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, 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 For six years the Obama administration has withdrawn from wars in hotspots like Iraq, but is now reversing that policy because the decision led to a worsening situation.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 The author is the founder of, 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 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 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 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 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, a report that tells you about books you may not read about anywhere else, but are sure to enjoy depending on your interests.  

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