Friday, May 30, 2014

Bookviews - June 2014

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

The world is a very complex place and that is true of the issues that directly and indirectly affect our lives. There is, in addition, a legion of people and groups eager to lie to us about those issues in order to achieve their goals. That is why books like Robert Bryce’s Smaller Faster Lighter Denser Cheaper ($27.99, Public Affairs) are “must” reading if we are to gain any understanding. I first encountered Bryce through his writings about energy. He knows the subject from A-to-Z. His book, “Power Hungary”, is well worth reading and his latest expands to define the true agenda of all those people telling us that we are destroying the Earth. “Their outlook rejects innovation and modern forms of energy, It rejects business and capitalism. Whether the message is explicit or implicit, the message coming from many of the “greens” is an anti-corporate, anti-capitalist stance that is rooted in the nation that any large business is one to be feared.” Bryce’s book takes the reader through the transitions from mankind’s earliest history through to the present showing how the development of the various forms of power, from the use of oxen to plow, to water power, to steam, to coal and oil, have all contributed to the remarkable world we share and why the use of fertilizers and genetically modified crops are feeding an extraordinary seven billion people on the planet. The enemies of mankind include those who preach a return to “a simpler life” when life expectancy in the past was often little more than age 35. These are the people who are forever crying out against the use of coal, oil and natural gas, as well as nuclear power. These are the people who insist organic food is better than that produced on modern farms. It is not better and, indeed, may be less safe to eat. If you want to shake loose of all the lies we’re being told about the climate and about modern life, you must read this remarkable book.

A lot of people complain that there is no difference between the Democratic and Republican Parties and they are right when it comes to the growth of Big Government. Both bear responsibility for it no matter who was President. As regards the Republican Party, Richard A. Viguerie, often called one of the fathers of the conservative movement, has written a fascinating book, Takeover, ($27.95, WND Books), subtitled “The 100-year war for the soul of the GOP and how conservatives can finally win it.”  This is a very lively, entertaining, and never boring history of how, more than a century ago, Teddy Roosevelt abandoned the Republican Party to advance his progressive political viewpoint that became the philosophy of the party’s establishment, thereby condemning the Party to being largely out of power for a half century until over fifty years ago, conservatives began to battle for control of the Party. When the establishment is in control, you get candidates like Dole, McCain, and Romney, all of whom lost elections. And, while Goldwater, the first to really challenge the GOP establishment did not win, he set in motion the election of Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Viguerie notes, too, that while Nixon, Bush 41 and 43 won with conservative messages, their agendas were compatible with those of the Democratic Party. Anyone with an interest in politics will find this a lively, fascinating look at the past and a prediction of what is to come.

In February 2013, Dr. Ben Carson gave a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast that warned about the dangers facing the nation and called for a return to the principles that made America great. It caused quite a stir, perhaps because President Obama was at the head table. Since then Dr. Carson has even been spoken of as a possible candidate for President, but he is more interested in sharing his concerns. He does that in One Nation; What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future ($25.95, Sentinal, a Penguin Book imprint). “We are the pinnacle nation in the world right now, but if the examples of Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Great Britain teach us anything, it is that pinnacle nations are not guaranteed their place forever. If we fail to rediscover the basic principles of common sense, manners, and morality, we will go the same way they did.” He shares his life as he shares his views and, by any measure, a black boy living in poverty with an illiterate mother should not have risen to attend Harvard and become a leading neurosurgeon. Except, of course, in America where merit counts the most. If you share fears of the future, you will find this book of interest.

Parenting must be one of the greatest challenges anyone encounters. I had two wonderful parents who provided me with a happy youth and all the years thereafter. I was always encouraged to pursue my interests and always supported in doing so. That’s why Alfie Kohn’s The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom about Children and Parenting ($25.99, Da Capo Press) caught my eye. One hears so much about today’s kids being spoiled that it was enlightening and pleasurable to read a book that says it’s just not true. Kohn challenges the assertion that education and quality child-rearing are in decline, saying that claim has been made about every prior generation. Well, it is definitely true that education in America is not turning out students with the same body of knowledge their predecessors had.  Kohn also doesn’t believe there is too much over-or-under parenting going on and says that being an involved parent is far better than being a detached or dictatorial one. Kohn has written a book he hopes will serve the interests of both liberal and conservative minded parents. My Mother took the view that children are guests in the adult’s world and that there are rules for both to respect. They’re not new and include showing respect, being honest, the value of work, etc. For the parent who needs a bit of advice, this book will prove helpful.

If you are one of those people who lives, breaths and dreams about baseball, you will find Down to the Last Pitch: How the 1991 Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves Gave Us the Best World Series of All Time by Tim Wendel ($25.99, Da Capo Press) as he recalls the series game-by-game, rehashing the defining moments and reach back into baseball history to show the reader just what made those moments great. Wendel feels that the 1991 series was on the cusp of a new era for baseball. A founding editor of USA Today Baseball Weekly, Wendel is the author of ten books about the game and is currently a writer-in-residence at John Hopkins University. The 1991 series was the first time a last place team climbed its way to the top—both teams were cellar-dwellers in 1990. Five of the seven games were decided by a single run with four by the last at bat. Here’s the story of two teams that took risks, followed their guts, and play from beginning to end with integrity and heart.

Business, Finance, Etc

As students graduate from college and grapple with choosing a career, find a great job, or start a business, there’s a new book by Ben Carpenter that will prove very helpful. It’s The Bigs ($25.00, John Wiley and Sons) and is about “the secrets nobody tells students and young professionals” about to begin an important stage in their lives. Carpenter’s career has been in the world of finance, much of it spent in Greenwich Capital which became a respected, profitable firm on Wall Street. He went from being a salesman to being its co-CEO. These days he is the vice chairman of CRT Capital Group. I cited this because he has written a common sense, up to date book that is filled with the kind of advice you would want your son or daughter to know as they enter the workforce. The book benefits as well from being very readable. For the generation trying to plan for their later years, Ric Edelman has written The Truth About Retirement Plans and IRAs ($15.00, Simon and Schuster, softcover), a step-by-step guide to making the most of one’s retirement plans and assuring long-term financial security. In these times, this is a critical matter in an economy that has been stagnating now since the 2008 financial crisis and two terms of the current administration. Edelman is a familiar voice to those of us in the tri-state area because his commercials air daily along with his radio and television shows. Edelman Financial Services provides planning and investment management to more than 23,000 clients and has more than $12 billion in assets under its management. As Edelman says, “Unlike members of past generations who were able to rely on their employers or the government to provide financial security in retirement, your success will be determined almost entirely by you.”

For those in management positions, Robert Bruce Shaw has authored Leadership Blindspots subtitled “How successful leaders identify and overcome weaknesses that matter” ($35.00, Jossey-Bass). The book is filled with detailed case studies that examine how blindspots operate and cites examples from firms like Apple, Amazon, Hewlet-Packard and others. If not corrected they can lead to devastating mistakes. These are often common problems that result from factors such as over-confidence in one’s own judgment, the complexity of large organizations, and being surrounded by yes-men. Changes in the marketplace seem to be happening at an accelerated pace these days, so this book can help anyone at the top or on his way there.

People, People, People

What we most enjoying reading about is other people. Their real lives often tell us things about ourselves or provide insights into the values we share (or not) with them.

For anyone who cannot get enough of the late singer, Michael Jackson, they are in for a treat. Remember the Time: Protecting Michael Jackson in His Final Days ($26.00, Weinstein Books) is by the two men who spent 24/7 with him throughout his final years, protecting him and ensuring he had the privacy he desperately wanted. Bill Whitfield and Javon Beard have written their story with Tanner Colby. Jackson’s final years were spent moving from city to city, living with his three children in virtual seclusion. Whitfield, a former cop and veteran of the security profession was joined by a brash rookie, Beard, both of whom were single fathers as well. This is likely the only first-person account of those final years you are likely to need or read if you are a fan. Jackson was struggling to live a normal life under extraordinary circumstances after having been driven from his Neverland sanctuary by the tabloid media. Imagine having crowds screaming your name every time word got out wherever he was. Hardly a normal life and, at the end, not a particularly happy one.

I was looking forward to reading The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames by Pulitzer Prize winner, Kai Bird ($26.00, Crown Publishers) who had written some very well regarded biographies of men like J. Robert Oppenheimer. Ames was a CIA officer who was killed in April 1983 when our embassy there was bombed by Islamic terrorists. Bird had known Ames as an older neighbor while he a teenager living in Saudi Arabia with his family. As a secret agent Ames job was to befriend those who could provide useful information for the agency and, while the CIA never responded to his requests, more than forty retired CIA and Mossad officers shared their memories of Ames. He was universally liked by all who worked with him. As for his Arab contacts, it helped that he spoke their language fluently and Ali Hassan Salameh, Yasir Arafat’s intelligence chief, enjoyed a clandestine relationship with him that became the seed of the Oslo peace process. For those following events in the Middle East the biography has value, but the portrait of Ames is so dominated by the author’s admiration that it fairly rapidly become rather cloying to read. That is a personal reaction and others might well disagree.

Americans understandably became weary of the long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed in the wake of 9/11. On that day, however, two Naval Academy roommates vowed to defend America and four weeks after Navy SEALs had killed Osama bin Laden, President Obama, on the Memorial Day that followed the event, was in Arlington National Cemetery to honor the nation’s fallen where Travis Manion, a fallen U.S. Marine, and Brendan Looney, a fallen U.S. Navy SEAL, killed three years apart, lay buried. Their story is told in Brothers Forever by Tom Sileo and Col. Tom Manion, Travis’s father ($16.95, Da Capo Press) It is the story of their bond and ultimate sacrifice for the nation. It is the story of real people engaged in real combat and seeing their comrades die. Sileo is a nationally syndicated columnist and editor of The Unknown Soldiers blog and, as noted, Col. Manion was Travis’s father and retired Marine. Together, the two men defined a small segment of their generation’s sacrifice who put their nation’s defense first and foremost.

Jerry Sandusky, arrested and found guilty of child molestation, has ruined the name Sandusky for others who share it. One of them is Gerry Sandusky, the sports director at WBAL in Baltimore and the radio play-by-play voice of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. His book is a tribute to his father, Jon Sandusky, a former player for the Browns and Green Bay Packers who went onto become head coach of the Baltimore Colts, as well as assistant coach under legendary Don Shula at the Miami Dolphins. Jon’s life was about family and football, so it is not surprising that his son chose a career path with the game. Forgotten Sundays: A Son’s Story of Life, Loss, and Love from the Sidelines of the NFL ($25.00, Running Press) will please anyone who loves football and, in particular, was a fan of the teams with which Sandusky was associated. Gerry grow up spending his summers observing his father in NFL training camps and his Sundays with superstars, Hall of Fame players, and coaches from Johnny United to Dan Marino, Don McCafferty to Tom Landry. He saw the glory days and he watched his father face a losing battle with Alzheimer’s Disease. This is a heartfelt story told with intelligence and humor that explores a father-son relationship and the legacy of values and enthusiasms his dad left him.

We all wonder what it would be like to be caught in in avalanches, shipwrecks, or the wake of tornadoes where life and death hangs in the balance. Alive is a compilation of such stories ($15.99) by Readers Digest editors. We all hope our will to survive will kick in when we need it and the stories provide fascinating examples from a mountain climber who has to crawl out of a crevasse on Mt. McKinley and must drag himself to safety, knowing his partner did not survive. There’s hiker Larry Bishop’s harrowing 48 hours clinging to the side of a mountain waiting to be rescued. There are two women who were being mauled by a grizzly and had to defy death. It is a reminder that Mother Nature doesn’t much care if you live or die, even if you do! Interesting reading for sure. Center of Gravity by Geva Salerno ($12.95, Levity Press, softcover) is the true account of how a woman changed her entire life in one year and found her personal power. She conducted an experiment in which she gave up dating for a year so she could focus on her transformation and, in the process, make some discoveries that can impact other women who are overworked, divorced, and obsessed with society’s vision of the perfect life. It’s a leap of faith on her part. She tells of dismantling her false life and building a new authentic one. She has since become an advocate for women’s empowerment.

We have a way of turning outlaws like Billy the Kid and the Sundance Kid into American icons and this is particularly true of the Mafia that became the subjects of movies and television series. C. Alexander Hortis has written “the hidden history of how the Mafia captured New York” in The Mob and the City ($24.95, Prometheus Books) and it is a fascinating look at the Sicilian gangs in the 1930s evolved into the Mafia families that gained power as Prohibition became the law and as drugs became widely used, dominating crime through to the 1950s. This is a thorough and authentic history unlike “The Godfather” and countless other books. As such it is filled with surprises, based on primary sources and even secret files obtained through the Freedom of Information Act; as always, the truth is often more interesting than the fiction. The author is an attorney and an authority on the Mafia.

To Your Health

Americans may be the most health conscious people on Earth, despite the obvious fact that many are overweight and enjoy smoking and other things that we are constantly reminded will kill us.

I have been told that meditation is good for one’s mental health and I received Janet Nima Taylor’s Meditation for Non Meditators: Learn to Meditate in Five Minutes ($15.00, available from, softcover). Having spent 20 years as a corporate executive, her passion has been to help people change their behavior to create positive habits. Following her corporate career she became an American Buddhist monk and is now the director of the Temple Buddhist Center in Kansas City and executive director of the Dzogchen Foundation, a national non-profit Buddhist and meditation organization. The thing I liked about this book is that it does not require you to sit on the floor, close your eyes, or do it as a religious exercise. Instead, it is a pragmatic manual on how focusing on your breathing can help lower stress and create a sense of peace and well-being no matter what your religious beliefs may be or whether you even have any. A short way of describing this is that you will learn how to hit the pause button and rest in the present moment. That strikes me as a very good idea and this book is a way to learn to do it.

Since my Mother taught gourmet cooking for three decades I concluded that you are what you eat. That’s why The Power of Food: Enhancing Stem Cell Growth and Decreasing Inflammation by Bonnie Raffel, R.D., ($29.95, Langdon Street Press) caught my eye. After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, the author discovered she was allergic to the drug prescribed to slow the disease’s neurologic deterioration. As a registered dietitian, Raffel search for a way to combat the disease through nutrition and the result is her book that combines original recipes and nutritional advice to help MS patients and anyone seeking a natural, healthier lifestyle. The New Greenmarket Cookbook by Gabrielle Langholtz ($24.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) combines healthy eating with good health as it offers recipes by New York’s top chefs to take advantage of the produce available from farmers markets. It’s one thing to have access to freshly picked vegetables and fruits, and another to know how to take advantage of them with delicious salads and other delightful dishes that include fish, lamb, and other delectables. It helps if you live in New York, but these markets exist in most big cities.

Athlete, Not Food Addict: Wellspring’s Seven Steps to Weight Loss ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover by Daniel S. Kirschenbaum, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist, shatters widespread beliefs about the addictive nature of food and offers an empowering method for effective weight loss. It is his view that overweight problems are caused by resistant biological forces within us, our culture, and a lack of knowledge about how to manage and overcome these challenges. He wants the reader to be a “weight-controller athlete” and learn how to use their brains to mold their bodies in a healthy direction, just as athlete’s do. One might say it is mind over platter, instead of mind over matter. For women athletes there’s The Pregnant Athlete by Brandi and Steven Dion with Joel Heller, MD, and Perry McIntosh ($17.99, Da Capo Press, softcover). The book says there is no reason that someone used to a high level of physical activity should continue her training through a normal, healthy pregnancy. It charts the changes a woman can expect in her strength, agility, and stamina each month and includes lots of good advice. Brandi is the mother of two, so this book is author-tested.

For Younger Readers

Getting children accustomed to reading books early on is the key to their success later in life. We’re fortunate to have so many books written for the pre-school, early readers, and teens.

Time for Kids is a publisher of some really excellent books for younger readers. They are particularly educational, but distinguished as well by extraordinary use of photos that make every page exciting. Among the latest are Big Book of When ($19.95) that makes history come alive answering questions such as “When did a human first travel in space?” and “When did the Egyptians build the pyramids of Giza?”  There are 801 such questions covering many topics that will interest any younger reader. Time for Kids also has a series, “Book of Why”, smaller, shorter softcover that also pose and answer many questions ($4.99 each) that include “Really Cool People and Places”, “Awesome Animal Kingdom”, “Amazing Sports and Science”, and “Stellar Space.”  Children tend to lose some of the knowledge they learn during the school year so these books, particularly during the summer, increase their knowledge and deepen their need to keep learning.

Aimed at those kids age 3 to 6, Early Birdy Gets the Worm created by Bruce Lansky and illustrated by Bill Bolton ($15.99, Meadowbrook Press) is a book without text so that the story is told entirely by its illustrations. It is the 2014 Gold Winner in Children’s Picture Books from the Mom’s Choice Awards. In effect, the children “read” the pictures of Early Birdy learning how to catch a worm after watching Mother Bird. It is a very funny adventure and a great way to introduce a child to the joy a book can offer. Others in this series include Polar Brrr’s Big Adventure and Monkey See, Monkey Do.  Next step are books with a text.

From Ideals Children’s Books, Nashville, TN, comes a new series, “Shine Bright Kids”, ( the creation of Christy Ziglar, the daughter of famed motivator, Zig Ziglar. A mother of twins and a certified financial planner, she wanted to publish books that will help younger readers develop good money management skills. Must-Have Marvin! ($14.99) will ring a bell for any parent whose child wants to have the latest new things he or she learns about and is, in fact, the second in the series which began in 2013 with Can’t-Wait Willow ($14.99) about a little girl who spends all her time and money on things she doesn’t really want or need. Both are written by Christy Ziglar and are illustrated by Luanne Marten. Both impart valuable lessons from Willow’s need to learn how to delay instant gratification and Marvin’s need to learn that people matter more than things. For early readers, 5 and up, the texts are easy and entertaining, benefitting from the artwork. For parents, they teach good lessons in life in ways that just explaining them might not.

I’m a fan of a series, “When I Grow Up I Want to Be” from Wigu Publishing ( of Laguna Beach, California. I recommend you visit their websites because you are likely to find a title that fits your child’s interest. The latest is devoted to being In the U.S. Navy ($12.95) that features young Noah who dreams of being in the Navy just like his grandfather who is taking him to tour a real aircraft carrier. Noah’s little sister is coming along as well and as they discover how interesting the carrier is with its crew and different decks, the readers will too. For the early readers of this series, doors open up thanks to the useful, accurate information they provide.

Young adults will enjoy Pandemic by Yvonne Ventresca ($`6.95, Sky Pony Press/Skyhorse Publishing), the story of Lilianna Snyder’s sudden change from a model student to a withdrawn pessimist who worries about all kinds of disasters. One arrives in the form of quick-spreading illness that doctors are unable to treat. With her parents away on business, she finds herself on her own when the bird flu pandemic arrives and friends and neighbors begin dying around her. She must find a way to survive the deadly outbreak and, at the same time, deal with her personal demons, the result of a teacher’s sexual assault. If this sounds very grownup, it is. Also for young adults and for those who like a bit of magic in their fiction, there’s Dangerous Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl whose previous book, “Beautiful Creatures” is now a motion picture. This novel is part of a series by them and is a tale of love and magic in which a woman with magical capabilities, Ridley Duchannes, and her wannabe rocker boyfriend, Wesley “Link” Lincoln leave Stonewall Jackson High School and their adolescence behind as they head to New York City, each for their own reasons. Ridley is accustomed to using her powers to control Mortals, but her overconfidence has cost her and now she has debts to settle in the city. Link has dreams to become a rock star and joins a band comprised of “Dark Supernaturals.” It’s hard to describe this novel, but that is not to say it will prove entertaining to younger adult readers.

Novels, Novels, Novels

The flow of new novels into my office reflects the even greater number of novels being published these days by large and small publishers as well as self-published. The best I can do is to select from the many I receive and take notice of them for your consideration.

Dodendal: Valley of Dreams by Jim Holmgren ($14.95, softcover) is a good example of a self-published book. The author has created a fictional future of the United States, one very different from the present where we continue to have faith in our Constitution. By tweaking some current trends, his novel suggests the importance of protecting the freedoms we often take for granted. It is fifty years hence and the action takes place over the course of one fateful weekend during the celebrating the tricentennial of the “former” U.S, one bankrupted after Mideast oil wars in the 2030s and missing four states including California after the Second Mexican-American War. The nation is now run by a corporation that has imposed a totalitarian society. Dissenters tend to disappear. You can learn more at A debut novel by Jeff Critser, Cold Shadows, ($16.95, Dark Matters Press, softcover) has a similar feel to it. It is a techno-thriller that reflects the public’s distrust in government and activities taken outside of any oversight, something in the news as we read of concerns about the National Security Agency. Playing off those concerns, the novel explores themes of smuggling and murder, all committed in the name of an undefined and ill-conceived “greater good.”  When Philip Kurchow, the IT manager for a transportation company in Munich, aware of a smuggling operation in Eastern Europe is murdered, his friend Kip Michelson tries to find out why and how it happened only to find himself ensnared in a dark world of betrayal. A lethal virus, stolen from Russian vaults, is up for sale and Kip is recruited by the FBI to uncover the smuggling. Secretly, the CIA is trying to intercept the technology for clandestine research. Kip finds himself being stalked and must race to expose what is occurring. You won’t put this one down until you’ve read it cover to cover.

Lovers of thriller novels will enjoy The Argentine Triangle ($16.95, Select Books, softcover)  by Allan Topol, the author of “The Russian Endgame” that hit the bestseller lists. Topol has authored nine novels of international intrigue and, in this novel former CIA director Craig Page is enjoying a new, exhilarating life racing cars across Europe. When an old friend goes missing during a covert mission in Argentina, he gets involved. It takes him undercover into the glamorous world of Buenos Aires’ wealthy elite and the plans of two colonels that requires him to implement his experience and skills to expose their plot for a cataclysmic future for South America. This is a classic espionage novel and international thriller with villains and exotic locales. Two Soldiers by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom ($26.99, Quercus) takes you to Stockholm, Sweden where it was originally published and into the life of Jose Pereira, a police officer who heads up the department’s Organized Crime and Gang Section, who must find two ruthless young criminals. It is a look at the dark and dangerous world where gang life is the only place that boys from broken, impoverished families can find acceptance and from which there is no escape. The novel has been called an “unsettling portrait of the gangland cycle of violence, desperation, and hope.” It is all that and a very compelling read as well.

A High Price to Pay is a Madeline Dawkins novel by Cynthia Hamilton ( I enjoyed her last book, “Spouse Trap”, and in this one Madeline’s dual professions as event coordinator and private investigator cross paths during the most lavish affair of her career—a weekend-long fortieth birthday extravaganza for the wife of a famous film director. A simple background check after the disappearance of some family jewels quickly turns into a murder investigation, and before Madeline and Mike can put the pieces together, another body turns up. As the Santa Barbara police and sheriff’s departments search for clues, the Mad Dog P.I.’s use their own methods to untangle the crimes, discovering some unsavory truths behind the glittering fa├žade of their clients. To add to Madeline’s already overflowing plate, the D.A. informs her that Rick Yeoman, one of the men who had abducted her three years earlier, has been prematurely released from prison after cutting a deal with the Feds. Besides fearing reprisals from the man she helped to convict, his parole also triggers the reappearance of soulless Lionel Usherwood, lured out his hideaway by the call of revenge. When Yeoman’s body surfaces in Lake Cachuma, Usherwood moves on to the next target: Madeline.

The Never Never Sisters by L. Alison Heller ($15.00, New American Library, softcover) is a story of a woman who just needs to get away and relax. Paige Reinhardt, a hardworking marriage counselor, is looking forward to reconnecting with his busy husband for a summer in the Hamptons, but a mysterious emergency at work ruins their travel plans and everything begins to unravel. As Paige tries to figure out what is really going on in her own marriage, her sister suddenly returns after twenty years and Paige discovers that she may not know her family as well as she thought as she digs into her husband’s work crisis. She must figure out if it is worth it to find herself at the risk of losing her most precious relationships. This is about the complicated bond between sisters and the secrets kept to protect the ones we love. The author is a divorce lawyer and this brings a special level of insight to the story.

That’s it for June! Be sure to come back in July and, in the meantime, tell your friends, family and coworkers who enjoy reading about