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  • Ross Johnson 6:00 pm on 2018/05/31 Permalink
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    June’s Best Biographies and Memoirs 

    The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House, by Ben Rhodes
    For eight years, Rhodes was the insider’s insider at the Obama White House, having begun working with the then-presidential hopeful as a speechwriter in 2007, just as that unlikely campaign was kicking into high gear. From there, he went on to roles as deputy national security advisor and foreign policy advisor. He was present for some of the most consequential moments in that administration, including the Bin Laden raid, and central to shaping many key policies, including the Iran nuclear agreement and normalized relations with Cuba. As a friend and advisor to a president, as well as a writer himself, Rhodes offers a true behind-the-scenes look with novelistic flair.

    Robert F. Kennedy: Ripples of Hope: Kerry Kennedy in Conversation with Heads of State, Business Leaders, Influencers, and Activists about Her Father’s Impact on Their Lives, by Kerry Kennedy
    The forthcoming 50th anniversary of Robert Kennedy’s assassination has been attended by a resurgence in interest in the senator, attorney general, and would-be president. His impact on his era was almost as great as that of his brother, and might have been greater still. Here, his daughter shares her own memories and reminiscences side-by-side with those who knew or were influenced by the man. Among those interviewed are Barack Obama, John Lewis, Gloria Steinem, Dolores Huerta, Bill Clinton, Tony Bennett, and many others.

    Uncensored: My Life and Uncomfortable Conversations at the Intersection of Black and White America, by Zachary R. Wood
    At 21, Zachary Wood has placed himself near the center of debates over free speech in modern America: president of the Uncomfortable Learning student group at Williams college, Wood has advocated his own personal policy of open dialogue and debate with anyone, regardless of how much their views might differ with is own. He’s even delivered a TED Talk on the topic, and his memoir discusses his quietly radical philosophy while going into the details of his personal story, beginning with a poor childhood in Washington, DC.

    Black Klansman: Race, Hate, and the Undercover Investigation of a Lifetime, by Ron Stallworth
    Ron Stallworth’s incredible true story is the inspiration for an upcoming film from writer/director Spike Lee and producer Jordan Peele. In 1978, the Klan was again on the rise in the United States, and Stallworth was the first black detective in the Colorado Springs Police Department. Interested in a growing terrorist threat to the community, he responded to an ad for more information from the local KKK by mail. Instead, he received a call asking if he was willing to join up. During months of investigation, he maintains a phone correspondence with the group, sabotaging cross-burnings, exposing plots, and even forming a relationship with then-Grand Wizard (and current alt-right leader) David Duke. His white partner was even tasked to fill-in for Stallworth in person when necessary to maintain the charade.  It’s a fascinating story.

    Reporter: A Memoir, by Seymour M. Hersh
    The brand of investigative reporting that made Seymour Hersh famous is an evolving, if not dying, art in today’s fast-paced media climate. From the beginning, Hersh was more than willing to take on the biggest stories and most powerful players on the political scene, from the coverup of the Mai Lai Massacre to Watergate, and, more recently, Abu Ghraib. His confrontational style and willingness to dive into stories that others might consider conspiracies have won him awards, but also courted controversy. In his memoir, Hersh looks back at his career and offers deeper insight into some of the many stories he’s covered.

    My Girls: A Lifetime with Carrie and Debbie, by Todd Fisher
    In December of 2016, millions mourned the unexpected deaths of both Carrie Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds, within a day of each other. For their fans and admirers, it was deeply sad. But for the family of these two Hollywood legends, the pain was far more intimate. In this memoir, Todd Fisher, the only surviving child of Debbie and singer Eddie Fisher, relates the story of his glamorous childhood with an unconventional mother and the lifelong bond with sister. The book is part personal memoir and part tribute to Debbie and Carrie, as funny as it is poignant as it charts their glamorous, often very weird lives all the way through their final days together.

    Ghostbuster’s Daughter: Life with My Dad, Harold Ramis, by Violet Ramis Stiel
    Another child reflects on a famous father this month—this time on the daughter of multi-talented actor, director, writer, and comedian Harold Ramis, whose films are among the most beloved of recent decades (Animal House, Caddyshack, Ghostbusters, and Groundhog Day). Stiel recounts the too-short life of her famous father, and also the story of her unconventional upbringing, in a book that’s part family memoir, part look inside the mind of a comedic genius.

    Famous Father Girl: A Memoir of Growing Up Bernstein, by Jamie Bernstein
    At the height of his career in the middle years of the 20th century, at a time when a composer could still have an enormous influence on pop culture, none was bigger than Leonard Bernstein. The conductor and pianist had a circle that included the Kennedys, John Lennon, Richard Avedon, and Lauren Bacall, among many others, all they all populate the cast of this memoir. On the centennial of his birth, Bernstein’s eldest daughter Jamie reflects on her childhood with the complex, sometimes troubled man who taught her to love music, and the world.

    Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot, by John Callahan and David Kelly
    The title of the late Callahan’s memoir refers to one of his more (in)famous cartoons, an image in which three sheriffs approach an empty wheelchair in the desert. One sheriff says to another: “Don’t worry. He won’t get far on foot.” Which just about sums up Callahan’s warped, controversial, and boundary-pushing career as a cartoonist. That career began at the age of 21 after an alcohol-related car crash severed his spine and left him a quadriplegic. A few years later, he had relearned to use his right hand enough to make the simplistic drawings for which he became famous. This memoir is the subject of a forthcoming film from director Gus Van Sant.

    Whose story inspires you?

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  • Jeff Somers 3:00 pm on 2018/05/29 Permalink
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    June’s Best History Books 

    Give your summer reading a solid foundation with the month’s best new history books, including the incredible true stories of the murder trial that launched Abraham Lincoln’s toward the presidency, Vladimir Putin’s plot to destroy democracy, an exploration of one of the most enduring mysteries in history, and more.

    First in Line: Presidents, Vice Presidents, and the Pursuit of Power, by Kate Andersen Brower
    Often overlooked, sometimes derided, and, on 14 occasions, destined to be president, our vice presidents occupy a strange place in our democratic system: limited in power and status, yet imbued with the potential to ascend to the highest levels of both. This book explores both the men who have served in the position and the presidents whose political lives they were tethered to, for good or ill. The result is a fascinating look at a role that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, revealing the personalities and politics that have shaped the course of American history—even if you can’t necessarily name them all. Brower also considers the ways the role has changed over the years, and the men who have influenced those changes through political power, force of will, or simple chance.

    Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency, by Dan Abrams and David Fisher
    It’s possible to forget Abraham Lincoln existed before he was our 16th president—and pursued a very successful legal career. In 1859, he took on what would turn out to be his final case before running for president, a murder trial. A man named Greek Crafton assaulted a man named “Peachy” Quinn Harrison. Harrison responded by fatally stabbing Crafton, and was indicted for murder. Lincoln’s deft defense earned Harrison an acquittal, in part due to his stirring closing arguments. Abrams, chief legal affairs anchor for ABC News, argues this trial provided the momentum to push Lincoln to run for the highest office in the land. Along the way, he underscores how Lincoln’s many talents—public speaking and persuasion chief among them—made him ideally suited to lead the country during its most dangerous period.

    The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age, by David E. Sanger
    The use and misuse of cyberweapons—malicious code and weaponized software designed to cripple systems and steal data—has become one of the most active fronts in the invisible war between the United States and various terrorist cells and rouge nations. Sanger traces the decline in America’s power in this sphere over the last few years, arguing we’ve been left largely paralyzed and unable to deploy weapons developed to fight the threat. At the same time, hacking and data theft allowed Russia to meddle with one of the most important elections of recent years, and the United States hasn’t done much to prevent future attacks. The end result is an atmosphere of constant paranoia, of endless attacks and counterattacks that leave no trace and thus get almost no attention from the media—but which could have a terrible impact on all of us.

    Yes We (Still) Can: Politics in the Age of Obama, Twitter, and Trump, by Dan Pfeiffer
    The cohost of Pod Save America and one-time senior adviser to President Obama offers a fly-on-the-wall glimpse of the 2008 presidential campaign and Obama’s eight years in office. Irreverent and smart, Pfeiffer offers anecdotes that, in turn, hilarious, alarming, or simply interesting. Along the way he provides advice to a Democratic party reeling from the Trump victory in 2016, and suggests what must be done to shore up the liberal cause that has struggled to define itself. His considers fake news, social media, and how the Democrats can win future elections in the age of Trumpism.

    The Plot to Destroy Democracy: How Putin and His Spies Are Undermining America and Dismantling the West, by Malcolm Nance
    While most everyone is aware something happened involving Russia and our electoral process in 2016, Nance (a counterterrorism analyst at NBC) puts forth an argument that it was much more than a stroke of luck or even a simple coordinated misinformation campaign. He outlines what he believes is an aggressive attempt by Russian President Vladimir Putin to completely remake our democracy and bring the U.S. into an “axis of autocracy.” The portrait of events he paints is alarming and thought-provoking.

    The Race to Save the Romanovs: The Truth Behind the Secret Plans to Rescue the Russian Imperial Family, by Helen Rappaport
    Rappaport examines the slow-motion catastrophe that led to the brutal murder of the Russian imperial family in the wake of the 1917 revolution. Tracing events back decades, she explores the decisions made by the intermarried and incestuous royal families of pre-war Europe that led to the slow response and lack of support afforded Czar Nicholas and his physically fragile family after his abdication. Rappaport argues the Romanovs, who had ruled Russia for centuries, certainly didn’t have to wind up shot by revolutionaries and buried in unmarked graves. The result reads like a dark thriller whose ending you know, but which still holds you riveted to the page.

    The Secret Token: Myth, Obsession, and the Search for the Lost Colony of Roanoke, by Andrew Lawler
    The first English settlement in America, located on Roanoke Island, vanished without a trace in 1590, leaving behind only a mysterious “token:” the word “croatoan” carved into a tree. Admitting to an obsession with the mystery surrounding this disaster, Lawler describes the landscape of 16th century America and the personalities of the settlers who made the dangerous decision to build a life in a new world. Finding few solutions to the riddle despite exploring fascinating leads, the lack of resolution only underscores the power of this story—which still resonates more than four hundred years later.

    The Battle for Paradise: Puerto Rico Takes on the Disaster Capitalists, by Naomi Klein
    Klein argues the slow-rolling disaster that still afflicts Puerto Rico months after the dual hurricanes that laid waste to the island is not simply a symptom of incompetence, but rather a cynical strategy designed to drive citizens to the mainland so the island can be remade into a corporate-owned paradise. Klein’s argument is persuasive—she details what she calls “disaster capitalists” who employ tactics designed to make Puerto Ricans feel helpless—but she also finds inspiration in the unexpected resourcefulness of those very citizens, seeking to weather the storm, as it were, with small-scale food production and DIY power infrastructures. Klein expects a collision between the declining power base of the cities and the community bonds of the rural areas will ultimately determine what Puerto Rico will look like a decade from now.

    Fantasyland—How America Went Haywire: A 500-Year History, by Kurt Andersen
    Looking back over the entirety of American history, from the Puritans through Donald Trump’s presidency, Andersen argues that what many perceive as a sudden, shocking descent into fake news-fueled hysteria is actually the culmination of the journey we’ve always been on. Anti-science, religiously fundamentalist forces have always been there, Andersen argues, tracing events in history that echo the current state of affairs. He argues Trump has set himself up as the president of “fantasyland,” an imaginary America where everything is great and things are only getting better—a story that helped him claim the White House, and may keep him there in 2020.

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  • Jeff Somers 7:00 pm on 2018/05/01 Permalink
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    May’s Best New Thrillers 

    The Death of Mrs. Westaway, by Ruth Ware
    It’s cons all the way down in Ware’s newest twisty thriller. Harriet “Hal” Westaway just scrapes by working as psychic at Brighton Beach, using her skills of observation to con easy marks. She owes very bad people very serious money, so when she receives a letter informing her that her grandmother Hester has passed away and left her something in the will, she’s determined to claim the inheritance—despite the fact that her grandmother Marion already died 20 years before. Intending to use her cold-reading skills to relieve these other Westaways of their money, she travels to an estate in Cornwell, only to find the apparent case of mistaken identity might not be quite as mistaken as she’d assumed. Suddenly, Hal has to use her people-reading abilities in pursuit of the truth—and to make sure she gets out alive.

    The Gray Ghost, by Clive Cussler and Robin Burcell
    A century in the past, a man named Marcus Peyton is falsely accused of stealing a one-of-a-kind car from a street in Manchester: a Rolls Royce Gray Ghost. Although American detective Isaac Bell is able to retrieve the car, he can’t spare Peyton the consequences of being fingered as the culprit. In the modern day, Peyton’s grandson contacts Sam and Remi Fargo in hopes of proving his ancestor’s innocence. This mission is complicated by the fact that the Gray Ghost has been stolen again—as has what was contained within it, something several powerful, desperate people want to get their hands on. Remi and Sam find out the hard way that those who get too close to the car are risking their lives.

    The Favorite Sister, by Jessica Knoll
    The competition on Goal Diggers is intense and personal. A reality show populated by “unmothers and unwives” who have achieved great success in their chosen profession, the cast includes sisters Brett and Kelly—Bret has a spin class empire predicated on the idea that you don’t have to be a size zero to be healthy, and Kelly is everything Brett thinks she isn’t: beautiful, skinny, and their parents’ favorite. The story opens with Brett’s murder, but figuring out who’s responsible isn’t as easy as sibling rivalry, as the other castmembers—including author Stephanie, vegan juice bar impresario Jen, and dating website guru Lauren—have their own secrets to hide…while in front of an audience of millions.

    The Crooked Staircase, by Dean Koontz
    The third Jane Hawk novel sees the former FBI agent-turned international fugitive working as hard as ever to bring down the mind-control conspiracy that killed her husband. She managed to do some damage over the course of the previous book—going underground, hiding her young son away for his own safety, and killing a few bad guys. But considering those she’s up against have infiltrated the government and law enforcement and have brainwashing nanotech at their command, the only way out is to cut off the conspiracy’s head—Department of Justice official Booth Hendrickson. Staying out of reach of the high-tech surveillance arrayed against her, Jane tracks down Hendrickson’s half-brother, a misogynistic sociopath, and prepares to do whatever it takes to grab justice for herself.

    The Perfect Mother, by Aimee Molloy
    The May Mothers—a group of Brooklyn moms whose kids share May birthdays—invite beautiful, stressed, and standoffish single mom Winnie to one of their wine-soaked gatherings. Nell, Colette, and Francie are so determined to show Winnie a good time, they even provide a babysitter, and insist she delete the baby monitor app from her phone so she can’t obsess over little Midas. After a sodden evening, however, Nell gets a dreadful call: Midas has been kidnapped, right out of his crib. In the midst of the chaotic, sensational media coverage, the May Mothers band together to launch their own investigation, which grows increasingly reckless as the individual secrets, anxieties, and frailties each May Mother is hiding come to light.

    House Swap, by Rebecca Fleet
    After ending a torrid affair with a younger man, Caroline seeks to fix her broken relationship with her depressed husband. Hoping a romantic getaway will help them reconnect, she arranges a week-long house swap that takes the couple to a house just outside London. Once there, Caroline begins to sense something’s wrong—everything about the house reminds her of her former lover Carl, from flowers that decorate it to the aftershave left in thebathroom. Caroline becomes convinced her ex is tormenting her, and that nosy neighbor Amber is in on it—but assuming too much could prove deadly.

    Reaper: Ghost Target, by Nicholas Irving with A.J. Tata
    Co-authors Nicholas Irving and A.J. Tata, a retired general, bring serious verisimilitude to this fast-paced thriller. In 2010, a Chechen terrorist named Khasan Basayev buries a suitcase-sized nuclear bomb and manages to escape capture. Years later, the army’s most feared sniper, Vick Harwood, is in Afghanistan with his spotter, Corporal Sammie Samuelson, about to take out Basayev when their position comes under fire. Harwood escapes, but loses both Sammie and his prized rifle. Vick moves on to a career training snipers at different military bases, but when someone starts using that lost rifle to murder American generals—who are always near where Vick is teaching—Harwood is forced to act in order to clear the cloud of suspicion gathering over him—something made difficult by the fact that he’s started suffering blackouts and other symptoms of PTSD.

    Arctic Gambit, by Larry Bond
    A new Russian president plans to restore the former Soviet Union’s territories to his control, which means orchestrating a first-strike against the United States first and with overwhelming force. When a submarine from Jerry Mitchell’s squadron goes missing in the arctic, he investigates—and discovers the Russians are building a secret base in preparation for their attack. Worse, they’ve developed a new first-strike weapon, code-named Drakon, that will enable them to pull off the attack without warning. Jerry is ordered to take the submarine Jimmy Carter to destroy the base, sharing command with Commander Louis Weiss, and accompanied by demolition expert Dr. Daniel Cavanaugh. Their approach takes them into a deadly minefield a game of cat-and-mouse with enemies above and below, with time running out for them to prevent World War III.

    How It Happened, by Michael Koryta
    Rob Barrett, an eager, inexperienced FBI agent with a reputation for masterful interrogation, is sent to Port Hope, Maine—the town he spent his summers in as a child—to assist with getting a statement from drug addict Kimberly Crepeaux, who turned herself in for being an accomplice in a double murder, but has since refused to speak a word. To everyone’s surprise, Crepeaux opens up to Barrett immediately, claiming that local legend Mathias Burke ran down the two victims with his car, then forced Kimberly and fellow addict Cass to dump the bodies in a pond. Barrett is shocked—he knew Burke when they both were kids—and tries to act on the evidence, but is disgraced when all of it turns out to be fiction.  Humiliated, Barrett is reassigned to the Midwest, but when Crepeaux gets out of jail and starts contacting him, he’s lured back to Maine, where his efforts to prove Crepeaux’s story make him  the enemy of the entire town.

    Star of the North, by D.B. John
    Author D.B. John visited North Korea in 2012, and uses the impressions gathered there to craft the tense, detailed story of academic Jenna, born Jee-min in South Korea and now living in the U.S. When Jenna was a child, her twin sister Soo-min was abducted by North Korean commandos and never seen again (the kidnapping part of an orchestrated campaign that mirrors real history). When Jenna meets a high-ranking North Korean official during his diplomatic trip to New York City, she begs him for help finding her sister. Later, Jenna is recruited by the CIA to go undercover to North Korea as a U.N. translator, where she embarks on a dangerous investigation that reveals sides of the reclusive nation many foreigners never see—and learns secrets the regime works very hard to control.

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  • Jeff Somers 2:00 pm on 2018/05/01 Permalink
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    The Best New History Books of May 

    Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire, by Bret Baier
    Baier, chief political anchor at Fox News, examines the role Ronald Reagan played in ending the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, and concludes the 40th president was a more subtle politician and statesman than many suppose. Focusing on Reagan’s historic but largely-overlooked visit to Moscow in 1988—where he gave a speech at Moscow State University signaling his desire to see Russia and the rest of the U.S.S.R. pursue true democratic government—Baier argues he was the driving force that lead to the fall of the Iron Curtain and Russia’s eventual pivot towards democracy. Using the titular “three days” as a framing device, Baier recounts the tense summits and closed-door meetings between Reagan and Russian Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and makes a case for a direct link between this largely forgotten forgotten speech and the fall of the Berlin Wall a year later.

    Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”, by Zora Neale Hurston
    This remarkable book was written by Hurston long before her classic Their Eyes Were Watching God, dating back to a trip she took to Alabama in 1927 in her professional capacity as an anthropologist. There, she met an 86-year old man named Cudjo Lewis—also known as Kossola, the last surviving slave on the last slave ship to make the Middle Passage. Hurston interviewed Kossola extensively, and because he was already 19 when he was sold into slavery, his recollections are sharp and detailed. While Hurston acknowledges in the manuscript that she made no attempt to make it into a rigorous historical document, Kossola’s story is a terrifying glimpse into what slavery—and subsequently the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the racially-charged South of the 20th century—was actually like. It’s amazing to think this book has never before been published.

    The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels, by Jon Meacham
    Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author, makes a sober argument that while we might find ourselves alarmed and confused at the current state of politics and discourse in this country, we’re certainly not the first to feel this way. Examining various moments in American history, Meacham makes the compelling argument that while America has often plunged into demagoguery and nativism, it has also almost always eventually followed what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” and sought progress over darkness. There’s a power in knowing that we’ve been here before, and understanding how we found our way back out.

    Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
    Harari is no stranger to ambitious works of sweeping historical context, and this is no exception. He tackles the story of how Homo sapiens—that is, us—came to be not just the dominant species on the planet, but the sole human species left standing. Harari argues that three distinct moments of revolution made us masters of the planet: a cognitive revolution that gave us a mental advantage over other human species; an agricultural revolution that allowed us to form permanent settlements and complex societies; and most recently, a technological revolution that allowed us to truly master the world, its resources, and all the other creatures that populate it. Harari thoughtfully weaves in the disturbing question of whether our ascendancy and mastery has actually made us happier—and offers plenty of thoughtful evidence that the answer is no.

    The Assault on Intelligence: American National Security in an Age of Lies, by Michael V. Hayden
    Hayden, former Director of the NSA and the CIA, examines the current climate of “alternative facts” and the potential threats of a government that seems hostile to expertise and data. The United States has one of the most effective and powerful intelligence communities in the world, capable of supplying the president with the best and most accurate information possible in order to help him make the most terrible decisions imaginable. Hayden examines the consequences of a culture in which a president prefers to fire off social media missives containing untruths and exaggerations, and in which the intelligence community is under direct attack from within. Hayden offers his vision of the many dangers this current scenario opens us to, from the crumbling of the world order, to a decline in the standing and influence of the United States even as countries like China step forward.

    Trump / Russia: A Definitive History, by Seth Hettena
    Every day brings more headlines containing the words “Russia” and “Trump”—and yet more hysteria from both sides of the political aisle. Associated Press reporter Hettena goes back to the origins of Donald Trump’s relationship with Russia to walk us step by step through the years, showing how the president and his organization reached out to Russian business interests and government officials in order to stay afloat after the collapse of his casinos left Trump on the verge of financial disaster. Anyone seeking clarity on the events that led to the Special Counsel investigation will want to read this book, which offers a painstakingly researched dive into Trump’s relationship with various Russian actors over the years.

    From Cold War to Hot Peace: An American Ambassador in Putin’s Russia, by Michael McFaul
    McFaul, a longtime expert on Russia’s relations with the U.S. (and a former ambassador to that country), details what he observed firsthand while in Moscow over the course of his career. McFaul argues that the current state of Russian politics, wherein Vladimir Putin is essentially president for life and Russia stands as a steadfast opponent to American interests, wasn’t inevitable; he blames diplomatic and military missteps under the Bush administration for driving a wedge between our countries that led Putin to seek other avenues towards reestablishing Russian global influence. McFaul isn’t a fan of President Obama’s approach to Russia, either, and offers his own assessment of of Donald Trump’s role as a useful tool for Putin.

    When the Center Held: Gerald Ford and the Rescue of the American Presidency, by Donald Rumsfeld
    Rumsfeld, who served as President Ford’s chief of staff and secretary of defense (and who was also Ford’s personal friend) offers a firsthand account of a remarkable, remarkably short presidency. The only person to serve in the role who was never elected either president or vice president, Ford took on a country that had lost faith in government in the wake of Watergate and Nixon’s fall. Rumsfeld argues persuasively that if Ford wasn’t totally successful as a chief executive, he certainly managed to stave off political and societal chaos when faith in the office was at an all-time low. Rumsfeld shares a fly-on-the-wall view of Ford’s battle against Ronald Reagan for the 1976 nomination, which now looks like the last gasp of old-school conservative politics before the Reagan Revolution changed everything.

    Tailspin: The People and Forces Behind America’s Fifty-Year Fall–and Those Fighting to Reverse It, by Steven Brill
    Brill, the founder of Court TV, traces what he sees as a five-decade long decline in American society, charting the course of the well-intentioned reforms that have led us here. First making his case that in the modern age, America has become a hollow economy of low-paying jobs with expensive and substandard healthcare, housing, and infrastructure, as well as a society where the gap between rich and poor grows ever wider, Brill then goes on to explain how these conditions came about. Things like civil service reform and an effort on the part of universities to be more inclusive seemed like fine ideas when first pursued decades ago, he argues, but each have curdled into tools by which the elite protect their positions at the expense of everyone else. Brill celebrates the people and groups that are attempting to fix what’s wrong, and sees cause for hope going forward.

    The Perfectionists: How Precision Engineers Created the Modern World, by Simon Winchester
    If celebrating expertise and skill is out of fashion in America in some ways, but that doesn’t stop Winchester—the son of an engineer—from making the argument that the wonders of modern life can be laid at the feet of engineers, for whom precision is a lofty and worthwhile goal. Winchester gives credit for everything from high-tech scientific equipment like the Hubble Telescope to the modern-day automobile to the fearless engineers who slowly built the modern age one piston and perfectly-measured part at a time. Bringing together history lessons, scientific lectures, and often-raucous biographical sketches, he paints a clear picture of the debt the world owes to the thinkers and the tinkerers, many of whom operated outside the boundaries of what was precisely ethical or legal at the time.

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  • Ross Johnson 8:00 pm on 2018/04/30 Permalink
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    The Best Biographies and Memoirs of May 

    Life After Darkness: Finding Healing and Happiness After the Cleveland Kidnappings, by Michelle Knight
    In 2013, Knight (now Lily Rose Lee) was freed, along with two others, after a decade of captivity in the Cleveland home of kidnapper Ariel Castro. On the fifth anniversary of her rescue, she reflects on her experiences and on the road to healing the wounds she suffered: mental, spiritual, and physical. It’s not the darkness she’s focused on, but her journey into the light.

    The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights, and Other Appreciations, by John McCain and Mark Salter
    This isn’t John McCain’s first memoir with Salter (his Faith of My Fathers was a bestseller almost 20 years ago), but it is the first written in the shadow of his brain cancer diagnosis last year. In the new book, he discusses his senatorial career over the last several decades, his 2008 run for the White House, and his work in Eastern Europe and the Middle East. He speaks with candor about the current state of affairs in America—and particularly his feelings about the current president—while looking to the future and sharing a positive vision for the country.

    Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, by Michael Chabon
    Inspired by a popular 2016 GQ article about accompanying his 13-year-old son Abraham to Paris for Men’s Fashion Week, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist and essayist Chabon has written a series of essays about fatherhood. In the GQ excerpt, he describes being both bored to tears and dramatically inspired by his son’s passion for the fashion on display. With the trademark style and richnesses of imagery, Chabon discusses the mysteries, joys, and contradictions of fatherhood.

    I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons, by Kevin Hart with Neil Strauss
    Kevin Hart has achieved a level of popularity and fame (he’s among the top grossing comedians worldwide) that make a memoir a no-brainer, but he’s also got a compelling life story that began with a troubled childhood in Philadelphia. He’s also genuinely funny, and his autobiography (now in paperback) is as compelling as it is laugh-out-loud hilarious.

    The Seasons of My Mother: A Memoir of Love, Family, and Flowers, by Marcia Gay Harden
    In this unconventional memoir, the actress tells her own life story in parallel with that of her mother. Beverly became enamored with ikebana, the art of flower arranging, while the family lived in Japan during the Vietnam War, an interest later pursued by Marcia. Over the last several years, the author has had to come to grips with her mother’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, a struggle that frames this poignant, funny, and heartfelt memoir.

    So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y’all Don’t Even Know, by Retta
    Parks and Rec star Retta threw her Liberian parents for a loop when she skipped medical school in favor of moving to Hollywood in search of sitcom fame and fortune. Though she didn’t find it right away, her career has only been on the rise in recent years. In her new essay collection, she tells a series of often hilarious anecdotes about life as a wealthy, successful woman who knows how precarious fame can be.

    The Pact: A UFC Champion, a Boy with Cancer, and Their Promise to Win the Ultimate Battle, by Cody Garbrandt with Mark Dagostino
    When he was 20, Cody Garbrandt formed a unique bond with 5-year-old Maddux Maple. The young boy was dying of leukemia, while Cody was intent on pursuing his dream of rising to the top in Mixed Martial Arts. The two made a pact to pursue their dreams: recovery for the kid, and the world championship for Cody. Five years later, Maddux was in remission and Cody had claimed the UFC title. Here, the champ himself tells their story.

    Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis, by J. D. Vance
    Vance has accomplished something extraordinary with this complex and insightful memoir (now in paperback) in which he discusses his own family history, going deep below the surface to uncover truths that speak to the state of American culture in the 21st century. Vance tells a story of upward mobility and of the grandparents who left extreme poverty in Kentucky’s Appalachia to build a middle-class family. On the surface, it’s a triumphal tale of one generation doing better than the last, but Vance digs deeper to examine the legacies of poverty and want, including abuse and alcoholism, and the ways in which the family has never truly escaped its past.

    Papi: My Story, by David Ortiz and Michael Holley
    Barely six months into retirement, Ortiz tells the story of a long career in baseball that culminated in a 14-year run with the Boston Red Sox that saw the storied franchise go from perpetual losers to a one of the winningest teams in MLB. For Sox fans, and baseball lovers in general, he brings an insider’s view of the modern history of the sport, and shares a frank assessment of his rough and poor childhood in the Dominican Republic and his life leading to his 2008 American citizenship.

    Churchill and Orwell: The Fight for Freedom, by Thomas E. Ricks
    Two of the 20th Century’s towering figures, in Britain and in the world at large, Churchill and Orwell had wildly different ideas about how to approach the great challenges of their age. They never met, but Ricks places the lives and work of the two side-by-side and finds as many commonalities as differences: Orwell’s commitment to social justice and democratic socialism was at odds with Churchill’s more conservative views, but the two shared an absolute opposition to totalitarianism and strong senses of tradition. By bringing together two men who never interacted in life, Ricks paints a vivid picture of their time.

    Whose story inspires you?

    The post The Best Biographies and Memoirs of May appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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