Wednesday, January 20, 2010

30 Interesting New Books to Read in February

RSS Readers: Enter the site for Apture links/previews.

If I had all the time in the world, I'd spend a lot of it on reading. You must learn! Since I can't have that luxury, the second best thing I can do is to throw you a heads up on the upcoming books that interest me - and hopefully you as well. Here's my list of thirty interesting new books hitting shelves in February. I like to stand by the principle "don't judge a book by its cover", but if you must, click the book title link for an Apture link/preview. Enjoy:

Aimee & Jaguar
by Erica Fischer
A beloved true story of love against all odds, Aimee & Jaguar chronicles the harrowing details of the unlikely romance between Felice Schragenheim, a Jewish resistance worker, and Lilly Wust, the disenchanted wife of a German solider and mother of four children. A new introduction considers the historic impact the biography and film have had on our understanding of lesbianism in Hitler's Germany.

Ancient Greece: A History in Eleven Cities
by Paul Cartledge
The contribution of the ancient Greeks to modern western culture is incalculable. In the worlds of art, architecture, myth, literature, and philosophy, the world we live in would be unrecognizable without the formative influence of ancient Greek models.

This highly original and stimulating introduction to ancient Greece takes the city as its starting point, revealing just how central the polis ("city-state" or "citizen-state") was to Hellenistic cultural achievements. In particular, Paul Cartledge uses the history of eleven major Greek cities--out of more than a thousand--to illuminate the most important and informative aspects of Greek history. The book spans a surprisingly long time period, ranging from the first examples of ancient Greek language from Cnossus in Crete around 1400 BC to the establishment of Constantinople (today's Istanbul) in 324 AD on the site of the Greek city of Byzantion. Cartledge highlights the role of such renowned cities as Athens (birthplace of democracy) and Sparta, but he also examines Argos, Thebes, Syracuse in Sicily, and Alexandria in Egypt, as well as lesser known locales such as Miletus (home of the West's first intellectual, Thales) and Massalia (Marseilles today), where the Greeks introduced the wine grape to the French. The author uses these cities to illuminate major themes, from economics, religion, and social relations, to gender and sexuality, slavery and freedom, and politics. And throughout, the book explores how these eleven cities differed both from each other and from modern society.

An innovative approach to ancient Greece and its legacy, both in terms of the time span covered and in its unique city-by-city organization, this superb volume provides the ideal concise introduction to the history and culture of this remarkable civilization.

Angels and Ages: Lincoln, Darwin, and the Birth of the Modern Age
by Adam Gopnik
In this captivating double life, Adam Gopnik searches for the men behind the icons of emancipation and evolution. Born by cosmic coincidence on the same day in 1809 and separated by an ocean, Lincoln and Darwin coauthored our sense of history and our understanding of man’s place in the world. Here Gopnik reveals these two men as they really were: family men and social climbers, ambitious manipulators and courageous adventurers, grieving parents and brilliant scholars. Above all we see them as thinkers and writers, making and witnessing the great changes in thought that mark truly modern times.

The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
by Jacqueline Novogratz
Novogratz combined her twin passions for banking and philanthropy after she left a lucrative corporate banking position to work with women's groups in microfinance, the pioneering banking strategy that won Muhammad Yunus a Nobel Peace Prize in 2006. Her work merging market systems with development and social empowerment led her to create the Acumen Fund for entrepreneurs in developing nations, which she describes as the opposite of old-fashioned charity. Novogratz also focuses on her own developmental path as she charts her evolving views of capitalism and how she will change the world. Unfortunately, she stumbles when she strays into biographical territory, relying on clichés to bolster her professional decisions through a personal lens. The book is most interesting when it touches on the difficult decisions that Novogratz and her team must make about financial empowerment—should they charge interest on loans to poor women? can working women find acceptance in a patriarchal society?—but these dilemmas are facilely glossed, keeping the book in an uncomfortable limbo between a personal narrative and a primer on globalization.

Conspirator: Lenin in Exile
by Helen Rappaport
The father of Communist Russia, Vladimir Ilych Lenin now seems to have emerged fully formed in the turbulent wake of WorldWar I and the Russian Revolution. But Lenin’s character was in fact forged much earlier, over the course of years spent in exile, constantly on the move, and in disguise.

In Conspirator, Russian historian Helen Rappaport narrates the compelling story of Lenin’s life and political activities in the years leading up to the revolution. As he scuttled between the glittering capital cities of Europe—from London and Munich to Vienna and Prague—Lenin found support among fellow émigrés and revolutionaries in the underground movement. He came to lead a ring of conspirators, many of whom would give their lives in service to his schemes.

A riveting account of Lenin’s little-known early life, Conspirator tracks in gripping detail the formation of one of the great revolutionaries of the twentieth century.

Dear Dad: The Marley Son Who Persevered from the Street to Prominence
by Ky-Mani Marley
In the near thirty years since the death of the world's greatest reggae-music icon, music lovers, truth seekers and new generation social-activists alike, have flocked to the musical catalog of Bob Marley like new believers on a pilgrimage for soul inspiration. Though Marley's iconic life was cut short before his time, his legacy lives on as vibrantly as it did when he walked among us. This is not only true because of his timeless music, but because of the musical genius of the extraordinary children he left behind.

KyMani Marley, world-renown recording and performing artist (and tenth child of Marley) has not only written and performed songs of redemption around the world like his famous father, but has lived and survived to tell us his own personally redemptive story in the face of abandonment.

Marley's new memoir entitled...Dear Dad: The Marley Son Who Persevered From The Streets To Prominence, is a compelling biographical exegesis of a son who was locked out of his iconic Father's shelter for the first half of his life and forced to survive the poverty and street-predators of Miami's violent ghetto. Estranged from his siblings and cut out of any financial benefit by Marley's widow and manager of the Marley Estate, this compellingly told narrative chronicles Young KyMani's gritty ascent from a bullet-riddled life to the world-stages he now commands as a grammy-nominated musical artist.

The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr
by Ken Gormley
Ten years after one of the most polarizing political scandals in American history, author Ken Gormley offers an insightful, balanced, and revealing analysis of the events leading up to the impeachment trial of President William Jefferson Clinton. From Ken Starr’s initial Whitewater investigation through the Paula Jones sexual harassment suit to the Monica Lewinsky affair, The Death of American Virtue is a gripping chronicle of an ever-escalating political feeding frenzy.

In exclusive interviews, Bill Clinton, Ken Starr, Monica Lewinsky, Paula Jones, Susan McDougal, and many more key players offer candid reflections on that period. Drawing on never-before-released records and documents—including the Justice Department’s internal investigation into Starr, new details concerning the death of Vince Foster, and evidence from lawyers on both sides—Gormley sheds new light on a dark and divisive chapter, the aftereffects of which are still being felt in today’s political climate.

Drawing the Line Once Again: Paul Goodman's Anarchist Writings
by Paul Goodman
Painting a vivid picture of 1960s counterculture ideas, this new collection of the late Paul Goodman's essential anarchist writings—from utopian essays to practical proposals—reveals how he inspired the dissident youth of the era and profoundly influenced movement theory and practice. Long out-of-print, these provocative, insightful, and incisive pieces analyze citizenship and civil disobedience, decentralization and the organized system—all while still mindful of the long anarchist tradition and of the Jeffersonian democracy that resonated strongly in Goodman's own political thought. A potent antidote to U.S. global imperialism and domestic anomie, this collection also includes a new introduction by Goodman's friend and literary executor, Taylor Stoehr, who explains why these nine core texts will thoroughly explicate anarchism for future generations.

The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity
by Wang Hui
A compelling examination of the future of Chinese modernity by the leading member of China’s “New Left.” Challenging both the bureaucratic one-party regime and the Western neoliberal paradigm, China’s leading critic shatters the myth of progress and reflects upon the inheritance of a revolutionary past. In this original and wide-ranging study, Wang Hui examines the roots of China’s social and political problems, and traces the reforms and struggles that have led to the current state of mass depoliticization.

Arguing that China’s revolutionary history and its current liberalization are part of the same discourse of modernity, Wang Hui calls for alternatives to both its capitalist trajectory and its authoritarian past.

From the May Fourth Movement to Tiananmen Square, The End of the Revolution offers a broad discussion of Chinese intellectual history and society, in the hope of forging a new path for China’s future.

Flight from Monticello: Thomas Jefferson at War
by Michael Kranish
When Thomas Jefferson wrote his epitaph, he listed as his accomplishments his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia statute of religious freedom, and his founding of the University of Virginia. He did not mention his presidency or that he was second governor of the state of Virginia, in the most trying hours of the Revolution. Dumas Malone, author of the epic six-volume biography, wrote that the events of this time explain Jefferson's "character as a man of action in a serious emergency." Joseph Ellis, author of American Sphinx, focuses on other parts of Jefferson's life but wrote that his actions as governor "toughened him on the inside." It is this period, when Jefferson was literally tested under fire, that Michael Kranish illuminates in Flight from Monticello.

Filled with vivid, precisely observed scenes, this book is a sweeping narrative of clashing armies--of spies, intrigue, desperate moments, and harrowing battles. The story opens with the first murmurs of resistance to Britain, as the colonies struggled under an onerous tax burden and colonial leaders--including Jefferson--fomented opposition to British rule. Kranish captures the tumultuous outbreak of war, the local politics behind Jefferson's actions in the Continental Congress (and his famous Declaration), and his rise to the governorship. Jefferson's life-long belief in the corrupting influence of a powerful executive led him to advocate for a weak governorship, one that lacked the necessary powers to raise an army. Thus, Virginia was woefully unprepared for the invading British troops who sailed up the James under the direction of a recently turned Benedict Arnold. Facing rag-tag resistance, the British force took the colony with very little trouble. The legislature fled the capital, and Jefferson himself narrowly eluded capture twice.

Kranish describes Jefferson's many stumbles as he struggled to respond to the invasion, and along the way, the author paints an intimate portrait of Jefferson, illuminating his quiet conversations, his family turmoil, and his private hours at Monticello. "Jefferson's record was both remarkable and unsatisfactory, filled with contradictions," writes Kranish. As a revolutionary leader who felt he was unqualified to conduct a war, Jefferson never resolved those contradictions--but, as Kranish shows, he did learn lessons during those dark hours that served him all his life.

The Future of Liberalism
by Alan Wolfe
With one eye toward the Enlightenment and another toward contemporary politics, Wolfe (Does American Democracy Still Work?) mounts a passionate defense of why liberalism—broadly defined—continues to be relevant and essential in this thorough, scholarly text. The author refers to liberalism both in its classical and modern sense, emphasizing its commitment, from its emergence to the present, to the two goals of liberty and equality. Despite the title, the book takes a primarily historical approach, surveying a multitude of liberal thinkers from John Locke to John Rawls—drawing especially heavily on the works of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Immanuel Kant and John Stuart Mill—applying their theories to both historical and contemporary political issues. The author uses the frame of liberalism to examine terrorism, globalization and the politics of religion. Wolfe ruminates on conservatism's hand in the Hurricane Katrina debacle and, in his musings on globalization, focuses on how liberalism prescribes a philosophical commitment to global welfare rather than parochial concerns or national protectionism. More a work of political theory than a policy text, this book will strongly appeal to readers interested in the tradition of Western liberal thought.

Hong Kong's Watershed: The 1967 Riots
by Gary Ka-wai Cheung
Hong Kong's Watershed: The 1967 Riots is the first English book that provides an account and critical analysis of the disturbances based on declassified files from the British government and recollection by key players during the events. The interviews with the participants, including Jack Cater, Liang Shangyuan, George Walden, Tsang Tak-sing, Tsang Yok-sing, and Hong Kong government officials, left irreplaceable records of oral history on the political upheaval. --The book analyses the causes and repercussions of the 1967 riots which are widely seen as a watershed of postwar history of Hong Kong. It depicts the prelude to the 1967 riots, including the Star Ferry riots in 1966, the leftist-instigated riots in Macau in 1966, and the major events leading to the disturbances, including the labour dispute at a plastic flower factory, the border conflict in Sha Tau Kok, bomb attacks and arson attacks on the office of British charge d'affaires in Beijing. --Gary Ka-wai Cheung has been a journalist since 1991. He worked as a reporter at Sing Tao Daily, Overseas Chinese Daily, Yazhou Zhoukan and South China Morning Post, covering fields ranging from politics, education and integration between Hong Kong and the mainland. He is currently an associate news editor at the South China Morning Post.

John Adams: A Life
by John Ferling
John Ferling has nearly forty years of experience as a historian of early America. The author of acclaimed histories such as A Leap into the Dark and Almost a Miracle, he has appeared on many TV and film documentaries on this pivotal period of our history. In John Adams: A Life, Ferling offers a compelling portrait of one of the giants of the Revolutionary era.

Drawing on extensive research, Ferling depicts a reluctant revolutionary, a leader who was deeply troubled by the warfare that he helped to make, and a fiercely independent statesman. The book brings to life an exciting time, an age in which Adams played an important political and intellectual role. Indeed, few were more instrumental in making American independence a reality. He performed yeoman's service in the Continental Congress during the revolution and was a key figure in negotiating the treaty that brought peace following the long War of Independence. He held the highest office in the land and as president he courageously chose to pursue a course that he thought best for the nation, though it was fraught with personal political dangers. Adams emerges here a man full of contradictions. He could be petty and jealous, but also meditative, insightful, and provocative. In private and with friends he could be engagingly witty. He was terribly self-centered, but in his relationship with his wife and children his shortcomings were tempered by a deep, abiding love.

John Ferling's masterful John Adams: A Life is a singular biography of the man who succeeded George Washington in the presidency and shepherded the fragile new nation through the most dangerous of times.

Lincoln: The Biography of a Writer
by Fred Kaplan
In this intriguing biography, English professor and literary biographer Kaplan (The Singular Mark Twain) analyzes Abraham Lincoln's writings, from the great civic anthems of his presidency to love letters, legal briefs, poems and notebook jottings, and finds a first-rate literary talent—a master storyteller with an earthy wit, sharp logic and an ear for poetic phrasing. From wide reading, Kaplan contends, Lincoln gleaned influences—an Aesopian moralism, a biblical sense of providence, a Byronic melancholy, a Shakespearean understanding of human complexity—that shaped his approach to issues and, through his words, the nation's attitude toward slavery and war. Kaplan sometimes overdoes his critical exegeses of Lincoln's more forgettable efforts ([Lincoln's] comic depiction of what happens when two people of the same sex are bedded has a heterodox clarity that reveals his familiarity with bodily realities) but many of these readings, like his recasting as free verse a speech on agricultural improvements, are eye-opening. The result is a fresh, revealing study of both Lincoln's language and character.

Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization's Greatest Minds
by Joel L. Kraemer
In 1947, when he was 14, Kraemer started to study Maimonides. Now, the 75-year-old professor emeritus at the University of Chicago has produced his magnum opus, a definitive biography of medieval Judaism's chief intellectual sage. To prepare himself, Kraemer mastered many languages, traveled throughout the world and studied innumerable documents, including those found in the Genizah, the storeroom of Cairo's Ben Ezra synagogue. The impressive results of Kraemer's diligent research are set forth in this learned book, supported by 90 pages of footnotes. He offers a splendid analysis of Maimonides's major works: Commentary on the Mishnah; Mishneh Torah and Guide to the Perplexed (which Kraemer calls Guide of the Perplexed.) The erudite presentation includes vital information about the life of Maimonides, tracing his path from his birth in Spain to his move to Morocco, his visit to Palestine and, finally, to his settling in Egypt. Kraemer's imposing contribution is designed for his fellow scholars. General readers should turn to the more fathomable 2005 biography, Maimonides by Sherwin B. Nuland, from Nextbook/Schocken's Jewish Encounters series and just published in paper.

Malcolm X, Black Liberation, and the Road to Workers Power
by Jack Barnes
The foundations for the explosive rise of the Black liberation struggle in the U.S. beginning in the mid-1950s were laid by the massive migration of Blacks from the rural South to cities and factories across the continent, drawn by capital’s insatiable need for labor power—and cannon fodder for its wars. Malcolm X emerged from this rising struggle as its outstanding single leader. He insisted that colossal movement was part of a worldwide revolutionary battle for human rights. A clash “between those who want freedom, justice, and equality and those who want to continue the systems of exploitation.”

Drawing lessons from a century and half of struggle, this books helps us understand why it is the revolutionary conquest of power by the working class that will make possible the final battle for Black freedom—and open the way to a world based not on exploitation, violence, and racism, but human solidarity. A socialist world.

Includes four photo sections and over 130 photographs and drawings, author’s introduction, index, glossary.

The Meaning of Freedom
by Angela Y. Davis & Robin D.G. Kelley
Twelve searing, previously unpublished speeches by renowned African American feminist Angela Y. Davis focus on the interconnected issues of power, racism, feminism, class, the legacy of slavery, the prison-industrial complex, multiculturalism, and social change in the United States. With her characteristic brilliance, historical insight, and penetrating analysis, Davis addresses examples of institutional racism and what can be done to dismantle them. Spanning the years from 1989 to 2009, the book includes a speech given about politics and President Barack Obama.

Angela Y. Davis is Professor Emerita of History of Consciousness at the University of California and author of many books including "Women, Race and Class" and "Are Prisons Obsolete?" She is a much sought after public speaker and internationally known feminist scholar, prison abolitionist, and advocate for social justice.

The Myth of American Exceptionalism
by Godfrey Hodgson
The notion of America as the divinely anointed homeland of freedom, bravery, democracy and economic opportunity, with everything to teach the world and nothing to learn from it, is so entrenched that this perceptive portrait of America the Ordinary seems downright radical. Hodgson (Woodrow Wilson's Right Hand) situates America as an outpost of Europe, always a part (and not always the most advanced part) of an evolving progressive, liberal, capitalist civilization spanning the Atlantic. American history, he contends, has its share of class conflict, bloody and sometimes losing struggles against hierarchy, and institutional dysfunction. Much of its success, he argues, stems from historical and geographical happenstance rather than ideological genius, and its recent performance, in everything from fighting poverty to health care to political corruption, stacks up poorly against other nations'. The author's nuanced, wide-ranging treatment isn't hostile to the United States, but he deplores a new missionary exceptionalism—visible in the confused and delusional U.S. policy in Iraq. Hodgson's thoughtful critique injects a much-needed shot of perspective and common sense into the debate over America's place in the world.

Napoleon: The Exceptional Biography
by Sir Walter Scott & Richard Michaelis
Six years after the death of Napoleon, Sir Walter Scott wrote a hugely successful biography that was instantly controversial and led to him being challenged to duels. It was the ideal combination between the man who revolutionised literary Europe and the man who transformed the face of politics. "The Times" extracted the book in its first ever serialisation, and, accompanied by Harry Potter-like showmanship, the biography was published simultaneously in France, Germany and Italy. His thundering assault on Napoleon, based on access to secret government papers, was the inspiration for historians such as Carlyle and remains fresh, surprising and important to this day.

The Politics of Food: The Global Conflict between Food Security and Food Sovereignty
by William D. Schanbacher
The Politics of Food: The Global Conflict between Food Security and Food Sovereignty argues that our current global food system constitutes a massive violation of human rights.

In this impassioned, well-researched book, William Schanbacher makes the case that the food security model for combating global hunger—driven by the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and other organizations—is a failure, too dependent on trade and too reliant on international agribusiness. Instead, the emerging model of food sovereignty—helping local farmers and businesses produce better quality food—is the more effective and responsible approach. Through numerous case studies, the book examines critical issues of global trade and corporate monopolization of the food industry, while examining the emerging social justice movements that seek to make food sovereignty the model for battling hunger.

Pulitzer: A Life in Politics, Print, and Power
by James McGrath Morris
Like Alfred Nobel, Joseph Pulitzer is better known today for the prize that bears his name than for his contribution to history. Yet, in nineteenth-century industrial America, while Carnegie provided the steel, Rockefeller the oil, Morgan the money, and Vanderbilt the railroads, Pulitzer ushered in the modern mass media.

James McGrath Morris traces the epic story of this Jewish Hungarian immigrant's rise through American politics and into journalism where he accumulated immense power and wealth, only to fall blind and become a lonely, tormented recluse wandering the globe. But not before Pulitzer transformed American journalism into a medium of mass consumption and immense influence. As the first media baron to recognize the vast social changes of the industrial revolution, he harnessed all the converging elements of entertainment, technology, business, and demographics, and made the newspaper an essential feature of urban life. Pulitzer used his influence to advance a progressive political agenda and his power to fight those who opposed him. The course he followed led him to battle Theodore Roosevelt who, when President, tried to send Pulitzer to prison. The grueling legal battles Pulitzer endured for freedom of the press changed the landscape of American newspapers and politics.

Based on years of research and newly discovered documents, Pulitzer is a classic, magisterial biography and a gripping portrait of an American icon.

The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature
by Timothy Ferris
In his most important book to date, award-winning author Timothy Ferris—"the best popular science writer in the English language today" (Christian Science Monitor)—makes a passionate case for science as the inspiration behind the rise of liberalism and democracy. Ferris argues that just as the scientific revolution rescued billions from poverty, fear, hunger, and disease, the Enlight-enment values it inspired has swelled the number of persons living in free and democratic societies from less than 1 percent of the world population four centuries ago to more than a third today.

Ferris deftly investigates the evolution of these scientific and political revolutions, demonstrating that they are inextricably bound. He shows how science was integral to the American Revolution but misinterpreted in the French Revolution; reflects on the history of liberalism, stressing its widely underestimated and mutually beneficial relationship with science; and surveys the forces that have opposed science and liberalism—from communism and fascism to postmodernism and Islamic fundamentalism.

A sweeping intellectual history, The Science of Liberty is a stunningly original work that transcends the antiquated concepts of left and right.

Sober Living for the Revolution: Hardcore Punk, Straight Edge, and Radical Politics
by Gabriel Kuhn
Examining the multigenerational impact of punk rock music, this international survey of the political-punk straight edge movement—which has persisted as a drug-free, hardcore subculture for more than 25 years—traces its history from 1980s Washington, DC, to today. Asserting that drugs are not necessarily rebellious and that not all rebels do them, the record also defies common conceptions of straight edge's political legacy as being associated with self-righteous, macho posturing and conservative Puritanism. On the contrary, the movement has been linked to radical thought and action by the countless individuals, bands, and entire scenes profiled throughout the discussion. Lively and exhaustive, this dynamic overview includes contributions from famed straight edge punk rockers Ian MacKaye of Minor Threat and Fugazi, Dennis Lyxzén of Refused and the International Noise Conspiracy, and Andy Hurley of Fall Out Boy; legendary bands ManLiftingBanner and Point of No Return; radical collectives such as CrimethInc. and Alpine Anarchist Productions; and numerous other artists and activists dedicated as much to sober living as to the fight for a better world.

Tear Down This Myth: The Right-Wing Distortion of the Reagan Legacy
by Will Bunch
The Ronald Reagan who won the cold war, cut taxes, shrank the government, saved the economy, and was the most beloved president since FDR is a myth, Bunch says. The cold war fizzled out primarily because of Soviet economic collapse. Reagan cut taxes just once, in 1991, and thereafter raised them yearly. He vastly expanded the government and burdened the economy with enormous deficits. Moreover, his approval ratings were just average, reflecting his divisiveness as a political figure. Bunch also shows that however tough-talking, Reagan was a negotiator who achieved nuclear arms reductions by talking with Soviet leader Gorbachev and got into the Iran-Contra mess because he wouldn’t send combat troops abroad. In practice, especially of foreign policy, he was a pragmatist, not an ideologue. The truculent jingoist of the myth was concocted after Alzheimer’s silenced the man and the would-be juggernaut launched by the GOP’s 1994 election triumph crashed and burned before a Democratic president who shrank government and the deficit, balanced the budget, and even racked up surpluses. Bunch names the leading, venal mythmakers and shames the myth exploiters, too. Anyone interested in America’s immediate future should read this book.

To Tell the Truth Freely: The Life of Ida B. Wells
by Mia Bay
Born to slaves in 1862, Ida B. Wells became a fearless antilynching crusader, women’s rights advocate, and journalist. Wells’s refusal to accept any compromise on racial inequality caused her to be labeled a “dangerous radical” in her day but made her a model for later civil rights activists as well as a powerful witness to the troubled racial politics of her era. Though she eventually helped found the NAACP in 1910, she would not remain a member for long, as she rejected not only Booker T. Washington’s accommodationism but also the moderating influence of white reformers within the early NAACP. In the richly illustratedTo Tell the Truth Freely, the historian Mia Bay vividly captures Wells’s legacy and life, from her childhood in Mississippi to her early career in late-nineteenth-century Memphis and her later life in Progressive-era Chicago.

Valley of Death: The Tragedy at Dien Bien Phu That Led America into the Vietnam War
by Ted Morgan
Pulitzer Prize–winning author Ted Morgan has now written a rich and definitive account of the fateful battle that ended French rule in Indochina—and led inexorably to America’s Vietnam War. Dien Bien Phu was a remote valley on the border of Laos along a simple rural trade route. But it would also be where a great European power fell to an underestimated insurgent army and lost control of a crucial colony. Valley of Death is the untold story of the 1954 battle that, in six weeks, changed the course of history.

A veteran of the French Army, Ted Morgan has made use of exclusive firsthand reports to create the most complete and dramatic telling of the conflict ever written. Here is the history of the Vietminh liberation movement’s rebellion against French occupation after World War II and its growth as an adversary, eventually backed by Communist China. Here too is the ill-fated French plan to build a base in Dien Bien Phu and draw the Vietminh into a debilitating defeat—which instead led to the Europeans being encircled in the surrounding hills, besieged by heavy artillery, overrun, and defeated.

Making expert use of recently unearthed or released information, Morgan reveals the inner workings of the American effort to aid France, with Eisenhower secretly disdainful of the French effort and prophetically worried that “no military victory was possible in that type of theater.” Morgan paints indelible portraits of all the major players, from Henri Navarre, head of the French Union forces, a rigid professional unprepared for an enemy fortified by rice carried on bicycles, to his commander, General Christian de Castries, a privileged, miscast cavalry officer, and General Vo Nguyen Giap, a master of guerrilla warfare working out of a one-room hut on the side of a hill. Most devastatingly, Morgan sets the stage for the Vietnam quagmire that was to come.

Superbly researched and powerfully written, Valley of Death is the crowning achievement of an author whose work has always been as compulsively readable as it is important.

Vietnam's Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War
by Andrew L. Johns
The Vietnam War has been analyzed, dissected, and debated from multiple perspectives for decades, but domestic considerations -- such as partisan politics and election-year maneuvering -- are often overlooked as determining factors in the evolution and outcome of America's longest war.

In Vietnam's Second Front: Domestic Politics, the Republican Party, and the War, Andrew L. Johns assesses the influence of the Republican Party -- its congressional leadership, politicians, grassroots organizations, and the Nixon administration -- on the escalation, prosecution, and resolution of the Vietnam War. This groundbreaking work also sheds new light on the relationship between Congress and the imperial presidency as they struggled for control over U.S. foreign policy.

Beginning his analysis in 1961 and continuing through the Paris Peace Accords of 1973, Johns argues that the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations failed to achieve victory on both fronts of the Vietnam War -- military and political -- because of their preoccupation with domestic politics. Johns details the machinations and political dexterity required of all three presidents and of members of Congress to maneuver between the countervailing forces of escalation and negotiation, offering a provocative account of the ramifications of their decisions.
With clear, incisive prose and extensive archival research, Johns's analysis covers the broad range of the Republican Party's impact on the Vietnam War, offers a compelling reassessment of responsibility for the conflict, and challenges assumptions about the roles of Congress and the president in U.S. foreign relations.

Wars, Guns, and Votes: Democracy in Dangerous Places
by Paul Collier
Wars, Guns, and Votes, Paul Collier investigates the violence and poverty in the small, remote countries at the lowest level of the world economy. An esteemed economist and a foremost authority on developing countries, Collier argues that the spread of elections and peace settlements in the world's most dangerous countries may lead to a brave new democratic world. In the meantime, though, nasty and long civil wars, military coups, and failing economies are the order of the day—for now and into the foreseeable future.

Through innovative research and astute analysis, Collier gives an eye-opening assessment of the ethnic divisions and insecurites in the developing countries of Africa, Latin America, and Asia, where corruption is often firmly rooted in the body politic. There have been many policy failures by the United States and other developed countries since the end of the Cold War, especially the reliance on preemptive military intervention. But Collier insists that these problems can and will be rectified. He persuasively outlines what must be done to bring peace and stability: the international community must intervene through aid, democracy building, and a very limited amount of force.

Groundbreaking and provocative, Wars, Guns, and Votes is a passionate and convincing argument for the peaceful development of the most volatile places on earth.

When March Went Mad: The Game That Transformed Basketball
by Seth Davis
On March 26, 1979, basketball as we know it was born. The NCAA championship game played that day launched an epic rivalry between two exceptional players: Earvin “Magic” Johnson and Larry Bird. Though they played each other only once as college athletes, that game transformed the NCAA tournament into a multibillion-dollar enterprise and laid the foundation for the resurgence of the NBA. To this day it remains the highest-rated basketball game, college or pro, in the history of television.

In the national bestseller When March Went Mad, Seth Davis recounts the dramatic story of the season leading up to that game, as Johnson’s Michigan State Spartans and Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores overcame long odds and great doubts to reach the game’s grandest stage. Davis also tells the stories of their remarkable coaches, Jud Heathcote and Bill Hodges, and he shows how tensions over race and class heightened the drama of the competition.

Davis combed through several years’ worth of newspaper and magazine coverage, interviewed nearly one hundred people, and watched dozens of games to reconstruct the colorful, historic, and improbable narrative of how Larry Bird and Magic Johnson burst on the scene—a coming-of-age story that continues to resonate. The Final Four, the NBA, and the game of basketball have never been the same.

Yehuda Halevi
by Hillel Halkin
A masterly biography of Yehuda Halevi, one of the greatest of Hebrew poets and a shining example of the synthesis of religion and culture that defined the golden age of medieval Spanish Jewry.

Like Maimonides, with whom he contrasts sharply, Yehuda Halevi spanned multiple worlds. Poet, philosopher, and physician, he is known today for both his religious and secular verse, including his famed “songs of Zion,” and for The Kuzari, an elucidation of Judaism in dialogue form. Hillel Halkin brilliantly evokes the fascinating world of eleventh- and twelfth-century Andalusian Spain in which Halevi lived and discusses the influences that formed him. Relying on the astonishing discoveries of the Cairo Geniza, he pieces together the mystery of Halevi’s last days, with its fateful voyage to Palestine, which became a haunting legend.

An acclaimed writer and translator, Halkin builds his account of Halevi’s life and death on his magnificent translations of Halevi’s poems. He places The Kuzari within the wider context of Jewish thought and explains why, more perhaps than any other medieval Jewish figure, Halevi has become an inspirational yet highly controversial figure in modern Jewish and Israeli intellectual life.


  1. Nice job.
    I don't know if you've checked it or covered it, but Tricia Rose's "Hip Hop Wars" needs to be read by everybody in the industry and anybody into hip hop that reads books. Especially the blogs and radio stations that steadily promote the bullshit and act like it's good.

  2. Yo son, why you read so much? Too many words hurt your brain.

  3. The brain is just like muscles: you gotta use it or lose it! Think of it as exercise.

  4. Ha if you go to Rhymefest's bandcamp page there's a picture of him reading Invisible Man (Black existentialist novel, not the sci-fi one obviously). We just finished reading that in AP English last semester.

  5. I feel one of the greatest books of all is Gods word, The Bilbe.

  6. notable; remarkable; exceptionally outstanding..
    but that's just relatively speaking. I mean Sf 2 Turbo is the greatest fighting game to me but many(maybe more) people would beg to differ and pick Tekken..Anyway nice selection of books man!!- You shud peep Colson-Whitehead's Sag Habor.One

  7. Go tell Raekwon to read a book with his half illiterate lookin ass

  8. @jazen: Define "God's word"
    Didn't man write the bible?
    Define "God" while you're at it.

  9. Thanks for including my book. Hope it lives up to your expectations.


  10. I haven't read The Blue Sweater but I may need to check it out. I've heard about a documentary about Muhummad Yunus bringing his bank to the US. It just premiered at Sundance.