Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bookviews by Alan Caruba

December 2009

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukah, and Happy New Year!

My Picks of the Month

It’s the time of year we think about gifts for loved ones, friends, and colleagues. I have always thought of books as ideal, particularly if you know the particular interests of the person to receive one.

For the man in your life, The Immortals: History’s Fighting Elites by Nigel Cawthorne ($30.00, Zenith Press) is a large format book with 130 color photos, artwork and photos that reviews the history of warfare and the men who composed the force from which the book draws its title, the Persian Immortals, as well as the Spartans, the Roman Praetorian Guard, as well as famed elite fighting forces such as Japan’s ninjas, the Mongol hordes, the Prussian Guard, and the Stonewall Brigade, right up to the Green Berets and U.S. Navy Seals. The book spans centuries to shine a light on the most skilled, deadly, and respected warriors throughout history. With a great text and great illustrations on every page, this is sure to please the warrior spirit in any man. For those of you who, like myself, wonder why the U.S. has not decisively won a war since World War Two, despite having arguably the best fighting machine in the history of warfare, I recommend you read The Clausewitz Delusion: How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan by Stephen L. Melton ($30.00, Zenith Press). Following more than twenty years of active duty as an army officer, the author is a member of the faculty at the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College. His book won’t win him any popularity contests at the Pentagon, but it is a brilliant, history-based analysis of why we only managed a stalemate in Korea in the 1950s, lost the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s, and have found ourselves mired in the Middle East in this decade. In essence, the knowledge and experience that led to victories in the past has been jettisoned by the military in favor of a love affair with the writings of a Prussian general from Napoleon’s time. We have an entire cadre of officers right up to the top ranks who have no memory or knowledge of how the U.S. formerly waged and won wars. They need to read this book which is written for them as opposed to the layman, but it will prove just as interesting to those outside the military for its review of the American fighting machine and its current inability to address the necessity of governance following swift military victory. We did this well in the past, but no longer.

President Obama’s Asian tour focused attention once again on China and my friend, Michael J. Economides, along with Xina Xie, has just published Energy: China’s Choke Point ($29.99, Energy Tribune Publishing, Houston, TX), a book that should be required reading for every member of Congress, the White House, and the entire corps of journalists because it not only provides an excellent, brief history of China that adopted Mao Zedong’s communism, suffering the loss of millions in the wake of its failures, but then cast it aside to become America’s rival and partner as both nations take different approaches to energy, the master resource that determines success or failure, prosperity or poverty. Economides is one of the world’s leading authorities on energy and this book will prove a revelation concerning China’s quest for it as it strives to make up for lost time and the creation of jobs and a better life for its 1.3 billion citizens. Another book worth reading on this critical subject is Who Turned Out the Lights? Authors Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson offer a “guided tour to the energy crisis” America is facing as the result of decades of refusing access to its own vast reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas. Bittle is executive editor of PublicAgenda.org and Johnson is a co-founder. Their book is filled with good, solid information on the options facing Americans for whom securing abundant, affordable energy will require some tough, realistic decisions to be made. At this point, American has lost decades, failing to build a single new oil refinery or any new nuclear plants since the 1970s. At the same time, access to offshore oil remains under a de facto ban and the present administration is waging a war on coal. That makes the title particular apt given the fact that fifty percent of all the electricity generated in America comes from burning coal.

I know that The Law of Forgiveness works because I have applied it to my own life for a long time. The author, Connie Domino, MPH, RN ($12.00, Berkley, softcover) reveals the transformative power of forgiveness that includes not just others, but oneself as well. Regrets and anger over lost opportunities, hardened emotions over relationships with loved ones, friends, or workplace colleagues, all serve to hold one back because that’s what you’re doing, looking back instead of forward. The author provides clearly written guidelines and simple affirmation-based techniques that will free you up to move on with your life. Do you want to tackle The Big Questions? That’s the title of Steven E. Landsburg’s intriguing new book, subtitled, “Tackling the Programs of Philosophy with Ideas from Mathematics, Economics and Physics” ($26.00, Free Press). This economist has already made a name for himself with “The Armchair Economist” and “More Sex is Safer Sex.” Anyone who enjoys the mental exercise of philosophical questions will enjoy this virtual gymnasium of questions about moral choices and other conundrums. Perhaps the best part is the way he sets your mind to working in language and style that does not intimidate the reader.

On a lighter side, there’s Ultimate Catholic Trivia: 1001 Fun and Fascinating Facts by Scott Paul Frush, ($9.95, Marshall Rand Publishing, Royal Oak, MI, softcover) a history buff whose “Ultimate Italian Trivia” caught my attention because I am descended on my father’s side from Italians who had the good sense to get on the boat and come to America. Frush does not treat the subject in a trivial fashion. Instead he provides more insight into the history, traditions, and belief system of the Church than far more scholarly tomes. Catholics will thoroughly enjoy this book (the author is Catholic with a Masters degree from Notre Dame University) and even non-Catholics will find it both interesting and entertaining. It is filled with facts about Jesus, the Bible, saints, popes, the Vatican, the Mass, sacraments, organizations and clergy. For the believers in nothing at all there’s You Don’t Have to be Buddhist to Know Nothing: An Illustrious Collection of Thoughts of Naught by Joan Konner ($17.00, Prometheus Books) the author of “The Atheist’s Bible.” If there is such a thing as a happy atheist, I have yet to have met one, but it is amazing how many diverse people from ancient times to the present that have expressed themselves on the subject of nothing. Philosophers, mystics, artists, musicians, poets, geniuses and jokers have opined on nothingness and it must be said this collection of quotes is genuinely interesting. Page after page will tickle your brain. From the Free Press come two books, combined in one, suited to whatever your outlook on life may be, The Pessimist’s Handbook: A Companion to Despair and, between the same covers, The Optimist’s Handbook: A Companion to Hope ($9.99, softcover), both are identified as humor and well they should be because, read front to back or vice versa, it will have you laughing from beginning to end. I loved it! One of my favorite quotes is by Ben Hecht, a playwright and screen writer, who said, “Trying to determine what is going on in the world by reading newspapers is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand of a clock.”

Milefi Kete Asante is a professor of African American Studies at Temple University and has authored 65 books. One of them, Erasing Racism: The Survival of the American Nation has been revised and expanded ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) and for anyone for whom this is a concern, this book offers some provocative ideas, not the least of which is his belief that America cannot continue as a cohesive society so long as racial injustice, in less obvious ways, continues. I am not in agreement with much of his thesis because African-Americans have had four decades since then to remedy cultural and other problems within their own community. There has been progress, but not enough. Simple, Not Easy: Reflections on Community, Social Responsibility, and Tolerance by Terrence Roberts ($24.95, Parkhurst Brothers Inc., Little Rock, AR) offers the viewpoint of one of the nine black students who integrated Little Rock Central High School some forty years ago. President Eisenhower sent the 101st Airborne to protect them. Roberts grew up to be a psychologist and brings a unique perspective to events since then. His book will be released next month and for anyone interested in the American Civil Rights movement, as well as themes that include education, leadership, integration, race and racism, this book is well worth reading. If you want to see what racism was like in its worst possible way, read Dominique Lapierre’s A Rainbow in the Night: The Tumultuous Birth of South Africa ($26.00, Da Capo Press). It is one of the most profoundly disturbing books I’ve seen in a long time. The sheer horror of apartheid, the brutal and deliberate effort to separate and subjugate native Africans and colored races from the descendents of the white Dutch colonizers was a nightmare. When it gave way to the movement to reclaim South Africa, the world felt better about itself, but under new, native leadership that nation is encountering its own problems.

Given the revelations that prominent climate scientists, members of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, engaged in rigging the data to support bogus global warming claims, two books stand out as the most idiotic of the year. I start with James Hoggan’s Climate Cover-Up: The Crusade to Deny Global Warming ($20.00, Greystone Books). Written with Richard Littlemore, the author is the co-founder of DeSmogBlog.com and a public relations practitioner by trade. Among those providing a blurb for its back cover is actor Leonard DiCaprio who, unknown to us, apparently knows more about meteorology than real meteorologists. Suffice it to say, the Earth has been in a cooling cycle since 1998 and that cycle is likely to last for several decades. Writing a book castigating the “deniers” of global warming is truly ironic in the wake of the IPCC revelations. The book neglects to mention that the computer models put forth as “proof” have now been demonstrated to have been found not just flawed but, in some cases, deliberately false. Only the “true believers” of the Green religion will take comfort in this book, but those wise enough to ignore it will be paying far more attention to the nation’s economy in the 2010 midterm elections. Joining in the sillyness is Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth’s Climate by Stephen H. Schneider ($28.00, National Geographic Books). The author argues the usual end-of-the-world global warming scenarios, but does so at a time when all the “facts” put forth by people like Al Gore and others simply do not reflect what the general public has begun to understand; the Earth has been cooling since 1998. This is classic “junk science” and it comes at a time when a UN climate change conference in Copenhagen, December 7 to 18, will try to foist a treaty that few will want to sign. Global warming will be remembered as the greatest fraud of the modern era. It will damage the public faith in scientists for some time to come.

People, People, People

It sometimes seemed to me that the comedian George Carlin had been around forever. His life and mine were lived in parallel tracks, so as he appeared on the Merv Griffin Show in the 1960s, I saw him there. As he progressed to the Ed Sullivan Show, I saw him there, and over the decades we shared, Carlin evolved into one of the most remarkable observers of life in America that his later HBO specials reflected his unique and very funny take, one that was often quite brash and occasionally profane. He was a very funny man and his fans will enjoy Last Words by George Carlin, written with his longtime friend, Tony Hendra ($26.99, Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster). This is Carlin’s autobiography from growing up on the multicultural streets of New York to a stint in the Air Force, his discovery of radio as a DJ, his transition to stand-up comic, marriage, his addictions, the whole ball of wax as they say. I’d say that I miss him, but Carlin left such a body of work behind, including books, that it is really hard to think of him as dead. Happily, Leslie Caron is very much alive and has written a delightful memoir of her life as a movie star and thereafter. Thank Heaven ($25.95, Viking) tells what it was like to costar with some of the greatest dancers captured on film, Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire, but she also paired with Cary Grant and, off-screen, dated Warren Beatty. From “An American in Paris”, “Gigi”, and “Lili” to “The L-Shaped Room”, she demonstrated the talent that gained her a permanent place in Hollywood’s firmament of stars. She is honest about the painful insecurity with which she coped much of her life and about her triumphs and heartbreaks; married three times, mother of two, she lives in Paris. Her fans will love this memoir.

In a celebrity-obsessed society, I have no doubt that The Michael Jackson Tapes by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach ($25.95, Vanguard Press) will do quite well. In 2000-2001, Jackson sat down with his close friend and spiritual guide to record what the publisher says is the most intimate and revealing conversations of his life. He was, we’re told, his wish to bare his soul and unburden himself to a public that he knew was deeply suspicious of him (and with good reason). The result are revelations about his profound loneliness, his longing to be loved, and the emptiness of fame. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the book is how he bonded with a rabbi. From that same celebrity world comes the memoir of Mary Forsberg Weiland, a model and groupie of the Stone Temple Pilots and how she met Scott Weiland, then an aspiring musician, when he showed up to drive her to and from modeling gigs for $8 an hour. Falling to Pieces is subtitled “A Memoir of Drugs, Rock’n Roll, and Mental Illness” ($25.99, William Morrow) and it is a tale of extreme highs and lows that says a lot about drug and alcohol addictions that could have killed her, as well as her bipolar personality disorder. She now lives with her two children in Los Angeles where she is studying to secure certification as a drug and alcohol counselor.

I am betting you never heard of Frank Julian Sprague (1857-1934), but don’t feel bad, only a few probably have. Sprague, however, played a role in transforming urban transportation in America and, as such, deserves a biography, Frank Julian Sprague: Electrical Inventor and Engineer ($39.95, Indiana University Press) by William D. Middleton and William D. Middleton III, with a foreword by John O. Sprague has just been published. It was Sprague who invented a system for distributing electricity to streetcars from overhead wires. While we see photos and films of the era when electric streetcars changed the way Americans got around cities, replacing horse drawn vehicles, the inventor remained largely unknown. For modern Americans, it is impossible to imagine the tons of horse droppings (and the smell) that were a part of early urban life. His invention helped cities to grow, transforming the landscape of the 20th century. Anyone interested in American history, urban affairs, and related topics will find this book very interesting. Glen Scott Allen has penned a very entertaining book, Master Mechanics & Wicked Wizards: Images of the American Scientist as Hero and Villain from Colonial Times to the Present ($29.95, University of Massachusetts Press, softcover). From the fame of Benjamin Franklin to today’s films and other media that reprocess the mad scientist theme, there is a consistent thread that runs from early novels to Dr. Strangelove. We still do celebrate scientists in America, but not as in former times when Thomas Edison was revered. This is an insight-filled look at a part of our cultural history.

Managing Your Finances, Business

As the economy worsens a lot of people are looking for answers to managing their business better and planning for retirement. There are always books on these subjects worth reading. Then, as always, it’s a matter of applying your own best judgment.

For those with retirement in mind, there’s Fasten Your Financial Seatbelt: What Surviving an Airline Crash Taught Me about Retirement Planning by Thomas C. Scott ($14.95, Platform Press). An investment advisor and Forbes.com contributor, the author survived the world’s first crash of a Boeing 747 in Nairobi, Kenya some 35 years ago as a crew member. He’s made a career out of rescuing people from financial disasters and his short, readable book in which he says that “money is the root of all anxiety when it could be the root of all happiness.” He describes the ten most common mistakes people make, the high cost of procrastination, and, interestingly, why successful people often fail when it comes to money management. When I’m 64: Planning for the Best of Your Life by Marvin Tolkin and Howard Massey ($14.95, Tributary Press, softcover) starts with the fact that at precisely January 1, 2010, America’s first baby boomer will turn 64 with some eighty million more to follow. Sixty-four used to be considered “old” but boomers can expect to live at least another two decades, a full quarter of their lives. The book’s central theme is that most boomers will need to engage in a least a little bit of planning or face the prospect of outliving their money. Both books emphasize planning your life, setting goals so you can control your destiny in retirement. Filled with stories and an outside-the-box investment plan, anyone approaching retirement in ten or fifteen years should surely read one or both of these books.

For those looking for a job these days, 201 Knockout Answers to Tough Interview Questions by Linda Matias ($13.95, Amacom, softcover) provides lots of good advice beginning with not expecting broad, open-ended questions because today’s employers aren’t interest in hearing job candidates describe themselves in general terms. They are looking to hire people with competence who can demonstrate their strengths and whatever achievements they have in the workplace. You don’t have to be great, just good at what you do. This book provides good preparation for that all-important interview. It is estimated that half of U.S. employees are dissatisfied with their jobs. Business strategist, Vaughan Evans has written Backing U! A Business-Oriented Guide to Backing Your Passion and Achieving Career Success ($14.95, Business and Careers Press, softcover) that offers a systematic approach to finding and landing your dream job. It’s an easy read that tells you how to evaluate your strengths and weaknesses and to identify where you want to go and how to get there. It’s the kind of pep talk we all need and frequently don’t get.

Running any kind of business these days is a real challenge. Creating Demand: Generate Cool, Custom Marketing Ideas by Geraldo V. Tabio and Sally Beamer ($19.00, Prometheus Books) is based on forty years of combined marketing experience that will teach you a solid marketing strategy with which to develop innovative ideas targeted to both large corporations and small, locally owned businesses. As one professor of mine once said, everything begins when one person sells something to someone else. Instead of spending years mastering marketing skills, why not read a book by two experts who share their knowledge with you? The Janus Principle: Focusing Your Company on Selling to Small Business ($14.95, Brick Tower Press, softcover) by Joann Mills Laing and Don Mazzella takes note of the fact that there are an estimated 27.2 million small businesses in the United States and if you are interested in reaching this market, there are things you have to know in order to effectively sell to the small business buyer. The authors have thirty years of combined experience, so you’re being offered a lot of insight and information that would otherwise take a long time to acquire.

When it was first published, Leadership Secrets of Attila the Hun became a managerial cult classic. Authored by Dr. Wess Roberts, PhD, its 20th anniversary is being celebrated with an audio edition from Hachette Audio ($19.98) in an unabridged edition on three CDs for a total playing time of about three hours. Forget about the stereotypes about Attila and learn how he conquered a big chunk of the ancient world and held it all together with some remarkable negotiating skills.

Marriage and Parenting Skills

The other day I had to ask a young person what was the device she was holding. It was an iPod and she looked at me like I was very old and she was right. The technologies with which younger grow up are having a profound effect on how they relate to each other, their parents, and the world. They impact the process of parenting. More books on parenting reflect this, along with timeless tips. Let’s look at a few.

Racing to Keep Up by Doug Fodemen and Marje Monroe ($14.95, Dog Ear Publishing, softcover) say that the Internet is nothing to LOL (laugh out loud) about. For parents who have no clue what acronyms like IPN, BEG, WTOP, and LMIRL mean, it’s time to play catch up. The authors believe that the rise of the Internet and its communication offshoots, Instant Messaging, File Sharing, Spam, Phishing, and the like have upped the anti when it comes to protecting your child. Their book offers strategies for parents to talk to their kids about technology and ways to keep the home computer safe. In a world where children are exposed to fraudulent advertising, scams, and sexual invitations, it is increasingly necessary to know the fundamentals. Fortunately, this book doesn’t bog you down with a lot of technical jargon. Instead if offers options to apply in a world where kids are increasingly targeted to generate sales and by far worst predators. Enjoy the Ride by Suzy Martyn ($12.95, Mother’s Friend Publishing, softcover) offers “tools, tips, and inspiration for the most common parenting challenges.” The author has three children of her own, plus a Masters in education and lots of other credentials. It’s a handy guide to the common problems such as sleep issues, feeding questions, potty training, handling anger, providing quick answers and practical advice. Partnership Parenting: How Men and Women Parent Differently by Dr. Kyle Pruett, MD, and Dr. Marsha Kline Pruett, PhD, ($15.95, Da Capo Press, softcover) say that all parents want to raise happy and healthy children, but that all parents have opinions on the best way to do so. What happens when two parents have opposing views? As fathers play an increasingly active role in child-rearing, it is clear that the opposite sexes often have different views and this shows up early when dad is expected to take on half the parenting duties that earlier generations ceded to mom. How to recognize and work out the differences is the subject of this book.

Two other Da Capo Press books examine child-rearing questions. Making Friends: What You Need to Know About Your Child’s Friendships by Elizabeth Hartley-Brewer ($13.00, softcover) is filled with advice such as not to be alarmed during the back-to-school months if your child is bad-tempered or exhausted because he or she is facing heightened anxieties about friendships and social acceptance. Dozens of questions from what to do if you don’t like one of your child’s friends or how to deal with bullying and taunting are addressed. Schools are a hothouse of social problems, not to mention boredom. This is a very helpful book that is worth reading. The We Generations: Raising Socially Responsible Kids by Michael Ungar, PhD ($15.95, softcover) is about “nurturing the compassion and community interest that could next generation of adults” and, frankly, I think the author “over thinks” these questions with too much emphasis on indoctrination (they get enough of that in school) and too little thought to teaching good attitudes through one’s own actions and communication. The center of a young person’s universe is and should be his family. After that, he or she will learn, for good or ill, what the rest of the world is like from television and other inputs. Training a little world citizen is far less important than teaching the reality that other cultures do, in fact, differ and not always for the best.

The traditional stereotype is the wicked stepmother, but for real stepmothers, the process can be a difficult one. Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do by Wednesday Martin, PhD, ($15.00, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) takes a look at the fact that one in two women in America will marry or live with a man with children if the projections of those who study divorce and remarriage are correct. The author says it is harder for women to be a stepparent than for men. This is an empowering, original, and realistic book that provides a completely new way of look at women in such relationships. It is a difficult road to navigate no matter the age of the children, whether five or fifty-five. Many women enter marriage with the notion to change the man, not realizing that it can lead to a lot of friction and unhappiness. So, a book like Have a New Husband by Friday by Dr. Kevin Leman ($17.99, Revell), is fraught with potholes or even sinkholes for those who aren’t willing to change themselves as well. In fairness to the author, a psychologist, he is making an effort to help frustrated, disappointed wives by showing them a better way to achieve the change they want, as opposed to nagging, complaining, and demands. Dr. Leman says such men really want to please their wives, but do not know how. This is also a book about how wives can transition to a smoother, happier marriage. I Don’t Want a Divorce: A 90-Day Guide to Saving Your Marriage by Dr. David Clarke with William G. Clarke ($14.99, Revell, softcover) reflects the fact that half the marriages in America fail. The authors propose ways that couples can reclaim their marriage with a plan that has been used for the past twenty years to counsel hundreds of couples. It is a week-to-week plan comprised of clear steps and detailed, attainable goals. Divorce Sucks by Mary Jo Eustace ($19.95, Adams Media) who was married to Dean McDermott for thirteen years who divorced her after meeting actress Tori Spelling! He left Mary Jo with their newly adopted infant baby girl and a young son. This is not a self-help book like those above, but a voyeuristic glimpse into one of Hollywood’s most notorious divorces. For those who follow the tabloids and celebrity scene, this will prove diverting and shows that there is life after divorce.

Books for Kids and Teens

The books being created for the youngest readers these days are often just miracles of artwork and technology. An example can be found in Silver Dolphin Books, an imprint of Advantage Publishers Group of San Diego. California. With Christmas around the corner, visit www.silverdolphinbooks.com and consider, for example, Bugs & Spiders from their series, The Wonders Inside (19.95). I start off with that title because I know the first instinct is to say “eeeuuuu”, but kids are fascinated by such creatures and this book has extraordinary artwork and an informative text that brings to life the world of butterflies and moths, dragonflies, bees, ants and other insect species. This is just a knock-your-socks-off delight and a wonderful introduction to the science of entomology. In a similar fashion, their Sounds of the Wild series includes Safari by Maurice Pledger ($16.95) and, as the reader turns the pages, there are pop-ups and, amazingly, the actual sounds of the creatures of Africa from the Masai Mara to the Ngorongoro Crate to the Serengeti. It is a gorgeous book filled with animal pictures and one that is sure to delight the pre-schooler being read to and the early reader discovering African wildlife. This one is an amazing gift. For the youngster who likes putting things together, from the Action Files series comes Gladiators ($15.95) that includes a fact book, a foldout poster, stickers, a 3-D helmet, and info cards with their own box, plus a story book! This is just plain hands-on fun.

Also for the early reader, age 7 and up, there’s a basketball enthusiast’s story, Larry Bird: The Boy from French Lick ($17.95, Blue Martin Publications), written by Francine Poppo Rich and illustrated by Robert Casilla. This book focuses on his early years before he became the star of the Boston Celtics and emphasizes how practices, persistence, and a belief in himself led to his success in the game. For the older set called Young Adults, age 14 and up, there’s an award winning story, Rebound, by Bob Krech ($6.95, Marshal Cavendish Corp., softcover), lauded by the American Library Association, about Ray, a white boy with a passion for basketball, at Franklin High School where it is an unwritten rule that black kids play basketball and white kids wrestle. When Ray makes the basketball team, no one is happy for him and tensions build. This is a frank discussion of racial issues today. The sport of boxing is the background to The Ring by Bobbie Pryon ($15.95, WestSide Books, Lodi, NJ, softcover) in which it is a girl who reclaims her life as the lessons she learns at a girl’s boxing club in a nearby gym begin to be applied to school and at home. There’s plenty of action is this intriguing story of self-discovery and fulfillment. Though billed as being for boys and girls, I think the latter will like Ballerina Detective and the Missing Jeweled Tiara by Karen Rita Rautenberg ($9.95, DNA Press, softcover) for ages 8 to 13. When Amber’s tiara is stolen, 12-year-old Kayla and her friend Vicky decide to solve the mystery. It’s a hoot as she decides whether to take toe-dancing lessons to pursue her dream of becoming a ballerina while also developing a crush on Jason, and engaging in a variety of adventures typical of a contemporary American girl. Filled with humor, this will provide plenty of entertainment for a young reader.

Novels, Novels, Novels!

Lawyers offer an abundance of literary opportunities and John Grisham, a lawyer himself, is proof of that, but now comes David Schmahmann’s Nibble & Kuhn ($24.95, Academy Chicago Publishers), also a practicing lawyer and also an accomplished writer of fiction. For pure entertainment, this novel tells the story of an unraveling law firm, an unwinnable case, and an unworkable love. At the center is Derek Dover who is up for partner at Nibble & Kuhn at precisely the time the Boston law firm decides to “rebrand” itself for the Google era. The partners, pompous and arbitrary, hand him a high visibility case just weeks before trial and, Derek, who has fallen hard for Maria Parma, a new associate, must work with her and the handicap that she’s engaged to someone else. Therein are all the elements of disaster and the fun is watching everything unravel.

A good mystery is a great way to pass the time and Brad Parks serves up Faces of the Gone ($24.99, Minotaur Books, an imprint of St. Martin Press.) I admit to being a tad biased because the novel is set in Newark, NJ where I once worked and near where I still live in a suburb. Then, too, its main character is an investigative reporter and I began my several careers long ago as a reporter. Parks was a staff writer for the Washington Post before joining the Newark Star-Ledger in 1998 where he would cover major sports events in America. In 2004 he switched to writing news, covering everything from Hurricane Katrina to small-town pizza wars. The novel revolves around a multiple homicide that leaves even jaded Newarkers shaken. Carter and the police want to find out who killed four alleged drug dealers and that means he must tread the city’s gang turf and take risks to earn their trust, and avoid becoming a victim himself as the killer catches wind of his pursuit. This is a very entertaining story and one that will prove hard to put down until you reach the last page.

Catholics in particular and anyone who finds the role of spirituality in one’s life will find Stealing Fatima ($15.95, Counterpoint Press) a real treat. Frank X. Gaspar has won many literary prizes and this intriguing novel is proof of his skills as he tells the story of Father Manuel Furtado, a Cape Cod pastor, whose nightly ritual includes gin, pills, and prayer, followed by hours writing in his journal. On one night, however, he hears a crash in the church, causing him to leave the rectory of Our Lady of Fatima. He finds a man who was a childhood friend whom he has not seen in decades who tells him of recurring visits from the Virgin Mary and, although he has doubts, Father Furtado takes him in, thereby setting off a series of events that challenge the faith of the fishing village, the parish, and his own.

I confess I find a new series based on the classic Jane Austin novels such as Pride and Prejudice, an enigma. More to the point, it is bizarre. The first in the series was “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Though she died in 1817, Jane Austin is listed as a co-author, but it is Ben H. Winters who has incorporated the original novel into that one and now Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters ($12.95, Quirk, softcover). For those who love fantasy stories, this one begins as the Dashwood sisters are evicted from their childhood home and sent to live on a mysterious island full of savage creatures and dark secrets. Suffice it to say that the first Jane Austin knock-off was an enormous success and has been optioned to become a motion picture. No doubt this one will as well.

For those who enjoy short stories, you’re in for a treat with The Mammoth Book of the World’s Best Crime Stories, edited by Maxim Jakubowski ($13.95, Running Press, softcover) that includes 36 stories by authors from around the world, translations from Cuba, France, Germany, Japan, Mexico, India, and other nations whose authors have been brought together in a fact collection that will provide hours of reading pleasure. Crime is the subject of two excellent audio books by top-notch authors, Joseph Wambaugh and James Patterson. In Hollywood Moon ($39.98, Hachette Audio, 10 CDs, approximately 12 hours listening time) Wambaugh, a former Los Angeles Police Department detective sergeant, puts the reader in the Hollywood Station where a full moon brings out the beast in the precinct’s hustlers, drug pushers, and troubled folk. A prowler has been violently attacking women and the team of Nate Weiss and Dana Vaughn are in hot pursuit. The author is in top form. James Patterson serves up I, Alex Cross ($24.98, Hachette Audio, 4 CDs, approximately 5 hours listening time) in which the detective is pulled from a family celebration and given the news that a beloved relative has been found brutally murdered. He vows to find her killer and soon learns she was mixed up in one of Washington’s wildest scenes and that she was not the killer’s only victim. I don’t want to give away too much except to say the story takes one into the world of very powerful people and delivers the kind of suspense that Patterson is famous for.

That’s it for December 2009!

Do tell all your book-loving friends and colleagues to come visit Bookviews to learn about some of the best, if sometimes overlooked, non-fiction and fiction. Bookmark Bookviews to ensure you get the inside track for 2010!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Bookviews by Alan Caruba

November 2009

My Picks of the Month, Reading History, People (Biographies and Autobiographies), Health, Military Matters, Kids and Teen Books, Novels

My Picks of the Month

Here’s a book to put on your Christmas list. It’s Celebrating Peanuts: 60 Years ($75.00, Andrews McMeel Publishing) and it comes in a deluxe, slip cased edition. It is filled with all the many things a generation of Americans came to love about this wonderful comic strip creation by the late Charles Schultz. Peanuts fans will find quotes from Schultz that shed light on how his mind worked, how his life shaped the strip, and how in turn it shaped his life. There are more than 500 pages of classic Peanuts strips, including many full color Sundays. It doesn’t get much better than this. Another large format book that will please fans of the late actress Betty Davis is a tribute written by two noted film critics, Richard Schickel and George Perry. Betty Davis: Larger than Life ($35.00, Running Press) captures the life of a quite extraordinary woman, outspoken and unapologetic. Her career spanned six decades and more than 100 films and few actresses rival her for longevity and appeal. As she put it, “Until you’re known in my profession as a monster, you’re not a star” and she was the epitome of a star. “Of Human Bondage”, “Jezebel”, and “All About Eve” became classic films in part from her performances. She broke ground for actresses who followed her, but she left an indelible imprint on an era we sometimes call the golden age of Hollywood.

If you know someone who loves to travel or someone who prefers to do so from an armchair (that’s me), then one of the most fabulous gifts to give this year is Visions of Europe ($99.99, a boxed set of 12 programs on ten discs, Acorn Media), good for over 15 hours of some of the most extraordinary views of Europe, all shot in high definition video from a helicopter-mounted camera. Seen frequently on PBS, in this great set, you will find “Visions” of Italy, France, Greece, Germany and Austria. There’s also the “Great Cities of Europe”. Either for yourself or as a gift, you will float above places whose names reflect the history of Western civilization. The music and the narration is never intrusive. It’s a trip of a lifetime without every leaving home.

Searching for Whitopia: An Improbable Journey to the Heart of White America is an intriguing book by Rich Benjamin ($24.99, Hyperion). He begins by pointing out that, by 2042, whites will no longer be the majority population in America. As people of color driven by the massive illegal immigration across our southern border increase, more whites are moving to small towns and exurban areas that are predominantly, even extremely white. It goes way beyond prejudice and it goes straight to the heart of American values of “individual liberty, shared civic responsibility, and equal opportunity.” Benjamin writes, “Insecure over the strength and prospects of American values, many white Americans fear for the nation’s ability to absorb newcomers.” This is especially true when they arrive poorly educated and with cultural dispositions to neglect wherever they live. It is hard to claim prejudice given the fact that Americans elected the first black president in its history, though the election, says Benjamin, obscures the racial and economic segregation still vexing America. Benjamin advocates “diversity” even though it looks more and more to me like termites eating the foundations of American society. At the book’s conclusion, the author opts for a more liberal approach to the demographic changes occurring, something that struck me as the antithesis of the theme of his book.

For an administration that has promised greater “transparency”, it is increasingly clear that much of the information on which decisions are based is kept from public view. Over the years, the Freedom of Information Act has been utilized by journalists and those dealing with public affairs issues to learn more about what the government is doing and why. Jacqueline Klosek has written The Right to Know: Your Guide to Using and Defending Freedom of Information Law in the United States ($44.95, Praeger). An attorney practicing law in New York City, it need be said this book will be of greatest use to those engaged in these battles to pry open the doors of government agencies. There are, she notes, many exemptions to the law that prevent access, but she does provide practical methods for citizens to use the act to protect themselves and their communities. The most dangerous aspect of what is occurring is the increasing effort to deny Americans access to government generated information with which to make an informed analysis of what is really occurring. Tom Fenton is a four-time Emmy winner from his years with CBS News, so one might expect his analysis, Junk News: The Failure of the Media in the 21st Century ($14.95, Fulcrum Publishing) to be more incisive. However, his association with CBS News reminds us of the expose of Dan Rather’s appalling bias (a court recently dismissed his case against CBS) and it similarly infects Fenton’s examination of trends. He now works as a freelance commentator for the BBC. This little book rather swiftly loses much of its credibility when he veers into political opinion, but is worth reading when Fenton addresses the actual mechanics and costs of news gathering. His lament about the closing of foreign bureaus by U.S. media rings true, along with some other complaints. He devotes too much time blaming the former Bush administration for all the ills of the world, much as the present administration does. Those of a liberal persuasion will enjoy this book.

Cornelia Dean has written Am I Making Myself Clear?: a Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public ($19.95, Harvard University Press). This is a book for scientists who want to share their expertise, analysis and opinions with the general public and I recommend it because I see lots of scientific information that often defies the understanding of even a seasoned science writer like myself. A distinguished science editor and reporter, Dean makes a case for the importance of scientists taking an active role in making their work accessible to the media and, through them, to the general public. This book is especially timely given the decades of junk science regarding a “global warming” that was a natural climate cycle, barely one degree Fahrenheit, to a previous “little ice age.” And the kicker is that the Earth has been in a new cooling cycle for at least ten years. It’s not likely you’ve heard about that!

One cannot help being impressed by The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries by Michele Borba, Ed.D. ($19.95, Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley, softcover). The initial reason being its sheer size. It’s truly a big book at nearly 700 pages as it addresses common parenting challenges for kids from age 3 to 13. The answers to bedtime battles, chores wars, tantrums, bad friends, sibling rivalry, cheating, growing up too fast, eating disorders, selfishness, anger and countless other common problems are addressed, along with Internet safety, stress and much more. The solutions are time-tested and, for today’s time-challenged parent, the ability to go to specific chapters on problems they are encountering is invaluable.

For the sports nut in your life, a great Christmas stocking-stuffer would be No Dribbling the Squid: Octopush, Shin Kicking, Elephant Polo, and other Oddball Sports are the subject of a book by Michael J. Rosen with Ben Kassoy ($12.99, Andrews McMeel, softcover. It would appear that just about anything humans do can be and has been turned into some kind of sporting activity as it takes a look at those from around the globe that are weird and entertaining, from Wife-Carrying races to professional Rock-Paper-Scissors competitions and Extreme Ironing. This book is just plain fun.

Reading History

There is no understanding of the present or hint of predicting the future if you have not read history.

The Fourth Part of the World: The Race to the Ends of the Earth, and the Epic Story of the Map That Gave America its Name by Toby Lester ($30.00, Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) tells of the way Europeans believed that the world consisted of three parts, Europe, Africa and Asia. These parts of the world had been visited by traders and seafarers to an extent that they were known to exist. For the Europeans, they existed to be exploited, a noted trait. The “fourth part of the world”, however, was largely a land of myth until, in 1507, Martin Waldseemulller and Mathias Ringmann, two obscure scholars working in the mountains of eastern France created a map. It depicted a new world beyond the vast Atlantic Ocean. It would draw on the explorations of Amerigo Vespucci and Christopher Columbus. It would set Nicholas Copernicus to thinking that the Earth was not the center of the universe. Thus was life in 16th century Europe. Eventually, in 2003, the Library of Congress paid $10 million to add it to its treasures. The story of the map is one of the great stories of discovery and it is fascinating.

From the earliest civilizations to our own there have always been people ready to predict the end of the world and people ready to believe them. As we draw closer to 2012, the ancient Mayan calendar, said to predict this is gaining renewed attention. Simply put, it does not make such a prediction, but the long, more complex story is told by John Major Jenkins in The 2012 Story: The Myths, Fallacies, and Truth Behind the Most Intriguing Date in History ($25.95, Tarcher/Penguin). There have been some 200 books written concerning December 21, 2012 and some movies based on the myth. Jenkins is an expert on the Mayan civilization and that is the crux of his book and, if that interests you than you will not be disappointed by this portrait of the cultural and scientific roots of what, in fact, was a Mayan belief in transformation and renewal. (See the Novels section for one based on the end of the world theme.)

If you have been trying to figure out why the Middle East is such a mess, a good place to start is the Kingmakers: The Invention of the Modern Middle East by Karl E. Mayer and Shareen Blair Brysac ($18.95, W.W. Norton, softcover) which looks at the Middle East as the geographic, geostrategic, and religious center of the world; one that Alexander, Caesar, and Napoleon tried to control long before oil was discovered and in which, at varying times France, Britain, Germany, and the United States have all sought to extend their hegemony. The modern Middle East is the result of a secret treaty between England and France that divided it between them following World War One and the defeat of the Ottoman Empire. For anyone who loves to read history, this book is high adventure full of folly and a cast of characters Hollywood could not have invented. Beyond America’s Grasp: A Century of Failed Diplomacy in the Middle East by Stephen P. Cohen ($27.00, Farrar, Straus and Giroux) rapidly turns out to be a disappointment and the tip-off is the first sentence of its preface. “Right after the 1967 Six-Day War, I set out to educate myself about the Zionist conflict with the Arabs in Palestine.” The “Zionists”, not the Israelis. Because, despite the wars waged against it, the sovereign nation of Israel has demonstrated that Jews have a right to their ancient homeland. And, largely ignored or unmentioned is the fact that Israel has a million Arab citizens! Cohen, a Harvard-trained social psychologist is the founder and president of the Institute for Middle East Peace and Development. He is a dreamer who, while he has a grasp of the basics of Middle East history, views it through the gauzy hope for a peace that has always been beyond reach in a region whose dominant faith and culture makes it impossible

People, People, People

The favorite subject for people to write about is, well, people. And, of course, there is often much to be learned by reading about people since one can hardly cram that much experience into a single life.

I will begin, for no particular reason, with a memoir by a wonderful singer and entertainer, Moon River and Me by Andy Williams ($25.95, Viking). I was surprised to learn that he is 82, but only because, being ten years younger, he has been a part of my life before and since he became a superstar on television by the 1960s. There are few achievements in show business he has not garnered, but it was his warm tenor voice and seemingly effortless delivery that earned him his position. The book tells of a humble beginning in Iowa, an ambitious father who encouraged his sons to form a singing group, a move to Los Angeles, and the gradual climb to a place in the hearts of Americans who embraced him. Along the way he became friends with other famous folk like Bobby Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra, Elvis and others. He relates stories about them and his success on television, in Las Vegas, and with his theatre in Branson, Missouri. This is a memoir worth waiting for.

William Rehnquist was a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court for a third of a century and served contiguously with four presidents and yet I cannot help but think that most Americans were and are largely unaware of him because of his modest demeanor. He did not seek the limelight, but now those for whom the Supreme Court, its decisions, and the men and women that made them in modern times are of interest, Rehnquist: A Personal Portrait of the Distinguished Chief Justice of the United States meets the need for a greater insight and understanding of the man ($27.00, Threshold Editions, an imprint of Simon and Schuster). Herman J. Obermayer provides a candid look at one of the most influential men to hold the job. He takes the reader on an interesting journey from his dissenting opinion in Roe v. Wade to his strongly stated positions on issues as various as freedom of the press, school prayer, and civil rights. It was Rehnquist who played a visible role in two very contentious events, the impeachment trial of President Clinton in 1999 and the decision that made George W. Bush the winner in the presidential election of 2000. Obermayer, a journalist, was friends with him for nineteen years and the result is a book well worth reading for a better understanding of the man and times he influenced

From an earlier era, the 1920s and 30s, a name synonymous with those times is Amelia Earhart, one of the first women pilots and, in many ways, a woman who demonstrated that her sex could equal the exploits of men. Amelia Earhart: The Thrill of It by Susan Wels ($35.00, Running Press) is a large format book to match her personality and exploits which famously ended with her mysterious disappearance somewhere in the Pacific in 1937. Well written and extensively illustrated, the woman that emerges from its pages does much more than fly planes. She was a polymath, a poet, photographer, fashion designer, wife, friend and lover. She was, above all, someone who lived for adventure. “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace,” she wrote. She lived life on her own terms and broke the glass ceiling long before the term existed.

The Holocaust, the deliberate killing of six million Jews by the Nazis during World War Two has generated hundreds, if not thousands of books, but it remains essential that later generations and humanity in general not forget it. Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz by Eva Mozes Kor and Lisa Rojany Buccieri ($15.95, Tanglewood Press) is actually written for younger readers, aged twelve and up. One of the worst chapters of the Holocaust was the selection of some 300 twins for Dr. Josef Mengele’s cruel medical experiments. Only about 200 survived. The author and her sister were only ten years old at the time. A lesser known story from that period is told in They Dared Return: The Untold Story of Jewish Spies Behind the Lines in Nazi Germany by Patrick K. O’Donnell ($26.00, Da Capo Press). Some Jewish refugees, by 1942, had found safe haven in America, but with courage that is hard to imagine, were eager to serve in the armed forces to stop the persecution of their overseas families and friends, some of whom languished in concentration camps. The book focuses on “the Jewish five” who joined the Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of today’s CIA, to become spies, parachuting into enemy territory to gather information for the Allied forces. O’Donnell, a military historian, has done a great service in writing this intriguing book. (See History section below for more on this topic)

Writers often find their own lives more interesting than anything they could invent or report, so it is not surprising that two books reflect that trait. The Face in the Mirror edited by Victoria Zackheim ($25.00, Prometheus Books) brings together recollections by writers such as Malachy McCourt, Joyce Maynard, among some twenty writers of fiction and non-fiction who relate the choices they made, their achievements, and their disappointments. Their stories are a cautionary tale for all would-be writers, but they answer the question of who it is they see when they look in the mirror. Mentors, Muses & Monsters: 30 Writers on the People Who Changed Their Lives ($24.99, Free Press) collects essays by writers ranging from Joyce Carol Oates to Edmund White, at least two are Pulitzer Prize winners, six won National Book Awards, and others who saw their work become bestsellers but who recall how either encouragement or criticism shaped their careers, each thriving or surviving to make a name for themselves.

After decades of reviewing, I have seen my share of memoirs. Most lives fit into comfortable patterns, but occasionally someone comes along with a truly nutty notion, divorced from reality, and a path to a life that strays from the ordinary. Such is the case of Jerramy Fine who was born in 1977 in western Colorado, but possessed of the idea that she was switched at birth and her “real” parents must surely be English aristocrats. Ms. Fine was convinced that she was born to marry into the British Royal Family. She is what is called an Anglophile, in love with things and men who are British. She writes about it in Someday My Prince Will Come: True Adventures of a Wannabe Princess (15.00, Gotham Books/Penguin Group, softcover) While attending the University of Rochester, she spent a semester working in the House of Commons and later completed her master’s at the London School of Economics. She did not marry an English prince, but she lives in London with an English boyfriend and she forgives him for being a commoner. The result of this is a whimsical real life story of a girl who began writing to Buckingham Palace around age six, gets to London, dives into the party scene and discovers life is not the fairy tale she imagined. Turns out that London is very expensive and too many British boys are a real pain. This one is strictly for the girls, but it will resonate with any one of them who wanted to be a princess.

The Topic is Health

Americans are taking a greater interest in maintaining their personal health these days, perhaps in response to the national debate on proposed, controversial revisions to Medicare, arguably the most popular government program other than Social Security. It also reflects the endless coverage of health-related topics in the nation’s media. An excellent place to start is The Intellectual Devotional: Health ($24.00, Rodale) with 365 daily entries on all aspects of health that cover seven categories on health and wellness such as drugs and alternative treatments, the men, sexuality and reproduction, children and adolescents, diseases and ailments. It is endlessly fascinating for its facts.

Smoking: 201 Reasons to Quit by Muriel L. Crawford ($19.95, plus $5.50 shipping and handling, from Dillion & Parker Publishing, softcover), is addressed to people like me and the thirty million other Americans who say they want to quit. It is one scary book, listing more than a hundred ways tobacco harms smoker’s health, often leading to prolonged disability and early death. It offers methods to quit smoking, and discusses all the other aspects of smoking such as social and relationship problems. I would hazard that this is the most comprehensive review of this problem and, who knows, it might just get me to quit, too. Visit www.ReasonsNotToSmoke.com.

I loved The Art of Overeating by Leslie Landis ($9.95, Sterling) and give it a big thumbs up! Written by a practicing clinical psychologist, the author has practical experience helping people who eat, spend, avoid, deny, and defy their way through life. As Americans continue to be hit over the head with endless discussion and even proposed legislation about what and how much we can eat, this book approaches the subject with lots of laughter. Peppered with fascinating food facts, plus the author’s natural wry style of making her case about food phobias, she exposing the uselessness of trying to shame over-eaters. Using humor, though, helps a lot. If you’re tired of the endless stream of diet books and advice, this is probably the book for you!

It seems like hardly a day or week goes by without the public being informed that some health threat is going to kill millions and now Dr. Brad Spellberg has written about the latest in Rising Plague: The Global Threat from Deadly Bacteria and our Dwindling Arsenal to Fight Them ($26.00, Prometheus Books). The focus of his book is on antibiotic-resistant microbes that are said to infect two million Americans and kill more than 100,000 every year. What makes this an even worse threat, according to the author, is that research and development of new antibiotics has “ground to a screeching halt.” This book is a major warning against the collapse of antibiotic R&D and for anyone with an interest in health issues, this is “must” reading.

A new memoir is The Sugarless Plum: A Ballerina’s Triumph Over Diabetes by Zippora Karz ($22.95, Harlequin) in which she tells how, by the age of 20 she had fulfilled her life’s dream. Having left home at the age of 15 to pursue her career, Karz became a rising star with the New York City Ballet. A year later, however, her body began to exhibit symptoms that were originally misdiagnosed as Type-2 diabetes when it was Type-1. This is an inspiring story for any woman facing this disease and it is enhanced as she writes about the behind-the-scenes life of a ballerina, a fantasy for little girls around the world.

Military Matters

I have long believed that history largely consists of the many wars of mankind and this is confirmed in an excellent new book, Little-Known Wars of Great and Lasting Impact: Turning Points in Our History We should Know More About by Alan Axelrod, PhD ($24.99, Fair Winds Press). That may qualify as one of the longest titles of any new book this year! The author has had a long, distinguished career in and out of publishing and a consultant to television documentaries. He takes the reader on a fascinating tour that include what he calls the “first Holocaust”, the battle when Simon bar Kokhba initiated a rebellion against Rome, triggering a response that cost the lives of many Jews living in Israel from 132-135 BC. Other wars cited include the first wars of terror, the Barbary pirates versus the United States, and the Meji Rebellion in Japan. There are many interesting chapters that recount wars that often are not taught in schools and colleges, but which shaped history, ancient and modern.

Zenith Press specializes in books about military affairs and among their latest releases are War Stories of D-Day: Operation Overlord—June 6, 1944 ($28.00) by Michael Green and James D. Brown. That titanic landing on the shores of France was a major turning point in World War Two. It put 150,000 troops in play against the Nazis and this book humanizes the event with first-person stories of those who took part in the invasion, including the paratroopers who dropped behind enemy lines. The book includes those from the U.S. Coast Guard, Navy and Air Force who provided critical support. A little known story of WWII was the role of German Jews and it is told in The Enemy I Knew: German Jews in the Allied Military in World War II ($28.00) by Steven Karras. Though the Nazis rounded up and killed six million Jews, some German and Austrian Jews who had fled the Nazis were inducted into the Allied forces. The stories of 27 of them, including gripping recollections from Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, are documented. They displayed incredible courage. Courage, too, was displayed by McCoy’s Marines ($17.99) subtitled the “Darkside to Baghdad.” John Koopman tells the story of 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment, led by Lt. Col Byran P. McCoy whose radio call sign was “Darkside.” These were the men who pulled down the statue of Saddam Hussein. As a reporter embedded with the unit, Koopman saw and lived it all. A former Marine himself, the author provides an insight-filled story of what it was like to battle into the center of Iraq’s capital and the aftermath.

At the forefront of American concerns is whether to continue the war in Afghanistan, now in its eighth year. For a powerful and disturbing insight, I recommend you read Hunting al Qaeda ($17.99, Zenith Press, softcover). It is the story of a National Guard Special Forces unit, Beast 85, a tight-knit group of ten men, green berets, sent to Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 to capture or kill al Qaeda and the Taliban. It is a story of disillusionment because of the top-heavy, risk-averse command structure of today’s army and how it became the second front for men who actually captured a Taliban leader only to be told to release him! The war has drawn on without victory because “victory” is not attainable when it is a political issue, not a military objective.

Today we speak of Special Operations and think in terms of Green Berets and Navy SEALs, but preceding them were WWII Allied spies and they needed to be trained to operate behind enemy lines. The arts and skills of disrupting an enemy were described in Special Ops, 1939-1945: A Manuel of Covert Warfare and Training ($17.00, Zenith Press) put together by the British Special Operations Executive and American Office of Strategic Services. It is reproduced for today’s reader and the techniques described and illustrated mirror some that have been incorporated by today’s terrorist organizations.

Not all casualties of war occur on the battlefield. Healing Suicidal Veterans: Recognizing, Supporting and Answering Their Pleas for Help by Victor Montgomery II, CMAC, RAS, a former crisis intervention therapist for the National Veterans Suicide Crisis Hotline ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) could save lives, particularly if read by the friends and relatives of returning veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts. It is filled with advice on effective strategies for veterans to cope and heal, checklists to identify symptoms of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and substance abuse. It provides information about resources for veterans seeking help.

Books for kids and Teens

For the very young who can be read to or those age 7-9, there’s a story first published in 1997 by Jane Yolen, the author of some 300 books for younger readers. The Seeing Stick ($16.95, Running Press) is the story of a Chinese emperor whose only daughter was born blind and who seeks a cure. One day a wise old man with a mysterious Seeing Stick visits the princess. It reveals that one can “see” the world in more ways than just her eyes. This book is particularly special for the illustrations of Daniela Jaglenko Terrazzini that are just dazzling. It is an inspiring story in many ways and likely to remain a treasure in any child’s library.

From Kids Can Press comes How to Build Your Own Country ($18.95), part of a series to teach kids about the world, but I am less thrilled about its intent “to be better global citizens.” That kind of One World outlook puts allegiance to one’s own nation down the list of priorities. That said, however, Valerie Wyatt, the author, and Fred Rix, the illustrator, have come up with a clever way to each what being a nation involves, including setting up a government, holding elections, writing a constitution, and other attributes of nations that function under the rule of law. Hoaxed! Fakes & Mistakes in the World of Science ($16.95) by the editors of Yes Magazine is another good book for younger readers, up to age ten or so. It explores a number of famous hoaxes like the Piltdown Man and provides advice on how to spot a hoax based often on dubious or spurious science. It neglects to include the greatest hoax of the modern era, “global warming”, still be talked about as real despite the fact the Earth has been cooling for a decade.

For the older, pre-teen and teenage set, there are a number of books worth reading. I am Jack by Susanne Gervay ($14.99, Tricycle Press, an imprint of Crown Publishing) deals with the topic of school bullying and how it hurts the victim and the bully and is frightening for witnesses who don’t know what to do. Jack is an eleven-year-old who has to learn what to do. This book should probably be in every school in America. A young adult novel, Saved by the Music ($16.95, West Side Books) is generating a lot of buzz. Selene Castrovilla tells the story of 15-year-old Willow who moves in with her aunt for the summer after her unstable mother kicks her out. Aunt Agatha is trying to turn a dilapidated barge into a classic music performance space. Willow must fend off the advances of a construction worker, but is befriended by an older teen who lives on a sailboat nearby. Together they meet some harrowing challenges together. It’s the kind of story that is impossible to put down once passed the first page. Music is at the core of another West Side Book, a young adult novel, Shattered by Kathi Baron ($16.95). In this story a teen violin prodigy, Cassie, runs away after her moody father destroys her violin, seeking refuge in a homeless shelter. From her shattered family, Cassie finds out why her father acted as he did and how she heals herself by helping others.

The author of “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”, Jeff Kinney, sold over 23 million copies with this series and is back with Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days ($13.95, Amulet Books, an imprint of Abrams) in which Greg, Rowley, Rodrick, Manny, Mom and Dad, and an entire cast of characters return along with an unexpected addition to the family that not only takes Greg’s attention, but his bed too. Just about everything he does involves some kind of turmoil, particularly anything that occurs outside when Greg would prefer to be in his room, the blinds closed, and playing video games. This is just plain fun!

For the older teen and some adults, there’s The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey ($17.99, Simon and Schuster), a very entertaining story that begins with the journal of Will Henry, orphaned assistant to Dr. Pellinore Warthrop, a man whose specialty is the study of monsters. When a grave robber comes calling with a gruesome find, he brings with him their most deadly case yet. This is classic gothic literature and asks the question, when does a man become the very thing he hunts?

Two DVDs offer lots of entertainment for the toddler set. Gigi and the Royal Pink Circus by Sheila Walsh ($14.00, Thomas Nelson, kid’s division) is part of a popular series about Gigi and for those of the Christian faith, this comes with some valuable lessons, namely that it is not easy to be God’s little princess these days, but His message comes with much comfort. Also from the same publisher, part of the Max Lucado’s Hermie and Friends series, The Flo Show Creates a Buzz. It’s About Saying You’re Sorry($14.99) features the voices of Tim Conway and Vicki Lawrence of the Carol Burnett Show fame. It is a rollicking story with a useful theme of forgiveness. Also in the arena of juvenile fiction, there’s School of Fear, an audio book from Hachette Audio ($19.98) by Gitty Daneshvari. For the younger set, it will prove fun to listen to as they follow the adventures of Madeleine Masterson who is deathly afraid of bugs, especially spiders, Theodore Bartholomew who is petrified of dying, Lulu Punchalower who is scared of confined spaces, and Garrison Feldman who is terrified of deep water. They are sent off to the School of Fear to learn how to conquer their fears. Very scary and very funny.

Novels, Novels, Novels

I have become a fan of Don Bruns “stuff” series that chronicles the lives of James and Skip, two loveable, bumbling best friends who are still stuck in dead-end jobs, still living in their ratty apartment in Carol City, Florida, and still dreaming and scheming to hit the big time. In Stuff to Spy For ($25.95, Oceanview Publishing), Skip lands a job to install a state-of-the-art security system for Synco Systems, but it comes with strings. To collect the cash, he will have to pretend to be the boyfriend of Sarah Crumbly, an employee who’s having an affair with Synco’s married president. When he is offered a tidy sum by the boss’ wife for the details of what’s going on at Synco, the friends decide to go into the business of being spies. What they discover is at the heart of this funny, fast-paced thriller. A very different kind of thriller is Crossings by Leonard Chang ($24.95, Black Heron Press), an unflinching look at the lives of Korean immigrants in the San Francisco Bay area. It centers on Sam, a widower who finds himself deeply in debt to a local gangsters and Unha, an illegal immigrant working at a nightclub. Their stories intertwine with other family members, other immigrants, all forming to portray a community trying to make a better life for themselves. One can learn a lot from such fiction, delving into the worlds of other people we might now otherwise know or, to be candid, care about, but in a very real way, they are classic American stories in a nation of immigrants. Korea is the backdrop for a new addition to “A Sergeants Sueno & Bascom Mystery” by Martin Limon. G.I. Bones unites the Military Police sergeants when they travel to Itawwon, Seoul’s red-light district in order to find out who killed a G.I. who had the unusual habit of stalking fortune tellers. Meanwhile, an officer’s daughter has gone missing and the murder of a wine-mongering gang lord remains unsolved. The time is the 1970s and the twists and turns of this novel will keep you turning the pages as fast as you can read them.

Anyone who is old enough to have gone through the Draft in the 1950s until it was discontinued, will find The Furax Connection a trip back to the days of basic training at Fort Leonard Wood ($16.95, Fireside Publications, Lady Lake, FL, softcover). Stephen L. Kanne makes his debut with a terrific novel that is evocative of that era and, at the same time, an old fashioned thriller about a shadowy organization within the military, a network of bribery and extortion emanating from Furax Unlimited. At the heart of the novel is Billy Rosen, a Harvard graduate who has volunteered for the Draft to get a taste of life beyond his privileged surroundings. Identified as a recruit for a secret society within the military affiliated with Furax, the story concludes with the North Korean invasion of the South and we suspect Billy will see action there. Indeed, we expect Kanne’s next novel will continue the thread begun in this very satisfying story.

I am not surprised to see novels arrive that are based on the end-of-the-world theme of December 21, 2012. The Twelve by William Gladstone ($19.95, Vanguard Press) tells the story of Max Doff. Not speaking until age six, his world filled with numbers of colors (Editor’s note: signs associated with autism), at age fifteen he has a near death experience during which he sees twelve names that he cannot remember when he awakes. Eight years later while on location in Peru for a film production company, Max meets Maria Magdelena Ramirez and he suddenly realizes, Maria’s name was one of the twelve he saw in his vision. Anyone drawn to the mysteries of myths while find this novel every entertaining as we follow Max’s life to the date alleged to mark the world’s end.

Among the softcover novels, there’s The Rules of Play Jennie Walker ($20.00, Soho). Actually it is a novella, a short novel that follows the story of a woman in the throes of an extra-marital affair. Told over the course of five days, the narrator seeks to navigate the rules of her affair at the same time she tried to understand the rules of a cricket match between England and India taking place. We’re told that Mick Jagger loved it, but he’s one up on Americans unfamiliar with cricket. Coming in January from Soho Press, there’s Leighton Gage’s Dying Gasp ($24.00) the third in a series starring Chief Inspector Mario Silva. Set in Brazil, the granddaughter of a prominent politician is missing and Silva and his team find her in Manaus, a jungle hellhole on the Amazon where a female doctor is making snuff films. Silva must overcome his own department’s indifference and corrupt local cops to bring some justice to the victims.

A Drunkard’s Path by Clare O’Donahue, ($13.00, Plume) is part of “A Someday Quilts Mystery” series featuring Nell Fitzgerald. As Nell is finishing her first quilt and recovering from a broken engagement, her new boyfriend, Police Chief Jesse Dewalt stands her up, he has a good reason. The body of a young woman has been discovered nearby. Nell’s taste for sleuthing gets the best of her and she enlists the aid of her quilting circle to help patch together the clues. Civil War history, the Reconstruction period, is the backdrop for Jarrettsville by Cornelia Nixon ($15.95, Counterpoint). Based on a true story, it is the account of a love affair and murder in a small Maryland town that is rebuilding. It is the days following President Lincoln’s assassination and the Confederate surrender. The various allegiances are told through the eyes of a dozen different perspectives, but the story is in many ways a timeless one.

If you love a good love story, pick up Giving Up on Ordinary by Isla Dewar ($14.99, St, Martin’s Griffin/Thomas Dunne Books), a beloved and prolific British writer. Meg is a woman at the end of her rope. A single mother of three, she has more bounced checks than reasons to be hopeful. After retiring her dream of making it big in a band, she’s bounced from job to job, and now she’s cleaning houses to make ends meet. When she is asked to work for Gilbert Christy, an educated, wealthy, lonely art historian, her life gets a shot of passion. Complete opposites, they fascinate each other and their affair is as much about curiosity as about love. You will be rooting for Megs from the very first page.

Finally, for some good listening, there are three Hachette Audio novels, The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (19.98) in the voice of a murdered girl watching from heaven as friends and family, along with her murderer, try to fathom what happened. David Balacci never disappoints with his police thrillers and True Blue ($44.98, unabridged/$31.98 abridged) is read by actor Ron McLarty. It is a story of a cop seeking redemption. Michael Connelly’s Dragon’s ($39.98 unabridged/$29.98 abridged) is read by actor Len Cariou tells the story of the murder of the owner of a South LA small shop, Fortune Liquors, and Detective Harry Bosch has promised his family he will find the killer. It is a gripping tale.

That’s it for November! Tell your friends about Bookviews and bookmark it to return each month for news of the best in new fiction and non-fiction. You will often find books here that are not getting sufficient attention elsewhere.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Bookviews - October 2009

Bookviews – October 2009
By Alan Caruba

My Picks, Cookbooks, Business, Health, Science, History, Children’s, Novels

My Picks of the Month

It may be the most important book published this year. It’s Dore Gold’s The Rise of Nuclear Iran: How Tehran Defies the West ($27.95, Regnery Publishing) and if the idea of an Iran with atomic bombs and nuclear tipped missiles bothers you, then you must read this careful examination of what that means. Dr. Gold is a former Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, and he says that time is running out to stop the Iranians from extending a nuclear umbrella to protect a host of terrorist groups that threat Israel, the United States, Europe and everywhere else in the world. He documents how Iran is the main state-sponsor of terrorism and subversion in the Middle East. If they have a nuclear weapon capability it will make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for the West to take any action for fear of devastating retaliation. And there is what I call “the crazy element” because the Iranian leadership today believes it must bring about the return of a mythical Shiite figure, the Twelfth Imam, and that can only be done with massive death and destruction. Appeasement is the current administration’s approach to this threat and history teaches what that produces. Read this book!

I am a great fan of what are often called “coffee table” books. They are the large size books, usually extensively illustrated, on any topic. I like the heft and look of them. Two have arrived recently. Great Discoveries: Explorations that Changed History ($29.95, Time Inc) is a great gift for all ages. Its title tells the story of its contents that discuss such things as the great discoveries of archaeology such as China’s clay army that lay hidden below ground for ages or explores the Pueblo exodus in the four corners area of America where four Western States meet. Once a thriving society and then abandoned. Planet Earth has provided plenty to explore such as the source of the river Nile, our extraordinary Yellowstone Park, and the Polar Regions. From life on Earth to the solar system, exploration will ignite the imagination of the young and satisfy the quest for knowledge among older readers. The seminal event of the last century was World War Two. Hitler’s Army: The Men, Machines and Organization 1939-1945 by David Stone ($40.00, Zenith Press) will prove to be an extraordinary gift for anyone interested in the military history of that event as it examines how the German war machine was beginning to take shape in the early 1930s and how Hitler and the Nazi party transformed it and a nation still angry over its loss of WWI into a powerful instrument of revenge. Filled with more than 300 photos, as well as multiple maps and diagrams, the author present a complete picture of this intimidating force, while examining its conduct in battle as well as its strengths and weaknesses. How did this apparently unbeatable army go off to war in 1939 and, five years later, experience total military defeat and unconditional surrender? This book explains why. Part of the story of World War Two was the Battle of the Bulge, fought 65 years ago this December. In another large-size book, "The photographic history of an American triumph" ($28.00, Zenith Press) is told in more than 400 photographs and 12 maps. John R. Bruning has done a superb job of bringing the titanic battle to life. Thirty-one American divisions, fully a third of the U.S. Army saw action in this battle and it was an unlikely group of American men who met the challenge, seemingly against the odds of a seasoned German army. Anyone with a love of military history would be thrilled to find these two Zenith titles under the Christmas tree.

With American’s economy in turmoil, many people are trying to figure out what went wrong. In an audiobook, End the Fed, Rep. Ron Paul makes a case ($32.98, Hachette Audio, 6 CDs) that the Federal Reserve is responsible for the current recession, the worst since the 1930s. The author is well known as a strong advocate for the Constitution, for sound money, personal liberty and free markets. He is an anomaly in Congress where he represents a Texas District. Another mystery to most Americans is the World Bank and David Ian Shaman has written The World Bank Unveiled: Inside the Revolutionary Struggle for Transparency ($38.95, Parkhurst Brothers, Little Rock, Arkansas). The bank is supposed to alleviate poverty worldwide, but the global impact of America’s financial crisis will push more people into poverty. Written by a former World Bank insider, this book examines the inner workers of the organization which he says has been marginalized since 9/11. He discusses needed reforms, but at the heart of this extensive analysis is the widespread belief that the lending institution has been largely ineffective and donor countries are displeased that its accountability is at “an all-time low.” This is not light reading, but it is most certainly an important book. Toby Westerman, the author of Lies, Terror, and the Rise of the Neo-Communist Empire: Origins and Direction ($24.95 @ www.inatoday.com, softcover) is an analyst of international news and, as such, provides the reader with a comprehensive understanding of the long struggle between communism where it is practiced in the world and capitalism which creates wealth and rewards risk. Enter the Islamic revolution into this struggle and you have a world in turmoil. This book will help clarify many of the major trends occurring worldwide and is well worth reading.

If you are just looking for a bit of personal peace of mind, there’s a delightful little book by June Cotner called Serenity Prayers ($12.95, Andrews McMeel) that is a collection of prayers, poems, and prose to sooth your soul. It is small enough to carry in your pocket and draws on writers from Walt Whitman to Mitch Albom to provide moments of relaxation and reflection that will get you through the day. A Book of Silence by Sara Maitland ($25.00, Counterpoint Press) tells of her decision in her late forties, after an upbringing as one of six children, as a feminist and a mother, to get away from all the noise in her life, spending periods of silence in places such as the Sinai desert, the Scottish hills, and a remote cottage on the Isle of Skye. She found her experiences both euphoric and dark, mirrored in the stories of others who encountered silence, explorers, mystics, long distance sailors. Ultimately, she found a deepening happiness and her book is a tribute to tranquility that may inspire readers to discover this for themselves.

Years ago I created and ran a media spoof called The Boring Institute® that issued annual lists of the most boring celebrities, films, et cetera. A fan of my satire was Angus Lind, one of New Orleans’ treasures as a columnist for The Times-Picayune. In New Orleans, people began their day with coffee, a beignet, and Lind’s column. He retired, but people kept asking him to put together a book that would collect his best ones. A native son of the fabled city, a graduate of Tulane University, Lind had captured the eccentricities and human comedy in a city affectionately called the Big Easy for some 32 years. I recommend this book, not just out of friendship but because good writing, wonderful, entertaining, storytelling writing just announces itself. It’s rare and it’s always a joy to read. Culled from almost 6,000 columns, Prime Angus ($19.95, Arthur Hardy Enterprises, softcover) is just pure reading pleasure. The book will appeal to anyone who has ever called New Orleans home, but also to those like myself who loved visiting on a regular basis. Many of the city’s unique characters are captured in its pages and it is a reminder of why, after Hurricane Katrina, we all want the city to return to its former glory. Treat yourself to a copy. Another treat to read is Richard Polsky's i sold Andy Warhol. (too soon) ($23.95, Other Press), a droll and revealing look inside the world of the art market where paintings often sell for amounts that are incredible. Polsky knows that world from the 1980s to now and has previously written about it. In 1987 he bought an Andy Warhol painting for $100,00o and his 2003 memoir tells how he spent twelve years in his quest to acquire the painting of his dreams. When he sold it, he thought he had made a tidy profit only to see its price quadruple in value! He laments that the world has gone from art appreciation to monetary appreciation. If you have ever wondered what it's like inside the art world, this private dealer who has represented some of the most famous postwar artists, particularly the "Pop" artists, has written the book to read. It is never boring!

After more than 40 years of reviewing I receive A LOT of requests from authors and publishers (often one and the same these days) requesting that I review their books. As often as not I have to write back and tell them the topic does not fit the general format and interest of Bookviews (me!). Which was I did when Don Langevin wrote to tell me of his book—are you ready? How-to-Grow World Class Giant Pumpkins the All-Organic Way ($19.95, http://www.giantpumpkin.com/). I told him “no thanks” and he sent it to me anyway! And this is the fourth book Don has written on giant pumpkins! It is extensively illustrated with full color photos and professional in every respect. So, if this topic interests you, this is the book for you! Hey, it’s Halloween at the end of the month and the book has a picture of the biggest carved Jack O’Lantern you will ever see. Good luck, Don.

Now We’re Cooking!

My late Mother, Rebecca Caruba, authored two cookbooks and taught the fine art of haute cuisine for three decades in adult schools throughout northern New Jersey. She was an internationally recognized authority of wines and she had a great collection of cookbooks and I have always kept an eye open for new ones.

In our fast-paced society, people want to eat well, but often feel pinched for time. Food & Wine is a trend-spotting epicurean magazine published by American Express Publishing. Its new book, Food & Wine Quick from Scratch Italian Cookbook ($24.95, Food & Wine Books) tackles traditional favorites and introduces new recipes with more than 150 mouthwatering recipes such as grilled zucchini and mozzarella, minestrone, clam risotto with bacon and chives, sautéed chicken breasts, and zabaglione with strawberries, as it runs the gamut of great recipes, each with a full-page photo to tease your appetite. The instructions are easy-to-follow, and there are even recommendations for wines to enhance each dish. This one is a winner!

The Potluck Club Cookbook by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson ($14.99, Revell, softcover) lives up to its title as the authors noted that “Eating in is the new eating out.” Potluck dinners are easy on the budget because no one carries the full cost of a table full of food. Guests each bring their own favorite dish which is great for people who like to sample new dishes and share recipes. Instead of lots of photos, this book focuses on the recipes on topics from appetizers to breads, cakes and cookies, crock-pot meals, fish, chicken, and meat dishes to liven up any luncheon or dinner party.

Sam Sidawi’s new book, My Rustic Sandwiches: Great Recipes to Savor Artisan Bread ($18.95, Daniel’s Rustic Bread, Montreal) had me practically drooling as I went from page to page with gorgeous full color photos and great sandwiches such as rib eye roast in red wine sauce with shallots and mushrooms on a baguette, a burger au Poivre with porteenie mushroom on a sesame Kaiser bun, or lamb kebab with grilled white onion, hummus and pickled cucumber. This is exotic dining, but the ingredients are all available. The Bible speaks of the bread of life and asks “give us our daily bread.” This book will change your life with its extraordinary approach to the sandwiches. You can check it out at www.danielsrusticbread.com.

The Topic is Health

Rising Plague: The Global Threat from Deadly Bacteria and Our Dwindling Arsenal to Fight Them by Dr. Brad Spellberg, MD, has an important message ($26.00, Prometheus Books). The author makes a strong case, noting that antibiotic-resistant microbes infect more than two million Americans and kill more than 100,000 each year. The current scare of H1N1 flu is a good example of the way viruses mutate every year and, yes, they do kill a lot of people. The really bad news is that as resistant infections increase, research and development of new antibiotics has ground to a screeching halt according to the author. Dr. Spellberg should know. He is an infectious diseases specialist. There is a lot at stake if this trend is not reversed, especially if infectious diseases return to a point where many medical breakthroughs we take for granted like routine surgery, organ transplants, and battlefield medicine are involved.

There is no end of health risks to worry about and the media is constantly telling us of new ones. Dr. Cara Natterson, MD has written Dangerous or Safe? Which Foods, Medicines and Chemicals Really Put Your Kids at Risk ($25.95, Hudson Street Press) covers the top 25 issues that the parents of her patients were most worried about. Among the risks she warns of are cell phones because she is concerned about the electromagnetic waves and their affect on the brain. She is concerned as well about genetically modified foods. From my reading, the testing of cell phones (like transmission wires for electricity) has revealed no health threat and this is true as well of GM foods. The doctor, however, says childhood vaccines are fine because no links between them and autism have been found—to date. I think you need to read this book at your own risk.

How many books has Dr. Andrew Weil, M.D. written? By my count, Why Our Health Matters makes it an even dozen! In the midst of a national debate over whether the government should nationalize and take over one sixth of the nation’s economy and let bureaucrats make medical decision, Dr. Weil’s new book ($25.95, Hudson Street Press) says that the U.S. health care system is in a terrible crisis because “every thirty seconds someone in America files for bankruptcy in the aftermath of a personal health illness.” I don’t know if it’s that bad, but if it is, some kind of change is needed. Dr. Weil spares none of the parties involved from insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies to medical schools as well as what we ourselves can do to maintain good health. Power Up by Dr. Woodson Merrell, M.D., with Kathleen Merrell ($16.00, Free Press, softcover) is subtitled “Unleash your natural energy, revitalize your health, and feel ten years younger.” Dr. Merrill employs an approach to health and healing that emphasizes a partnership between doctor and patient, but I am inclined to believe that is what all physicians try to do. His focus is on our bad health habits and behaviors, particularly as it affects our inner energy sources. In the end, the book offers a lot of common sense recommendations regarding reducing stress, exercise, and getting a good night’s sleep. I have seen a lot of books on this topic and this one is okay and worth reading.

Stand by Her: A Breast Cancer Guide for Men
by John W. Anderson ($18.95, Amacom, softcover) reflects that fact that 184,000 women in America in 2008 encountered breast cancer. The author had his wife, his mother, his sister, and his mother’s best friend dealing with this disease and the result is a group of strategies and support techniques that will help the men in the lives of other women address the problem effectively. The book tells men what they can expect to go through with a loved one before, during, and after treatment, and provides advice on medical, psychological, family relationship, sexual and financial issues. Hands Off My Belly!: The Pregnant Woman’s Survival Guide to Myths, Mothers, and Moods by Dr. Shawn A. Tassone, MD and Dr. Kathryn M. Landherr, MD ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) points out that expectant mothers are virtual magnets for unsolicited advice. All the female members of the family and friends tend to offer an endless supply of opinions. In an engaging, humorous, and very informative book, the authors, a husband and wife team, explore the common superstitions and myths surrounding pregnancy, reflecting their twenty years of experience. I would recommend this book very highly to any woman who is or will become pregnant. The New Arthritis Cure: Eliminate Arthritis and Fibromyalgia Pain Permanently ($15.95, Piccadilly Books, Ltd., softcover) takes note of the fact that the most common cause of disability in the U.S. now affects some 46 million Americans or 21 percent of the population. Dr. Bruce Fife further notes that more than 60 percent of those with arthritis are women. Conventional treatment relies on pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs, therapies that treat the symptoms, but not the underlying cause. Dr. Fife offers a natural, drugless approach to prevention and the potential, as the title suggests, of a complete cure. What you think you know about arthritis, says the author, is probably wrong. Based on research, this nutritionist and naturopathic physician offers an alternative to present treatment methods. Since I do not know enough to judge the accuracy of his views, the reader must make their own conclusions.

Getting Down to Business (Books)

Business Week magazine called George Cloutier the “turnaround ace.” He’s been called other things less pleasant, but Cloutier has some very good advice for small and medium-sized owners in his new book, Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing ($24.99, Harper Business) subtitled “No-nonsense rules from the ultimate contrarian and small business guru.” For example, he advises that you fire every family member but yourself; that weekends are for working, not seeing your children; to never pay your venders on time; and to wear your control freak badge with pride. Some might argue that these and other similar precepts will leave without customers, venders, friends and family, but Cloutier has 30 years as the president of American Management Services, guiding business owners through tough choices to achieve profitability. It’s a $20 million business he built from scratch, so maybe you might want to pick up a copy of his book, eh? A more traditional approach is found in Becoming a Category of One: How Extraordinary Companies Transcend Commodity and Defy Comparison by Joe Calloway ($19.95, Wiley, softcover). Packed with real case studies, plus personal reflections from successful business leaders, the book will help you apply the best practices of the best companies to set yourself apart from your competitors and become a market leader. Most certainly easier said, than done, but that’s why business is a challenge whether you run a multinational corporation or are part of a two-person startup. There is one thing no one will dispute and that is that our nation and our economy is in a process of transition as we recover from the mortgage meltdown mess, credit freeze, and now an administration that tilts strongly toward unions. Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges is now in its third edition ($16.96, Da Capo Press, softcover) and filled with excellent advice for those in leadership positions who need a clear understanding of what changes does to employees and what employees in transition can do to an organization. With chapters on “How to Get People to let Go” and “How to Deal with Nonstop Change”, if this sounds like something you need to know, then this is the book to read.

The Constant Contact Guide to Email Marketing by Eric Groves ($24.95, Wiley) will prove useful to anyone who relies on emailing as a marketing instrument. Groves is Senior Vice President of Global Marketing Development for Constant Contact, a company that many depend upon for technology, support, and education to promote their products and services. Whether you’ve been doing this a while or are new to it, Groves addresses such things as the ten email pitfalls that will get your business into trouble, the ten things your customers expect you to do, how to use email in combination with other types of marketing, building email lists, and much, much more. Anyone who gets email knows that the sender has mere seconds in which to avoid a “delete” decision and seconds more to get the recipient to read and respond. With that in mind, this is a book worth reading. Planet Google by Randall Stross ($15.00, Free Press, softcover) is subtitled “One company’s audacious plan to organize everything we know.” Like Microsoft before it, Google has become such a giant that it verges on antitrust charges and Stross takes a look behind the “image of a cuddly, anti-corporate company whose mantra is “Don’t be evil.” The author reveals the astonishing scope of Google’s vision for the future and how the company has acquired the power to realize its huge ambitions. He was given unprecedented access to Google’s headquarters and its top management, as well as to its company meetings that have not previously been open to an outsider. As a result, he has written a very interesting book about a company whose impact is reshaping how we engage the world.

Science Stuff

I confess I was a latecomer to science in that I rarely took any interest in it in school or college. My focus was literature, but life has a way of steering you in new directions so, when I began to work for clients whose businesses involved some aspect of science, I began to take an interest. There are many interesting books being published on different aspects of science these days.

The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars by Christopher Cokinos ($27.95, Tarcher/Penguin). The ancients regarded shooting stars as omens and Cokinos takes the reader on a journey through time and space as he profiles the maverick scientists, mad dreams, and starry-eyed profiteers who chased meteorites. In time it became a legitimate science and its story takes you from Greenland to Kansas, Australia to the South Pole. Scientists know now how to predict when the Earth is going to experience meteor showers and, on October 21, the Orionids can be seen from the Southeast, one to two hours before dawn. November 17-18 will be the time of the Leonids, best viewed from the East. They have produced some of the greatest meteor storms in history with thousands per hour. The very dust in your home contains particles from the cosmos!

Those for whom the cosmos remains a constant fascination will enjoy Cosmic Conversations by Stephan Martin ($16.99, New Page Books, a division of Career Press, softcover), a collection of interviews with some of the world’s famed scientists, mystics, indigenous elders, and cultural icons, who share their insights on the nature of reality, the interplay of science and religions, the future of humanity, and the role of humans in the evolving universe. Clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you are one of those who thinks about how vast the universe is, filled with thousands, if not millions of galaxies, you will enjoy this mind-tickling book. From the earliest days of modern man, pondering these mysteries has been an element of many civilizations. I recall that when news of the Large Hadron Collider, a gigantic scientific instrument near Geneva, reached the public, the first reaction was to worry whether it would create a black hole that would suck the Earth into oblivion. Collider: The Search for the World’s Smallest Particles by Paul Halpern, Ph.D ($27.95, Wiley) puts those fears to rest while telling the story of this extraordinary scientific quest. Right now the collider has been shut down after a coolant leak and magnet failure, but it is projected to begin collecting data this month. Should the first experiments be successful, it could give scientists new insight into the birth of the universe, how it evolved, what it’s made of, and what governs its behavior. The author does a great job of explaining the science and mysteries of quantum mechanics and Einstein’s theories to provide the reader with an understanding of what we do know and the new knowledge that the collider is likely to provide. Unfortunately what seemed to me to be an interesting topic, the cyclical nature of the universe and everything else was rendered far less so in Samuel A. Schreiner, Jr’s The World According to Cycles ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing) because the author swiftly got bogged down in the stories of the people who initiated the study of cycles and only belatedly gets around to explaining why cycles matter, how to recognize a cycle when you’re in one, and other topics like how cycles can be used to profit financially in the stock market, among other things that the average Joe would find of interest. It is a good effort, but the author, a veteran journalist, is just too interested in the details of who and where, as opposed to why. By contrast, anyone with an interest in mathematics will thoroughly enjoy How Many Licks! Or How to Estimate Damn Near Anything by Aaron Santos, Ph.D. ($14.95, Running Press, softcover). If you have ever wondered how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop or how long it would take to dig one’s way out of prison using just a spoon, this book will prove immensely entertaining as the author applies the user-friendly Fermi method of approximations. No degree in quantum physics is necessary.

Medicine, of course, is a science and Prometheus Books, a favorite of mine, has two books to satisfy the interest and curiosity of those regarding the topic. Gifted Hands: America’s Most Significant Contributions to Surgery by Dr. Seymour I. Schwartz, MD, ($27.95) tells the story of how and why the United States is the established and essentially unchallenged leader in the field of surgery. He provides a sweeping history of American surgical practice and how it advanced from comparatively crude practices to the preeminence of scientific surgery today. This book will interest both layperson and professional alike and is filled with interest examples, the internal squabbles over who developed anesthesia, and the “firsts” such as a gallbladder operation. In the twentieth century, there were great developments in vascular surgery, cardiothoracic surgery and organ transplants. The Real World of a Forensic Scientist: Renowned Experts Reveal What It Takes to Solve Crimes has three authors, Dr. Henry C. Lee, Elaine M. Pagliaro, and Katherine Ramsland ($25.98). Television has greatly increased the public’s interest in this field of science. The story begins with Dr. Lee’s personal story, filled with interesting examples of how science and law enforcement came together, and then goes on to explain how many different disciplines combine to point the finger at criminals in ways that have become standard practice these days.

History, History, History

The only way to understand the present and have a glimpse of what the future may hold is to know history. It is filled with the stories of people who made a difference for good or ill and the way decisions in high places influence events, often dragging people into wars or causing financial ruin over which they have no control.

When Americans talk of the Founding Fathers, they almost always mention George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison. Rarely do they think of James Monroe. He is remembered primarily and almost solely for the Monroe Doctrine letting other nations know that colonization and European interference in America’s affairs and interests was over. Overlooked for too long, Harlow Giles Unger fills the gap with his new book, The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation’s Call to Greatness ($26.00, Da Capo Press). Monroe was America’s fifth president and was largely responsible for expanding the nation’s borders with westward expansion, the construction of roads and canals, and other steps. Despite the fame of the presidents that preceded him, Monroe inherited a nation suffering from political factions, foreign enemies, and bankruptcy. He arrived at the job with a superb resume that included have been a state legislator, a U.S. congressman and senator, ambassador to France and Britain, governor of Virginia, and having served as both U.S. Secretary of State and Secretary of War. America was fortunate to have him as president during a critical time of growth and readers are fortunate to have this extraordinary biography.

Before They Changed the World by Edwin Kiester, Jr. ($19.95, Fair Winds, an imprint of Quayside Publishing Group, softcover) is an interesting book because it looks at the “pivotal moments that shaped the lives of great leaders before they became famous.” As such, it provides an insight that most other history books do not. Here you will learn about such moments for people as diverse as George Washington and Napoleon Bonaparte, Simon Bolivar and Ho Chi Minh, John F. Kennedy to Mohandas Gandhi. Were they born to greatness, had it thrust upon them, or just subject to circumstances that placed them at a certain place at a certain time? Each is unique and, especially for the younger reader, this book is well worth reading. As we all struggle to cope with a new recession that has threatened to grow deeper, Morris Dickstein has authored a timely and entertaining book, Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression ($29.95, W.W. Norton & Company). This is narrative history at its best and a great look back at a very bad time that afflicted an earlier generation of Americans. At the same time, however, it was the time when the Empire State Building as built, when “The Wizard of Oz” was filmed, and the high-stepping Rockettes became a part of American life. It was a time of creativity in film, literature, music and theatre that imprinted the 1930s on our lives. Anyone who loves to read history will find this book a totally satisfying experience.

World War Two continues to generate new books. Zenith Press focuses on it (note “Hitler’s Army” above) and has published a history of the famed 82nd Airborne Division, the first to see combat and the only parachute division still active today. Phil Nordyke captures their story in All American, All the Way: From Sicily to Normandy ($22.99) recalls the role they played as they engaged the enemy in some of the deadliest combat across Italy and at Normandy during the D-Day invasion of Europe. Black Flag: The Surrender of Germany’s U-Boat Forces by Lawrence Paterson ($30.00) tells the story of what followed the May 1945 surrender of Nazi Germany whose Kriegsmarine, its U-boat forces that had waged war in four oceans and five seas, wreaking havoc on Allied and civilian vessels. Stepping back further in history to World War One, Dennis Giangreco has penned The Soldier from Independence: A Military Biography of Harry Truman ($28.00) an often overlooked element of Truman’s life who came of age on the battlefields of France, displaying the leadership that would take the nation through the years following WW2.

To War in a Red Subaru: A Memoir
is a thoroughly engaging story by Adolfo Neufeld ($22.95, Jorge Pinto Books, softcover), a nice Jewish boy from Argentina who, when Israel was barely three years old, decided to see for himself what the new Jewish homeland was all about. Twenty years later, at the start of the Yom Kippur War, he returned to give aid to the nation under siege. It is an interesting story as he moves between his youth in Peronist Argentina to the raining shrapnel of the fight for the Golan Heights. Neufeld has had many adventures, but he does not sugar coat the horrors of war and the imperatives of the Israeli commitment, “Never again”, to survival in the hostile Middle East. It is an exciting, provocative, and inspirational reading experience.

In a similar fashion, Greg Dobbs, a veteran news correspondent for some four decades, tells of covering major news events, spanning 80 nations around the world. Life in the Wrong Lane: Why Journalists Go In When Everyone Else Wants Out ($13.95, Rising Star, iUniverse) provides a look inside the world of journalists who thrive on adrenaline as they struggle to tell the unfolding story of major events. It is a hard life, though often exciting and frequently dangerous. As news media lose their credibility these days, it is worth recalling that some of their members put their lives on the line to tell the truth about what they were seeing. A memoir of life in the Federal Bureau of Investigation is told by Jack Owens in Don’t Shoot! We’re Republicans! ($16.95, Chronology Books, an imprint of History Publishing Company, softcover). Owens never wanted to be anything other than an FBI Special Agent and he lived that ambition, working mostly out of the Birmingham, Alabama, office. His life, working in counterintelligence in Washington, D.C., as part of the FBI Swat Team, and encountering the various directors from Hoover to those who served in the Clinton administration, provides a frequently lighthearted insider look at the agency.

Kid Stuff: Children’s and Younger Reader’s Books

I love the new books for babies to two year olds being published by Begin Smart’s Read-and-Play Program! If you or someone you know has an infant to a toddler, let them know about http://www.beginsmartbooks.com/ because they have some of the most clever creations to get the very young off to a good start with language and other skills. Moreover, the books are sturdy, filled with easily recognizable illustrations, and geared to specific age groups from newborn to six months building early visual activity; from six to twelve months, when babies begin to respond to words and actions; twelve to eighteen months building language development and general concepts; and eighteen months to two years when they make the big leap to following verbal directions and begin to speak. Begin Smart has more than just books; they have tactile learning devices that are fun. Some of the books for the eighteen to two year olds include noise-making devices, big buttons a child can push while mother or dad reads the text. The entire line of items is very impressive.

I am particularly fond of picture books for those who have mastered the fundamentals of reading and, by age 8 and up are taking an interest in good stories and the world around them. Some arrive that are instantly recognizable as unique and special. That’s the case of Lights on Broadway: A Theatrical Tour from A to Z by Harriet Ziefer and wonderfully illustrated by Elliot Kreloff ($19.99, Blue Apple Books, Maplewood, NJ). Never mind that I spent 62 years growing up and living in Maplewood and now live one town over. And never mind that my late Mother took me to countless Broadway matinees as I was growing up. And never mind that the book comes with a CD with a song performed by Tony Award winner, Brian Stokes Mitchell. For those reasons and many more, this is a great introduction to heart of American theatre. Officially due out in November, this book will delight any young boy or girl with thoughts of a career in show business someday. It is truly a complete course about the theatre. You can check out this book at www.blueapplebooks.com. I believe children should be introduced to the arts early on so as to tap into their own creativity and apparently so do MaryAnn F. Kohl and Kim Solga who have authored Great American Artists for Kids: Hands-On Art Experiences in the Styles of Great American Masters ($18.95, Bright Ring Publishing, Bellingham, WA). I have long been a judge for the annual Benjamin Franklin Awards and was happy to see this book had earned a Silver Award for Excellence in its category. From age 4 up through 12, this book introduces 79 American artists through open-ended art activities that encourage the reader to explore different art styles. Along the way, they read biographies, and learn about painting, drawing, sculpture, photography, architecture, and more. It’s a complete hands-on experience. This publisher specializes in bringing the world of art to kids. Visit www.brightring.com to learn about its other books.

Among the picture books for young readers (or those to whom a book can be read), there’s the Pumpkin Baby by Jane Yolen and illustrated by Susan Mitchell ($19.95, Key Porter Kids Ltd., Ontario) about the remarks between two sisters, one the mother of a girl who starts out at age 3, in which the sisters tease each other about having babies. As she gets older, she tries to figure out what the banter means about pumpkins, cabbages, and storks bringing babies, while discovering what it means when she becomes an older sister to one. It’s a comforting story for children who might fear they will play second fiddle to a new child. Yolen is one of the most prolific writers of children’s books today and a winner of the coveted Caldecott Award. In The Scarecrow’s Dance, beautifully illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline, ($21.99, Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers), she spins the sale of a scarecrow who gets loose from the pole to which he’s fastened and has an adventure, dancing in the corn field and finding his way to the farmhouse where he hears a boy’s prayer for his well-being as he guards the fields from crows. He returns to the field, knowing that’s his job and is proud to serve. Yolan tells a Christmas tale in Under the Star: A Christmas Counting Story illustrated by Vlasta van Kampen ($19.95, Key Porter Kids), retelling the story of the birth of Jesus, using numbers from a single angel up to ten children who, along with shepherds and animals, come to visit the new child.

Chester Raccoon and the Acorn Full of Memories by Audrey Penn and illustrated by Barbara L. Gibson ($16.95, Tanglewood Press) that subtly teaches children age 3 to 8 how to deal with the loss of a loved one or friend or the need to attend a funeral when Chester learns that his friend, Skiddel Squirrel has had an accident and will not be returning. His mother teaches him how to retain his memories of his friend and how to memorialize him. This may sound like a dark subject, but it is handled so well and with such beautiful artwork that it provides a cushion of comfort. Ms. Penn is the author of several bestselling children’s books. You can visit www.audreypenn.com to learn more.

For teens, 14 and up, there’s a wonderful and scary book, The Monstrumologist by Rick Yancey ($17.99, Simon and Schuster) that begins in 1888. An orphan, Will Henry, is apprentice to a monster-hunting doctor. When a grave robber knocks on the door, he brings their most dangerous case; a corpse entwined with the body of an Anthropophagus—a monster that feeds through a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth in its belly. They are supposed by be extinct! The story is chock-full of gruesome graveside encounters and thrilling pursuits. Yancey has a track record as the author of the award-winning Alfred Kropp series, as well as several novels for adults. This novel is the first in a new gothic series.

Novels, Novels, Novels!

There is hardly a day that goes by when I do not receive an email from self-published novelists. That’s because modern technology has made it affordable to have one’s book produced, literally with as many or few copies “on demand” as the author may require. Promoting one’s book via blogs and websites is becoming a way to create “buzz” and sales. Most, however, do not prosper because most have not gone from through the vetting process that occurs when a fulltime publishing firm, large or small, gives thought to the literary merit, the quality of the writing, and takes on the financial risk of publication, promotion, and distribution.

That is why Bookviews tends to favor full time publishers and their authors because, for the former, their livelihood depends upon the success of the books that select and offer. Just out this month is The Test by Patricia Gussin ($24.95, Oceanview Publishing), a suspenseful and complex plot that introduces the Parnell family, a complicated one, quite wealthy, and in modern terms, extraordinarily dysfunctional. Determined to leave something more value that money to his six children, the patriarch, Paul Parnell, has left a will that stipulates that the lion’s share of a two billion dollar fortune will be divided among the heirs who pass “the test.” The six children have only a year and it is one the reader will not forget as the test becomes one of life or death. A historical novel about the son of Sacagawea, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, is found in Across the Endless River by Thad Carhart ($26.95, Doubleday). The real Jean-Bastiste was born in 1805 during the Lewis and Clark expedition, the son of the translators. The novel evokes the formative years of this mixed-blood child of the frontier in Missouri as he is raised by his parents among the villages of the Mandan tribe and as William Clark’s war in St. Louis. In 1823, the 18-year-old is invited to cross the Atlantic. He encounters a world he could barely imagine and he encounters love with the daughter of a French-Irish wine merchant. He must make a choice whether to stay in Europe or return to the wilds of North America. This is an excellent story, well told. The early years of America are captured in Gloryland by Shelton Johnson ($25.00, Sierra Club Books/Counterpoint). Born on Emancipation Day, 1863, to a sharecropping family of African and Indian blood, Elijah Yancy never lived as a slave, but his self-image as a free person is at war with his surroundings, Spartanburg, South Carolina, during Reconstruction. For his own survival, he is sent West to the Nebraska plains and joins the U.S. Cavalry. Through his life the reader experiences the expansion of the nation. This is a powerful story that will prove very satisfying for its unique characters and setting in time.

For those who love heart-pounding action, there’s Roy Hayes’ new novel, The Last Days of Las Vegas ($14.95, Solothurnli Corporation, softcover) which takes the espionage genre to a higher level, involving thirty significant characters, 45 secondary ones, and a story that takes place in 25 different places, large and small, including London, Lisbon, Maastricht, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, to name just a few. There are 50 chapters and you will feel like you have visited these places by the time you are through. Hayes knows how to set a plot in motion and his previous novels have all drawn high praise from critics. His main character is described as a reluctant spy, a tad burned out and more cynical than ever. He’s no James Bond. He’s real. Ask yourself what it would be like if someone wanted to nuke Las Vegas? You need to jump into this book with plenty of time to read so you can follow its intricacies. To learn more, click on www.thelastdaysoflasvegas.com.

In softcover editions, there are a number of entertaining novels. Dragon House is a new novel by John Shors ($15.00, New American Library). Set in modern-day Vietnam, it tells the tale of Iris and Noah, two Americans who, as a way to heal their own painful pasts, open a center to house and education Vietnamese street children. The novel’s themes are that of suffering, sacrifice, friendship and love. It brings together East and West, war and peace, and celebrates the resilience of the human spirit. Check this novel out at www.dragonhousebook.com and then read it. If suspense is your literary choice, you will find plenty in Sophie Hannah’s The Wrong Mother ($15.00, Penguin Books) that tells the story of a brief affair during a trip away from the duties of wife and mother. That might have been the end of it had she not come upon the gentleman’s name. All the details are the same as to where he lives, his wife and daughter, but both of them have been murdered and the photo is not the man with whom she had the affair. She realizes her own family is in peril. Tracy Price-Thompson offers up a sexy novel, 1-900-A-N-Y-T-I-M-E ($15.00, Atria Books) whose central character was born crippled and severely deformed, but she has the voice of an angel and the actor’s ability to be anyone her caller’s imagine and want. Now in her 20s, she makes a living with her service, but she is inevitably drawn into her caller’s life and must make peace with her own disabilities. By contrast, A Taste of Fame by Linda Evans Shepherd and Eva Marie Everson ($13.99, Revell) is part of the “Potluck Catering Club” series and this time the Summit View, Colorado ladies find themselves invited to participate in a television reality show where the top prize is a million dollars! How they navigate New York, cutthroat contestants, and maintaining their close friendship in a surreal world makes for a lot of fun reading.

If you prefer to listen to a good novel, you can never go wrong with Hachette Audio editions. Among the new titles available are Michael Connelly’s Void Moon; Josh Bazell’s Beat the Reaper; Elizabeth Kostove’s The Historian, and Anita Shreve’s A Change in Altitude. These and many other books, non-fiction as well as fiction, offer hours of enjoyment and a recommend that you check them out at www.hachetteaudio.com.

That’s it for October! I turned 72 this month and for more than half that time, I have been reviewing and recommending books. The National Book Critics Circle celebrated its 35th anniversary last month and I was there among the founding members. Time flies when you’re having fun!

Tell your friends about Bookviews by Alan Caruba; now a blog after many years as a website. And come back in November. Time to start making your Christmas lists of gift and books are some of the best gifts ever.