By Alan Caruba
My Picks of the Month
It is rare to read a book written to dispute and dismember another author, but in the case of Martin Sieff’s That Should Still Be Us: How Thomas Friedman’s Flat World Myths are Keeping Us Flat on Our Backs ($22.95, John Wiley and Sons), he can not only be forgiven, but celebrated for taking on the three-time Pulitzer Prize winning Thomas Friedman, one of The New York Times’ gurus and author of some of the most egregiously wrong books on the state of the world. Sieff is the Chief Global Analyst for The Globalist Research Center, a former United Press International Managing Editor for International Affairs, and widely published where it counts, such as The Wall Street Journal. One quote should suffice: “Americans are ignorant of the lessons of history, and that’s why their country is going down the tubes. The lesson of economic history is clear: there is no flat playing field in the world and there never has been. There are rich nations and poor nations. There are winners and losers.” Sieff examines why America, when it abandoned its manufacturing base, leaving it unprotected against competition from the days of Lincoln through Kennedy, and then abandoned common sense to attack the extraction, sale and use of its abundant natural resources—oil, coal, and natural gas—it successful crippled its economy. It outsourced the basis of its wealth and China, learning all the lessons of what made us rich, turned those lessons against us. If you want to truly understand the real world and why bad policies have saddled Americans with the greatest debt in its entire history, you must and should read this extraordinary book.
As the nation moves closer to the November elections and in the wake of the rout of the Wisconsin recall effort, it is clear to many that the liberal policies for decades that created Big Government with its many now nearly insolvent “entitlement” programs have begun to wear out their welcome. Even the 2008 financial crisis was triggered by the liberal housing programs—Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—that had pushed the banking system to issue “sub-prime” mortgage loans. R. Emmett Tyrrell, Jr., founder and editor of The American Spectator which along with the National Review has been a platform for conservative philosophy and politics, has written The Death of Liberalism ($19.99, Thomas Nelson), a short, elegantly written, witty look at the roots of liberalism and the failures of communism, socialism, and fascism. He reviews the ascent of conservatism since the 1950s, the success of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s, and how even Bill Clinton’s legacy is based on the conservative programs put forth by a Republican controlled Congress beginning in 1994. Tyrrell points out the loss of the grip of liberalism on the majority of Americans who, for three decades or more, have been identifying themselves in polls as either conservatives or independents in numbers far exceeding liberals. This is a very good book to read before you go to the polling both in November.
I expect to see books on political issues as we get closer to the November national elections, but one that arrived turned out to be a big disappointment, despite its title, America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom by Meghan McCain and Michael Ian Black ($26.00, Da Capo Press). Billed as “humor and current events” but barely offering either, Ms. McCain is the daughter of Sen. John McCain and Mr. Black is a stand-up comedian. The idea for the book was a spontaneous suggestion that they do one together that evolved into a cross-country ride coupling two people with different political beliefs, touching base with regular folks and recording their feedback while adding their own commentary about the trip. The concept just doesn’t work despite their efforts. Ms. McCain is the better writer of the two. Mr. Black needs to learn a trade. Another disappointment was We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons by Tim Kreider ($20.00, Free Press). Granted he has a following as a writer for the New York Times and his satirical cartoons, “The Pain—When Will It End?—ran in the Baltimore City Paper for twelve years. He is, like guacamole, an acquired taste, but just not my idea of funny. There is a mordant quality to his writings and cartoons. If you want to read some of the best essays of the modern era, pick up a copy of Final Fridays ($26.00, Counterpoint Press), a collection of essays, lectures, tributes and other nonfiction from 1995 onward by John Barth. For those of an intellectual inclination, this National Book Award winner’s ruminations on everything will provide considerable reading pleasure as Barth combines wit and the well turned phrase to keep you turning the pages.
This year marks Silent Spring at 50 ($25.95, hardcover, $12.99 digital, Cato Institute) subtitled “The False Crises of Rachel Carson has an official publication date in September, but in the shadow of Rio+20, the Earth Summit held in June, it is worth recalling that the book is widely credited with starting the environmental movement. The author’s style allowed a wide audience to access the “science” she was presenting, but the problem was that much of it was cherry-picked and utterly false. It was a polemic against DDT in particular and the use of beneficial chemicals that protected human health and enhanced crop yields by protecting against insect and weed predation. DDT was eventually banned despite ample evidence of its value by an EPA that ignored the data. The result was that millions around the world died from mosquito-borne malaria and other diseases that could have been deterred. There was no massive rise in the rates of cancer as Carson asserted. The book’s contributors make a powerful case as specialists in public health, economics, law, and the sciences. The lessons one can draw from it include the fact that environmental organizations continue to use the same flawed and often false data to advance their goals.
Did you know that every year in the United States more than 50,000 fake Ph.D.s are bought while only 40,000 real Ph.D.s are earned? This means there are doctors, lawyers, teachers and even ministers who purchased the degree on their wall. Degree Mills: The Billion-Dollar Industry that has Sold over a Million Fake Diplomas by retired FBI Agent Allen Ezell and John Bear, Ph.D. ($21.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) reveal how millions of people are using credentials they never earned. There are at least 5,000 fake MDs in the U.S. according to a Congressional survey. This is a very interesting book, particularly for those whose jobs involve checking on the credentials of people applying for employment in business, government, and academia.
Most books about architecture are large and filled with photos and descriptions of all manner of structures. They often address historical aspects and the aesthetics. It is the rare book on the subject that provides the layman with the real nitty-gritty, but I am happy to report that Robert Brown Butler’s Architecture Laid Bare ($25.00, softcover) does. It is a 458 page reference with 240 illustrations. Anyone with dreams of building their own home or adding to an existing one should read this book because it will prepare you to deal with an architect or construction team and have no regrets for lack of knowledge about design, structure, electrical, lighting, plumbing, and all aspects that represent a home that works in terms of your needs and aspirations. Don’t be another person who discovers too late that you have been duped. Butler writes in a conversational fashion so that you get to know the author, an architect who shares years of experience with you. It is his seventh book on the subject. Available at Amazon.com, you can learn more by visiting www.architecturelaidbare.com.
Some years ago I reviewed Nicholas A. Basbanes’ A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books ($15.95, Fine Books Press, softcover). It was a bestselling book then and remains the most comprehensive book about the passion of book collecting. There is no one to rival Basbanes for his knowledge and I was happy to learn that a new, updated, definitive edition had been published. The research is self-evident, but it is the anecdotal elements that are entertaining as the author reviews the lives of some of the great collectors. It began with the 2,200 year-old Library of Alexandra, moves on to the dawn of Western printing in the Middle Ages, into the Renaissance, and now into the advances of twentieth-century collecting. I admit I am resisting reading books in their new electric formats. I like the feel of a book in my hands. If you do, then this book will provide endless hours of reading pleasure.
Food, Wonderful Food
I have not received many cookbooks of late, but I liked Food in Jars by Marisa McClellan ($23.00, Running Press) because it reminded me of my youth when preserving all manner of items was commonplace. Canning is still popular today and this delightful books offers more than a hundred recipes for everything from jams and pickles, to chutneys and relishes. Designed for use in smaller kitchens, the small batch recipes can be prepared in an apartment after perhaps bringing items from local farmer’s market food items home. Once preserved, they can be served throughout the year. It is a comprehensive book with simple tips for first-timers to folks who have gardens and want to store their bounty. For some reason homemade always tastes better!
In these hard times when money is tight, Gabi Moskowitz looked around her and asked what if folks who may have lost a job and never learned to cook had a cookbook that would show them how to enjoy real gourmet meals for under $20 a dish? Thus was born The Brokeass Gourmet Cookbook ($16.95, Egg & Dart, softcover). It is filled with excellent ideas and tips on stock your pantry on a budget, add flavor to your meals with your own sauces, make great soups, and just a whole lot more to make dinner your favorite meal of the day without going into debt doing it. Making Perfect Popcorn by John Beigel is clearly the book the world has been waiting for ($16.95, McOsprey Publishing, softcover) if, that is, you love popcorn. Truth be told, this is an excellent A-to-Z book on the topic with all kinds of information that will enhance your popcorn experience and I was astonished how many things one needs to know to get the ultimate popcorn experience.
Memoirs, Autobiographies & Biographies
Buddy Guy is the winner of six Grammys and Billboard magazine’s Century Award. He was inducted into
the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005 and, now in his mid 70s, is regarded as one of the best blues guitarists alive today. He has written When I Left Home ($26.00, Da Capo Press) with David Ritz, the co-author of numerous autobiographies of musicians, including Ray Charles and Etta James. He was the son of Louisiana sharecroppers and 13 years old when he heard John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” and his father gave him a worn-in two-string guitar. In time he would share the stages all over the world with the likes of Eric Clapton, Keith Richards, and his friend and idol, B.B. King. For anyone who loves the blues, I guarantee you will love this autobiography.
Confessions of a Horseshoer by Ron Tatum ($24.95, University of North Texas Press) might seem an odd book to recommend, but Tatum is far more than a farrier, the older term for a trade he has pursued for some forty years. He joined the Marine Corp and retired from the reserves as a Major. He has been a Presbyterian minister, a juvenile probation officer, a drug/alcohol counselor, and a college dean and professor with a doctorate in high education. He still teaches college and he still shoes horses. This is a delightful book in which you will learn how he has balanced the different worlds he inhabits. It is filled with insights and humor, with reflections on all manner of things and thoughts he has encountered. For the simple delight of reading about his life, I would recommend this book highly. Another, more familiar, profession gets its day in court with Thomas P. Casselman’s memoir of his years in a small courtroom in Marguette, Michigan. I Talk—You Walk: Forty Years of Winning Defense Strategies ($18.95, Avery Color Studies, softcover) is a collection of short stories that evolve around the law, murder and mayhem, and in which the author takes the reader behind the scenes with him and private investigator Rhona Goodwin as they work their way through the case. This is the law at work at the local level, yet reflecting in many ways the more famous cases that grab the headlines. Local politics, domestic melodrama, racial bias, and townies versus outsider land barons all meet and clash in the courtroom and those at higher levels in ways that rival any big city trial.
The other side of the story is that of the jihadi warriors and a fairly astonishing book, Terrorists in Love: True Life Stories of Islamic Radicals by Ken Ballen ($15.00, Free Press, softcover) that provides a look at the real lives of those who choose to commit suicide to advance Islam’s cause. In the hands of Ballen, a veteran attorney, skilled interrogator, and founder of Terror Free Tomorrow, six men emerge as the products of societies and a religion so different from ours that it defies the imagination to understand it. These are people who believe in spirits, genies, and in the power of dreams over the reality of their lives. They live within the fierce and unforgiving world of the Islamic faith. It is a world that shapes killers who believe they are heroes.
World War Two continues to provide books about various aspects of that conflict. Intrepid Aviators: The True Story of U.S.S. Intrepid’s Torpedo Squadron 18 and Its Epic Clash with the Superbattleship Musashi by Gregory G. Fletcher ($26.95, New American Library) is just out this month. It tells the story of the young American pilots who sank Japan’s greatest battleship during the Battle of Leyte Gulf. It was 1944 and six young bomber pilots flew off the deck on a search-and-destroy mission. It would turn out to be the opening round of history’s greatest—and last—epic naval battle. The author’s father, Will Fletcher, survived being shot down, escaping into the jungles of the Philippines where he eluded capture by the Japanese with the help of Filipino guerillas. The author served as a navel aviator from 1969 to 1974 and is now an attorney.
Getting Down to Business Books
Information Bombardment: Rising Above the Digital Onslaught by Nick Bontis, Ph.D. ($28.95, Institute for Intellectual Capital Research) begins with more than a dozen pages of praise from a variety of people from the business and academic community. It is testimony to the fact that all of us are being overwhelmed by a daily torrent of information via the Internet and, of course, by other media as well. Like others I begin my day weeding out the many emails that have arrived overnight and which continue throughout the day. Dr. Bontis provides advice on how to sort through the emails, the tweets, the instant messages, websites and blogs posts that one receives or visits. He discusses how one can “de-stress” one’s life from the pressure, anxiety, fears and other health-related problems that too much information is often intended to induce. He shows how to prioritize your information sources, and in the world of business, to speed up innovation through increased collaboration among team members, colleagues and stakeholders. This are real-world solutions and, if this book describes your life, I suggest you pick up a copy and read it.
The Small-Business Guide to Government Contracts by Steven J. Koprince ($29.95, Amacom) addressed how to comply with key rules and regulations while at the same time avoiding terminated agreements, fines or worse. In short, a very useful book for the twenty-three percent of contracts the federal government reserves for all kinds of goods and services provided by small businesses. It represented just over $109 billion in 2011. Small businesses often invest a great deal of time and money to winning a government contract without considering what happens next. These contracts can lead to fines and even jail time because of all the strings attached, unique and complicated requirements and restrictions. Before reaching for the brass ring of a government contract, reach for this book! Another problem many Americans are facing is having to deal with bill collectors and William Davis has written a short book, Confessions of an Ex-Bill Collector ($24.95, available via Amazon.com, softcover) The author spent five years in the bill collection business and what he doesn’t know about it and about how you can free yourself from debt is probably not worth knowing. When I asked him about the price, he said, “Yes you have a good point, but consider what just an hour’s consultation with an attorney would be? I wanted the book to include only the best information that would benefit the consumer and not just a lot of useless information just to make the book bigger. Also the money the consumer can save not paying high interest and getting rid of bill collectors, obtaining peace of mind and being able to purchase the car or home of their dreams is worth many times the price of the book.” Another short, easy to read book is How to Understand Economics in 1 Hour by Marshal Payn ($7.95, Assent Publishing, softcover, available on Kindle as well). I wish I had read this when I was in college or any time in my youth. A lot of us get up in years without really understanding what economics is and this book remedies that. Much of the financial problems we have today is the result of people just not understanding the fundamentals. You don’t have to be a genius because Payn spells it out so well that even I felt my knowledge refreshed as a result..
A great number of books on the subject of management address the topic of character and, clearly, having the right traits makes a big difference. Lead by Greatness: How Character Can Power Your Success by David Lapin ($19.95, Avoda Books, softcover) falls into this category. The author says “Greatness of character powers leadership success more than any other single factor” and he brings his experience as a rabbi, a business strategist, and CEO of Lapin International to bear on the subject of inspiring teams, sparking innovation, and allowing companies to thrive. The combination of spiritual teacher and bottom-line-focused management expert makes for a very interesting book. It is based on his having worked with hundreds of senior executives around the world. For inspiration mixed with practical application, this book will prove helpful to anyone at any level in the world of business.
Books for Younger Readers
Many books these days for pre-and-early school children are written to impart advice on how to cope with life’s problems. Thomas and son Peter Weck have authored a number of books that both entertain and teach, illustrated by Len DiSalvo. Their latest is The Labyrinth ($15.95, Lima Bear Press, Wilmington, DE) which deals with jealousy, common among the young and old. Written for those 4 to 8 years of age, it tells the story of Princess Belinda Bean who becomes queen when her father steps aside. Mean Old Bean who wanted to be king lures her into a magic labyrinth and it is up to L. Joe Bean, the wise man of Beandom, to rescue her. Learning how to rise to new responsibilities and forgiveness are two lessons, but the story is so delightfully told that younger readers will enjoy it for a tale well told.
New Horizon Press has published two children’s books for the very young, They Call Me Fat Zoe: Helping Children and Families Overcome Obesity and Cats Can’t Fly: Teaching Children to Value New Friendships (Both $9.95) use animal characters to help children cope effectively by learning better eating habits and by overcoming shyness. For parents who are trying to address these issues, these books will prove very helpful.
Tiffany Jansen offers girls in the third and fourth grades, ages 9 and younger, worthy role models while introducing them to medieval times. Published by Medieval Maidens ($5.95, Knoxville, MD, http://www.medievalmaidens.net/). Two of this series feature Mary Tudor, a girl in the court of Henry VII of England who prepares for her sister’s Scottish wedding and feast. A second book is about the celebration of Twelfth Night. This is a highly entertaining way to learn about a past era.
A young adult fantasy, The Life Squad by Amir Yassai is a debut novel (available from Amazon.com) that those in their pre-and-early teens will likely enjoy as it poses a dilemma. What if you possessed the gift to give life, but that gift destroyed those closest to you? Discovering one day that he is able to reanimate the dead, protagonist Adam Bronn sets out to find the answers to how this mysterious gift may also be the cause of the death and despair that’s surrounded him his whole life. After meeting others with the same power, they become the “life squad” intent on preventing their powers from being used for evil. It is a classic story and one that will keep young readers turning the pages. A much lighter bit of reading is provided by Gwendolyn Heasley in A Long Way from You ($8.99, Harper Teen, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers). Eager to develop her talent as an artist, Kitsy is offered the opportunity to attend a summer art class in New York City when her best friend Corrine’s family sponsors the trip from Texas. It is a study in learning how to navigate the big city and deal with New Yorkers, especially a young man with a knack for getting under her skin. It’s a summer that is going to be about a lot more than figure drawing.
Novels, Novels, Novels
The great thing about fiction is that there is a story to suit every taste.
Jill Smolinski has a following based on her earlier novels so they will be delighted to learn she has a new one, Objects of My Affection, ($24.99, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster). Lucy Bloom’s life is in disarray. Freshly dumped by her boyfriend and suddenly rootless after selling her home to send her teenage son, Ash, to drug rehab, she finds herself sharing a bedroom with her best friend’s pre-schooler daughter! She is, however, to start over and wangles a job cleaning clutter from the home of a renowned artist-turned-reclusive-hoarder, Marva Meier Rios. It is a major undertaking, but Lucy learns that Marva has a big secret and the two form an unlikely bond. This is a novel about how to let go of things and events in our lives, knowing what has real value and what does not.
William J. Cobb has written a most unusual novel, The Bird Saviors, ($26.95, Unbridled Books) about a teenage mother who counts birds at a time when there are fewer and fewer of them around here Pueblo, Colorado home. An avian flue has been ravaging the bird population and is a metaphor for an era of bleakness. Her mother has abandoned her fundamentalist preacher father and now he wants to marry her off to an older man with two wives. It’s time for Ruby to make a break for it and she does. An ornithologist arrives and, like Ruby, thinks birds are special and a romance develops. All the primary emotions are captured, defiance, anger, compassion, and unexpected love.
For those who love a good mystery, they are likely to enjoy Cheryl Crane’s new novel, Imitation of Death ($24.00, Kensington Publishing Group) with a sale date of August and formal release in September. Crane is the only child of famed film star, Lana Turner. She grew up in the world of Hollywood glamour, murder and mystery. I enjoyed her previous novel, “The Bad Always Die Twice” in which she introduced us to realtor and amateur sleuth Nikki Harper. Among Hollywood realtors Nikki is a superstar, but her investigative skill levels are well below par. Her first case ended with her best friend behind bars and now a body has been found in a dumpster behind her friend, Victoria Bordeaux’s mansion. Nikki wants to help but soon discovers the list of suspects keeps growing. The one thing of which she is convinced is that the Jorge Delgado, a childhood friend and son of Victoria’s housekeeper is innocent. There is plenty here to keep one turning the pages for an entertaining few hours in a world Crane knows well. Hollywood is also the setting for The Director’s Cut—Backstage Pass #3 by Janice Thompson ($14.99, Revell, softcover) in which the central character, Tia Morales, is used to call the shots as the director of a popular sitcom, “Stars Collide”. Life on the set is orderly, but outside the studio it is another matter as she tried to make her family behave as well as her stars do. Yes, she’s a bit of a control freak, but that’s also her charm in this story of learning to take life a bit easier and letting it lead where it may.
I am always a bit wary of novels based on ancient biblical texts, real or imagined, but the popularity of “The Da Vinci Code” is enough to indicate that many people do enjoy such tales. If so, they will enjoy Q Awakening by G.M. Lawrence ($25.95, Variance Publishing, Cabot, Arkansas) Among biblical scholars where is a widespread belief that a “Q” manuscript, a lost Christian gospel, exists. The novel’s protagonist, Declan Stewart’s destiny is inextricably intertwined with “Q”—for the German word for quelle (the source). This is an international thriller that stretches from the deserts of Sinai to the coasts of New Zealand, the streets of Zurich to the mountains of Syria. Stewart is compelled to find the clues to solve mystery of the gospel and there are others who do not want the world to know about it. This is also a spiritual hero’s journey. You will not be disappointed if you join his journey.
For those who like short stories and, in particular, fantasies, Steven Erickson delivers with The Devil Delivered and Other Tales ($14.99, Tor Books) which consists of four speculative novellas that Erickson wrote in between his ten volume series, “The Malazan Book of the Fallen.” Does this guy ever take time out to eat and sleep? What he does is writer some compelling fiction with each story so different from the other you will just have to take my word that this collection is a real bargain and deals with some very interesting themes.
That’s it for July. Come back next month for the best in new non-fiction and fiction, offering news about books you might not learn about anywhere else. Tell your book-loving friends, family and co-workers about Bookviews.com so they too can enjoy this eclectic report. See you in August!