Books by Tom Shachtman

Tom Shachtman has written books on a wide variety of historic, economic, and social subjects, such as World War II (TERRORS AND MARVELS), the 1929 Stock Market Crash (THE DAY AMERICA CRASHED), the 1960s (DECADE OF SHOCKS), a single block in New York (AROU


Released: Jan. 21, 2020

"A provocative argument that wealthy men built America and did a good job."
An ingenious examination of how money played the central role in the founding of the United States. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 12, 2017

"The author makes a convincing case that, without France, the United States may never have gained independence."
Financial support and the Marquis de Lafayette were only parts of France's contribution to America's success against England. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Oct. 7, 2014

"A well-researched, lively entry into the current debate about the role of science in a democracy."
Shachtman (American Iconoclast: The Life and Times of Eric Hoffer, 2011, etc.) makes a strong case for the importance of science and technology in the creation of the United States. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Dec. 8, 2009

"A well-reported, fast-paced history lesson on the eternal conflict between ideologues and policymakers and the hubris that always accompanies success."
Chronicle of the decades-long battle between the pragmatists and the neocons for control of U.S. foreign policy. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Sept. 15, 2009

"A valuable case study of the effectiveness of NGOs when they are operated with care and confidence."
The story of communal American liberality 50 years ago and how it affected today's world, retrieved from the files of an almost forgotten nongovernmental organization. Read full book review >
RUMSPRINGA by Tom Shachtman
NON-FICTION
Released: June 1, 2006

"Nevertheless, a riveting and instructive portrait."
Even Amish teenagers need to blow off steam. Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Nov. 1, 2001

"An unsettling narrative of 'business as usual' gone awry, and a timely warning for post-Cold War optimists."
A retired American naval intelligence officer chronicles his detention, trial, and conviction for espionage in Russia. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: June 1, 2001

"Remarkable view of a war that not only advanced but politicized science, perhaps forever."
A comprehensive analysis of how mobilization and management of scientists—and their research and resultant technologies—produced an array of weapons for the Allies that ranged from horrific to unbelievable. Read full book review >
ABSOLUTE ZERO AND THE CONQUEST OF COLD by Tom Shachtman
NON-FICTION
Released: Dec. 1, 1999

An intriguing but ponderous history of controlled cold and the pursuit of absolute zero. Unlike heat, explains Shachtman (Around the Block, 1997, etc.), cold was for a long time a mystery without a source, associated with death, simply feared. By the 17th century, scientists were beginning to take the pulse of cold. Shachtman takes readers from the first experiments with the expansion and contraction of water by Robert Boyle, through the invention of the Florentine thermometer (with its 360 divisions, like the gradations of a circle, forever after "degrees") and the work of Gabriel Fahrenheit and Anders Celsius, to Gillaume Amontons' toying with the notion of the absence of heat, or absolute zero. At this point, though, Shachtman gets bogged down. He natters on about the process by which various European scientists strove to achieve Ultima Thule (a cold colder than deep space), the crude designs of the many early refrigerators, the drop-by-miserable-drop process of turning a gas into a liquid, and the petty bickering that riddled the community of cold researchers—proving only that it is impossible to squeeze the slightest zest from such topics. Contemporary research into the strange world of absolute zero is treated more concisely in a section that reads like a thriller. Enter the realm of quantum mechanics, where superconductivity and superfluidity and the total absence of magnetism bends our perception of the material world. The little magnet floating above a superconductive wafer in a dish of liquid nitrogen that made newspaper headlines was nothing compared to work Shachtman reports from Harvard, where a team operating in a near-absolute zero environment has managed to "slow the speed of light to a mere 38 miles per hour." Something fishy is happening at -273 degrees Centigrade, playing havoc with time, space, and matter. Despite Shachtman's uneven treatment, there emerges here a disarming portrait of an exquisite, ferocious, world-ending extreme. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: Oct. 1, 1997

Shachtman returns to the turf of his 1991 Skyscraper Dreams, the business world of New York City, for a study of one year in the life of an urban block. The block in Manhattan bounded by Seventh and Eighth avenues, and 17th and 18th streets is ``an ordinary block in an in-between neighborhood in the biggest city in the country,'' Shachtman writes. As such, it makes a surprisingly good lens through which to view three trends going on in urban America: increased urbanization, a growing polarization between rich and poor as the middle class is driven out, and a concentration of economic power in the hands of large chain stores. Each of these trends comes into play during the year covered here (April 15, 1993, to April 15, 1994). Shachtman uses the block's three large companies (Nynex, Cahners, and the fashion emporium Barney's) and over a hundred small ones to illustrate the effects of rising rents, increasing tax burdens, and rapid technological change. Along the way, he offers some profoundly moving vignettes: A lumber-company proprietor commits suicide rather than allow a bank to foreclose on his business; a Korean-born professional is making his way in the New World as a liquor-store owner; a gay video-store proprietor finds himself battling the behemoth Blockbuster chain. The personal lives of the men and women who own businesses become deeply implicated in their survival, as Shachtman richly illustrates. Finally, he offers a bold thesis, that it is the small businesses of American cities that engage in real job creation and are the heart of the nation's economy, and he proposes a series of changes in US banking and governmental practices designed to bolster them. Despite the limitations of his pedestrian prose style, Shachtman conveys the drama of simple daily life in New York small business, and no one who reads this will ever walk down a city street and see it in quite the same way again. (8 pages photos, not seen) Read full book review >
I HAVE LIVED IN THE MONSTER by Robert K. Ressler
NON-FICTION
Released: June 1, 1997

More of the gory details from the former FBI profiler who coined the phrase ``serial killer.'' Among the other murderers he examines here, Ressler continues from Whoever Fights Monsters (1992) his discussion on John Wayne Gacy and includes new information on Jeffrey Dahmer. He reconstructs his interviews with the two; they're tough going, yet fascinating: Both men express having experienced real surprise when they—as they put it—``[woke] up next to a dead guy,'' and both insist that they don't remember what really happened. Gacy even asserts that his construction crew did most of the killings. But it's clear they do remember, and Ressler, a master of the interview, gets them to admit exactly what they did (for the tenacious, strong-stomached reader only) and, less clearly, why. Ressler is not so much interested in what made these men start killing as in the origins of the feelings of exuberance and omnipotence that wouldn't let them stop. He clearly and persuasively outlines the beginning of Dahmer's and Gacy's careers as killers, but does not provide an adequate explanation as to why these men, suffering deeply from anomie, killed others rather than commit suicide. Ressler's understanding of his subjects, however, is genuine, and he creates convincing portraits of them as evil, cruel, yet somehow pitiable. While the book also deals with some international cases (South Africa's ABC Murders, the Wimbledon Commons murder in England, the Aum cult in Japan), it's obvious that Ressler's heart—and massive ego—belongs to American killers, who started the whole serial-killer industry in the first place. A disturbing catalog of facts lacking a strong context but terribly jarring just the same. (Author tour) Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: May 1, 1992

The FBI agent who coined the term ``serial killer'' boasts about his exploits—and for good reason. Modesty isn't Ressler's strong suit, as even the subtitle attests, but his career is packed with so many amazing episodes- -well related here with the help of Shachtman (Skyscraper Dreams, 1991, etc.)—that the chest-beating is forgivable. Ressler's major contribution to criminology has been his pioneering work in psychological profiling, which he developed by visiting prisons and talking to scores of convicted killers. His accounts here of interviews with Charles Manson, Richard Speck, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, and others are told with a fine flair for drama—e.g., of being locked in a cell with 6'9'', 300-pound mutilation-killer Ed Kemper, who, when it was clear that guards weren't answering Ressler's call to open the cell door, threatened to ``screw off'' the FBI man's head. Myriad tales of how Ressler tracked down killers complement the jailhouse yarns and offer much insight into serial killers' minds. Of primary importance is to determine whether a killer is ``organized'' or ``disorganized,'' stresses Ressler, who goes on to explain that all serial killings are classified as ``sexual homicides,'' because at their root is a ``sexual maladjustment'' that ``drives'' the ``fantasies'' that are played out in death. As deeply as Ressler gets into killers' heads, though, he refuses to reveal much of his own here, offering no explanation other than ``fascination'' and ``interest'' for why he's devoted his life to a calling so dire and soul-wearying that, as he emphasizes and as the title quote from Nietzsche concludes, one who follows it risks becoming ``a monster himself.'' Gibbering horrors brought to heel, secrets of the serial- killer unveiled: a true-crime bonanza, though a bit more self- introspection would have iced the cake. (Sixteen-page b&w photo insert—not seen.) Read full book review >
ANIMALS
Released: Nov. 1, 1991

In the last of a trilogy, sea-lion Daniel au Fond achieves his heart's desires—gathering representatives of the 13 tribes of seagoing mammals, and finding Pacifica, where legend says his kind and humans once lived harmoniously together—only to discover that his quest has just begun. Constantly recalling his previous adventures (Beachmaster, 1988; Wavebender, 1990), Daniel evades oil slicks and other pollution; rescues some fellow sea mammals from captivity; and discovers, on the back of an ancient turtle, a map that leads him to a partly sunken island. In a vision, Daniel learns that his kind had once been captive even here, but freed themselves in a bloody long-ago rebellion; he then realizes that it's up to him to teach humans to respect all life. The author's indictment of our brutality to animals and of destructive environmental practices is on the mark, but the plot's a ritualistic mix of convenient turns and token conflict. The anthropomorphism of the various seals, sea otters, cetaceans, etc., further undercuts the immediacy of the message. Daniel's fans are likely to be disappointed by the vaguely articulated resolution. For a better-written, more compelling fantasy that considers the same themes, see Ruth Park's My Sister Sif (p. 675). (Fiction. 11-13) Read full book review >
BIOGRAPHY & MEMOIR
Released: Aug. 21, 1991

A comprehensive history of the families who risked fortunes and occasionally lost them while working their designs on N.Y.C.'s skyline—by the author of The Phony War (1982) and The Day America Crashed (1979). From the Astors in the late 19th century to the Trumps of yesterday, Manhattan real estate has been a quintessential family business. The reasons become clear as Shachtman traces the process by which generations of Rhinelanders, Astors, and Goelets cultivated their modest, pre-elevator, lower-Manhattan rental properties while gradually transforming them into grand hotels, palatial mansions, and the base of America's most sophisticated social elite. The wave of Russian-Jewish immigrants who followed brought their own ideas of family intact from their homeland; to ensure the survival of their own they banded together to purchase apartment buildings in their ghettos on the Lower East Side, experiment with larger projects in the outer boroughs, and eventually—sometimes a generation or so later—tackle the well- entrenched establishment on the great island itself. Then as now, the business of buying low, building tall, and selling high was a cutthroat one in which only blood relatives could truly be trusted. Developers without heirs were likely to see their influence on the skyline die quickly, while even families virtually destroyed by New York's constant economic fluctuations were able to recover in subsequent, possibly wiser, generations. The downside of rampant overdevelopment is given short shrift in this mild-mannered account, however. Despite occasional eccentricities (old Astor's wet nurse, Trump's manipulation of the media), Shachtman evokes a hard-working, civic-minded, rather stodgy group, whose generally humble demeanor contrasts sharply with the concrete evidence of their ambitions. Overly respectful, perhaps, but captivating nevertheless. Read full book review >
NON-FICTION
Released: May 16, 1991

Here, top corporate-image man Chajet, with the largely invisible aid of Shachtman (Decade of Shocks, 1983, etc.), tells a little about his professional activities. Chajet's company, Lippincott and Margulies, of which he's chairman and CEOtitles he seems to like a lothas certainly fashioned the very look of America through corporate iconography. Chrysler, AT&T, Coca-Cola, and a host of others, including venerable Betty Crocker, have all had face-lifts through the slick ministrations of Chajet's image consultants. Included in his protocol of corporate display: stationery and street signs, logo and color scheme, public-relations strategy and the proper spin on a corporate disaster. He faults Exxon, not for the noxious spill or indifferent cleanup, but for ``cost cutting in regard to public affairs.'' He apparently believes that the facade determines what goes on inside the corporate edifice; he's certainly convinced that the facade will determine the price of the whole structure. Why Classic Coke had to step in for New Coke, what really happened to Allegis, how the Infiniti auto campaign evolved, and similar parables are offered. Successes are heralded; debacles are the result of pigheaded chief execs or the project of someone else. It's all very high-flown. By proper attention to image, smart corporations ``will have little to fear of what tomorrow holds,'' for ``by controlling their images through conscious design, they will be in the best position to take advantage of the future.'' And consumers. A mildly interesting, indifferently written primer on image usagea book that's finally not much more than a hard-sell promotional brochure for Chajet's corporate decorating firm. (Sixteen-page four-color insertnot seen.) Read full book review >
Released: April 26, 1989

A mean-spirited and selective history of the star-crossed tobacco clan; from an estranged scion whose only significant claim to fame is his status as an antismoking activist. Reynolds (who's 40) traces his lineage back five generations to the Piedmond farmlands of southern Virginia. The real story, though, starts with the 1850 birth of Richard Joshua. An entrepreneurial genius, he created a multinational enterprise (whose lines still boast a full range of branded tobacco products, including Camel cigarettes) from a backwater base in Winston-Salem, N.C. The founding father was survived by a young wife (30 years his junior), two daughters (bit players in the tawdry dramas to come), and a couple of scapegrace sons (who viewed the eponymous family firm mainly as a source of funds for their wanton life-styles). One, Zachary Smith, died of gunshot wounds at 20; his wife, bisexual torch singer Libby Holman, was charged with murder, but the case never went to trial. Smith's elder brother, the equally dissipated Dick Jr., lived long enough to sire six disinherited sons (and, possibly, a daughter) by four different wives; in 1964, he succumbed—at age 58—to emphysema and other of hedonism's afflictions. Here, Dick's self-absorbed son Patrick Cleveland makes an egregiously poor job of recounting the rise and fall of the House of Reynolds. A would-be actor whose money got him into the Euro-trash jet set but not show biz, he devotes the bulk of the haphazard text to speculative rehashes of old scandals and to settling personal scores (which have largely to do with his failure to secure more than a nominal piece of the patriarch's considerable fortune). All but ignored, for example, are the blood relations who built Reynolds Metals Co. into a world-class aluminum supplier. Nor does Patrick have much to say (good or bad) about his siblings. Despite the assitance of Shachtman (Decade of Shocks, et al.), the text is disorganized and replete with howlers (e.g., "he took to wearing jumpsuits, long hair, and other badges of the counterculture"). An aimless account of a failed dynasty's disintegration, which is almost wholly without redeeming social or literary value. There are 30 b&w photos—not seen. Read full book review >