Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Our bestsellers are more than just fiction!!

Coolidge by Amity Shlaes

Kirkus Reviews –

President from 1923 to 1929, Calvin Coolidge (1872–1933) is traditionally dismissed as an honorable mediocrity, but journalist Shlaes (The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression, 2007, etc.) argues that he was better than that. The author makes a convincing case, but readers who don't share her conservative views may not agree that he was superior to FDR, whom she skewered in The Forgotten Man. Raised in rural Vermont, Coolidge practiced law in Massachusetts. His celebrated New England reserve describes him accurately, but he was popular and flourished in Republican state politics. Progressive at first, he steadily grew less so, backing William Howard Taft against Theodore Roosevelt in 1912. As governor, he achieved national fame and the vice presidency by crushing the 1919 Boston police strike. Taking over after President Warren Harding's death, Coolidge set to work reducing federal taxes, expenses and personnel. By contemporary standards, he was a moderate. His opposition to business regulation and social programs provoked only modest controversy. Times were prosperous, and he got the credit and became very popular. Clearly an admirer, Shlaes stresses that, under Coolidge, the budget was balanced, tax cuts reduced the top rate by half, the national debt fell, and unemployment remained below five percent. Wages rose and interest rates fell, as well, so the poor had jobs and could borrow money more easily. Most historians portray the 1920s as a simpler time, but the author maintains that Coolidge's hands-off, minimal government, free-market approach remains ideal. Republican VP candidate Paul Ryan provides an enthusiastic endorsement, and like-minded readers will find Shlaes' well-researched but highly opinionated biography deeply satisfying.

Damn Few: Making the Modern SEAL Warrior by Rorke Denver and Ellis Henican

Kirkus Reviews –

A 14-year veteran of more than 200 combat missions reflects on a career training and leading the Navy's elite warriors. Thanks to their many conspicuous successes since 9/11, the SEALs are enjoying a golden moment, celebrated in a number of books and films. Though they number barely 2,500, the SEALs' special skills have proven especially effective in an unconventional terror war, so much so that intense pressure exists now to create more of these special operators, even as the brotherhood attempts to hold the line, fearful of compromising standards and quality. Denver addresses this intraservice controversy, but his story explains why it will take more than a Pentagon fiat to create more SEALs. The fact remains: Few people have the strength, resilience, aggressiveness and mental toughness sufficient to survive BUD/S, their tortuously rigorous entry program, and the subsequent years of advanced training and moment's notice, high-risk deployments. SEALs come in all shapes and sizes, and it's impossible to predict who will succeed. With the help of Newsday columnist Henican (co-author: In the Blink of an Eye: Dale, Daytona, and the Day that Changed Everything, 2011, etc.), Denver takes us through a few SEAL missions, including the bin Laden raid, the sniping of Somali pirates and some house-to-house operations in Iraq. But his focus here is on the training, the lessons taught--that winning pays, that small details matter, that thorough preparation is essential, that nothing about war is fair--and on explaining the SEAL culture, from the outrageous "van brawls" (don't ask) and the enduring fraternal network, to the solemn significance of the gold Trident and the unique self-knowledge that comes with being a "meat eater," a man who's killed someone on the battlefield. "What can't these SEALs do?" To hear Denver tell it, when it comes to special operations, hardly anything at all. Good reading for military buffs.

Detroit: An American Autopsy by Charlie LeDuff

Kirkus Reviews –

Iggy Pop meets Jim Carroll and Charles Bukowski in this gritty downer of a Rust Belt portrait. "I threw my cigarette butt into the sewer grate. I looked up into the rain. That's when a bird shit on my face." Thus writes former New York Timesand Detroit News reporter LeDuff (US Guys: The True and Twisted Mind of the American Man, 2007, etc.), and he means nothing remotely humorous by it. His Detroit is a set out of Blade Runner, and never mind all that Kid Rock and sundry entrepreneurs have been doing to revive the Motor City; LeDuff isn't convinced: The place is toast, its people what an editor of his used to spit out: "losers." "That was 80 percent of the country," LeDuff counters, "and the new globalized economic structure was cranking out more." Even the locals have pretty much given up on the place; says one hard-bitten cop, "This whole town is just a worm-infested shit pile, Charlie….It's a dead city. And anybody says any different doesn't know what the fuck he's talking about." With so much going against the place, readers can't help but cheer when something goes right, as occasionally it does. Indeed, the heart soars when things don't go absolutely wrong, as when LeDuff's scrawny brother stands up to a hoodlum in a vainglorious, near-suicidal encounter at a bus stop. Along the way, the author looks at some of the toxic ingredients that have brought Detroit to its knees, including the aforementioned globalization, the replacement of local industry with a service economy of crime and, particularly, the noxious effects of racism, which he examines through his own family history. There's little joy in these pages, and one hopes that Detroit will endure, if only to cheer LeDuff up. A book full of both literary grace and hard-won world-weariness.

The Future: Six Drivers of Global Change by Al Gore

Kirkus Reviews –

A tour de force of Big Picture thinking in which the former vice president gets his inner wonk on. Gore (Our Choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis, 2009, etc.) writes that this book had its origins in an on-the-road conversation about the drivers of global change--of all kinds, from economic to cultural to environmental. The author spent the next few years outlining, outlining and outlining again--and then thinking, gathering, sifting and writing a tome that he reckons is "data-driven and based on deep research and reporting--not speculation, alarmism, naïve optimism, or blue-sky conjecture." It is all of the former, with a quarter of the book given over to notes, and none of the latter. One of the six drivers Gore enumerates is the emergence of a technologically driven "global mind" that tends toward the liberating and away from the repressive. At the same time, though, there has emerged a libertarian puritanism that insists on "the reallocation of decision-making power from democratic processes to market mechanisms," dismissing "the very notion that something called the public interest even existed." Sustainable energy sources have similarly emerged even as market mechanisms have pushed "fracking" of fossil fuel deposits, such that--it would not be a Gore book without, yes, alarming statistics--"in the United States an estimated 30 trillion gallons of toxic liquid waste have been injected into more than 680,000 wells." Biomedicine has made extraordinary advances, and yet, because of "unhealthy corporate control of the public policy decision-making process," medical care is in complete disarray. And so on, the good with the bad. Which will prevail is the question; if for the good, Gore urges, we will need to see "a shift in consciousness powerful enough to change the current course of civilization." Provocative, smart, densely argued--and deserving of a wide audience and wider discussion.

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