Monday, December 1, 2014
Bookviews - December 2014
By Alan Caruba
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
My Picks of the Month
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
My Picks of the Month
Not long ago I read a book that predicted the decline of America as a world power. The author, a historian, made his case, but I was not convinced and, after reading Peter Zeihan’s new book, The Accidental Superpower: The Next Generation of American Preeminence and the Coming Global Disorder ($28.00, Twelve) I am encouraged to believe his hypothesis that America, by virtue of its geographic location and its tradition of welcoming and assimilating people who want freedom and liberty, will emerge safely from a period of disorder he sees ahead for the world. The entire book depends on his prediction of global disorder that will occur between 2015 and 2030. It seems to me that the world is always in some stage of disorder, but I agree that America’s unique location with two great oceans on its coasts and two allies, Canada and Mexico, north and south of us, plus our maritime and military superiority, bodes well for its future. Thanks to “fracking” we are going to be energy independent and we are the nation others send their money to keep it safe. Our agricultural sector is powerful as well. Zeihan writes of a future in which the world order in which the U.S. has provided since the end of WWII will be withdrawn. I find it hard to believe it will cease to ensure protection of the sea lanes vital to trade thanks to energy independence and the cost of ensuring world order—the absence of wars. The best that can be said is that reading his book provides a valuable insight to the way geography, location, determines in great part the history and the future of nations with whom we share this planet.
Another book takes a look at America in terms of its superpower status with a particular emphasis between it and Russia, the former Soviet Union with whom the U.S. had a long Cold War. By Marin Katusa, it is titled The Colder War: How the Global Energy Trade Slipped from America’s Grasp ($29.95, Wiley and Casey Research). It would strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in and concerned about the future as we watch our influence and power drain away under the leadership of a President who has steadily worked to isolate the nation and withdraw from playing a role in international affairs. Katusa spells out why Russia’s Vladimir Putin has demonstrated a far greater grasp of geopolitical affairs than our President and what they means for ours and the world’s future. Russia has a wealth of energy reserves, coal, oil, and natural gas, much as the U.S. has, but the U.S. government has, for decades, suppressed its growth while the new Russian Federation under Putin’s leadership is expanding it. This book is so full of facts and insights regarding what is going on in the world’s energy sector that it is virtually essential to read it in order to understand what is happening and what may happen.
Alex Epstein makes The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels as the author of his book of the same name ($27.95, Penguin Random House), providing a world of facts about coal, oil and natural gas that destroys all the blather about “renewable” energy, wind and solar. The latter are unreliable and expensive. Nations that have spent a lot of money on them have also discovered that their electric bills soared while, at the same time, they had to maintain plants fueled by fossil fuels to back up the “Green” energy “farms.” Despite all the criticism fossil fuels have received, their emissions represent no threat to the environment because carbon dioxide plays virtually no role to influence the weather or climate. While it has increased in the atmosphere, the Earth has been in a cooling cycle for the past 19 years! Moreover, fossil fuels exist in abundance around the world despite claims we will run out of them. The current fracking boom in natural gas and oil will make the U.S. energy independent with no need to depend on expensive imported fossil fuels. The point Epstein makes is that fossil fuels have transformed our human life, freeing humanity from its dependence on muscle power while transforming agriculture and bringing about an industrial revolution that has extended human life while enhancing it with the power to live in comfort and travel with ease.
I would also recommend reading Anthony Bright-Paul’s excellent Climate for the Layman ($19.50, available via Amazon.com, softcover) which provides understanding and insights regarding the Earth’s climate in a way that a reader, with or without any knowledge of the science, can easily comprehend and enjoy. At a time when the UN has created a “Climate Fund” to redistribute billions from industrialized nations to those who have failed to take the steps to develop (often due to corrupt leaders) everyone needs to know what really constitutes the Earth’s climate and to grasp that it is the result of vast, powerful forces beyond anything humanity does. Our use of fossil fuels, for example, does not cause “global warming” and, indeed, the Earth is in a 19-year cooling cycle that reflects the Sun’s reduction in the amount of radiation it is producing, itself a natural cycle. The science is virtually self-evident. As the author says, “Once we accept that the Sun warms the Earth—that is to say the surfaces of this Planet—and that the surfaces warm the atmosphere by 'thermal contact' (1st law of thermodynamics) then we can see that all the arguments about carbon dioxide 'causing' warming of the atmosphere—trumpeted in so many of the Warmist websites—are irrelevant.” This book is distinguished by the author’s clarity and easy comprehension. I guarantee it will make you the smartest person in the room with the topic of climate comes up!
One of the greatest economists of our time was Dr. Milton Friedman, a 1976 Nobel Prize winner who taught at the University of Chicago for more than three decades. He was an advocate of the free market and known for his research on consumption analysis and monetary history and theory. Friedman died in 2006. My friend, Ben A. Cerruti, has worked in several aspects of our economy and has been active for two decades addressing various ballot issues in San Francisco. His website, www.arationaladvocate.com is always worth visiting. “It did not enter my mind at the time that writing my first letter to Milton Friedman in March 1992 would lead to continuing correspondence for over a decade.” Though Cerruti had been a registered representative for a major New York Stock Exchange firm and had received a BSEE degree from the University of California at Berkeley, he “had never attended a single class on the key subject of economics either in college or high school.” He had questions about the Federal Reserve and other related issues so he wrote to Dr. Friedman and he generously responded to Cerruti’s questions and thoughts. The happy result is Dear Milton Friedman: A Decade of Lessons from an Economics Master ($14.94, softcover, available from Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble and LULU), a collection of their exchange of letters. If economics is a mystery to you, I recommend reading this book. Friedman’s responses are an education in themselves. If you have wondered what makes capitalism different from socialism and why it has proven itself better at creating wealth anywhere it has been adopted, pick up What Adam Smith Knew: Moral Lessons on Capitalism from its Greatest Champions and Fiercest Opponents ($16.95, Encounter Books, softcover), edited and introduced by James R. Otteson.) We live in times in which even Communist China retains its political system, but has adopted capitalism and has, in three decades, risen to become a global economic power, For former Soviet Union failed because of its Communist economic system, but now competes as a major power in the energy marketplace. This book contains essays and excerpts by some of the top thinker on this important subject.
For anyone eho is concerned about identity theft resulting from the vast hacking operations that acquire all manner of information about people, then I strong recommend you read Spam Nation: The Inside Story of Organized Cybercrime—From Global Epidemic to Your Front Door by cybersecurity expert, Brian Krebs ($24.99, Sourcebooks). You will learn about the criminal masterminds behnd some of the largest spam and hacker operations who are targeting you and your bank account. I am frankly surprised this book has not generated more coverage in the mainstream press and on TV news channels and other programs. Spam costs the U.S. an estimated $40 billion a year and 85% of products purchased through span are bought by your fellow Americans. These are operations that can take control of your computer to blast out spam and viruses to your contacts, can infiltrate your inbox through malware embedded in emails and can harvest usernames, passwords, online banking credentials, and other personal information. It can lock you out of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media. It can sell your account information on the digital black market. This may be the most important book you read this month.
As you might imagine, I think books make great gifts and some are ideally suited to become personal heirlooms that remains a part of the lives of those receiving them. I could not help but think this when I saw two of the latest books from the Folio Society, London. This publisher offers fiction and non-fiction classics with special attention to producing a handsome looking, beautifully illustrated book. For boys this year, a new edition of Treasure Island by Robert Lewis Stevenson ($84.95) is available and for girls there’s Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women ($74.99). A visit to Folio Society’s website will excite anyone who has a deep love of books and wants to pass it on to a child or friend, or add to one’s personal library. For nearly seventy years the Folio Society has been devoted to publishing books that are individual works of art; the kind that are passed on from generation to generation. There’s even a Folio 2015 Diary at $24.95 to keep track of important dates and events in the year ahead.
Every year for as long as I can recall, this is the month I recommend the latest annual edition of the World Almanac® and Book of Facts and 2015 is no exception ($13.99, softcover). Now available, it features the top ten news topics of 2014 as well as offbeat news stories that are entertaining. The editors chose the most controversial franchise sports team owners for the new edition and have included some useful health care statistics among its encyclopedic collection of data. The results of the 2014 midterm elections are also included. You are sure to enjoy sections such as “The World at a Glance” and “Time Capsule” which make their return. I know we’re all inclined to Google answers these days, but the World Almanac® and Book of Facts is a treasure of information at your fingertips that is always a good idea to keep handy.
In September 2005, Fleming Rose, the editor of the Danish newspaper, Jyl-lands-Posten, commissioned and published a number of cartoons about Islam, prompted by his perceptions of self-censorship by the European media. One of the cartoons, by the artist Kurt Westergaard, depicted Mohammad wearing a bomb in his turban. Muslims are forbidden to depict their prophet in any fashion and the cartoon set off a violent international uproar in which Danish embassies were attack and 200 deaths were attributed to the protests. The story of that event is told by Rose in The Tyranny of Silence: How One Cartoon Ignited a Global Debate on the Future of Free Speech ($24.95, Cato Institute). “My personal view is that Americans are right,” he says in the first chapter. “Freedom and tolerance are, to me, two sides of the same coin, and both are under pressure.” Rose, who had worked in the former Soviet Union, understood how numbing the suppression of criticism and the squelching of free speech can be. “Taking offense has never been easier” says Rose and he believes it has become excessive. As a working journalist, he sees threats to free speech and the intimidation of reporters on the rise in Europe. Cato Institute is a libertarian think tank and its books are always stimulating on often on the cutting edge of events and issues.
Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism by Karima Bennoune ($16.95, W.W. Norton, softcover) demonstrates that, within Islam, there are many who find the Islamists as great an enemy as non-Muslims who feel threatened. The author is an international human rights lawyer, professor and activist who recalls the night that, during the Algerian “dark decade” of fundamentalist violence in the 1990s, banged on the door of her family’s home when she was a young girl. Her father was a professor who was an outspoken critic of both the Algerian government and the fundamentalists who opposed it. She grabbed a knife to protect him, but those banging on the door went away. For their safety they would leave their Algeria. Her book chronicles the lives of those who resisted the extremism despite direct threats at home and Western indifference from abroad. She interviewed 286 people of Muslim heritage from 26 nations. Their tales from the battle for tolerance, equality, and freedom are stunning and inspiring. These are people whose homes and workplaces were hit by bombs, who lost friends, family and coworkers to the extremists. It is well worth reading.There are 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide and many are decent, good people, but their silence encourages a faction of fanatical Islamism that is killing people with the intention of imposing Islam by terror on the world. James E. Horn is a retired U.S. diplomat who spent a decade in the Middle East and saw Islam up close. He has written Moslem Men Fear Women: Islam is Toxic for Females ($15.19, softcover, available from Amazon.com) that spells out how Islam confirms a virtual slave status on women, citing the Koran and other sources. You will learn about “honor killings” and other practices that will likely cause you to ask why this aspect of Islam is not better known. He wrote it as a warning to non-Muslim women who are considering marrying into the faith. It is quite stark and quite accurate.
If I had to recommend a single book on the history of the United States I would unhesitatingly recommend A Patriot’s History of the United States by Larry Schweikart and Michael Allen. Its 10th anniversary edition has been published by Sentinel, an imprint of the Penguin Group of books ($25.00) and is 981 pages long. A softcover, it is a thick volume, but that just means it is filled with the kind of information you may not find in other histories that bring biases to bear on their interpretation of the nation’s great figures and the principles that created and sustained it. There is no question that America is truly exceptional, starting with the fact that we have the longest operative constitution of any other nation. The book does not shy from aspects of our history such as slavery, but puts it in the context of its times and reveals that many of the Founding Fathers wanted to abolish it, but could not because they needed the southern colonies to sign on to the creation of the nation. All the high spots of our history are there to be enjoyed. One can only express wonder, astonishment, and pride in the men who put their lives on the line for the idea of freedom, liberty, and a nation of laws.
A Christmas Far from Home: An Epic Tale of Courage and Survival During the Korean War is told by Stanley Weintraub ($26.95, Da Capo Press), a noted historian who has authored more than fifty books of history and biography, including Pearl Harbor Christmas. Anyone who enjoys reading history will find this a timely Christmas gift. He takes the reader back to just before Thanksgiving in 1950, five months into the Korean War, often called the forgotten war. Weintraub was an Army officer in the Korean War so he brings a personal knowledge of the daily challenges the U.S. servicemen faced. Indeed, what they faced in addition to the frigid winter was a numerically overwhelming and determined enemy. General MacArthur believed he could bring the war to a quick end but his strategy nearly resulted in disaster. The U.S. troops had pushed swiftly to the Yalu River with what seemed little resistance. On the other side of the river, however, were the forces of Red China and when they began to pour into North Korea that forced a long march to the coast in an escape led by Marines. It did not end until the last American servicemen were able to board a ship and weigh anchor on Christmas Eve. Ultimately the war would be a stalemate for an America that had won World War Two not long before. A ceasefire exists to this day. That 1950 December was filled with drama and great courage that makes for great reading.
One of the lesser known figures in the history of World War II was Henry Morgenthau, Jr., Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury as well as a longtime personal friend of his. Peter Moreira has written a book about Morgenthau’s extraordinary contribution to the war effort by raising the billions needed to arm our military to fight the Nazis as well as the Japanese Empire. In The Jew Who Defeated Hitler: Henry Morgenthau Jr., FDR, and How We Won the War ($25.00, Prometheus Books) Moreira has written a biography that tells the story of his achievement during that challenge to freedom and the Nazi’s accompanying campaign of genocide. At a time when there was considerable anti-Semitism in America, Morgenthau, a Jew, was in a position to do what he could to respond to the Nazi challenge and that posed by the Japanese. What he did was mastermind a savings bond program that raised the millions needed to arm the American military, building the aircraft, tanks, and all other elements of battle. The author admits the title of the book is an over-statement, but it does point to the fact that Morgenthau was the right man in the right place at the right time. Ironically, he was a college dropout who gave little indication initially of his skills and his accomplishments, but he was widely recognized as a man of integrity who ensured the Department of Treasury was run with the highest standards of ethics and integrity. Anyone who is interested in this dramatic era of our history will find this book fills in a largely overlooked aspect of it, the way Americans bankrolled our military and aided our allies to resist the Nazis. In the wake of the Holocaust, the anti-Semitism did not entirely cease, but it did fade considerably from American life.
Adopting a child is a good option, but Mary Ostyn thinks the better prepared a woman is can make the process easier. That’s why she wrote Forever Mom: What to Expect When You’re Adopting ($16.99, Thomas Nelson, softcover). She married her high school sweetheart at age 19 and together they had four children by their eighth anniversary. Three years later they became aware of the needs of orphans all over the world and, in time, they adopted two boys from Korea and four girls from Ethiopia. In addition to her accounts of the experience she offers a range of advice that make adoption easier for everyone involved, citing the best reason to adopt—because you want to parent a child—to all the adjustments you should anticipate. The book has a religious orientation; Thomas Nelson is a Christian publisher, but the experiences she shares are well worth learning about. Coming in January is Adopting Older Children: A Practical Guide to Adopting and Parenting Children Over Age Four ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) by Stephanie Bosco-Ruggiero, MA, a communications and research assistant for the National Center for Social Work, Gloria Russo-Wassell LMHC, a certified counselor and doctoral candidate in educational and development psychology, and Victor Gorza, Ph.D., LISW-S, a professor of Social Work at the Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences. With all those degrees between them they have collaborated to help anyone thinking about adopting one of the 200,000 children in the U.S. and more worldwide hoping to become part of a family. The book highlights the most significant challenges facing an older child including mental health, behavioral, and educational issues. The older adopted child may be coping with grief and a range of problems. The guide begins with advice on initiating the adoption process, explains the difference between infant and older child adoption, some of the obstacles one might encounter, and a full range of other advice to facilitate and respond to the entire process.
Just Be A Dad: Things My Father Never Told Me by George Cave, Ph.D. ($28.00, Tignor Publishing) is one of those books any man who is on the brink of being a first time father should read as well as one to help any man who is already experiencing fatherhood. It is filled with a richness of wisdom and reality. Dr. Cave begins with the view that it is impossible to be a good father if he is not a good husband. Thus, the model the father sets and his relationship with the mother is what their children learn is appropriate. A longtime psychologist, the author has great faith in the profession to help those who turn to psychotherapy to solve problems. It helped him mend his relationship with a former wife and to have a good relationship with their children and those she had in her new marriage. “Being a good father can be the most challenging thing a man will ever do,” says Dr. Cave and he believes it is critical to the kind of person his children will become. His book is filled with advice a new father might not get from others and all in one place between a front and back cover.
Our Furry Friends
For the cat lover in your life, there’s the classic The Fur Person by May Sarton ($13.95, W.W. Norton, softcover), an acclaimed poet, novelist, and memoirist who passed away in 1995. She tells the enchanting story of Tom Jones, a fearless independent Cat Around Town who, growing tired of his vagabond lifestyle decided that he should move in with Sarton and her companion in Cambridge, Massachusetts. There’s a reason this book continues to be published. It’s just so much fun to read!
For dog lovers, there’s Judy: The Unforgettable Story of a Dog Who Went to War and Became a True Hero by Danien Lewis ($24.99, Quercus). Judy gained fame as the only animal POW of World War II. An English Pointer, she was fearless and loyal, dragging men from the wreakage of a torpedoed ship, scavenging food to help feed the starving inmates of a hellish Japanese POW camp, or just by bringing hope to men living through the war’s darkest days. She was adored by the British, Australian, American and other Allied servicemen who fought alongside her. Boring in Shanghai, China, she soon became the mascot for a gunboat called the HMS Gnat. When the war brought out the ship was transferred to Singapore. She was invaluable for her ability to warn of Japanese air attacks long before the warplanes became visible or audible to the British crew. Based on interviews with the few living veterans who knew her and extensive archival research, her story will inspire any reader who loves our canine friends.
The Navy SEALS have been in the news of late, but little has been known of its beginning until Patrick K. O’Donnell wrote First SEALS: The Untold Story of the Forging of America’s Most Elite Unit ($25.99, Da Capo Press). Credited with some of the most perilous missions in the history of the Armed Forces, SEALS are the stuff of Hollywood films and now you can read about the real-life heroes who composed the group’s origins/ They include Jack Taylor, now a California dentist, Sterling Hayden who became a Hollywood star, and others. The SEAL acronym stands for Sea, Air, and Land , known as a maritime unit, the first swimmer commandos and warrior spies who were decades ahead of their time when they created the tactics, technology and philosophy that inspires today’s generation of SEALs. You will be inspired as well when you read this book.
A very different story is told in Into the Black: The Inside Story of Metallica (1991-2014) by Paul Brannigan and Ian Winwood ($26.99, Da Capo Press). For the band, 1991 was a big milestone, its ten-year anniversary. In the years that followed, the group would battle criticism from the media, hits on its image as the leading “pop metal” band, and shaky rapport with the public that had brought it to fame. Last year Da Capo Press published volume one of the author’s two-part Metallica biography, “Birth School Metallica Death”, that chronicled the first decade. This volume delves deeper into the groups dealings with fans, fame, and competing banks.
Halfway Home, the story of her trip to Japan by Christine Mari Inzer, a 17 year old senior at Connecticut’s Darien High School, is described as “a graphic novel” for younger readers, ages 12 and up. It features not only her drawings but photos of her taken during the trip, so it is more a memoir or a story by someone who has lived every minute of it ($11.95, Naruhodo Press, softcover). Indeed, the introduction says it is the story of her summer in 2013 when she spent eight weeks in Japan visiting her grandparents and getting reacquainted with her birthplace. Her Japanese mother is married to an American. Suffice to say it will prove very entertaining to a young reader and particularly to Asian-American youth.
Novels, Novels, Novels
The Drum Tower by Farnoosh Moshiri ($25.95, Black Heron Press) is his fourth work of fiction and it has already won an award as well as being nominated for a PEN/Faulkner Award. It is a story narrated by a 16-year-old girl, depicting the fall of Drum Tower, the house of a family descended from generations of War Ministers to the rules of Iran. Peopled by interesting characters, it chronicles the early days of the Islamic Revolution that occurred in 1979 and overthrew the shah. We become witnesses to the competition of the competing factions and the rise of the Revolutionary Guard, along with chaos and murder in the streets of Tehran, as well as the arrests and executions of members of her family. In many ways, this provides a far more graphic look at what occurred than just a straight history as you join the narrator trapped in a labyrinth of family history and the turmoil of the revolution that affects current events. Superbly written, I am happy to recommend it.
Livingston Press is part of the University of West Alabama and over the years I have received some interesting fiction from them. The latest is A Light Like Ida Lupino by W.C. Bamberger ($30.00 hardcover, $17.95 softcover). The main character, Lincoln Heath, has done something unforgiveable and as the novel begins he has returned to the northern Michigan peninsula where the event occurred in order to live near his grandmother and help her struggle to keep her financially-troubled cherry orchard survive being gobbled up by upscale vintners or condo builders. It is not a pleasant place made moreso by the fact that many still living there recall what happened and despise Lincoln. He’s not looking for forgiveness, but to find a way to restore the emotional spectrum he has lost. Suffice to say this is not your usual story that has any predictability to it. As such readers will find themselves wanting to see how it unwinds. The same publisher has another novel, Dark Road, Dead End ($31.00 hardcover, $17.95 softcover) by Philip Ciofarri that looks at the trade in exotic and endangered species, a multi-billion dollar industry. Reportedly it is the world’s third largest organized crime after narcotics and arms running. The story is told through the eyes of Walter Morrison who works undercover for the U.S. Customs Service. It’s not long after he arrives in town that he sees evidence of wildlife smuggling. The wildlife is supplied to pet stores, private hunt clubs, wildlife safari parks and even “respectable” zoos. As he delves into it, someone at his own agency has put out the word about him, putting his life at risk. Here again, a novel provides considerable insight within the fictional context.
Those who enjoy historical novels will enjoy The Oblate’s Confession by William Peak ($25.99, Secant Publishing) that takes them back to the dark ages in England. A warrior gives his son to a monastery that rides the border between two rival Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and, growing up in a land wracked by war and plague, the boy learns of the oath that binds him to the church and which forces a cruel choice on him. To love one father, the one of his birth or the bishop for whom he prays daily, he must betray another, he is forced to make a decision that shatters his world and haunts him. History provides us with Little Miss Sure Shot: Annie Oakley’s World by Jeffrey Marshall ($8.95, available from Amazon.com, softcover and ebook edition). Famed as a star of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, she was catapulted to international fame in the late 1880s by virtue of her firearms skills. While Hollywood has portrayed her as a young woman in “Annie Get Your Gun”, she actually was a rather prim and religious woman with a 50-year marriage to Frank Butler. Her legend lives on to today and the reality portrayed in this novel will have you admiring her in this breezy, easy read.
For those who enjoy a traditional mystery, there’s E. Michael Helm’s Deadly Ruse: A Mac McClellan Mystery ($15.95, Seventh Street Books, softcover) that begins when Mac’s girlfriend, Kate Bell, thinks she has seen a ghost. Wes Harrison, Kate’s former boyfriend, supposedly perished twelve years earlier in a boating accident, but she is sure that the man she spotted in a crowded theatre lobby is Wes. Being a private investigator, Mac begins to look into what happened and what emerges is a story of drug deals and, when Mac and Kate barely escape a murder attempt, he knows he’s on the right track. It is a very entertaining, tightly written story.
That’s it for December. As we bid 2014 goodbye, we can look forward to a new year filled with great fiction and non-fiction. Bookviews.com is the place to visit each month to learn about them. Tell your book loving friends, family and coworkers. And come back in January!