Friday, November 30, 2012

Bookviews - December 2012

 
By Alan Caruba
 
Editor’s Note: Due to Hurricane Sandy, the normal flow of books into our office was significantly diminished in November.
My Picks of the Month
There is no more serious threat to Western civilization than the Islamic revolution that is transforming many nations in the Middle East and Africa for the worse. The “Arab Spring” has turned out to be a challenge in many ways, not the least of which were the attacks on Israel last month; a continuation of sixty-plus years of wars on that bastion of the West, a holy land to both Jews and Christians. Sharia versus Freedom: The Legacy of Islamic Totalitarianism by Andrew G. Bostom ($32.00 Prometheus Books) expands on Bostom’s two groundbreaking compendia, The Legacy of Jihad and the Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism. It is a collection of his recent essays on Sharia—Islamic law—in which he defines its religious principles and the consequences of its application across space and time, focusing on contemporary illustrations. Americans became aware of this with 9/11 when our homeland was attacked, but may not be aware of the attacks on Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and anywhere Muslims are the dominant population. Sharia is totally incompatible with modern, Western-driven concepts, particularly human rights.
Turning to one of the most serious problems facing the nation; the potential for financial collapse, there’s one state that will get there before the others and that’s California. No one knows better how bizarre the politics, governance, and control exerted by civil service unions there than Laer Pearce. He spells it out in Crazifornia: Tales from the Tarnished State—How California is Destroying Itself and Why It Matters to America ($15.95, available from Amazon.com, softcover) When the agency responsible for California’s roads spends $4 million on new cars and trucks, then parks them, unused, for two years, that’s Crazifornia. Residents and businesses are literally fleeing the state these days and Pearce tells you why. The book has a surprising entertaining quality to it as he recounts what amounts to horror stories of a state that has taken environmentalism to a point where it is increasingly impossible to live there. In the most recent election, Californians actually voted for higher taxes.
Greg Gutfeld is one of Fox News’ stars with his own “Red Eye” show and as a member of “The Five.” He brings humor to otherwise serious topics, but it is clear that he has a very sharp mind as he contemplates our present times. He has written The Joy of Hate: How to Triumph Over Whiners in the Age of Phony Outrage ($26.00, Crown Forum). He has a real problem with the kind of intolerance seen in the double standard when fun can be made of Christians, but nothing bad can be spoken of Muslims. He’s no fan of those in the media who consider themselves open-minded, but have no problem denigrating anyone who disagrees with them. He compares the way the Tea Party is labeled racists and wackoes, but Occupy Wall Street protesters got romanticized. This is a very interesting and provocative book about the times in which we live and how out-of-sync much of the media and its reporting is with the reality on the ground and in our homes. I have one caveat and that is Gutfeld’s constant inclusion of asides and comments that draw away from the worthiness of what he has to say.
Another Fox News personality, former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee also has a new book out. Dear Chandler, Dear Scarlett: A Grandfather’s Thoughts on Faith, Family, and the Things That Matter Most ($24.95, Sentinel).The book began as a series of letters Huckabee began to write after the birth of his first grandson, Chandler, and continued with the birth of baby Scarlett one year later. The result is an inspirational book that addresses the timeless topics of faith, love, family, overcoming adversity, and staying true to your values in the face of failure and temptation. There’s a lot of good advice between its covers and, if you are a fan of his show, this is surely a book you will want to put under the Christmas tree for yourself or to send a friend.
I have been a fan of Burt Prelutsky for a long time. He was a top comedy writer in the heyday of television sitcoms, has been a movie critic, and like myself became a popular blogger. A Californian, Burt is no fan of the state’s and the nation’s liberal policies. He is a true conservative and his latest book is Sixty Seven Conservatives You Should Meet Before You Die ($24.99, available at Amazon.com or you can go to his website and order it directly from there. A softcover) It is a wonderful collection of questions and answers from entertainers, politicians, and others that run the gamut from former UN Ambassador John Bolton, a frequent contributor on Fox News, to Pat Boone. Along the way one can read the candid responses of Charles Krauthammer, Newt Gingrich, Bernard Goldberg, and even some who have passed from this world like Tony Blankley and Andrew Breitbart. And, oh yes, ME! Being in the company of these folks was earned by virtue of my own daily blog that recently passed the milestone of 2.2 million page views. Do I recommend this book? You bet! It is just so much fun to read. By asking essentially the same questions of each one, some commonalities emerge between them, even though each has achieved much as individuals. It is great fun to read their responses, open, honest, and often surprising.
An interesting book is The Real Story of Risk: Adventures in a Hazardous World by Glenn Croston ($19.00, Prometheus Books) which looks at the way we live in a world of risk and the way we are biologically and mentally wired to deal with risk, but still frequently are either blind to it or over-react to statistically minor risks. Croston is a biologist who reminds us that we are all the culmination of a long line of survivors who had to deal with life-and-death threats over the millennia from wild animals, starvation, disease, but who now life in a world of largely artificial or totally dubious threats such as the debunked global warming theory, as well as every manner of food we are told not to eat, or the real threats such as drug or alcohol abuse. He offers a wealth of information about health, sex, money, safety, food, and –yes—the environment. A good companion book to read is Loren Collins’ Bullspotting: Finding Facts in the Age of Misinformation ($19.00, Prometheus Books) and, as someone who founded The National Anxiety Center in 1990 as a clearinghouse for information about the many “scare campaigns” designed to influence public opinion and policy, I found it encouraging to read a book about will help the reader apply critical thinking to identify the common features and trends of misinformation campaigns. I spend a lot of time debunking pseudoscience on my blog and sorting out actual history from the more bogus versions. If you want to learn how and where to find the facts, this book will provide the compass. I highly recommend it.
Great Christmas Gift Books
Books make great gifts and, if they are in a slipcase and produced with the highest values of craftsmanship, they become heirlooms that are passed on to generations. This is the case of two books from the Folio Society, Elizabeth David’s Christmas ($54.95) and Andrew Lang’s The Olive Fairy Book ($84.95). A visit to the publisher’s website offers many comparable books, many of which are classics. Ms. David’s book is a cookbook filled with holiday dishes and ideal for anyone who loves to be in the kitchen to create memorable meals. The latter is by a Scots poet, novelist, and literary critic (1844-1912), part of a series, twelve collections of fairy tales that have been delighting generations, old and young, since they were first published. These and other Folio Society books represent some of the finest quality gift books you can own or give.

As a longtime student of history and a former photojournalist, I can heartily recommend 150 Years of Photojournalism as edited and written by Nick Yapp and Amanda Hopkinson ($39.95, H.F. Ullmann), the latest rendition of a collection of Getty images that represents one of the most important photo collections in the world. It is an extraordinary collection of black-and-white and color photographs in a single volume of just under 800 pages. It is a look at both mundane daily life over the many decades as well as its grandest events and personalities that include political, cultural, and scientific aspects of man’s journey to present times that provide a glimpse of life from the 1850s to present times with simultaneous text in English, French and German. These are photos that capture all the drama of the last, turbulent century, reminding us that history was written with the lives of real people. As a gift for oneself or for someone who shares a fascination with the past, this book will prove a worthy investment.
If you or someone you know is a fan of Mad magazine, Mad’s Greatest Artists: Mort Drucker—Five Decades of His Finest Works ($30.00, Running Press) features the greatest hits of his illustrious career, hand-picked by the artist, with page after page of movie parodies, TV spoofs, and satirical jabs at eight presidents. It has a forward by actor Michael J. Fox, essays by some of Hollywood’s greatest directors (his favorite targets) including George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and others. Topping it off is a removable vintage poster, available only in the book. Another book, Mad Magazine’s 60th Anniversary ($34.95, Time Home Entertainment) went on sale in October. Like Mort’s book, it is a coffee table size format and has 256-pages have hilarity from its writers, cartoonists, and illustrators.
The Best Food Writing 2012 ($16.00, Lifelong Books, softcover), edited by Holly Hughes, represents the 13th edition of this successful series and is filled with wonderful stories and essays that explore our fascinating with the culinary arts. My late Mother taught haute cuisine for over three decades and dinners at our home still linger in my memory. There is, in addition, a memoir, Licking the Spoon: A Memoir of Food, by Candace Walsh ($16.00, Seal Press, softcover), Through the lens of food, she recounts her life and it was not an easy one, married, mother of two, divorced, and remarriage in a same-sex relationship. Her ancestors came from Greece, Ireland, and Cuba. They too encountered difficulties, but throughout it all were the wonderful meals. There are some recipes at the end of her story, but it is her story that makes the book worth reading.
The Amazing Kreskin and I have been exchanging Christmas cards for a long time though we have never met. He wrote to me at one point to ask my views on such subject and has stayed in touch ever since. He has a new book out, Conversations with Kreskin ($24.95, Team Kreskin Publishing) was written with Michael McCarty and has a special foreword by Roger Ailes, the Chairman of Fox News and Fox Television stations. Ailes had met Kreskin in the mid-1960s and was astonished at his mind-reading abilities, his often uncanny predictions, and his skill as an illusionist. The book includes an eight-page comic strip and lots of photos of his famous friends. After six decades in show business, Kreskin tells delightful stories of working with Betty Davis, the late Phyllis Diller, Johnny Carson, Regis Philbin and many others including Bob Hope and Milton Berle. The book reads like a trip down memory lane and, for those of a certain age—mine—it is a great trip, worth taking.
Know someone with a beloved cat? Peter Trachtenberg is a talented writer who tackles subjects in ways that often make readers say “That’s me” or “That’s my friend.” In Another Insane Devotion: On the Love of Cats and Persons ($24.00, Da Capo Press) he has written a memoir in which he asks the reader to imagine that the two great loves of your life are both creatures who you fervently aim to please but you continuously disappoint. One is your temperamental cat and the other is your unpredictably moody wife. Trachtenberg tells of his marriage that is falling apart as he leaves to take a teaching position in North Carolina and she has departed for residency in Italy. The other is Biscuit, his mercurial, but beloved cat who has disappeared. It is a contemplation in which he tries to understand two different kinds of love and what they can teach us about sentiment, loyalty, privacy, and the reasons with try to make it work.
What better gift is there than happiness? You have to have it in order to share it and Jenn Flaa’s The Happiness Handbook ($14.99, Bush Street Press, softcover, available on Kindle) is an entertaining guide providing key steps readers can learn to identify what makes one happy. The author is a satellite engineer who began her career working for NASA and then started a new of businesses, earning clients like Microsoft, Dell and eBay. She wasn’t always happy. She transformed herself from a chubby, miserable divorcee, owner of a struggling high tech company, and even as a singer. She is now a successful author, entrepreneur, and rocker chick who is the CEO of two thriving companies. You can fulfill your dreams, too. You can be happy and a good place to start is her book!
A Historical Grab Bag
Two books about Louisa May Alcott are both published by Free Press. Alcott was one of the most successful and bestselling authors of her day, gaining everlasting fame with Little Woman, a mainstay of American literature since its release nearly 150 years ago. Biographers have consistently attributed her success to her father, Bronson Alcott, but Eve LaPlante, a grandniece and cousin of Abigail and Louisa—an award winning biographer in her own right—explodes this and other myths in Marmee & Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and her Mother ($26.00). A companion book edited by LaPlante, My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother ($15.00, softcover) is also worth reading. As LaPlante reveals, drawing on a treasure trove of letters found in the attic and diaries in an archive, Abigail, an independent thinker, feminist and social reformer, who pushed Louisa to write and who inspired many of her most successful stories, while giving her the courage to pursue her unconventional path in life. Here is a look at what it meant to be a woman in 19th century America and its story will resonate with modern readers.
World War II continues to generate books about that tremendous struggle against the forces of evil and William F. Meller has written Bloody Roads to Germany ($25.95, Berkley), true and personal account of a man in combat who must transform himself from an ordinary GI into an audacious leader who showed, by example, how to survive a war. Anyone who loves military history will find this inspiring as he and his comrades in arms slog through the Huertgen Forest and confront the Battle of the Bulge. The images he paints remain as starkly ruthless as they were in 1944 when, in November of that year, a 20-year-old sergeant found himself promoted to squad leader by attrition since very single office in the rifle companies had been killed or wounded. This is war, raw, naked, and calling on him and others in the 28th Infantry Division to fight and defeat hardened Wehrmacht soldiers.
A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Jonestown by Julia Scheeres ($15.00, Free Press, softcover) revisits the horrifying day, November 18, 1978, when the followers of Jim Jones were told to “drink the Kool-Aid” laced with poison. The story of the Jonestown mass suicide is still etched in history and Scheeres reveals that it was planned by Jones and his lieutenants for several years before it happened. They were trapped and cut off from the outside world and, while Jones has been the subject of several books, Scheeres tells the stories of his victims and his survivors. It is a true horror story of what happened to those written off as crazed cultists and baby killers. In telling their stories her book restores their humanity as individuals. Based on FBI files only recently released the book contains material never before made public.
Getting Down to Business Books
As we try to make plans for the year ahead, there are a number of books with excellent advice on how to succeed in business. I liked The Leader’s Pocket Guide: 101 Indispensable Tools, Tips, and Techniques for Any Situation ($19.95, Amacom) by John Baldoni. A leadership expert and executive coach, he has compressed into a short, readable book, the kind of knowledge you could spend years acquiring in terms of practical and tactical advice. From developing your own skills to dealing with colleagues, to understanding the dynamics of an organization, this one is a keeper.
A famed teacher of leadership, time management, and other elements of business and life, Stephen R. Covey passed away in July 2012. Named one of Time magazine’s 25 most influential Americans, he sold over 25 million books in 38 languages and is best known for The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Now you can read The Wisdom and Teachings of Stephen R. Covey ($18.00, Free Press), a collection of his most memorable and important teachings, drawn from his bestselling books. He had a gift for motivating people to act in logical ways in order to transform their problems and challenges. You will discover your own potential in this short compendium.
Reflections of a Business Nomad: Stories and Poems from the Road by Pascal Dennis ($14.95, Skopelos Press, softcover) is a very different book by a businessman-philosopher who makes his living on the road “teaching the Toyota Way” which even he calls an odd life, but one he enjoys. It is a life that has taken him through countless airports, restaurants, and hotel bars. He kept a journal of his writings and this book is a selection of those which, while aimed at sharing his views on leadership and ethics, is an entertaining literary voyage. He has a unique, entertaining, and provocative way of looking at life.
Novels, Novels, Novels
In December you can always find new works of fiction around the Christmas theme and Scott Abbott and Amy Maude Swinton have collaborated to write The Ghost of Christmas Present ($16.99, Howard Books, division of Simon and Schuster, softcover). It is the story of Patrick Guthrie, a widowed public school teacher who learns that his insurance will only pay half of the cost for a procedure to fix his ten-year-old son’s heart. He tries moonlighting at a pizza place to earn the rest, but one night after a rehearsal of ‘The Merchant of Venice”, dressed as the ragged, bearded Shylock, he sits down at a bus stop with a cup of coffee and people begin to drop coins into his cup, assuming he is a begger. If he continues he may succeed in saving his son’s life. It is a compelling story.
A number of softcover novels are worth considering. Jerri Gibson McCloud debuts with The Liberators ($15.95, Hourglass Publishers), a WWII story about US Air Force Capt. Andrew Walters who enters the war with the human baggage everyone carries with them. It becomes a leader, despite his personal insecurities, and falls in love with a spirited Red Cross nurse who, in turn, rescues an orphaned toddler and becomes too attached, creating multiple problems with her commanding officer. This is a heartwarming story of the challenges, fears, and triumphs of ordinary people in extraordinary times.
A novel of choices is The Spirit of the Place by Samuel Shem ($16.00, Berkley, softcover) in which, following his mother’s death, Dr. Orville Rose learns that his mother has willed him a Victorian house with one catch. He must live in it for one year and thirteen days. As he struggles with his decision to return to his life in Italy or to stay in the home, he reconnects with family, unites with former friends, and comes to terms with old rivals and bitter memories. In the process, he discovers his own history, as well as his mother’s, and finally what it means to be a healer and to be healed. The author won the National Best Book Award in 2008 for his previous novel, The House of God, and is a skilled story-teller in addition to being a doctor, playwright, and activist.
For those who love mysteries, there’s Skulduggery by Carolyn Hart ($13.95, Seventh Street Books, an imprint of Prometheus Books). In Beijing, 1941, the ancient bones of the famed ‘Peking Man’ are placed in two wooden crates for shipment to the U.S. to save them from the invading Japanese Army. The bones are never seen again. Fast forward to New York in the 1970s when a mysterious woman offers to sell the bones to an unknown man at the top of the Empire State, but when someone takes a photo, he disappears. Then, in the 1980s, noted anthropologist Ellen Christie is contact is contacted by someone who says he has evidence of the bones, but he flees with the evidence from a couple of thugs who are also after the treasure. Ellen must navigate this situation and you get to go along. Also from Seventh Street Books is Mike Resnick’s Dog in the Manger ($13.95) in which a down-on-his-luck private eye, Eli Paxton, gets an assignment to pay his rent, find the number one Weimaraner, a prize-winning Westminster winner. The job turns out to be anything but a routine case. People start dying in mysterious ways, a cargo plane goes missing, and someone is taking shots at him. Paxton is bewildered. Even a top show dog isn’t worth all that trouble and he needs to find it to save his own skin. This is a fast-paced, exciting story.
All families represent a novel of some kind and The Brothers by Allen D. Anderson ($17.95, Langdon Street Press) is a story of Peter and Andrew Amonovitch see their own broken childhoods destroyed when they lose their mother and the hand of their alcoholic father, Theodore, whose mind was damaged by his service in WWII. They must make some sense of this tragedy and they both must go off to war in Korea and face its rigors. Alternately heartbreaking and uplifting, it is an account of resilience in the face of tragedy, the strength and fragility of families, and how love can coexist with hate. Also with strong family themes is Julie Lessman’s A Love Surrendered ($14.99, Revell) filled with romance, intense family drama, and emotional twists and turns. This is the third novel in her “Winds of Change” series that tells of Annie Kennedy, orphaned in Iowa, who moves to Boston to stay with her spinster aunt. She falls hard for a man who broke an engagement with her sister. This is an exploration of the heart by an author who was one of 2010’s Booklist Top Ten Inspirational Fiction winners. When you read her latest novel, you will know why.
The Bible has served as the basis for many novels and New York Times best-selling novelist Tosca Lee tackles one of the most challenging stories when she takes the reader back 2,000 years and examines why Judas betrayed Jesus in Iscariot ($22.99, Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster). She raises some pertinent questions as she lays bare the soul of a troubled man whose name has become synonymous with “traitor.” Anyone with a love of the great stories of the Bible will find this a challenging story.
That’s it for December and 2012. No doubt 2013 has many new fiction and non-fiction books to entertain and enlighten readers. Bookviews will do its best to select the best of them. Happy New Year!

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