Alternately sad, defiant, carefree and understated, this journey into a world hidden in plain sight is well worth taking.

A FREE MAN

A TRUE STORY OF LIFE AND DEATH IN DELHI

A journalist ingratiates himself with a band of day laborers on the mean streets of Delhi, India.

In 2005, Sethi, a young reporter eager to undertake an investigative study of Delhi’s working poor, befriended vagabond Mohammed Ashraf and his crew. Six years later, he found himself still involved in Ashraf’s life, providing him with both emotional and financial support. Although Sethi initially expressed frustration with Ashraf’s reluctance to provide a linear timeline of his life story, he soon fell under the spell cast by this streetwise raconteur. Like many others in his circle, Ashraf had run away to Delhi to escape a tempestuous home life. During times when he could find work, he painted houses and did other manual odd jobs; during times when there was either no work to be had or no work that he wanted, he drank heavily, spun tall tales and fantasized about opening his own business. Sethi excels at empathetically depicting what could come across as a miserable existence: he allows Ashraf and the other mazdoors (laborers) to share their stories without either judging them or pretending to be one of them. For all the injustices that these men face every day, the book offers ample humor. In the most poignant chapters, Sethi accompanies Ashraf’s friend to a tuberculosis hospital. The bureaucracy and despair of such an institution becomes painfully clear when Sethi portrays the panel of admitting doctors, all wearing masks and looking away from their patients.

Alternately sad, defiant, carefree and understated, this journey into a world hidden in plain sight is well worth taking.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08890-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

AS TEXAS GOES...

HOW THE LONE STAR STATE HIJACKED THE AMERICAN AGENDA

New York Times political columnist Collins (When Everything ChangedThe Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, 2009, etc.) zeroes in on what makes Texas so important and why the rest of the country needs to know and care about what’s happening there.

Texans, writes the author, think they live in a wide-open empty space where carrying a concealed weapon is acceptable because people have to take care of themselves and the government has no business telling them what to do. In her inimitable style, the unabashed liberal examines the shenanigans of Texans from four angles: first, a hilarious look at some of Texas’ past heroes and present politicos and at how the empty-space ethos has shaped the state’s policies; second, a close-up examination of several areas where she says the state has gone wildly, sadly wrong (its deregulation of financial markets, attempts at reforming schools and funding, or defunding, education, and major missteps on sex education, energy, the environment, pollution and global climate change); third, a scathing report on the two-tiered, low-tax, low-service economy of the state; and finally, Collins’ take on where Texas, soon to be a Hispanic-majority state, is heading. The author loads her report with funny but dismaying anecdotes and dozens of revealing interviews. She does not neglect the hard facts. An appendix includes “Texas on the Brink,” a report compiled by the Legislative Study Group of the Texas House of Representatives. It gives an especially grim picture of the failings of our second-largest state. Among the states, it is first in executions and in the amount of carbon dioxide emissions but 45th in SAT scores and 49th in the percentage of low-income people covered by Medicaid. In Collins' view, the rest of us feel the influence of Texas in our lives every day, and “if Texas goes south, it’s taking us along.” A timely portrait of Texas delivered with Collins’ unique brand of insightful humor.

 

Pub Date: June 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-87140-407-7

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

The author’s compelling argument for Laguna Honda’s philosophy of “slow medicine” will make readers contemplate if perhaps...

GOD'S HOTEL

A DOCTOR, A HOSPITAL, AND A PILGRIMAGE TO THE HEART OF MEDICINE

A doctor’s experiences in a unique corner of the medical world.

At Laguna Honda Hospital in San Francisco, the doctors and nurses provide long-term care for the sick poor; the working and living environments are unlike that of any other hospital in the country. Physician Sweet accepted a job at Laguna Honda since they were willing to offer her a part-time position (extremely rare at the time), and she was interested in continuing to practice medicine while simultaneously pursuing a doctorate in the history of medicine. The author had come to realize that modern medicine did not mesh with her idea of being a physician, and she sought answers in the teachings of Hildegard of Bingen, a German nun who practiced medicine in the Middle Ages and who, miraculously, penned a medical textbook. Laguna Honda turned out to be the perfect place to put many of Hildegard’s ancient theories into practice. What was originally supposed to be a monthslong stopover turned into a career spanning more than 20 years and countless life-altering realizations about the nature of medicine. Sweet writes of Laguna Honda with unguarded affection, but she doesn’t gloss over the negative phases. She is remarkably honest about the darker side of her experiences at the hospital: the patients who couldn’t be saved, patients whose bad behavior was openly tolerated (smoking, drinking, gambling, etc.), the political infighting among the staff and bad managerial decisions. In the dozen or so patient success stories, Sweet’s warm, anecdotal style shines brightest.

The author’s compelling argument for Laguna Honda’s philosophy of “slow medicine” will make readers contemplate if perhaps the body should be viewed more as a garden to be tended rather than a machine to be fixed.

Pub Date: April 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-843-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

The best book yet written on India in the throes of a brutal transition.

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  • Pulitzer Prize Finalist

BEHIND THE BEAUTIFUL FOREVERS

LIFE, DEATH, AND HOPE IN A MUMBAI UNDERCITY

In her debut, Pulitzer Prize–winning New Yorker staff writer Boo creates an intimate, unforgettable portrait of India’s urban poor.

Mumbai’s sparkling new airport and surrounding luxury hotels welcome visitors to the globalized, privatized, competitive India. Across the highway, on top of tons of garbage and next to a vast pool of sewage, lies the slum of Annawadi, one of many such places that house the millions of poor of Mumbai. For more than three years, Boo lived among and learned from the residents, observing their struggles and quarrels, listening to their dreams and despair, recording it all. She came away with a detailed portrait of individuals daring to aspire but too often denied a chance—their lives viewed as an embarrassment to the modernized wealthy. The author poignantly details these many lives: Abdul, a quiet buyer of recyclable trash who wished for nothing more than what he had; Zehrunisa, Abdul’s mother, a Muslim matriarch among hostile Hindu neighbors; Asha, the ambitious slum leader who used her connections and body in a vain attempt to escape from Annawadi; Manju, her beautiful, intelligent daughter whose hopes lay in the new India of opportunity; Sunil, the master scavenger, a little boy who would not grow; Meena, who drank rat poison rather than become a teenage bride in a remote village; Kalu, the charming garbage thief who was murdered and left by the side of the road. Boo brilliantly brings to life the residents of Annawadi, allowing the reader to know them and admire the fierce intelligence that allows them to survive in a world not made for them.

The best book yet written on India in the throes of a brutal transition.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6755-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

Cleareyed, compassionate and hopeful.

FIRE IN THE ASHES

TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AMONG THE POOREST CHILDREN IN AMERICA

The award-winning author of Death at an Early Age (1967) tells the stories of the later lives of poor children who grew up in the Bronx.

Kozol (Letters to a Young Teacher, 2007, etc.) has worked with children in inner-city schools for 50 years. In this engaging, illuminating, often moving book, he recounts the lives of poor black and Latino children—many now close friends—who once lived in Manhattan’s Martinique Hotel and were relocated in the late 1980s, upon the closing of that crowded and filthy shelter, to Mott Haven, a poor Bronx neighborhood. As the children grew into young adulthood, Kozol kept in touch with them and their families through visits, emails and phone calls. In a series of intimate portraits, he describes the astonishing odds the children faced and how many managed, with the critical help of mentors and caring others, to achieve successful lives, both in the conventional sense of graduating from college, but above all, by becoming kind and loving human beings. There is Leonardo, recruited by a New England boarding school, where he emerged as a leader; the introspective Jeremy, who befriended a Puerto Rican poet, got through college and took a job at a Mott Haven church that is central to the lives of many; and the buoyant, winning Pineapple, whose Guatemalan parents provide the emotional security of a warm home. “I’m going to give a good life to my children,” says Lisette, 24, after her troubled brother’s suicide. “I have to do it.  I’m the one who made it through.” Some children are still struggling to find their way, writes the author, but they do so with “the earnestness and elemental kindness” that he first saw in them years ago.

Cleareyed, compassionate and hopeful.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-5246-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

A provocative discussion of the deeper causes of our current discontent, written with verve and meriting wide interest.

TWILIGHT OF THE ELITES

AMERICA AFTER MERITOCRACY

In this forcefully written debut, Nation editor at large and MSNBC host Hayes examines some of the consequences of accumulating institutional failures.

Whether discussing the dysfunctions of government, Fortune 500 companies, Catholic bishops or Major League Baseball, the author traces common features to a “broad and devastating crisis of authority” resulting from a breakdown in trust. Hayes examines the relationship between trust and authority and shows that what we actually know usually depends on others, ultimately on a source of institutional authority such as a political party. “We don’t acknowledge that our most fundamental, shared beliefs about how society should operate are deeply elitist,” writes the author. “We have accepted that there will be some class of people that will make the decisions for us, and if we just manage to find the right ones, then all will go smoothly.” Hayes uses the term elite differently than the manner employed by Fox News or Sarah Palin. He defines it as a “small, powerful and connected” group with “three main sources of power: money, platform, and networks.” Of course, money can confer power and buy the other forms of influence, so what was once trusted may no longer be considered either competent or as acting in good faith. Many policymakers put forth education as the answer. Hayes insists that it is no longer enough, arguing that equality of opportunity must be complemented with equality of outcomes, through tax reforms and other measures.

A provocative discussion of the deeper causes of our current discontent, written with verve and meriting wide interest.

Pub Date: June 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-72045-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

A deeply argued call to action from a lucid, impassioned polemicist.

PREDATOR NATION

CORPORATE CRIMINALS, POLITICAL CORRUPTION, AND THE HIJACKING OF AMERICA

A concise, cogent assessment of the 2008 banking disaster and how the fallout has affected the country.

In his Oscar-winning 2010 documentary, Inside Job, Ferguson did a first-class job of explaining the mess on Wall Street. This book is a longer, more detailed version that underscores the film’s points, offering a broader picture of how Wall Street has poisoned the country. The author returns to the scene of the crime, where the slow rise of deregulation under President Ronald Reagan had turned into a lawless frontier by the time Clinton left office. Scrapping the 1933 Glass-Steagall Act—which kept investment and commercial banks separate—allowed investment firms to indulge their greediest desires, such as credit default swaps. Their partners in crime were Ivy League economists, who were paid handsomely for either testifying before Congress or writing papers that told banks what they wanted to hear, and ratings agencies like Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s, who recklessly doled out AAA ratings to the well-heeled major firms. So why didn’t anyone go to jail? Well, you can’t break laws that don’t exist. Still, Ferguson argues that real crimes were committed, from lying to federal authorities to filing fictitious financial statements. The author makes sure we get the big picture, too: that the money-driven Wall Street culture of corruption doesn’t advance American progress; it weakens it. Ferguson points to key areas—broadband technology, innovation and education—where greed has kept America lagging behind the rest of the civilized world.

A deeply argued call to action from a lucid, impassioned polemicist.

Pub Date: May 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95255-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown Business

Review Posted Online: April 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

THE NEW HATE

A HISTORY OF FEAR AND LOATHING ON THE POPULIST RIGHT

A well-reported study of disaffected groups who hate other groups whose members look or think differently than the haters.

In his latest book about ideologies, freelance writer and editor Goldwag (Cults, Conspiracies, and Secret Societies, 2009, etc.) transcends numerous other books warning about the dangers of political conservatives who have assumed influence during the administrations of Reagan and the two Bushes. These haters—given voice by such high-profile individuals as Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michael Savage and Michelle Malkin—worry about far more than who controls American politics. They worry about the atmosphere of family life, classrooms, corporate workplaces, public parks and just about every other venue where values antithetical to their own might seep into impressionable minds. Goldwag terms the phenomenon "the paranoid style of hatred" and shows how that style has been linked to conspiracy theories for hundreds of years. The author examines with special depth hatreds against Jews, Catholics, Freemasons, African-Americans and the extremely wealthy. With the election of President Barack Obama, the haters coalesced against what they saw as an obvious enemy. Goldwag is able to effectively use the hatred toward Obama to illustrate the irrationality of the haters. Given that many, perhaps most, paranoids exhibit some form of brain dysfunction and that undocumented conspiracy theories in general are linked to instability, Goldwag could have written off the haters as mentally ill. Instead, he treats their hatreds as something to be seriously researched because of their undue influence on the tenor of electoral politics, as well as almost every other aspect of daily life in America. A provocative, intellectually rigorous book written clearly and with an admirable lack of hatred. 

 

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-37969-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Nov. 28, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

An exquisitely reasoned, skillfully written treatise on big issues of everyday life.

WHAT MONEY CAN'T BUY

THE MORAL LIMITS OF MARKETS

Sandel (Government/Harvard Univ.; Justice: What’s the Right Thing to Do?, 2010, etc.) sounds the alarm that the belief in a market economy diminishes moral thought.

Taken to its extreme, a market economy dictates that any inanimate object, any animal, any human being can be bought and sold. That thinking justified human slavery in the United States until the end of the Civil War, but Sandel's examples are far subtler than slavery. Should any society find it desirable to place a price on polluting the environment? On first-rate health care? On admission to the best colleges? When so much is available for sale, writes the author, there are two inevitable negative consequences: inequality and corruption. Sandel devotes the first chapter to "Jumping the Queue." He explains the conundrums that arise when first-class airline passengers are allowed to skip the long lines at security, when single-passenger cars purchase the right to use express lanes designed for fuel-efficient multiple-passenger vehicles, when theatergoers pay somebody to stand in line overnight to score tickets for the best seats and when long waits for medical treatment at hospitals are circumvented by buying the services of concierge doctors, who guarantee quick access. Although not primarily a quantitative researcher, Sandel tests the boundaries of a market economy in his Harvard seminar on Ethics, Economics and the Law. The reactions of his students provide him with new examples of moral (or immoral or amoral) reasoning about everyday decision-making in an economy where cash payments rule. Sandel notes that the reality of a market economy embeds a vital question: How do members of the citizenry choose the values by which they will conduct their daily living? Are there certain commodities that markets should not honor?

An exquisitely reasoned, skillfully written treatise on big issues of everyday life.

Pub Date: April 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-20303-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2012

A call for a new American revolution, passionately proclaimed.

DAYS OF DESTRUCTION, DAYS OF REVOLT

An unabashedly polemic, angry manifesto that is certain to open eyes, intensify outrage and incite argument about corporate greed.

In the proud populist tradition of Howard Zinn (whose A People’s History of the United States provides a foundation for this book), a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and a renowned cartoonist combine their talents for an illumination of the American underbelly, as the exploitation of a perpetual (and growing) underclass makes the “sacrifice zones” of global capitalism seem like Dante’s circles of hell. Truthdig columnist Hedges (Death of the Liberal Class, 2010) was a foreign correspondent for the New York Times and other newspapers, though he plainly feels that advocacy can come closer to the truth than what passes for journalistic objectivity. Sacco (Journalism, 2012, etc.) shared the American Book Award for Palestine (2002) and has subsequently earned considerable acclaim for his graphic narratives of war zones. Though the team has plenty of experience with international warfare, the war they document here is in America, where “[c]orporate capitalism will, quite literally, kill us, as it has killed Native Americans, African Americans trapped in our internal colonies in the inner cities, those left behind in the devastated coalfields, and those who live as serfs in our nation’s produce fields.” Through immersion reportage and graphic narrative, the duo illuminate the human and environmental devastation in those communities, with the warning that no one is immune. “The ruthless hunt for profit creates a world where everything and everyone is expendable…it has enriched a tiny global elite that has no loyalty to the nation-state,” writes Hedges. “These corporations, if we use the language of patriotism, are traitors.” While finding some surprising pockets of hope within communities that are otherwise steeped in despair, the pair reserve their concluding glimmer of optimism for the Occupy movement. Otherwise, they find no hope in politics as usual, depicting Democrats and Republicans as equally complicit in policies that benefit the few at the expense of the many.

A call for a new American revolution, passionately proclaimed.

Pub Date: June 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-56858-643-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Nation Books

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

A bracing cooperative effort taking readers as close to war as humanly possible.

NIGHTCAP AT DAWN

AMERICAN SOLDIERS' COUNTERINSURGENCY IN IRAQ

Iraq war experiences from those who were there.

“Sgt. J.B. Walker,” the “author” of this absorbing, dramatically vivid chronicle, is a pen-named collective effort by American soldiers fighting in Iraq. Originally self-published, the narrative is comprised of candid emails assembled once the group returned to American soil and encompasses much more than its original intent to detail “the simple charms of soldiering.” With exacting scrutiny, many of the unnamed authors share the stark realities and myriad complications of counterinsurgency efforts. Each of the five sections delves deeply into the multilayered aspects of military duty: the culture shock from intercepting violence, soldiering with a concussion, profiling jihadist militants, the inexplicability of suicide bombing and the silent suffering of innocent Iraqi women and children. Most affective are the personal accounts, ranging from the poignant to the humorous. Individual narration of violent conflicts and meticulously rendered scenes of armed tactical maneuvering are tempered by the soldiers’ first-person depiction of fearless Iraqi civilians demonstrating resistance to cutthroat guerrilla movements. Expertly archived and originally written for military audiences, this confluence of warfare experiences is sure to garner widespread attention, with the publishing proceeds directed to charities serving military families, “the unacknowledged soldiers of any war.”

A bracing cooperative effort taking readers as close to war as humanly possible.

Pub Date: April 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61608-617-6

Page Count: 568

Publisher: Skyhorse Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

An intriguing and potentially life-altering examination of the human psyche that is sure to benefit both introverts and...

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QUIET

THE POWER OF INTROVERTS IN A WORLD THAT CAN'T STOP TALKING

An enlightened Wall Street survivor exhorts wallflowers everywhere to embrace their solitude-seeking souls and fully appreciate the power of the lone wolf.

Could up to one-half of a nation obsessed with Jersey Shore narcissism and American Idol fame really be inhabited by reserved, sensitive types? According to Cain, yes—and we better start valuing their insight. Extroverts have their place, but things can quickly go haywire when we start confusing assertiveness with competence—the economic meltdown on Wall Street was the most stunning recent example. Had there been a few more conscientious, contemplative introverts in the boardroom (and had they made themselves heard), Cain writes, the country’s fortunes would now be decidedly different. But today’s prevailing susceptibility to “reward sensitivity,” as embodied by alpha-dog Wall Street types, wasn’t always the norm. Cain provides fascinating insight into how the United States shifted from an introvert-leaning “cult of character” to an extrovert-leaning “cult of personality” ruled by the larger-than-life Tony Robbinses of the world. Readers will learn that the tendency for some to be reserved is actually hard-wired, and as every evolutionary biologist will tell you, innate characteristics are there for a reason—to help humans survive and thrive. The author also boldly tackles introverts themselves, as well as the ambivalence many often feel about being relegated to the corner. “Stick to your guns,” writes fellow introvert Cain. The author’s insights are so rich that she could pen two separate books: one about parenting an introverted child and another about how to make an introvert/extrovert relationship work.

An intriguing and potentially life-altering examination of the human psyche that is sure to benefit both introverts and extroverts alike.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-35214-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

An erudite discussion both profoundly sympathetic and richly analytical.

WHEN GOD TALKS BACK

UNDERSTANDING THE AMERICAN EVANGELICAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD

A simultaneously scholarly and deeply personal analysis of evangelical communities in America.

Luhrmann (Anthropology/Stanford Univ.; Of Two Minds: An Anthropologist Looks at American Psychiatry, 2000) entered the Vineyard Christian Fellowship openly—declaring herself an anthropologist who wanted to understand the evangelical way and mind—and she was both welcomed and eventually somewhat transformed. Near the end, Lurhmann writes that although she’s not sure she’d call herself a Christian, she has “come to know God.” She begins by describing the current evangelical movement—how widespread it is, how God has become an intimate friend rather than a harsh judge and how evangelicals largely avoid theodicy. She sketches the history of the Vineyard and attributes to the 1960s counterculture some of the spiritual energy that animates the evangelical movement. As the title suggests, the author devotes much of her discussion to the conversation between believers and their God, a conversation facilitated by specific techniques of prayer. She spends many pages talking about the problem of hearing God’s voice and attempts to cover all bases. For example, she includes major passages about the long history of the phenomenon, schizophreniaand skeptics’ reservations and disdain. Lurhmann underwent extensive prayer training, and her research is substantial—years of commitment, countless interviews, extensive endnotes and a vast bibliography. She accords deep respect for those whose religious experiences are scientifically unverifiable, and she concludes that evangelicals have, to a great extent, reprogrammed their brains and that they and skeptics live in alternate universes. One topic she does not raise: the economics of the movement. Who’s getting rich in the evangelical world? Does it matter?

An erudite discussion both profoundly sympathetic and richly analytical.

Pub Date: March 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-26479-4

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

A fascinating addition to the study of decision-making. File alongside Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely and other similar...

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WAIT

THE ART AND SCIENCE OF DELAY

A leading expert on financial market regulation studies the virtues of delay and even inaction.

In the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, Partnoy (Law and Finance/Univ. of San Diego; The Match King: Ivar Kreuger, the Financial Genius Behind a Century of Wall Street Scandals, 2009, etc.) asked “why our leading bankers, regulators and others were so short-sighted and wreaked such havoc on our economy.” While there is a high premium today for speed, the author suggests that there are serious downsides to rapid decision-making, unless it is accompanied by long-term strategic thinking and planning. Partnoy’s interdisciplinary approach uses elements of behavioral economics, neuroscience and even sports, as he shows how professional tennis and baseball players give themselves the extra milliseconds needed to process the trajectory of a ball before responding. Good judgment depends on allowing enough time for necessary mental processing to occur. The decision may appear to be spontaneous, but prior experience is almost always a factor—whether it occurs preconsciously, in milliseconds, or consciously, in seconds or longer time frames. Partnoy’s results are groundbreaking and a potential corrective to modern pressures for rapid response, whether on the playing field, in high-speed computer trading and corporate boardrooms, or on the battlefield. The author argues that although circumstances vary—each having its own requirements—and one size does not fit all, society must foster long-term decision-making in addition to making time for better shorter-term efforts.

A fascinating addition to the study of decision-making. File alongside Malcolm Gladwell, Dan Ariely and other similar writers.

Pub Date: June 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-61039-004-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

In each chapter, Blackwell finds he loves the polluted places for all the ways they aren’t ruined. With great verve, and...

VISIT SUNNY CHERNOBYL

AND OTHER ADVENTURES IN THE WORLD'S MOST POLLUTED PLACES

Humor and dry wit lighten a travelogue of the most polluted and ravaged places in the world.

Through seven nasty sites, journalist and filmmaker Blackwell teases out complex environmental issues and the history and cultures that surround them. The author conceived of the book because “to chase after the beautiful and pristine was to abandon most of the world.” Ultimately, he writes, “instead of finding degraded ecosystems that I could treat as though they were beautiful, I was just finding beauty.” The author engagingly chronicles his many adventures: canoeing near Chernobyl, museum-hopping by the oil sands of Northern Alberta, and piloting a ship through the Sabine-Neches Waterway in Port Arthur, Texas, “the pungent centerpiece of America’s petrochemical tiara.” Along the way, we meet colorful characters and learn what fuels these toxic places. Blackwell then sails off for the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, formed by a vortex of currents that gathers buoyant plastic into a huge floating mess. Moving on to the Amazon, where issues are far from black and white, the author delves into the issue of why rain forest destruction is so complicated, particularly when the forest is inhabited. The author also visited Linfen, China, the heart of the country’s coal-producing region and reputedly the most polluted place on the planet. The final chapter covers a pilgrimage of sorts along the sacred Yamuna River in India, or at least the former channel of the river—the water has been diverted and its bed is filled with sewage and waste.

In each chapter, Blackwell finds he loves the polluted places for all the ways they aren’t ruined. With great verve, and without sounding preachy, he exposes the essence and interconnectedness of these environmental problems.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60529-445-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Rodale

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

With humor and verve, Maddow lays a solid basis for that hoped-for interview with Cheney (fingers crossed).

DRIFT

THE UNMOORING OF AMERICAN MILITARY POWER

In her hard-hitting debut, popular MSNBC host Maddow examines how the country has lost control of its national-security policy.

The author holds Dick Cheney, to whom the book is dedicated (“Oh please let me interview you”), responsible for much that has gone wrong, associating the former vice president with the presidential prerogative of war-making powers. Cheney, writes Maddow, had been nursing these ideas since his days as chief of staff to President Gerald Ford, and he elaborated on them in his minority report on congressional investigation into the Iran-Contra affair. American forces are now accompanied by an equal or greater number of private contractors who perform functions that used to be reserved to the military, without either accountability or military control. The author shows how Bill Clinton used contractors extensively in Bosnia to avoid political fallout. These contractors, writes Maddow, typify the way in which the bonds that used to unite the military to the rest of society have been systematically severed, weakening political discussion and control. During the Vietnam War, Gen. Creighton Abrams and others reformed the structure of the military to make going to war without calling up the reserves and the National Guard—thereby guaranteeing national debate—very difficult, but these checks and balances have broken down. Maddow documents how the budgetary element has also gone out of control and raises important questions about the safety of the nuclear arsenal. She grounds her argument in the Founding Fathers’ debates about going to war and how difficult they intended to make the process—a state of affairs that is opposite to what is represented now.

With humor and verve, Maddow lays a solid basis for that hoped-for interview with Cheney (fingers crossed).

Pub Date: April 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-46098-1

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

Superbly crafted tale of Cold War America’s dark underside.

FULL BODY BURDEN

GROWING UP IN THE NUCLEAR SHADOW OF ROCKY FLATS

A harrowing account of Colorado’s Rocky Flats plutonium plant by a woman who grew up nearby.

In 1951, in a cow pasture outside Denver, the U.S. government broke ground for a secret Cold War nuclear weapons facility that would manufacture plutonium triggers for atomic bombs. Owned by the Atomic Energy Commission, the plant produced more than 70,000 fissionable triggers and considerable radioactive and toxic waste. Iversen (Creative Writing/Univ. of Memphis; Molly Brown: Unraveling the Myth, 1999) grew up in a new suburban development three miles from the plant, totally unaware—like her family’s neighbors—of what went on there. In a gripping narrative that intersperses stories of the Rocky Flats plant and her family life, the author describes how an astonishing habit of silence flourished in the community, which would not permit suspicions about the cluster of gray concrete buildings to shatter its idyllic 1950s suburban innocence. The same silence reigned at home, where Iversen and her siblings were expected to overlook their father’s alcoholism and their mother’s pill popping. In 1969, after a second plutonium fire, the AEC admitted that Rocky Flats worked with plutonium but claimed this posed no threat to the public, a position the government maintained for years. This exquisitely researched book details official efforts to hide the plant’s toxic dangers; health researchers’ efforts to expose a rising incidence of cancer deaths; massive protests involving Daniel Ellsberg and others aimed at closing the plant; the 1989 joint FBI-EPA investigation of environmental crimes at Rocky Flats; and local residents’ later tumultuous class-action court battle. In 1990, Iversen took a secretarial job at the plant and began gathering information for this extraordinary book. “Nearly every family we grew up with has been affected by cancer in some way,” she writes. In 2007, after a cleanup, most of Rocky Flats was set aside for use as a wildlife refuge.

Superbly crafted tale of Cold War America’s dark underside.

Pub Date: June 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95563-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2012

An exquisite—and often exquisitely depressing—patchwork of joy and pain.

TWELVE PATIENTS

LIFE AND DEATH AT BELLEVUE HOSPITAL

Captivating samplings of one doctor’s tour of duty inside the country’s oldest and perhaps most illustrious public hospital.

As the “oldest hospital in the country,” New York’s famous Bellevue Hospital stands strong in the ashes of centuries of illness, death and, indeed, survival. Manheimer started his residency there in 1997, and each of these 12 vignettes coalesces into a humanitarian and heartbreaking tapestry where modern medicine confronts the atrocities of life. The profiles begin with the strife of incarcerated Mexican mobster Juan Guerra, admitted to the prison health unit with a neck swollen with cancerous tumors, the same type of carcinoma the author was battling at the same time. Other chapters introduce patients like Tanisha, a Dominican-Haitian teenager who was abandoned at birth and had ricocheted for years through an overburdened foster-care system; a recovering drug addict; an undocumented factory worker with a failing heart caused by debilitating Chagas disease; an obese woman requiring a C-section; and a homeless schizophrenic. As harrowing as the stories of the patients is the chronicle of Manheimer’s own arduous battle with cancer. Sampling three decades of the doctor’s tenure as medical director, the book offers desperate glimpses into the unfortunate lives of the sick, the injured and the dying, yet the author never relinquishes his hold on hope, however fleeting. Manheimer’s unflinching reportage of his patients, the country’s fractured health care system, irresponsible food manufacturers and hospital politics is authoritatively written, though not recommended for the medically squeamish.

An exquisite—and often exquisitely depressing—patchwork of joy and pain.

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4555-0388-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

A surprising, sobering look at one of the deadliest terror networks in history and the American spy agencies charged with...

THE HUNT FOR KSM

INSIDE THE PURSUIT AND TAKEDOWN OF THE REAL 9/11 MASTERMIND, KHALID SHEIKH MOHAMMED

Superlative storytelling and crackling reportage define a pulse-pounding narrative tracing the capture of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.

To this day, the bleary-eyed visage of the 9/11 mastermind being hauled off by authorities after a successful raid on his hideout in 2003 remains the most recognizable image of the hated international terrorist. McDermott (101 Theory Drive: A Neuroscientist's Quest for Memory, 2010, etc.) and Los Angeles Times chief terrorism reporter Meyer explode that superficial frame with a taut, espionage-thriller–like narrative. The authors render characters on both sides of the law—the hunters and the hunted alike—in rich detail, ably evoking their clear motives and desires. While Osama bin Laden became the main symbol of America’s war on terror, it was actually KSM who tirelessly traveled the globe recruiting young Muslim men for his ongoing war on the West, directing their actions, outfitting their operations and setting them loose upon an unsuspecting populace. FBI Special Agent Frank Pellegrino was on his heels from the very beginning, when, in 1993, KSM tried to destroy the World Trade Center with a truck bomb left in a tower garage. During that time, write the authors, none of Pellegrino’s superiors seemed interested in his investigations, but ultimately, a decadelong game of cat-and-mouse ensued, marked largely by frustration, futility and missed opportunities.

A surprising, sobering look at one of the deadliest terror networks in history and the American spy agencies charged with bringing it down.

Pub Date: March 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-18659-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

Leaks, reserves, PACs, hydrofracking, bloated corporate profits and more: all pertinent concerns nicely handled by Coll in...

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PRIVATE EMPIRE

EXXONMOBIL AND AMERICAN POWER

A thorough, sobering study of the pernicious consolidation of Big Oil.

With admirable restraint, New Yorker contributor and two-time Pulitzer winner Coll (The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century, 2008, etc.) demonstrates how the merger of Exxon and Mobil has allowed the company to wield more power and wealth than even the American government, in the manner of John D. Rockefeller. Exxon had functioned as an independent corporate state since its antitrust break-off from Standard Oil in 1911 and was ranked by profit performance in the top five corporations from the 1950s through the end of the Cold War. With the catastrophic spill of the Valdez in Alaska in 1989, the network of secrecy and internal security within Exxon was exposed but hardly tempered. The iron chief who emerged from the crisis, Lee Raymond, reappraised risk and security within the organization and took a hard line against efforts to extract from it punitive damages. Moving the headquarters to Texas in 1993, the company retrenched in its nose-thumbing determination to encourage and supply America’s thirst for oil, casting around at more far-flung spots in the world that could provide the crude—such as where Mobil held attractive assets, in places like West Africa, Venezuela, Kazakhstan and Abu Dhabi. The Exxon-Mobil merger in 1999 created a global behemoth and also provoked small wars at drilling spots where the poor and disenfranchised deeply resented foreign workers on native soil and disrupted the extraction by violence and insurgency. Raymond and his cohorts’ cynical spin on the denial of global warming and the role of the burning of fossil fuels makes for jaw-dropping reading, as does the company’s cunning manipulations of the war in Iraq to garner an oil deal. The Obama administration’s emphasis on renewable energy sources and environmental concerns has barely challenged the formidable political power of Big Oil.

Leaks, reserves, PACs, hydrofracking, bloated corporate profits and more: all pertinent concerns nicely handled by Coll in this engaging, hard-hitting work.

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-335-0

Page Count: 688

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

Rapturously irreverent, this book should kick-start plenty of useful discussions.

HOW TO BE A WOMAN

A spirited memoir/manifesto that dares readers to “stand on a chair and shout ‘I AM A FEMINIST.’ ”

With equal amounts snarky brio and righteous anger, Moran brings the discussion of contemporary women’s rights down from the ivory tower and into the mainstream. Although women have come a long way from the battles fought by the early suffragettes and the first-wave feminists of the 1960s and ’70s, they have also lost ground in some disturbing ways. Society still scrutinizes female sexual behavior for incipient signs of “sluttiness”; girls still grow up dreaming of becoming brides and wives (aka princesses), and pornography and strip clubs still objectify women. Moreover, celebrity culture puts women under a magnifying glass, dismissing their talents in favor of crowing over their physical flaws, their marital status and whether or not they have children. Into this sorry mess strides Moran, a self-deprecating, no-nonsense guide to womanhood. She frames her debate via a series of chapters detailing her own journey toward becoming not only a woman, but also a good person—polite, kind, funny and fundamentally decent. After all, feminism, she argues, is not a form of man hating; it is a celebration of women’s potential to effect change and an affirmation of their equality with men. That such an important topic is couched in ribald humor makes reading about Moran’s journey hilarious as well as provocative. With nary a hint of embarrassment, she reveals personal anecdotes about her miserable early adolescence as an overweight girl and her evolution into a music journalist who took London by storm on a quest to fall in love—or at least to kiss a lot of boys. She proves equally forthright in her views on abortion, childbearing and high heels. While some American readers may struggle with the British references and slang, they will find their efforts rewarded.

Rapturously irreverent, this book should kick-start plenty of useful discussions.

Pub Date: July 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-212429-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Perennial/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

A complicated, elegiac, beautiful attempt to reconcile the physical bayt (home) and the spiritual.

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HOUSE OF STONE

A MEMOIR OF HOME, FAMILY, AND A LOST MIDDLE EAST

A nostalgic, bittersweet journey back to the Lebanese homestead.

As a war correspondent for the Washington Post covering the Israeli attack in Lebanon in 2006, Pulitzer winner Shadid (Night Draws Near: Iraq's People in the Shadow of America's War, 2005, etc.), the child of Lebanese Americans who grew up in America, painfully encountered the home of his Lebanese ancestors in the town of Marjayoun. It was a once-fine house that had been long abandoned and was hit by an Israeli rocket. The author then resolved to take a furlough from his newspaper and reconstruct the house, which had belonged to his great-grandfather and was where his grandmother had spent her first 12 years before the family migrated to America. Shadid traces the two sides of his family that converged at the end of the 19th century in Marjayoun, the Samaras and the Shadids, whose subsequent migrations reflect the strife among the Syrian Lebanese Shiite community with the breakup of the Ottoman Empire after World War I. Suffering from his own divorce and separation from his small daughter, Shadid was often overcome by the “history of departures” witnessed by the house, the ruptures caused by loss and discord among the community of Christians, Muslims and Jews, and the tightly knit customs and rituals that kept things running. Shadid’s year became occupied with finding permission to build, securing willing contractors and artisans, and befriending sympathetic characters among the often hostile, suspicious townspeople. Much of the narrative is a gentle unfolding of observation and insight, as the author reacquaints himself with the Arabic rhythms, “absorbing beauties, and documenting what was no more.”

A complicated, elegiac, beautiful attempt to reconcile the physical bayt (home) and the spiritual.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-547-13466-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

A courageous, insightful book that offers no cause for optimism.

BAILOUT

AN INSIDE ACCOUNT OF HOW WASHINGTON ABANDONED MAIN STREET WHILE RESCUING WALL STREET

A former watchdog in the federal government attacks the officials who perpetuated the financial meltdown by kowtowing to behemoth banks and Wall Street firms while abandoning the public interest.

Barofsky was a federal prosecutor in New York in 2008 when his boss encouraged him to apply for a newly created position in Washington, D.C., as inspector general overseeing the Troubled Asset Relief Program. Created during the waning months of the Bush administration and inherited by President Barack Obama, TARP allocated hundreds of billions of dollars of taxpayer money to allegedly stabilize too-big-to-fail banks, strengthen investment firms and rescue homeowners from foreclosure. Ignorant of cutthroat Washington politics, Barofsky, a Democrat, won confirmation by the U.S. Senate despite Republican Party dominance and set out to account for the TARP spending in a transparent, nonpartisan manner. However, as he demonstrates in his energetically written first-person account, he and his staff met resistance every time they tried to share the truth with Congress, the White House and the American public. The villains are numerous, with Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at the top of the list. Of course, it’s possible that some of the negative characterizations shared by Barofsky involve score-settling or well-intentioned differences. That seems unlikely, however, since the author provides copious evidence of the petty attacks on his office by Geithner, other Treasury Department officials, White House staff members, senators and representatives, coddled journalists and ill-informed bloggers. Barofsky's account contains enough self-deprecation that he does not come off as a holier-than-thou hero.

A courageous, insightful book that offers no cause for optimism.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-8493-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

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