Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Bookviews - April 2015

By Alan Caruba

My Picks of the Month

Does it seem like all we hear about these days is how fat Americans are? Most surely that accounts for the dozens of diet books I receive. Imagine then how pleased I was to read Harriet Brown’s Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight and What We Can Do About it ($25.99, Da Capo Press). In its introduction she says, “We’re in the midst of an epidemic, one that’s destroying both the quality and the longevity of our lives. I’m not talking about overweight or obesity. I’m talking about our obsession with weight, our never-ending quest for thinness, our relentless angst about our bodies.”  Her book tackles the myths and realities of the “obesity epidemic” and exposes the biggest lies driving the rhetoric of obesity. How nice it would be to have a day in which we are not constantly warned about eating sugar or wheat when candy and freshly baked items are among life’s greatest pleasures. Her book offers ways to think about weight and health with more common sense, accuracy, and respect.  You are not likely to read or hear about this excellent book in the mainstream press because of the billions that the diet craze represents in advertising and revenue for physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and diet programs. All the more reason to read it and learn the truth.

A CNN poll whose results were released in March showed that nearly half of Americans believe race relations have worsened over the course of the presidency of Barack Obama, the first half-black man elected to the White House. The poll found that 39% believe relations between blacks and whites have gotten worse, not better, since Mr. Obama took office in January 2009. Just 15% say relations have improved. It found that 45% of whites think relations have worsened while just 26% of blacks think so. If race relations in America is a subject of interest and concern to you, then you will want to read Colin Flaherty’s new book, ‘Don’t Make the Black Kids Angry’ (available from Amazon.Com and other Internet book outlets, $19.72, softcover, $6.99 Kindle.)  I reviewed Flaherty’s first book, “White Girl Bleed A Lot: The return of racial violence in America”  which caused a sensation became a bestseller as it documented and revealed how the nation’s press consistently failed to report a trend in attacks on whites by blacks that were based entirely on racial bias. His new book looks how Americans are being led to believe that it is “white racism” that is causing comparable attacks, but not being told about the attacks such as a thousand Asian immigrants were brutalized for five years before the local newspaper took notice or the 40,000 blacks that rampaged through a Virginia beach town with little media coverage. A thousand such events are reported in his new book by this award winning reporter. At a time when all we read and hear about are black youths being shot by local police, barely being told they attacked the officers who acted in self-defense, this book has much to say and explain the state of race relations in America today.

The global warming hoax is finally beginning to give up the ghost thanks to 19 years in which the Earth has been in a cooling cycle based on the Sun’s reduced radiation, also a natural cycle. Al Gore got the hoax going bigtime with his book, “An Inconvenient Truth”, that was filled with absurd claims that the north and south poles would be melted by now, that polar bears would be extinct and all manner of weather-related events would produce chaos. Philip M. Fishman has written A Really Inconvenient Truth: The Case Against the Theory of Anthropogenic Global Warming ($19.95, MPS Publishing, softcover) that is intended to be read by those who may not have the scientific background or knowledge to make sense of all the claims. Fishman explains all the basics you need to know from the way the scientific method works to the aspects of climatology, the study of long-term trends that confirms that, yes, there were warm cycles, just as there were cold ones. These are the facts the “Warmists” who are still making claims about global warming don’t want you to know. The surprising thing about this highly readable book is the breadth of knowledge it covers without requiring you to read hundreds of pages. At 114 pages it is a breeze to read. Fishman makes no predictions, the common trait of the “Warmists.” Instead, he lays out the science-based information you need to know to refute “the convoluted logic that Theorists have used to spread their ‘Gospel.’”

If all the headlines these days have you concerned about the future of America, you are not alone. Fortunately, James Langston has taken a careful look at what is occurring in his new book, America In Crisis ($11.46 at Amazon.com, softcover). “Lumbering through a moral wilderness of incivility and unreason we are losing the best of ourselves to fear and uncertainty,” says Langston as he asks if we have lost our sense of right and wrong, but notes that, as a nation, “we have gone from fear to faith countless times.”  Langston offers some inspirational analysis of the issues and challenges of our times. Younger readers in particular would benefit from reading Langston’s book that cites our nation’s history throughout, providing a sense of clarity and insight regarding our present problems.

Our headlines are filled with news of barbaric acts perpetrated by the Islamic State (ISIS) in its quest to create a new caliphate from which to conquer and dominate the world. Beheadings, crucifixions, kidnappings and slavery are its stock-in-track. A genocidal attack on Christians throughout the Middle East makes one ask why are they doing this and Hector A. Garcia, PhD provides an answer in Alpha God: The Psychology of Religious Violence and Oppression ($19.00, Prometheus Books, softcover).  The author, a clinical psychologist, examines religious scriptures, rituals, and canon law, highlighting the many ways in which our evolutionary legacy has shaped the development of religion and continues to profoundly influence its expression. The author focuses on the image of God as the dominant male in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. This is not light reading, nor does it provide much comfort, but it does provide an interesting look at the way religions reflect early human societies and affect our present ones.

Bookviews is generally a boost-don’t-knock report on new books. I am going to make an exception to that regarding Coal Wars: The Future of Energy and the Fate of the Planet by Richard Martin ($28.00, Palgrave Macmillan) because, while it acknowledges that coal provides 45% of the world’s electrical power, it also embraces the totally debunked environmental claims that it is causing or will cause “global warming” by putting too much carbon dioxide (CO2) into the atmosphere. The fact is that CO2 levels have been increasing but the Earth has, at the same time, been in a cooling cycle of some 19 years. It is not warming and, more importantly, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere was far higher centuries ago and its vegetation and animal life thrived. At present it represents a miniscule 0.04% of the atmosphere. We could use more, not less CO2 for healthier forests and increased crops. The fact that Martin is the editorial director of Navigant Research, “the premier clean energy (solar and wind) and analysis firm” reveals his bias and the flawed theme of this book. My suggestion is that you ignore it and all the other claims of so-called climate change. The Earth’s climate has been changing for 4.5 billion years and coal has nothing to do with it. What does? The Sun!

Only received one children’s book this past month, but it is well worth recommending. Wild Ideas: Let Nature Inspire Your Thinking ($18.95, Owlkids Books) by Elin Kelsey is, says the publisher, aimed at youngsters age 4 and up, but the earlier ages will need a parent to read it aloud to them because its vocabulary is for older readers at least 7 and up. A picture book, it is illustrated in ways to stimulate the imagination while its text features examples of how various animals from birds to whales solve problems. It generates respect for other species at the same time it teaches the young reader how to solve their problems. Its artwork makes it fun and its text is imaginative and inspiring.

On the subject of teaching, if you are a teacher or know one, Caroline Alexander Lewis has penned a short, pithy book, Just Back Off and Let Us Teach ($16.99, Dog Ear Publishing, softcover) asserting that if America wants to reform public education and regain its status in the world if must begin to value the good teachers and find ways to remove the poor ones from the classroom. Or as she puts it, unions should not provide job security for bad teachers. Both descriptive and motivational, her book defines five skills effective teachers must either have or acquire. For 22 years she was a teacher and a school principal before moving on to develop new programs in other fields. I would call this book “must reading” for any teacher.

A collection of quotations by Russ Kick is aptly named Flash Wisdom ($14.95, Disinformation Books, softcover) as his selection from poets, philosophers, scientists, and others provides pages of instant insight regarding all aspects of life. This is one of those books you keep handy to energize your mind with quotes that open doors on the best way to live one’s life. Keep it bedside or on your desk.

Memoirs and Memories

We live in a culture that thrives on celebrity news of their lives. This has been true throughout history when the royalty were fair game for discussion. In the Company of Legends by Joan Kramer and David Heely, with a foreword by Richard Dreyfus ($24.95, Beaufort Books) who together have won five Emmy Awards in addition to the twenty Emmy nominations they received, as the producers of many television programs. Their book focuses on the famous folk about whom they produced TV profiles. They included Katherine Hepburn, Johnny Carson, Frank Sinatra, Ronald and Nancy Reagan, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Taylor, Audrey Hepburn, Jimmy Stewart and Bette Davis, among others. Noted film history, Robert Osborne, said of their book that it is “a king’s ransom of fascinating stories about colorful, bigger than life people we know, but didn’t know…told by people who actually knew the celebrities they write about…” If you love Hollywood and its legendary actors and actresses, you will love this book.

If you’re a fan of Cindy Williams, one half of the comedic duo, Laverne & Shirley, you will have to wait one month to pick up a copy of Shirley, I Jest! A Storied Life ($22.95, Taylor Trade Publishing, an imprint of Rowman & Littlefield) by Cindy with Dave Smitherman, relating her life from her blue collar roots to unexpected stardom. She went from waiting tables at Whisky a Go Go to starring in one of the most iconic shows on television. This is an almost quintessential American story of success and she earned it. Like many bitten by the acting bug, she loves it and still loves her theatre roots, performing in many shows across the nation in addition to starring on Broadway in The Drowsy Chaperon. What makes her book so delightful is that she never took herself or her fame that seriously, demonstrating throughout her wonderful sense of humor while sharing amusing anecdotes about some of the most famous actors in Hollywood.

Not everyone is famous, but that doesn’t mean they have interesting stories to tell. Binoculars: Masquerading as a Sighted Person by Philip F. DiMeo ($24.95, New Horizon Press) is an example. For more than 17 years he pretended to be a fully-sighted person and, despite his growing loss of sight, he drove a car, went to college, became a social worker, a cartoonist, and a coach for two sports teams. As he vision grew worse, a physician diagnosed him as having retinitis pigmentosa, an eye disease with no known cure. This is his first person account of what it was like to finally come to deal with that harsh reality, but he had the help of a loving wife and, with his guide dog, Ladonna, a yellow Labrador, became what he calls “a perfect match.” His blindness closed some doors in his life, but opened others. This is a truly inspirational book.

Missing Persons: A Life of Unexpected Influences by Bruce Piasecki is self-described as “a memoir of past, present, and future” ($17.95, Square One Publishers, softcover). Piasecki says “This book is a product of memory and creativity, not of chronology and fact.” He regards memory as an “art form that is accessible to us all. It is through memory that we triumph over loss, and it is memory that renders the impossible probable—and the dead merely missing.” Piasecki takes us from his impoverished childhood to his success as an internationally renowned businessman, as well as a husband, father, friend, and writer. It’s been an interesting life for him and you can read along for an interesting journey through it.

Reading History

If there is one thing I love to read it is history. I never come away without having gained a new or renewed insight to the state of humanity.  Understanding the present is impossible without know the past.

Thomas Fleming is already regarded as one of our nation’s preeminent historians and with good reason. In his latest book, The Great Divide: The Conflict between Washington and Jefferson that Defined a Nation ($27.99, Da Capo Press) he grabs your attention by pointing out that that Washington and Jefferson had dramatically different backgrounds and differing opinions that left their imprint on the presidency. As Fleming notes, Jefferson was an avid bibliophile who attended the College of William and Mary, and went onto study law in his twenties as America inched toward rebellion against British rule. Washington, by contrast, was Jefferson’s senior by eleven years and had spent his youth as a land surveyor and began his military career in the French and Indian War. While Jefferson avoided military service in the Revolution, Washington relentlessly led America to victory. Suffice to say there was much disagreement between the two. Washington came to see him as an enemy and with good reason. Jefferson was all about his love for the French revolution—a bloodbath—and his own ambitions. Suffice to say this is a totally fascinating insight into the two men and their colleagues who brought about a new nation.

Knowing the past of Afghanistan as well as its present is the subject of Abdullah Sharif’s book, Sardar: From Afghanistan’s Golden Age to Carnage ($12.95 @ Amazon.com and other Internet book outlets, softcover), a personal account of his return to his former home after joining the U.S. State Department in 2009. He had been back in 2007 and was horrified by what he saw. In his absence of thirty years, his birth nation was in ruins, the result of invasion by the Soviet Union and the struggles with the Taliban after it withdrew. This is his memoir of his memories of the nation he left in 1976, the golden age to which he makes reference, to its present times. As he notes, his book is not that of an “expert”, but rather of a U.S. diplomat speaking for himself, unofficially of the devastation and corruption he found and an effort to explain the nation’s culture so that the U.S. can take steps to help Afghanistan became an independent nation. For his efforts, he was awarded an Expeditionary Service Award and Meritorious Civilian Service Award. The Governor of Kandahar Province, Tooryalai Wesa, Ph.D, described his book as filled with priceless observations and you will come away with a far better understanding of the nation than from reading official or academic writings on this subject.

America may be a young nation by comparison with others, but it has a long, rich history and The Lost World of the Old Ones: Discoveries in the Ancient Southwest by David Roberts ($27.95, W.W. Norton) begins with his discovery in 2005 with two of his mountaineering friends of what turned out to be a settlement beneath an overhanging cliff a thousand feet above a Utah ranch. It was an enormous granary and, given its location, raised the question of how the ancient natives could have lugged a ton and a half of corn up a sheer cliff. The region around the Four Corners is filled with such mysteries, including why the natives abandoned their homeland in the 14th century. In 1996, Roberts authored “In Search of the Old Ones”, which became an instant classic and this one is likely to be regarding in the same way. Here’s a way to enjoy the mountain climbing and exploration without having to do more than turn the pages of this interesting and entertaining book.

Douglas & McIntyre is a Canadian publisher that quite naturally publishes books about Canada. I suspect most Americans know very little about Canada other than it forms our northern border and that its hockey team is one of the most valuable franchises in the NHL. You can repair that gap in your knowledge, for example, with Allan Levine’s Toronto: Biography of a City ($36.95). It starts on the packed streets of today, whose 2.79 million residents makes it North America’s fourth largest city and a far cry from its earliest days as ”Little York”, comprised of the lieutenant governor’s muddy tent which he shared with his wife and six children. For anyone who is interested in the development of a dynamic city this book will prove very entertaining. I’ll bet most Americans are unaware that there have been three Canadian astronauts. In Canadian Spacewalkers ($29.95) Bob McDonald tells us the story of Chris Hadfield, Steve MacLean and Dave Williams, all of whom stepped outside to confront the universe in zero gravity. A science journalist and commentator on CBC News Network, he has received many honors for his work and when you read his book you will understand why as he takes you along on a trip that explains what it takes to be a spacewalker. The book is greatly enhanced by a hundred color photos. If space and science is your interest, this book is ideal.

University of Oklahoma Press

University presses are often overlooked as sources of interesting books that you might not find in a bookstore or on the site of one of the Internet book outlets. The University of Oklahoma Press is a good example.

We usually think about the “wild West” in terms of the many movies and television shows filled with cowboys and villains, bank robbers and sheriffs, but that period in our history, from between 1800 and 1920 also represents one of extraordinary invention, innovation, entrepreneurship and business. The names of many of the men who shaped our history are well known, from Buffalo Bill Cody to Levi Straus, famed for the slacks we loved to wear. There’s the banker J.P. Morgan, the brewmaster Adolf Coors, religious leader Brigham Young, and inventor Cyrus McCormick whose reaper transformed the task of harvesting crops.  Out Where the West Begins: Profiles, Visions & Strategies of Early Western Business Leaders by Philip F. Anschutz ($34.95) brings together a montage of men who believed they could enrich themselves at the same time they contributed to a still young nation. Many, once they made their fortunes, helped build libraries, parks, and other cultural institutions. You will read of fifty men whose lives opened up the nation to growth and wealth.

There could hardly be a more timely book, Religious Freedom in America: Constitutional Roots and Contemporary Challenges ($45.00, hardcover, $24.95 softcover) as edited by Allen D. Hertzke, a professor of political science and a faculty fellow in religious freedom with the Institute for the American Constitutional Heritage at the University. Nine writers contributed to this examination of an issue that is being argued in the courts over issues of same-sex marriage and contraception mandates in ObamaCare, as well as other aspects of the practice of religion. The many perspectives of the issues are well served in this book written from the point of view of historians, social scientists, and jurists who examine the laws, often described as “messy” and you will understand why and learn about the tug of war between the free exercise of religion and the government’s need to apply the Constitution and laws equally and fairly.  I thought that Do Facts Matter? Information and Misinformation in America Politics by Jennifer L. Hochschild and Katherine Levine Einstein ($29.95) would provide some answers to the nation’s current state of politics, but what I found, unfortunately, was an academically dense examination of what occurs and why when voters are uninformed or misinformed. Both are professors specializing in government and politics, Hochschild at Harvard University, and Einstein at Boston University. This could have been a far more lively examination of the issues to which it is devoted, but it is so concentrated on its own facts that it never provides a larger, more comprehensive presentation or maybe the topic just defies that?

Novels, Novels, Novels

Allan Topol has penned yet another bestselling novel, The Washington Lawyer, ($16.95, Select Books, softcover). A lawyer by profession, it is a wonder he still found the time to pen eleven novels of international intrigue, plus a two-volume legal treatise on the Superfund law. This novel, unlike many written by lawyers, is not about some courtroom drama. It’s about a lawyer, Andrew Martin, who is a long-time friend with Senator William Jasper who needs help. A sex tryst at Martin’s beach house in Anguilla has gone awry and a congressional staffer and former model, Vanessa Boyd, is dead. Martin must decide how best to protect his reputation and the Senator’s. What unfolds are hairpin plot turns as human vice and political power collide and race toward catastrophe for both men. Here’s is an intriguing and entertaining look inside the circles of power with which the author is familiar and includes the element of Chinese spying because that is as critical today as Soviet spying was during the Cold War. If you’re looking for a great read, you will find it in this novel.

I think the ladies will like Chasing Sunsets ($22.99, Howard Books, an imprint of Simon and Schuster) more than the guys. Karen Kingsbury has more than 25 million copies of her books in print. This one features Mary Catherine, the only child of married parents but generally neglected by them. She brings meaning to her life through charity work in Los Angeles and finds herself attracted to one of her co-workers and begins to think of their life together until she gets devastating news about her health. I won’t give much away except to say that she is faced with serious decisions and she ops for an inspirational one. William Hazelgrove is the author of ten best-selling novels, Jack Pine is his latest. It has strong environmental themes. When the sixteen year old daughter of a prominent attorney is raped in a woodshed and a logger found shot the next morning, Deputy Sheriff Reuger London becomes embroiled in a war between environmentalists, the Ojibwa Indians fighting for their timber rights, and the ruthless son of a powerful logger. Needless to say the logger is the villain in this story, but it has plenty of plot twists and turns to hold your attention. It is officially due out next month.

There are two new novels from Thomas & Mercer. David Corbett’s talents as a crime writer have earned him award nominations and The Mercy of the Night ($15.95, softcover) is likely to do the same with its story of Jacquelina “Jacqi” Garza who was one of two nearly identical girls abducted at age eight by a child predator in the northern California town of Rio Mirada. After escaping and enduring a very public trial, he life spiraled out of control until, a decade later, she vanishes once again, determined to cross the border and start over. Phalan Tierney, a former lawyer and part-time investigator is recovering from trauma in his life and is determined to find Jacqi and help her get back on track. Just as he has located her, he is drawn into a case that threatens to tear the town apart. Suffice to say there are circles within circles in this densely plotted story that is sure to please those who love crime fiction. Threshold by G.M. Ford ($14.95, softcover) is a police thriller that will add to a reputation based on his previous novels. Still smarting from the very public breakup of his marriage and facing conduct complaints, Detective Mickey Dolan catches a case that might turn things around for him. It involved the disappearance of the wife and daughters of a powerful city councilman. Assisted by a young woman who may know the terrible truth about the missing family, Dolan soon finds that he must choose between helping his career and protecting innocent lives. It’s a page-turner.

Lawyers and cops seem to dominate the novels arriving of late. Gun Street Girl: A Detective Sean Duffy Novel by Adrian McKinty ($15.95, Seventh Street Books, softcover) and it will take you to Belfast, Ireland in 1985 where Detective Duffy is a Catholic cop in the Protestant Royal Ulster Constabulary is struggling with burn-out as he investigates a brutal double murder and suicide. Did Michael Kelly really shoot his parents at point blank range and then jump off a nearby cliff? A suicide note seems to confirm this, but Duffy has his doubts and he soon discovers that Kelly was present at a decadent Oxford party where a cabinet minister’s daughter died of a heroin overdose. The story explodes with gun runners, arms dealers, the British government and a rogue American agent with a fake identity. Sound interesting? It is!  McKinty has authored sixteen novels and has been called the best of the new generation of Irish crime novelists.  Adam Mitzner is an attorney and a novelist and his latest is Losing Faith ($26.00, Gallery Books) in which Aaron Littman, the chairman of one of the country’s most prestigious law firms has just been contacted by a high-profile defense attorney whose client is Nikolai Garkov, a Russian businessman widely believed to have pulled the financial strings behind a recent terrorist bombing. Gorkov is a thorough evil villain and he has evidence of a torrid affair Littman had with the presiding judge, Faith Nichols, in the case against him. He threatens to ruin Littman’s career if he doesn’t influence Faith. Legal thriller fans will love this one.

Finally, what if William Shakespeare had written the Star Wars stories? Well, now you can find out what it would have been to read The Phantom of Menace: Star Wars ® Part the First as rendered by Ian Doescher ($14.95, Quirk Books). It is an ideal Shakespearean drama filled with sword fights, soliloquies and doomed romance. The School Library Journal said “Doescher’s pseudo-Shakespearean language is dead-on; this is one of the best-written Shakespeare parodies create for this audience and it is absolutely laugh-out-loud funny for those familiar with both the Bard and Star Wars.” I can’t add anything to that.

That’s it for April! Come back in May and don’t forget to let your book-loving friends, family, and co-workers know about Bookviews.com and its wide selection of the latest non-fiction and fiction books.