Book Reviews -

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In A Slave No More , Yale history professor David W. Blight introduces the public to two recently discovered documents. They are the true stories by two courageous men who escaped from slavery during the Civil War. The subtitle is Two Men Who Escaped to Freedom, Including Their Own Narratives of Emancipation. (Published November 2007 by Harcourt, Hardcover, 320 pages)

The newest book excerpts featured on, by special permission from the publishers, are:

An Ocean of Air is a charming book by popular science journalist Gabrielle Walker. Subtitled Why the Wind Blows and Other Mysteries of the Atmosphere, it focuses on personalities and historical anecdotes while it explains everything about the air from breathing to hurricanes. (Published by Harcourt in August 2007, Hardcover, 288 pages)

The Central Pacific Railroad encouraged Chinese immigration in the 1860s. These new Americans installed tracks from Utah to California. They also accepted the most dangerous jobs handling dynamite in mines. However, everywhere the Chinese immigrants tried to settle, lynch mobs chased them out, and towns and states passed laws to expel them, with the approval of the Supreme Court. Read about this shameful period in our legal and cultural history in Driven Out : The Forgotten War Against Chinese Americans , a new book by Professor Jean Pfaelzer. (Random House, May 2007, Hardcover, 432 pages)

Quickly to mention a few recent nonfiction books which have my interest now, but for which I have not yet written full reviews:

The Nine : Inside the Secret World of the Supreme Court by Jeffrey Toobin shatters the myth that the law is so noble that it's above politics. Partisan politics is, and always was, behind Supreme Court decisions, the author asserts. The high court hit bottom, Toobin believes, with Bush vs. Gore, when the five Republicans clearly grasped at any silly excuse to declare their favorite candidate to be the winner. Perhaps Clarence Thomas is the most politically influenced of the nine.

Robert Draper, author of Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush disagrees with the popular opinion that the commander-in-chief is a nitwit. Mr. Bush is actually intelligent and well-informed, Draper believes. The president's flaw is of another variety -- he has a personality type that makes him incapable of admitting the possibility that his ideas may fail.

Valerie Plame Wilson was a "covert operative" in the "counterproliferation division" of the CIA, until Karl Rove disclosed her identity to the new media, in revenge for the public criticism the Bush plan for the invasion of Iraq that had been expressed by her husband, former ambassador Joe Wilson. In her new book Fair Game: My Life as a Spy, My Betrayal by the White House she describes not only the "outing" but also much about her personal life, past and present.

Victor Gold, a loyal Republican since he served as Barry Goldwater's press aide in the 1964 campaign, and still one as of when we was speechwriter for George Bush the elder, has a new problem. The author of Invasion of the Party Snatchers : How the Holy-Rollers and the Neo-Cons Destroyed the GOP is the latest influential Republican to say that Big Government ideology and "theocracy" have captured his political party. Mr. Gold even cheered for the Democrats in the 2006 elections. What's more, he won't abide by the tradition of repeating that the soldiers are dying for our freedom. The soldiers' lives are being "wasted", he asserts. (Hardcover, 246 pages, published by Sourcebooks.)

We are pleased to be able to reprint the review of The Second Gilded Age: The Great Reaction in the United States, 1973-2001 by Dr. Michael McHugh.

If you liked Elizabeth Cunningham's 2006 historical novel, The Passion of Mary Magdalen BOOK EXCERPT , then you will also like the 2007 prequel, Magdalen Rising : The Beginning BOOK EXCERPT


David A. Clary,
Adopted Son :
Washington, Lafayette,
and the Friendship
that Saved the Revolution

Newest book review --
David A. Clary ,
Adopted Son :
Washington, Lafayette, and the Friendship that Saved the Revolution

The newest book by scientist and social commentator Barbara Ehrenreich is Dancing in the Streets : A History of Collective Joy . For thousands of years people have celebrated life with feasts, carnivals and dances of religious ecstasy. Society's rulers often repress that tendency, in order to make people behave in a more "civilized" fashion. That usually means something like: stop partying get back to work -- or -- show more respect for the authorities. (Metropolitan Books, Hardcover, 336 pages)

Religion professor Linford Stutzman and Mrs. Stutzman bought a sailboat and set out to visit every place that the sailing enthusiast Paul the Apostle went in the first century A.D., as reported in the Book of Acts. SailingActs : Following an Ancient Journey, is the true story of fourteen months during which they traveled to Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Malta, Italy and Jordan. (Good Books, Paperback, 300 pages)

Body of Lies is an intriguing novel about a CIA plan to inject misinformation into al Qaeda that will hopefully induce the criminal organization to eliminate one of its own leaders. The scheme involves planting a dead body with false documents on it. The terrorists who find it must conclude that it is the body of a CIA agent with whom their own leader seems to have collaborated.

It is the sixth novel by Washington Post columnist David Ingatius, viewed among journalists as an expert on Middle East affairs, but increasingly a favorite to fans of spy thrillers. (Hardcover, 320 pages, Published by Norton, April 2007)

Some commentators are surprised that statisticians report a general loss of public confidence in corporations, including the media and medical industries. I'm only suprised that some people are actually surprised.

We live in age without reciprocity. The enlightened self-interest of which economist Adam Smith wrote in 1776 didn't predict today's corporate practice of businesses pouncing on their employees and customers like hungry lions on prey. Corporations today lay off workers, not because profits are down, but because profits are up and they believe that layoffs will make those profits higher still. A CEO who screws up terribly will be punished by being given millions of dollars in bonuses and stock options. More than ever, government regulators have personal capital invested in the industries they are supposed to regulating. Has "business ethics" become the oxymoron of the millennium?

These thoughts went through my mind as I began to read Profit With Honor : The New Stage of Market Capitalism by Daniel Yankelovich.

The author, who in the past has been a board member of several corporations, now advocates what he calls "stewardship ethics."

Several other proponents of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) theory have expressed, he says, an "ambivalent attitude about corporate profits," but the author is not among them. His own conception "retains profit making as a top corporate priority." [page 13]

A business will be more profitable, he believes, by "taking better care of its employees, its customers, its community, and the larger society." [14]

The author insists, "... I endow the concept of civil society with a definite set of moral values." [73]

But is it really just matter of recognizing an already-existing truth? If it's really more profitable to be honest and respect human rights, instead of mistreating and cheating people, why hasn't one of the large U.S. corporations already stumbled across this truth and actually tried it by now?

I find it tempting and too easy to misunderstand and exaggerate Mr. Yankelovich's actual position. In truth, the author is more cautious and discerning than his first few pages would make him seem.

He explains: "More subtly, free-market visionaries attribute ethical virtues to the market that it does not, in fact, possess. The virtues they emphasize -- individualism, freedom, democracy, choice, flexibility, creativity, openness, adaptability, self-improvement, self-discipline, leadership and responsibility -- are in fact not inherent in the operations of free-market economies." [74-75]

Profit with Honor is part of the Future of American Democracy book series from Yale University Press. (Paperback, 208 pages, published June 2007.)

The Go Point by Michael Useem offers a unique method for learning the skill of making decisions. It places the reader into virtual scenes. Learn how to size up an important situation and make a critical choice by being a Civil War general, the leader of a group in a survival situation, or the director of a crisis-ridden company. (Crown Business Books, Hardcover, 288 pages)

What does Chrysler have in common with the French cosmetic company L'Oréal? They have hired cultural anthropologist Clotaire Rapaille to explain "archetypes" to them. Check out The Culture Code (Broadway Books, Hardcover, 224 pages)

We recently completed reviews of two new books about the alternative news media:

Static is by Amy Goodman and David Goodman of Democracy Now!. The authors describe Government Liars, Media Cheerleaders, and the People Who Fight Back. (Hyperion Books, hardcover, 352 pages)

Air America -- The Playbook is an anthology by the staff and supporters of the liberal radio network, among them Al Franken, Randi Rhodes, Rachel Maddow, Sam Seder, and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. The book presents What a Bunch of Left Wing Media Types Have to Teach you about a World Gone Right. (352 pages in hardcover from Rodale Books)

Two physics professors from the University of California at Santa Cruz take on the subject of mind and matter. In Quantum Enigma : Physics Encounters Consciousness they investigate several interpretations of the discovery that "objective reality" cannot be separated from the observer. (Hardcover, 224 pages, June 2006 from Oxford University Press)

How to Spend $50 Billion to Make the World a Better Place is a symposium of fourteen authors who compare proposed solutions to world poverty, global warming, overpopulation, water supply, underfunded education, trade barriers, communicable disease, civil war, and other social challenges. The general format of each chapter is the contributing author's brief survey of a public problem and a reform proposal, with either a graph or a small table of data to illustrate costs and benefits. Generally each essay is followed by an opponent viewpoint. A theme that pervades is "opportunities". An inexpensive paperback edited by Bjorn Lomborg, who teaches at the Copenhagen Business School. (218 pages, Cambridge University Press, paperback, June 2006.) BOOK EXCERPT

Some lines here were moved to science book reviews.

Although we wish that he may be wrong, oil industry analyst George Orwel believes that the rise in prices will continue until a peak occurs between the years 2015 and 2020. The only salvation is that new investment funds traded on the American Stock Exchange, available for the first time as of April 2006, make it easier than ever before for ordinary folks to tie their saving to this trend. Orwel's new book, Black Gold -- The New Frontier in Oil for Investors , advises: "Don't panic because the boom will last, but have a plan." [page 170] The book also studies the transition to alternative energy sources (chapter 3) that is being undertaken by such companies as General Electric, British Petroleum and Shell. Historical and geographical issues, and international politics, are considered -- even the mysterious mathematical field called game theory. (Hardcover, 216 pages, published June 2006 by Wiley.)

The newest book by historian of religion Karen Armstrong asserts that The Great Transformation took place several centuries B.C. It was the pivotal moment when the Jewish pioneers of spiritual thought, Confucius, Lao-Tzu, and the Buddha, working independently, rejected the selfish ego as well as metaphysical speculations which cannot be answered. The transcendence of the self, they said, is achieved through worldly acts of cooperation and compassion. The philosopher Karl Jaspers called it the Axial Age, and today's world religions, Armstrong explains, are merely its "secondary flowerings." Not until the scientific revolution did the world encounter another reversal of thought of comparable magnitude. (Hardcover, 496 pages, published March 28, 2006 by Knopf.)

Timothy Leary by Robert Greenfield is the biography of the former Harvard psychology professor who was called "the apostle of LSD." Dr. Leary's books and speaking engagements expressed the viewpoint that an LSD trip is a religious sacrament, and he took hundreds of journeys to meet with his spiked-sugar-cube god. For practicing his lysergic religion, Leary was hounded by the law, chased from one country to another, and threatened with 25 years in Folsom Prison. Greenfield is a well-known counterculture biographer, who previously wrote down the famous oral memoirs of Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia , worked as the ghostwriter for the autobiography of Fillmore East and Fillmore West rock concert promoter Bill Graham , and also published another book about his experience accompanying the Rolling Stones on a tour in 1972. (Hardcover, a whopping 704 pages, June 2006 from Harcourt.)

A sincere thank you and good luck to journalist Helen Thomas. Known as the one member of the White House press team who could be relied upon to ask the tough and embarrassing questions, this winner of numerous awards will be retiring soon. After covering the administrations of nine presidents beginning with JFK, she exits with a loud bang. Her new book is Watchdogs of Democracy? -- The Waning Washington Press Corps and How It Has Failed the Public . Thomas charges both reporters and media management with being passive and silent, afraid that they would be called "unpatriotic" if they dared to probe the Bush administration's flimsy case for invading Iraq. The media sacrified the right of the people to know what our elected leaders are really up to. (Hardcover, 240 pages, published June 20, 2006 by Scribner.)

Progressive activist Arianna Huffington has taken a break from writing about the class struggle. In her latest book, On Becoming Fearless , she discusses family relationships and situations, the importance of assertiveness, men and women, self-image, careers, phobias, thoughts about death, and more. (Little, Brown & Co,, Hardcover, 240 pages. Coming in September and available now for pre-order.)

What is this article? These are some of my preliminary notes about the titles for which I haven't yet completed full-length book reviews. Please use the links in the left column to find completed reviews.

Our thanks go out to author Dean Koontz and Bantam Books for granting permission to reprint an excerpt from Koontz's new, thrilling and bestselling novel, The Husband . Visitors to this site are invited to read an excerpt from Chapter 1 .

Thomas Dietrich, author of the 2005 The Origin of Culture and Civilization , has contacted us to let us know that he liked the book review so much that he is using our review as the target link in his own advertisements. It's good to hear that our work is getting distributed.

According to the New York Post of July 2, 2006, right-wing extremist Ann Coulter has been caught committing plagiarism in her latest waste of pulp entitled Godless : The Church of Liberalism . As reported in the newspaper article by Philip Recchia and Susannah Cahalan, pattern recognition researcher John Barrie, Ph.D. put the book through his iThenticate plagiarism detection software. The program allegedly found extensive passages that were copied almost word-for-word from books, articles and pamphlets written by others. Similar instances of plagiarism were found in Coulter's newspaper columns. I haven't read the book, and I anticipate that I won't bother with it, after I examined one of Coulter's earlier books in considerable detail, and found nothing at all of value within it. (Hardcover from Crown Press, 320 pages, June 2006.)

Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner have decided out of conscience that they needed to revise their bestseller Freakonomics , the first edition of which (May 2005) sold 1.5 million copies in its first year. The authors have determined that the story they told about reporter and civil rights proponent Stetson Kennedy contained some inaccuracies. The changes will be made in the book's paperback large print edition (due out in November) and in the audio book on CD which is read by Dubner (due out in October). A number of historical researchers have concluded that Kennedy had exaggerated about some of his activities working undercover inside the Ku Klux Klan in the 1940s, as described in his 1954 book (1990 reprint available) The Klan Unmasked . Oddly enough, the Kennedy activities as described by Levitt and Dubner are offered merely as an example to illustrate a point (the economic concept of an asymmetry of information). The apparent and minor inaccuracies in the first edition don't really diminish the book's quality. (First edition published by William Morrow; large print and audio CD editions published by Harper.)

You recall the news reports about three days in April of 2003 when looters devastated the Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. The mob took more than ten thousand Babylonian and Sumerian artifacts of the "cradle of civilization", some of the pieces more than 5,000 years old. To apply American-style detective work to the task, an assistant district attorney from New York City, already in Basra at the time as part of his role in the U.S. Marines Reserves, was appointed to go to Baghdad that same month. Matthew Bogdanos describes his investigation and findings in Thieves of Baghdad . One of the author's innovations was to distribute photos of valuable artifacts on "wanted" posters, which resulted in several recoveries. The author concludes that at least some of the looting had to be an inside job, since someone acquired a hidden key and also knew of its corresponding cabinet hidden behind a bricked-up wall. A year after the book's original publication in October 2005, a paperback reprint is expected to be released in October 2006. (First edition in hardcover of October 2005, and paperback reprint of October 2006, both 320 pages and published by Bloomsbury Books.)

Terrorism needs to be addressed by emulating the policies of Cold War era liberals like JFK, says New Republic columnist Peter Beinart. It requires a U.S. leadership that will promote and not erode civil liberties at home. This will set an example that will inspire the more progressive elements in the Islamic parts of the world to take their own countries back from the extremists. A U.S. administration that would defend the standard of living of the working class, and cease to take orders from corporate lobbyists and donators of campaign funds, would give encouragement to Islamic people that the principle of democracy is no sham. A U.S. foreign policy upholding reciprocity, and demanding of the U.S. the same ciivlized rules that the U.S. expects of other countries, would show the world that Americans are not hypocrites. President Bush conveys one message in his political sermons, and a different message with his actions. Beinart's book is The Good Fight . Its subtitle is Why Liberals -- and Only Liberals -- Can Win the War on Terror and Make America Great Again. The book is also available as an audio book . (Hardcover of 304 pages, and audio book on CD, both from HarperCollins in June 2006.) .

Danny Schechter, who worked at ABC News for eight years, was often a lone voice in the media to protest the U.S. government's use of Hollywood-style story-telling techniques to conduct "perception management". The deficiency was never more pronounced than it has been during Bush Administration's use of willingly submissive media organizations to sell its reactionary policies to the public. After releasing his 2005 documentary film WMD -- Weapons of Mass Deception , Shechter went on to write the book When News Lies . The book also includes the documentary DVD. Shechter would like to remind us that the special position given to the press in the U.S., with its liberty guaranteed by the Constitution, also implies the responsibility to be honest with the public or face accountability. (Select Books, January 2006, paperback, 176 pages.)

Something tells me that the government would prefer that you not read Overthrow : America's Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq by Stephen Kinzer. The author details ten occasions in which the U.S. overthrew the governments of other countries, generally to install dictators who would be favorable to U.S. corporations, and in some cases toppling democratically elected leaders. After the first democratically elected president to lead Guatemala in many years decided in 1954 to take possession of (by eminent domain, with full compensation) land owned by the United Fruit Company, the U.S. seized control, and caused 30 years of civil war. Read also about the intervention in Nicaragua in 1910, which had the purpose of giving U.S. mining companies effective control of the country. Hawaii eventually became a state because the decision by that small island nation's queen to charge U.S. companies tariffs on sugar imports prompted the U.S. to send in the Marines in 1893. Kinzer also covers the the forced installation of the Shah of Iran, and the U.S. government's orchestrated assassinations of South Vietnam's President Diem in 1963 and Chile's President Allende in 1973. (Times Books, April 2006, hardcover, 400 pages.)

Reza Aslan, who was born in Tehran but moved to the U.S. during early childhood, focuses largely on the prospects for Islamic societies' internal development in the direction of democratic institutions. No god but God : The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam is less about theology or history than it is about the current unfolding within Islam that is in some ways comparable to Christianity's Reformation. The Holy Prophet taught that Islam, Judaism and Christianity should coexist, and some measure of religious plurality was part of Islamic tradition for a longer time than the current headline-grabbing intolerance has been practiced. The Islamic nations will eventually democratize, a growth which other nations can help to nurture but cannot coerce. Other nations can assist if they will first realize that this development will occur, not through Jeffersonian separation of religion and state, but through a uniquely Islamic kind of acceptance of religious plurality. (From Random House in January 2006, paperback, 352 pages.)

For a former CIA field officer to write Jawbreaker required not only resigning but also suing the agency. The CIA had forbidden the publication of some of its contents, and procrastinated in deciding whether to permit others. Gary Berntsen, who was in the CIA for 23 years, supports the agency's mission, and also supports the Bush administration; he is merely critical of the errors made in the responses to intelligence data. The book, the subtitle of which is The Attack on Bin Laden and Al Qaeda -- A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander, describes events in the time period 1998 through 2001. The author, who had previous experience in the study of Hizbollah and activities in Iran, was part of a small CIA team that went to Afghanistan before the 9/11 attacks, to work with the Northern Alliance in the hope of capturing al Qaeda leaders. After 9/11, and the U.S. entry into Afghanistan, the CIA was given certain rote tasks, such as transmitting al Qaeda coordinates to military recipients, for use in the guidance of "smart" weapons. It appears, however, that strategic advice from CIA officers was not welcomed. Berntsen requested the deployment of troops to surround Bin Laden and thereby prevent his escape. The U.S. government denied this request, and also got rid of the trouble-maker who had issued it, by transferring Berntsen to a new assignment in South America. (With coauthor Ralph Pezzullo; hardcover, 352 pages, from Crown Books, December 2005.)

George Friedman makes the case that the U.S. invaded Iraq for the main purpose of sending a message to Saudi Arabia in a dramatic way. That message is: We didn't forget that Saudi Arabia refused the request by the U.S. that Saudi citizens be barred from contributing money to al Qaeda, and you should note that the U.S. is willing to go to war if necessary. Friedman's book is America's Secret War : Inside the Hidden Worldwide Struggle Between the United States and Its Enemies . (In paperback from Broadway Books, October 2005, 384 pages.)

Maybe the police wanted to get promoted, the prosecuters liked to see their names in the paper, the witnesses were bribed, the judges were vindictive, or the members of the juries were lazy. However it may have happened, Surviving Justice consists of interviews with 13 people who were wrongfully convicted of crimes in the U.S., and later proven to be innocent by DNA analysis. One of these victims of the "justice" system was Christopher Ochoa, who was beaten by the police until he was willing to sign a rape confession, and then spent 12 years in prison, until university-based legal volunteers were able to arrange for the DNA test which both cleared him and implicated a different person. Most of the exonerees continue to experience psychological trauma, and volunteer organizations attempt to assist their return to normal life, to supplement the absolutely nothing that the government does to assist them. Interviews conducted by journalism graduate students, and edited by Lola Vollen and Dave Eggars. (Released November 2005 by McSweeney's, 512 pages in paperback.)

Psychology and sociology have often been criticized for noticing correlations and then presenting these as causal connections. Sometimes the method does give the right answers, so you may decide for yourself. Douglas E. Morris concludes that the style of urban planning -- if we want to call it "planning" at all, in the absense of any public policy to address it -- is a major cause of the United States having such a high rate of violent crimes per capita. Proponents of morality-based theories tend to blame the crime rate on everything from divorce to violent movies, but, in the author's view, such factors must be rejected as possible explanations, because they are found in the countries with the lowest as well as the highest crime rates. Consider, instead, the peculiar feeling of loneliness in a crowd, and the admissions by many urban and suburban residents that they don't know their nextdoor neighbors. Consider the paradox of increased reliance on job commuting at the same time that the use and availability of public transportation are in decline. Compare this, in your imagination, to a new system of "small town" environments interconnected with a modern transit system. Would the latter help to alleviate the social signs of alienation? It's a Sprawl World After All will never become a bestseller, but its message should be weight by those interested in politics and the social sciences. The subtitle is: The Human Cost of Unplanned Growth -- and Visions of a Better Future. (288 pages in paperback from New Society Publishers, September 2005.)

The first nonfiction book from a novelist and column writer begins with an overview of terrorism suspects in the U.S. who went about unimpeded because local police and airport security didn't have access to CIA data. Such uncommunicated records indicate by example what Larry Beinhart refers to by the term Fog Facts , but the absense or deemphasis of certain facts from news reporting is the worst form of all. Facts in their entirely would have shown the process of the Bush administration concocting its assertions of Iraq's WMDs and an alleged connection between Iraq and al Qaeda. The facts would reveal several people on record prior to 9/11 having warned about hijackers steering airliners into buildings. If the media were to report on themselves, they would disclose that they buried the results of their own studies of the 2000 election. To hear the media tell it, the U.S. is the only country that is by definition incapable of having committed wartime atrocities, and each of the government's terrorism suspects is necessarily guilty without the need to bother hearing a defense. Our news is "junk food" according to the book with the subtitle Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin. It is the mission of journalism that must be changed, Beinhart says, beginning with the the profession's understanding of what obectivity means. (Hardcover from Nation Books, 219 pages, October 2005.)

...To be continued ....

Mike Lepore · · Last update February 20, 2008


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