Monday, May 14, 2012

Non-fiction titles can also be found among the bestseller choices!

All In: The Education of General David Petraeus by Paula Broadwell and Vernon Loeb

Kirkus Reviews -

A semi-authorized biography of Army Gen. David Petraeus, in the context of his Iraq and Afghanistan war commands after 9/11. While researching her doctorate at the University of London, Broadwell, a graduate of the U.S. Military Academy, decided to focus on Petraeus. She had met him in 2006, while a graduate student at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and she eventually came to know him better and won his cooperation to produce a book. Washington Post editor Loeb, who was embedded with a military unit under Petraeus' command in Iraq in 2003, provides a solid journalistic aspect to the book, which is not a traditional biography—the narrative is not chronological and does not cover every aspect of the subject's rise from student to the top of the military establishment. The author scatters biographical elements throughout the story, offering a somewhat in-depth understanding of how generals are made in the contemporary American military, and what drove this one man in particular to attain the top rank and become perhaps the most recognizable war commander since Dwight D. Eisenhower. Although Broadwell rarely demonstrates overt political stances in the book, she appears to more or less approve of the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan as a counterterrorist strategy. Though Petraeus comes across as a consistently "all-in" warrior, Broadwell occasionally includes material that reveals his flaws. To the author's credit, she pays close attention to Petraeus' home life; after all, no war commander leaves for battle without consequences for a spouse, children, parents and many others. It is of special interest that Petraeus married Holly Knowlton, whose father William A. Knowlton served as superintendent of West Point when Petraeus was a cadet there. The narrative is difficult to track because of shifting time elements and sporadic sections of battleground details, but Broadwell provides a first-rate education about the modern American military for outsiders.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

Kirkus Reviews -

A civil-rights lawyer's disturbing view of why young black men make up the majority of the more than two million people now in America's prisons. In this explosive debut, Alexander (Law/Moritz College of Law and the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity) argues that the imprisonment of unusually large numbers of young blacks and Latinos-most harshly sentenced for possession or sale of illegal drugs, mainly marijuana-constitutes "a stunningly comprehensive and well-designed system of racialized social control." The "warehousing" of inner-city youths, she writes, is a new form of Jim Crow under which drug offenders-in jail or prison, on probation or parole-are denied employment, housing, education and public benefits; face a lifetime of shame; and rarely successfully integrate into mainstream society. The author blames the situation mainly on the War on Drugs, begun by Ronald Reagan in 1982, which grew out of demands for "law and order" that were actually a racially coded backlash to the civil-rights movement. The situation continues because of racial indifference, not racial bias, she writes. Many will dismiss the author's assertions; others will find her observations persuasive enough to give pause. Most people who use or sell illegal drugs are white, but in many states 90 percent of those admitted to prison for drug offenses are black or Latino. Police departments, given financial incentives-cash grants and the right to keep confiscated cash and assets from drug raids-to focus on drug enforcement, find it easier to send SWAT teams into poor neighborhoods, where they will face less political backlash, than into gated communities and college frat houses. Also, most people donot care what happens to drug criminals, feeling that "they get what they deserve." So what's to be done? Alexander writes that civil-rights leaders, reluctant to advocate for criminals, remain quiet on the issue; President Obama, an admitted former user of illegal drugs, is not in a position to offer leadership; and policymakers offer only piecemeal reforms. She hopes a new grassroots movement will foster frank discussion about race, cultivate an ethic of compassion for all and end the drug war and mass incarceration. Alarming, provocative and convincing.

That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba

Kirkus Reviews -

An in-depth biography of the notorious Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor, the American divorcée whose marriage to King Edward VIII cost him the throne. Already a bestseller in the UK, the latest work by biographer Sebba (American Jennie: The Remarkable Life of Lady Randolph Churchill, 2007, etc.) pulls no punches in revealing the secrets of its subject. Born in 1896 in Pennsylvania, Bessie Wallis Warfield was raised by a single mother dependent on the charity of her less-than-generous family. Even by virtue of shortening her name, Sebba theorizes, Wallis proved herself to be self-created and controlling. Though funny and smart, she was neither brilliant nor beautiful. Much of the book focuses on her romantic and sexual life, including a claim that Wallis most likely suffered from a disorder of sexual development, or intersexuality. It's impossible to know definitively, but Sebba's extensive research has led her to conclude that Wallis may have been born genetically male, but developed outwardly as a female, or, alternatively, that she was a pseudo-hermaphrodite. Wallis herself claimed never to have had intercourse with either of her first two husbands. She was still married when she met Edward, whose obsession with marrying Wallis prompted outrage across England and led him to abdicate his throne. She was granted a second divorce, and the two married in 1937 after two years of waiting. Derisively referred to as "that woman" by the Queen Mother, Wallis is depicted, in grand detail, as cunning yet "irresistible" for her charismatic "personal sparkle." Salacious and consuming, this well-researched biography will appeal to readers interested in British political and women's history.

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