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 histories, 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 Bernard 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 Maria 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.

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.

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.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Bookviews - January 2015

By Alan Caruba

Happy New Year!

My Picks of the Month

The Rand Corporation is a think tank created after World War II that describes itself as a “research organization that develops solutions to public policy challenges to make communities throughout the world safer and more secure, health and more prosperous.” It was formed to connect military planning with research and development decisions. A recent study, Blinders, Blunders, and Wars: What America and China Can Learn ($49.95, softcover, www.rand.org) was authored by David C. Gompert, Hans Binnendijk, and Bonny Lin. Anyone interested in wars, past, present, and future will find this examination of “eight strategic blunders” and the lessons to be drawn from them will find this book of interest. It looks at Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812, repeated by German military leaders in 1941, Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, and other such decisions including the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. It also looks at four cases of warfare that were not blunders. A combination of history and strategic analysis makes this a very interesting book.

When Globalization Fails: The Rise and Fall of Pax Americana by James MacDonald ($27.00. Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a historian and former investment banker, takes a look at the way the U.S. has gone most recently from the number one economy to number two for the first time since well before World War ii. MacDonald concludes that the U.S. is withdrawing from its long role as a protector of the sea lanes and as the global policeman that intervenes to avoid problems from rogue nations. Suffice to say he sees a nation in decline, but he does so as the U.S. has become a major energy power thanks to technology that has unlocked vast quantities of natural gas and oil. For six years the Obama administration has withdrawn from wars in hotspots like Iraq, but is now reversing that policy because the decision led to a worsening situation. As the U.S. comes out of the 2008 financial crisis, its dollar will strengthen and the likelihood is that it will regain its global role, but you will not read that in this otherwise interesting book’s cloudy crystal ball.

If you’re thinking of taking a vacation or business trip this year, pick up a copy of The Savvy Traveler: 175 Ways to Save by Robert B. Diener ($8.99, softcover, $2.99 Kindle, available from Amazon.com.) The author is the founder of Getaroom.com, a hotel booking site, and a frequent guest on CNN, Fox News, and CNBC, as well as a source for publications such as The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and The New York Times. His book is very reader-friendly as he tells you how to find the very best hotel room rates, domestically, and make good travel choices. Its international travel section provides tips on how to handle currency issues, be safe, and find the best deals overseas. All manner of ways to save money from renting cars to selecting a cruise, as well of course finding the best flights for any destination while avoiding fees and other costs. This is the kind of information any traveler would want to know and should acquire before leaving home.

Another book, The Disaster Handbook is by Robert Brown Butler ($15.95, softcover, available from Amazon.com) an architect who has penned five other books that were published by McGraw-Hill. This book addresses what to do to prepare your home or workplace for a disaster and do so in advance when it counts. It provides advice on how to be safe when a disaster like a hurricane occurs and how to best repair afterwards. It goes way beyond that, however, describing how to store and use all the foods, tools, and other “calamity commodities” you will need should misfortune come knocking on your door and how to survive with no electricity and pure water. It is packed with practical information and it does so while avoiding scaring the heck out of the reader by providing a lighthearted text that is “user friendly” from beginning to end. This is a “safe, not sorry” book worth reading before a disaster occurs.

 
There was a time when every parent knew that providing incentives and rewards was an excellent way to guide a child. Teachers, too, used them in the form of gold stars and in some schools they have even eliminated grades. Herbert J. Walberg and Joseph L. Bast have joined together to write Rewards: How to Use Rewards to Help Children Learn—and Why Teachers Don’t Use Them Well ($14.95, The Heartland Institute, softcover). Their book offers research that proves rewards help children learn and the failure to provide them can actually hurt their development. If you don’t know whether you’re doing well or not, why would you try to do better? The elimination of rewards is the result of the progressive ideology that puts the emphasis on self-esteem at the same it eliminates any reason for students to feel confident in a personal achievement that is ignored. Indeed, as the book reveals, students in teachers colleges are no longer being taught to use the rewards that served the many generations of students that preceded the present ones. It’s no secret there is a crisis in our public education systems these days and this book addresses one important reason for it.

There’s fun to be had in PsyQ by Ben Ambridge ($16.00, Penguin Books, softcover) that provides a way to “test yourself with more than 80 quizzes, puzzles, and experiments” designed to reflect everyday life. As you work your way through them, you will better understand yourself as the author, a psychologist, explains how psychology identifies and determines the forces that guide one’s personality, choices, et cetera. Beginning with the famed Rorschach test and moving through scores of other methods psychologists employ, you will become your own psychologist and learn a great deal about this branch of science. For pure fun, there’s Uncle John’s Canoramic Bathroom Reader® ($19.95, Bathroom Reader’s Press, Ashland, OR, softcover) whose 27th edition tips in at a whopping 544 pages that is a collection of the world’s weirdest and most fascinating facts and stories. It has sold more than 15 million copies since its debut in 1988. Whatever your interests, you will find plenty between its covers to interest you and plenty more as you flip through its pages. This is the ultimate trivia book and one that is also wonderfully education and entertaining at the same time.

I have never had any contact with police that was much more than asking for directions, but what happens when it involves something more serious? What should someone say if a police officer stops to ask a few questions? Why does it take so long for most cases to go to trial? How can one help a relative who has been accused of a crime? If these questions interest you, then pick up a copy of Dan Conaway’s Arrested: Battling America’s Criminal Justice System ($19.95, Bascom Hill Publishing Group, softcover.)  As the author makes clear, too many Americans have no idea how dangerous, confusing and frustrating the criminal justice system really is. An attorney for 19 years, he was named one of the Top Ten Attorneys in 2013 by the National Academy of Criminal Defense Attorneys. This one of those books that anyone who might have to deal with the system should read.

December was a month filled with news of Islamist attacks from Australia to Pakistan, all quite senseless. For those who want to learn more about Islam, there’s The Handy Islam Answer Book by John Renard. Ph.D., ($21.95, Visible Ink Press, softcover) a professor of theology and scholar of Islam with more than forty years of research and teaching experience. His book takes a scholar’s approach, not offering moral judgments, but it does offer a vast cross-culture understand of Islam in terms of its history, beliefs, symbols, rituals, art and literature, customs, traditions, and ethnic diversity. It is the world second largest religion and this user-friendly guide will answer most questions that anyone might have. Visible Ink Press has a number of these guides and I have been happy to recommend those devoted to history and to science in the past.

Show Biz

For anyone dreaming of going to Hollywood and making a career in films or television, it would be a good idea to read Hollywood War Stories: How to Survive in the Trenches—A Rule Book by Rick Friedberg with contributions by Dick Chudlow ($14.95, softcover, available at Amazon.com). This is truly an insider’s look at the industry for anyone thinking about working in it creating and producing music, writing comedy, acting, and other elements of “show biz” Hollywood-style. Friedberg is an award-winning writer/director of movies such as “Spy Hard”, television, “CSI-Miami, the Real Housewives of Orange County”, documentaries, music videos, and television commercials you have likely seen during the Super Bowl or World Series. It is filled with “war stories” and lots of very excellent advice on how to navigate the industry, particularly how it functions behind-the-scenes.  You will learn the do’s and don’ts of dealing with the frustrations and politics that must be addressed in order to have a lasting career. It is a very entertaining as well as educational book.

Coming in February, Black History Month is Black Broadway: African Americans on the Great White Way by six-time Tony Award winning producer and author, Steward F. Lane. He offers an insider’s look at Broadway in a book filled with more than 300 photos ($39.95, Square One Publishers). For anyone who loves Broadway, this book belongs in their library as Lane puts the spotlight on landmark shows such as A Raisin in the Sun, Porgy and Bess, Dreamgirls, The Wiz and many more who gave us an opportunity to enjoy the talents of Ethel Waters, Pearl Bailey, Harry Belafonte, Sidney Pointier, Sammy Davis Jr, who lighted the stage in plays and musicals by August Wilson, Larraine Hansberry, and other greats of the theatre. All your favorite black performers are to be found in this book about the struggles and triumphs on stage of names of those whose talent has made them legends. The book celebrates the playwrights, songwriters, directors, choreographers and designers who changed the American theatre and around the world. This is great history from minstrel shows to vaudeville, from the jazz age to the golden age of the American musical. This is not just black history, but American history.

Getting Down to Business Books

One of the most entertaining business books is Mitzi Perdue’s book about her husband, Frank Perdue, the man behind the chicken empire. Tough Man, Tender Chicken: Business & Life Lessons from Frank Perdue ($20.00, Significance Press.com) tells how a father and son business, thanks to Frank Perdue’s ethics and ambition, grew into a business employing 19,000 men and women, selling its products in a hundred different countries. For the business school student or future entrepreneur, this book will prove invaluable because it spells out what took young Frank in the 1950s selling chickens in the way the industry had done to the development of a whole new way of reaching out to the consumer. The book offers lessons from the way Perdue conducted his life and his business that are invaluable for success. They start with being honest always, treating everyone with respect and courtesy, and remembering to laugh, have fun, but knowing that hard work can be satisfying and fulfilling. I recommend this book for its timeless lessons and its story of a remarkable man.


More than three million small businesses have decided to go without employer-provided insurance because of the cost. The co-author, Rick Lindquest, of The End of Employer-Provided Health Insurance: Why It’s Good for You, Your Family, and Your company, ($24.00, Wiley) written with Paul Zane Pilzer, says “It no longer makes financial, legal, or social sense for any U.S. employer to continue providing health insurance to its employees.” Since 2000, the percentage of Americans covered by employer-provided health insurance has declined annually. The authors argue that the Affordable Care Act has made it easier and cheaper for most individuals to buy their own insurance and therein lies the flaw to this book. What many have discovered is that the ACA premiums are higher than expected as are its deductibles. It even penalizes companies who fail to sign up if they have a higher than specified number, causing many already to have put employees on a part-time basis and to not employ more. The authors note that some businesses will replace their group policy with a defined contribution plan that offers a stipend to employees to buy health insurance. This book will help the reader understand the problems that the ACA has created, but you would be advised to read “around” it and to understand ObamaCare is at risk of being revised by Congress or even repealed at some point. Nobody seems to like it much.


In a similar fashion Surviving the Medical Meltdown: Your Guide to Living Through the Disaster of Obamacare by Dr. Lee Hieb, MD ($17.95, WMD Books, softcover) is testimony to the fact that government health care anywhere in the world has never been as good as they provided by the free market. This book is a guide to prepare you and your family to prevent and deal with a multitude of medical issues, from finding doctors during a shortage to tips for dealing with everything from rashes to fevers to fractures and chest pain at home. Dr. Heib is a past president of the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons. His book explores what ObamaCare will and won’t cover, which medications you should stockpile, and tips to maintain your health so you won’t need a doctor. If you or your family members are at risk for hereditary illnesses, this is must reading, but it is also must reading in order to prepare for the problems the Affordable Patient Care Act has created.
 
Due out in February, The Job Pirate by Brandon Christopher ($16.95, Bleeding Heart Publications, softcover) is a funny, irreverent, first-person account of the author’s journey through the American job market that some are calling a workplace “survival guide” for Gen-X and Millennials. Christopher writes of some two dozen “crappy” jobs out of the eighty-two he has worked over the last twenty years. Some are hilarious and some are absurd. He writes with wit and intelligence as he offers a look at the lighter and darker sides of humanity in the workplace. It is a compassionate look at the lives of the many people we encounter anonymously every day. As Christopher says, “Knowing the score is half the battle. Once you realize that this is no longer your Day’s America, it becomes easier to survive it. Much about the employment scene has changed and this book is an excellent introduction to the new realities.

In Leading Women: 20 Influential Women Share Their Secrets to Leadership, Business, and Life ($16.99, Adams Media, softcover) Nancy D. O’Reilly, a clinical psychologist brings her knowledge and experience interviewing successful women for the past seven years to the pages of a book that encourages women to “claim power and respect, conquer your internal barriers, and change the world by helping other women do the same.” This book is a new addition to a genre of similar books intended to help women who enter the male-dominated world of business and to break free of limits that can impose. Studies have shown that companies in which women have risen to be CEOs and on the boards actually do better than those who do not. This book synthesizes the experiences and the advice of women who have achieve success and will no doubt help any woman, especially the younger ones entering the workplace, to find their own success.

Once you have found success and worked hard, the next hurdle to master is retirement. What To Do to Retire Successfully: Navigating Psychological, Financial and Lifestyle Hurdles ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) by Martin B. Goldstein is due out in February. Seventy-seven million baby boomers are slated to retire over the next twenty years, about 10,000 daily, and the author, a physician whose clinical practices specialized in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of mental disorders, is happily retired and wants you to be as well. Many planning on retiring have been hard hit by the recent economic recession and a very slowly improving economy. The plans they made have been disrupted. Everyone worries that they may not have enough funds to maintain their lifestyle. If that description fits you or someone in your family, this book will likely prove very helpful for them, at any point in their life, to make the right decisions about the rest of it. The budget bill that Congress passed in mid-December has changed the status of pensions, allowing the payout to be altered. If you have such a pension you should look into this because many pensioners are likely to find they will receive less in the years ahead.

Your Mental Health

Life is filled with problems and how we deal with them determines how we can achieve peace of mind. How to Survive: The Extraordinary Resilience of Ordinary People ($14.95, Think Piece Publishing, softcover) by Andy Steiner offers a number of inspiring recovery stories as well as resources to help people get through difficult times. There’s a lot of practical wisdom in this book by a writer with some impressive credits to her name, included Self, Glamour and Fitness, to name just a few publications in which her work has appear. You will learn how the people in the book overcame a massive heart attack, bankruptcy, the death of a spouse, the suicide of a family member, and other challenges. For anyone passing through a comparable situation, this will be a welcome book to read. In a similar way, Overcoming Shock: Healing the Traumatized Mind and Heart by Diane Zimberoff and David Hartman ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) tells us that a serious trauma is experienced by 7.7 million adults nationwide and millions more worldwide annually. It can be a threatening illness, the sudden death of a loved one, or a terrorist act like the Boston Marathon bombing. It causes people to mentally and physically shut down. This book provides proven strategies, techniques and tools for successful treatment and provides real-life stories of people who successfully overcame the debilitating effects and post-traumatic ramifications of shock and trauma. Ms. Zimeroff is a licensed marriage and family therapist and Hartman is a clinical social worker who specializes in trauma resolution.

All of us encounter anxiety in some fashion in our lives and Dr. Margaret Wehrenberg has written The Ten Best Anxiety Busters: Simple Strategies to Take Control of Your Worry ($13.95, W.W. Norton, softcover) that will help the reader address and overcome any one of a wide range of often common fears. From fear of flying to not like being in a confined space like an elevator, whether the anxiety is minor or a more serious panic disorder, the good news is that one can address and overcome it. The author, a doctor of psychology, has provided ten simple techniques that include breathing exercises and relaxation practices, as well as how to effectively talk to yourself, among other ways to rid yourself of anxieties, large and small, that interfere with enjoying your life. And then there’s Guilt, Shame and Anxiety: Understanding and Overcoming Negative Emotions by Dr. Peter R. Breggin ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) who has devoted decades to leading successful efforts to reform the mental health field and promote empathic therapies. His work has provided the foundation for modern criticism of psychiatric drugs and diagnoses. His latest book offers the first unified theory of guilt, shame, and anxiety, showing how these emotions eventually become self-defeating and demoralizing. He guides the reader through the “Three Steps to Emotional Freedom” and for anyone whose life is being diminished by negative emotions, this book will surely open doors to a far better one.

I would particularly recommend Change Your Mind, Change Your Health: 7 Ways to Harness the Power of Your Brain to Achieve True Well-Being by Anne Marie Ludovici, ($15.99, Career Press, softcover) a noted behavioral health consultant. Americans are overwhelmed daily by all kinds of advice on how to avoid heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and certain types of cancer, all leading causes of preventable death, but as often as not, they don’t make the changes necessary to ensure good health. The author notes that nearly 80 million Americans are deemed obese or overweight and smokers often take up to seven or more tries to actually stop. Her new book offers proven, evidence-based behavioral tools for “achieving a self-assured and sustainable sense of health and well-being in the face of all obstacles or challenges.” If you are experiencing a struggle to take up good habits and break bad ones, this book will prove very helpful.

If you or someone you know is the parent of a child with autism, Living Autism Day By Day: Daily reflections and Strategies to Give You Hope and Courage ($23.00. Freedom Abound, softcover) by Pamela Bryson-Weaver will provide some valuable insight on how to cope and what to do. The author has three children with special needs. John, her youngest, has autism and Joshua, the oldest, has Tourette’s and ADHD. That set her on a journey from being “just a mom” to becoming an expert on these conditions. Autism, also known as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a multiplex of development disabilities. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated one in fifty children in the U.S. has autism. Her book tells what information and help is available for the services and professionals who provide it, what to believe and dismiss regarding what one will hear about autism, and what types of feelings, emotions, and issue you will deal with on a personal level as a parent or caregiver. The book has received a great deal of praise from professionals and parenting experts.

For the beautiful women in the world, there’s a book especially for them. The Beautiful Woman Syndrome and the Invisible Man by Jake Kelly ($13.35/$14.95, softcover and Kindle, available from Amazon.com) explores his hypothesis that they have more frequent encounters with me because, while they wanted comfort, nurturing and caring, the men wanted sex. “They universally complained of frequent, successive encounters ending with sex and then rejection. They felt it was their fault; that they weren’t loveable; that they always fell for the wrong guy when what they wanted was a good guy. For those women experiencing this syndrome, Kelly has written a book on how to spot a “hit man”, the type who’s only interested in adding one more sexual conquest, how develop the ability to spot this type and avoid the unhappiness that comes with them. The “invisible man” is basically a good guy and there are plenty of them. I have known a few beautiful women in my life and can confirm that this book offers some excellent advice to them.

Kid Stuff

Only received one book for the kids, but it is well worth recommending. It is Birdology: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring the World of Birds by Monica Russo with photos by Kevin Byron ($15.95, Chicago Review Press, softcover). Aimed at ages 7 and up this older reader found it fascinating. I have no doubt that a grade-schooler would as well thanks to its interesting text, brief and fact-filled on each page, and for its many wonderful full color photos of all manner of species. The activities it suggests are easy enough for any young reader to undertake, but the focus here is on observing the great diversity and beauty that exists among many bird species. It treats the reader with respect and in addition to information about migration, nesting, food, territories, conservation, and other bird facts, it provides “Bird Words”, a useful glossary as well as common and scientific names, plus resources on the Internet that will provide more information for the curious. I would not be surprised that this book produces some ornithologists in the future.

Novels, Novels, Novels

A taunt, fast-moving thriller with a historical context is found in Patricia Gussin’s After the Fall ($26.95, Oceanview Publishing). Laura Nelson’s career as a surgeon has ended due to a tragic accident, but has led to her accepting a position as vice president of research for a large pharmaceutical company. As she works to finalize approval of the company’s groundbreaking new drug, Jake Harter, a malicious Food and Drug Administration employee is working to stop the approval because he is obsessed with Adawia Abdul, the beautiful Iraqi scientist who discovered the drug. He does not want her to have any reason to return home to replace her dying father in Saddam Hussein’s bioweapons program. A number of forces are a work as Hussein’s henchmen apply pressure to assure her return and, if Laura Nelson gets in his way, he will eliminate her as he has her predecessor, and his own wife. The novel has an added sense of reality due to the fact that the author has practiced medical research and been an executive with a leading healthcare company. Her first novel, “Shadow of Death”, was nominated as the best first novel by International Thriller Writers. This sixth novel is bound to attract awards and is the fourth and final novel in her Laura Nelson series.

The Widow Tree by Nicole Lundrigan ($22.95, Douglas & McIntrye, softcover) is set in the 1950’s post-war Yugoslavia and marks a departure from her previous four novels. When three childhood friends find a long-lost stash of Roman coins it precipitates the unraveling of their relationships as they argue over what to do with their new found wealth. Nevena insists it should be turned over to authorities as the coins belong to the country. Janos wants to keep them and Dorjan walks the line between the two. The decision to conceal their discovery turns disastrous when Janos disappears. This is a compelling, richly layered story of silent betrayals in a tightly knit village where the post-war air is simultaneously flush with hope and weighted with suspicion. Amidst an intricate web of cultural tensions, government control, family bonds and past mistakes, the truth behind many closely held secrets is revealed with life-altering consequences. The author is a masterful storyteller and this one is more than a notch above most novels. World War Two serves as the backdrop for Sprouting Wings by Henry Faulkner ($17.99, Two Harbors, softcover) in which Alan Ericsson begins his journey to become a Navy pilot prior to the U.S. getting into the war. The novel expertly weaves together adventure, love, and historical fact to take the reader back to those days in the early 1940s as it showcases the difficulties of daily life for American military men and women. This is the first of a series of five novels that will follow the protagonist from rookie pilot to a respected member of a squadron. Another perspective will be seen in Alan’s wife, Jennifer, who works for the Office of Naval Intelligence and transfers to Pearl Harbor in August 1941. It would be attacked in December. For anyone wondering what life was like in those days and who also enjoys reading about aviation, this novel will prove a treat.

If You Needed Me by Lee Lowrey ($22.94, iUniverse, hardcover, $14.98 softcover and $3.99 Kindle) is a compelling narrative of loss, loyalty and love drawn from the real life of Ms. Lowry. When Jenny Longworth offers aid and comfort to her former college sweetheart David Perry who had recently lost his French wife to cancer, their youthful passion is reignited, creating a gauntlet of social and moral conflicts arising from the disapproval of friends and family when she uproots her life in Boston and moves to Europe to console David while he attempts to put his life back together. Most of his friends welcome her but some view her with hostility. And David’s children, Mark and Delphine, react to Jenny’s presence with confusion and ambivalence. It should not surprise the reader to learn that Lee Lowrey gave up a successful career in Boston and moved to Europe to help an ex-lover cope with his grief becoming in time an expatriate, second wife, and step-parent. 

For those who enjoy a psychological thriller, they will find one in The Blue Journal by L.T. Graham ($15.95, Seventh Street Books, softcover). When one of Randi Conway’s psychotherapy patients is found dead of a gunshot wound, the investigation is turned over to Lieutenant Anthony Walker, a former New York City cop now serving on the police force of an affluent community in Fairfield County, Connecticut. He lives among the privileged gentry, but knows from experience that appearance often hide reality. This is certainly true of Elizabeth Knoebel. When Walker finds her private journal entitled “Sexual Rites” it is clear she has been recording the explicit details of her sexual adventures with various men, many of whom are married to the women in her therapy group. She was a sexual predator and Walker believes that the killer is another of Randi Conway’s patients. You will find it hard to put this novel down. L.T. Graham is the pen name of a New England-based suspense writer who is the author of several novels and readers will look forward to the next one featuring Detective Anthony Walker.

Michael McCarthy is widely read in conservative circles and has authored  a novel, The Rainbow Option ($13.50, 30 Cubits Press, softcover) a sequel to “The Noah Option” both of which look to a very different, future America when people struggle to survive under a flood of government oppression. It is a nation in which gangs stalk the streets and are ruled by petty tyrants. If that seems to come out of recent headlines of gangs of people shouting “Kill the Police” then you have a sense of the future in McCarthy’s second novel when economic collapse and tyranny is everywhere. The novel features software genius Isaiah Mercury and a brilliant botanist Grace Washington who lead the underground resistance people by those who have fled to refuges called “Arks” after Noah’s Ark. When the government unleashes a deadly virus against its own citizens, Grace and Isaiah race to develop a cure before millions die.  It is a fast-paced tale that will hold your attention and make you think about the future.

That’s it for January!  Tell your book-loving family, friends and coworkers about Bookviews.com, a report that tells you about books you may not read about anywhere else, but are sure to enjoy depending on your interests.  

Monday, December 1, 2014

Bookviews - December 2014

By Alan Caruba

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

My Picks of the Month

Not long ago I read a book that predicted the decline of America as a world power. The author, a historian, made his case, but I was not convinced and, after reading Peter Zeihan’s new book, The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder ($28.00, Twelve) I am encouraged to believe his hypothesis that America, by virtue of its geographic location and its tradition of welcoming and assimilating people who want freedom and liberty, will emerge safely from a period of disorder he sees ahead for the world. The entire book depends on his prediction of global disorder that will occur between 2015 and 2030. It seems to me that the world is always in some stage of disorder, but I agree that America’s unique location with two great oceans on its coasts and two allies, Canada and Mexico, north and south of us, plus our maritime and military superiority, bodes well for its future. Thanks to “fracking” we are going to be energy independent and we are the nation others send their money to keep it safe. Our agricultural sector is powerful as well. Zeihan writes of a future in which the world order in which the U.S. has provided since the end of WWII will be withdrawn. I find it hard to believe it will cease to ensure protection of the sea lanes vital to trade thanks to energy independence and the cost of ensuring world order—the absence of wars. The best that can be said is that reading his book provides a valuable insight to the way geography, location, determines in great part the history and the future of nations with whom we share this planet.

Another book takes a look at America in terms of its superpower status with a particular emphasis between it and Russia, the former Soviet Union with whom the U.S. had a long Cold War. By Marin Katusa, it is titled The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp ($29.95, Wiley and Casey Research).  It would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in and concerned about the future as we watch our influence and power drain away under the leadership of a President who has steadily worked to isolate the nation and withdraw from playing a role in international affairs. Katusa spells out why Russia’s Vladimir Putin has demonstrated a far greater grasp of geopolitical affairs than our President and what they means for ours and the world’s future. Russia has a wealth of energy reserves, coal, oil, and natural gas, much as the U.S. has, but the U.S. government has, for decades, suppressed its growth while the new Russian Federation under Putin’s leadership is expanding it. This book is so full of facts and insights regarding what is going on in the world’s energy sector that it is virtually essential to read it in order to understand what is happening and what may happen.

Alex Epstein makes The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels as the author of his book of the same name ($27.95, Penguin Random House), providing a world of facts about coal, oil and natural gas that destroys all the blather about “renewable” energy, wind and solar. The latter are unreliable and expensive. Nations that have spent a lot of money on them have also discovered that their electric bills soared while, at the same time, they had to maintain plants fueled by fossil fuels to back up the “Green” energy “farms.” Despite all the criticism fossil fuels have received, their emissions represent no threat to the environment because carbon dioxide plays virtually no role to influence the weather or climate. While it has increased in the atmosphere, the Earth has been in a cooling cycle for the past 19 years! Moreover, fossil fuels exist in abundance around the world despite claims we will run out of them. The current fracking boom in natural gas and oil will make the U.S. energy independent with no need to depend on expensive imported fossil fuels. The point Epstein makes is that fossil fuels have transformed our human life, freeing humanity from its dependence on muscle power while transforming agriculture and bringing about an industrial revolution that has extended human life while enhancing it with the power to live in comfort and travel with ease.

I would also recommend reading Anthony Bright-Paul’s excellent Climate for the Layman ($19.50, available via Amazon.com, softcover) which provides understanding and insights regarding the Earth’s climate in a way that a reader, with or without any knowledge of the science, can easily comprehend and enjoy. At a time when the UN has created a “Climate Fund” to redistribute billions from industrialized nations to those who have failed to take the steps to develop (often due to corrupt leaders) everyone needs to know what really constitutes the Earth’s climate and to grasp that it is the result of vast, powerful forces beyond anything humanity does. Our use of fossil fuels, for example, does not cause “global warming” and, indeed, the Earth is in a 19-year cooling cycle that reflects the Sun’s reduction in the amount of radiation it is producing, itself a natural cycle. The science is virtually self-evident. As the author says, “Once we accept that the Sun warms the Earth—that is to say the surfaces of this Planet—and that the surfaces warm the atmosphere by 'thermal contact' (1st law of thermodynamics) then we can see that all the arguments about carbon dioxide 'causing' warming of the atmosphere—trumpeted in so many of the Warmist websites—are irrelevant.” This book is distinguished by the author’s clarity and easy comprehension. I guarantee it will make you the smartest person in the room with the topic of climate comes up!

One of the greatest economists of our time was Dr. Milton Friedman, a 1976 Nobel Prize winner who taught at the University of Chicago for more than three decades. He was an advocate of the free market and known for his research on consumption analysis and monetary history and theory. Friedman died in 2006. My friend, Ben A. Cerruti, has worked in several aspects of our economy and has been active for two decades addressing various ballot issues in San Francisco. His website, www.arationaladvocate.com is always worth visiting. “It did not enter my mind at the time that writing my first letter to Milton Friedman in March 1992 would lead to continuing correspondence for over a decade.” Though Cerruti had been a registered representative for a major New York Stock Exchange firm and had received a BSEE degree from the University of California at Berkeley, he “had never attended a single class on the key subject of economics either in college or high school.” He had questions about the Federal Reserve and other related issues so he wrote to Dr. Friedman and he generously responded to Cerruti’s questions and thoughts. The happy result is Dear Milton Friedman: A Decade of Lessons from an Economics Master ($14.94, softcover, available from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and LULU), a collection of their exchange of letters. If economics is a mystery to you, I recommend reading this book. Friedman’s responses are an education in themselves. If you have wondered what makes capitalism different from socialism and why it has proven itself better at creating wealth anywhere it has been adopted, pick up What Adam Smith Knew: Moral Lessons on Capitalism from its Greatest Champions and Fiercest Opponents ($16.95, Encounter Books, softcover), edited and introduced by James R. Otteson.) We live in times in which even Communist China retains its political system, but has adopted capitalism and has, in three decades, risen to become a global economic power, For former Soviet Union failed because of its Communist economic system, but now competes as a major power in the energy marketplace. This book contains essays and excerpts by some of the top thinker on this important subject.

For anyone eho is concerned about identity theft  resulting from the vast hacking operations that acquire all manner of information about people, then I strong recommend you read Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime—From Global Epidemic to Your Front Door by cybersecurity expert, Brian Krebs ($24.99, Sourcebooks). You will learn about the criminal masterminds behnd some of the largest spam and hacker operations who are targeting you and your bank account. I am frankly surprised this book has not generated more coverage in the mainstream press and on TV news channels and other programs. Spam costs the U.S. an estimated $40 billion a year and 85% of products purchased through span are bought by your fellow Americans. These are operations that can take control of your computer to blast out spam and viruses to your contacts, can infiltrate your inbox through malware embedded in emails and can harvest usernames, passwords, online banking credentials, and other personal information. It can lock you out of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. It can sell your account information on the digital black market. This may be the most important book you read this month.

As you might imagine, I think books make great gifts and some are ideally suited to become personal heirlooms that remains a part of the lives of those receiving them. I could not help but think this when I saw two of the latest books from the Folio Society, London. This publisher offers fiction and non-fiction classics with special attention to producing a handsome looking, beautifully illustrated book. For boys this year, a new edition of Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson ($84.95) is available and for girls there’s Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women ($74.99). A visit to Folio Society’s website will excite anyone who has a deep love of books and wants to pass it on to a child or friend, or add to one’s personal library. For nearly seventy years the Folio Society has been devoted to publishing books that are individual works of art; the kind that are passed on from generation to generation. There’s even a Folio 2015 Diary at $24.95 to keep track of important dates and events in the year ahead.

 
Every year for as long as I can recall, this is the month I recommend the latest annual edition of the World Almanac® and Book of Facts and 2015 is no exception ($13.99, softcover). Now available, it features the top ten news topics of 2014 as well as offbeat news stories that are entertaining. The editors chose the most controversial franchise sports team owners for the new edition and have included some useful health care statistics among its encyclopedic collection of data. The results of the 2014 midterm elections are also included. You are sure to enjoy sections such as “The World at a Glance” and “Time Capsule” which make their return. I know we’re all inclined to Google answers these days, but the World Almanac® and Book of Facts is a treasure of information at your fingertips that is always a good idea to keep handy.

Islam Examined

In September 2005, Fleming Rose, the editor of the Danish newspaper, Jyl-lands-Posten, commissioned and published a number of cartoons about Islam, prompted by his perceptions of self-censorship by the European media. One of the cartoons, by the artist Kurt Westergaard, depicted Mohammad wearing a bomb in his turban. Muslims are forbidden to depict their prophet in any fashion and the cartoon set off a violent international uproar in which Danish embassies were attack and 200 deaths were attributed to the protests. The story of that event is told by Rose in The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech ($24.95, Cato Institute). “My personal view is that Americans are right,” he says in the first chapter. “Freedom and tolerance are, to me, two sides of the same coin, and both are under pressure.” Rose, who had worked in the former Soviet Union, understood how numbing the suppression of criticism and the squelching of free speech can be. “Taking offense has never been easier” says Rose and he believes it has become excessive. As a working journalist, he sees threats to free speech and the intimidation of reporters on the rise in Europe. Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank and its books are always stimulating on often on the cutting edge of events and issues.

Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism by Karima Bennoune ($16.95, W.W. Norton, softcover) demonstrates that, within Islam, there are many who find the Islamists as great an enemy as non-Muslims who feel threatened. The author is an international human rights lawyer, professor and activist who recalls the night that, during the Algerian “dark decade” of fundamentalist violence in the 1990s, banged on the door of her family’s home when she was a young girl. Her father was a professor who was an outspoken critic of both the Algerian government and the fundamentalists who opposed it. She grabbed a knife to protect him, but those banging on the door went away. For their safety they would leave their Algeria. Her book chronicles the lives of those who resisted the extremism despite direct threats at home and Western indifference from abroad. She interviewed 286 people of Muslim heritage from 26 nations. Their tales from the battle for tolerance, equality, and freedom are stunning and inspiring.  These are people whose homes and workplaces were hit by bombs, who lost friends, family and coworkers to the extremists. It is well worth reading.
 
There are 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide and many are decent, good people, but their silence encourages a faction of fanatical Islamism that is killing people with the intention of imposing Islam by terror on the world. James E. Horn is a retired U.S. diplomat who spent a decade in the Middle East and saw Islam up close. He has written Moslem Men Fear Women: Islam is Toxic for Females ($15.19, softcover, available from Amazon.com) that spells out how Islam confirms a virtual slave status on women, citing the Koran and other sources. You will learn about “honor killings” and other practices that will likely cause you to ask why this aspect of Islam is not better known. He wrote it as a warning to non-Muslim women who are considering marrying into the faith. It is quite stark and quite accurate.

Reading History

If I had to recommend a single book on the history of the United States I would unhesitatingly recommend A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen. Its 10th anniversary edition has been published by Sentinel, an imprint of the Penguin Group of books ($25.00) and is 981 pages long. A softcover, it is a thick volume, but that just means it is filled with the kind of information you may not find in other histories that bring biases to bear on their interpretation of the nation’s great figures and the principles that created and sustained it. There is no question that America is truly exceptional, starting with the fact that we have the longest operative constitution of any other nation. The book does not shy from aspects of our history such as slavery, but puts it in the context of its times and reveals that many of the Founding Fathers wanted to abolish it, but could not because they needed the southern colonies to sign on to the creation of the nation. All the high spots of our history are there to be enjoyed. One can only express wonder, astonishment, and pride in the men who put their lives on the line for the idea of freedom, liberty, and a nation of laws.

A Christmas Far from Home: An Epic Tale of Courage and Survival During the Korean War is told by Stanley Weintraub ($26.95, Da Capo Press), a noted historian who has authored more than fifty books of history and biography, including Pearl Harbor Christmas. Anyone who enjoys reading history will find this a timely Christmas gift. He takes the reader back to just before Thanksgiving in 1950, five months into the Korean War, often called the forgotten war. Weintraub was an Army officer in the Korean War so he brings a personal knowledge of the daily challenges the U.S. servicemen faced. Indeed, what they faced in addition to the frigid winter was a numerically overwhelming and determined enemy. General MacArthur believed he could bring the war to a quick end but his strategy nearly resulted in disaster. The U.S. troops had pushed swiftly to the Yalu River with what seemed little resistance. On the other side of the river, however, were the forces of Red China and when they began to pour into North Korea that forced a long march to the coast in an escape led by Marines. It did not end until the last American servicemen were able to board a ship and weigh anchor on Christmas Eve. Ultimately the war would be a stalemate for an America that had won World War Two not long before. A ceasefire exists to this day. That 1950 December was filled with drama and great courage that makes for great reading.

One of the lesser known figures in the history of World War II was Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury as well as a longtime personal friend of his. Peter Moreira has written a book about Morgenthau’s extraordinary contribution to the war effort by raising the billions needed to arm our military to fight the Nazis as well as the Japanese Empire. In The Jew Who Defeated Hitler: Henry Morgenthau Jr., FDR, and How We Won the War ($25.00, Prometheus Books) Moreira has written a biography that tells the story of his achievement during that challenge to freedom and the Nazi’s accompanying campaign of genocide. At a time when there was considerable anti-Semitism in America, Morgenthau, a Jew, was in a position to do what he could to respond to the Nazi challenge and that posed by the Japanese. What he did was mastermind a savings bond program that raised the millions needed to arm the American military, building the aircraft, tanks, and all other elements of battle. The author admits the title of the book is an over-statement, but it does point to the fact that Morgenthau was the right man in the right place at the right time. Ironically, he was a college dropout who gave little indication initially of his skills and his accomplishments, but he was widely recognized as a man of integrity who ensured the Department of Treasury was run with the highest standards of ethics and integrity. Anyone who is interested in this dramatic era of our history will find this book fills in a largely overlooked aspect of it, the way Americans bankrolled our military and aided our allies to resist the Nazis. In the wake of the Holocaust, the anti-Semitism did not entirely cease, but it did fade considerably from American life.

Parenthood

Adopting a child is a good option, but Mary Ostyn thinks the better prepared a woman is can make the process easier. That’s why she wrote Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting ($16.99, Thomas Nelson, softcover). She married her high school sweetheart at age 19 and together they had four children by their eighth anniversary. Three years later they became aware of the needs of orphans all over the world and, in time, they adopted two boys from Korea and four girls from Ethiopia. In addition to her accounts of the experience she offers a range of advice that make adoption easier for everyone involved, citing the best reason to adopt—because you want to parent a child—to all the adjustments you should anticipate. The book has a religious orientation; Thomas Nelson is a Christian publisher, but the experiences she shares are well worth learning about. Coming in January is Adopting Older Children: A Practical Guide to Adopting and Parenting Children Over Age Four ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) by Stephanie Bosco-Ruggiero, MA, a communications and research assistant for the National Center for Social Work, Gloria Russo-Wassell LMHC, a certified counselor and doctoral candidate in educational and development psychology, and Victor Gorza, Ph.D., LISW-S, a professor of Social Work at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. With all those degrees between them they have collaborated to help anyone thinking about adopting one of the 200,000 children in the U.S. and more worldwide hoping to become part of a family. The book highlights the most significant challenges facing an older child including mental health, behavioral, and educational issues. The older adopted child may be coping with grief and a range of problems. The guide begins with advice on initiating the adoption process, explains the difference between infant and older child adoption, some of the obstacles one might encounter, and a full range of other advice to facilitate and respond to the entire process.

Just Be A Dad: Things My Father Never Told Me by George Cave, Ph.D. ($28.00, Tignor Publishing) is one of those books any man who is on the brink of being a first time father should read as well as one to help any man who is already experiencing fatherhood. It is filled with a richness of wisdom and reality. Dr. Cave begins with the view that it is impossible to be a good father if he is not a good husband. Thus, the model the father sets and his relationship with the mother is what their children learn is appropriate. A longtime psychologist, the author has great faith in the profession to help those who turn to psychotherapy to solve problems. It helped him mend his relationship with a former wife and to have a good relationship with their children and those she had in her new marriage. “Being a good father can be the most challenging thing a man will ever do,” says Dr. Cave and he believes it is critical to the kind of person his children will become. His book is filled with advice a new father might not get from others and all in one place between a front and back cover.

Our Furry Friends

For the cat lover in your life, there’s the classic The Fur Person by May Sarton ($13.95, W.W. Norton, softcover), an acclaimed poet, novelist, and memoirist who passed away in 1995. She tells the enchanting story of Tom Jones, a fearless independent Cat Around Town who, growing tired of his vagabond lifestyle decided that he should move in with Sarton and her companion in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There’s a reason this book continues to be published. It’s just so much fun to read!

For dog lovers, there’s Judy: The Unforgettable Story of a Dog Who Went to War and Became a True Hero by Danien Lewis ($24.99, Quercus). Judy gained fame as the only animal POW of World War II. An English Pointer, she was fearless and loyal, dragging men from the wreakage of a torpedoed ship, scavenging food to help feed the starving inmates of a hellish Japanese POW camp, or just by bringing hope to men living through the war’s darkest days. She was adored by the British, Australian, American and other Allied servicemen who fought alongside her. Boring in Shanghai, China, she soon became the mascot for a gunboat called the HMS Gnat. When the war brought out the ship was transferred to Singapore. She was invaluable for her ability to warn of Japanese air attacks long before the warplanes became visible or audible to the British crew. Based on interviews with the few living veterans who knew her and extensive archival research, her story will inspire any reader who loves our canine friends.

People Books

The Navy SEALS have been in the news of late, but little has been known of its beginning until Patrick K. O’Donnell wrote First SEALS: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit ($25.99, Da Capo Press). Credited with some of the most perilous missions in the history of the Armed Forces, SEALS are the stuff of Hollywood films and now you can read about the real-life heroes who composed the group’s origins/ They include Jack Taylor, now a California dentist, Sterling Hayden who became a Hollywood star, and others. The SEAL acronym stands for Sea, Air, and Land , known as a maritime unit, the first swimmer commandos and warrior spies who were decades ahead of their time when they created the tactics, technology and philosophy that inspires today’s generation of SEALs. You will be inspired as well when you read this book.

A very different story is told  in Into the Black: The Inside Story of Metallica (1991-2014) by Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood ($26.99, Da Capo Press). For the band, 1991 was a big milestone, its ten-year anniversary. In the years that followed, the group would battle criticism from the media, hits on its image as the leading “pop metal” band, and shaky rapport with the public that had brought it to fame. Last year Da Capo Press published volume one of the author’s two-part Metallica biography, “Birth School Metallica Death”, that chronicled the first decade. This volume delves deeper into the groups dealings with fans, fame, and competing banks.

Halfway Home, the story of her trip to Japan by Christine Mari Inzer, a 17 year old senior at Connecticut’s Darien High School, is described as “a graphic novel” for younger readers, ages 12 and up. It features not only her drawings but photos of her taken during the trip, so it is more a memoir or a story by someone who has lived every minute of it ($11.95, Naruhodo Press, softcover). Indeed, the introduction says it is the story of her summer in 2013 when she spent eight weeks in Japan visiting her grandparents and getting reacquainted with her birthplace. Her Japanese mother is married to an American. Suffice to say it will prove very entertaining to a young reader and particularly to Asian-American youth.

Novels, Novels, Novels

The Drum Tower by Farnoosh Moshiri ($25.95, Black Heron Press) is his fourth work of fiction and it has already won an award as well as being nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award. It is a story narrated by a 16-year-old girl, depicting the fall of Drum Tower, the house of a family descended from generations of War Ministers to the rules of Iran. Peopled by interesting characters, it chronicles the early days of the Islamic Revolution that occurred in 1979 and overthrew the shah. We become witnesses to the competition of the competing factions and the rise of the Revolutionary Guard, along with chaos and murder in the streets of Tehran, as well as the arrests and executions of members of her family. In many ways, this provides a far more graphic look at what occurred than just a straight history as you join the narrator trapped in a labyrinth of family history and the turmoil of the revolution that affects current events. Superbly written, I am happy to recommend it.

Livingston Press is part of the University of West Alabama and over the years I have received some interesting fiction from them. The latest is A Light Like Ida Lupino by W.C. Bamberger ($30.00 hardcover, $17.95 softcover). The main character, Lincoln Heath, has done something unforgiveable and as the novel begins he has returned to the northern Michigan peninsula where the event occurred in order to live near his grandmother and help her struggle to keep her financially-troubled cherry orchard survive being gobbled up by upscale vintners or condo builders. It is not a pleasant place made moreso by the fact that many still living there recall what happened and despise Lincoln. He’s not looking for forgiveness, but to find a way to restore the emotional spectrum he has lost. Suffice to say this is not your usual story that has any predictability to it. As such readers will find themselves wanting to see how it unwinds. The same publisher has another novel, Dark Road, Dead End ($31.00 hardcover, $17.95 softcover) by Philip Ciofarri that looks at the trade in exotic and endangered species, a multi-billion dollar industry. Reportedly it is the world’s third largest organized crime after narcotics and arms running. The story is told through the eyes of Walter Morrison who works undercover for the U.S. Customs Service. It’s not long after he arrives in town that he sees evidence of wildlife smuggling. The wildlife is supplied to pet stores, private hunt clubs, wildlife safari parks and even “respectable” zoos. As he delves into it, someone at his own agency has put out the word about him, putting his life at risk. Here again, a novel provides considerable insight within the fictional context.

Those who enjoy historical novels will enjoy The Oblate’s Confession by William Peak ($25.99, Secant Publishing) that takes them back to the dark ages in England. A warrior gives his son to a monastery that rides the border between two rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and, growing up in a land wracked by war and plague, the boy learns of the oath that binds him to the church and which forces a cruel choice on him. To love one father, the one of his birth or the bishop for whom he prays daily, he must betray another, he is forced to make a decision that shatters his world and haunts him. History provides us with Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley’s World by Jeffrey Marshall ($8.95, available from Amazon.com, softcover and ebook edition). Famed as a star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, she was catapulted to international fame in the late 1880s by virtue of her firearms skills. While Hollywood has portrayed her as a young woman in “Annie Get Your Gun”, she actually was a rather prim and religious woman with a 50-year marriage to Frank Butler. Her legend lives on to today and the reality portrayed in this novel will have you admiring her in this breezy, easy read.

For those who enjoy a traditional mystery, there’s E. Michael Helm’s Deadly Ruse: A Mac McClellan Mystery ($15.95, Seventh Street Books, softcover) that begins when Mac’s girlfriend, Kate Bell, thinks she has seen a ghost. Wes Harrison, Kate’s former boyfriend, supposedly perished twelve years earlier in a boating accident, but she is sure that the man she spotted in a crowded theatre lobby is Wes. Being a private investigator, Mac begins to look into what happened and what emerges is a story of drug deals and, when Mac and Kate barely escape a murder attempt, he knows he’s on the right track. It is a very entertaining, tightly written story.

That’s it for December. As we bid 2014 goodbye, we can look forward to a new year filled with great fiction and non-fiction. Bookviews.com is the place to visit each month to learn about them. Tell your book loving friends, family and coworkers. And come back in January!