exercise of religion and the government’s need to apply the Constitution and laws equally and fairly.  I thought that Do Facts Matter? Information and Misinformation in America Politics by Jennifer L. Hochschild and Katherine Levine Einstein ($29.95) would provide some answers to the nation’s current state of politics, but what I found, unfortunately, was an academically dense examination of what occurs and why when voters are uninformed or misinformed. Both are professors specializing in government and politics, Hochschild at Harvard University, and Einstein at Boston University. This could have been a far more lively examination of the issues to which it is devoted, but it is so concentrated on its own facts that it never provides a larger, more comprehensive presentation or maybe the topic just defies that?

Novels, Novels, Novels

Allan Topol has penned yet another bestselling novel, The Washington Lawyer, ($16.95, Select Books, softcover). A lawyer by profession, it is a wonder he still found the time to pen eleven novels of international intrigue, plus a two-volume legal treatise on the Superfund law. This novel, unlike many written by lawyers, is not about some courtroom drama. It’s about a lawyer, Andrew Martin, who is a long-time friend with Senator William Jasper who needs help. A sex tryst at Martin’s beach house in Anguilla has gone awry and a congressional staffer and former model, Vanessa Boyd, is dead. Martin must decide how best to protect his reputation and the Senator’s. What unfolds are hairpin plot turns as human vice and political power collide and race toward catastrophe for both men. Here’s is an intriguing and entertaining look inside the circles of power with which the author is familiar and includes the element of Chinese spying because that is as critical today as Soviet spying was during the Cold War. If you’re looking for a great read, you will find it in this novel.

I think the ladies will like Chasing Sunsets ($22.99, Howard Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) more than the guys. Karen Kingsbury has more than 25 million copies of her books in print. This one features Mary Catherine, the only child of married parents but generally neglected by them. She brings meaning to her life through charity work in Los Angeles and finds herself attracted to one of her co-workers and begins to think of their life together until she gets devastating news about her health. I won’t give much away except to say that she is faced with serious decisions and she ops for an inspirational one. William Hazelgrove is the author of ten best-selling novels, Jack Pine is his latest. It has strong environmental themes. When the sixteen year old daughter of a prominent attorney is raped in a woodshed and a logger found shot the next morning, Deputy Sheriff Reuger London becomes embroiled in a war between environmentalists, the Ojibwa Indians fighting for their timber rights, and the ruthless son of a powerful logger. Needless to say the logger is the villain in this story, but it has plenty of plot twists and turns to hold your attention. It is officially due out next month.

There are two new novels from Thomas & Mercer. David Corbett’s talents as a crime writer have earned him award nominations and The Mercy of the Night ($15.95, softcover) is likely to do the same with its story of Jacquelina “Jacqi” Garza who was one of two nearly identical girls abducted at age eight by a child predator in the northern California town of Rio Mirada. After escaping and enduring a very public trial, he life spiraled out of control until, a decade later, she vanishes once again, determined to cross the border and start over. Phalan Tierney, a former lawyer and part-time investigator is recovering from trauma in his life and is determined to find Jacqi and help her get back on track. Just as he has located her, he is drawn into a case that threatens to tear the town apart. Suffice to say there are circles within circles in this densely plotted story that is sure to please those who love crime fiction. Threshold by G.M. Ford ($14.95, softcover) is a police thriller that will add to a reputation based on his previous novels. Still smarting from the very public breakup of his marriage and facing conduct complaints, Detective Mickey Dolan catches a case that might turn things around for him. It involved the disappearance of the wife and daughters of a powerful city councilman. Assisted by a young woman who may know the terrible truth about the missing family, Dolan soon finds that he must choose between helping his career and protecting innocent lives. It’s a page-turner.

Lawyers and cops seem to dominate the novels arriving of late. Gun Street Girl: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel by Adrian McKinty ($15.95, Seventh Street Books, softcover) and it will take you to Belfast, Ireland in 1985 where Detective Duffy is a Catholic cop in the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary is struggling with burn-out as he investigates a brutal double murder and suicide. Did Michael Kelly really shoot his parents at point blank range and then jump off a nearby cliff? A suicide note seems to confirm this, but Duffy has his doubts and he soon discovers that Kelly was present at a decadent Oxford party where a cabinet minister’s daughter died of a heroin overdose. The story explodes with gun runners, arms dealers, the British government and a rogue American agent with a fake identity. Sound interesting? It is!  McKinty has authored sixteen novels and has been called the best of the new generation of Irish crime novelists.  Adam Mitzner is an attorney and a novelist and his latest is Losing Faith ($26.00, Gallery Books) in which Aaron Littman, the chairman of one of the country’s most prestigious law firms has just been contacted by a high-profile defense attorney whose client is Nikolai Garkov, a Russian businessman widely believed to have pulled the financial strings behind a recent terrorist bombing. Gorkov is a thorough evil villain and he has evidence of a torrid affair Littman had with the presiding judge, Faith Nichols, in the case against him. He threatens to ruin Littman’s career if he doesn’t influence Faith. Legal thriller fans will love this one.

Finally, what if William Shakespeare had written the Star Wars stories? Well, now you can find out what it would have been to read The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars ® Part the First as rendered by Ian Doescher ($14.95, Quirk Books). It is an ideal Shakespearean drama filled with sword fights, soliloquies and doomed romance. The School Library Journal said “Doescher’s pseudo-Shakespearean language is dead-on; this is one of the best-written Shakespeare parodies create for this audience and it is absolutely laugh-out-loud funny for those familiar with both the Bard and Star Wars.” I can’t add anything to that.

That’s it for April! Come back in May and don’t forget to let your book-loving friends, family, and co-workers know about Bookviews.com and its wide selection of the latest non-fiction and fiction books.   

Friday, February 27, 2015

Bookviews - March 2015

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

A remarkable book about the roots of environmentalism, Nazi Oaks: The Green Sacrifice of the Judeo-Christian Worldview in the Holocaust, ($26.35, Advantage Inspirational, softcover, available on Amazon.com, by R. Mark Musser was first published in 2010 and is now just been updated and reissued in its fourth edition. It deserves a far wider readership than it has gained until now because in part it is not an easy read, but also because it is one of the few books to explain how the Nazi ideology evolved over the decades to reach a point where it initiated the deliberate extermination of Europe’s Jews. The most astonishing aspect of this is how interwoven its belief system was with the environmental “truths” we are still hearing and reading today. For example, Ernst Haeckel, the father of German Social Darwinism, was the man who coined the word “ecology” in 1896. The Nazi “science” that justified racism drew on German romanticism, existentialism, and nature worship. The Nazis incorporated environmentalism into their lives and beliefs, abandoning the Judeo-Christian God for “gaia”, the Earth god. Mark Musser came to his discovery of the inherently evil roots of environmentalism by way of a Master of Divinity in 1994 and missionary service in Belarus and Ukraine for seven years. He is a pastor by trade. I cannot recommend reading this book in strong enough terms because it is a warning that explains why so much of what passes for environmentalism today carries within it the seeds of evil that triggered the Nazi era. Having failed to carry off the “global warming” hoax thanks to the past 19 years of the planet’s cooling cycle, its advocates are now embarked on a “climate change” hoax, claiming it is “man-made.” It is not, but the evil that men do is.

In March 2014, in a commentary on my blog, Warning Signs, I wrote “Do you have the feeling that we no longer have government from the federal to the local level that is able to function because of vast volumes of laws and regulations that have made it impossible to do anything from build a bridge to run a nursing home? If so, you’re right. The nation is falling behind others who do a better job by permitting elected and appointed officials to actually make decisions. We are living in a nation where lawsuits follow every decision to accomplish anything. This is the message of Philip K. Howard in a book that everyone concerned for the future of America should read; “The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government.” Happily, a softcover edition has been published ($15.95, W.W. Norton) and, if you missed the opportunity to read it last year, I strongly recommend you do so this year. Howard explains why just changing leaders does not change a Washington which is drowning the nations in laws that often run to more than 2,000 pages in length. The result is a monstrosity of regulations that tell officials and citizens what to do and how to do it. A mammoth government renders decision-making virtually impossible and the result is that our schools, our health care system, and virtually every other element of life is paralyzed or unaffordable. There is, in a word, no accountability, no one who need take responsibility. Putting people back in charge of our government is the heart of this excellent, entertaining, and frightening book.

Have you always wished you had an opportunity to read the classics of literature when you were in school? These days entire generations pass through our schools without more than a brief introduction to Shakespeare or Chaucer. In contrast to that, for 28 years in Naples, New York, you didn’t go to college without passing Alan Griesinger’s Advanced Placement English class. And they loved it. You’ll understand why when you read his book, A Comic Vision of Great Constancy: Stories about Unlocking the Wisdom of Everyman ($29.95, Mascot Books). He provides insights drawn from a reading of “The Knight’s Tale” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” They serve as a literary framework for Griesinger’s side trips into politics, religion, psychology, and the general art of being human. His classes were a training ground for character development, good citizenship, and rigorous thinking. His book has the same effect and is very likely to make you the smartest person in the room after you’ve read it.

Improving Your Life

There has been one genre of books that has been around since books were first being published. They are books that impart advice on various aspects of one’s life to help the reader improve in some respect.

It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who You Are: Life Lessons from Winners by Pat Williams with Jim Denney ($16.99, Revell). With more than fifty years of professional sports experience and already an author of dozens of books on leadership, Williams shares how he found success in his family and career. He realized early in life that learning how to become successful meant learning from those who had. He never missed an opportunity to ask those at the top of their field what they felt was the key to their success. He has met more famous people than most of ever will. They include Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, John Wooden, Michael Jordan, Colin Powell, and George W. Bush, to name a few. And he kept notes on what they told him. This is a book about developing your own character and values because those are ultimately the keys to success. Williams is senior vice president of the NBA’s Orlando Magic.

Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love after the Big Breakup by Susan J. Elliott ($14.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) may be just the book for women that you or someone you know needs to read. As she acknowledges, overcoming a breakup can be a real challenge and, often, to be successful in the next relationship, we must understand the parts of us that broke up, too. This involves learning to recognize, evaluate, and change the negative patterns that interfere with our relationships, but she says it can be done and her book teaches here readers to set appropriate standards in the dating world. She does not shy from the fact that exes, children, and boyfriends with kids are components of the modern dating scene. Getting back out there may be tough, but says Ms. Elliot, infinitely rewarding, if done right.

Romancing Your Better Half: Keeping Intimacy Alive in Your Marriage by Rick Johnson ($12.99, Revell, softcover) explains why romance and intimacy are so vital to marriage, how men and women differ in their intimacy needs, and what steps they can take to enrich their marriage and even bring back the excitement of when you first fell in love.  He encourages couples to rethink the way they communicate and interact to keep that excitement alive as a couple in a long-term relationship grows through shared experiences, sharing difficulties, and maintaining closeness to one another.

Many people, including church-goers, still yearn for a deeper experience of God in their everyday lives. A leading Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, offers Greg Paul’s new book, Simply Open ($16.99, softcover) that offers a path to using your five senses, your mind and heart, to engage in the practice of prayer that can turn an ordinary workday into a deepening spiritual journey. Paul is a pastor and member of Sanctuary in Toronto, a ministry for the most hurting and excluded people in the city. He has authored three earlier books, one of which was a 2012 Non-fiction Christian Book Award winner. Though Christian in context it has a holistic approach that other contemplating religions employ.

All About Women

The role of women in modern societies has been changing for a long time. For example, the National American Woman Suffrage Association was founded in 1890 and a number of states had granted it in the first two decades of the last century, In 1919 Congress passed the 19th Amendment and a year later 36 states had ratified it. Remembering Inez: The Last Campaign of Inez Milholland, Suffrage Martyr ($14.95, Graphic Press. Softcover) tells the story of one of the lesser known suffragettes. Using her own words, edited by Robert P.J. Cooney, Jr., it takes you back to an era that was as dramatic as any that followed. Ms. Milholland was a dynamic New York attorney, a young activist who while on a tour of western states collapsed on stage in Los Angeles on October 23, 1916 and died a month later of pernicious anemia. She had just turned 30. History is filled with such remarkable personalities and, though it took nearly a century, it is good to know that Ms. Milholland is now recognized as well.

Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy by Dr. Melvin Konner ($26.95, W.W. Norton & Company) will surely cause male readers to feel uncomfortable. The author is a professor in the Emory University Department of Anthropology and the Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. The author of several books, this one looks at the widespread debate about the future role of women (and men) in human society, taking a look at the animal kingdom in general and our current patriarchal ways in particular, predicting that women will increasingly take leadership roles. He asserts that women are biologically more adept at dealing with the challenges of the modern world. They are fundamentally more pragmatic as well as caring, cooperate as well as competitive, and generally more deft in managing people without putting them on the defensive. They are, he says, builders rather than destroyers. This is, to say the least, a fact-filled look at a highly charged topic and one that I am sure many readers will want to explore.

Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous ($16.99, Sourcebooks, softcover) takes its title from the clichĂ© that behind every great man is a woman who contributed to his success. Marlene Wagman-Geller has taken a look at this and her book features forty women who were overshadowed by the males in their lives, yet merit their own place in history. She ranges from the wives of literally figures such as Oscar Wilde, Ian Fleming, and C.S. Lewis. There are Hollywood wives such Alma Reville, Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock and Jane Nebel, Mrs. Jim Henson. She notes the role played by Kasturba Kapadia, the wife of Mohandas Gandhi and Emilie Pelzl, Mrs. Osckar Schindler. There were some infamous ones as well such as Mrs. Julius Rosenberg, convicted along with her husband as a Soviet spy. Imagine, too, being Althea Leasure, Mrs. Larry Flynt. The short biographies salute the women who stood behind their men, for better or worse, and helped steer the course of history.

Getting Down to Business

How to Succeed with Continuous Improvement: A Primer for Becoming the Best in the World ($23.00, McGraw-Hill) by Joakim Ahlstrom, regarded as Sweden’s leading authority in creating a continuous improvement culture. His book is a step-by-step process for any organization that applies principles such as “keep it simple, stay focused, visualize the good examples and the program made, create ownership by asking instead of telling, and be systematic.” He has advised dozens of organizations around the world to include Coca Cola, Volvo, Ericsson, and IKEA.

From Worry to Wealthy: A Woman’s Guide to Financial Success Without the Stress by Chellie Campbell ($16.99, Sourcebooks, softcover) begins by noting that more than nine million U.S. businesses, generating $1.4 trillion in sales, are owned by women. A personal finance guru, Campbell, has offered “Financial Stress Reduction” ® workshops to help women win at work and in life. Her advice will prove very helpful to any woman as she teaches how to harness the four C’s of career success, confidence, charisma, clients, and cash.  She writes about earning support from spouses and loved ones while gaining business knowledge from everything you do. This includes poker as she is an avid tournament player. This is a book from which any woman business owner can benefit.

What to Do to Retire Successfully: Navigating Psychological, Financial and Lifestyle Hurdles ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) by Martin B. Goldstein addresses some of the scary questions that occur such as whether you will have enough funds to maintain your lifestyle, will you be able to adjust to a slower pace, and how best to transition into retirement successfully. A neuropsychiatrist by profession, his book will prove quite useful to anyone approaching their retirement years and that includes the 77 million baby boomers that are slated to retire over the next twenty years. Retirement fears are common and this book addresses them and offers some good advice; the kind you need now, not ten or twenty years from now when it could be too late.

Reading History

I love reading history and one of my great favorites from American history is Thomas Jefferson. Addressing a group of scholars, John F. Kennedy said “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  One of the enduring discussions about Jefferson involves his religious beliefs. Some say he was a deist unaffiliated with any particular religion.  Doubting Thomas? The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson by Mark A. Beliles and Jerry Newcombe ($29.99, Morgan James Publishing) will put to rest all the doubts raised in the past. For example, during his presidency, Jefferson attended church at the U.S. Capitol Building’s Supreme Court chambers where a public service was held. This is contradiction of the assertion that he believed in a strict separation of church and state. This book is based on extensive documentation, often providing little known facts based on his letters, as well as his relationships and activities with religious communities. It is an absorbing read and it is supported by The Selected Religious Letters and Papers of Thomas Jefferson ($29.95, America Publications) edited by Mark A. Beliles. It offers more than fifty Jefferson letters and other documents never before seen in print. The enemies of religious belief and expression in America will not want you to read either of these books.

Of course, the history of America has its darker moments and the treatment of the Native Americans is surely one of them. Terry Mort’s Thieves’ Road: The Black Hills Betrayal and Custer’s Path to Little Bighorn ($25.00, Prometheus Books) tells the story of General George Armstrong Custer’s expedition of some one thousand troops and more than a  hundred wagons into the Black Hills of South Dakota in the summer of 1874. A severe economic depression had spurred hordes of white prospectors to the Sioux Indians sacred grounds and the trampling of an 1868 treaty that granted the Black Hills to the Sioux. The discovery of gold was the beginning of the end of their independence and their resistance set the stage for the climactic Battle of Little Bighorn. The book’s title gets its name from the Sioux leader, Fast Bear, who called the trail cut by Custer the “thieves’ road.” It was a time when the settling of Indians on reservations was betrayed, a corrupt federal Indian Bureau existed, and the building of the western railroads was transforming the nation. The book makes for lively reading and considerable insight to this period of our national history.

One of the best series around is Visible Ink Press’s “Handy Answer” books. The latest is The Handy Military History Answer Book ($21.95, Visible Ink, softcover), by Samuel Willard Crompton, a captivating, concise, and extensive look at the way war has been a continual element of history and has often dramatically changed it. Indeed, one might call peace the brief intervals of time between wars. This book shows how war creates heroes, along with cowards, spies and patriots were made, how conflicts shaped borders, policies and politics, society and culture, always influencing the future. Answering more than 1,400 questions, you will learn how conquering armies to civil wars resulted in guerrilla warfare, terrorism, modern weapons, and so much more that fill the headlines of our times. To understand history, one must know about warfare from the days of the Roman Empire to the present. This book will do just that.

Reading About Science

Science is in the news all the time, but much of the time is devoted to those groups and organizations that lie about it in order to frighten people from taking advantage of the benefits it offer. The latest debate about vaccinating children to protect them from measles is one example. The battles fought to advance science go back to the earliest days of civilization.

In the Light of Science: Our Ancient Quest for Knowledge and the Measure of Modern Physics by Demetris Nicolaides ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) examines the epochal shift in thinking that led pre-Socratic philosophers of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE to abandon the prevailing mythologies of the age and, for the first time, analyze the natural world in terms of impersonal, rationally-understood principles. This is a look at the vast sweep of history that led to the birth of science and its advancement by those unafraid to question tradition. Combining history and science, it makes for some very interesting reading. From the same publishing house comes Brilliant! Shuji Nakamura and the Revolution in Lighting Technology ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover), now updated. To celebrate the awarding of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics to Nakamura, author Bob Johnstone profiles the gifted Japanese engineer who is largely responsible for the coming revolution in lighting technology. The lighting revolution is likely to replace halogen lamps and have a profound impact on the world.

Astronaut Ron Garan has authored The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles ($27.95, Berrett-Koehler Publishers) that is enhanced by several pages of color photos. Garan tells of the transformative experience of living on the international Space Station and the lessons he gained that he believes holds the key to solving our problems here on Earth. He provides an excellent and interesting account of what it was like work with 15 different nationalities. At the same time, he addresses many of the problems that afflict people and what must be done to solve them. In his foreword to the book, Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Laureate, recommends we “Use Ron’s idea of the orbital perspective as a way to erase obstacles, boundaries, and resistance to any problem.”

Kid Stuff

You may not know who Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was, but among his many accomplishments was being a co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America in addition to writing many children’s books that influenced an entire generation or more regarding life in the outdoors. The Storyteller ($24.95, Langdon Street Press) by Leila Moss Knox and Linda L. Knox is not only a wonderful tribute to Seton, but a wonderful way to get to know about him through excerpts of his writings that are richly illustrated. It has a foreword by the late songwriter and singer, Pete Seeger, who like many felt his life enriched by Seton’s books. This is a great way to introduce him to a whole new generation and I guarantee they will love this book.

Children’s books are a great way for them to learn U.S. history and I am happy to report that Alex Bugaeff’s new book, part of his “Grandfather” series, is American Amazons: Colonial Women Who Changed History ($14.95, available from Amazon) in which “Gomps” shares his historical tales with his grandchildren, Hannah and Carter. It’s good to see them get the attention they deserve. One of them, Deborah Sampson, fought on the front lines with the Continental Army for three years and there were others. These days women are part of the Israel Defense Force and trained for combat like the men. We had such women when it counted in our Revolution.

Wigu Publishing of Sun Valley, Idaho, has a series you can learn about at www.whenigrowupbooks.com such as When I Grow Up I Want to Be…in the U.S. Army or a Nurse! The series also includes Teacher, U.S. Navy, Veterinarian and Firefighter. They are available at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble, and other major online retailers, and come in Kindle editions as well. Parents often hear their children express an interest in a particular profession and this series is well written as stories that a young reader, age 5 to 7 or so can read and identify with. They are both well researched and entertaining.

The odd thing about “Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” when it was published in 2011 is that, although aimed at a younger audience of readers, ages 13 and up, it attracted so many older ones that it stayed on The New York Times Best Seller list for more than 80 weeks. In February its sequel, Hollow City by Ransom Riggs ($10.99, Quirk Books, softcover) was published and it picks up where the first left off as the reader follows the story of Jacob and his friends as they encounter a menagerie of odd animals, a band of gypsies, and more peculiar children. Jacob and friends are on the run from “wights” who have turned Miss Peregrine into a bird. They are hoping to find a cure in London. The book is illustrated with photos from earlier times, but it is the characters like Emma Bloom who can make fire with her hands, Millard, an invisible boy, and Olive who is lighter than air that are not only peculiar who inhabit a story that includes Alma LeFay Peregrine who is a shape-shifter and manipulator of time, as well as the headmistress of Cairnholm’s loop. It’s delightful. This one is headed for the best seller lists too.

Lauren Oliver has gained an international reputation for her five young adult novels as well as her other books. She is published in thirty languages and no doubt Vanishing Girls ($18.99, HarperCollins) will keep her on the bestseller list for those ages 14 and up with her story of Dara and Nick. The two sisters used to be inseparable, but that changed when Dara’s beautiful face was scarred by a car accident, leaving them estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. Another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished as well and Nick becomes convinced that the two disappearances are linked and feels compelled to find her sister before it’s too late. The readers, too, will feel compelled to see how this novel proceeds and how it ends.

Novels, Novels, Novels

March 8 makes the first anniversary of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that went down without a clue. I am a fan of Lior Samson, the pen name of the author of two dozen books that include seven novels like“Bashert”, “The Dome”, and “Web Games.” He is now back with Flight Track ($16.95/$2.99 Kindle, Gesher Press, an imprint of Ampersand Press, Rowley, MA), a novel that provides a scenario of what might have happened and why to flight MH370. In the novel it is the inaugural flight of Pacificano Transocean’s over-the-pole non-stop service from Singapore to Chicago’s O’Hare. It’s all celebrating and champagne until flight PT20 veers off the radar. This is the kind of thriller that fans of Samson have come to anticipate and enjoy. In this story, an elite team of brilliant young nerds is called upon to help find the missing plane and their high-tech pursuit of what happened turns into a life-or-death race to discover who is behind the disappearance, to understand what’s at stake, and to find a solution against seemingly invincible forces behind it. Like all his novels, it’s not one you will put down until you get to the last page.

Another novel straight out of the headlines is David Thomas Roberts’ A State of Treason($31.50, www.defiancepress.com) in which a President who hates the Tea Party sets in motion a confrontation with the Governor of Texas when he seizes a member of the Party in an unconstitutional way. The Governor authorizes a Texas Ranger to free him and his family. The confrontation escalates when the Governor puts the question of independence from the federal government on the ballot and the President declares martial law, sending in armed forces to deny Texans the right to decide whether they want to continue as part of a corrupt government, a do-nothing Congress, and an administration plagued by scandals.

A number of other softcover novels will provide hours of entertainment to rival anything on the TV and you don’t have to be bothered by commercials. Plucked from the headlines being generated by the Islamic turmoil of the Middle East, Lucy Ferriss, the author of A Sister to Honor ($16.00, Penguin) journeyed to northern Pakistan in 2012 to learn about their culture of honor. It is a novel about Pakistani people in America. Afia Satar is studious, modest and a devout Muslim. The daughter of a landholding family, she has enrolled in an American college with the dream of returning to her country to serve as a doctor, but when a photo of her holding hands with an American boy surfaces online, she is suddenly no longer safe, even from the family that cherishes her.  It is rising sports star Shahid Satar who has been entrusted by her family to watch over Afia and now he has been ordered to cleanse the stain of her shame. This is the classic clash of cultures and quite relevant to the issues and times in which we live.

The Eliot Girls by Krista Bridge ($22.95, Douglas & McIntyre, softcover) is set in the George Eliot Academy, a private school for girls that prides itself on being on the vanguard of learning. For years Audrey Brindle and her mother, Ruth, have wanted Audrey to get into the school where Ruth has taught for a decade, but when she is finally admitted, she discovers that the daily world of Eliot is a place of sly bullying, ferocious intolerance, and bewildering social standards. Her mother, Ruth, finds her own stability dismantled by the arrival of a new teacher. As both navigate the treacheries of their upended worlds, each finds her sense of morality slipping as unexpected possibilities ignite. Clearly a book that women will enjoy and identify with more than men, it is also clearly worth a read for being by turns comic and psychologically intense.

From Thomas & Mercer comes a mystery, The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley ($15.96, softcover), an atmospheric and richly detailed story that weaves together the stories of Beatrice Baker who begins work at the First Bank of Cleveland shortly before its mysterious collapse in 1978 and Iris Latch, a civil engineer hired to survey the abandoned but perfectly preserved bank building two decades later. As she toils amid the bank’s ransacked offices and forgotten safe deposit boxes, Iris is drawn into uncovering the dark secrets of the building’s sordid past; one that includes Beatrice’s mysterious disappearance shortly before the sudden collapse. This is a thoroughly engrossing mystery and a fine debut for its author.

That’s it for March. Come back in April for more news of the best new fiction and non-fiction. Tell your book loving friends, family and coworkers about Bookviews.com so they too any can learn about books that often do not get noted by the mainstream print media which in recent times is devoting less and less space to reviews. See you next month!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bookviews - February 2015

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

While we read and hear about the latest barbaric assault on humanity perpetrated by Islamic fanatics, the search for answers as to why they are doing this continues. In present times, the upsurge of those pursuing a holy war or jihad is traced to Iran’s Islamic revolution that began in 1979. After that it took off in the form of al Qaeda, but why so many Muslims have turned to violence to impose Islam is widely debated. One answer will surprise you and comes from Sarah Chayes the author of Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security ($26.95, W.W. Norton). A foreign policy expert with ten years’ experience in Afghanistan, Chayes examines the ancient and widespread role of corruption that, with regard to many nations in the Middle East and African Maghreb has led to the “Arab Spring” in which the populations of Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt drove their dictators from power. Chayes makes a case that the looting of the public treasure and often the ostentatious lifestyle of the dictators or members of their families finally convinced those in their nations to rise up against them. Americans do not live in a nation where virtually every interface with a government employee or with the police requires a bribe, but that has been the life of millions in oil-rich or developing nations. It also explains why American “nation building” in Iraq and Afghanistan has failed because corruption is still so deeply rooted in their governments. It is a widespread evil and much of what we are seeing worldwide—the latest example is Ukraine—is tied to the growing rejection of it.

In 2012 I reviewed Edmund Contoski’s The Impending Monetary Revolution, the Dollar and Gold ($28.95, American Liberty Publishers, softcover) and thought it was one of the best books explaining how the U.S. got into the 2008 financial crisis, why it could occur again, and why current financial practices are endangering the nation with a huge $18 trillion debt. I am happy to report that its second edition is available and is even more relevant in terms of the past three years. Contoski has not only the knowledge, but the talent to write about the dangerous global and national conditions that exist in a way that anyone can understand. You will, for example, wonder why the U.S. retains Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, two mortgage corporations that are not government agencies, but that contributed to the 2008 financial crisis and which Congress bailed out with billions, just as they did with General Motors. At the heart of our problems is the government’s unrestrained spending. “No nation every spent itself into prosperity”, says Contoski, and “Greater borrowing is no solution for either Europe or America. Governments can borrow and create debt, but they cannot create wealth. If they could, inflation would be unnecessary. So would taxation.”  If you are concerned about the current economy and want to know how to protect yourself against the future, this is a book you must read.

For anyone who loves to read about travel, you’re in for a treat when you read Jamie Maslin’s new book, The Long Hitch Home ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing). I became aware of Maslin when I read his first book, “Iranian Rappers and Persian Porn”, and it provided a very different look at Iranians than we get in the newspapers. They like to have fun too. Maslin likes to travel and if that includes getting into some potentially dangerous situations, that’s okay with him. So, when he decided to travel to London by way of hitchhiking from his home in Australia’s Tasmania, he had to know he was in for an unusual trip. In fact, it required 800 hitchhiking rides, 18,000 miles, four seasons, three continents, and 19 countries. This book takes you along and is a very entertaining trip filled with insights and information you could not acquire in any other fashion.

ZestBooks’ editors have a talent for publishing offbeat and always interesting books that break through the usual formats and themes. A recent example is Members Only: Secret Societies, Sects, and Cults—Exposed! by Julie Tibbott ($14.99, softcover). In a lively, entertaining text she explains the appeal of exclusive memberships and examines the histories and practices of fifty groups such as the Knights Templar of old, Yale’s Skull and Bones Society, and the Illuminati which got its start in 1776 and is believed to be devoted to taking over the world. It is, however, unknown whether or not it still exists! It was a secret society of European intellectuals in the Enlightenment era. The odds are strong that, as its members died, so did the secret society. The various groups she writes about will keep you turning the pages as you learn about those who joined them and why, inevitably, they fizzled out or came to a bad end like Jim Jones cult that committed suicide.

My career as a writer began with weekly newspapers, then dailies, and then as a freelancer for many magazines, so I or anyone who has ever worked with a magazine can be forgiven for having an interest in Stuart Englert’s Sold Out: How an American Magazine Lost Its Soul ($13.94, available from Amazon.com, softcover and Kindle). He tells the story of “American Profile” a newspaper insert similar to “Parade”, but aimed at an audience in “flyover America”, people living in rural communities between the coasts; people whose values differ in that they favor small town life, church-going, and fundamental American traditions, focusing on being of service to their neighbors and communities. That was the original editorial focus of “American Profile” as conceived by L. Daniel Hammond. It was offered to small town dailies and gained up to ten million readers rather quickly, but to get it started he had to turn to Wall Street investors more interested in its quick success as a reason to sell it. To sustain it financially its advertising staff soon took over its editorial content in order to sell ads to big brands such as cigarette manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies. From an editorial success story to something far less than its origins is told by Englert who was with the publication as an editor for 14 years. His book is a case history of what happens when good editorial standards are sacrificed for fast dollars. “American Profile”, however, is still being published.

I have never played golf, but I know a good book about the game when I see it. That was my reaction to Kalliope Barlis’s Play Golf Better Faster: The Classic Guide to Optimizing Your Performance and Building Your Best Fast ($19.95, softcover, purchase at www.PlayGolfBetterFaster.com as well as Amazon.com, Kindle, and other outlets.) The author took up golf in her twenties and in a remarkably short time, she became a professional golfer. These days she tours the country as a golf improvement specialist addressing groups of people who share her love of the game. There is a huge mass of information about golf and what impressed me about this book is the way it focused on the fundamentals while providing excellent advice why the game is about much more than the equipment it requires. She reveals both the mental and the physical elements that will lift the golfer to a higher level, from the novice to the experienced player.

Reading History

The fascination with the American Civil War has generated many books and there’s always room for one more, especially if it is as good as Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee – The War They Fought, the Peace They Forged by William C. Davis ($32.50, Da Capo Press). It is a hefty volume of 629 pages that looks at both men simultaneously, removing the myths surrounding them to present them as complex men with very different, but strikingly similar, personal and professional lives. Davis is one of the nation’s top Civil War historians, having authored or edited more than fifty books. He is a three-time winner of the Jefferson Davis Award. The reader gets to follow Grant and Lee through their four meetings over their lives from the Mexican-American war when they were on the same side to Lee’s surrender on behalf of the Confederacy. Both men died at the age of 63. Davis concludes that as leaders, decision makers, and soldiers they were virtually indistinguishable. The book’s focus is less on the incidents of their lives than on their moral and ethical worlds, what they felt and believed and why. In this respect the book fills an important role for those who find the Civil War of interest.

The era that preceded the Civil War is addressed by Eric Foner in his new book, Gateway to Freedom: The Hidden History of the Underground Railroad ($26.95, W.W. Norton). James Oakes, an author and winner of the Lincoln Prize, says of this book that it “liberates the history of the underground railroad from the twin plagues of mythology and cynicism. The big picture is here, along with telling details from previously untapped sources.” Between 1830 and 1860, operatives of the underground railroad in New York helped more than 3,000 fugitive slaves reach freedom. Their defiance of the disastrous Fugitive Slave law inflamed the slave states and contributed to their decision to secede. It is hard for us to conceive of what it meant to live in those times, but this book brings them to life.

Most certainly Theodore Roosevelt became an almost mythic figure, but Harry Lembeck tells us of an aspect of his presidency of which most may not have heard. Taking on Theodore Roosevelt: How One Senator Defied the President on Brownsville and Shook American Politics ($27.00, Prometheus Books). In August 1906, black soldiers stationed in Brownsville, Texas, were accused of going on a lawless rampage in which shots were fired, one man was killed, and another wounded. Because the perpetrators could never be positively identified, President Roosevelt took the highly unusual step of discharging without honor all 167 members of the black battalion on duty the night of the shooting. Lembeck tells the story which begins at the end when Sen. Joseph Foraker was honored by the black community in Washington, D.C., for his efforts to reverse Roosevelt’s decision. At that time racism was widespread in America, making Sen. Foraker’s effort to reverse Roosevelt’s decision even more courageous. Sixty-seven years after the event, President Richard Nixon finally undid Roosevelt’s action by honorably discharging the men of the Brownsville Battalion.

The internment of Americans born of Japanese, German and Italian ancestry during World War II was a dark chapter in our history. Just how ugly it was is captured by Jan Jarboe Russell in The Train to Crystal City ($30.00, Scribners) which tells the story of an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas where immigrants and their American-born children were sent without ever being charged with a crime. It was the only family internment camp during the war and it was the center of a government prisoner exchange program during which hundreds of prisoners, including their children, were sent back to the nations from which they had emigrated for Americans deemed more important in exchange for imprisoned diplomats, businessmen, soldiers, physicians, and missionaries. This is a tragic story but Russell notes that the Texas Rangers ran the camp with compassion and the inmates created churches, schools, and other amenities. The story of Crystal City is the story of the hysteria that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor and Germany’s subsequent declaration of war on America. Those were bad times made worse by bad decisions that ignored the very reason immigrants had come here, freedom. You’ll read this book and wonder how it happened, but it did happen.

Further back in history, we visit England in 1649 when members of its parliament and others became so frustrated with King Charles I that they did the unthinkable; they beheaded him. He had been king since 1625, ruling over England, Scotland and Ireland. He was completely devoted to the concept of the divine right of kings; the belief that he was king by appointment from God. He was also arrogant and corrupt, living the high life at the expense of his noble class and the peasants. After seven bloody years of a war against Spain and Europe’s Catholic powers that had caused much suffering, a tribunal of 135 men was hastily gathered in London. Charles refused to acknowledge it and they decided to behead him. His son, Charles II was restored to the throne and, instead of learning anything from the execution, he set on retribution. This set in motion the concept of a constitutional monarchy with limited powers that exists to this day. You can read all about this incendiary moment in history in Charles Spencer’s Killers of the King: The Men Who Dared to Execute Charles I ($34.95, Bloomsbury Press). It is testimony to why fact is always superior to fiction because it so often defies the imagination.

Bios and Memoirs

Hugh O’Brian was one of those actors I grew up seeing in movie and on television. For many he is best known for starring in the TV series, “Wyatt Earp.” When I read Hugh O’Brian, or What’s Left of Him, his memoir written with his wife, Virginia, ($14.00, Book Publishers Network, softcover, available from Amazon.com) I discovered a remarkable man. Published on the eve of his 89th birthday, it has forewords by Hugh Hefner and Debbie Reynolds. She tells a delightful story of how he taught her to kiss. She was raised in a very strict family and had never even held hands with a boy. They went on to become good friends. O’Brian tells stories of his life in the Marines, of changing his name from Krampe to O’Brian because nobody seemed to know how to pronounce or spell it. He led what appears to have been a life filled with being in the right place at the right time. It didn’t hurt that he was incredibly good looking. Along the way he met people from Marilyn Monroe to Albert Schweitzer; the latter inspired him to create the Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership to encourage community service. His work on this project would put him in contact with Presidents Nixon, Clinton and Bush over the years. If you think of him solely as an actor, his memoir reveals how much more he was and did in his life. It is well worth reading.

Many years ago I did public relations for Actors Equity and had the pleasure of meeting many of the leading actors and actresses of the time. Among them was Theodore Bikel who was president of the union at the time. He has had such a remarkable life that it is good news that a new edition of Theo: An Autobiography ($21.48, softcover, available at Amazon.com) has been published. It’s a celebration of Bikel's ninth decade, in which he looks back at his life as an activist for civil rights and progressive causes worldwide, and a singer whose voice has won him great applause. A compelling life story, it practically requires a passport to read, Bikel was born in Austria, raised in Palestine, educated in England, and has had a stellar career in the United States and around the world. His personal history ran parallel to momentous events of the twentieth century. In an eloquent, fiercely committed voice, he writes of the Third Reich, the birth of the state of Israel, the McCarthy witch-hunts of the 1950s, the tumultuous 1960s in America, and events in the Middle East. He is perhaps best known for playing the role pf Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” on Broadway, but he also created the role of Captain von Trapp in “The Sound of Music”. He has had more than 150 screen roles and many others on television and has recorded 37 albums over the years.

To Your Health

Due out officially in March, The Handy Nutrition Answer Book by Patricia Barnes-Svarney and Thomas E. Svarney ($21.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover) will answer your questions about what foods are good sources of vitamins, minerals, and proteins, as well as fats—some are good and some are not. This book is filled with information that brings the complexity of food and healthy nutrition together as it answers nearly 900 common questions such as how are calories measured and why is high fructose corn syrup so controversial? What’s the best way to cook vegetables to keep their nutrients from being destroyed? And what does the word “natural” really mean on the label? The authors—Patricia is a science writer and Thomas is a scientist—are very skilled and have previously written “The Handy Biology Answer Book” and others. Indeed, I would recommend you visit www.handyanswers.com to check out the many excellent books filled with answers about history, science, and most recently, about Islam.

There are books being written about gluten, a substance that causes gastrointestinal problems because some people have an intolerance for it. It is the basis for celiac disease. Found in wheat, it varies in flours such as rye and barley. By far the largest book I have seen to date is The Gluten Free Revolution by Jax Peters Lowell ($28.00, Henry Holt and Company, softcover) that is 632 pages in length. The book’s subtitle says it is about “Absolutely everything you need to know about losing the wheat, reclaiming your health, and eating happily ever after.”

The author was diagnosed as suffering from celiac for more than twenty years before it was traced to eating wheat-based foods. Thereafter she devoted herself to bringing national attention to why a gluten-free diet would spare others allergic to gluten. For anyone diagnosed as gluten-intolerant, this encyclopedic book has every answer to every question you might have.

My Mother was an internationally honored authority on wine and I grew up enjoying it with the gourmet dinners she prepared. Wine has many health benefits. I came to know people who produced wine and they are a special group devoted to one of the oldest skills, dating back to biblical times and earlier. Natalie Berkowitz is a wine, food and lifestyle writer who has been published in leading publications such as The New York Times, Vogue, and of course the Wine Enthusiast and Wine Spectator. She has even taught a wine appreciation course to seniors at Barnard and Columbia University for more than a decade. She has written The Winemaker’s Hand: Conversations on Talent, Technique, and Terroir ($27.95, Columbia University Press) and I guarantee you, if you love wine, you will love this book. Indeed, even a beginner just learning about the joys and benefits of wine will enjoy it. She has interviewed more than forty of the top viticulture maestros from all over the world with the result that the readers get to learn about the wine-making process which is both an art and a science, from harvest to bottling. To fully enjoy wine there is much more than just drinking it. It has a history, it has a location, it has various distinctions in terms of the grapes from which it is made to the special qualities it will possess. “Terroir” by the way is a French word for “land” and how geography and climate interact with plant genetics. It refers to the way wines are influenced by where they are grown, the soil in which they are planted. After you read this engrossing and entertaining book, your next stop will be to purchase a bottle or two of wine.

Kid Stuff

For the younger crowd, age 4 and up, there’s an inspiring story, Sadie’s Big Steal by Marla McKenna, ($10.99, Tate Publishing, softcover) a sequel to “Mom’s Big Catch” as told by Sadie, the family dog who loves to catch balls and tells of her plan to steal a major league baseball that Mom had caught at a game. She wants to share playing with it with her other dog friends. Along the way, though, she realizes that it would be wrong to do that and she realizes, too, that she wants to help a new dog in the neighborhood find a home with the help of the local shelter. It’s the kind of story that teaches some valuable lessons about respecting and helping others. I would recommend it to any parent that wants to share those lessons.

There's a lot of fun to be had reading The Teacher Who Would Not Retire Loses Her Ballet Slippers by Sheila and Letty Sustrin, wonderfuly illustrated by Thomas H. Bone III ($17.95, Blue Marlin Publications). Written by identical twins and retired teachers, this is a fifth in the series about "The Teacher Who Would Not Retire" aimed at readers aged 5 and up. When she cleaned a number of slippers and put them out to dry, they disappeared. The rest is a hilarious account of the effort to find them and all the people who joined in to help. The culprit is a cat, but when they disappear again you will be delighted by the way it ends.

For the pre-teen and teenager there’s Psi Another Day by D. R. Rosensteel ($9.99, Entangled Publishing, softcover) that features Rinnie Noelie, a girl with a keen fashion sense, a secret identify, and fierce fighting skills. By night she is a Psi Fighter battling the Walpurgis Knights, lethal villains who brutalize her city. By day she’s a high school student and that can be just as frightening because the school is one in which bullying is a part of everyday activities. She wants to use her fighting skills to protect her outcast friends from the school bullies known as the Red Team, but that might reveal the secret of her true identity and place her in mortal danger from the Knights. I am pleased to report that the book lacks the foul language one finds in too many young adult books these days. It’s anti-drug and anti-bullying message would resonate with any young reader. This is an exceptionally well-written book and the good news is that it is the first in a three-book series.

A book written to inspire younger readers is The Hero's Trail by T.A. Barron ($8.99, Puffin Books, softcover). Aimed at those age 8 and up, it is filled with profiles of young heroes who displayed courage, hope, generosity, compassion and perseverance. The book is a reflection of the Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes, an award that honors them and the author's mother. Over the years, close to $550,000 has been awarded to nearly 350 children and the book features 71 of them. If Barron's name strike a chord, it is because he is the author of the "Merlin Series" which has sold millions of copies worldwide. This would make a great gift for any young person.

Novels, Novels, Novels

A number of novels offer a variety of reading experiences with their themes and one that is sure to grab your attention is The Never-Open Desert Diner by James Anderson ($25.00, Caravel Books) set in the merciless and magnificent high desert of Southwestern Utah. This is Anderson’s debut novel, but he has had short fiction published that earned praise. In this novel, Ben Jones is on the verge of losing his small trucking company. A single, 38 year old truck driver, his route takes him back and forth across one of the most desolate regions, providing daily deliveries that bring him into contact with an eccentric cast of character that include an itinerant preacher who drags a life-sized cross along the blazing roadside, the Lacey brothers who live in boxcars mounted on cinderblocks, and Ginny, a pregnant and homeless punk teenager whose survival skills make her an unlikely heroine. Ben is drawn into a love affair with Claire, who plays a cello in the model home of an abandoned housing development and her appearance reignites a decades-old tragedy at a roadside cafĂ© referred to by the locals as the “never-open desert diner.” The owner is an embittered and solitary old man who refuses to yield to change after his wife’s death. The diner was the scene of a horrific crime that was committed forty years earlier and now threatens to destroy the lives of those left in its wake. Sound interesting? It is!

Shady Cross by James Hankins ($14.95 and $9.95 ebook, Thomas & Mercer, softcover) introduces us to a small-time thief named Stokes who is not a good guy which is why he is not particularly upset when he accidently runs a car off the road, killing the driver. About to flee the scene, he spots a backpack near the car that has a pile of cash in it, enough to pay off his debts and let him leave town and start a new life. The bag, though, also contains a ringing cell phone and when he answers it turns out to be a little girl in distress. “Daddy? Are you coming to get me?” asks the girl. Stokes must decide whether to keep the money or use it to save the child’s life. Hankins has three bestselling thrillers to his credit and this one will keep you turning the pages to see what Stokes will do. In Andy Siegel’s Cookie’s Case: A Tug Wyler Mystery ($14.99, Mysterious Press, softcover) the author who in real life is a personal injury and medical malpractice attorney in New York, transmutes his experience into the second novel based on the character of Tug Wyler who is also an attorney. His first novel, “Suzy’s Case” was selected as a Poisoned Pen Bookstore Best Debut Novel and a Suspense Magazine Best Book of 2012. In this latest novel you will understand why Tug decides that Cookie is the victim of a spine surgeon and wants to secure a medical remedy and a fair shake for her. Cookie is the most popular performer at Jingles Dance Bonanza and she has a devoted audience even though she must wear a neck brace. Will justice triumph? You will have to read this novel to find out.

It’s a good thing to have been born and raised in Nebraska if you are going to write Secrets of the Porch ($17.99, Tate Publishing, softcover) which is set there. Sue Ann Sellon has written an inspirational, coming of age romance featuring 16 year old Sophie Mae Randolph who has been adrift since her mother died of cancer. To get away from abusive foster parents she hits the streets and together with a boy named Gabe gets arrested for robbing a gas station. The judge lets her avoid juvenile detention when she agrees to spend a year in Nebraska on her grandmother’s farm. She has never met grandma Lila but their relationship develops and she realizes that they both have their secrets. She finds a boyfriend named Blake and everything is fine until Gabe shows up.  Kirkus reviews called this one “a sweet, smart story about growing up and learning to trust.” I couldn’t have said it better.

Perhaps the most unusual novel I have seen in a long time is Five Days: Which Days Would You Choose? by Matt Micros ($9.18, Micropulous Press, available at Amazon.com.) When 40-year-old Mike Postman rescues a drowning boy he allows himself to drown. Since he died a hero the angel Gabriel gives him a gift of choosing five days that he can relive. The book raises questions about life and death, suicide and the afterlife while raising questions about which five days you might relive if given the opportunity. Definitely offbeat, but it will appeal to some.

That’s it for February. Tell your family, friends and coworkers who love to read about Bookviews.com and come back in March for more news about interesting non-fiction and fiction books you may not read about anywhere else.