Friday, February 28, 2014

Bookviews - March 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

When the U.S. Justice Department announces it will not enforce the Defense of Marriage Act you know that same-sex marriage has the full support of the White House. An interesting new book by William Tucker, Marriage and Civilization: How Monogamy Made Us Human, ($27.95, Regnery) takes a look at monogamy and how its adoption by societies in the West made all the difference in their development as opposed to those that retained polygamy. Monogamy contributed to less aggressive societies, ones with less crime, less internal friction, and humanity benefitted from men who took a greater role in raising children. Spousal relationship benefitted because they were more devoted to one another. The story of humanity has been one of growing trust and cooperation between the sexes and this has led to more stable communities and nation. Every human society has created some form of marriage. Not only do a couple pledge fidelity to each other, it draws the line between the bonded couple and the group. Tucker says that everywhere polygamy is practiced, it creates conflict. There is much to be said for traditional marriage and its history and practice is presented in this book.
Craig R. Smith has written seven books individually and, with Lowell Ponte, another five. These books look at economic and governmental issues with a particular emphasis on the way progressivism has undermined the dollar and the ability of the nation to achieve and maintain our remarkable leadership in manufacturing and in finance. That is beginning to falter and you will want to read The Great Withdrawal: How the Progressives’ 100-Year Debasement of American and the Dollar Ends ($19.95, Idea Factory Press, Phoenix, AZ). Far from being a dry analysis, it is a dramatic examination of what is happening in America today and why. The book opens with a look at Detroit, the largest American city to declare bankruptcy and why decades of bad management and corruption have led to its debasement. This is happening in many cities across the nation led by progressives. These cities build huge ranks of government workers with ample pension and other benefits that thrive off of the middle class until it begins to move to the suburbs to escape the ever rising taxes and other costs. In addition to the $17 trillion in debt on the books, the U.S. has off-the-balance-sheet federal liabilities estimated to be at least $87 trillion. The trillions pumped into the economy in recent years have largely been wasted via crony capitalism or simply failed to “stimulate” growth. I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Your life and that of your children and grandchildren are being affected.

In a nation that appears to be seriously divided, we owe Dr. Wayne Baker, the author of United America ($15.25, Spirit Books, @, softcover) a debt of appreciation for a book about “The surprising truth about American values, American identity, and the 10 beliefs that a large majority of Americans hold dear.”  Dr. Baker is the chair of the Management & Organizations area at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business and his book is based on his research over several years. The values American share include respect for others, freedom, security, self-reliance and individualism, justice and fairness, among others. They are shared by a vast cross-section of Americans of differing political outlooks, gender, and other elements. These values are strongly held. The book is not some boring academic study, but a lively examination of the values and one that will be of use to individual readers as well as educators and groups devoted to preserving the nation that is suffering the deliberate effort to divide Americans by class, sex, and other attributes. I recommend this book for anyone concerned about the current divisions we hear and read about daily.

Fans of Hillary Clinton with an eye on the 2016 elections will find HRC: State Secrets and the Rebirth of Hillary Clinton by Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes ($26.00, Crown Publishing) of interest as these two journalists, the former who covers the White House for Bloomberg News and the latter for The Hill, look back over the past years since 2008 when her political ambitions took a hit from an unknown Illinois Senator when he was became the Democratic Party nominee for President and won. In the six years since then, she has reemerged on the world stage as one of its most influential figures. She is now regarded as the front-runner for the Democratic ticket in 2016 and this book provides a look at what they regard as a master strategist at work. She would become Obama’s Secretary of State and one of his greatest allies and advocates. While the authors report both her successes and stumbles, based on numerous interviews, take the reader behind the scenes. Both hold her in high regard and this book provides readers with their coverage and views of the decisions she made and their likely effect on the next national elections.

A book that is likely to generate a lot of discussion is The Meat Racket: The Secret Takeover of America’s Food Business by Christopher Leonard ($28.00, Simon & Schuster). I must confess I was astonished to learn that when you’re buying beef, pork or chicken, it turns out that four beef companies control 85% of the national market while four companies control 65% of the park. As Leonard points out, forty years ago there were 36 companies that produced chicken, but now there are two that provide half of the chicken we eat, controlling every aspect of the process from the egg to the chicken to the chicken nugget. The result is that meat prices relentlessly increase while the share of every dollar that goes to farmers is falling. The profit margins of the nation’s biggest meat packers continue to rise even as the national economy is lagging in other sectors. The Big Four, Tyson, Cargill, JSB, and Smithfield saw their average profit margin double between 2008 and 2009, and then double again between 2009 and 2010. Why the federal government felt it necessary to send millions to these and other farmers in “farm aid” begins to raise serious questions for consumers and 80% of the farm bill was devoted to funding food stamps. Anyone interested in how this sector of the economy functions will find this book very interesting and just a tad scary. 

One of my enduring childhood memories was riding the train to the New Jersey shore where my grandparents lived and, since it was the war years, I recall visiting with the many young soldiers who were on the train, all destined for combat. At my grandparent’s home, the trains came by every day and it was a treat to wave at the engineers and have them wave back. Trains in those days belched huge clouds of black smoke. These memories were evoked by Tom Zoellner’s book, Train, ($32.95, Viking) in which he tells of his rail travels around the world, starting in the birthplace of the locomotive in England. He shares the history of trains in the various nations he visits from Russia, China, India, in South America and, of course, the U.S. where the train transformed and expanded the nation to the West. Along the way he talked with many others on those trains and gains a glimpse into their lives. He does so with a gift for prose that borders on poetry. He is a very good writer and that greatly enhances the trips he invites the reader to take with him.

Readers are just as frequently writers and many wish to polish their skills. A book that will help them is Natalie Goldberg’s The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language ($16.00, Atria Books, softcover) in which she draws on her four decades as a teacher and writer to share her practical experience. She has written twelve books and this one will prove helpful to anyone who wants to learn how to tap into their own life. For anyone headed for college this fall or attending one, Halley Bondy has written an entertaining book, 77 Things You Absolutely Have to Do Before You Finish College ($14.99, Zest Books, softcover). A great gift for high school grads and college students, it is filled with ideas that will surely enhance the experience beyond the classroom. Among her tips are starting an on-campus club, learn how to prepare a perfect meal, and learn self-defense. There’s bound to be a recommendation in the book that a student will find worth trying out.

Getting Down to Business (Books)

For those coming out of college and looking toward a career in the world of business, Robert L. Dilenschneider provides a lot of good advice in The Critical First Years of Your Professional Life ($15.00, Citadel Kensington, softcover). The author made his name in the field of public relations, but has found time to author a dozen advice books. This one includes a foreword by TV business news host, Maria Bartiromo, who notes that “Mobility, personal and professional, has dramatically increased” and that “Technology has created new opportunities for advancement in the world of work.” Dilenschneider recalls an era when mentors helped the newcomer learn the ropes. His book “substitutes for all those generous men and women who would have helped you in an earlier era.”  If you or someone you know is just starting out, make sure they read his book. It will give them an advantage of those who do not.

These are nervous times for investors, but there are some fundamentals and Timothy F. McCarthy, a former president of Charles Schwab & Company before leading overseas asset management companies. His book, The Safe Investor: How to Make Your Money Grow in a Volatile Global Economy ($30.00, Palgrave Macmillan) should be your first investment whether you are just starting out or whether you are questioning your present investment program. Despite the plethora of investment information available, most people feel uncomfortable to some degree these days. This book shows the reader how to mesh three dimensions of investing, asset classes, countries, and time to create a strategy that will ensure they have enough to get them through their retirement years. Since many have others manage their investments, McCarthy tells readers what they need to know to make a good choice and what to expect.  There are so many choices an investor can make that it is surely helpful to understand one’s own psyche before putting money on the line and that is what Brian Portnoy’s new book is all about. The Investor’s Paradox: The Power of Simplicity in a World of Overwhelming Choice ($27,00, Palgrave Macmillan) is the work of a man who has been advising hedge funds and mutual funds for the past 14 years. Portnoy is currently the Head of Alternative Investments and Strategic Initiatives for Chicago Equity Partners, a $10 billion asset manager and he came to them with an impressive resume so the reader can be confident he really knows what he is writing about. He addresses how to select the right money managers and investment vehicles and how to avoid the losers. With literally tens of thousands of investment choices, his advice and insights regarding what he calls behavioral finance, he demystifies the opaque world of financial entities, providing practical tools for investment success.

All of us have sat through too many meetings that had no structure and did not lead others in the room toward successful cooperation. In Moments of Impact: How to Design Strategic Conversations that Accelerate Change ($32.00, Simon and Schuster) authors Chris Ertel and Lisa Kay Solomon are on a mission to eradicate time-sucking, energy-depleting meetings and workshops, and replace them with high-engagement strategic conversations that foster better cooperation. Their book offers a few core principles on the best ways to get an organization facing a high-stakes challenge to address it despite conditions of uncertainty using inter-active problem-solving sessions that engage participants, not just analytically, but creatively and emotionally as well. This book will help leaders at all levels achieve this whether it is a business challenge, educators and healthcare practitioners mired in slow-to-change sectors, or enterprising business school students with ambitions to tackle the big challenges.
For those who have to make a presentation, the first problem to overcome is the “jitters”, the fear of not being able sell ideas by using visual thinking. In Show and Tell: How Everybody Can Make Extraordinary Presentations Dan Roam ($27.95, Portfolio, an imprint of Penguin) presents a powerful guide to give everyone the confidence they need to share their story with any audience. Roam has previously authored two international bestsellers and this book is relatively short, but goes right to the core of how to help others see what we see. Filled with page after page of illustrations, he demonstrates how to entertain, educate and motivate an audience. He has worked with major corporations and his book will show you how to achieve the success that he has had.

There isn’t an industry, business or enterprise of any kind that doesn’t have associations. There are an estimated 100,000 professional and trade societies that can help anyone open the doors to their personal success. Robert Skrob, CPA, CAE, is an expert and he has written Your Association Shortcut: The Definitive Guide for Generating Customers Through Associations ($7.86, Association Marketing, softcover). This book, officially published in April, but available now via, will teach you how find associations in your field and to select the best ones for your brand. Then he teaches how to get the most value from your association. He has coached a diverse range of associations including some of the largest in the world in fields that include medical, manufacturing, chambers of commerce, from the local to the state and national levels. And he has helped thousands of companies tap into the power of associations to generate customers for their own business. “Associations are the affiliate partner you never knew you had, promoting your company as a member benefit” says Skkrob, “Plus association marketing gives you more credibility as everything you do carries the implied endorsement of the association.” As someone who has provided public relations services to associations over the years, this is a book you definitely should read.

To Your Health

We now live in times when you’re not old until you have gotten passed 70 or so. Maintaining one’s health to ensure that the senior years are not beleaguered by ill health has become a significant concern. That’s why books like Robert Moroney’s book, Total Body Detoxification: The Way to Healthy Aging ($16.95, Swing-Hi Press, softcover) is well worth reading even if you are still in your early years. The author details his own battles with lung cancer and hepatitis that causes stress and addictions to alcohol and drugs. Then he shows, step by step, the research, modalities, and healing regimens he employed to help himself and others recover from physically and mentally debilitating conditions. He’s been in private practice for 16 years as a nutritionist and peak-performance coach. As someone who has taken vitamins and minerals to enhance my own health, there is much in this book that will benefit any readers. You can avoid the toxins and you were learn which ones and why.
Healthy Joints for Life by Dr. Richard Diana, MD, ($17.95, Harlequin, softcover) an orthopedic surgeon and a clinical instructor at the Yale School of Medicine was a former National Football League player and he uses that experience and his later profession to learn how to deal with problems involving inflammation, a common joint ailment. He has put his plan to reduce pain and inflammation, how to avoid surgery, and to get moving again into his book. Having been named a Top 100 Doctor, he has been an orthopedic consultant to several collegiate athletic programs, as well as the Boston Red Sox.  His book provides a proven 8-week program that can help any reader with joint-related physical ailments.

Biographies and Memoirs

Reading about the lives of real people, past and present, is an excellent way to not only learn the lessons of history, but to learn how others coped with the challenges of their times.

A new look at James and Dolly Madison is provided by Bruce Chadwick in a biography of the same name, America’s First Power Couple: James & Dolly Madison ($24.95, Prometheus Books) regarding the fourth President’s service and the role that his wife played. Historians have tended to regard Madison, credited with much of the creation of the Constitution, as a boring, average President, while others have regarded him as a vibrant, tough leaders and a very successful commander in chief during the War of 1812. A new portrait emerges as the result of recently uncovered troves of letters at the University of Virginia, among other sources. He credits a lot of Madison’s success to the political savvy of his much younger wife whose social skills created a dynamic role for the position of First Lady with parties and backdoor politicking. This makes for lively reading about a couple whose life together contributed much to the future course of the nation.

We remember F. Scott Fitzgerald for his book, “The Great Gatsby.”  In Careless People: Murder, Mayhem, and the Invention of the Great Gatsby, ($29.95, Penguin Press) Sarah Churchill takes us back to the autumn of 1922 when he was at the height of his fame for “Tales of the Jazz Age.”  His return to New York that year coincided with another event, the discovery of a brutal double murder in New Jersey, an unsolved case that is all but forgotten today. The news coverage of the event, however, would influence Fitzgerald who began writing “Gatsby” in the autumn of that year. He would write of his fictional characters, “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” 

An interesting memoir by Tony Cointreau, Ethel Merman, Mother Teresa…And Me: My Improbable Journey from Chateaux in France to the Slums of Calcutta ($24.95, Prospecta Press) is the story of a life of a man who was an heir to the French liqueur family who enjoyed a successful international singing career and, after several years on the Cointreau board of directors, found himself seeking something more meaningful for his life. Despite the wealth and success, his youth was impacted by an emotionally remote mother, an angry bullying brother, a cold and unprotective Swiss nurse, and a sexually predatory school teacher, all of which led him on a lifelong quest for unconditional love and for a mother figure. Initially he found her in the internationally acclaimed beauty, Lee Lehman, and then the famed Broadway diva, Ethel Merman, who became his mentor and “other mother.” His memoir addresses his close family relationships with both women and, then in quest of more meaning to life, his years of work and friendship with Mother Teresa as his “last mother.” He speaks of the value of sharing even a small part of oneself with others.
 Ethel Merman was a legendary Broadway musical star and Nothing Like A Dame: Conversations with the Great Women of Musical Theatre by Eddie Shapiro ($39.95, Oxford University Press) will delight anyone who loves the musical theatre with its interviews of twenty of the greatest leading women of Broadway. Among them are Carol Channing, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, and Patti LuPone, along with some of the younger stars such as Audra McDonald and Kristin Chenoweth. Shapiro’s encyclopedia knowledge enhances the conversations. He is a longtime critic who has covered the arts for several publications.

The man who conceived of the method of saving the life of someone choking on something is told in Heimlich Maneuvers: My Seventy Years of Lifesaving Innovation by Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, MD ($19.95, Prometheus Books, softcover). His memoir tells of his best known procedure as wll as his other life-saving inventions. He is the inventor of the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve that saved thousands of lives during the Vietnam War and the MicroTrach which provides a remarkably efficient way to for people to take oxygen. Anyone interested in medicine will find this memoir of interest as he describes his research, as well as the controversy and resistance he encountered. A very different memoir is found in The Bosnia List: A Memoir of War, Exile, and Return ($16.00, Penguin Books, softcover) by Kenan Trebincevic and Susan Shapiro who brought her journalist skills to bear on the story that begins when Tebincevic was age eleven, living a happy life in the quiet Bosnian town of Breko. In the spring of 1992, war broke out and his friends, neighbors, and teammates all turn on him because he was Muslim. He relates his family’s final terrifying year in Bosnia and their miraculous escape from the brutal ethnic cleansing that ravaged the former Yugoslavia. Though he swore he would never return, after two decades in America he honored his father’s wish to visit their former homeland. The visit in which he wanted to revenge the treatment his family received tells a story of redemption for the horrors to which they and others were subjected. 

Books for Young Readers & Teens

One of my favorite publishers of books for young readers is Charlesbridge of Watertown, MA. In February they published for the very young, Feathers—Not Just for Flying by Melissa Stewart, illustrated by Sarah S. Brannen, ($17.95) that provides a glimpse into the real lives of birds in the wild and the role their feathers play for flight and camouflage or to line a nest. It’s educational and entertaining. This month Wild About Bears by Jeannie Brett ($17.95) will also appeal to those aged 6 through 9. They author introduces them to all eight species of bear and via some great watercolors, takes them around the world where they live including a map of where they can be found, as well as interesting information about bear traits and behavior, how they raise their young, and how they find food. This book, too, is both educational and entertaining. For those aged 4 to 7, there’s Music Everywhere! By Maya Anjera, Elise Hofer Derstine and Cynthia Pon, ($17.95) published in February as a celebration of music and the joy it brings. It is filled with photos of children around the world singing, dancing, and playing instruments. It will inspire some youngsters to explore their own musical passions. Behold the Beautiful Dung Beetle by Cheryl Bardoe and illustrated by Alan Marks ($16.95) is aimed at those age 5 to 9 and they might find fascinating to learn about a beetle that loves to feed on dung. Sounds disgusting, but it isn’t. It is filled with amazing facts and compelling images that will appeal to the very young. Older readers, age 10 and up will find Ocean of Fire: The Burning of Columbia, 1865 by T. Neill Anderson ($16.95) an insight into the Civil War as the author tells of Sherman’s march on Atlanta that included the destruction of southern cities like Columbia in South Carolina. The story is told through several characters, both real and imagined. This is historical fiction that makes such events come alive for younger readers.

Tony Tuso Faber has teamed up with Benton Rudd, an illustrator, for a series of books in “The Poodle Tales” series and book one is Poodlemania ($15.99, Mindster Media) that readers from age 4 to 9 will enjoy for both the artwork and the delightful story of a boy and girl poodle who get together and share various growing up skills, life lessons that readers will learn as well. The stories are light, comical, heartfelt, and educational. You can check out this book and the series at The author is a very talented lady who began her modeling career at age 13, published a California magazine, and pursued many other interests. She and her husband, Bruce, live in Orange County with their three poodles. Find Momo ($14.95, Quirk Books) is filled with photos by photographer Andrew Knapp of his border collie. He began posting photos of Momo in Instagram hiding out in all kinds of settings from Central Park in New York as well as fields, snow banks, and toy stores. They became an Internet sensation and young readers age 4 to 7 will surely enjoy them in this delightful book.

From Blue Martin Publications, there’s Sofia’s Stoop Story: 18th Street, Brooklyn by Lou Fancher and Steve Johnson ($17.95) that is set in the 1960s as Uncle Frankie begins telling Sofia and her counsins a story about the day he met the baseball geat, Carl Furillo. Sofia is called away by her Nana to do some errands and when she returns the story is over, but Uncle Frankie shares the whole story with her and he gives her a keepsake that he has saved since 1947. It is evocative of the era and locale, and beautifully illustrated. A series of books from Wigu Publishing is devoted to the theme of “When I Grow Up I Want to Be…” and the latest is A Teacher ($12.99) that begins with a girl named Carlee who wants to become one. Her own mother is a new teacher at her school and readers journey with Carlee on first day there as she learns about her own independence and identity. This series is quite inspiring.

For readers age 9 to 13, two books from Capstone will provide some reading pleasure. Sherlock, Lupin & Me: The Dark Lady by Irene Adler which draws on the original Sherlock stories and offers a romp through 1870s France in pursuit of both a murderer and a thief. The twist is that the characters are introduced as children, making the story more accessible to a young audience as they find themselves caught up in a web of crime they must investigate. It is the first in a new series. Secrets & Spies: Treason by Jo Macauley delves into the world of England’s Reformation era as a young spy unravels dangerous plots against the kind. A second book in this series is title Plague and features a 14-year-old Beth Johnson, a talented and beautiful young actress. The year is 1664 and she becomes embroiled in a perilous adventure to unravel a plant to kill Charles II. Both books are priced at 12.95 and are a good investment in encouraging a young reader to discover the pleasures of fiction.

Novels, Novels, Novels

Fans of J.A. Nance is back with her 50th book. Moving Target  ($25.99, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon & Schuster) is yet another detective novel in which a police academy-trained former reporter, Ali Reynolds, embarks on a trip to England with her longtime household assistant and right-hand man, Leland Brooks. Her greatest concern is helping her friend face his long-estranged family, but Ali soon finders herself investigating violent crimes spanning two continents and eras as vicious attacks unfold in Texas and an unsolved murder from the 1950s Bournemouth, Leland’s hometown resurfaces. Though they seem unconnected, they are and readers will not put this book down until they get to the last page.

Some years ago I reviewed Cynthia Hamilton’s novel, “Lucky at Love” and since then she has published three more, the latest of which is Spouse Trap ($14.00, Woodstock Press, softcover) in which Madeline Ridley, a Santa Barbara fundraising socialite sees her perfect life collapse in a swirl of blackmail, sabotage, and deceit after she awakens in a hotel room—alone, naked, and with a splitting headache and no idea how she got there. A group of lurid photos has been sent to her husband. She is in for the battle of a lifetime, but she discovers who her real enemy is. This is the first installment in a new series and provides lots of provocative, interesting reading.

Just out this month is Bobby Cole’s novel, The Rented Mule ($ 14.95, Thomas & Mercer, softcover). It is a tough, clever caper about a businessman who has been set up by a mysterious criminal to take the fall for his wife’s kidnapping. Behind what seems a good life, Cooper Dixon has been caught up in a never-ending cycle of arguments with his wife and his cocaine-addicted business partner is scheming to sell his business out from under him. When his wife is kidnapped his face is all over the television news and Dixon must depend on an unlikely ally to rescue his wife and clear his name.

Robyn Carr has won a number of awards for her previous novels and you will find out why when you read Four Friends ($24.95, Harlequin MIRA) that debuts in April. It is a gripping story of four forty-something women whose lives hit the marital skids, but they find the strength and courage to face the difficult challenges they face. Set in the San Francisco neighborhood of Mill Valley, friends and neighbors think Gerry has the perfect marriage with her husband Phil. It is a relationship that is more comfortable than passionate after 25 years, three children and demanding careers. She discovers an affair her husband had years before and he is committed to do to make up to her, but she finds it difficult to forgive him. With her friends she must come to terms as they too must cope with marital problems. The shifting relationships make for interesting reading, one they many will see in their own lives and around them.

That’s it for March! Tell your friends, family, and coworkers about, a monthly report on books that include nonfiction and fiction that may not receive the attention in the mainstream media they deserve.