A Pulitzer Prize–winning author reconstructs and reflects on “one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the twentieth century” and the men who made it happen.
Even though the contemplated regional framework for peace collapsed, the 1978 agreement forged at Camp David between Israel and Egypt has held, a remarkable achievement in the tortured history of the Middle East, “where antique grudges never lose their stranglehold on the societies in their grip.” New Yorker staff writer Wright (Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief, 2013, etc.) presents a day-by-day account of the tense negotiations, artfully mixing in modern and ancient history, biblical allusions, portraits of the principals—Jimmy Carter, Menachem Begin, Anwar Sadat—and thumbnail sketches of key participants: Americans Cyrus Vance and Zbigniew Brzezinski, Israelis Moshe Dayan and Ezer Weizman, and Egyptians Mohamed Ibrahim Kamel and Boutros Boutros-Ghali. The author examines all the forces that shaped these historic talks: the isolation imposed by the presidential retreat high in Maryland’s Catoctin Mountains; the divisions within the Egyptian and Israeli delegations; the almost unprecedented nature of detailed negotiations conducted not by subordinates but by the heads of state; the hazardous political stakes for each leader and the powerful role played by their deeply held religious beliefs; the critical part played by President Jimmy Carter, who moved adroitly from facilitator to catalyst to secure an agreement. Throughout, telling detail abounds: Rosalynn Carter spontaneously suggesting to her husband that the intransigents should come to the beautiful and peaceful Camp David to revive stalled talks; Begin startling his hosts on a brief outing to the Gettysburg battlefield by reciting Lincoln’s entire address from memory; Carter dramatically accusing Sadat of betrayal and, at one point, thinking to himself that Begin was a “psycho”; Israel’s fiercest warrior, Dayan, by then going blind, bloodying his nose by walking into a tree; Begin bursting into tears as Carter presents him with conference photos inscribed to each of the prime minister’s grandchildren.
A unique moment in history superbly captured. Yet another triumph for Wright.
The inside—deeply inside—account by the investigative writer who broke the British phone-hacking scandal wide open.
Davies (Flat Earth News: An Award-Winning Reporter Exposes Falsehood, Distortion and Propaganda in the Global Media, 2009, etc.) is known for his tenacious grip on his targets and his cutting, vivid writing style. Writing for the Guardian, he came across an enigmatic tip that journalists for Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid newspaper News of the World were routinely hacking into the voice mails of celebrities, famous athletes, regular citizens and royals and then grabbing photos and quotes from their victims to lay a false trail and publish a damning article. The phone hacking—perpetrated usually by private detectives hired by editors at the publication—eventually ensnared 6,349 victims and caused the News to shutter. At the end of the day, noted one prosecutor, it was nothing more than “at the highest level, a criminal enterprise.” If this book were merely about unethical Murdoch media outlets, it would serve as an educational read for journalism students. Because Scotland Yard continually refused to warn the victims and stonewalled Davies’ questions and because former News editor Andy Coulson became Prime Minister David Cameron’s media adviser, this is a darker, more engrossing tale about the web of unspoken, ultimately “passive” power Murdoch and his editors held over the power elite of the U.K. as they tsk-tsked them into embarrassing revelations. Davies has crafted nothing less than a primer on how to patiently, doggedly investigate a story, replete with a host of quirky characters—e.g., a bulldog of a lawyer with multiple sclerosis who had a sideline as a stand-up comedian and a reporter who specialized in dressing up as a “fake sheikh” to deceive sources into shedding their secrets.
No one does scandal quite like the British; this one is a real doozy that deserves Davies’ entertaining, no-stone-unturned eagle eyes.
Pulitzer Prize finalist Grandin (History/New York Univ.; Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City, 2009, etc.) offers a splendid account of the 1804 slave rebellion made famous in Herman Melville’s novel Benito Cereno.
On a sealing expedition in the South Pacific, veteran captain Amasa Delano (1763–1823) encountered a ship in seeming distress, boarded it to provide food and water, and discovered a great deception: The black-skinned people on board—West African slaves—were in command of the vessel and holding its Spanish captain hostage. The clever role-playing by mutinous slaves sharply contradicted the prevailing belief that slaves lacked cunning and reason, and Grandin uses the episode as a revealing window on the Atlantic slave trade and life in Spanish America in the early 1800s. Delano, a veteran seaman from New England, where slavery supported the economy, is seen as “a new man of the American Revolution” who, like many, championed freedom and found slavery morally reprehensible, yet nonetheless played his own role in the system. He eventually led an attack on the rebel-held ship and tortured many captives. Grandin’s research in the archives, libraries and museums of nine countries shines forth on each page of this excellent book. He writes with authority on every aspect of the “slavers’ fever” that gripped the New World and details vividly the horrors of disease-ridden slave ships (“floating tombs”), the treks of slave caravans overland through the pampas to Lima from Buenos Aires, and the harsh, brutal life of sealers, who clubbed and skinned their victims, annihilating many seal rookeries of the Argentine and Chilean islands. The author also examines the parallels between Melville’s novel and the historic incident, and he reflects on evidence of the omnipresence of slavery as an institution that he discovered on his research travels.
Deeply researched and well-written, this book will appeal to general readers and specialists alike.
A bare-knuckle, adventure-filled journey in search of the answer to a half-century–old cold case: Whatever happened to Nelson Rockefeller’s son, Michael?
Michael was 23 when he disappeared off the coast of southwestern New Guinea, having nearly made land after swimming for 18 hours when his catamaran capsized. Dutch officials (for this was still colonial territory in 1961) eventually reported that the renowned explorer and collector of so-called primitive art had drowned. National Geographic Traveler contributing editor Hoffman (The Lunatic Express: Discovering the World…via Its Most Dangerous Buses, Boats, Trains, and Planes, 2010, etc.) writes that, all this time later, the story compelled him: “I was a half-Jewish middle-class mutt with a public education, not a blue-blooded scion, but Rockefeller’s journey resonated with me.” Empathetically channeling Rockefeller as someone who wasn’t out in such remote territory merely to acquire stuff but was instead challenging himself in anything but the privileged surroundings of his youth, Hoffman set out to reconstruct that last voyage. He encountered evidence that the young man’s end was greatly different from the one depicted in the official records. Moreover, he notes, it was an open secret that Rockefeller had been killed after having been plucked from the sea. But why? In a daring ethnographic turn, Hoffman spent months among the descendants of killers, lending specific weight to the old clashing-of-worlds trope and addressing questions of why people go to war, commit cannibalism and other tangled matters. He never loses sight of his goal, but Hoffman is also sympathetic to the plight of the Asmat people, who themselves were changed by the events of 53 years ago: “The world had been one way when Michael Rockefeller came to Asmat, another by the time he was dead.”
A searching, discomfiting journey yields an elegant, memorable report.
“Innovation occurs when ripe seeds fall on fertile ground,” Aspen Institute CEO Isaacson (Steve Jobs, 2011, etc.) writes in this sweeping, thrilling tale of three radical innovations that gave rise to the digital age. First was the evolution of the computer, which Isaacson traces from its 19th-century beginnings in Ada Lovelace’s “poetical” mathematics and Charles Babbage’s dream of an “Analytical Engine” to the creation of silicon chips with circuits printed on them. The second was “the invention of a corporate culture and management style that was the antithesis of the hierarchical organization of East Coast companies.” In the rarefied neighborhood dubbed Silicon Valley, new businesses aimed for a cooperative, nonauthoritarian model that nurtured cross-fertilization of ideas. The third innovation was the creation of demand for personal devices: the pocket radio; the calculator, marketing brainchild of Texas Instruments; video games; and finally, the holy grail of inventions: the personal computer. Throughout his action-packed story, Isaacson reiterates one theme: Innovation results from both “creative inventors” and “an evolutionary process that occurs when ideas, concepts, technologies, and engineering methods ripen together.” Who invented the microchip? Or the Internet? Mostly, Isaacson writes, these emerged from “a loosely knit cohort of academics and hackers who worked as peers and freely shared their creative ideas….Innovation is not a loner’s endeavor.” Isaacson offers vivid portraits—many based on firsthand interviews—of mathematicians, scientists, technicians and hackers (a term that used to mean anyone who fooled around with computers), including the elegant, “intellectually intimidating,” Hungarian-born John von Neumann; impatient, egotistical William Shockley; Grace Hopper, who joined the Army to pursue a career in mathematics; “laconic yet oddly charming” J.C.R. Licklider, one father of the Internet; Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and scores of others.
Isaacson weaves prodigious research and deftly crafted anecdotes into a vigorous, gripping narrative about the visionaries whose imaginations and zeal continue to transform our lives.
A defector of Kim Jong-il’s rarefied inner circle reveals the desperate, despicable machinations of North Korea’s police state.
“North Korea’s opacity is its greatest strength,” writes New Focus International editor in chief Jin-sung in this powerful, heart-rending tale of one young man’s ability to infiltrate the locus of power, then escape. At age 28, in 1999, upon the publication of his ingratiating epic poem “Spring Rests on the Gun Barrel of the Lord,” written for Kim Jong-il, Jin-sung earned a personal endorsement of the Great Leader and the privilege of immunity as one of the few “Admitted” in the upper cadre of the Organization and Guidance Department of the Workers’ Party, which wielded the real power behind the leader. As one of the revered “court poets” and an employee of the United Front Department, which comprised the party’s intelligence and propaganda hub, the author had access to all kinds of South Korean literature in his work of “localization,” which attempted to influence South Korea by imitating its “ways of thought.” His elevation also proved his downfall, however, as he began questioning the party line fed to him. A trip home to the provincial town of Sariwon, vastly changed in the 10 years since he had last been there and reeling from the collapse of the economy, opened his eyes. The people were dropping dead from famine, so poor that they were selling water to wash one’s face and cotton comforters made painstakingly from the filters of cigarette butts, while Jin-sung, the party elite, habitually received foreign rations when they had none. Against the rules, the author loaned a South Korean biography of Kim Jong-il to his trusted friend, the composer Hwang Young-min, but the book got lost, forcing the two to go on the lam to China.
An exciting escape closes this urgent, well-rendered attempt to penetrate North Korea’s cynical, criminal power strategy.
A tale of espionage, alcoholism, bad manners and the chivalrous code of spies—the real world of James Bond, that is, as played out by clerks and not superheroes.
Now pretty well forgotten, Kim Philby (1912-1988) was once a byname for the sort of man who would betray his country for a song. The British intelligence agent was not alone, of course; as practiced true-espionage writer Macintyre (Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies, 2012, etc.) notes, more than 200 American intelligence agents became Soviet agents during World War II—“Moscow had spies in the treasury, the State Department, the nuclear Manhattan Project, and the OSS”—and the Brits did their best to keep up on their end. Philby may have been an unlikely prospect, given his upper-crust leanings, but a couple of then-fatal flaws involving his sexual orientation and still-fatal addiction to alcohol, to say nothing of his political convictions, put him in Stalin’s camp. Macintyre begins near the end, with a boozy Philby being confronted by a friend in intelligence, fellow MI6 officer Nicholas Elliott, whom he had betrayed; but rather than take Philby to prison or put a bullet in him, by the old-fashioned code, he was essentially allowed to flee to Moscow. Writing in his afterword, John Le Carré recalls asking Elliott, with whom he worked in MI6, about Philby’s deceptions—“it quickly became clear that he wanted to draw me in, to make me marvel…to make me share his awe and frustration at the enormity of what had been done to him.” For all Philby’s charm (“that intoxicating, beguiling, and occasionally lethal English quality”), modern readers will still find it difficult to imagine a world of gentlemanly spy-versus-spy games all these hysterical years later.
Gripping and as well-crafted as an episode of Smiley’s People, full of cynical inevitability, secrets, lashings of whiskey and corpses.
A deputy editor at the Boston Globe recalls the visionaries, moneymen, engineering wizards, and the economic and political struggles behind the creation of the subway in America.
In 1888, horses operated 90 percent of the 6,000 miles of America’s street railway, with all but a fraction of the rest run by cable-pulled streetcars or small steam locomotives. The urban transportation system—filthy, slow, dangerous and unreliable, straining at the explosion of immigrant populations, at the mercy of snow and ice—needed rethinking. As far back as 1849—34 years before the Brooklyn Bridge opened—Alfred Beach, publisher of Scientific American, had proposed the idea of a “railway underneath” New York. However, the psychological barriers to subway travel (“like living in a tomb,” critics said) and the formidable engineering challenges would take decades to overcome. By the time Boston and New York opened their subways—in 1897 and 1904, respectively—a remarkable story had unfolded, one Most (Always in Our Hearts: The Story of Amy Grossberg, Brian Peterson, the Pregnancy They Hid, and the Baby They Killed, 2005) chronicles with grand style and enthusiasm. Famous names flit in and out of his narrative—Boss Tweed, Thomas Edison, Edwin Arlington Robinson, piano manufacturer William Steinway and Andrew Carnegie—but he focuses on two lesser-knowns, brothers, both transportation magnates: Boston’s Henry Whitney and New York’s William Whitney, who tie together this subterranean transportation tale of two cities. It’s a story of blizzards and fires, accidental gas explosions and dynamite blasts, of trenches tortuously dug, of sewer and water pipes rerouted and cemeteries excavated, of political infighting, of turnstiles and ticket-taking, of ingenious solutions to staggering problems. Inventor Frank Sprague, who perfected the electric motor, financier August Belmont, crusading New York Mayor Abram Hewitt and engineer William Barclay Parsons also play prominent roles in this colorful Gilded Age saga.
An almost flawlessly conducted tour back to a time when major American cities dreamed big.
Two newspaper reporters explain how they broke open police corruption in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Daily News reporters Ruderman and Laker deliver an All the President’s Men–type book, examining their investigation of police corruption, which began in late 2008 when a law enforcement source suggested that a career criminal named Benny Martinez contact the reporters about illegal activity he had conducted with narcotics officer Jeffrey Cujdik. Martinez would identify alleged drug dealers and users to Cujdik, whose narcotics squad would raid their homes, keeping some of the proceeds for themselves. In addition, one of Cujdik’s colleagues would sometimes assault women at the site of the raids. Eventually, the reporters learned of a related thread of misconduct in which his narcotics squad would burst in on retail storeowners, disabling security cameras while stealing cash and merchandise under the guise of the merchants selling drug-related supplies. Since the stories fearlessly named names, some Philadelphia cops were demoted amid citizen outrage. Ruderman and Laker disclose, however, that none of the police officers ever lost their jobs or faced criminal charges. The newspaper’s investigations eventually garnered the authors the Pulitzer Prize for reporting. All the while, the newspaper was so strapped for cash that it was in and out of bankruptcy proceedings, with its very existence in doubt. In addition to chronicling their journalistic investigations, Ruderman and Laker tell their personal stories, disclosing their workaholic habits, quirky personalities and deep friendship in a breezy writing style that occasionally borders on maudlin. Despite the stylistic distractions, however, the narrative offers an insightful view of high-risk, high-reward investigative journalism, made more poignant by recent severe cutbacks in newsrooms around the country.
All the President’s Men it’s not, but Ruderman and Laker provide a welcome addition to the shelves of books about the mechanics and logistics of journalistic exposés.
Another crackling tale of adventure from journalist/explorer Sides (Hellhound on His Trail: The Stalking of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the International Hunt for His Assassin, 2010, etc.), this one focusing on a frigid disaster nearly 150 years ago.
When the Jeannette, commanded by a dashing officer named George De Long, disappeared in the Arctic waters of Russia on a long expeditionary voyage that began in the summer of 1879, American newspapers thought it did not necessarily mean disaster: They preferred to see it as a sign that the ship had broken through the dreaded polar ice and was now sailing freely, if without communication, in the open polar sea. No such luck: As Sides documents, the Jeannette and its crew met a gruesome end; toward the end of his narrative, we tour their icy cemetery, here the Chinese cook gazing serenely into the sky, there De Long lying barehanded with arm upraised, as if he “had raised his left arm and flung his journal behind him in the snow, away from the embers of the fire.” When contemporaries took that tour and reports came out, the newspapers were full of speculation about even more gruesome possibilities, which Sides, on considering the evidence, dismisses. Given that a bad outcome is promised in the book’s subtitle, readers should not find such things too surprising. The better part of the narrative is not in the sad climax but in the events leading up to it, from De Long’s life and education at sea to the outfitting of the ship (complete with a storeroom full of “barrels of brandy, porter, ale, sherry, whiskey, rum, and cases of Budweiser beer”), personality clashes among members of the crew, and the long, tragic history of polar expedition.
A grand and grim narrative of thrilling exploration for fans of Into Thin Air, Mountains of the Moon and the like.
The mind-boggling story of 33 Chilean miners trapped 2,000 feet underground for 10 weeks.
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and novelist Tobar (The Barbarian Nurseries, 2011, etc.) spins a gripping narrative, taut to the point of explosion, of the 2010 story that made international headlines for weeks. He doesn’t rush a complex story with many strands: the men below and their cacophony of woes, the families above, the political maneuvering of the Chilean state, the tightfisted mine owners and the company of rescuers. The locale featured “harsh, waterless surroundings [that] serve as a laboratory for studying the possibility of life on other planets,” and the mine itself was a sweltering jackstraw of tunnels, some nearing 100 years in age and ripe for disaster, the rock groaning and hissing as the great tectonic plates collided deep below. Tobar’s depiction of the cave-in is cinematic: The ceiling and floor became “undulating waves of stone,” then the lights went out as colossal wedges of rock collapsed to seal the exits. The author fully invests readers in the men’s plight by portraying the crushing realization of the dire circumstances, individual acts of decency and pettiness, and moments of sublimity and madness. He also devotes sympathetic attention to the gathering tent city of relatives who refused to leave, certainly not until the bodies were recovered. When the first bore hole punched through, suddenly, “the devil is present in the mine, taking form in all the greed, the misunderstanding, the envy, and the betrayals between the men.” Ultimately, once the miners made it out alive, via a frightening escape vehicle, life was good—until all the other stuff that surfaced along with the miners began to bring many of them down.
An electrifying, empathetic work of journalism that makes a four-year-old story feel fresh.
Here’s a twist: the almost unbelievable tale of a human rights attorney every bit as conscienceless as the multinational he was suing.
Filed in 1993 against Texaco, later acquired by Chevron, on behalf of the powerless Ecuadorian Indians of the Oriente, the Aguinda lawsuit sought recovery for a jungle region devastated by environmental depredations and health hazards resulting from decades of oil drilling. How Steven Donziger, barely two years out of law school, a man who had never filed even a single civil suit, became the lead attorney in a case against America’s third-largest corporation makes for an interesting story. How over 20 years he strategized, maneuvering the case through courtrooms in Ecuador and New York, how he rallied Hollywood stars, music industry celebrities, independent filmmakers and environmental activists to the cause, attracting favorable news coverage from prestigious outlets like 60 Minutes and the New York Times, how he secured a $19 billion judgment—all this makes the story even more compelling. When Chevron countersued Donziger, however, and demonstrated that the young firebrand’s victory depended on fraud, witness tampering, intimidation of judges and an orgy of spoliation, well, that story becomes irresistible. Bloomberg Businessweek assistant managing editor Barrett (Glock: The Rise of America’s Gun, 2012, etc.) has been reporting this saga for years, and his familiarity with all the players, his understanding of the issues and his cool assessment of the damage inflicted by this protracted legal battle show on every page. While Donziger, his allies and methods take a beating, Barrett doesn’t let Chevron or the hardball tactics of its high-powered attorneys off the hook. Many lawyers, experts and consultants have grown rich off of Aguinda; some attorneys and their firms have been wrecked. Meanwhile, the toxic waste in the Oriente has gone untreated, the natives uncompensated. The legal fight goes on.
Imagine a true-life, courtroom version of Heart of Darkness.