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

A masterful work of critical journalism.

THE HOLY OR THE BROKEN

LEONARD COHEN, JEFF BUCKLEY, AND THE UNLIKELY ASCENT OF "HALLELUJAH"

Charting the remarkable journey of a modern musical classic, from obscurity to ubiquity.

Former Vibe and Spin editor Light’s (The Skills to Pay the Bills: The Story of the Beastie Boys, 2006) brisk, engrossing study of “Hallelujah” comes on the heels of Sylvie Simmons’ definitive Cohen biography, but this book is brilliantly revelatory on its own. The song, a beguiling, mysterious mix of the spiritual and the erotic with an incantatory chorus, originally appeared on the Canadian singer-songwriter’s 1984 album "Various Positions." Cohen’s label, Columbia, refused to issue the album, and it appeared on an independent label; it failed to sell. But the song was kept alive by John Cale’s 1991 cover, augmented by new verses supplied by its author, and Jeff Buckley’s heavenly rendering of Cale’s text on his 1994 debut album “Grace.” That album also flopped commercially, but “Hallelujah” became the touchstone of Buckley’s posthumous reputation after his death. Light skillfully delineates the song’s genesis as a contemporary standard, through its emotionally potent use in a famous VH1 montage after 9/11, feature films like Shrek, a host of TV shows and televised sing-offs like American Idol. Though Cohen declined to be interviewed for the book, Light spoke with several of his key collaborators plus many of its interpreters, including k.d. lang, Rufus Wainwright, Bono and Jon Bon Jovi. He recounts how the tardy success of Cohen’s unheralded composition led to his latter-day critical and commercial renaissance: After his manager embezzled nearly $10 million from his accounts, Cohen returned to performing on the back of “Hallelujah” and reinstated himself with a rapturously received 2008-2010 world tour. In the meantime, the song had become a fixture of religious ceremonies, bar mitzvahs, weddings and memorial services. Light’s main point is that the song’s stirring melody, malleability and lyrical ambiguity made it a natural candidate for wide-scale popular adoration.

A masterful work of critical journalism.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-5784-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

Though he’s a little too enamored with “angel-headed hipsters” and “fairy dust,” Talbot takes the reader much deeper than...

SEASON OF THE WITCH

ENCHANTMENT, TERROR AND DELIVERANCE IN THE CITY OF LOVE

An ambitious, labor-of-love illumination of a city’s soul, celebrating the uniqueness of San Francisco without minimizing the price paid for the city’s free-spiritedness.

“This is my love letter to San Francisco,” writes Salon founder and CEO Talbot (Brothers: The Hidden History of the Kennedy Years, 2007). “But if it’s a valentine, it’s a bloody valentine, filled with the raw truth as well as the glory about the city that has been my home for more than three decades now.” More than a retread of beatnik and hippie years or a series of chapters on colorful characters (has any city boasted more than San Francisco?), the author encompasses the city’s essence. He seeks to make sense of how San Francisco became a magnet for those who felt they didn’t fit elsewhere, how it sparked the “Summer of Love,” a race war, the murders of its mayor and his charismatic ally (in which the author finds the police department “deeply implicated”), radical bombings, a high-profile kidnapping and the most notorious mass suicide in human history (Jonestown, in exile from San Francisco, which the author says should more appropriately be considered a “slaughter”).  Talbot loves his city deeply and knows it well, making the pieces of the puzzle fit together, letting the reader understand how a charismatic religious crackpot such as Jim Jones could wield such powerful political influence, how the Super Bowl victory of the San Francisco 49ers helped the city heal, how the conservative Italian Catholics who had long lived there wrestled with exotic newcomers for the soul of the city. “Cities, like people, have souls,” he writes. “And they can be broken by terrible events, but they can also be healed.”

Though he’s a little too enamored with “angel-headed hipsters” and “fairy dust,” Talbot takes the reader much deeper than cliché, exploring a San Francisco that tourists never discover.

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-0821-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 24, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

ON THE EVE

THE JEWS OF EUROPE BEFORE THE SECOND WORLD WAR

A bright, hard glimpse at the final thriving days of European Jewry and the first edges of its unraveling.

Straightforward, scholarly and tidily organized, this historical snapshot by Wasserstein (Modern European Jewish History/Univ. of Chicago; Barbarism and Civilization: A History of Europe in Our Time, 2007, etc.) encompasses myriad aspects of Jewish society, culture, language, health, demographics, and religious and political sects. Nearly 10 million Jews were inhabiting Europe, contained in what the author delineates as four zones enjoying more or less benevolent status among communities of non-Jews but already feeling the lashing of secular currents as well as anti-Semitism—across both Europe and the Soviet Union. On the one hand, Jews tended to live longer and have lower rates of alcoholism and infant mortality; on the other, they were migrating, “marrying out” and quarreling among themselves, while birth rates were declining. Anti-Semitism, stoked by paranoia, nationalism and conspiracy theories such as in France, became “part of the perfume of the age.” Jews, writes Wasserstein, essentially became victims of their own success. In concise chapters, the author examines one facet of Jewish identity after another for a staggering big picture: politics, Zionism, life from shtetl to shtot (city), cultural centers like Minsk and Salonica, the press, the theater, the status of women, converts, vernacular languages like Yiddish and Judeo-Espanol, and much more. A wide-ranging, marvelously complete overview of a diverse, teeming civilization poised for ruin.

 

Pub Date: May 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4165-9427-7

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

In a well-researched, disinterested analysis, the authors show that collisions of ego, personality and politics can often...

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THE PRESIDENTS CLUB

INSIDE THE WORLD'S MOST EXCLUSIVE FRATERNITY

Two Time magazine editors chart the zigzag arc of relationships among the men who have occupied the White House since the mid-20th century.

With their knowledge of the territory of presidential politics and personality, Gibbs and Duffy (co-authors: The Preacher and the Presidents: Billy Graham in the White House, 2007) assemble a compelling account of their tangled relationships. When Truman called on Hoover to help with post–World War II recovery in Germany, the latter was in political purgatory, reviled by his own party. Throughout this massive work, the authors present numerous instances of presidents warming to their predecessors in surprising ways. Sometimes mutual admiration was already in place (Truman and Eisenhower—though it later disintegrated); sometimes, antipathy (Clinton and Bush II). But almost always, the sitting presidents found in their predecessors some solace, willing ears and sound advice. Jimmy Carter emerges as a loose cannon, combining vast international experience (and a deep humanity) with a maverick spirit and a yearning for the limelight that caused some of his successors to cringe and curse. (Oddly, the authors do not say much about Carter’s relationships with Bush II or Obama.) JFK turned to Ike at crucial times (Bay of Pigs); Clinton and Nixon developed a close relationship, though Nixon once threatened to write a negative op-ed if Clinton did not consult him about Nixon’s upcoming trip to Russia. It was Reagan, write Gibbs and Duffy, who first called Nixon back from exile. Gerald Ford emerges as a genial soul, telling scandal-ridden Clinton that he’d better confess his lies. Perhaps the closest of all relationships was between Clinton and Bush I, a friendship literally birthed by a tsunami.

In a well-researched, disinterested analysis, the authors show that collisions of ego, personality and politics can often result in creation, not destruction.

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4391-2770-4

Page Count: 656

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

An innovative, marvelous book about comedy, stereotypes and the struggle to steer through the sometimes-fierce internal...

DARKEST AMERICA

BLACK MINSTRELSY FROM SLAVERY TO HIP-HOP

A provocative, compelling exploration of one of the most controversial elements of the black entertainment world.

Chicago Review Press senior editor Taylor and Roctober magazine editor Austen explore the long history not only of African-American involvement in minstrel performances, but also of black-derived comedy that utilizes elements from the minstrel act—exaggerated stereotypes of the black experience that hearken back to the minstrel shows of the 19th century. More precisely, the authors examine the debates over these myriad forms of entertainment and the accusations of minstrelsy that have often embroiled black entertainers and intellectuals in fevered debates over the nature and depiction of the black experience. Taylor and Austen deftly argue that African-Americans have taken on perceived minstrelsy in one of three ways. The first has been simply to embrace such forms of entertainment and comedy. The second has been to signify on them—i.e., to engage in self-aware parody and wry utilization of elements of minstrelsy to make a larger point. The third approach involves waging war on such stereotypes, which often leads to heated accusations and counterattacks. The authors take a kaleidoscopic look at their topic, emphasizing a diverse range of individuals and works, including blackface entertainer Bert Williams, writers Zora Neale Hurston and Richard Wright, Stanley Crouch’s attacks on Tupac Shakur as a “thug minstrel,” Spike Lee’s film Bamboozled and comedian Dave Chappelle’s self-exile when he reached the conclusion that his own work had moved uncomfortably from comedy about stereotyping to enabling the very stereotypes he was combating.

An innovative, marvelous book about comedy, stereotypes and the struggle to steer through the sometimes-fierce internal debates over African-American identity in a society still struggling with its racial past.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-07098-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

A rich, highly readable examination of the seeds of poppies, trade, greed, grandeur and an international partnership that...

WHEN AMERICA FIRST MET CHINA

AN EXOTIC HISTORY OF TEA, DRUGS, AND MONEY IN THE AGE OF SAIL

The author of Fur, Fortune, and Empire: The Epic History of the Fur Trade in America (2010) returns with the story of America’s first voyages to the Middle Kingdom, where Americans and Chinese looked at each other with wonder, alarm and calculation.

Dolin begins at the end of the American Revolution. With America’s relationship with England in ruins, the country looked to the Far East. On July 22, 1784, the Empress of China sailed into the Pearl River in China. The author, whose grasp of the intricacies of international trade is firm, proceeds confidently and skillfully through a complex narrative. He describes the beginnings of trade with China, examines the mystery of silkworms and shows how China established Canton as the center for their trade with the West, whose residents craved silk but also tea (and serving sets). Soon, thousands of vessels—British and American—were sailing on the Pearl, and the most profitable commodity swiftly became opium. Everyone loved it, especially the English and the Chinese, and Americans profited handsomely from the trade. Dolin introduces us to some important American names—including Robert Morris, John Ledyard, John Jacob Astor, Robert Forbes, Harriet Low—and he relates the adventures of the first Chinese to come to America, who became sort of carnival attractions. The author also describes the perils of the voyage, the designs of the ships (and the rise and fall of the clipper ship) and the American involvement in the Opium War.

A rich, highly readable examination of the seeds of poppies, trade, greed, grandeur and an international partnership that remains uneasy and perilous.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-87140-433-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Provocative, illuminating and entertaining—an exemplary work of philosophy and history whose author's deep learning is...

ON POLITICS

A HISTORY OF POLITICAL THOUGHT: FROM HERODOTUS TO THE PRESENT

An ambitious survey not of politics itself, but of the way Westerners have thought about politics for 2,500 years.

Ryan (Politics/Princeton Univ.; John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism, 1997, etc.) has written a massive book, one “a long time in the making.” That’s understandable, for he has a tremendous amount of ground to cover. He does so with the admirable breadth of Will and Ariel Durant or Frederick Copleston but with much greater powers of concision and a gift for finding essences without resorting to essentialism. Thus, he writes, one critical difference between Athenian and Roman conceptions of freedom is that the former “practiced a form of unfiltered direct democracy that the Romans thought a recipe for chaos; the Romans gave ordinary free and male persons a role in politics, but a carefully structured and controlled one.” That distinction comes into play more than 900 pages later, when Ryan wrestles with what kind of a system most Western countries, and preeminently the United States, have today. “Liberal democracies,” he writes, are really “nontyrannical and liberal popular mixed republics,” though, as he cautions, “nobody is going to call them this.” In between, Ryan visits thinkers from Socrates and Plato to Aristotle, excusing Plato from charges of protofascism and marveling at Aquinas’ powers of distinction in determining whether it is fitting for a bishop to go to war. If all Western philosophy is a footnote to Plato, then Ryan’s text is a delightful assemblage of enlightening subnotes: Who among us remembers that Machiavelli’s The Prince was on the Catholic Church’s forbidden index until just recently and “that anyone wishing to read it for the purposes of refutation had to ask permission of the pope”? That Edmund Burke was a boring public speaker, but “(mostly) wrote like an angel”? Or that Karl Marx’s notion of class struggle remains an elusive work in progress?

Provocative, illuminating and entertaining—an exemplary work of philosophy and history whose author's deep learning is lightly worn.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-87140-465-7

Page Count: 1120

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Aug. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Will the partnership prevail? Stay tuned, but hope for the best—for, they warn, “[i]f urgent steps are not taken to rein in...

THE PARTNERSHIP

FIVE COLD WARRIORS AND THEIR QUEST TO BAN THE BOMB

Timely portrait of an alliance, seemingly unlikely, of former Cold War mavens now committed to nuclear disarmament.

Only last month did the news come that China’s nuclear arsenal is likely much more extensive than anyone had guessed. Russia is a constant worry, not least because its conventional forces are so reduced that the temptation is ever greater to rely on nuclear solutions in the event of an attack, real or perceived. But the heroes of former New York Times reporter and editor Taubman’s (Secret Empire: Eisenhower, the CIA, and the Hidden Story of America's Space Espionage, 2003, etc.) tale are less worried about these major players on the world stage than about the disaffected, shadowy figures from the margins—al-Qaida, the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps even the narcotraficantes. At the center of the group is nuclear strategist Sidney Drell; around him are Sam Nunn, at one time “the Senate’s leading authority on Cold War military matters”; George Shultz and William Perry. Closing up the five—and this may give Christopher Hitchens fits—is Henry Kissinger, that dark master of realpolitik, who more than any of the other figures maneuvered and positioned himself for best advantage when, early in 2011, the quintet signed off on a Wall Street Journal op-ed piece calling for the effective abolition of nuclear arms. Kissinger’s position, it seems, is still nuanced—read: subject to revocation—but the mere fact that these five quite different players, whose names show up in the indexes of every history of the Cold War, came together on the point was significant enough. However, as Taubman continues, there’s more to the story. The great value of his book is twofold. First, the author gives a lucid summary of the long, shifting struggle between East and West and the contributions each of the five made to it, for better or worse. (See Robert De Niro’s film The Good Shepherd for worse.) Second, Taubman shows how influential these old Cold Warriors have been in shaping the policy of the present administration and its “ambitious nuclear agenda,” providing a useful look at the way in which such decisions are made and shaped.

Will the partnership prevail? Stay tuned, but hope for the best—for, they warn, “[i]f urgent steps are not taken to rein in nuclear weapons...a catastrophic attack is virtually inevitable.”

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-174400-6

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Dec. 13, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

Some casual readers may be turned off by the page count, but this is likely to be the authoritative history of the origins...

THE TWILIGHT WAR

THE SECRET HISTORY OF AMERICA'S THIRTY-YEAR CONFLICT WITH IRAN

An encyclopedic account of the ongoing military and diplomatic conflict between the United States and Iran.

Since the fall of the shah in 1979, Iran and the United States have been thorns in each other's sides. Iran seeks recognition as a regional power and as a champion of Shia Muslims throughout the Middle East, but its policy toward America has often been driven by a "paranoia that the real goal behind U.S. actions was the overthrow of the Islamic Republic." America, for its part, has consistently "helped perpetuate the animosity [by displaying] a callous disregard for Iranian grievances and security concerns." The result has been an ongoing "shadow war" in which each side has inflicted grievous casualties on the other without quite falling into open belligerence, while missing numerous opportunities for rapprochement. In a monumental debut, senior government historian Crist presents a comprehensive narrative of this conflict from the ascendancy of the Ayatollah Khomeini to the present day. Drawing on extensive access to American government leaders and documents, Crist surveys his topic in thorough, if sometimes ponderous, detail, including coverage of the bombing of the Marine base in Beirut, the Iran/Iraq war, the arms-for-hostages scandal, the naval battles of the "tanker wars,” Iran's involvement in post-Hussein Iraq and its present pursuit of nuclear ambitions. Completely in command of the competing interests and personalities at the highest levels of American policymaking, Crist has an equally impressive grasp of the ebb and flow of diverse viewpoints in Iranian religious, political and military councils. The battle scenes are edge-of-the-seat gripping, and the author is keenly insightful on the byzantine diplomatic maneuvers, by turns farcical and dismaying, and the motivations of the politicians, clerics, Cold Warriors and con artists who have stoked the ongoing tensions between the two nations in spite of important common interests.

Some casual readers may be turned off by the page count, but this is likely to be the authoritative history of the origins and progress of the Iranian policy morass for years to come.

Pub Date: July 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59420-341-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

A dark but hopeful chronicle that shows how even humanity’s worst can fracture and fall.

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IRON CURTAIN

THE CRUSHING OF EASTERN EUROPE, 1945-1956

A Pulitzer Prize–winning author returns with the story of those dark decades in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union slammed the prison doors on people, cultures and countries.

Realizing she could not tell the whole story in one volume, Washington Post and Slate columnist Applebaum (Gulag: A History, 2003, etc.) focuses on Poland, East Germany and Hungary and shows how their stories were representative. She begins as World War II was ending. The Russians were plowing through Eastern Europe on their way to Berlin. While many of the Allies were thinking of home, the Soviets had grander and grimmer ideas. Applebaum shows how the communists gained political control of individual countries (they were sometimes surprised in “elections” how unpopular they were), then charts how—in the service of their iron ideology—they systematically destroyed economies, organizations, the arts, education, the press, the judiciary, the church, the entertainment industries and every other social institution. Internment camps and prisons became the true growth industries. Applebaum also explores the tactics employed to keep people in line: fear and intimidation, of course, but also a massive propaganda industry that sought to convince everyone that things were better than they were, but not nearly as good as they would be in five years or so. They invested much hope in education, believing they could indoctrinate an entire generation. It didn’t work. Periodically, the author chronicles what was happening in the West (the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift). Beginning with the death of Stalin, Applebaum shows how and why things slowly began to change. The emerging youth culture, the resurgence of religious belief, the rise of a new generation of writers and artists—these were among the factors that energized the 1956 uprisings, which, of course, the Soviets temporarily crushed.

A dark but hopeful chronicle that shows how even humanity’s worst can fracture and fall.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-51569-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

A superb examination of the never-ending effort to enhance life, as well as the commensurate refusal to ever let it go.

THE MANSION OF HAPPINESS

A HISTORY OF LIFE AND DEATH

A sharp, illuminating history of ideas showing how America has wrestled with birth, childhood, work, marriage, old age and death.

Brilliantly written and engaging throughout, the latest from New Yorker staff writer Lepore (American History/Harvard Univ.; The Whites of Their Eyes: The Tea Party’s Revolution and the Battle Over American History, 2011, etc.) is about how American society reacts to change. The author starts with the perfect metaphor: In 1860, a young entrepreneur named Milton Bradley created a popular board game called Life. The game had long existed in earlier versions, but Bradley gave it a capitalist spin, changing it from a game of good versus evil to one that “rewards only those virtues that lead to Wealth and Success, like Industry and Perseverance.” From there, Lepore tackles conception and how the famous pictures of a fetus in Life in the mid ’60s fostered the relatively modern idea of “being unborn as a stage of human life, a stage that was never on any board game.” The author shows how E.B. White’s surprisingly controversial novel Stuart Little created a small revolution in a country that has always worshipped childhood; she sees it as “an indictment of both the childishness of children’s literature and the juvenilization of American culture.” Lepore's topics are broad, and they lead her into many interesting byways—e.g., how eugenics was once considered a perfectly progressive idea and how contraception once seemed to threaten society in ways even Rick Santorum has not imagined. She also considers the legacy of Karen Ann Quinlan, the brain-dead young woman whose case helped foment arguments for both the right to die and the right to life, and discusses her visit to the creepy laboratory of cryogenics founder Robert C.W. Ettinger.

A superb examination of the never-ending effort to enhance life, as well as the commensurate refusal to ever let it go.

Pub Date: June 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59299-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

A frank, exhaustive, marvelously readable study.

SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, SHIELD OF FAITH

RELIGION IN AMERICAN WAR AND DIPLOMACY

A sharp, clear, deeply researched examination of the consistent application of the founding religious principles to American foreign policy, from the colonists’ sense of a Protestant exceptionalism to President Barack Obama’s “Good Niebuhr Policy.”

The invocation of God and religion to sanctify foreign-policy decisions is not a new or surprising idea, as Preston (American and International History/Cambridge Univ.) learned especially when he was researching his work on McGeorge Bundy and the Vietnam War (The War Council, 2006). However, the extent to which religion has been used consistently to shape U.S. diplomatic history proved “an odd and unsettling discovery.” Here the author thoroughly documents that discovery, from the self-righteous Puritans’ establishing their “City upon a Hill” to the modern-day presidents acting as self-appointed popes. Preston explores this fascinating paradox of a nation founded on freedom of religion yet exhibiting, in its relations with the wider world, a profound belief in a Judeo-Christian sense of “exceptional virtue.” America’s unique geographical position in the world allowed it “free security” to engender idealistic choices and values, reflected in its moralistic foreign policy. Its founding Reformation Protestant society eventually developed tenets of pluralism, libertarianism, a deep suspicion of despotism and hostility to arbitrary power, a faith-based progressivism, nationalism and even isolationism, all of which Preston explores systematically. America’s reaction to what it perceived as corrupt and tyrannical foreign influences thus allowed the republic to model itself as virtuous and in the right, spreading “God’s own cause” in subsequent dealings with the Indians, Canadians, Mexicans, Cubans and Filipinos, largely for worse. Preston sifts carefully through the “religious biographies” of certain key policymakers, including John Quincy Adams, William McKinley, Abraham Lincoln, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Roosevelt, John Foster Dulles and others.

A frank, exhaustive, marvelously readable study.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4323-1

Page Count: 832

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

A captivating tale of an oft-overlooked, morally ambiguous moment in American history.

38 NOOSES

LINCOLN, LITTLE CROW, AND THE BEGINNING OF THE FRONTIER'S END

An exploration of the violent downfall of Little Crow’s Dakota nation at the hands of American soldiers.

Washington Post contributor Berg (Writing and Literature/George Mason Univ.; Grand Avenues: The Story of the French Visionary Who Designed Washington, D.C., 2007) focuses on the rising escalation between the Dakota people and white settlers, a conflict that came to a head in the summer of 1862, when four inebriated Native Americans carelessly murdered a few white settlers. While Dakota chief Little Crow did not condone the reckless behavior, he recognized that “the day of reckoning was bound to arrive no matter how accommodating and pliable he might be.” As expected, U.S. soldiers soon retaliated, though the battle had long been brewing, especially for the Dakotas, who were frustrated by the federal government’s continued failures to make good on its promised annuities to the Natives. With their credit lines running thin, the Dakota people fought for their survival, though insult was added to their injurious defeat when a military trial sentenced 300 Dakota warriors to death for their role in the battle. While President Lincoln intervened to lessen the number to 38, the mass hanging still earned the dubious honor of becoming the largest public execution in American history. Throughout the sweeping narrative, Berg skillfully weaves in various perspectives, including that of Sarah Wakefield, a woman held captive by the Dakotas, and Bishop Henry Whipple, a paternalistic advocate for the Native people. Yet Berg’s greater accomplishment is his ability to overlap the little-known Dakota War with its far better known counterpart, the American Civil War. The author’s juxtaposition offers readers a contextual framework that provides unique insight into the era. For instance, just days after the mass execution, Lincoln issued the text for the Emancipation Proclamation, prompting curious readers to wonder: How does a country see fit to condemn one group of people to death and then, less than a week later, set another group free?

A captivating tale of an oft-overlooked, morally ambiguous moment in American history.

Pub Date: Dec. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-37724-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Rothkopf delivers a lively, accessible treatment of a multifaceted, complex subject.

POWER, INC.

THE EPIC RIVALRY BETWEEN BIG BUSINESS AND GOVERNMENT--AND THE RECKONING THAT LIES AHEAD

Rothkopf (Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They are Making, 2009, etc.) uses a wide-angle lens to examine the relation between public and private power.

The author compares various models of capitalist functioning for insight into their relative rates of success—the U.S. “government-lite” opposition to big government; China's top-down state control; the more democratic “statist” version offered by India and Brazil; a European model, derived primarily from Sweden and Germany; and one based on such commercially successful small states as Israel, Singapore and the United Arab Emirates. Comparing models, the author separates successful economies from the near successful, the failing and the failed, and he compares countries and public institutions to the private sector—Wal-Mart, Exxon, Royal Dutch Shell and dozens of others. Rothkopf adds historical context with his account of one of the oldest companies in the world, Sweden's Stora, which began as a mining venture in the 1200s and has endured under different names for centuries. Sweden and Stora's mines were vital to the outcome of both the Protestant Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War, the concluding settlement of which signaled the victory of the nation-state. In Rothkopf's view, the world has shifted from a “battle between capitalism and Communism to something even more complex: a battle between differing forms of capitalism in which the distinction between each is in the relative role and responsibilities of public and private sectors.” The extremes of both Soviet communism and free-market financial “overreach” have been discredited. American capitalism initially triumphed but has receded, and competition between different capitalisms will continue.

Rothkopf delivers a lively, accessible treatment of a multifaceted, complex subject.

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-15128-7

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

A potent reminder of the explosiveness of 1960s politics and how far elements of the government were (and perhaps still are)...

SUBVERSIVES

THE FBI'S WAR ON STUDENT RADICALS, AND REAGAN'S RISE TO POWER

A kaleidoscopic look at the FBI’s willingness to undermine American citizens during the 1960s.

Former San Francisco Chronicle investigative reporter Rosenfeld explores the many ways in which J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI undermined the rights and especially the privacy of American citizens in his efforts to undercut the many protest movements that emerged at the University of California, Berkeley, in the ’60s. Hoover had long been concerned with events at one of the country’s greatest universities, and as the decade progressed, the FBI utilized increasingly devious cloak-and-dagger methods to address those concerns. In addition to Hoover, Rosenfeld focuses on other significant figures, interweaving their stories into his larger narrative. Mario Savio, the star-crossed leader of many of the student movements, drew much of Hoover’s ire. He also drew the ire of Ronald Reagan, an outspoken critic of the left in Berkeley who, upon assuming the governorship of California, created the perfect conditions for his friend and ally Hoover to step up his already pervasive investigations. Caught in between was Clark Kerr, the liberal and often-visionary president of the university who became a target of scorn from Savio and the student left as well as from Reagan, Hoover and the right. One of the subtexts of this masterfully researched book is Rosenfeld’s yearslong struggle to gain access to the relevant FBI documents, a fight that reveals the extent to which the FBI knew how explosive and embarrassing this story could be to the government. In an appendix, the author details that struggle, which “resulted in the release of the most extensive record of FBI activities concerning a university during J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure, and the most complete release of bureau records on Ronald Reagan.”

A potent reminder of the explosiveness of 1960s politics and how far elements of the government were (and perhaps still are) willing to go to undermine civil liberties.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-25700-2

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A thoroughly engaging examination of the irreversible changes emerging from a year when the nation’s very survival remained...

RISE TO GREATNESS

ABRAHAM LINCOLN AND AMERICA'S MOST PERILOUS YEAR

A historian zeroes in on the year Lincoln found his footing as president and set the country on a bold new course.

“Never has there been a moment in history,” said one U.S. senator, “when so much was all compressed into a little time.” Von Drehle (Triangle: The Fire that Changed America, 2003, etc.) charts the tumultuous year, month by month, to demonstrate how the momentous events of 1862 unfolded. Amid the turmoil of Civil War, the largely Republican Congress passed legislation with far-reaching postwar consequences: funding a transcontinental railroad and land-grant colleges, strengthening the Army and Navy, establishing a Bureau of Agriculture, adopting new fiscal and monetary policies, outlawing slavery in the District of Columbia, instituting a draft and authorizing the enlistment of blacks in the military. For all these enterprises to flourish, though, the war still had to be won. With rumors of domestic conspiracies and coups swirling and with the allegiance of border states still tenuous, the Civil War turned savage and hard with unprecedented slaughters at places like Shiloh, Antietam and Fredericksburg. At the center of the storm, Von Drehle deftly places Lincoln, gradually mastering the art of war, ultimately firing the too-timid McClellan, solemnly accepting and desperately searching for a general to apply the cruel arithmetic necessary for Union victory. In 1862, Lincoln suffered the loss of a son and the near loss of another, and he watched his grieving wife become unmoored. All the while, the president maneuvered around Taney’s Supreme Court, quelled an insurrection in the Republican caucus, mediated the squabbling in his Cabinet, held off the Democrats in the midterm elections and prepared the ground for the Emancipation Proclamation. Two years of bitter fighting remained, but Confederate armies would never again be as formidable. Meanwhile, under Lincoln’s steady hand, the Union put in place the political and military machinery that would win the war and assure a future few imagined before Fort Sumter.

A thoroughly engaging examination of the irreversible changes emerging from a year when the nation’s very survival remained in doubt.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7970-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

A profound demonstration of what needs to be recognized, reconciled and forgiven if current crises are to be overcome.

HAITI

THE AFTERSHOCKS OF HISTORY

A vigorous retelling of Haiti's history intended to revive the promise of the world's first black-led republic.

This is not a story of the decline of a small nation, but an inspiring account of the struggle against adversity for freedom and independence. Dubois (History and French Studies/Duke Univ.; Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France, 2010, etc.) narrates the story of Toussaint Louverture’s leadership of the slave population of France's most profitable colony to independence in 1791, emancipation in 1793 and recognition by the government in 1794. The author also examines how Napoleon reversed independence and sent an army that was crushed in 1804 by Louverture and his collaborators and successors; how the Congress of Vienna secretly gave France the right to invade the country; and how Haiti was excluded from the Monroe Doctrine. Haiti was free, but a free country established by former black slaves—they had transgressed an order based not only on plantation slavery, but also racism. Invasion, blockade and isolation were used to deny Haitians their place among the free nations of the world; the United States did not recognize the country until Abraham Lincoln became president in 1860. Haiti endured until the U.S. Marines were sent to steal the country's gold and occupy the island in 1915. Franklin Roosevelt took credit for rewriting the constitution, and corporate-owned plantation-based production was reintroduced to replace the family-based system of land tenure. As Dubois writes, “the occupation propelled Haiti's political system backward by a century,” and the country has not been permitted to recover to the present.

A profound demonstration of what needs to be recognized, reconciled and forgiven if current crises are to be overcome.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-9335-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2011

Less self-absorbed than Luis Alberto Urrea, less cynical than Charles Bowden, less otherly obsessed than William...

DESERT AMERICA

BOOM AND BUST IN THE NEW "NEW WEST"

A savage journey into terror, cacti, drugs, desperation and all-around anomie in the superheated atmosphere of the desert Southwest.

Go east of Los Angeles 100 miles and you’re in downtown Tweakerville, an area full of meth labs, bad vibes and bad attitudes. The desert runs all the way to the Gulf of Mexico, and Martínez (Literature and Writing/Loyola Marymount Univ.; Crossing Over: A Mexican Family on the Migrant Trail, 2001, etc.) makes it his beat. The narrative begins in Albuquerque, a city that “cannot imagine itself a city because to do so would negate its reason for being.” It moves, subtly and without much fanfare, from the Southwest of the boom years, when the population of the region grew by 25 percent in just a decade, to the Southwest of today, a place of abandoned suburbs and forgotten hopes. Some of the ports of call are familiar—Joshua Tree, El Paso—and others not, but what sets Martínez’s journey apart is its philosophical underpinnings, the governing question being, “Who belongs here and who doesn’t?” By that reckoning, the adobe shacks, tattered palm trees and sun-bitten desert flats are all perfectly at home, whereas such things as the Santa Fe Opera, and most of Phoenix, and walls and fences that run parallel to the international line…well, not so much. As for the people, Martínez finds room for the likes of Mary Austin and Charles Lummis alongside the Native Americans and Latinos who have made the desert home for centuries. It is the latter people who are forgotten; toward the end of the book, for instance, the author quietly contrasts the well-heeled confines of Marfa, Texas, with the rest of Presidio County, half of whose people live in poverty.

Less self-absorbed than Luis Alberto Urrea, less cynical than Charles Bowden, less otherly obsessed than William Vollmann—and right in the pocket, a necessary chronicle of a weird corner of America.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8050-7977-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Metropolitan/Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Impressive research underlies a well-told story that’s simultaneously depressing (what a nasty species we are) and inspiring...

FREEDOM'S CAP

THE UNITED STATES CAPITOL AND THE COMING OF THE CIVIL WAR

Partisan bickering, back-stabbing rivalries, xenophobia, character assassination, political moves that would make Machiavelli blush—no, not Washington circa 2011, but the Washington Capitol in the 1850s.

Former Washington Post congressional correspondent Gugliotta (co-author: Kings of Cocaine, 1989) returns with a prodigiously researched, generously illustrated account of the transformation of the U. S. Capitol from a cramped, cold, noisy, inadequate and ugly structure into today’s massive marble symbol of democracy. For those knowing little about the building, there are surprises on virtually every page. As the nation careened toward the Civil War, it was Jefferson Davis who championed the Capitol’s cause, fighting for the funds that the enormous project required. The author begins in the mid-1850s with the issue of Thomas Crawford’s statue, Freedom, now perched atop the Capitol dome. The original design featured a figure wearing a freedom cap, symbol of a liberated slave. Davis had a problem with that (the cap doesn’t appear on the final figure), but the great contest that Gugliotta outlines was between Army engineer Montgomery C. Meigs and architect Thomas Ustick Walter, both of whom would, at times, have control of the project. Both had ferocious work ethics, as well as enormous egos; their struggle raged for years as they contended for credit for the work. Gugliotta pauses occasionally to provide necessary historical and architectural context—including stories about marble quarries and ironworks; John Brown (whom he labels a terrorist); Presidents Fillmore, Pierce, Buchanan and Lincoln; and the many artisans and artists, principally Constantino Brumidi, whose massive work still astonishes visitors who look upward in the rotunda.

Impressive research underlies a well-told story that’s simultaneously depressing (what a nasty species we are) and inspiring (what a wonderful species we are).

Pub Date: March 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8090-4681-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Hill and Wang/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2011

Authoritative but never dry, stripping away soothing myths of national unity and victimhood, this is a painful but necessary...

SAVAGE CONTINENT

EUROPE IN THE AFTERMATH OF WORLD WAR II

A breathtaking, numbing account of the physical and moral desolation that plagued Europe in the late 1940s.

Drawing on recently opened Eastern European archives, Lowe (Inferno: The Devastation of Hamburg 1943, 2007, etc.) presents a searing and comprehensive view of postwar Europe that calls into question the very nature of World War II. Europe in this era is often seen through a rosy mythology of liberated nations cheerfully coming together to begin the task of reconstruction. In fact, the story of this period "is firstly a story of the descent into anarchy." Across this devastated, lawless continent, millions of displaced persons trudged on foot in search of vanished homes or safety, some voluntarily, some driven at bayonet point as part of the massive ethnic cleansing that engulfed Eastern Europe; all were generally unwelcome on arrival. Everyone was “hungry, bereaved and bitter about the years of suffering they had been made to endure—before they could be motivated to start rebuilding they needed time to vent their anger, to reflect and to mourn." Vent they did. Hostilities ended with the defeat of Germany, but violence continued unabated as partisans and communities punished collaborators, terrorized and expelled ethnic minorities, and pursued with brutal enthusiasm the class wars and civil wars that had long bubbled just beneath the surface. Viewed in this light, the familiar Allies-Axis war appears as a simplistic cover for the far more complicated and vicious local conflicts beneath. Lowe writes with measured objectivity, honoring the victims of atrocity and understanding the causes of, but refusing to excuse, the violence directed by freed victims against their former oppressors.

Authoritative but never dry, stripping away soothing myths of national unity and victimhood, this is a painful but necessary historical task superbly done.

Pub Date: July 3, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-00020-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Rarely has a book with so much information been such an entertaining read.

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CONSIDER THE FORK

A HISTORY OF HOW WE COOK AND EAT

From British food writer Wilson (Sandwich: A Global History, 2010, etc.), a savory survey of kitchen implements and their impact.

We normally apply the word “technology” to military and industrial equipment, writes the author, but in fact, developments in those fields often carry over to the kitchen. The inventor of stainless steel was trying to improve gun barrels, and the creator of the microwave oven was working on naval radar systems. In addition, innovations in cookware can have enormous social impact: Before food was cooked in a pot, people who lost their teeth and couldn’t chew literally starved to death. In the lively prose of a seasoned journalist, Wilson blends personal reminiscences with well-researched history to illustrate how the changing nature of our equipment affects what we eat and how we cook. “Knife” explores the difference between Western eaters, who cut big pieces of cooked food at the table, and the Chinese wielders of a tou, who chop up food into equal-sized pieces to be quickly cooked, saving energy in a country with limited fuel. “Fire” traces the evolution from open hearths to enclosed stoves, which brought women into the professional kitchen after centuries when their billowing skirts posed too much of a fire hazard for them to serve as cooks. In “Grind,” Wilson notes that the endless labor involved in producing smooth, highly refined food wasn’t an issue in a world where middle-class and wealthy Europeans had lots of servants; Wilson praises the Cuisinart as a revolutionary device “for the transformation of cooking from pain to pleasure.” Although she enjoys and vividly describes time-honored, painstaking methods of cooking, she also appreciates modern conveniences. Eating utensils, refrigeration and measurement (with a bemused look at Americans’ affection for measuring by volume as opposed to the much more accurate method of weighing) are among the other topics Wilson addresses in a narrative whose light tone enlivens formidable scholarship.

Rarely has a book with so much information been such an entertaining read.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-465-02176-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

As exciting, sprawling and multifarious as a shining city on a hill.

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CITY

A USER'S GUIDE TO THE PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE OF URBAN LIFE

Smith (Doomsday Men: The Real Dr. Strangelove and the Dream of the Superweapon, 2007, etc.) composes a polyphonic paean to our urban past, present and future.

More than once in this ambitious text, the author declares that “cities are our greatest creation”—here he emerges as urbanology’s head cheerleader. Each section focuses on a specific aspect of urban life (hotels, skyscrapers, entertainment, etc.) and offers both a brisk history and a current assessment. Throughout this literary and culturally hip book, Smith distributes numerous sidebars, from the history of the parking meter (born in Oklahoma City) to red-light districts. He alludes to Melville (the first to use in print the word “down-town”), Dickens, Poe, Henry James (who didn’t like skyscrapers); he mentions films like Metropolis, Blade Runner and Dirty Harry. The long section about the possible effects of global warming on city life, especially in coastal areas, will probably not sit well with warming’s deniers—oh well. Although Smith often waxes lyrical about city life (he’s a lover in complete thrall), especially about such features as public parks, libraries, museums and street food, he does not neglect the dark side. One disgusting detail: the sewer lines clogged with fat that lie beneath areas featuring lots of fast-food restaurants. The author provides statistics when he needs them—about half of the world’s population now lives in cities (by 2050, he thinks it will be 75 percent)—and a section, both gloomy and upbeat, about urban ruins (e.g., Pompeii and Detroit). Smith writes sensitively about the best of places (Masdar City in Abu Dhabi—a planned community) and the worst (the Dharavi slum in Mumbai) and only neglects bridges and tunnels—a city book minus London and Brooklyn bridges!

As exciting, sprawling and multifarious as a shining city on a hill.

Pub Date: June 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-676-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2012

Such a large historical project could have easily descended into tedious and dry academia, but instead, all three volumes...

CITY OF PROMISES

A HISTORY OF THE JEWS IN NEW YORK

This ambitious three-volume history, overseen by Moore (Judaic Studies and History/Univ. of Michigan; American Jewish Identity Politics, 2008, etc.), provides a lively, much-needed overview of the role that Jews have played in the history and success of the Big Apple, helping to transform it into “a city of promises, some fulfilled, some pending, some beckoning new generations.”

The first volume, Haven of Liberty: New York Jews in the New World, 1654-1865, by Rock (History/Florida International Univ.; Cityscapes, 2001, etc.), traces the history of New York Jews back to the first Dutch Jews who settled in the New Amsterdam colony in the mid-17th century, where they fought for the rights to own real estate and run businesses. As the years went by, Jewish-owned businesses prospered despite widespread anti-Semitism, as the city as a whole grew into an economic powerhouse. The volume also covers the rise of Reform Judaism and, later, disputes within the community regarding slavery. In Emerging Metropolis, New York Jews in the Age of Immigration, 1840-1920, Polland, the vice president of education for the Lower East Side Tenement Museum (Landmark of the Spirit: The Eldridge Street Synagogue, 2008), and Soyer (History/Fordham Univ.) show how the influx of immigrant Jews from Europe changed the city, as Jewish organizations proliferated and the community began to make itself felt in city politics, journalism and the arts. In the third volume, Jews in Gotham: New York Jews in a Changing City, 1920-2010, Gurock (Jewish History/Yeshiva Univ.; Orthodox Jews in America, 2009, etc.) examines a range of engaging issues, including the community’s growth in Queens and suburbia, crises such as the 1991 Crown Heights riot, and Jewish feminism. Each volume also includes a vibrant photo- and illustration-packed “visual essay” by art historian Linden, which ably supplements and enriches the text. 

Such a large historical project could have easily descended into tedious and dry academia, but instead, all three volumes are briskly paced, well-researched and insightful. Aficionados of urban histories, in particular, will find much to enjoy.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8147-1731-8

Page Count: 1050

Publisher: New York Univ.

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

A highly creative, illuminating, genre-resisting history.

RED PLENTY

The strange, sad, hilarious story of the Soviet Union’s blind pursuit of a Communist paradise, told through a mix of history and fiction, using both to get to the truth.

Spufford (I May Be Some Time, 2003, etc.) traces the latter half of the history of the Soviet Union, starting in the late 1950s, when the Soviets were seeing an imaginary light over the horizon. After 40 years that included struggle, war, starvation and Stalin, the Marxist dream looked as if it might be taking off under Nikita Khrushchev. The Soviet Union’s economic growth more than doubled that of the United States, and if it kept going at the same rate, the “planned economy” would “overtake and surpass” capitalist America. Cars, food and houses would be better, and there would be more money and leisure all around, thanks to a top-down, start-to-finish management that “could be directed, as capitalism could not, to the fastest, most lavish fulfillment of human needs.” Through a series of episodes involving economists, scientists, computer programmers, industrialists, artists and politicians—some real, some imagined, some drawn together from composites—Spufford tells the story of the life and death of a national illusion, as Utopian dreams moldered into grim dystopian realities. The planned economy was a worker’s nightmare, where production targets increased even as equipment became more and more outdated, and unforeseen, unplanned events—like the sudden loss of a spinning machine at a textile factory—set off a ripple effect of unproductiveness. Pay cuts and scarce commodities led to riots, such as one in Novocherkassk, where the dead bodies were hauled out and the bloody streets were repaved overnight. In his often-whimsical, somewhat Nabokov-ian notes, Spufford freely points out his own inventions, approximations and hedged bets on what might have happened.

A highly creative, illuminating, genre-resisting history.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-55597-604-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Graywolf

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2011

Truly remarkable, composed with all the precision and insight you expect from a law professor, marked by all the elegance...

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LINCOLN'S CODE

THE LAWS OF WAR IN AMERICAN HISTORY

Artfully mixing law, history and sharp analysis, a Yale law professor examines the persistent struggle to reconcile justice and humanitarianism in America’s conduct of war.

Issued to the Union Army in 1863, Lincoln’s codes of war went out under the president’s name, but the 157 articles were drafted principally by Francis Lieber, a Columbia College political scientist and historian. Lieber’s codification of the laws and usages of war formally enshrined a number of humanitarian limits to war’s barbarity. However, by authorizing various uses of force “indispensable for securing the ends of war,” the rules unleashed a new ferocity, replacing Enlightenment-style, “gentlemanly” armed conflict with new imperatives that recognized the legitimacy of the war’s aims. Witt (Patriots and Cosmopolitans: Hidden Histories of American Law, 2007, etc.) attributes this new, “tough humanitarianism” to Lincoln’s determination to abandon the “rose-water tactics” of the early war in favor of new measures that would vindicate the promise of the Emancipation Proclamation. Though he focuses primarily on the Civil War and its aftermath, Witt provides a rich historical context, judiciously selecting diplomatic and wartime episodes, from the French and Indian War to the Philippine Insurrection, to explain this lasting transformation of the old rules into something military historians now recognize as the “American way of war.” Topics range from the concept of neutrality to the oftentimes difficult distinctions between soldiers and civilians, to the indiscriminate use of military commissions, all resonant with today’s headlines. The author vivifies commentary from philosophers and jurists, decisions from judges and maneuvering by statesmen with sharp vignettes of battlefield commanders, who were obliged to grapple with the constraints law imposes on war.

Truly remarkable, composed with all the precision and insight you expect from a law professor, marked by all the elegance and sparkling readability you don’t.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4165-6983-1

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

Brown is as smart as he is puckish, and there are plenty of laughs on this terrific trip through modern fame.

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HELLO GOODBYE HELLO

A CIRCLE OF 101 REMARKABLE MEETINGS

A hilarious collection of strange-but-true tales of encounters between the rich and famous.

BBC Radio Host, Daily Mail columnist and all-around English wit Brown (The Lost Diaries, 2010, etc.) delivers a fine and funny assortment of oddball celebrity meetings and matchups. Some are well-known, such as when a drug-addled Elvis Presley met Richard Nixon, or Marilyn Monroe snuggled up to visiting Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev. At least one is historically important: when Prince Felix Youssoupoff lured Grigori Rasputin to his death. Most, however, are delightfully inconsequential, whether it’s Harpo Marx driving Sergei Rachmaninoff bonkers with his harp playing, Sarah Miles sharing tea with a thigh-squeezing nonagenarian named Bertrand Russell, or Leonard Cohen having a quickie with Janis Joplin (and getting a song out of it). Some encounters go off without a hitch, such as between mutual admirers Rudyard Kipling and Mark Twain. Others slightly misfire; Groucho Marx tries to impress dinner companion T.S. Eliot by quoting The Waste Land, only to find the poet “was thoroughly familiar with his poems and didn’t need me to recite them.” At least they talked, which is barely more than can be said for James Joyce and Marcel Proust. There are also plenty of bad dates, whether it’s Madonna snatching off Michael Jackson’s glasses and sailing them across the room, Isadora Duncan tempting Auguste Rodin with her perfect young body, or Allen Ginsberg making an awkward pass at Francis Bacon.

Brown is as smart as he is puckish, and there are plenty of laughs on this terrific trip through modern fame.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-8360-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

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