Sunday, September 29, 2013

Bookviews - October 2013

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

For policy wonks like myself, a number of new books will provide a variety of insights. In 2012, the  U.S. Supreme Court became the center of the political world when, in a decision that astonished constitutional scholars or ordinary citizens, it voted 5-to-4 to save the Affordable Care Act, commonly called Obamacare. The story of how the case reached the Court is told by Josh Blackman in Unprecedented: The Constitutional Challenge to Obamacare ($27.99, Public Affairs) and, given its impact, affecting individuals, physicians, the increase in the size of the government to administer and enforce it, and the economy, it will be one of those decisions that has far-reaching effects on life in America. The fight to overturn Obamacare became a legal firestorm, but the best way to understand it was the broadening of the already-stretched-to-the-limits Commerce Clause. The ruling said in effect that the government had the right to require people to purchase health insurance even if they did not want to and the right to fine them if they did not. This is unprecedented. Ultimately, the Chief Justice cast the deciding vote on the grounds that Obamacare was a tax and the constitution assigns that right to the government. The law goes into full effect this month and has already been unilaterally altered by the Obama administration and is replete with waivers for various favored constituencies.

In the Balance: Law and Politics in the Roberts Court by Mark Tushnet ($28.95, W.W. Norton) will likely appeal to lawyers and those with an interest in the way shapes public policy. Most certainly, Chief Justice Roberts’ vote that permitted Obamacare—the Affordable Care Act—to proceed on the basis of its being a tax will be of greatest interest to readers. The author is a professor at the Harvard Law School and a prominent scholar on constitutional law, so those concerned about the role the Court plays will find much of interest as he and others try to determine the outcome of future votes and the thinking behind previous ones. He reviews cases involving First Amendment, gun control, abortion rights, business regulations and other issues, concluding that law and politics exist side by side on the Court.

Two new books take a look back over the politics and issues that have shaped and changed life in America since the 1960s. Front Porch Politics: The Forgotten Heyday of American Activism in the 1970s and 1980s by Michael Stewart Foley ($30.00, Hill and Wang) recounts the history of campaigns both famous and forgotten, from the steelworker’s fights against factory shut-downs to farmer’s struggles to save their farms and communities, along with other examples of community activists and neighborhood groups demanding toxic waste clean-ups. The better known battles of the time included gay rights, and helping the homeless. He concludes that Americans were more inclined to get directly involved in issues that affected them while today they seem to have lost their belief in direct political action. All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s by Robert O. Self ($17.00, Hill and Wang) examines the way the changes affecting marriage and the nuclear family affected the politics of the last five decades as more single-parent families occurred, as programs such as Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty actually worsened the situation, particularly for African Americans, than anticipated, and as issues such as same-sex marriage emerged. The changing role of the white heterosexual male as the breadwinner was significantly changed and the issues of “traditional values” regarding the family came under attack. It is a very different society from that which existed following the end of World War Two and this book explains the how and why of that change.

A massive campaign to demonize people who enjoy lighting up a cigarette, a cigar or a pipe has led to bans on smoking just about everywhere, including in some places, in one’s own home if children live there. Michael McFadden has written “TobakkoNacht: The Antismoking Endgame.” (Aethna Press, $27.95, softcover) The title is a play on Kristallnach, a 1938 event in Nazi Germany that revealed the depths of that regime’s hatred of Jews, leading eventually to the Holocaust. Smokers are not being rounded up and killed, but they are subjected to bans and meritless increases in the cost of smoking; taxes that greatly benefit the states imposing them while using the power of taxation to denigrate smokers. McFadden’s research is extensive and in depth when it comes to exposing the many myths about smoking and his expert knowledge of statistics debunks how they are cited to further efforts directed against smokers. To learn about the scope of the effort to ban smoking, this book will provide the answers and I highly recommend it.

A few miles from where I live is West Orange where Thomas Edison lived and had his laboratories after his early years in Menlo Park. We now take for granted those early and many inventions, the incandescent light bulb, movies, phonograph machines, even Portland cement.. Edison was the first business celebrity, along with Ford and Firestone, and it is fitting that another innovator, Bill Gates, would have written the foreword to Edison and the Rise of Innovation ($29.95, Sterling Publishing). It is a really wonderful book about the prolific inventor and the way he combined scientific knowledge, well-equipped laboratories, talented collaborators, investment capital, and a real talent for showmanship in ways that transformed how new technologies were funded and created as the last century dawned. Leonard DeGraaf, the archivist for the Thomas Edison National Historical Park, was the ideal man to write this book that, in a large format, is filled with Edison’s examples of his personal and business correspondence, lab notebooks, drawings, all lavishly illustrated to bring his life, his success and his era to life in a way that anyone who loves history will thoroughly enjoy. Thinking ahead to Christmas, this book would make a great gift for anyone with an interest in history, technology, and innovation.

There is endless discussion and debate about the educational system in America and everyone agrees that kids in the inner cities are often cheated of the benefits of those in wealthier suburban area. Ilana Garon has done them a big favor with “Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens?: Teaching Lessons from the Bronx ($24.95, Skyhorse Publishing) as she tosses out political correctness and the popular image of the “teacher-hero” and reveals the true stories, sometimes hilarious, often shocking, that she encountered as a new teacher navigating the public school system. From gang violence to teen pregnancy, to classrooms infested with mice, Garon say it all. In the process, her wily students made her realize how little she knew about teaching, about poverty, and about life in urban America. In the process she provides the reader with some real insight to what is occurring (or not) in classrooms where securing an education must cope with many other challenges.

The Topic is Health

One need only listen to radio or watch television to realize how health-conscious Americans are. They are obsessed with the topic. It is no surprise, therefore that there are also a regular flow of books on various health-related topics. Here are some of the latest.

Every parent wants their baby to grow up healthy and happy. Ruth Yaron has updated and revised Super Baby Food ($19.99, F.J. Roberts Publishing, softcover) topping out at just over 650 pages! When her twin boys were born prematurely and very sick, she applied herself to learning everything about how to prepare natural, healthy foods for them. While she knew how to program satellites for NASA, she was an inexperienced cook, but she put her research and mathematical skills to work as she studied all aspects of homemade, mostly organic, whole grain cereals, fruits, and home-cooked vegetables, along with the best storing and freezing methods. Within this remarkable compendium of information on the subject is a whole world of healthy foods for newborns and infants. 

Making Peace with Your Plate: Eating Disorder Recovery by Robyn Cruse and Espra Andrus, LCSW ($16.95, Central Recovery Press, softcover) addresses anorexia, an eating disorder that has the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Then there is binge eating and bulimia as well that can bring misery and death. Ms. Andrus is a clinical therapist who specializes in working with people suffering a range of eating disorders. Ms. Cruze recovered from an eating disorder that had crippled her spirit for more than a decade. She is a freelance writer and, together, they have produced a book that will be of enormous help to anyone struggling to overcome an eating disorder with its unique three-phase approach to eating that provides a concrete plan for long-term recovery. If this describes someone you know, I would recommend you give them this book. Also from the same publisher is Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey by Deborah Shouse ($15.95, CRP, softcover. This book provides compelling evidence that love is the greatest healing force on earth and the author tells of how Alzheimer’s disease began to claim her mother, it threatened the fabric of her parent’s long and loving marriage, and strained relationships with family and friends. However, over time when even memory and identity were all but gone, they found ways to make their peace with her disease. For anyone facing a comparable experience, this book will be a blessing. Both of these books has an official publication date in November.

A problem that is all too common is establishing and maintaining relationships and, in Forging Healthy Connections: How Relationships Fight Illness, Aging and Depression ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) Trevor Crow and Maryann Karinch join forces to explore strategies that anyone can implement in order to create and maintain a healthy network of connections that provide an emotional safe haven in our professional and personal lives. They examine why so many of us fail or lose relationships as we age, explore trust issues, and other causes of a loss that has a direct effect on our health and mental well-being. Ms. Crow is a licensed marriage and family therapist and Ms. Karinch is the author of 18 books, many of which focus on human behavior. Together they make a great team and this book can help anyone, older readers and those who will be older, resolve some of the problems they may be encountering. A useful book is 9 Realities of Caring for an Elderly Parent: A Love Story of a Different Kind by Stefania Shaffer (19.95, Pressman Books, softcover) is written for the 43.5 million American adults who provide care for someone—their spouses, friends, and most of all, their parents. This guidebook will provide a treasure of useful advice, but perhaps the most important is for the caregiver to attend to their own health because it does take a toll if you do not. And it can be costly, too. If you are a caregiver or know one, this book is filled with the kind of information and advice that is invaluable.

Healing Pain and Injury by Maud Nerman ($24.95, Bay Tree Publishing, softcover), an assistant professor at the Western University College of Osteopathic Medicine and an adjunct clinical professor at Tuoro University Medical Center, brings over thirty years of experience to the subject of recovery from all manner of neurological problems from brain injury to epilepsy.  The book’s focus is treating pain and injury resulting from trauma. The author offers three simple steps to understanding and treating the hidden and little recognized causes of traumatic pain. If you continue to experience pain despite treatment, this book may unlock the doors to relief.

Biographies, Autobiographies & Memoirs

You could fill a library with books about Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the only man to win four elections to the presidency, a man who led the nation through World War II, and a master politician. It is the younger Roosevelt who is often overlooked and Stanley Weintraub fills that gap with Young Mr. Roosevelt: FDR’s Introduction to War, Politics, and Life ($25.99, Da Capo Press).   Anyone interested in American history and, in particular, the portion that FDR dominated, will welcome the way FDR’s formative years prepared him. Remembered for his successes, his early life taught him how to deal with failure and, of course, the Polio that left him crippled. During his presidency, few Americans ever saw a photo of him in a wheelchair. To stand, he required heavy metal braces. By the spring of 1913, however, he began his political career with an appointment as the assistant secretary of the Navy. That would be followed by a failed initial run for vice president, and, as noted, Polio. What the noted historian demonstrates is that Roosevelt not only learned from those trying times, but grew past them. It is a remarkable journey.

I often wonder what kind of courage it must take to be a war correspondent and, to a great extent, Paul Conroy’s new book, Under the Wire: Marie Colvin’s Last Assignment, ($26.00, Weinstein Books) provides the answer. Ms. Colvin wanted to be where the war zone was, wanted to report on what was occurring, and she paid for that with her life in Syria in 2012 after both had been smuggled in by rebel forces. She died during a hellish artillery attack that also seriously wounded Conroy who was a former British soldier with fifteen years covering conflicts in Iraq, Congo, Kosovo, and Libya, prior to Syria. Both shared a compulsion to bear witness to events. Anyone who has spent any time in a war zone, in combat, or just wondering what it is like will thoroughly enjoy this book. One might say they shared a foxhole or two together and the story he tells is gripping and a great tribute to his friend, a great journalist. Wars, of course, generate all manner of books and World War II is still a rich source.
Military historian and retired U.S. Marine, Dick Camp, the author of a slew of books, has written Shadow Warriors: The Untold Stories of American Special Operations During WWII ($30.00, Zenith Press) which, despite the nearly seven decades that have passed, still have the capacity to amaze. It is the story of the top-secret exploits of the brilliant, courageous, and previously unacknowledged heroes. Only in recent years have their exploits been declassified and Camp provides an action-packed narrative of units that composed the special forces, laying the groundwork for many of our present-day units such as the SEALS and others. Camp’s book addresses both the European and Pacific theaters which required elaborate spy networks, covert parachutists, amphibious raids, and, yes, even the occasional catastrophic mission failure.

Joseph Wheelan goes further back in our history with Terrible Swift Sword: The Life of General Philip H. Sheridan ($16.99, Da Capo Press, softcover), one of the great generals of the Civil War, part of a triumvirate that included Ulysses S. Grant and William T. Sherman. He was the youngest of the three, but his fame came not only in winning battles, but for his skills as a strategist and his personal leadership in battle. It was Sheridan who applied the concept of “total war”, a scorched-earth approach that is credited with winning the war and one he had ruthlessly used in campaigns against the Plains Indians to bring them to reservations. Once there, he became one of their most high-profile protectors. This is a first-rate biography that would be enjoyed even by a son of the old confederacy for its attention to detail and portrait of a man of courage and honor.

The Italian courtier, author of “The Prince”, Niccolo Machiavelli, has had his last name immortalized as a synonym for the options and methods a ruler has in order to stay in power. As Joseph Merkulin, the author of Machiavelli: A Renaissance Life ($21.95, Prometheus Books, softcover) reveals,the often vilified Machiavelli as both a diabolically clever, yet mild-mannered and conscientious civil servant. In 720 pages, his life was a true adventure, filled with violence, treachery, heroism, betrayal, sex, bad popes, noble outlaws, menacing Turks, and a cast of others who peopled an era famed for the power of the Medici family and shared with both Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo. At one point he as imprisoned, tortured, and ultimately abandoned, but he remained the sworn enemy of tyranny and, to the surprise of many who will read this book, a champion of freedom and the republican form of government! Anyone who loves biography and history will most surely enjoy this book. Another man immersed in the politics of his era is the subject of Upton Sinclair: California Socialist, Celebrity Intellectual ($28.95, University of Nebraska Press). Lauren Coodley provides an opportunity to learn about a man famed in his time as the author of “The Jungle”, and an inveterate embracer of all manner of causes. He has largely vanished in terms of any legacy despite the fact that he wrote nearly eighty books and even won a Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In the first half of the last century, his writing and activism made him a household name who dedicated himself to helping people understand how society was run, by whom, and for whom. It was a time when socialism was on the rise in America and much of its agenda has been written into an entitlement society that exists today. His interest and support of feminism and a devotion to healthy living put him ahead of his time. He’s worth getting to know.

God’s Double Agent by Bob Fu with Nancy French ($19.95, Baker Books) may surprise you with the fact that tens of thousands of Christians live in China today, living double lives to avoid a government that relentlessly persecutes them. By day, Bob Fu was a teacher in a communist school and by night he was a preacher in an underground house church network. He tells of his conversion to Christianity, his arrest and imprisonment for starting an illegal house church, his harrowing escape along with his wife in 1997, and his life since in the United States as an advocate for those who want to enjoy the freedom to worship as they wish. This book is worth reading not just for the inspiring story of his life, but to remind ourselves of freedoms we take for granted. Richard Rodriguez has authored Darling: A Spiritual Autobiography ($26.95, Viking) and the title refers to a friend who has since passed away who he met on the day her divorce was finalized. “As a homosexual man, at a time of growing public acceptance of homosexuality,” says Rodriguez, “I find myself thinking about my intimacy with heterosexual women, and my debt to them for my formation as regards both my spirituality and my sexuality.” His book is a Roman Catholic’s personal exploration of, not only Christian history, but of Judaism and Islam, and the roles each played that have brought them to the present times. There may not be a large audience for this book, but those that read it will find it challenging and entertaining at the same time.

A very different kind of autobiography is found in Heist and High by Anthony Curcio and Dane Batty ($15.95, Nish Publishing Company, Portland, OR, softcover). Curcio was an all-American high school football star, a kid with a short at being an all-star college wide receiver, and maybe even going onto the NFL, but an addiction to a prescription pain-killer drug led him to pull off a robbery of a Brink’s armored truck that netted him more than $400,000. He headed for Las Vegas where he was subsequently caught. It was a sensational crime at the time and the detective who caught him said the robbery had “all the preparation of a top-notch heist by an experienced criminal.” This is a cautionary tale because it is estimated that more than eleven million people abuse these drugs. Curcio is rebuilding his life after serving his federal prison sentence in Texas and Florida, having been released in April of this year. His co-author has assisted in telling a fast-paced, very moving story.

Books for Younger Readers

A very cute book, Summer Saltz: I’m So Hollywood, by Connie Sewell and illustrated by Elyse Wittaker-Peak ($16.95, Tiny Hands Publishing, Hilton Head, SC) has a lesson for young readers, ages 3 to 8, about just being oneself and not taking on airs. When fun-loving Summer gets a pair of an ever-so-sassy pair of white sunglasses, she takes on the personality of “I’m so Hollywood” and plans a party to show off a bit. When her best friend shows up wearing the same glasses and the fun begins as she learns that it is not what one wears, nor adopting the attitudes of movie stars. Young readers (and those being read to) will learn a valuable lesson along with Summer and thoroughly enjoy it. For those youngsters who love wordplay there’s Sir Silly: The World Where Words Play by David Dayan Fisher ($6.95, Sunnyfields Publishing) where Sir Silly thinks in rhyme and lets his imagine dance freely. Illustrations by Patricia Krebs enhance the text and the book is sure to impart some lessons in the way language, plus imagination, can open the mind to useful lessons in the way the world works.

Mermaid Sails the Bay marks the debut of Greg Trybull ($16.66,, softcover) will particularly please young adults. It is springtime in 1908 in a San Francisco still recovering from the Great Quake of 1906. It is a time of advances that include electricity, automobiles, and radio, but is also a time when the era of the great sailing ships will give way to more modern vessels. Three brothers, Ed (16), Bill (14) and Ted (12) are about to embark on an adventure when their father buys them a 16-foot Whitehall boat which they christen the Mermaid. That summer they encounter Teddy Roosevelt’s Great White Fleet and end up the target of pirates that shoot rotten fruit for cannonballs. They surmount the rough seas, save the lives of new friends, and learn to get along with one another. This is a great way to enjoy history and indulge young dreams of adventure. Another kind of adventure is found in Mickey Price: Journey to Oblivion by John P. Stanley ($15.99, Tanglewood) a science fiction romp that even NASA astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, liked. He said, “This rocket-speed adventure captures all the danger, mystery, and excitement of NASA moon missions with laugh-out-loud moments along the way. It also reminds us that there are still great mysteries on the moon and beyond, just waiting to be discovered and explored. I know kids will love this story and I hope it inspires them. Go outside at night—look at the moon—dream big!”  Written for those ages 8 to 12, even a slightly older reader like myself, like Aldrin, thought this book was terrific.

Another novel that will appeal to younger readers, as well as older ones, is Fifteen Minutes by Karen Kingbury ($22.99, Howard Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) that examines the price of fame as it raises questions about compromise, character, and cost in a celebrity-focused culture. Kingsbury has been called “the queen of Christian fiction” and draws on her friends among the music industry elite where she lives in Nashville. When the former winner of a TV talent show takes her turn as a judge, she has a secret motive to save others from the perils of fame. The focus of her concern becomes Zack Dylan, the most popular contestant, who has kept his strong faith as well as a girlfriend back home secret. Will the glare of fame cause him to lose everything he holds most dear? It is a question worth asking and answering. Teens will likely enjoy Crypto-Punk self-published by George Traikovich ($9.00, Kindle 99 cents, Amazon, softcover) about the latest fad at Bixby Elementary, dressing like B-movie monsters. What is driving the strange compulsion? That is what the Zero Avenue kids, Drew, Clementine, Grady, Newton, and Spider, as they unravel the threads of a conspiracy that blurs the line between science and magic, friends and enemies, and which draws them into an adventure that tests their character and their loyalties to one another. This one is scary and lots of fun.

Novels, Novels, Novels

I say it every month, but it is no less true that there is a torrent of novels being published, either by mainstream publishing houses or, increasingly, self-published. No need complain for a lack of fiction these days. My fiction team is recommending a bunch this month.

One new novel feels like it comes right out of the daily headlines even though it is set ten years into the future. Jack Belmonte makes his debut with The Octavian Latticework ($22.00, Voltaire Publishing) in which a rookie counter-terrorism agent for the fictional U.S. Anti-Subversion Authority is hot on the heels of Brigade 910, a domestic terror group that is led by the shadowy Octavian. Johnny Luca and his partner discover plans for a major attack. In the White House, President Reed Wilkins has vowed to veto a draconian Total Information Awareness Act that would turn the U.S. into a total surveillance state. It’s up to Luca to save the president from assassination and to thwart the plots. Well, suffice to say, it is a story filled with political secrets, government cover-ups, and domestic terror plots. Another novel, The North Building ($15.50, Munroe Hill Press, softcover) takes one back to the days of the Cold War. Jefferson Flanders, the author, obviously finds this an interesting period of history as he set a previous novel in it as well. This is a sequel to “Herald Square.” Whether you know anything about the Cold War or not, you too will find it of interest as Flanders takes us back to the years just after World War II when the Soviet Union became the greatest challenge to the U.S. and Europe, a threatening presence in the world. Set in New York in 1951, Dennis Collins is returning from covering the war in Korea. The last thing he wants is to be sucked into a world of spies, counterspies, and the leaked military secrets that may have contributed to the retreat to the Chosin Reservoir, a low point in the conflict. The novel has some familiar names from that era that include President Eisenhower, Allen Dulles of the CIA, and the British spy ring led by Philby and MacLean. The North Building of the title is the office on the CIA campus where agents out of favor with their higher-ups get exiled to ponder their errors. This is a taunt and heart-racing geopolitical thriller that includes a nicely interwoven romance as well. A Washington Times reviewer loved it; I did too, and so will you.

Another excellent novel. Rising Sun, Falling Shadow by Daniel Kalla ($27.99, Tor/Forge) occurs in 1943, during the Japanese occupation of Shanghai, China, trapping droves of American and British citizens, along with thousands of “stateless” German Jewish refugees,  behind enemy lines.  Despite the hostile environment, newlyweds Dr. Franz Adler and his wife, Sunny, adjust to life running Shanghai’s only hospital for the refugee Jews. Bowing to Nazi pressure, the Japanese force their Allied friends into internment camps and relocate the twenty thousand Jews into a one-square-kilometer “Shanghai Ghetto.”  Heat, hunger, and tropical diseases are constant threats, but the ghetto demonstrates miraculous resistance, offering music, theatre, sports and Jewish culture despite the condition. This is a tale of espionage, survival, and the power of love and family. World War II generated another novel, Brave Hearts by Carolyn Hart ($13.95, Seventh Street Books, softcover) as it tells the story of Catherine Cavanaugh, caught in a loveless marriage with a British diplomat. It is wartime London and the Germans are bombing London. She meets an American war correspondent, Jack Maguire, and rediscovers hope and love again, but the war intervenes when she and her husband are unexpectedly transferred to the Philippines. Jack follows, but shortly after their arrival the Japanese attack and trapped civilians are forced into a harrowing adventure to escape them. Hart is a cofounder of Sisters in Crime and won many awards for her novels—more than fifty—so you know she knows how to tell a gripping story.

Murder has long been a staple of fiction and Jonas Winner gives it a new twist in The Beginning: Berlin Gothic ($14.95, Thomas & Mercer, softcover). Long after the Iron Curtain has come down, Till Anschutz has been taken in by the Bentheims and, along with his new brother, 12-year-old Max, the boys explore the office where their cold, distant father, horror novelist, Xavier Betheim, writes his novels. They discover a secret door that leads to a dark hallway that connects to the city’s underground tunnels. They also discover gruesome photographs and films, leading them to conclude that Xavier has been leading a disturbing double life. Meanwhile, Berlin Police Inspector Konstantin Butz is working on the case of a mutilated corpse of a woman. It is the latest in a series of related murders. This novel is full of twists and turns that will keep you turning the pages. Another novelist, James Sheehan, knows a lot about the law. He practiced it for thirty years and has written three acclaimed legal thrillers. His latest is The Alligator Man ($23.00, Center Street, Hachette imprint).  Someone has killed Roy Johnson, the former CEO of Dynatron, famous for preying on smaller companies, stripping them of their assets and leaving their employee out in the cold. Lots of people have a motive for killing him. Pieces of his clothing have been found in alligator-infested waters. The assumption is murder and one of those on whom suspicion falls is Billy Fuller who lost everything, but is now a New York Times columnist. A former childhood friend, Kevin Wylie, a Miami attorney, learns of Billy’s problem and, though all the evidence points to his guilt, he believes Billy is innocent. I recommended Sheehan’s last novel, “A Lawyer’s Lawyer”, and I definitely recommend his new one.

The Last Animal by Abby Geni ($24.00, Counterpoint Press) is a treat for anyone who loves reading short stories. Geni is a graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writer’s Workshop and someone who observers expect to become a major name. She is off to a great start with this collection, ten remarkable stories unified around the theme of people who use the interface between humans and the natural world to cope with issues of love, loss, and family life. The stories are thoroughly researched, giving them an authenticity. This collection has already garnered many accolades and I will add my own to them.

That’s it for October! Come back next month and don’t forget to tell your friends, family and co-workers who love a good book about