By Alan Caruba
My Picks of the Month
By far the greatest scandal of the Obama administration has been the revelations about the Department of Justice gun-running operation to Mexican drug cartels called “Fast and Furious.” As bad as this program proved to be—including the murder of a Border Patrol office with one of the guns involved in the program—it is the cover up that followed as the Attorney General and others stonewalled congressional inquiries. Katie Pavlich, a reporter with extensive contacts within the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has written Fast and Furious: Barack Obama’s Bloodiest Scandal and its Shameless Cover Up ($27.95, Regnery Publishing) and, while she has been interviewed on C-SPAN and a few other media outlets, the mainstream media has in general ignored this story, having buried similar evidence of wrong-doing. In short, the program was intended to smear gun shop owners with the assertion that it is they, not the drug cartels, who are responsible for the thousands of deaths that have resulted and for the establishment of drug trade routes into America and the virtual takeover of a section of Arizona as their “stash houses.” The program is an attack on the Second Amendment right to own guns by Obama, his Attorney General Eric Holder, and the Secretary of Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, all with a long history of opposition to gun ownership and now with instances of perjury in their testimony to congressional committees. She tells a fact-filled, well-documented story of this scandal and every American should read this book before they go to the polls in November.
I am not a fan of Rachel Maddow, the MSNBC host. She is a liberal. I am a conservative. That said, she has written a very good book on how America goes to war, how our military has changed, how distanced the civilian population for those doing the fighting, and how Congress has abandoned its constitutional responsibility to declare war. The U.S. has not done so since World War Two. The Founding Fathers were wary of standing armies and giving a chief executive the right to take the nation into war by himself. It was and still is a very good policy. Ms. Maddow has written a book, Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power ($25.95, Crown Publishers) that is on the bestseller lists and deserves to be. It’s a serious subject and I wish she wrote in a more serious style, but style is of little importance when discussing the fact that the U.S. has not truly won a war since WWII. Moreover, the wars we do get into drag out interminably. We won the war against the Axis and Empire of Japan in four years. We have been in Afghanistan for more than a decade and only recently exited Iraq after invading in 2003. We have little to show for either engagement. This is an important book worth reading. While I do not agree with some of her conclusions, I think she has written an important book.
The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service by Henry A. Crumpton ($27.95, the Penguin Group) is “must reading” for anyone who wants to gain an invaluable insight into the role of intelligence gathering in general and the CIA in particular. Crumpton, now a retired officer who gave some four decades of his life to the service, provides a look at the CIA that is rare. This is not surprising given the agency’s devotion and need for secrecy. Crumpton first applied to the agency to become a spy at the age of ten! He was admitted in his early twenties and held many different positions within the agency, the last being director of national resources. He gained recognition outside the agency for his role following 9/11 in driving al Qaeda and the Taliban from Afghanistan. In a recent “60 Minutes” interview, he warned that the nation’s enemies have more spies inside American since the days of the Cold War. A corollary to Crumption’s book is Peter L. Bergen’s Manhunt: The Ten-Year Search for Bin Laden ($26.00, Crown Publishers) a review of the long effort to find and kill the man behind 9/11 and many previous attacks on American embassies and other targets like the USS Cole. The author is an expert on Bin Laden, having written “The Osama bin laden I know”, “Holy War”, and “The Longest War”, each a careful analysis of the threat he and al Qaeda pose. His latest book provides many new details of bin Laden’s flight after the defeat of the Taliban to Tora Bora where American troops came close to capturing him. After 9/11 his life became a constant search for a safe place to hide. Bergen paints a picture of his Spartan life in hiding while trying to maintain control of al Qaeda as American drones killed his key lieutenants. His end was the result of tireless efforts by the CIA who ultimately found him less than a mile from Pakistan’s military academy.
I am a fan of Jonah Goldberg, a leading voice among the nation’s conservatives, but his latest book, The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas ($27.95, Sentinel Penguin) proved to be a disappointment because I found myself growing bored within the first fifteen minutes or so of reading it. It’s not that he doesn’t make a case for the misuse of language to advance liberal notions such as “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” or that peace comes with mutual understanding. There are lots of genuinely mushy notions that liberals believe that do not reflect history or reality, but Goldberg has written a book when a commentary would do. For those who like to wrestle with ideas, his book will prove a useful exercise.
Popular culture not only reflects our society, but is by definition fun. Comic books have been a part of that and the characters on The Big Bang Theory pay homage to its heyday. Now Brian Cronin has tapped fellow enthusiasts who have seen comic book characters go from paper to the wide screen in theatres and at home. Why Does Batman Carry Shark Repellent? And Other Amazing Comic Book Trivia ($15.00, Plume, softcover) is very entertaining, featuring lists on all aspects of comics from characters to artists to story lines. Want to know the ten most memorable moments in DC Comics history, the ten highest grossing comic book movies of all time, or the nine celebrities who guest-starred in comics without their permission? For comic book fans, this book is one they will have to have. For fans of the movies, there’s Peter Bart’s Infamous Players: A Tale of Movies, the Mob (and Sex) ($15.00, Weinstein Books, softcover) in which the former Paramount vice president and Variety editor-in-chief takes the reader on a behind-the-scenes look at Hollywood in the late 1960s and early 1970s. This is the real story as told by someone who was there and responsible in part for The Godfather, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby, Serpico and Paper Moon, to name just a few. For a film aficionado this book will provide some wonderful stories involving iconic stars like Steve McQueen, Jack Nicholson, Marlon Brando and many others.
A number of books by Joseph D’Agnese have crossed my desk over the years. He is a passionate historian and patriot, chronicling the lives of the Founding Fathers with his co-author Denise Kiernan. They are back with a dandy little book you could put in your pocket or purse, Stuff Every American Should Know ($9.95, Quirk Books) that would be an ideal gift for a younger member of the family next month on the Fourth of July. It runs the gamut from explaining the difference between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution to answering who invented blue jeans and why. It’s not who you think! It is a very interesting introduction to U.S. history and fills in gaps in one’s knowledge. It entertains. It makes you proud and happy to be an American.
Memoirs, Autobiographies and Biographies
A memoir of what life was like after Iranian Revolution in 1979 is told by Aria Minu-Sephehr, We Heard the Heavens Then ($25.00. Free Press) the son of one of the Shah’s most powerful military leaders when the Iranian monarchy collapsed. He was ten years old at the time and had enjoyed a modern, cosmopolitan life of privilege. He lives today because his family moved to the United States to escape the wrath of the ayatollahs. Today he is the founder of the Forum for Middle East Awareness and his book offers a firsthand account of the forces that took over Iran and why. It is, he says, a clash between modernity and religion. This is an account of growing up in the wake of being on the losing side of a revolution.
Larry King has written an entertaining memoir of his years as a reporter and television interviewer as well as his own life behind the scenes in Truth Be Told, now available in softcover ($15.00, Weinstein Books). King grew up in the Depression as the son of Russian immigrants and would become known to millions as the host of the longest running television show with the same host. It was beamed live into 200 nations and may have done more to let the rest of the world know about America than anything comparable. As a student at the University of Miami, I often visited Pumpernik’s restaurant on Miami Beach, but I was surprised to learn that King first began is broadcast career there. During his fifty years he interviewed just about everyone in show business, various tycoons and politicians. He has had his health scares along the way, but today at age 77, he is the father to two young boys, helping to coach their Little League team. It’s a good read.
An interesting memoir is told by Paul Stutzman. When he lost his wife of 36 years to cancer, he undertook a journey that was transformative and regenerating. He tells the story of Hiking Through: One Man’s Journey to Peace and Freedom on the Appalachian Trail ($13.99, Revell, softcover) of a 2,176 mile journey through fourteen states and what he learned over five months, immersing himself in nature and befriending fellow hikers to find healing and closure. He began confused and wondering if God had a plan for his life. “I set out to find out the answer. I know it does not make much sense to the average person, but I believe God called me out to the wilderness to teach me lessons.” Many came from strangers he met along the trail; a Catholic priest on a sabbatical, a young man recently divorced, wealthy people and poor. As he learned, everyone is equal on that difficult trail from Georgia to Maine. This is an inspiring story, particularly in times when many of us feel burdened by life’s challenges, asking the same questions.
Getting Down to Business Books
It must be said that, after years of reviewing business books, there is as the Bible says, nothing new under the sun. The topics remain essentially the same, but are tweaked to respond to new technologies and trends. It doesn’t mean the books are any less useful, particularly for someone trying to create a roadmap to a career or to manage a business.
Everyone runs into obstacles in life and Bill Wackermann says you need to Flip the Script ($26.00, Free Press) a guide on “How to turn the tables and win in business and life.” The author has gained a reputation for doing that, turning around businesses by combining ingenuity and innovative branding. He has made him the youngest executive vice president at Conde Nast in the company’s history. Funny, engaging, and extremely practical, this book will be especially useful to young professionals, spelling out core principles of the process and thus achieving the respect of one’s bosses and co-workers. Attitude is much of what this book is about and Wackermann says you must find a good role model, stay open to change, project confidence, and develop a genuine sense of humility.
Sharing the Sandbox: Building and Leading World-Class Teams in the 21st Century by Dean M. Brenner, president of The Latimer Group ($24.95, AG Books) addresses the way the new century has made it harder than ever to be an effective team leader. Ironically, the Internet both facilitates communication and leads people to think they are an expert who can do the job better. The author lays out a roadmap for creating winning teams that reach their goals and, in doing so, will greatly aid anyone who wants to spearhead successful projects, enhance their career, and effectively provide leadership for any team effort. Not surprisingly, he is the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Sailing Program, responsible for leading athletes and coaches preparing for the 2012 Summer Games. Greg DiCillo is the cofounder and president of Life Cycle Strategies, Inc. and an expert in marketing principles and methodologies of product management. He brings twenty years to this constant challenge and now has authored Dominate Your Space: Unleashing the Power of Your Product Managers ($16.95, Life Cycle Strategies, softcover). The book is designed for middle market and large industrial and B2B business executives, CEOs, and entrepreneurs. In short, anyone who has to sell something to someone. It is a slim book and that is a plus. It is a practical guide for assessing, building and sustaining a high performance product-management organization. If that is one of your goals, pick up this book.
To Your Health!
America may be the most health-conscious nation on Earth. The airwaves and print media are filled with constant stories about aspects of health and health maintenance. This is reflected as well in the number of books devoted to the subject.
As Americans live longer lives, the issue of dementia becomes a greater risk and problem. For those who have been diagnosed with it, Dementia: The Journey Ahead: A Practical Guide for in-Home Caregivers by Susan Kiser Scarff with Ann Kiser Zultner ($16.95, Langdon Street Press, softcover) will prove to be a great help. The transition to caregiver is often a difficult one for a spouse who must become a nurse or a child who must take on new responsibilities. An estimated six to eight million American homes experience this every year. Susan Scarff unexpectedly found herself in this situation for her husband, turning daily activities into arduous tasks and constant supervision. There was both physical and emotional hardship and her book not only chronicles the transition, but provides much useful advice for others in a similar situation.
For everyone who must deal with a physician or faces a stay at the hospital, The Take-Charge Patient: How You Can Get the Best Medical Care by Martine Ehrenclou ($19.95, Lemon Grove Press, softcover) is based on interviews with more than two hundred medical professionals. It is filled with advice on how to be your own best advocate, how to choose the right doctor and prepare for medical appointments, prevent medical and medication errors, and master your health insurance, as well as find discounted medical care, medications, and much more. This is an inside look at the way the medical system works and how to get the best medical care. It has been hailed by many in the medical community and is a treasure trove of useful information. An interesting and disturbing book along the same lines is Addicted Healers: 5 Key Signs Your Healthcare Professional May be Drug Impaired by Dr. Ethan O. Bryson ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) due out in September. The author warns that prescription drug abuse represents a serious and growing public health problem in the medical profession. It puts those undergoing medical treatment at risk and urges the public to become more active in spotting the problem and reporting it. The author is an associate professor in the departments of anesthesia and psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. One hopes that the media will take notice of this book and share notice of it.
The Healthcare Cure: How Sharing Information Can Make the System Work Better by Jeff Margolis ($21.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) addresses the needs of more than 250 million Americans who have health insurance coverage. Most do not know how the healthcare system works or their role in it. It is frequently a time of confusion and frustration when they try to navigate their way through the tangled web of benefits and care. Margolis, an industry expert, offers a look at the system from the perspective of various industry participants and recommendations on how it can be adjusted to produce better results by combining information technology with the right incentives. This is a real insider’s look at the system and a worthy contribution on how to fix it.
History as Told by Scholars and Those That Lived it
I love reading history because, as the philosopher George Santayana said, “Those who do not remember history are bound to live through it again.”
The science of astronomy was advanced on June 3, 1769 when scientists of that time measured the transit of Venus as it passed directly between the Sun and the Earth. The story is told in The Day the World Discovered the Sun: An Extraordinary Story of Scientific Adventure and the Race to Track the Transit of Venus by Mark Anderson ($26.00, Da Capo Press). The event permitted scientists to discover the physical dimensions of the solar system and reveal a crucial key to worldwide navigation. Venus will repeat the trip on June 5, 2012. Anderson tells the stories of the three most important transit voyages and the men that tracked it; a French astronomer Jean-Baptiste Chappe d’Auteroche, British naval officer James Cook, and a Hungarian priest, Maximilian Hell, all of whom endured adventure and hardship to track Venus’s journey across the Sun. All theirs and other measurements from scores of other observations around the world were collected and studied, the greatest astronomical puzzle of the day was slowly pieced together, making longitude measurements at sea more accessible than ever before. It opened the door for a new age of exploration.
To the extent that we did not learn the lessons of the Great Depression, the nation is again learning its lessons—or not. Michael Hiltzil, the author of “Colossus”, has written The New Deal: A Modern History ($16.99, Free Press, softcover) that takes the reader back to that period that left millions unemployed, introduced Social Security, and by virtue of various “experiments” with the economy, stretched it out ten years until the advent of World War II. Then as now Wall Street experienced a slew of legislation that affected its ability to rebuild the economy due to constraints on credit. High rates of taxation were also the order of the day. If you are unfamiliar with that critical decade, this book will provide much insight.
Private First Class Gregory V. Short arrived in Vietnam in early February 1968. He was an 18-year-old Marine, a mortarman with the 2nd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, stationed at Con Thien near the DMZ. He begins his story there in Ground Pounder: A Marine’s Journey Through South Vietnam 1968-1969 ($29.95, University of North Texas Press.) The living conditions were awful and the unit was constantly bombarded by the North Vietnamese. His next assignment was as a forward observer and, working with the U.S. Army’s 1st Air Cavalry Division and other units, he helped relieve the siege at Khe Sanh close to the Laotian border where contact with the enemy was often heavy and always chaotic. For a generation whose grandfathers fought there as well as those who find military history of interest, this is a gritty story of what it was like to fight in that long ago war. Today, Short is a retired educator who resides in Denton, Texas.
Nine Rubies by Mahru Ghashghaei as told to Susan Synder ($15.99, Ideas--Inventive Designs for Education & the Arts, available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony and iBookstore, softcover) is a testimony to friendship and the value of personal stories. In the case of Mahru, it is an Iranian woman, abandoned by her father, whose sister was abused and tricked into marrying against her will at age 13, and a shocking family secret that very nearly destroyed her life as a young woman. Through sheer strength of character, she persevered, became a nurse, and trained medical volunteers during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. With a group of friends, she adopted nine orphaned boys to keep them from foster care and further harm while the nation was at war. When staying in Iran became untenable, Mahru left her family and started a new life in America with her husband and sons. Susan Synder became her friend, someone who collected family oral histories. For insight into what life in Iran was like after the ayatollahs took control and what it still is, it is a look inside Iran and the Middle East and a reason to help bring freedom to the religious and politically strive-torn region.
Books for Younger Readers
Many children are born with hearing loss and Wendy Kupfer, the mother of a child with severe to profound hearing loss, has written a children’s book for ages three to seven, Let’s Hear It for Amigal ($16.99, Handfinger Press) to provide those with hearing aids and cochlear implants enjoy self-esteem and to help educate their friends. Amigal is a spirited child, but unhappy that she can’t hear the things we take for granted. By portraying Amigal as a confident little girl, the book provides a terrific resource for teachers, parents, and caregivers. Delightfully illustrated by Tammie Lyon, it is beautiful, upbeat story. An estimated 12,000 babies are born each year with hearing loss and this lighthearted and informative book will bring a lot of joy into their lives.
Pre-teens and older will enjoy a fantasy tale, The Rock of Ivanore – Book One: The Celestine Chronicles by Laurisa White Reyes ($16.95, Tanglewood) that begins as Marcus and other boys from the village come of age when the wizard Zyll commands them to find the Rock of Ivanore. Marcus must develop new magic powers and survive the wild lands in his search for the Rock. Filled with twists and turns, the plot will hold the reader’s attention as it is filled with adventure and action.
Zest Books, (http://www.zestbooks.net/) publishes lots of fun books about pop culture and The End ($12.99, softcover) is subtitled “50 apocalyptic visions from pop culture that you should know about before it’s too late.” Since the Mayan end of the world prediction is slated for December 21 this year, this is a timely book that looks at all the ways films, television, paintings, songs, literature and other works of art have depicted this ancient and on-going theme. The world has not come to an end despite all the predictions and for teens this will prove very good news.
Novels, Novels, Novels
So many novels, so little time to read them all; for the purpose of this monthly report here is a selection that offer entertainment as the summer begins.
A number of softcover books will provide hours of entertainment and of insight into life in other nations. Zakhar Prilepin, the winner of the Russian National Bestseller Prize and Russian Super Natsbest Prize, demonstrates why he is so popular there and gaining an international reputation. He writes of life in modern Russia. His novel, Sin ($24.95, Glagoslav Publications) is a guided tour of Russia’s recent past and present, replete with the issues of unemployment, poverty, violence, and local wars, all seen through the prism of the relationships of its characters, both loved ones and strangers. It is an intensely human story that takes you to a different place that, at the same time, feels familiar. The world of WWII Egypt is the setting for Jasmine Nights by Julia Gregson ($16.00, Touchstone/Simon and Schuster) for a powerful story of love, adventure, beauty and danger. It is a travelogue of sorts, from England to Egypt to Turkey, filled with exotic sights and sounds, as Saba Tarcan, a talented singer who longs to break free from her traditional Turkish father who will not allow her to sing in public. She jumps at the change to join the Entertainment National Service Association, becoming part of a theatrical company sent to entertain the soldiers at the height of the desert war in North Africa. She is asked by the British Secret Service to take part in a covert mission and complications ensue. It’s an intricate story of two people struggling to hold onto their love for one another in perilous times.
I am not generally a fan of novels that mix reality and fantasy, by Lauren Santaniello pulls it off in Death of Ignorance ($21.95, Stories to Tell), a dark psychological thriller filled with suspense, fantasy and romance. It centers on Alex Sharrock who, after witnessing his father’s murder, as a child renounces religion and God. It takes up his life thirteen years later when the 19-year-old is the lead singer for a popular rock band. He is haunted by persistent memories, nightmares, and pushed to the brink of sanity when he discovers that he is a Seer, the last of a race believed to have been eliminated by Satan’s army centuries earlier. Not light reading by any means, but a dark, intriguing story. Finally, there’s Piero Rivolta’s Journey Beyond 2012 ($21.95, New Chapter Publishers, hardcover) that is pegged to the end-of-the-world Mayan prediction. For anyone who enjoys a philosophical journey that explores modern life, a meditation on its meaning, and the nature of our existence, this book will provide a cosmic morality tale that ranges over many of the issues that represents the headlines of our present time. It challenges our beliefs, our aspirations, and our human desire for survival.
That’s it for June! Remember to tell all your book-loving friends, family, and co-workers about Bookviews, the only monthly report on new fiction and non-fiction that provides news of books across a wide range of subjects. And come back in July for still more!