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GO! I liked the book a lot and recommend it to you without reservation.
CAUTION I liked it, but your tastes may be different.
STOP! I really didn't like this book at all.
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The Men Who United the States: America's Explorers, Inventors, Eccentrics, and Mavericks, and the Creation of Our Nation, Indivisible
by Simon Winchester (2013)  Although Mr. Winchester is  a long-time resident of the United States, he only became a citizen in the last year
or so.  In the process of preparing for citizenship, he says he
started wondering how a nation as dizzyingly diverse as ours managed to pull
ourselves together and managed to become
e pluribus unum. The title of the book pretty much tells you what's inside.  In the pages of this book, we
learn how the nation's "connective tissue" like canals, railroads, the federal highway system, telephones, radio and the Internet came into being. (I was
surprised to find that Al Gore wasn't mentioned in relation to the latter.)  It's more interesting story than you might imagine, and happily, Mr.
Winchester avoids the politics involved with the development of all these things.  The author is rather selective in what he decides to include and
exclude in his book, and as a result, the book is in no way comprehensive.  But it is a very good read.  (12/10/2013)

Japan 1941   by Eri Hotta  (2013)  It's a brilliant book, but I almost want to tell you not to read it   It will break your heart to find out how the
decision to start a war that cost 3 million Japanese lives, 20 million lives in China,  and almost a half million in the United  States.  It could not have
happened in a more cavalier and thoughtless manner.  In the end, the decision to go to into an unwinnable war with the United States was made
because it was thought to be good for the morale of the army.  The non-leaders of the country seemingly paid no  attention to the fact that the nation's
resources were so limited that even before the war started, the government removed metal fences from around government buildings to manufacture
armaments.  Dr. Hotta is a terrific writer, and she provides a lot of information I hadn't seen before.  Great book.  (11/18/2013)

Film After Film:  Or What Became of 21st Century Cinema   by J. Doberman  (2013)  Don't bother looking here for an answer.   Mr. Doberman
doesn't know either.  He's a film critic for the Village Voice, and this collection of his reviews and articles from the first decade of the century makes
you realize what a generally idea-bereft period it was for the industry.  (11/16/2013)

Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze by Peter Harmsen  (2013)   The author asserts that here have been a lot of good books written about the
Battle of Shanghai--but none of them have ever been translated to English.  That's too bad because it's a fascinating battle that in some ways was the
first "real" battle of WW2.  The Japanese were determined to take over China without a fight, if possible, and the Nationalist Chinese under Chiang
Kai-shek were the guilty party in the conflict that decided that the battle should be fought in the middle of China's largest city--thus fomenting urban
warfare and guaranteeing civilian casualties on a scale that had never before been contemplated.  While the material may be fascinating, Mr. Harmsen's
writing style doesn't really do it justice.  (At one point, I think he refers to a civilian massacre as a "bloody mess" three times in one paragraph.)  With
that reservation, I recommend this book to anyone who desires a better understanding of the war.  (11/8/2013)

Who Really Killed Kennedy?   by Jerome Corsi  (2013)  Mr. Corsi knows how to sell a controversy.  His last book as about the swift boat veterans
who took out John Kerry in 2004.  In his latest work, he throws every controversial nugget about the Kennedy assassination he can think of against
the wall to see what sticks.  What stuck--for me, anyway--was that: 1) Lee Oswald couldn't have made all the shots that were taken, using the
40-year-old bolt-action rifle that was found at the Texas School Book Depository; 2) Oswald had just too many connections with the CIA for this not
to be a conspiracy; and 3) there were several world-class marksmen in Dallas that day who might have been in a position to take a shot at Kennedy.  
Mr. Corsi doesn't present a coherent theory of his own, but he certainly does shred the Warren Commission.  As we approach the 50th anniversary of
the Kennedy assassination I think that nothing points to a conspiracy more than the fact that the government's files on the case continue to be sealed.   
(11/4/2013)

Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War by Max Hastings (2013)   Clearly, Mr Hastings is a man of ambition. Anyone who could look at the
literature on this topic and decide that Barbara Tuchmann, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn and Robert Massie are a bunch of hacks who need to be sorted out is
a man of strong opinions.  (to be fair, Mr. Hastings says right off the bat that where his predecessors had focused on either the political or the military
run-up to the Great War, he wanted to draw those strings together, as well as give attention to the relatively ignored theaters of war in Serbia and
Galicia.  And he does.  He also makes a very interesting point about how the big picture of WWI got twisted by revisionist historians in the 1920's.  As
the war was being prosecuted, leaders in England, France and Russia knew in their bones that even if there not been war in 1914, German warlords
would contrive one in 1915, 1916 or 1920.  After the war, the notion that war was inevitable got lost in the narrative that diplomatic
bungling--particularly between Austria, Germany and Russia--were responsible for the catastrophe.  This is a very densely written book, but if the
topic interests you, I think you'll find it compelling.  (10/29/2013)

The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure (2013)  Once again, I was powerless to resist a book with the word Paris in the title.  I'm not sure that it's
fair to say that this book qualifies as Nazi pornography, but it's definitely soft-core.  The Gestapo officers are all handsome in their back uniforms,
dangerous and somewhat decadent.  French women are mostly hookers or models. Between the two, French men don't stand much of a chance.  But
one who tries is our eponymous architect who's unexpectedly offered the opportunity to dispense his skills on behalf of both Jews in hiding and the
Wehrmacht.  Mr. Belfoure is a pretty good writer, but he offers up a lot of not-so-memorable characters.  More than once, I found myself reading a
character's name and thinking, "now who was that again?"  I (started and) finished this book yesterday, and I've already forgotten most of it.  
Chances are good you'll have a similar experience.  (10/14/2013)

The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally (2013)  This is the one.  I'm calling the Matt's Favorite Book of 2013 competition over, as of
September 30th.  I won't read a better book this year, and neither will you.  You might remember that Mr. Keneally's last book,
Schindler's List, was
made into a nice little movie.  (According to
Seinfeld, it was a great make-out movie.)   Reading The Daughters of Mars, you already see the movie in
your head.  It's the story of two sisters from the Australian outback who go into nursing.  Despite early differences, they both find themselves in the
same regiment of nurses to be shipped off to the Gallipoli front in World War I.  The book follows the girls through the War to End All Wars.  Mr.
Keneally's writing is sublime, of course, and the end of the book will leave you heartbroken and uplifted at once.  I can't recommend this book highly
enough.  Just go get it.  (9/30/2013)

Jane Austen's England by Roy and Lesley Adkins   is more informative than interesting.  It's fairly encyclopedic in the way it describes the ways
people gave birth, lived, died and everything in between during the years of Jane Austen's life--roughly the last decade of the 18th century and the first
two decades of the 19th.  But while there is a great deal of interesting information in the book, the book itself--sadly--is not particularly interesting.  
(By the way, the Adkins point out that the English in Austen's time liked to use dashes in their letters--not commas.)  If you're just so engrossed by
Miss Austen and her world, you'll be interested in picking up the book--after you've been to see
Austenland at the theater.  (9/26/2013)

Then We Take Berlin by John Lawton (2013)   At the end of Chapter 206 (pretty impressive for a 413-page book), this book--in the space of one
paragraph--went from curious and quirky to just pointless and banal.  And it's not because anything in particular happened--it's because not much at all
has happened.  Part I is a not-particularly interesting introduction to New York in 1963; Part II--the big part--goes back to the days after World War II
in Europe; and Part III is back in 1963.  Because the characters in Part I disappear for a long, long time, we kind of forget about them.  When they
show up again, we have to go back and look to see who they were.   Kind of irritating.  Anyway.  Mr. Lawton is a terrific writer--I'm just not a big
fan of this book.  (9/9/2013)

Paris Was the Place  by Susan Conley (2013)    A fifteen second perusal of my book pages will show you that I will read practically any book that
has the word
Paris in the title. I like to think that I read these books for either business or pleasure--business in the sense that I love, love, love French
History.  I have multiple shelves of books about everything from Joan of Arc to D-Day.  For pleasure, I was first introduced to Paris through the
fiction of Ernest Hemingway, and I'm a big fan of almost any novel set in the City of Light.  So was
Paris Was the Place business--or pleasure?  
Sorry to say that although it is a novel, it's not much of a pleasure.  Willow ("Everybody Calls Me Willie") is a young transplant from Northern
California in the late 80's.  Apparently, she's beautiful because men keep wanting to go out with her despite what appears to be a lack of social skills.  
But she atones for this with a good conscience, which she exercises by helping young women prepare their court cases before French Immigration
Court.  These teenage girls turn up in Paris for a variety of reasons--none of them good--and all they know is that they don't want to go home to
India, Cote d'Ivoire or wherever.  Willie gets into trouble trying to help one of the girls, and at the same time, her brother--also living in
Paris--contracts HIV, a friend has a baby and people do a lot of cooking.  It is by turns depressing and mundane.  Ms. Conley is a terrific writer, but
Willie's life is no Movable Feast.  (9/5/2013)

The Society for Useful Knowledge   by Jonathan Lyons (2013)   In Colonial days, European scientists and philosophers were fascinated with every
aspect of America--except one.  They weren't much impressed with the idea that Americans could be capable of giving ourselves the presumably high
level of intellectual examination that they could give us from across the ocean.  A small group of "scientific Americans" led by a Philadelphia printer
named Benjamin Franklin took exception to that idea.  They formed the eponymous society to examine all aspects of the American people and
continent.  With apologies to Mr. Lyons, this book should have been a lot more interesting.  Ben Franklin is definitely the star of the book, but Mr.
Lyons doesn't give us much information about old Ben that's not presented more compellingly elsewhere.  Conversely, the author presents lots of
information about people like Dr. Benjamin Rush--an ancestor of mine, by the way--who, unfortunately, just aren't as interesting as Mr. Franklin.  The
Society for Useful Knowledge is a useful book--it just reads like a textbook.  (8/30/2013)

Blood and Beauty:  The Borgias by Sarah Dunant (2013)  In the Historical Epilogue at the end of this book, the author suggests that the Borgias
were victims of "bad press" over the past five centuries.  Her suggestion might hold more water if it weren't for the 500-page novel that precedes it
and pretty much affirms why they got the bad press in the first place.   Ms. Dunant discounts the ancient rumor that Lucrezia bore a child to a servant
out of wedlock, and she neither confirms nor denies the rumor that Cesare had his brother Juan murdered.  But everything else you've heard or
read--all the abuses of power, wealth and beauty that could be imagined in the 15th century are on display.  Blood and Beauty is a couple of steps up
from soft-core porn--but not too many.  I gather that the Ms. Dunant has studied her subjects closely because most of what we know about the rise
of the Borgias during the period of time this book covers seems to be historically accurate,  She also provides a bibliography which will presumably
back up her stories.  The author calls her book a historical novel, and it is definitely more novel than historical.  (8/13/13)

The Dying Hours:  A Tom Thorne Novel by Mark Billingham (2013)  Apparently, this is but the first Tom Thorne novel, and others are due follow.  
Yikes.  Someone is killing old people in London and making their deaths look like suicides.  The Murder Squad isn't much interested because the
victims are: a) old; and b) killing themselves.  But not so fast.  Former Detective Inspector Tom Thorne, who's recently been demoted for one damn
thing or another and is itching to get back on the force, sees a connection.  It's good to know that Thorne is good at his job, because the rest of his
life is rather offensively banal.  A whole roster of allies in various law enforcement positions are introduced with backstories--presumably, they'll be
put to good use in ensuing Tom Thorne novels.  But--like Thorne--they're not a particularly compelling lot, and at this point, I doubt I'll be particularly
interested in their further adventures.  Which is too bad.   Mr. Billingham is clearly an excellent writer who has a gift for description.  With a better
cast of characters, he could create something memorable indeed.  Pity this wasn't it.  (8/4/2013)

This Town: Two Parties and a Funeral--Plus Plenty of Valet Parking--in America's Gilded Capital by Mark Leibovich (2013)  When you buy
500 books or something like that at Square Books, they give you a coupon for a free one.   When my free book coupon popped out at the store the
other day, I asked the mayor what he recommended, and he came up with this.   Based on the title that sounded like a Christopher Buckley novel, I
took it.  Turns out it's non-fiction.  If you're one of those deluded fools who thinks that people in Washington give a rat's you-know-what about what
you think and feel as a citizen and/or taxpayer, don't go near this book.  It confirms any and all fears that 'politics is to Washington as microchips are
to Silicone Valley."  It's beyond reclamation.  Keep whistling and walk on past this graveyard.  (8/2/2013)

From Midnight to Guntown: True Crime Stories from a Federal Prosecutor in Mississippi by John Hailman (2013)   The title says it all.  The
most interesting story is the reopening of the Emmett Till case.  The author gets extra points for saying nice things about my homeroom teacher
through four years of high school, David Bryan, who went on to become Sheriff of Panola County--maybe the most beloved elected official in the
history of the county.   Points off for not saying enough good things about old friend Jim Greenlee, who was actually the U.S. Attorney during much
of the time the stories in the book unfolded. The author says that Willie Nelson actually convinced him to write this book.  I guess that's better than
"the devil made me do it."  (8/1/2013)

Hidden Order  by Brad Thor (2013)   I've probably mentioned this before, but one of my greatest "guilty pleasure" movies in Loonie Tunes: Back in
Action with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and to a lesser extent, Brendan Fraser and Jenna Elfman.   It's a classic, and you should definitely check it
out.   I mention in now because in one great scene, Elmer Fudd is chasing Bugs and Daffy through the Louvre--and not just through the museum, but
through the paintings in the museum.  At one point, Elmer is in hot pursuit through the classic painting,
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte by Georges
Seurat.  (You'd know it if you saw it.  It was instrumental in the musical
Sunday in the Park With George.)  At that point in the action, the movie
comes to a halt as Bugs stops to explain the concept of pointillism.   He ends his exposition with, "I think you should learn something when you go to
the movies"--which finally brings me to my point.  
Hidden Order is not really so much a mystery as an exposition of the sins of the Federal Reserve,
of which there are many.  If I didn't know better, I'd think that Mr. Thor (if that is his real name) is trying to teach us about the dangers of the Fed as
much as he's trying to entertain us with a story about the murders of several of the potential candidates being considered for the position of Chairman
of the organization.   Mr. Thor is pretty good at telling stories--I've generally approved of his books over the years, but this one comes off as tone
deaf.  Like
Atlas Shrugged, you find yourself wanting to skip over the ideology to keep the story moving.  (8/2/2013)

The Charles Dickens Scandal by Michael Slater (2013)   may well be the most boring book about a scandal ever published.  The facts of the case
are these: Charles Dickens may or may not have had sex with one (or more) of three women.  Period.  What an irony (and as you know, I try NEVER
to use that word) that Charles Dickens, who could make a story about a child buying a goose interesting, is subject to a boring book about what may
or may not have been a sex scandal.  (7/30/2013)

1913:  In Search of the World Before the Great War by Charles Emerson   (2013)  This odd book describes the year before The Great War as "a
world bathed in the last rays of the dying sun, a world of order and security, a world unknowingly on the brink of the seminal catastrophe of the
twentieth century.  It is an image full of pathos and poetry, of figures moving silently towards their destiny, flickering shadows on the surface of
time."
The book goes chapter by chapter from the centers of the coming conflict like London, Paris and St.Petersburg, to places you usually don't
think about in connection with the war, which will nevertheless be fully impacted by it--places like Los Angeles, Winnipeg, Tokyo, Melbourne,
Bombay, Tehran, Bombay and Durban.  Mr. Emerson glosses over the topics that have received more attention over the years, but where the book
really shines is in the descriptions of the political and cultural situations of places like Algiers, Jerusalem and Istanbul.  (7/28/2013)

Robert B. Parker's Wonderland by Ace Atkins  (2013)   I'm not sure that Mr. Parker would recognize his "Wonderland", but I'm not sure that's a
bad thing.   Once again, the incomparable Ace Atkins, one of the finest writers working today (see below), is taking time off from his day job to write
books for the estate of  Robert B. Parker.   Frankly, I lost interest in Spenser about the time that Robert Urich died.  Unfortunately, that time was in
the last century.  Mr. Atkins couldn't write a bad book if he wanted to, but he can write irrelevant ones.  This is one of them.  (7/24/2013)

Studio Saint Ex: A Novel by Ania Szado  (2013)  Until I finished the book and read the Author's Notes, I had no idea that the people in this book
were based on real people of the same name.  Apparently, there was, at some point in time  (the early 1940's in point of fact), a French writer named
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, who wrote a "beloved" book called The Little Prince.  I've never heard of it, but let's let that pass.  He had a wife named
Consuelo.  He had a mistress named Mignonne Lachapelle, whose father was instrumental in the establishment of the Alliance Francais in New York.  
They had varying degrees of ability and appreciation for the arts.  They interacted in suggestive, although not particularly interesting ways. Ania Szado
(if that is her real name) is a fine writer and wrote a compelling story, but frankly, I liked it better when I thought it had been made up from scratch.
(7/22/2013)

Double Feature by Owen King (2013)   is a book-like substance that's all about the generation that's now having its time.  Based on the evidence of
Double Feature, they're pretty miserable most of the time.  Sam Dolan is the twenty-something son of a B-List Hollywood actor named Brooks Dolan,
who's a D-List father.  Sam, however, has the movie bug, and he's directing his first movie.  He's found a production company, raised the money he
needs to make the movie, and secured the one-day service of a reputable actor who will dress up the production.    And he has an assistant director
who has problems.   The AD steals the finished print of the film and substitutes a movie he's been working on based on the extra film that was shot
for Sam's film.  Sam, of course, asks that his name be taken off the movie, so of course, it becomes one of the most beloved so-bad-it's-good kind of
movie, a la
The Rocky Horror Picture Show that people talk about for years.  That's the good and interesting part of the book.   The rest of the
book--and there's a lot of it--is about Sam's unsatisfactory family life.  Yuck.  (7/20/2013)

Bad Monkey by Carl Hiassen (2013)  I came really close to passing on this book.  Mr. Hiassen is a brilliant writer, but his recent efforts have been
much too drug-centric for my taste.  I realize that one really can't write credibly about crime in South Florida without at least touching on the drug
culture, but at least in my opinion, his books have had way too much of that kind of thing.  (Yes, I know I sound like I'm 100 years old.)  So it was
refreshing to read what may be his best book in over a decade, which gets back to things I can identify with--like murder, insurance fraud, arson,
fraud and grotesque restaurant inspections.  Even if I don't really understand the reasoning for the title--the monkey is at best an afterthought--I liked
the "classic" Carl Hiassen.  To set the stage, a shady insurance fraudster turns up missing--except for his severed arm which is gaffed by a tourist on
a fishing charter out of Key West.  Meanwhile, meanwhile a disgraced local policeman is busted down to restaurant inspection after an off-duty
incident in which a Shop-Vac hose is inserted into the rectum of his girlfriend's husband on Mallory Dock.  Hilarity ensues.   I can't remember a
season in which we've had an above-average Carl Hiassen and an even better Dave Barry.  Yippee!  (7/8/2013)

Do the Movies Have a Future?  by David Denby  (2013)  Luckily, the question is rhetorical, since Mr. Denby never tries to answer it.  Mr. Denby
tries to fill the holes in our heart and our bookshelves left by the passing of Roger Ebert, who himself plugged those gaps when we lost Pauline Kael.  
Just as Mr. Ebert proved an unsatisfactory substitute for Ms. Kael, Mr. Denby is yet another step down from Mr. Ebert.  At this rate, the next step
down into this whirlpool of diminishing returns will be from one of those Internet idiots who just says snarky things about movies on their websites.  
(Hey, wait a minute....)  To his credit, Mr. Denby does include some of his more interesting articles that appeared in The New Yorker and elsewhere
over the past twenty years.  His articles about Victor Fleming, Joan Crawford--and yes, Pauline Kael are particularly good.  I also liked that he
included a handful of reviews--and I REALLY  like that he trashed Quentin Tarantino--but between those articles was lots and lots of stuff that wasn't
nearly as entertaining or enlightening.   There's a chapter on chick flicks that boils down to the premise that there's
Pretty Woman, The Devil Wears
Prada
and Bridget Jones--and then there's everything else.  He's probably right for all I know, but what's the point.  If you're a movie fan, you're
bound do find something in the book to interest you.  If you're not a movie fan--What the Hell Is Wrong With You???  (7/3/2013)

A Chain of Thunder:  A Novel of the Siege of Vicksburg by Jeff Shaara  (2013)  When the mayor saw me dragging this book around the
bookstore a couple of weeks ago, he mentioned something about the upcoming sesquicentennial of the surrender of Vicksburg (this week actually).  I
mentioned that the folks in V'burg don't seem to be going out of their way to commemorate the battle, and he said that folks in town were never much
interested in observing it--or the regular festivities of the Fourth of July, for that matter.   I'd known that of course, and in the past, I've thought it was
kind of interesting.   Now I think it's just kind of perverse, so I say to all of you in Vicksburg: GET OVER IT.  It didn't happen to you.   Yes, it was
one of the most important battles of the Civil War, but it's not like it was the Siege of Leningrad.  It lasted about a month, and nobody starved to
death.  It's time to move on.   And maybe my lack of affinity is in some way responsible for my lack of enthusiasm for this book.   I actually had a
great, great grandmother who lived in a cave during the siege of Vicksburg as a young woman.  Her diary that she kept during those days is a family
heirloom.  That premise, and my interest in historical fiction generally made me think I'd like this book a lot more than I would.  It's clear that Mr.
Shaara has done a lot of work.  He tells the story of the siege from the points of view of about six or eight people--soldiers and civilians, Federal and
Confederate.   From the very formal way all the characters speak, you'd think that the story was being told by the Royal Shakespeare Company.  At
the end of the day, I almost wish he'd written a non-fiction book. (7/1/2013)

The King's Deception by Steve Berry (2013)   It occurred to me that it seems like it's been a couple of weeks since Steve Berry put out a new book,
but the last time I went to the bookstore, there it was--just in time for beach season.  In this Cotton Malone novel, we get some of ol' Cotton's
backstory, set against a caper set in and around London.  Evildoers have stumbled over evidence which seems to confirm some longstanding rumors
that Elizabeth I was in fact a man--hence the king's deception as opposed to the queen's.  What does it mean?  Probably less than this book would
have you believe, but you never know.  This book has all the slasher editing that keeps you turning the pages that you've come to expect from Mr.
Berry.   There's rather more exposition about QE1's story than is particularly interesting, but it does stretch the book to an acceptable length.   If you
like Mr. Berry's work, you'll only be a little disappointed.  If you're not familiar with him, start with another book--any of them.  (6/30/2013)

The Broken Places:  A Quinn Colson Novel  by Ace Atkins (2013)  You've heard me say this before (assuming that you've been paying attention,
of course) that in my humble opinion, Ace Atkins is the best writer in America today.  He's mastered  non-fiction and fiction--last year, he even wrote
a Spenser novel that would have made Robert B. Parker proud.  Recently, he seems to have settled into concentrating on novels.  In the Quinn Colson
novels--of which this is the third, he's followed in the footsteps of Faulkner and created his own postage stamp of Mississippi soil, which he calls
Tibbehah County.  Quinn Colson is the sheriff of the county, and his job is not unlike the labors of Hercules.  The place is a dump, and his
constituents are among the poorest, least educated, most lawless and sickliest in the country.  In short, they've got it all.  In this most recent
installment, they're also oppressed by escaped convicts and a tornado.   Somehow, Sheriff Colson finds a way not only to endure, but to prevail. He
even finds time in his busy schedule to service one of his best friend's wife.   What a guy.   The characters here are gritty and unpleasant in lots of
ways, but Mr. Atkins writes about them so well, that you kind of go with it.  (6/28/2013)

Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue A Nation's Treasures from the Nazis by Robert M. Edsel (2013)  Remember Monuments Men, the book about
the art historians who worked to find and/or salvage precious artworks that the Nazis had looted or destroyed in WWII?  (If you did, you might be
pleased to know that someone's trying to turn it into a movie starring George Clooney.  However, after seeing what he did to
The Good German, I'm
not holding my breath.   But I digress.)  Same thing here. Same author.   The focus is on Italy, so we're treated to stories of
The Last Supper,
Michelangelo's
David, and others.   It's quite good, if you like this thing, and I guess I do.   My only complaint--and boy is it a stupid one--is this.  
The author does quite a good job of telling us about the men who took up this work.   Frankly, too good.  I wanted to read more about the art and less
about the men saving the art and about how they jockeyed for jobs at the end of the war and argued among themselves about how much publicity
their colleagues were getting.   But that's just me, I guess.  (6/28/2013)

The Black Country:  Scotland Yard's Murder Squad   by  Alex Grecian (2013)  As I was reading this book, I could almost visualize Mr. Grecian's
thought process as he wrote it.  "Yes," he probably thought to himself at some point, "this is a nice little mystery about two Scotland Yard detectives
investigating the case of a missing family in the Midlands coal producing area in the late 19th century, but I really need to make it a little longer.  I'll
dress it up with a back story that has practically nothing to do with my original story, and I'll write it in a tone that is so unlike the rest of the book that
readers will think 'Now that's art!'"  Or something like that.   As you may have surmised, I liked the basic story and its characters in this book quite a
lot (which I guess is good, because the author seems to want to make a serial out of them), but an irrelevant and altogether unpleasant subplot kind of
sinks the whole enterprise.  I wish he'd asked me about it!  (6/23/2013)

Mastermind:  How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes (2013) by Anna Konnikova   This is a very good book, but although I think anyone would
benefit from reading it, I'm not sure I can recommend it to everyone.  Its message can be summed up generally by paraphrasing Rupert Everett's
character Lord Goring in Oscar Wilde's
An Ideal Husband.  bs.  To look at a thing is not the same thing as seeing a thing.  Seeing a thing--like Mr.
Holmes would do, is different from looking at a thing like Dr. Watson would do.  But as it turns out, seeing a thing is hard work.  
You have to do it all
the time.
Ms. Konnikova is also no big fan of multi-tasking.   It's definitely not beach reading, but if you're looking for personal insight, it's a good
investment of your time.  (6/17/2013)

Paris  by Edward Rutherfurd  (2013)  Any novel that gives you a genealogical chart of its 50+ major characters demands to be taken seriously.  And
while
Paris demands your respect, it doesn't necessarily demand your affection. (How French!)  Mr. Rutherfurd provides a few charming characters
in his 800+ pages, but by necessity, he has to kill them off quickly so that he can hustle the next generation onto the stage.  
Paris, like Paris, is
populated with interesting aristocrats, Communists, artists and prostitutes--to say nothing of Pierre Eiffel, Thomas Edison, Ernest Hemingway and a
bunch of random Nazis--and lots of characters that aren't so interesting.  To Mr. Rutherfurd's credit, he thoughtfully provides just enough history to
give his characters context.  Chances are that
Paris will exhaust you about thirty years before the plot runs out, but up until then, it's an interesting
ride through the centuries.  (6/12/2013)

A Delicate Truth  by John LeCarre (2013)  So who am I to criticize John LeCarre.  He only wrote one of the best spy novels of all time.  That's true,
but that book wasn't called
A Delicate Truth. The book contains many of the hallmarks of vintage LeCarre--a plot that takes its own time in unfolding,
dense description of things totally unrelated to said plot, and--spoiler alert--an unresolved ending.  The last problem is assuaged by the fact that none
of the characters are particularly engaging, so you don't really mind not knowing what happens to them.  It's always been true that few people can
write a sentence as superbly as John LeCarre--the problem is trying to string them together.  (6/8/2013)

Inferno by Dan Brown (2013)  Shortly after The DaVinci Code movie came out, I found myself attending a church service at Roslyn Chapel, near
Edinburgh (and just up the road from the birthplace of Dolly the Sheep.)  We were at the Sunday morning mass, and as noon approached, and we
could hear the hordes of ticket-purchasing tourists lining up outside to get into the chapel as soon as the mass was over.  The movie had made the
beautiful chapel quite the tourist attraction, and so the priest interrupted his sermon to quip to the crowd, "Aren't you glad you came to the service and
got in for free?"  If history repeats itself, I suspect that those hordes might be their planning summer vacations to Italy.  Just in time for millions of
Americans to pack their reading for summer vacations, Mr. Brown has given us a new adventure for Harvard professor and symbiologist, Tom
Hanks--oops, Robert Langdon.  Like
The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons before it, we get a veritable Cook's Tour of great churches of
Europe.  (Curiously for a person who's made so much money off the Catholic Church, Mr. Brown is surprisingly quick to bite the hand that feeds
him.)  No, this book isn't as good as
The DaVinci Code.  It may be as good as Angels and Demons, but frankly I don't remember a lot about it.  I
suspect that I won't remember much about this book after a couple of weeks or so.  Inferno takes place during one exhausting day and moves from
Florence to Venice to Istanbul.  With all the dashing from place to place, you might find yourself saying to yourself near the end of the book, "Just end
already!"  At the very least, you'll get some useful travel advice.  (5/20/2013)

Dead Ever After  by Charlaine Harris  (2013)  I won't say that I'm happy that the Sookie Sackhouse era of literature ended, but I am happy that it
was able to end.  In a world that's about to experience the 4000th reboot of
Superman, it's just good to know that something can end and go away.  
Of course, the HBO version of Sookie will go on until people no longer want to see Anna Paquin naked.  That will probably be a while, but eventually,
we'll get there.   Is
Dead Ever After better or worse than any of the Southern Vampire series of books that preceded it?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, it's
better because there's closure.   Lots of closure.  Or, no, it's worse because for a series called "Southern Vampires," there's a severe shortage of
actual vampires.  Eric the vampire gets mentioned a lot, but he's only around for about a page and a half.  Bill the vampire maybe gets two pages.  
Other vampires--well, who cares about them.  For the past decade or so, I've thought of this series of books as a great beach read.  If you're invested
in the characters, you'll go for this book without any prompting from me.  If you're not invested in them, you'd be a fool to read this book first.   Have
a great summer!  (5/12/2013)

Life After Life   by Kate Atkinson  (2013)  Like Catch 22, Life After Life is "unstuck in time."  The book follows the various trajectories of the life of
a girl named Ursula Todd through dozens of various trajectories of her life.  In the first chapter, she dies in childbirth.  In the second chapter, she's
alive a dies by drowning a couple of years later.  In the third, she survives her day at the beach and dies of the Spanish flu at age eight.  And so on.  
Various projections of her life range from the mundane  (she dies in the London Blitz) to the exotic (she murders Hitler).  I admire the author's ability
to keep this train on track and moving ahead.  I just wasn't a big fan of Ursula.  This is not your ordinary chick lit, but I'm not sure it's something that
will stick with you very long, either.  (5/10/2013)

The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, A Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris by Jonathan Kirsch (2013)  I'm kind
of ambivalent about this book.  On one hand, Mr. Grynspan's tale is an interesting one.   To hear it from the author, the boy (he was 15 when he
escaped from Germany, and 18 when he shot a Nazi charge at the German Embassy in Paris in 1938) committed two separate acts of bravery.  The
first was shooting the diplomat because--he claimed at the time-- he wanted vengeance for the 12,000 ostjuden in Germany (including Grynszpan's
family) who had recently been expelled to Poland.  The author said that at the time, it was unprecedented for a Jew to "fight back" in the face of
oppression.  Fair enough.  But four years later, after France had been invaded and Grynszpan had been transported to Berlin to stand in a Nazi show
trial, his story was that he and the diplomat (his name was Rath) had been in a sexual relationship.  The author says that changing his story was also
an act of bravery--despite the fact that it wasn't true.  Grynszpan's reasoning (apparently) was that the Nazis would not put him on trial if they thought
he would say that he had been having sex with the victim.  In the end, he was right.  They didn't put him on trial.  They just took him out back and
shot him.  The story was interesting, and I liked the book--I'm just not sure that I go along with the author's idea of bravery.  (5/6/2013)

Hitler's Charisma by Laurence Rees (2013)  The whole notion of "I thought charisma was a good thing" is tackled coming out of the gate in this
book.  Mr. Rees, former head of BBC history programs makes it abundantly clear that even evil monsters can have charisma, which he generally
defines as a persuasive leader who is driven forward by his sense of personal destiny.  For some reason, my favorite sentence in the book is,
"Followers of such a leader are looking for more than just lower taxes or better health care, but seek broader, almost spiritual, goals of redemption and
salvation."  Mr. Rees also makes the point (repeatedly) that not everyone thought Hitler was charismatic.  On several occasions Hitler would meet two
people at the same time and impress one as charismatic and the other as a nut job.  Happily, Mr. Rees does not dwell too much on psychology.  He
focuses on how Hitler invoked his iron will to get tens of millions of people killed.   This isn't the best biography of Hitler--but it's pretty good.  
(5/1/2013)

The Great War by Peter Hart (2013)   Mr. Hart wrote a very good book a couple of years ago called Gallipoli, which was the best thing I'd ever
read about that woeful chapter in the history of warfare.  This new book was supposed to be his magnum opus, summing up WWI in a way that no
one has done since Barbara Tuchman.  Regrettably, such is not the case.  Frankly, I don't think that anyone could be expected to do such a thing in
less than 500 pages, and not surprisingly, Mr. Hart can't pull off the trick either. (Ms. Tuchman, after all, wrote only about the first month of the
war.)  In a valiant attempt to be thorough, Mr. Hart covers every aspect of the war from America to Mesopotamia, giving special attention to the
exertions of the British army and navy.   Everything in this book has been written about better elsewhere.   If you're
looking for one book that covers all the theaters of the war--superfically--this is the book you want. But if you want to understand any particular
aspect of the war in any kind of depth, you'll need to go elsewhere.  (4/28/2013)

The Year Without Summer: 1816 and the  Volcano that Darkened the World and Changed History by William K. Klingaman and Nicholas  P.
Klingaman (2013)   The title of the book basically tells you what you want to know.  One of the Klingamans--we'll call him William, but does it really
matter?--is a University of Virginia historian.  The other--Nicholas--holds a doctorate in meteorology from the University of Reading.  Regrettably,
The
Year Without Summer
reads as a weather chronology written by a historian and a history written by a weatherman.  The story of the eruption itself is
told from a Euro-centric point of view, which is especially woeful as the volcano--Tambora, by the way--is located in Indonesia.  We learn a lot more
about how the eruption affected the lives of Jane Austen, Lord Byron and James Madison, than we do of anyone who might have lived or died within
a thousand miles of it.  This is a very odd book.  I was never sufficiently put off by it that I felt compelled to put it aside, but I'm not sure I can really
recommend it to you, either.  (4/21/2013)

The Great War by Peter Hart (2013)  I really wanted to redline this book because I didn't like it very much.  The Great War is much like the Great
War itself.  It's frustrating, confusing, exhausting and there were times when I didn't think it was ever going to end.  William Philpott's
Three Armies
on the Somm
e is really the cream of the recent Great War books.  This one, while scholarly and more ambitious in that it covers all theaters of the
war, isn't nearly as engaging.  Paradoxically, what makes this book rather more scholarly is also what makes it less compelling.  On every page of this
book (I think), there are actual quotes from the actual politicians, generals and average soldiers in the line who were eyewitnesses to history.  And
we're not talking about regular blurbs.   We're talking about extended paragraphs that provide an extended view of what the participant,nt was thinking
at the time.  While perhaps interesting to future scholars, these quotes have the opposite effect on run-of-the-mill history buffs (like me).  They slow
you down, wear you out, and make you realize that this book is not really an analysis of the war as it is an oral history.  As Mr. Hart is the Oral
Historian of the Imperial War Museum in London, this makes sense. As such, the book makes sense.  Otherwise, check out Mr. Philpott's book.  
(4/24/2013)

1356   by Bernard Cornwell  (2013)  Say you're Margaret Mitchell.  (If you're reading this, you've clearly got time on your hands.  Humor me.)  
You've written a couple hundred  pages of an engaging book.  Scarlett's living with Melanie and Aunt Pittypat, and the Yankees are headed down
I-75.  At this point of the book, you decide that for the next hundred pages or so, you're going to leave the girls at the house and focus on Sherman
and Johnston's strategies and tactics in the Siege of Atlanta.  WT...?   Something similar happens in
1356.  Mr. Cornwell develops an interesting story
about some Englishmen in France and their search for
La Malice, the Biblical sword of St. Peter.   But at a critical point, we dump that story and
proceed to rather detailed description of the Battle of Poitiers, in which a smaller English unit defeats a larger French army.  (Isn't that the way that
usually works?)  It's not unpleasant, but it is disconcerting.   The entire tone of the book changes, and it goes from being historical fiction to history.  
It's just odd, and if you're like me, you'll start losing interest in the book around page 245.  So, I guess my advice is to get the book, but feel free to
stop reading at page 244.  (4/15/2013)

Private Berlin by James Patterson and Mark Sullivan  (2013)  Every time I see two authors listed for a book like this I'm reminded of the Grammy
Awards (maybe thirty
years ago?) when
Between the Moon and New York City won for best song.   About five people were listed as the songwriters, and it was left to a
drunk Bette Midler to read their names off a teleprompter.  When she had struggled through the last name, she threw up her hands and said, "I can't
believe it took that many people to write this piece of s***." I wouldn't call
Private Berlin what Miss M called Between the Moon and New York City,
but it does seem to me that it could have been knocked out by one person.  In this instance, I'm guessing that Mr. Sullivan actually wrote the book
inspired on an idea from the more famous Mr. Patterson.  If that's the case, why not just say so?  "Private" is apparently the world's most famous
detective agency.  At the Berlin office, one of the investigators gets himself killed working on a case that no one else at the agency knows anything
about.  Ultimately, it's about the bad old days before the Wall fell.  It's a brisk page turner.  (At 134 chapters covering 429 pages, you'd expect that.)  
None of the characters are remotely memorable.  It's workman-like fiction.  That was enough for me to fill a rainy night.  You might be more
demanding.  (4/8/2013)

Tenth of December by George Saunders  (2013) is one of those books that Ayn Rand warned you about.  Mr. Saunders is a creative writing
professors at Syracuse, and according to one of the blurbs on the dust jacket, he's the most brilliant satirist since Mark Twain.  Not.  Some who
praise Mr. Saunders call his work "eclectic."  Others might call it nonsense. Most of the short stories in the slim book read as if they had been written
by one of Mr. Saunders's ADHD-afflicted students.  The book is relatively harmless.  (At least I didn't have to pay full-price for it.)  The bad news is
that Mr. Saunders is teaching students to follow in his footsteps.  
Tenth of December certainly qualifies as "creative writing"--but not in a good way.  
(4/6/2013)

Suspect   by Robert Crais  (2013) Love dogs?  Of course, you do.  You're going to love Maggie, a German Shepherd (I always want to call them
Alsatians) Army dog, who was shipped home after her beloved trainer was gunned down in an ambush, despite her best efforts to protect him.  She
makes her way to the K-9 division of the Los Angeles Police Department and a trainer named Scott, who himself is suffering the stress of losing a
partner in action.  They're quite a pair, and I think you'll like them both as much as I did.  In the process of getting on with their lives, they solve a
murder and make new friends.  It's a great trip.  Check it out.  (3/24/2013)

Ever After by Kim Harrison  (2013)  Ah, Cincinnati.  Mordor of the Midwest. Bon Temps of the Tri-State.  Hogwarts on the Ohio.  Home to
countless witches, vampires, elves, gargoyles, demons--I could go on.  I had no idea what I was getting into--i.e., the tenth or twelfth book in
something called the Hollows novels.  What that means is, if you know what the Hollows novels are, you can jump right in.  If you don't, it's like
reading the last Sookie Stackhouse or Harry Potter book before any of the others.  Consequently, you're missing a lot of context.  Ms. Harrison is a
fine writer and does a good job of telling her story about traveling to godforsaken places in service to magical rings and meeting all sorts of miserable
creatures along the way.  The problem is that it certainly feels as if we've made this trip before.  (3/252013)

The Third Bullet  by Stephen Hunter  (2013) Well, it's 2013, and you know what that means.  No?  Well, it's the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy
assassination.  Prepare  yourself for endless cable tv docs and newspaper recollections of Camelot, pink suits and a loser named Lee Harvey Oswald.  
Literarily (is that a word?) speaking, the fun started last year with Stephen King's
11.22.63. I wasn't a big fan, but it was a huge book, and more will
follow.  Like Mr. King's book,
The Third Bullet offers a theory of the assassination that involves time travel.  Happily, it is a theory that is tossed out
in jest (perhaps a slap at Uncle Stevie?), and not taken seriously.  The primary theory advanced in this book offers not one, not two, but
three people
who have faked their own deaths.  On that basis alone, I'd discount the theory, but it is just plausible enough to sustain a 400-page novel.  Mr. Hunter
is an excellent writer, and while I don't really don't care for his technique of the telling the investigator's story and the mastermind's confession
concurrently,   While it's not my thing, you may be fine with it, and if so, you'll find this book a compelling read.  (3/18/2013)

Insane City by Dave Barry (2013)  So is Dave Barry a genius or a screw-up savant?  I'm not entirely sure that it matters.  As either one, he's written
dozens of books amount his beloved Miami that are every bit as illuminating as the recent
Back to Blood by the rather more peripatetic Tom
Wolfe--and a whole lot more fun to read.  In
Insane City (I'm guessing that we're meant to think of it as "Insane(e C)ity," members of an upscale
wedding on Key Biscayne wedding--through no fault of their own--end up participating in an "ape crime spree" across Miami, along with a young
Haitian immigrant and her two young children, a young Cuban beauty, her friend Duane and his snake Blossom, the stoner daughter of a
multi-billionaire, and an orangutan named Trevor.  It's frivolous and hilarious.  (3/15/2013)

The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper (2013)   This is a rather small book, but it packs a punch.  David Ullman, a literature professor at Columbia, is
alleged to be the world's leading expert on the work of John Milton.  His best friend, a psychologist (who becomes his wing man during the course of
the book), thinks he's been clinically depressed since birth.  His wife has left him.  The only "rock" in his life has been his eleven-year-old daughter,
who may or may not have inherited his depression.  One day, a mysterious stranger turns up in his office in Morningside Heights with an irresistible
offer--a free trip to Venice with first class amenities for him and his daughter.  All he has to do is see a strange man in a strange building and make a
report on what he finds.  His report never gets filed, but if it had been, it would have said that he found a very old demon who made an appearance in
Paradise Lost and now wants Ullman's soul.   And he's willing to use Ullman's daughter to get him.  Mr. Pyper is a terrific writer.  I think of him as a
more intellectual Dan Brown.  He makes you feel Ullman's pain--and depression during the course of his quest.  I recommend it highly.  (3/15/2013)

A Wicked War by Amy S. Greenberg  (2012)   A U.S. President, desperate to keep his party in power, tells a lie and starts a war with a foreign
power which has done nothing to provoke him.  I'm referring, of course, to James K. Polk and the war he started with Mexico in 1846.  The war in
question was, even at the time, referred to as a transparent land grab by the United States.  But if you're reading this in Texas, California, Arizona,
New Mexico, Utah, Oklahoma or Kansas, you'd be reading this in Spanish if it hadn't happened.  I have to confess that I wasn't much interested in the
Mexican War, but I was really impressed with this book.  The author's focus is the political situation in which the war was conducted, not with the
military details of the war itself.  Henry Clay, who famously claimed that he would rather be right than President, emerged as one of the war's biggest
detractors--as did a freshman Congressman from Illinois named Abraham Lincoln.  Lincoln was the only Whig Congressman from Illinois at the time,
and his opposition to the war assured that he would be a one-term Congressman.  It's a terrific book.  Check it out.  (2/28/2013)

Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng (1987)  I'm breaking my own rules by telling you about a book that was published 25 years ago, but it's
such an extraordinary book that I think I would be doing a disservice by not telling you about it.  Ms. Cheng was a Shanghai native who had been an
employee of the Shell Oil Company when Mao came to power in 1949.  Her life and work continued to be pleasant until September 27, 1966, when
the Cultural Revolution which had begun to sweep through China began to sweep through her personal life.  After having her home looted, she was
placed in a detention center (i.e. prison) for over six years  Although she became distraught and malnourished, she never gave in to it and continued to
protest her innocence and irritate those who have her confess her guilt.  This is an extraordinary book (a sticker on the cover suggests that over 1
million copies of it have been sold over the years).  I ran across it when I had run out of reading material in Shanghai, and was looking around the
bookstore of the Shanghai Museum for something in English to read. Until after I had read the first 500 pages or so, I could not understand how such
a book--so critical of the Chinese government which is still sufficiently repressive that what I'm typing right now cannot be published on
Facebook--could be available in what might be the most visible public building in Shanghai.  This is a great book.  If you're interested in recent Chinese
history--or just in a phenomenal story about the triumph of the human spirit, I can't recommend this book highly enough.  (2/18/2013)

Iron Curtain:  The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 by Anne Applebaum   This is a big book, literally and figuratively.  Trust me,
everything you would want to know about East Germany, Poland and Hungary at the dawn of the Cold War is covered.  Other countries like
Czechoslovakia, not so much; but the book is encyclopedic in those areas it addresses.  The politics, the culture--propaganda and otherwise,
education--even the jokes are presented.  Ms. Applebaum has written a monumental work.  Read it.  You'll learn something.  (2/19/2013)

Bringing Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel  (2012)  In her Author's Notes, Mas. Mantel shares with us that "the circumstances surrounding the fall of
Anne Boleyn have been controversial for centuries."  Well, there you go.  Apparently, the details surrounding Henry VIII's second wife's head being
severed from the rest of her body have been open to debate since 1536.  So this is Ms. Mantel's speculation.  Based on what we know about the
parties involved, this scenario seems as plausible as any.  My only concern is that Ms. Mantel's storytelling method is dense and somewhat contrived.  
(She may be trying to tell the story in a way that someone from the 16th century might, but somehow I doubt  it.) The technique frequently results in
not really knowing who is speaking at any particular time, and in a story that is so densely populated that a cast of characters is presented at the
beginning of the book, that can be especially disconcerting.  I have to say that English history from this period really doesn't interest me that much,
and I'm sorry to have to report that this  book didn't really change my position.  If you're more interested than I, maybe this is a book for you.  
(2/4/2013)

City of Fortune:  How Venice Ruled the Seas   by Roger Crowley (2011)   This book sat on my nightstand for about six months before I got
around to picking it up.   "How Venice Ruled the Seas," is about the least interesting thing about Venice.   (I think a book about why people in Venice
stand at the bar to drink coffee would be more interesting.)   Happily, the book turned out to be more about why Venice ruled the seas than about
how.  And in that sense, it's a very good book.  Mr. Crowley does a very thorough job of explaining the political intrigues and machinations that
accounted for the city's rise to become a world power early in the last millennium.  The characters in the book are wonderful in their own right, and
Mr. Cromwell does a wonderful job of bringing them to life.   If late medieval and early Renaissance history interest you at all, I think you'll be very
pleased with this book.  (1/1/2013)

The Fifth Assassin by Brad Meltzer  (2013)   Mr. Meltzer is a big proponent of the
write-a-story-and-then-tell-it-in-fits-and-starts-jumping-around-in-time-and-space theory of novel writing.  The story is fairly compelling, and if had
been told in a straightforward manner, it would have been fine.  But that's not Mr. Meltzer's way.  It's the kind of formula that makes you keep turning
pages, but it also means that the characters in the book are sacrificed to the plot.  The story is about a messed-up guy who re-enacts the four previous
Presidential assassinations on the current, albeit fictional White House occupant.   The book is also about the slightly less screwed up secret band of
those sworn to protect the Presidency.  It's a perfect airplane book, but you probably will have begun forgetting it by the time you pick up your
luggage.  (1/31/2013)

The Lost Battles: Leonardo, Michelangelo, and the Artistic Duel That Defined the Renaissance by Jonathan Jones (2010)   In case you're
wondering, the "lost battles" in the title refers to two frescoes by Leonardo and da Vinci that were commissioned by the Great Council of Florence to
adorn the walls of the city's seat of government, which is now the Palazzo Vecchio.  The Great Council knew that it was setting up a duel of the city's
greatest artists when it issued the commissions. In case you're wondering, Michelangelo's painting was never committed to a wall, although the artist's
initial sketches for it are still extant.  Da Vinci got a little along: part of the painting was completed before Florence's political fortunes went south and
the project was abandoned.  Mr. Jones explains that both Michelangelo's sketches, and the bits and pieces of the da Vinci work that stayed on the wall
for about fifty years influenced Renaissance artists from Rubens to Dali.  It's an interesting story, and Mr. Jones tells it well.   If you like either art
history or Italian history, I think you'll like it.  (1/3/2013)

Napoleon:  Life, Legacy, and Image:  A Biography  by Alan Forrest (2011)   I forget who first said this, but I think it makes sense:  Any book that
has more than one colon title in its title has more problems than punctuation.   I think that holds for this book as well.  Mr. Forrest starts strong by
giving us a very good description of the return of Napoleon's ashes from St. Helena in 1840, and their internment at Les Invalides.  From his
description of the pomp and ceremony surrounding the festival-like progress of the Emperor's remains up the Seine and its impact on the people of
France who saw and/or participated in it, it's clear that Mr. Forrest is most interested in the "Image" that he alludes to in his title.  And that's fine.  
Where the book kind of bogs down and gets lost is in the rather telling of the "Biography" part of the book.  It's rather straightforward, and apart from
how Napoleon's private and public lives were represented to the people of France and the world, there's not a lot that's new here.  I think that the
author was on to something when he started down the road of explaining how Napoleon was, if not the father of using the press to further his military
and political aims, certainly one of its earliest masters and role models.   (1/6/2013)

On the Map by Daya Sobel (2013)  I think a better name for this book might be 23 Short Essays About Maps.  Theoretically, the book is about the
history of maps--maps of the world, maps to track diseases, maps of the brain, any old kind of map--which is the major problem I have with this
book.  In reality, what does Amerigo Vespucci's map of South  America really have to do with the mapping of the brain?  The various chapters of the
book don't necessarily lead from one to another (which I guess is ironic in a book about maps). Anyway, the chapters are well written, if not
coherent.  I would like to leave you with both a big idea and a small idea from this book.  The big idea is that with the onset of GPS, people are
forgetting how to read maps--and that's a bad thing.  The smaller idea is that the old story about how men are better at navigation than women isn't
true.   Science has proved that men and women just navigate differently.  Men are better at navigating by a grid, and women navigate by landmarks.  
Therefore, if a guy asks you for directions, tell him go three tenths of a mile and turn south.  You should tell a woman to turn left at the Exxon
Station.  (1/28/2013)

The Watchers by Stephen Alford  (2012)  I think that if I were ever put in charge of a screenplay writing class (assuming: 1) that I knew how to do
it myself; and 2) that I could teach someone else how to do it), I think I would tell my class to read this book and adapt any of the four or five plots
against the crown of Elizabeth I to a screenplay. The great plots and great characters are there; all they need is someone to write the story.  
Unfortunately, Mr. Alford is not that person, either.  To his credit, he's much too committed to documenting the plots themselves from the available
facts.   He can't be bothered with making them compelling to the average readers.  If Elizabethan England and the gang of thugs that called themselves
the Tudors are interesting to you, you'll like the book.   The rest of you will like it a lot better if you wait for the movie.  (2/13/2013)

When America First Met China   by Eric Jay Dolin  (2012)   So I'm going to China next week (sorry-I hate to say it), and I thought this book
might give me some insights into how the relationship between our countries over the years has evolved.   Regardless of the grievances we might have
against them, our complaints need to be weighed against the Opium War, facilitating the coolie trade between China and South America and the Boxer
Rebellion begin, at least, to even the slate.  The stories are interesting, and Mr. Dolin tells them well.  My biggest problem is that I picked up this book
immediately after reading the superlative A History of China by John Keay.  (If you're ever looking for an definitive history of China, that's the book
you want to check out.)  I'm sorry to say that Mr. Dolin's book seemed somewhat remedial after reading the more interesting book by Mr. Keay.  
(1/17/2013)
2013 BOOK COMMENTS