Friday, February 27, 2015

Bookviews - March 2015

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

A remarkable book about the roots of environmentalism, Nazi Oaks: The Green Sacrifice of the Judeo-Christian Worldview in the Holocaust, ($26.35, Advantage Inspirational, softcover, available on, by R. Mark Musser was first published in 2010 and is now just been updated and reissued in its fourth edition. It deserves a far wider readership than it has gained until now because in part it is not an easy read, but also because it is one of the few books to explain how the Nazi ideology evolved over the decades to reach a point where it initiated the deliberate extermination of Europe’s Jews. The most astonishing aspect of this is how interwoven its belief system was with the environmental “truths” we are still hearing and reading today. For example, Ernst Haeckel, the father of German Social Darwinism, was the man who coined the word “ecology” in 1896. The Nazi “science” that justified racism drew on German romanticism, existentialism, and nature worship. The Nazis incorporated environmentalism into their lives and beliefs, abandoning the Judeo-Christian God for “gaia”, the Earth god. Mark Musser came to his discovery of the inherently evil roots of environmentalism by way of a Master of Divinity in 1994 and missionary service in Belarus and Ukraine for seven years. He is a pastor by trade. I cannot recommend reading this book in strong enough terms because it is a warning that explains why so much of what passes for environmentalism today carries within it the seeds of evil that triggered the Nazi era. Having failed to carry off the “global warming” hoax thanks to the past 19 years of the planet’s cooling cycle, its advocates are now embarked on a “climate change” hoax, claiming it is “man-made.” It is not, but the evil that men do is.

In March 2014, in a commentary on my blog, Warning Signs, I wrote “Do you have the feeling that we no longer have government from the federal to the local level that is able to function because of vast volumes of laws and regulations that have made it impossible to do anything from build a bridge to run a nursing home? If so, you’re right. The nation is falling behind others who do a better job by permitting elected and appointed officials to actually make decisions. We are living in a nation where lawsuits follow every decision to accomplish anything. This is the message of Philip K. Howard in a book that everyone concerned for the future of America should read; “The Rule of Nobody: Saving America from Dead Laws and Broken Government.” Happily, a softcover edition has been published ($15.95, W.W. Norton) and, if you missed the opportunity to read it last year, I strongly recommend you do so this year. Howard explains why just changing leaders does not change a Washington which is drowning the nations in laws that often run to more than 2,000 pages in length. The result is a monstrosity of regulations that tell officials and citizens what to do and how to do it. A mammoth government renders decision-making virtually impossible and the result is that our schools, our health care system, and virtually every other element of life is paralyzed or unaffordable. There is, in a word, no accountability, no one who need take responsibility. Putting people back in charge of our government is the heart of this excellent, entertaining, and frightening book.

Have you always wished you had an opportunity to read the classics of literature when you were in school? These days entire generations pass through our schools without more than a brief introduction to Shakespeare or Chaucer. In contrast to that, for 28 years in Naples, New York, you didn’t go to college without passing Alan Griesinger’s Advanced Placement English class. And they loved it. You’ll understand why when you read his book, A Comic Vision of Great Constancy: Stories about Unlocking the Wisdom of Everyman ($29.95, Mascot Books). He provides insights drawn from a reading of “The Knight’s Tale” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” They serve as a literary framework for Griesinger’s side trips into politics, religion, psychology, and the general art of being human. His classes were a training ground for character development, good citizenship, and rigorous thinking. His book has the same effect and is very likely to make you the smartest person in the room after you’ve read it.

Improving Your Life

There has been one genre of books that has been around since books were first being published. They are books that impart advice on various aspects of one’s life to help the reader improve in some respect.

It’s Not Who You Know, It’s Who You Are: Life Lessons from Winners by Pat Williams with Jim Denney ($16.99, Revell). With more than fifty years of professional sports experience and already an author of dozens of books on leadership, Williams shares how he found success in his family and career. He realized early in life that learning how to become successful meant learning from those who had. He never missed an opportunity to ask those at the top of their field what they felt was the key to their success. He has met more famous people than most of ever will. They include Martin Luther King, Jr., Billy Graham, John Wooden, Michael Jordan, Colin Powell, and George W. Bush, to name a few. And he kept notes on what they told him. This is a book about developing your own character and values because those are ultimately the keys to success. Williams is senior vice president of the NBA’s Orlando Magic.

Getting Back Out There: Secrets to Successful Dating and Finding Real Love after the Big Breakup by Susan J. Elliott ($14.99, Da Capo Press, softcover) may be just the book for women that you or someone you know needs to read. As she acknowledges, overcoming a breakup can be a real challenge and, often, to be successful in the next relationship, we must understand the parts of us that broke up, too. This involves learning to recognize, evaluate, and change the negative patterns that interfere with our relationships, but she says it can be done and her book teaches here readers to set appropriate standards in the dating world. She does not shy from the fact that exes, children, and boyfriends with kids are components of the modern dating scene. Getting back out there may be tough, but says Ms. Elliot, infinitely rewarding, if done right.

Romancing Your Better Half: Keeping Intimacy Alive in Your Marriage by Rick Johnson ($12.99, Revell, softcover) explains why romance and intimacy are so vital to marriage, how men and women differ in their intimacy needs, and what steps they can take to enrich their marriage and even bring back the excitement of when you first fell in love.  He encourages couples to rethink the way they communicate and interact to keep that excitement alive as a couple in a long-term relationship grows through shared experiences, sharing difficulties, and maintaining closeness to one another.

Many people, including church-goers, still yearn for a deeper experience of God in their everyday lives. A leading Christian publisher, Thomas Nelson, offers Greg Paul’s new book, Simply Open ($16.99, softcover) that offers a path to using your five senses, your mind and heart, to engage in the practice of prayer that can turn an ordinary workday into a deepening spiritual journey. Paul is a pastor and member of Sanctuary in Toronto, a ministry for the most hurting and excluded people in the city. He has authored three earlier books, one of which was a 2012 Non-fiction Christian Book Award winner. Though Christian in context it has a holistic approach that other contemplating religions employ.

All About Women

The role of women in modern societies has been changing for a long time. For example, the National American Woman Suffrage Association was founded in 1890 and a number of states had granted it in the first two decades of the last century, In 1919 Congress passed the 19th Amendment and a year later 36 states had ratified it. Remembering Inez: The Last Campaign of Inez Milholland, Suffrage Martyr ($14.95, Graphic Press. Softcover) tells the story of one of the lesser known suffragettes. Using her own words, edited by Robert P.J. Cooney, Jr., it takes you back to an era that was as dramatic as any that followed. Ms. Milholland was a dynamic New York attorney, a young activist who while on a tour of western states collapsed on stage in Los Angeles on October 23, 1916 and died a month later of pernicious anemia. She had just turned 30. History is filled with such remarkable personalities and, though it took nearly a century, it is good to know that Ms. Milholland is now recognized as well.

Women After All: Sex, Evolution, and the End of Male Supremacy by Dr. Melvin Konner ($26.95, W.W. Norton & Company) will surely cause male readers to feel uncomfortable. The author is a professor in the Emory University Department of Anthropology and the Program in Neuroscience and Behavioral Biology. The author of several books, this one looks at the widespread debate about the future role of women (and men) in human society, taking a look at the animal kingdom in general and our current patriarchal ways in particular, predicting that women will increasingly take leadership roles. He asserts that women are biologically more adept at dealing with the challenges of the modern world. They are fundamentally more pragmatic as well as caring, cooperate as well as competitive, and generally more deft in managing people without putting them on the defensive. They are, he says, builders rather than destroyers. This is, to say the least, a fact-filled look at a highly charged topic and one that I am sure many readers will want to explore.

Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous ($16.99, Sourcebooks, softcover) takes its title from the cliché that behind every great man is a woman who contributed to his success. Marlene Wagman-Geller has taken a look at this and her book features forty women who were overshadowed by the males in their lives, yet merit their own place in history. She ranges from the wives of literally figures such as Oscar Wilde, Ian Fleming, and C.S. Lewis. There are Hollywood wives such Alma Reville, Mrs. Alfred Hitchcock and Jane Nebel, Mrs. Jim Henson. She notes the role played by Kasturba Kapadia, the wife of Mohandas Gandhi and Emilie Pelzl, Mrs. Osckar Schindler. There were some infamous ones as well such as Mrs. Julius Rosenberg, convicted along with her husband as a Soviet spy. Imagine, too, being Althea Leasure, Mrs. Larry Flynt. The short biographies salute the women who stood behind their men, for better or worse, and helped steer the course of history.

Getting Down to Business

How to Succeed with Continuous Improvement: A Primer for Becoming the Best in the World ($23.00, McGraw-Hill) by Joakim Ahlstrom, regarded as Sweden’s leading authority in creating a continuous improvement culture. His book is a step-by-step process for any organization that applies principles such as “keep it simple, stay focused, visualize the good examples and the program made, create ownership by asking instead of telling, and be systematic.” He has advised dozens of organizations around the world to include Coca Cola, Volvo, Ericsson, and IKEA.

From Worry to Wealthy: A Woman’s Guide to Financial Success Without the Stress by Chellie Campbell ($16.99, Sourcebooks, softcover) begins by noting that more than nine million U.S. businesses, generating $1.4 trillion in sales, are owned by women. A personal finance guru, Campbell, has offered “Financial Stress Reduction” ® workshops to help women win at work and in life. Her advice will prove very helpful to any woman as she teaches how to harness the four C’s of career success, confidence, charisma, clients, and cash.  She writes about earning support from spouses and loved ones while gaining business knowledge from everything you do. This includes poker as she is an avid tournament player. This is a book from which any woman business owner can benefit.

What to Do to Retire Successfully: Navigating Psychological, Financial and Lifestyle Hurdles ($15.95, New Horizon Press, softcover) by Martin B. Goldstein addresses some of the scary questions that occur such as whether you will have enough funds to maintain your lifestyle, will you be able to adjust to a slower pace, and how best to transition into retirement successfully. A neuropsychiatrist by profession, his book will prove quite useful to anyone approaching their retirement years and that includes the 77 million baby boomers that are slated to retire over the next twenty years. Retirement fears are common and this book addresses them and offers some good advice; the kind you need now, not ten or twenty years from now when it could be too late.

Reading History

I love reading history and one of my great favorites from American history is Thomas Jefferson. Addressing a group of scholars, John F. Kennedy said “I think this is the most extraordinary collection of talent, of human knowledge, that has ever been gathered at the White House - with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.”  One of the enduring discussions about Jefferson involves his religious beliefs. Some say he was a deist unaffiliated with any particular religion.  Doubting Thomas? The Religious Life and Legacy of Thomas Jefferson by Mark A. Beliles and Jerry Newcombe ($29.99, Morgan James Publishing) will put to rest all the doubts raised in the past. For example, during his presidency, Jefferson attended church at the U.S. Capitol Building’s Supreme Court chambers where a public service was held. This is contradiction of the assertion that he believed in a strict separation of church and state. This book is based on extensive documentation, often providing little known facts based on his letters, as well as his relationships and activities with religious communities. It is an absorbing read and it is supported by The Selected Religious Letters and Papers of Thomas Jefferson ($29.95, America Publications) edited by Mark A. Beliles. It offers more than fifty Jefferson letters and other documents never before seen in print. The enemies of religious belief and expression in America will not want you to read either of these books.

Of course, the history of America has its darker moments and the treatment of the Native Americans is surely one of them. Terry Mort’s Thieves’ Road: The Black Hills Betrayal and Custer’s Path to Little Bighorn ($25.00, Prometheus Books) tells the story of General George Armstrong Custer’s expedition of some one thousand troops and more than a  hundred wagons into the Black Hills of South Dakota in the summer of 1874. A severe economic depression had spurred hordes of white prospectors to the Sioux Indians sacred grounds and the trampling of an 1868 treaty that granted the Black Hills to the Sioux. The discovery of gold was the beginning of the end of their independence and their resistance set the stage for the climactic Battle of Little Bighorn. The book’s title gets its name from the Sioux leader, Fast Bear, who called the trail cut by Custer the “thieves’ road.” It was a time when the settling of Indians on reservations was betrayed, a corrupt federal Indian Bureau existed, and the building of the western railroads was transforming the nation. The book makes for lively reading and considerable insight to this period of our national history.

One of the best series around is Visible Ink Press’s “Handy Answer” books. The latest is The Handy Military History Answer Book ($21.95, Visible Ink, softcover), by Samuel Willard Crompton, a captivating, concise, and extensive look at the way war has been a continual element of history and has often dramatically changed it. Indeed, one might call peace the brief intervals of time between wars. This book shows how war creates heroes, along with cowards, spies and patriots were made, how conflicts shaped borders, policies and politics, society and culture, always influencing the future. Answering more than 1,400 questions, you will learn how conquering armies to civil wars resulted in guerrilla warfare, terrorism, modern weapons, and so much more that fill the headlines of our times. To understand history, one must know about warfare from the days of the Roman Empire to the present. This book will do just that.

Reading About Science

Science is in the news all the time, but much of the time is devoted to those groups and organizations that lie about it in order to frighten people from taking advantage of the benefits it offer. The latest debate about vaccinating children to protect them from measles is one example. The battles fought to advance science go back to the earliest days of civilization.

In the Light of Science: Our Ancient Quest for Knowledge and the Measure of Modern Physics by Demetris Nicolaides ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) examines the epochal shift in thinking that led pre-Socratic philosophers of the sixth and fifth centuries BCE to abandon the prevailing mythologies of the age and, for the first time, analyze the natural world in terms of impersonal, rationally-understood principles. This is a look at the vast sweep of history that led to the birth of science and its advancement by those unafraid to question tradition. Combining history and science, it makes for some very interesting reading. From the same publishing house comes Brilliant! Shuji Nakamura and the Revolution in Lighting Technology ($18.00, Prometheus Books, softcover), now updated. To celebrate the awarding of the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics to Nakamura, author Bob Johnstone profiles the gifted Japanese engineer who is largely responsible for the coming revolution in lighting technology. The lighting revolution is likely to replace halogen lamps and have a profound impact on the world.

Astronaut Ron Garan has authored The Orbital Perspective: Lessons in Seeing the Big Picture from a Journey of 71 Million Miles ($27.95, Berrett-Koehler Publishers) that is enhanced by several pages of color photos. Garan tells of the transformative experience of living on the international Space Station and the lessons he gained that he believes holds the key to solving our problems here on Earth. He provides an excellent and interesting account of what it was like work with 15 different nationalities. At the same time, he addresses many of the problems that afflict people and what must be done to solve them. In his foreword to the book, Muhammad Yunus, a Nobel Peace Laureate, recommends we “Use Ron’s idea of the orbital perspective as a way to erase obstacles, boundaries, and resistance to any problem.”

Kid Stuff

You may not know who Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946) was, but among his many accomplishments was being a co-founder of the Boy Scouts of America in addition to writing many children’s books that influenced an entire generation or more regarding life in the outdoors. The Storyteller ($24.95, Langdon Street Press) by Leila Moss Knox and Linda L. Knox is not only a wonderful tribute to Seton, but a wonderful way to get to know about him through excerpts of his writings that are richly illustrated. It has a foreword by the late songwriter and singer, Pete Seeger, who like many felt his life enriched by Seton’s books. This is a great way to introduce him to a whole new generation and I guarantee they will love this book.

Children’s books are a great way for them to learn U.S. history and I am happy to report that Alex Bugaeff’s new book, part of his “Grandfather” series, is American Amazons: Colonial Women Who Changed History ($14.95, available from Amazon) in which “Gomps” shares his historical tales with his grandchildren, Hannah and Carter. It’s good to see them get the attention they deserve. One of them, Deborah Sampson, fought on the front lines with the Continental Army for three years and there were others. These days women are part of the Israel Defense Force and trained for combat like the men. We had such women when it counted in our Revolution.

Wigu Publishing of Sun Valley, Idaho, has a series you can learn about at such as When I Grow Up I Want to Be…in the U.S. Army or a Nurse! The series also includes Teacher, U.S. Navy, Veterinarian and Firefighter. They are available at, Barnes and Noble, and other major online retailers, and come in Kindle editions as well. Parents often hear their children express an interest in a particular profession and this series is well written as stories that a young reader, age 5 to 7 or so can read and identify with. They are both well researched and entertaining.

The odd thing about “Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children” when it was published in 2011 is that, although aimed at a younger audience of readers, ages 13 and up, it attracted so many older ones that it stayed on The New York Times Best Seller list for more than 80 weeks. In February its sequel, Hollow City by Ransom Riggs ($10.99, Quirk Books, softcover) was published and it picks up where the first left off as the reader follows the story of Jacob and his friends as they encounter a menagerie of odd animals, a band of gypsies, and more peculiar children. Jacob and friends are on the run from “wights” who have turned Miss Peregrine into a bird. They are hoping to find a cure in London. The book is illustrated with photos from earlier times, but it is the characters like Emma Bloom who can make fire with her hands, Millard, an invisible boy, and Olive who is lighter than air that are not only peculiar who inhabit a story that includes Alma LeFay Peregrine who is a shape-shifter and manipulator of time, as well as the headmistress of Cairnholm’s loop. It’s delightful. This one is headed for the best seller lists too.

Lauren Oliver has gained an international reputation for her five young adult novels as well as her other books. She is published in thirty languages and no doubt Vanishing Girls ($18.99, HarperCollins) will keep her on the bestseller list for those ages 14 and up with her story of Dara and Nick. The two sisters used to be inseparable, but that changed when Dara’s beautiful face was scarred by a car accident, leaving them estranged. When Dara vanishes on her birthday, Nick thinks Dara is just playing around. Another girl, nine-year-old Madeline Snow, has vanished as well and Nick becomes convinced that the two disappearances are linked and feels compelled to find her sister before it’s too late. The readers, too, will feel compelled to see how this novel proceeds and how it ends.

Novels, Novels, Novels

March 8 makes the first anniversary of the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 that went down without a clue. I am a fan of Lior Samson, the pen name of the author of two dozen books that include seven novels like“Bashert”, “The Dome”, and “Web Games.” He is now back with Flight Track ($16.95/$2.99 Kindle, Gesher Press, an imprint of Ampersand Press, Rowley, MA), a novel that provides a scenario of what might have happened and why to flight MH370. In the novel it is the inaugural flight of Pacificano Transocean’s over-the-pole non-stop service from Singapore to Chicago’s O’Hare. It’s all celebrating and champagne until flight PT20 veers off the radar. This is the kind of thriller that fans of Samson have come to anticipate and enjoy. In this story, an elite team of brilliant young nerds is called upon to help find the missing plane and their high-tech pursuit of what happened turns into a life-or-death race to discover who is behind the disappearance, to understand what’s at stake, and to find a solution against seemingly invincible forces behind it. Like all his novels, it’s not one you will put down until you get to the last page.

Another novel straight out of the headlines is David Thomas Roberts’ A State of Treason($31.50, in which a President who hates the Tea Party sets in motion a confrontation with the Governor of Texas when he seizes a member of the Party in an unconstitutional way. The Governor authorizes a Texas Ranger to free him and his family. The confrontation escalates when the Governor puts the question of independence from the federal government on the ballot and the President declares martial law, sending in armed forces to deny Texans the right to decide whether they want to continue as part of a corrupt government, a do-nothing Congress, and an administration plagued by scandals.

A number of other softcover novels will provide hours of entertainment to rival anything on the TV and you don’t have to be bothered by commercials. Plucked from the headlines being generated by the Islamic turmoil of the Middle East, Lucy Ferriss, the author of A Sister to Honor ($16.00, Penguin) journeyed to northern Pakistan in 2012 to learn about their culture of honor. It is a novel about Pakistani people in America. Afia Satar is studious, modest and a devout Muslim. The daughter of a landholding family, she has enrolled in an American college with the dream of returning to her country to serve as a doctor, but when a photo of her holding hands with an American boy surfaces online, she is suddenly no longer safe, even from the family that cherishes her.  It is rising sports star Shahid Satar who has been entrusted by her family to watch over Afia and now he has been ordered to cleanse the stain of her shame. This is the classic clash of cultures and quite relevant to the issues and times in which we live.

The Eliot Girls by Krista Bridge ($22.95, Douglas & McIntyre, softcover) is set in the George Eliot Academy, a private school for girls that prides itself on being on the vanguard of learning. For years Audrey Brindle and her mother, Ruth, have wanted Audrey to get into the school where Ruth has taught for a decade, but when she is finally admitted, she discovers that the daily world of Eliot is a place of sly bullying, ferocious intolerance, and bewildering social standards. Her mother, Ruth, finds her own stability dismantled by the arrival of a new teacher. As both navigate the treacheries of their upended worlds, each finds her sense of morality slipping as unexpected possibilities ignite. Clearly a book that women will enjoy and identify with more than men, it is also clearly worth a read for being by turns comic and psychologically intense.

From Thomas & Mercer comes a mystery, The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley ($15.96, softcover), an atmospheric and richly detailed story that weaves together the stories of Beatrice Baker who begins work at the First Bank of Cleveland shortly before its mysterious collapse in 1978 and Iris Latch, a civil engineer hired to survey the abandoned but perfectly preserved bank building two decades later. As she toils amid the bank’s ransacked offices and forgotten safe deposit boxes, Iris is drawn into uncovering the dark secrets of the building’s sordid past; one that includes Beatrice’s mysterious disappearance shortly before the sudden collapse. This is a thoroughly engrossing mystery and a fine debut for its author.

That’s it for March. Come back in April for more news of the best new fiction and non-fiction. Tell your book loving friends, family and coworkers about so they too any can learn about books that often do not get noted by the mainstream print media which in recent times is devoting less and less space to reviews. See you next month!