Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Former Top Trader Fossett an Adventurer But Not a Daredevil

By Edward Nawotka

Dec. 26 (Bloomberg) -- What's your New Year's resolution? Steve Fossett says he intends to break the absolute land-speed record in 2007.

The 62-year-old, who made his fortune trading options and securities, is already the first person to fly solo nonstop around the world in an airplane and the first to circumnavigate the globe alone in a balloon. He has swum the English Channel, finished the Iditarod, sailed across the Pacific Ocean single- handedly and holds 115 world records in five different sports.

Despite all this, he still refuses to bungee-jump.

``When people do that, they want to free-fall and have the living daylights scared out of them,'' Fossett says. ``I'm not a thrill seeker. I don't enjoy getting scared.''

On Dec. 15, the National Aviation Hall of Fame announced that it would induct Fossett, along with four others, including Frederick W. Smith, the founder of FedEx, and space shuttle astronaut Sally Ride, first American woman in space.

Fossett's personal philosophy of risk and reward is elaborated in his recent memoir, ``Chasing the Wind: The Autobiography of Steve Fossett'' (Virgin Books).

I spoke with Fossett by phone from his home in Monterey, California.

Nawotka: How does becoming an author rate in difficulty against your other achievements?

Fossett: People have been asking me to write a book for a long time. It was a daunting task that took two years and covers the most important projects that I've been involved in and recounts some of the best stories. I accomplished an awful lot in business, but it's not polite to talk about how much money you make, so the story is not as interesting to tell. It's a lot more fun to share an experience, which is what I do here.

Dangerous Projects

Nawotka: Do you see any corollary between your business career and pursuit of world records?

Fossett: The management skills I developed in trading have enabled me to accomplish what I have. It was a logical progression. I came from a business where I was managing people and trying to control risk. The kinds of projects I undertake are dangerous and require a strong team. I haven't done these things with any extraordinary talent or ability. I'm very well organized and know how to set goals. What really differentiates me is aspiration. I'm surprised we don't see more businessmen taking more high-risk adventures -- they have all the necessary skills.

Around Ireland

Nawotka: You describe your first record, the speed record for circumnavigating Ireland in a sailboat, as almost accidental.

Fossett: In 1993, I just happened to have one of the fastest sailboats in the world at the time. I was there to participate in another race, but then I saw an ideal weather pattern where I could follow the winds circulating around the coast of Ireland and challenge the record. So I went for it. The previous record was 75 hours, but I was able to do the entire 704-mile circumference in 44 hours.

Nawotka: A relatively small number of people fly planes or balloons, but the absolute world land-speed record is set by driving, something nearly everyone knows how to do. Do you anticipate this record attempt will generate even more interest, especially in America, where people take pride in big, fast cars?

Auto Love

Fossett: True, this record reflects on our American love for driving cars fast, and while I think it's wonderful that the public follows what I'm doing -- and I hope they receive some motivation -- I'm not doing it for publicity. The absolute land speed record is one of the most prominent of all world records and goes back to the start of the car. The British have held the record since 1983 and have been more important to the sport, but it would be very good for an American to come back and capture this record.

Nawotka: The record is 763 miles per hour, and you're shooting for 800. What's the fastest you've ever driven?

Fossett: I went 298 miles per hour out on the Bonneville Salt Flats in a car with a four cylinder Saturn engine.

Nawotka: Surely, you'll need something with a little more muscle to break the record?

Fighter-Jet Engine

Fossett: I have seven people working on a car with me, including Craig Breedlove, who originally drove 600 miles per hour, and an aerodynamicist. The car utilizes a fighter-jet engine and relies on something between airplane aerodynamics and ground effects to cope with moving through the transonic speed range. It takes some very good technology to break that record and live to talk about it.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Sony Reader, Nude Tourists, Machiavelli, Football: Gift Books

By Edward Nawotka

Dec. 20 (Bloomberg) -- If you're anything like me, you still have a few people left on your holiday gift list. These suggestions should make last-minute shopping less stressful.

One of the most exciting book gifts of the year isn't a book at all: it's the Sony Reader, a device for reading digital books that resembles a slim, leather-bound paperback. It is the same size and weight as a small book, has a surprisingly bright and easy-to-read screen, and holds hundreds of books in its memory. At $350 it's not cheap, but it's the first digital reader that actually feels like a book.

Nick Hornby's ``Housekeeping Vs. the Dirt'' (McSweeney's, $14) is the second collection -- after 2004's ``The Polysyllabic Spree'' -- of the popular novelist's columns from the Believer magazine on the subject of his leisure reading. Each brief, humorous essay starts off with a list of ``Books Bought'' and ``Books Read,'' of which the former almost always exceeds the latter.

Lawrence Osborne's ``The Naked Tourist: In Search of Adventure and Beauty in the Age of the Airport Mall'' (North Point Press, $24) is perfect for the jetsetter afflicted with wanderlust. An acerbic, witty account of the author's journey from opulent Dubai through Asia to visit a remote tribe in Papua New Guinea, the book tries to answer the question: ``What does tourism, the world's single largest business, have to sell?''

Know someone actually looking forward to Windows Vista? Then ``The Best of Technology Writing 2006,'' edited by Brendan I. Koerner (DigitalCultureBooks, $17.95) is for them. The book offers two dozen entertaining articles about computers and digital culture culled from various geek bibles, including Wired magazine and Technology Review.

One contributor to that volume is Steven Johnson, whose latest book is the compulsively readable ``The Ghost Map'' (Riverhead, $26.95). Subtitled, ``The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Science, Cities and the Modern World,'' the book makes the story of a cholera epidemic in 1854 and the English physician who sought to contain it a page- turning thriller, sprinkled with a heady dose of insight into the evolution of modern urban design and public health.

Another engrossing read comes from David Edmonds and John Eidinow, whose ``Rousseau's Dog: Two Great Thinkers at War in the Age of Enlightenment'' (Ecco, $25.95) documents the feud between two of the 18th century's intellectual giants: the Scotsman David Hume, who believed in the apotheosis of reason, and Swiss-born Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who fought for the exaltation of emotion.

Eggheads also populate Ken Jennings's ``Brainiac: Adventures in the Curious, Competitive, Compulsive World of Trivia Buffs'' (Villard, $25.95). Jennings is best known as the competitor who spent more than two years on ``Jeopardy!'' where he won more than $2.5 million. He proves to be an able writer, zestfully delving into the subculture of the information-obsessed and offering dozens of brain teasers along the way.

For physical rather than intellectual gamesmanship, try Mark St. Amant's ``Just Kick It: Tales of an Underdog, Over-Age, Out- of-Place Semi-Pro Football Player'' (Scribner, $23), in which St. Amant, a 37-year-old former advertising executive and fantasy- football fanatic, joins a real, semi-pro football team and experiences equal amounts of pleasure and pain by donning the pads and taking the hits.

In ``The Suit: A Machiavellian Approach to Men's Style'' (Collins, $18.95), Nicholas Antongiavanni -- the nom-de-plume of political speechwriter Michael Anton -- uses ``The Prince'' as a blueprint for men to dress for success and get almost anything they want, from a promotion to a date.

A woman's handbag can say as much if not more about her than a man's suit, or so argues Winifred Gallagher in ``It's in the Bag: What Purses Reveal -- and Conceal'' (HarperCollins, $19.95). Her brief, delightful book covers the history of the handbag, the politics of the luxury-bag design business, and what the contents of a woman's handbag divulge about her inner life.

Finally, for those who insist the holidays have something to do with matters of the spirit, the excellent anthology ``This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women,'' edited by Jay Allison and Dan Gediman (Holt, $23), is especially appropriate for the season. Based on the National Public Radio series of the same name, ``This I Believe'' includes 80 personal essays from famous individuals, such as John McCain and Eleanor Roosevelt, and ordinary Americans, about their beliefs.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Classic Ferraris and Private Islands: Holiday Lifestyle Books


By Edward Nawotka

Dec. 14 (Bloomberg) -- The ferociously sexy cover of ``Ferrari: The Road from Maranello'' by Dennis Adler (Random House, $45) is enough to make a grown man consider a mid-life crisis: a brilliant red Ferrari 250 GTO, the twin slashes in its flanks suggesting flight even at rest.

This beautifully illustrated history of the Italian automaker started by Enzo Ferrari in 1945 offers more than 350 archival photographs of the great Ferrari racers and road cars, as well as interviews with legendary designers, such as Sergio Pininfarina, and drivers, including Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby.

``Luxury Private Islands'' edited by Vladi Private Islands (teNeues, $45). Who hasn't dreamed of escaping to a tropical paradise all your own? This dreamy book features more than 300 photos of some of world's most exclusive and expensive private properties, including Marlon Brando's South Pacific atoll, Sir Richard Branson's island in the British Virgin Islands and Mel Gibson's hideaway in Fiji.

``Destination Art'' by Amy Dempsey (University of California Press, $39.95). This new travel guide for the international art tourist surveys 200 modern and contemporary art destinations, offering a critique of the most important large-scale, public works of this and the last century, and covering a wide variety environmental pieces, sculpture parks, architecture and art towns.

``A Needle in the Right Hand of God: The Norman Conquest of 1066 and the Making and Meaning of the Bayeux Tapestry'' by R. Howard Block (Random House, $25.95). The head of Yale's humanities department recounts the story of the Battle of Hastings and the immense effort that went into embroidering it onto the Bayeux Tapestry, perhaps the most memorable 230 feet of fabric in the world.

``Legacy of Honor: The Values and Influence of America's Eagle Scouts'' by Alvin Townley (Thomas Dunne, $24.95). Townley considers how famous Eagle Scouts -- Microsoft founder Bill Gates, astronaut Jim Lovell and hotelier J.W. Marriott, among them -- have applied the Scouts' lessons of service, virtue and leadership in their professional and personal lives.

Townley interviews Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson as well as everyday citizens, among them a Vietnam War POW and a Hurricane Katrina relief worker. These are the true role models in an era when celebrity so often trumps heroism.

``The Art of Being a Woman: A Simple Guide to Everyday Love and Laughter'' by Veronique Vienne (Clarkson Potter, $18). Vienne, who wrote the bestseller ``The Art of Doing Nothing'' is yet another Frenchwoman who purports to know how American women can create more joie de vivre. She includes the predictable entreaties to accessorize wisely and not take men too seriously, but also tosses in some retro advice: Do housework in a nice dress and heels, and treat your home as if it were ``a lover.''

``Dave Barry's Money Secrets: Like: Why Is There a Giant Eyeball on the Dollar?'' by Dave Barry (Three Rivers, $24.95). This new collection of essays is an antidote to sanctimonious self-help guides and tries to answer age-old questions, such as ``Why it is not a good idea to use squirrels for money'' and ``Why good colleges cost so much, and how to make sure your child does not get into one.''

``The Zurau Aphorisms'' by Franz Kafka (Schocken, $15.95). These philosophical musings, recently rediscovered by the Italian scholar Roberto Calasso in the Bodleian Library at Oxford University, were written while the enigmatic Czech author was suffering from tuberculosis. They provide unique insight into Kafka's beguiling writing -- work that he says is akin to shedding light ``on a rapidly fleeing grimace.''

``An Orgy of Playboy's Eldon Dedini'' by Eldon Dedini (Fantagraphics, $39.95). Eldon Dedini's colorful cartoons about the vagaries of sex and love were a staple of Playboy magazine from 1959 to 2005. This collection brings together 200 of Dedini's signature panels of men, women and satyrs. Risque, sexist and definitely politically incorrect, they are also frequently funny and have a sharp satirical bite.

``Sex, Lies and Handwriting: A Top Expert Reveals the Secrets Hidden in Your Handwriting'' by Michelle Dresbold (Free Press, $24). The author argues that penmanship is a window into the soul. Here she analyzes the writing of politicians, re- examines written evidence in a number of unsolved criminal cases, and offers tips on reading love letters to see what they might be revealing -- or hiding.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Iraq Diagnosis, Putin's Russia, Women and Money: New Paperbacks

By Edward Nawotka

Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Readers looking to cut through the White House and media spin of the Iraq Study Group report released yesterday can now read the document themselves and draw their own conclusions.

A tone of urgency pervades ``The Iraq Study Group Report: The Way Forward -- A New Approach,'' by James A. Baker III and Lee H. Hamilton (Vintage). It states, ``Current U.S. policy is not working, as the level of violence in Iraq is rising and the government is not advancing national reconciliation,'' and the $2 billion a week being spent in Iraq is ``not sustainable over an extended period, especially when progress is not being made.'' Baker and his team offer President Bush 79 recommendations for moving forward.

If 2004's ``9/11 Commission Report'' is any guide, expect to see the study-group manifesto heat up the bestseller lists. It is likely to attract a similarly broad swath of readers -- many of whom will be looking for answers to the question, ``Now what?''

Other highlights this month include:

``Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy'' by Anna Politkovskaya (Owl). Politkovskaya, a crusading journalist who was murdered in October, wrote this highly critical account of life in the New Russia, a dismal virtual dictatorship, where corruption ensures high offices go to the highest bidder, extra- judicial murders go unpunished and starving soldiers fight an endless, pointless war against terror in Chechnya. And this all before outspoken critics began expiring in exotic ways.

``Money, a Memoir: Women, Emotions, and Cash'' by Liz Perle (Picador). Reflecting on her own transition from well-off wife to nearly bankrupt divorcee, Perle examines the complicated relationship women have with money -- from the financial sacrifices that can factor into the decision to marry and have children, to some women's seemingly irrational need for costly handbags, cosmetics and shoes.

``President Reagan: The Triumph of Imagination'' by Richard Reeves (Simon & Schuster). One of nearly 900 books on the late president, Reeve's biography focuses on Reagan as ``The Great Communicator'' -- of ideas rather than facts -- and demonstrates how Reagan's seemingly low-key demeanor masked a sharp, intuitive intellect that charmed everyone from Joe Public to Mikhail Gorbachev.

``A Nation Among Nations: America's Place in World History'' by Thomas Bender (Hill & Wang). A revisionist survey of American history that places U.S. development in the context of global history. Bender argues that the Civil War was but one conflict in a larger wave of revolutions taking place around the world at the same time, and that our financial influence is not solely of our making, but the result of broader capitalist movement across centuries and continents.

``Heroes: A History of Hero Worship'' by Lucy Hughes-Hallett (Anchor). Since Sept. 11, 2001, the word ``hero'' has been tossed around like confetti. Here, a British historian contemplates the meaning of heroism and tries to find it in the lives of Alcibiades, El Cid, Albrecht von Wallenstein, Cato, Sir Francis Drake and Garibaldi, all of whom she measures against archetypes including Achilles the soldier and Odysseus the adventurer.

``Field Notes From a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change'' by Elizabeth Kolbert (Bloomsbury). The New Yorker magazine writer's account of climate change and degradation examines sites in Alaska, the Netherlands and elsewhere and argues that changing weather patterns will threaten agriculture and food supplies while warmer seas will spawn more storms of greater intensity and flood more coastal areas.

``The Caliph's House: A Year in Casablanca'' by Tahir Shah (Bantam). A British journalist's spirited memoir of moving his young family from rainy London to mystifying Morocco, where he purchases Dar Khalifa, a ruined mansion by the sea, and much like Peter Mayle in ``A Year in Provence,'' finds that renovating his new home in the midst of a foreign culture is far more trouble than he anticipated.

``Gentlemen and Players'' by Joanne Harris (HarperCollins). In this entertaining novel by the author of ``Chocolat,'' a veteran Latin teacher and a young newcomer -- one with access to dangerous secrets -- vie for control over the future of the revered St. Oswald's Grammar School for Boys, itself struggling to adapt to the new, fast-moving information age while trying to maintain the school's traditional, buttoned-down manner.

``Everybody Loves Somebody'' by Joanna Scott (Back Bay). This absorbing collection of 10 short stories considers the vagaries of love and marriage in a wide variety of contexts, from Europe in the wake of World War I, where a young couple's wedding takes on unexpected layers of meaning, to contemporary New York, where a Madison Avenue ad exec crashes his car in the Catskills while traveling home and is forced reconsider the definition of family.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Hannibal's Youth, Holy Shroud, Mosley's Sex Spree: New Novels


By Edward Nawotka

Dec. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Hannibal ``The Cannibal'' Lecter returns after a seven-year hiatus in ``Hannibal Rising'' (Delacorte), Thomas Harris's prequel to ``Silence of the Lambs'' and ``Hannibal.'' In this serial killer coming-of-age story, Harris gives Lecter a back story, attributing his unusual appetite to a childhood spent amid the horrors of World War II's Eastern Front, where he's discovered wandering in the snow, mute and chained.

When his uncle rescues him from a Russian orphanage and sends him to France, he finds succor with an exotic aunt, the Lady Murasaki. After becoming the youngest student ever admitted to medical school, Lecter's transformation into a monster ensues. Like Harris's previous novels, ``Hannibal Rising'' isn't for the queasy.

Other highlights this month include:

``Paula Spencer'' by Roddy Doyle (Viking). Doyle's sequel to the superb ``The Woman Who Walked Into Doors'' (1996) is equally worthy and now finds working-class Irish housewife Paula Spencer widowed, sober, coping with her grown children and struggling to make a new life for herself.

``Arlington Park'' by Rachel Cusk (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). In this suburban novel of manners, the members of an ensemble of upper-class London women are subsumed with ennui, regret and anxiety about their social standing during a single day that leads up to a tense, alcohol-fueled dinner party with their self- satisfied husbands.

``The Teahouse Fire'' by Ellis Avery (Riverhead). Fans of ``Memoirs of a Geisha'' will like this vivid historical novel set in 19th-century Kyoto about a young orphaned American girl who is taken in as a servant at a teahouse, where she serves a difficult mistress, witnesses the advent of modern Japan and undergoes her own Geisha-like rebirth.

``Killing Johnny Fry: A Sexistential Novel'' by Walter Mosley (Bloomsbury). Mosley is more than a mystery writer. He's written science fiction, quasi-political thrillers and now his first erotic novel, which stars Cordel Carmel, a 45-year-old man who goes on a soul-searching sex spree after finding his longtime girlfriend in bed with a well-endowed white man.

``The Alchemy of Desire'' by Tarun J. Tejpal (Ecco). Well- known Indian newsman Tejpal serves up a fat, Henry Miller-esqe novel about literary inspiration and sex, in which a writer renovating a house in the Himalayas uncovers the diary of a glamorous American woman's adventures in the subcontinent. He soon falls for this dead, idealized woman, spurning his own very real, very desirable wife.

``The End as I Know It: A Novel of Millennial Anxiety'' by Kevin Shay (Doubleday). Shay, contributor to the hipster literary journal ``McSweeney's,'' revisits the Y2K scare in this quirky story featuring a neurotic puppeteer and children's entertainer who embarks on a cross-country road trip to warn that the end is nigh.

``Spinning Dixie'' by Eric Dezenhall (Thomas Dunne). The author, CEO of an eponymous Washington crisis-management firm, applies his expertise in this broad farce about a disgraced presidential press secretary who tries to help a high-school girlfriend save her Tennessee plantation from her nefarious ex- husband who intends to use it as a toxic waste dump. The solution involves creating a media storm that involves an army of Civil War re-enactors, the National Guard and the promise of Confederate gold.

``The Brotherhood of the Holy Shroud'' by Julia Navarro (Bantam). A bestseller abroad, Navarro's entry in the post-``Da Vinci Code'' horse race of religious-themed thrillers starts with a fire at the Turin Cathedral, where Jesus' burial cloth is housed. When the Italian Art Crimes Department investigates, they uncover a pattern of similar suspicious fires, leading to evidence of a longstanding war between the Knights Templar and other secret societies.

``The Black Sun'' by James Twining (HarperCollins). The second in a budding series about former CIA agent and art thief Tom Kirk, who, after an Auschwitz survivor is murdered and his tattooed arm disappears, is recruited to thwart an extremist neo- Nazi group called Kristall Blade from recovering Adolf Eichmann's infamous Hungarian ``gold train'' and uncovering the Russian Amber Room.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Corporate Culture, Silent Cal, Loud Jim: December Nonfiction

Corporate Culture, Silent Cal, Loud Jim: December Nonfiction

By Edward Nawotka

Dec. 4 (Bloomberg) -- A company's culture may be invisible, but it pervades every aspect of a business environment, writes Jerome Want in ``Corporate Culture: Illuminating the Black Hole'' (St. Martin's).

Want, a former director of Organization Design and Development with Motorola, examines the strategies and orthodoxies at a variety of companies, from Cisco to Harley- Davidson, and defines the predominant corporate cultures, from predatory to bureaucratic to what he dubs ``high-performing New Age.''

He explains how the forward-thinking, environmentally savvy and employee-sensitive corporate culture at Vermont's Green Mountain Coffee Roasters helped transform it from a small regional operation to a nationally recognized brand.

Mature companies such as Xerox and Polaroid, once at the pinnacle of their industries, have suffered from their intransigent corporate cultures. Internal dynamics can have a serious effect on a company's bottom line and may be an elusive but very real indicator of a company's future success or failure.

Other highlights this month include:

``Jim Cramer's Mad Money: Watch TV, Get Rich'' by James J. Cramer (Simon & Schuster). Cramer, the ``Booyah''-bellowing host of CNBC's ``Mad Money,'' distills his investment wisdom in this new book, which promises to explain how he judges a stock in mere seconds during the show's infamous ``Lightning Round,'' what to look out for in CEO and CFO interviews, and why he's so manic on- air.

``About Alice'' by Calvin Trillin (Random House). Trillin's wife, Alice, who often starred as a comic figure in his writing, died on Sept. 11, 2001, at age 63 from complications of lung cancer. Here she gets a moving yet funny homage from her eloquent husband.

``Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything'' by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams (Portfolio). Based on a $9 million research project, this book examines how the Internet has empowered the masses to produce, edit and distribute their own content and what this means for companies that are the traditional gatekeepers of information.

``Age Shock and Pension Power: How Finance Is Failing Us'' by Robin Blackburn (Verso). An academic argues that despite the proliferation of investment products, greed and mismanagement in the financial-service industry have undermined the ability of savings and pension funds to support our graying population.

``Calvin Coolidge'' by David Greenberg (Times Books). Greenberg offers a brief biography of the 30th U.S. president, who served from 1923 to 1929 and made business development a platform of his administration, laying the groundwork for future generations of conservative, fiscally minded politicians. It is Coolidge who declared: ``The chief business of the American people is business.''

``Natural Causes: Death, Lies and Politics in America's Vitamin and Herbal Supplement Industry'' by Dan Hurley (Broadway Books). Hurley's examination of this $20 billion industry reveals how the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act left the business of vitamins virtually unregulated and, as a consequence, given it free rein to prey on uninformed consumers.

``It's Called Work for a Reason! Your Success Is Your Own Damn Fault'' by Larry Winget (Gotham). Another bullying TV talking head, Winget, the host of A&E's ``Big Spender,'' delves into what he sees as right and wrong with businesses. With frequent reminders that companies stress making money, he offers advice on how to take best advantage of a variety of workplace scenarios.

``Next Now: Trends for the Future'' by Marian Salzman and Ira Matathia (Palgrave Macmillan). Salzman, executive vice president at ad agency JWT, and co-author Matathia, a brand consultant, collate trends from across the globe in an attempt to forecast what's coming. Their conclusions aren't likely to wow you. They say, for example, that ``Chindia'' is going to be an economic force. But they can be entertaining.

``The Judges: A Penetrating Exploration of American Courts and of the New Decisions -- Hard Decisions -- They Must Make for a New Millennium'' by Martin Mayer (Truman Talley Books). Mayer took six years to write this expose of the judicial system, which covers everything from the Supreme Court on down to local criminal courts. He concludes that cronyism put many of our 30,000 judges on the bench and a significant percentage needs specialized training.

``Blocking the Courthouse Door: How the Republican Party and Its Corporate Allies Are Taking Away Your Right to Sue'' by Stephanie Mencimer (Free Press). A Washington Monthly reporter tackles the issue of tort reform, rehashing arguments for and against, and comes away with the belief that the biggest beneficiaries of reform are politically conservative corporations in danger of being sued (think of McDonald's and its once scalding hot coffee), while mostly liberal trial lawyers and Joe Citizen lose out.

``American Bloomsbury: Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau: Their Lives, Their Loves, Their Work'' by Susan Cheever (Simon & Schuster). This gossipy group portrait of the Transcendentalists of Concord, Massachusetts, delves into their personal rivalries, speculates about their love lives and examines their early form of activism during the period 1840 to 1868.

``Johann Sebastian Bach: Life and Work'' by Martin Geck (Harcourt). Lucidly written in a style that is accessible to non- musicologists, this biography by an acclaimed German academic devotes lengthy passages to analyzing Bach's renowned technique and why his music so moves listeners.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Crichton's `Next': Profiteers, Chatty Chimps in the Gene Pool

Crichton's `Next': Profiteers, Chatty Chimps in the Gene Pool

By Edward Nawotka

Nov. 28 (Bloomberg) -- In Michael Crichton's ``Next,'' universities forge billion-dollar deals with Big Pharma, humans are mined for their genetic code, animals are bred to emulate the higher functions of humans, venture capitalists conspire to ensure the success of their investments and lawyers make fortunes litigating the whole resulting mess.

The story revolves around a legal battle over the ownership of a sample of cancer-fighting cells taken from Frank Burnett, a 51-year-old construction worker battling leukemia. Burnett unsuccessfully sues to prevent the sale of the cells by the University of California to a biogenetics startup called BioGen for $3 billion.

Soon after, however, the startup discovers that the cells have been contaminated, rendering them worthless. A Hummer- driving bounty hunter is dispatched to procure new tissue samples from Burnett, his daughter and her young son with a big, scary needle. Then it's back to court to litigate whether BioGen has a right to pursue its ``property.''

Elsewhere, genetic oddities are manifesting themselves. An Indonesian orangutan is heard swearing at tourists in French and Dutch and is soon hounded by reporters; a chatty African gray parrot helps a Parisian boy do his math homework; and a San Diego researcher sires a human-chimp crossbreed that he brings home and sends to grade school in baseball cap and jeans. At school, the ``humanzee,'' named Dave, defends his human half-brother from a group of bullying skater punks, bombarding them with his own feces.

Silvio Soap

Crichton's 2004 polemical novel, ``State of Fear,'' sought to debunk evidence of global warming. Crichton again has an agenda and again goes to great lengths to indoctrinate his audience. He collates recent genetic research, loads the story with statistics and cuts down the most hyperbolic conclusions, such as the widespread report that blondes are genetically predetermined to go extinct in 200 years.

He also sprinkles the text with ``News of the Weird'' stories, some false, such as the swearing ape, and some merely dubious, such as one about the artist who turned former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's liposuctioned fat into a bar of soap and sold it for $18,000.

When the villainous evangelical Christian in charge of genetics at the National Institutes of Health is gunned down after co-opting another researcher's project, and a wealthy investor contracts a rare form of cancer and is told that no cure is available because the potential for profiting from it wasn't there, Crichton's slant becomes all too obvious: He wants to convince us that the genetic research industry is run exclusively for profit and needs reform. (If you miss this point in the novel, Crichton spells it out in an epilogue.)

A Little Sex

Though ``Next'' is informative, it's also a tepid read. The straw characters flit in and out of the action, have a little sex and serve mostly as mouthpieces. Certain plot lines, including a potentially provocative one about a researcher who administers a drug in the hope it will cure drug addiction, never truly resolve -- a death sentence for a thriller.

``Jurassic Park'' was also set in a world of genetic engineering run amok, but that book was rooted much more in fantasy than in reality. In ``Next,'' Crichton has mounted a bully pulpit and seems loath to give it up. That's placed him a long way from the smart, high-octane stories we expect from him.

``Next'' by Michael Crichton is published by HarperCollins (431 pages, $27.95).

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Gallic Tips, Art Thugs, Jefferson's Bubbly: Lifestyle Books

Gallic Tips, Art Thugs, Jefferson's Bubbly: Lifestyle Books

By Edward Nawotka

Nov. 14 (Bloomberg) -- In ``French Women for All Seasons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes, and Pleasure'' (Knopf), Mireille Guiliano serves up a second helping of Gallic ``sagesse.''

The long-time executive at the luxury firm LVMH and public face of Champagne Veuve Clicquot expands on the ideas outlined in her surprise 2004 bestseller ``French Women Don't Get Fat,'' a philosophy that can be summarized as: embrace quality, shop according to the season, eat in moderation and feel free to indulge in a croissant, a little chocolate and a glass of wine whenever desired.

No, it may not be groundbreaking advice, but it's still news to many Americans that living ``comme les francaises'' is healthier and more satisfying than everyday supersizing.

Also new this month:

``The Power of Art'' by Simon Schama (Ecco). The cultural historian believes ``great art has dreadful manners'' and here meditates on the question of ``what's art really for.'' He critiques eight masterpieces, one each by an artist he dubs a ``thug,'' including Bernini, Caravaggio, Rembrandt, David, Turner, Van Gogh, Picasso and Rothko.

``Schott's Almanac 2007'' by Ben Schott (Bloomsbury). This quirky twist on the annual almanac, written by a British humorist known for his bestselling books of miscellany, covers such need- to-know cocktail party trivia as who won ``American Idol,'' the finalists for the Bad Sex in Fiction award and the number of reported shark attacks.

``The Smart Money: How the World's Best Sports Bettors Beat the Bookies Out of Millions: A Memoir'' by Michael Konik (Simon & Schuster). Konik recounts his harrowing experiences working for Rick ``Big Daddy'' Matthews, the mastermind behind ``The Brain Trust,'' the biggest sport-gambling syndicate in America, which routinely wagered huge sums of money on a single game and consistently beat the Vegas odds.

``Thomas Jefferson on Wine'' by John Hailman (The University Press of Mississippi). Hailman looks at the oenophile president through his lifelong passion for wine and offers a unique insight into his character, his effort to steer compatriots away from hard liquor and his savvy execution of ``Champagne diplomacy'' while hosting White House dinners.

``The Yellow House: Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Nine Turbulent Weeks in Arles'' by Martin Gayford (Little, Brown). A psychoanalytic portrait (by Bloomberg's London art critic) of the fertile period when the two artists shared a house in the south of France and painted the same subjects, ending with Van Gogh cutting off his ear and giving it to a prostitute.

``A Star Is Found: Our Adventures Casting Some of Hollywood's Biggest Movies'' by Janet Hirshenson and Jane Jenkins. A dishy look into the lives of casting directors from two of the top star makers in the business, credited with discovering Tom Cruise, Leonardo DiCaprio and Meg Ryan, among many others.

``Monopoly: The World's Most Famous Game -- and How It Got That Way'' by Philip E. Orbanes (Da Capo). Monopoly started out as a teaching tool for economics class and now has sold more than 200 million copies. Orbanes outlines how this American game, inspired by J.P. Morgan, has had pervasive influence on our culture and the world's understanding of wealth creation.

``Theories of Everything: Selected, Collected and Health- Inspected Cartoons by Roz Chast, 1978-2006'' by Roz Chast (Bloomsbury). More than 400 pages of cartoons, many in color, from the New Yorker magazine mainstay whose anxiety-prone subjects are plagued by a catalog of modern neuroses.

``Dunhill by Design'' by Nick Foulkes (Flammarion). A GQ writer's beautifully illustrated history of Alfred Dunhill's influence on men's fashion, from 1890 to the present day, spans his early innovative products for Edwardian motorists, the move into specialized accessories such as watches and writing instruments, and the company's recent foray into leather goods and clothing.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Lives of Mao, Rubirosa, Novels by Turow, Marquez: Paperbacks

Lives of Mao, Rubirosa, Novels by Turow, Marquez: Paperbacks

By Edward Nawotka

Nov. 8 (Bloomberg) -- Caravaggio, Osama bin Laden, Chairman Mao and Porfirio Rubirosa feature in new paperbacks this month, as do characters in novels by Scott Turow and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The CIA's hunt for Osama bin Laden before 9/11 and in the early days of the war in Afghanistan gets firsthand treatment in ``Jawbreaker: The Attack on Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda: A Personal Account by the CIA's Key Field Commander'' (Three Rivers Press). The author, Gary Berntsen, notes the unusual degree of cooperation among U.S. forces and their allies as they destroyed much of the Taliban and cornered bin Laden along the Pakistan border. Berntsen recounts the beleaguered al-Qaeda fighters' attempts to negotiate after bombardment by B-52s and vents his ire over the failure of American military leaders to order U.S. ground forces to strike the killing blow and the decision to rely on undisciplined Afghan militias to block bin Laden's retreat.

``The Lost Painting: The Quest for a Caravaggio Masterpiece'' by Jonathan Harr (Random House). Harr's follow-up to his award-winning legal saga ``A Civil Action'' is an academic detective story chronicling a young Italian art scholar's search for one of the mercurial master's missing canvases, ``The Taking of Christ.''

``Memories of My Melancholy Whores'' by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Vintage).├┐In this slim novel, the Nobel laureate's first fiction in a decade, an elderly bachelor meditates on youthful passion and re-experiences the rush of romance when he confronts the innocence of a 14-year-old virgin while celebrating his 90th birthday.

``Mao: The Unknown Story'' by Jung Chang and John Halliday (Anchor). This stunning, unforgiving portrait emphasizes the brutality of the tyrant who engineered the Cultural Revolution that brought pain and suffering to millions of Chinese.

``The Last Playboy: The High Life of Porfirio Rubirosa'' by Shawn Levy (HarperCollins). A lively account of a man who in the mid-20th century was the epitome of Rat Pack celebrity: He befriended Frank Sinatra, married Doris Duke, became renowned for his physical endowments, and died at age 56 after crashing his Ferrari in Paris's Bois de Boulogne.

``Limitations'' by Scott Turow (Picador). This tepid effort by Turow originally appeared as a serial novel in the New York Times Magazine and revives familiar characters from his previous books -- Rusty Sabich of ``Presumed Innocent'' and George Mason from ``Personal Injuries'' -- now working a sexual-assault case.

``Smartbomb: The Quest for Art, Entertainment, and Big Bucks in the Videogame Revolution'' by Heather Chaplin and Aaron Ruby (Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill). A fast-paced journalistic account of the explosion in the video-game business that some predict eventually will rival Hollywood in annual receipts.

``World as Laboratory: Experiments with Mice, Mazes, and Men'' by Rebecca Lemov (Hill & Wang). This intriguing study of the mid-20th-century development of the field of ``human engineering'' describes the use of human guinea pigs in efforts to develop techniques for brainwashing, interrogation and remote- control behavior.

``The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth'' by Tim Flannery (Grove). An Australian scientist delivers a dense survey of global warming theory and research that offers persuasive evidence that carbon emissions into the atmosphere are indeed transforming our environment.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Pynchon's Big `Day,' Crichton's Future, Godfather: New Fiction

Pynchon's Big `Day,' Crichton's Future, Godfather: New Fiction

By Edward Nawotka

Nov. 3 (Bloomberg) -- A new book by Thomas Pynchon is only slightly less rare than sightings of the man himself. ``Against the Day'' (Penguin Press) is the reclusive genius's first novel in a decade and, at 1,085 pages, easily his fattest. The extravagant plot moves from the 1883 Chicago World's Fair to early Hollywood, and the prose is jammed with the funny names, silly songs, unhinged fantasy, encyclopedic learning and, not least, excruciating beauty that are his trademarks.

Pynchon has clearly been keeping up with the national news, and his hatred of the power structure hasn't abated: Part of the novel deals with the anarchist dynamiters who plagued Colorado's mining barons, and there's no question as to where his sympathies lie.

Also new this month:

``Next'' by Michael Crichton (HarperCollins). The provocateur futurist is back with a novel tackling the widely debated topic of genetic engineering. The book is embargoed until Nov. 28, but its publisher promises it will change ``everything you think you know.''

``The Godfather's Revenge'' by Mark Winegardner (Putnam). Winegardner is becoming a worthy successor to Mario Puzo, who died in 1999. This second sequel to ``The Godfather'' finds the Corleone clan embroiled in the political machinations of the early 1960s and culminates in a plot to assassinate the U.S. president.

``The Hidden Assassins'' by Robert Wilson (Harcourt) Spanish police inspector Javier Falcon investigates an explosion at a Seville mosque and tries to thwart a terrorist conspiracy in the latest brainy mystery from the author of the acclaimed ``A Small Death in Lisbon.''

``The View from Castle Rock'' by Alice Munro (Knopf). The renowned Canadian's 11th story collection comprises 12 masterful tales inspired by her ancestors' immigration from Scotland's Ettrick Valley to the shores of Lake Huron.

``The Handmaid and the Carpenter'' by Elizabeth Berg (Random House). A rewrite of the Christmas story that fleshes out the doubts and fears of the 13-year-old virgin Mary who, miraculously pregnant, marries 16-year-old Joseph and travels to Bethlehem to give birth to Jesus.

``The Aeneid'' by Virgil, translated by Robert Fagles (Viking). This new book by the heralded translator of ``The Odyssey'' and ``The Iliad'' offers a fresh interpretation of the third pinnacle of the classic epics: the story of Aeneas, the wandering Trojan who eventually founded Rome.

``The Phony Marine'' by Jim Lehrer (Random House). The PBS newsman's 16th novel may be his best yet and explains the unexpected consequences that unfold after an unremarkable clothing salesman buys a Silver Star on EBay Inc. and begins posing as a war hero.

``The Book of Samson'' by David Maine (St. Martin's). Maine's third brilliant re-imagining of a Bible story -- after ``The Preservationist'' (about Noah) and ``Fallen'' (about Adam and Eve) -- is filled with murder and mayhem, as the strongman Samson recounts how he became a blood-thirsty killer hellbent on slaughter in the name of God.

``The Book of Dave'' by Will Self (Bloomsbury). An ambitious satire from the controversial British writer portrays a post- apocalyptic society hundreds of years in the future that takes a bitter manifesto by a 21st-century cockney cab driver as its sacred text.

``The Crimson Portrait'' by Jody Shields (Little, Brown). Working from a true story, the author of the highly regarded ``The Fig Eater'' tells of a World War I widow who decides to salvage her life by refashioning a disfigured soldier into her husband's image.

``The Rising Tide'' by Jeff Shaara (Ballantine). In the first volume of a planned World War II trilogy, Shaara channels Rommel, Eisenhower and Patton while vividly describing the early days of the U.S.'s involvement in the war, especially the desert tank battles of the North African front and the Allied invasion of Italy.

``Ines of My Soul'' by Isabel Allende (HarperCollins). The latest historical saga from the Chilean bestseller depicts the life of the iron-willed 16th-century heroine Ines Suarez, who together with her lover, the conquistador Pedro de Valdivia, helped conquer Chile.

``Last Seen Leaving'' by Kelly Braffet (Houghton Mifflin). A tense thriller inspired by the Elizabeth Smart abduction in which a girl crashes her car and is picked up by an enigmatic stranger who helps her start a new life in a Virginia town beset by a serial killer.

``A Christmas Caroline'' by Kyle Smith (Morrow). Charles Dickens meets ``The Devil Wears Prada'' in this comic romp that delves into the love life of a haunted, high-maintenance editor of a women's shopping magazine who bah-humbugs her way through the holidays.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Walt's World, Paris, Andy Grove, Jimmy Carter: New Nonfiction

Walt's World, Paris, Andy Grove, Jimmy Carter: New Nonfiction

By Edward Nawotka

Nov. 2 (Bloomberg) -- ``Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination'' by Neal Gabler (Knopf) is a detailed biography of the ``imagineer'' who died of lung cancer in 1966 and, contrary to legend, was not frozen in stasis to await resurrection but was cremated. He presents Disney as a flawed genius, an obsessive micromanager and a terrible businessman, who relied on his brother Roy to manage the company's often shaky finances in the early days.

Gabler credits Disney with a massive cultural legacy akin to that of Picasso. Unlike Pablo, of course, Walt was no friend of the left and supported the red-baiting Motion Picture Alliance for the Preservation of American Ideals, an organization also perceived as anti-Semitic.

Also new this month:

``Andy Grove: The Life and Times of an American'' by Richard Tedlow (Portfolio). A sunny biography of the Hungarian immigrant and former Intel chief executive officer who is credited with helping Intel dominate the computer-processor industry just as PCs were becoming ubiquitous.

``Point to Point Navigation: A Memoir'' by Gore Vidal (Doubleday). The suavely combative octogenarian, in a sequel to 1995's ``Palimpsest,'' portrays himself as the star of his own life's movie, a recurring motif in this free-flowing, celebrity- studded chronicle of his later years.

``Palestine Peace Not Apartheid'' by Jimmy Carter (Simon & Schuster). The prolific ex-president outlines a peace plan for Israel and Palestine that hinges on Israel's removing itself from occupied Arab lands and the Palestinians' respecting Israel's pre-1967 borders.

``The Writing on the Wall: Why We Must Embrace China as a Partner or Face It as an Enemy'' by Will Hutton (Free Press). The British Hutton counters the prevailing theory that China's apotheosis as the world's greatest economic power is all but guaranteed and argues that its dysfunctional internal politics and policies may derail its progress, leading to an inevitable global economic meltdown. In his view, it is in our own self- interest to help them, rather than treat them as a rival.

``The Best Intentions: Kofi Annan and the UN in the Era of American Power'' by James Traub (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). A balanced portrait of the United Nations, focusing on Annan's leadership, starting in 1992 when he served as assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping operations and through his two terms as secretary-general, a period that includes the oil-for- food scandal, the Iraq War and stalled efforts at reforming the beleaguered institution.

``House of Hilton: From Conrad to Paris: A Drama of Wealth, Power, and Privilege'' by Jerry Oppenheimer (Crown). Oppenheimer's gossipy family biography portrays the Hiltons as a clan of vulgar and spoiled ignoramuses -- starting with Conrad, the larger-than-life founder of the hotel chain who married Zsa Zsa Gabor, and ending with the advent of his omnipresent great granddaughter, the sub-socialite, singer and inadvertent Web- video star Paris.

``The Varieties of Scientific Experience: A Personal View of the Search for God'' by Carl Sagan (Penguin Press). The 10th anniversary of the scientist's death is being marked with the publication of these 1985 lectures on the relationship between religion and science, which describes Sagan's own concept of ``informed worship'' and the potential for chemically induced transcendence.

``Pathfinders: A Global History of Exploration'' by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto (Norton). A history buff's ultimate armchair- travel companion, this book depicts everything from the moment homo erectus migrated out of East Africa to the mythic 19th- century explorations of the polar ice caps, the Americas and other remote corners of the world.

``The Girl With the Gallery: Edith Gregor Halpert and the Making of the Modern Art Market'' by Lindsay Pollock (PublicAffairs). A forgotten pioneer of the New York art scene, Halpert opened her Greenwich Village gallery in 1926 and proceeded to sell, sell, sell, establishing the reputations of Stuart Davis and Georgia O'Keeffe, among others. The author writes on the art market for Bloomberg News.

``Time Traveler: A Scientist's Personal Mission to Make Time Travel a Reality'' by Ronald Mallett (Thunder's Mouth). The University of Connecticut physics professor explains his ideas for how space and time can be manipulated and his personal effort to build a time machine so he can visit his dead father.

``Ship of Ghosts: The Story of the USS Houston, FDR's Legendary Lost Cruiser, and the Epic Saga of Her Survivors'' by naval historian James D. Hornfischer (Bantam). An account of the Houston's sinking by the Japanese in the Java Sea in 1942 that includes an unvarnished depiction of the building of the infamous Burma-Thailand Death Railway, romanticized by the movie ``Bridge on the River Kwai.''

``The End of the Line: How Overfishing Is Changing the World and What We Eat'' by Charles Clover (New Press). The London Telegraph editor offers a disturbing report on how modern, technologically advanced industrial fishing has radically depleted wild fish stocks, leaving certain species on the brink of extinction.

``William James: In the Maelstrom of American Modernism'' by Robert D. Richardson (Houghton Mifflin). Richardson, the award- winning biographer of Emerson and Thoreau, delivers an engaging account of the life of the Harvard psychologist and philosopher who gave us the classic ``The Varieties of Religious Experience.''

``Lone Wolf: Eric Rudolph: Murder, Myth, and the Pursuit of an American Outlaw'' by Maryanne Vollers (HarperCollins). Vollers, the only reporter in communication with Rudolph, draws an insightful portrait of the homegrown terrorist who bombed the Olympic Centennial Park during the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, fled into the woods and eluded capture for five years.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Historian of Tigers Recalls Impact of World Series on Detroit

Historian of Tigers Recalls Impact of World Series on Detroit

By Edward Nawotka

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Just three years after losing 119 games and narrowly missing the record for single-season losses in modern Major League Baseball history, the Detroit Tigers are appearing in their tenth World Series, which begins tomorrow night against the St. Louis Cardinals.

Baseball historian Tom Stanton brings together stories from the team's 105-year history in his 2005 book, ``The Detroit Tigers Reader,'' and describes how the Tigers' infrequent appearances in the series have lifted the mood of the city in otherwise dire times.

Stanton's book ``Ty & the Babe,'' about the rivalry between Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, will be published in the spring of 2007 by St. Martin's Press. He spoke with me this week by phone from Michigan.

Nawotka: How has the Tigers appearance in this World Series changed things in Detroit?

Stanton: It comes at a time when nobody expected great things from the Tigers and when Detroit has had a lot of grim economic news. We've had tens of thousands of people laid off by the car companies. There's a gubernatorial race going on at the moment and, it's kind of odd, but some people think the Tigers' success might actually make voters feel better about the incumbent.

Nawotka: Several of Detroit's past baseball championships have had significance beyond the game. I'm thinking, in particular, of the 1968 World Series.

Stanton: True. In 1967, we had race riots. The next year, the Tigers helped heal some of those wounds by bringing blacks and whites together in Tiger Stadium to watch our stars -- guys like Willie Horton, Mickey Lolich and Al Kaline -- play together in the World Series.

Depression-Era Win

Nawotka: Was the 1935 championship, which came in the midst of the Great Depression, as important?

Stanton: It gave the city a phenomenal boost. That was the first time the Tigers won the series and my father, who lived through that time, can still remember the starting line-up. In the ``Reader,'' Grantland Rice has a piece about the win that begins: ``The Leaning Tower can now crumble and find its level with the Pisan plain. The Hanging Gardens can grow up in weeds.'' It's incredibly purple prose, but shows just how much it meant. I don't think we attach that much significance to our win in 1945, but it did mark the end of World War II and a victory for Hank Greenberg.

Nawotka: Why Greenberg in particular?

Stanton: Hank Greenberg was the first Jewish baseball star. He came out of the Bronx and, because the Yankees had Lou Gehrig, he ended up with the Tigers. People would have known a lot more about Hank Greenberg if there wasn't the war. In 1938, he almost knocked off Babe Ruth's single-season home-run record. Then in 1941, Greenberg was the first (baseball) star to enlist and he left the team for four years.

Great Satan

Nawotka: Speaking of Babe Ruth, the Tigers were the team of his main rival, Ty Cobb, who is now largely regarded as the Great Satan of baseball. How much are Cobb's vilification and Ruth's beatification a consequence of geography?

Stanton: I think New York does a better job of celebrating its heroes. Reporters didn't try to be nonpartisan. I have no doubt that a lot of New York reporters portrayed Cobb in an unfavorable light.

Nawotka: Is it true Cobb sharpened his spikes to gouge people?

Stanton: He was an extremely competitive person who could be brutal, but that's a myth. There's a piece in my book from 1916 called ``A Day with Cobb'' which shows another side of him: an articulate man, a man who was passionate about reading and loves music. A fan from Cobb's era wouldn't recognize him today. In his time, he was admired. Cobb, Greenberg and Kaline were all big stars and if you put them in New York they'd have been even bigger.

``The Detroit Tigers Reader,'' edited by Tom Stanton, is published by the University of Michigan Press (206 pages, $18.95).

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Google's Rivals, Rushdie's Clown, Dowd, Vlad: New Paperbacks

Google's Rivals, Rushdie's Clown, Dowd, Vlad: New Paperbacks

By Edward Nawotka

Oct. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Vlad the Impaler is still alive and sucking in Elizabeth Kostova's novel ``The Historian,'' one of October's paperback releases.

Also this month: books on porn, Google, Teddy Roosevelt.

In ``Shalimar the Clown'' (Random House), Salman Rushdie explores the origins and mind-set of a Muslim assassin. Rushdie, who himself remains under a fatwa, argues that terrorism originates not with religion and politics but with personal grudges. The story in this impassioned novel centers on a Jewish U.S. diplomat slain by a Kashmiri Muslim. The novelist, whose recent work has slipped of late, benefits from the return to the subcontinental settings of his powerful early novels ``Midnight's Children'' and ``Shame'' and portrays the mountainous region of Kashmir as a lost Eden corrupted by its collision with modernity.

``The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture'' by John Battelle (Portfolio). Google has a huge slab of the market in finding out what the world wants and so an edge in leveraging that knowledge into real dollars and cents, argues this highly regarded Silicon Valley journalist.

``Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide'' by Maureen Dowd (Berkley). The New York Times columnist offers her gloss on the age-old question of boys-versus-girls and applies a provocative smear of high-heeled, lipsticked pragmatism to the face of 21st- century feminism.

``The Historian'' by Elizabeth Kostova (Back Bay). A fat page turner in which an American living in Europe is led on a dangerous quest across Europe to find evidence that the 15th- century villain Vlad the Impaler, aka Dracula, is still alive.

``The Tycoons: How Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller, Jay Gould, and J.P. Morgan Invented the American Supereconomy'' by Charles Morris (Owl). A hagiographical portrait of the four men who embodied the Gilded Age and amassed vast fortunes in oil, gold and steel in the years following the Civil War.

``The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey'' by Candice Millard (Broadway). Millard, a former National Geographic editor, recounts the 1914 exploration of a remote section of the Amazon River in Brazil where the plump ex- president was tracked by cannibals, contracted malaria and nearly died.

``Mission to America'' by Walter Kirn (Anchor). A young member of a dwindling matriarchal cult in Montana is sent forth to locate and convert a mate and finds himself irreversibly transformed by the uninhibited sexuality, self-obsession and vapidity he encounters in a Colorado resort town.

``Illicit: How Smugglers, Traffickers, and Copycats Are Hijacking the Global Economy'' by Moises Naim (Anchor). The editor of Foreign Policy looks at a side effect of globalization: the booming underground trade in drugs, weapons, laundered money, counterfeit goods and human beings.

``How to Make Money Like a Porn Star'' by Neil Strauss and Bernard Chang (Regan Books). The author of porn star Jenna Jameson's biography ``How to Make Love Like a Porn Star'' depicts the behind-the-scenes reality of the skin-flick industry in this unnerving graphic novel, equal parts titillation and morality tale.

``Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife'' by Mary Roach (Norton). A frequently funny chronicle of Roach's encounters with researchers looking for evidence that life continues beyond the grave, including a man trying to weigh the consciousness of a leech.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

Woodward Gets Bush, Plus Weill, Fiorina, Mellon: New Nonfiction

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 29 (Bloomberg) -- October's new nonfiction brings John Grisham's first venture outside the fictional world (the story of a man wrongly sent to death row) and Bob Woodward's third look at the Bush White House. Former Citigroup chairman Sandy Weill serves up his life's story and Lou Dobbs mulls the American dream.

``State of Denial: Bush at War, Part III'' by Bob Woodward (Simon & Schuster) is the month's big ``Iraq is a mess'' book, one of a growing list. The Washington Post writer's first two chronicles of the Bush White House were too soft on the president, depicting Bush mainly as a resolute leader and the White House as a cohesive unit. Time moves on. Many bodies later, and many billions too, the ace reporter comes up with evidence that Bush and his advisers, particularly Donald Rumsfeld, are stubborn and arrogant and deaf to dissent.

``The Real Deal: My Life in Business'' by Sandy Weill (Warner). The ex-Citigroup boss recounts how he rose from the streets of Depression-era Brooklyn and parlayed a job as a $35-a- week runner for Bear Stearns into a seat atop one of the biggest financial institutions in the world.

``The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game'' by Michael Lewis (Norton). Lewis does for football what he did for baseball in his bestselling ``Moneyball,'' showing how a variety of less-than- obvious factors, from evolving defensive strategies to conditioning, can affect a player's career and the outcome on the gridiron.

``Tough Choices: A Memoir'' by Carly Fiorina (Portfolio). The ousted chairwoman and chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, who oversaw the company's merger with Compaq, delivers a tell-all on her troubled six-year tenure and offers words of wisdom for women executives. Maybe she feels less troubled given the current H-P turmoil.

``War on the Middle Class: How the Government, Big Business, and Special Interest Groups Are Waging War on the American Dream and How to Fight Back'' by Lou Dobbs (Viking). The CNN newscaster has been using his anchor's desk as a bully pulpit to rant against corporate outsourcing, illegal immigration and the federal deficit, the sum of which he claims amounts to ``class war'' on middle-class America.

``Thunderstruck'' by Erik Larson (Crown). Learn how in 1910 Dr. H.H. Crippen poisoned and skinned his wife, then fled England with his mistress on a cruise ship to North America. The authorities pursued in a transatlantic chase that featured shipboard reports sent via Guglielmo Marconi's new wireless telegraph. Larson's ``Devil in the White City'' has sold more than a million copies, so expect the new one to be piled high in stores.

``The Innocent Man: Murder and Injustice in a Small Town'' by John Grisham (Doubleday). A cautionary tale about a mentally ill former minor-league baseball player sent to death row for the rape and murder of an Oklahoma cocktail waitress in 1981 -- and eventually exonerated by DNA evidence.

``Off the Books: The Underground Economy of the Urban Poor'' by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh (Harvard University Press). A sociologist ventures into a poor black neighborhood on Chicago's South Side and finds a world where nearly everyone, from clergy to prostitutes, relies on unregulated, unreported and untaxed work to survive.

``Mellon: An American Life'' by David Cannadine (Knopf). A huge biography (800 pages) of the legendary financier, politician and philanthropist Andrew Mellon, who served as secretary of the treasury under presidents Harding, Coolidge and Hoover, was blamed for the Depression, and founded the National Gallery of Art.

``Andrew Carnegie'' by David Nasaw (Penguin Press). Another masterly and long (896 pages) biography of a controversial Gilded Age titan: the Scotsman Carnegie, who evolved from a cotton- factory bobbin boy into a ruthless steel magnate and the world's richest man.

``Beauty Junkies: Inside Our $15 Billion Obsession with Cosmetic Surgery'' by Alex Kuczynski (Doubleday). Entertaining, sobering survey taking in everything from South African ``surgery safaris'' to ``foot face lifts'' -- by a New York Times reporter who says she has had a few things done herself.

``The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid: A Memoir'' by Bill Bryson (Broadway). The author of ``A Short History of Nearly Everything'' is nostalgic and sarcastic about his all-American 1950s Iowa childhood as he depicts an ennui lurking beneath the surface of that seemingly happy-go-lucky era.

``The Architecture of Happiness'' by Alain de Botton (Pantheon). The English polymath and author of ``How Proust Can Change Your Life'' returns with another breezy, brainy philosophical meditation, this time describing how public and private architecture influence emotion.

``Heist: Superlobbyist Jack Abramoff, His Republican Allies, and the Buying of Washington'' by Peter Stone (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). How the lobbyist in the black fedora went about peddling power, allegedly bilking four Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars and schmoozing with former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

``Soldier: The Life of Colin Powell'' by Karen DeYoung (Knopf). The retired general and former secretary of state sat for six interviews with DeYoung in which he explained how his military career shaped him, why he declined to run for president and his strained term at the White House.

``The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream'' by Barack Obama (Crown). The junior senator from Illinois, who is being touted as the future of the Democratic Party, delivers his first political manifesto, just in time for the midterm elections.

``Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York'' by Adam Gopnik (Knopf). The Francophile New Yorker magazine writer's charming sequel to his memoir ``Paris to the Moon'' follows the Gopnik clan as it relocates to New York, and the author describes the wonders and challenges of being a parent and child in the big, magical city.

``Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer'' by Maureen Ogle (Harcourt). A history of America's favorite ballpark libation, from the heady years of early European immigration through World War I and the anti-German sentiment that declared ``the worst of all our German enemies are Pabst, Schlitz, Blatz, and Miller,'' to the advent of ``lite'' beer and microbrews.

``Violin Dreams'' by Arnold Steinhardt (Houghton Mifflin). A memoir by the Guarneri String Quartet's first violinist, in which he recounts that he hated to practice but was slowly consumed by a passion to master the music, in particular the difficult violin solos of Bach. (Includes a CD of Steinhardt performing.)

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

`Cold Mountain' Frazier Returns; King, Ford, Eggers: New Novels

`Cold Mountain' Frazier Returns; King, Ford, Eggers: New Novels

By Edward Nawotka

Oct. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Nine years after the blockbuster Civil War story ``Cold Mountain,'' Charles Frazier returns with ``Thirteen Moons'' (Random House), which again features a man searching for his long lost love, this time a squaw he won in a card game. The ponderous white-person-meets-red-person tale depicts a man mulling his role in the fate of the Cherokee as they oppose the belligerent Andrew Jackson and America's greedy western expansion.

October is crammed with big name authors from Dave Eggers to Stephen King.

``The Lay of the Land'' by Richard Ford (Knopf). The third novel featuring real-estate agent Frank Bascombe (the first was ``The Sportswriter,'' the second the Pulitzer Prize-winning ``Independence Day'') finds Frank, now 55, remarried, battling prostate cancer and hosting a bittersweet Thanksgiving dinner as the disputed 2000 presidential election rages in the background.

``Abundance: A Novel of Marie Antoinette'' by Sena Jeter Naslund (Morrow). The author of the well-received ``Ahab's Wife'' creates a lush fictionalization of the life of the notorious French queen, the court of Louis XVI and the machine that made their crowns superfluous, the guillotine.

``What Is the What'' by Dave Eggers (McSweeney's). Eggers's novel, based on the true story of Valentino Achak Deng, depicts the perilous 1,000-mile trek across East Africa of one of Sudan's ``lost boys,'' driven from his home and confronting starvation, violent militants and wild animals before finding sanctuary in the U.S.

``The Echo Maker'' by Richard Powers (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The difficult, often brilliant author of ``The Time of Our Singing'' weaves a mystery with the story of Nebraskan Mark Schluter, who wakes up from a coma confused about the identity of his loved ones. An anonymous note sends him on a quest to find the truth behind the strange auto accident that put him in the coma.

``Restless'' by William Boyd (Bloomsbury). In this atmospheric espionage-meets-domesticity tale from the author of ``Any Human Heart,'' a frustrated Oxford academic's mother reveals she's a former World War II spy and recruits her daughter to help settle an old score.

``The Light of Evening'' by Edna O'Brien (Houghton Mifflin). A fraught reunion between 78-year-old Dilly, dying in a Dublin hospital and reminiscing over her youth as an immigrant in 1920s New York, and her estranged daughter Eleanora, a controversial novelist living in England, sets up the fiery Irish novelist's meditation on mother/daughter relationships.

``The Uses of Enchantment'' by Heidi Julavits (Doubleday). The year is 1985 and 16-year-old Mary Veal vanishes from her New England prep school only to return a month later claiming she was abducted and abused. The aftermath leads to trouble and soul searching in this captivating third novel by the editor of the literary magazine the Believer.

``Lisey's Story'' by Stephen King (Scribner). A revealing tale that depicts the trials of a writer's widow who ventures to the source of her dead husband's inspiration for his award- winning novels, a bizarre place called Boo'ya Moon, where the real and the imagined commingle.

``One Good Turn'' by Kate Atkinson (Little, Brown). Atkinson's ingenious new comedy-thriller brings back ex-cop and millionaire Jackson Brodie, first seen in the author's ``Case Histories,'' who is plunged into the lives of a motley crew of Edinburgh denizens -- including a crime novelist and a Russian dominatrix -- and deep into the city's underbelly during its Fringe Festival.

``Black Girl/White Girl'' by Joyce Carol Oates (Ecco). In 1975 Minette Swift, a black student at a seemingly tolerant Pennsylvania liberal arts college, dies after a series of racist incidents. Her roommate Genna, the white daughter of a hippie mother and activist father, reconstructs the events.

``Rescue Missions'' by Frederick Busch (Norton). A powerful, final collection of short stories from the late, esteemed author of more than two dozen books, including 1999's memorable ``The Night Inspector,'' spans territory from the war in Iraq to Upstate New York.

``Farewell Summer'' by Ray Bradbury (Morrow). A slender sequel to Bradbury's beloved 1957 young-adult novel ``Dandelion Wine'' revisits Doug and Tom in Green Town, Illinois, in 1928, and finds the boys feuding with the town's old men, believing if they win they will never grow old.

``The End: Book the Thirteenth -- A Series of Unfortunate Events'' by Lemony Snicket (HarperCollins). A secret is revealed in this final volume of the wildly popular children's book series starring the three Baudelaire orphans and their nemesis, Count Olaf.

``The Collectors'' by David Baldacci (Warner). Top thriller writer Baldacci reconvenes his ``Camel Club'' of quirky conspiracy buffs, first seen in the 2005 novel of the same name, to investigate the sudden deaths of the speaker of the House and a scholar in the Library of Congress. The trail leads through Atlantic City to a rogue CIA assassin.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Edward Nawotka at ink@edwardn.com .
Last Updated: October 2, 2006 10:11 EDT

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Goodwin Revisits Lincoln, Doctorow Follows Sherman: Paperbacks

Goodwin Revisits Lincoln, Doctorow Follows Sherman: Paperbacks

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Doris Kearns Goodwin's look at Lincoln's political circle, E.L. Doctorow's powerful novel about Union General William Tecumseh Sherman and John Berendt's adventures among Venice's eccentrics highlight this month's crop of new paperbacks.

``Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln'' by Doris Kearns Goodwin (Simon & Schuster). In this penetrating look at Lincoln's presidency, the popular historian argues that Abe's savviest move was to load his cabinet with political opponents, including William H. Seward, Salmon P. Chase and Edward Bates.

``The March'' by E.L. Doctorow (Random House). This recreation of Sherman's fiery march through the South at the end of the Civil War is told from the multiple perspectives of a pampered Southern lady, a sadistic surgeon, a freed slave and the grizzled general himself.

``Fortune's Formula: The Untold Story of the Scientific Betting System That Beat the Casinos and Wall Street'' by William Poundstone (Hill & Wang). The story of how Ed Thorp applied the ``Kelly criterion,'' developed by Bell Labs scientist John Kelly, to compute optimal bets while playing blackjack and, later, the securities markets.

``The City of Falling Angels'' by John Berendt (Penguin). The author's picaresque adventures during his on-again, off-again eight-year residency in Venice, where he was ostensibly investigating the fire that destroyed the historic Fenice opera house in 1996 but spent most of his time mingling with the city's eccentric aristocrats and artists.

``Melville: His World and Work'' by Andrew Delbanco (Vintage). Combining history and criticism, this compact, engaging biography shows how the writer's life and work reflected a rich era in the U.S.

``Teacher Man'' by Frank McCourt (Scribner). The Irishman continues the memoir mining he began with ``Angela's Ashes'' in this third outing that covers the nearly 30 years he spent teaching in New York City public schools.

``The Assassins' Gate: America in Iraq'' by George Packer (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Packer, a self-described liberal hawk who initially favored invading Iraq to oust Saddam Hussein, documents his growing dismay as he witnesses mismanagement, incompetence and ignorance at home and abroad.

``Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945'' by Tony Judt (Penguin). An encyclopedic and readable survey covering six decades of history across 34 countries, from Europe's painful postwar recovery to the expansion of the European Union into formerly communist countries in 2004.

``A History of the Jews in the Modern World'' by Howard M. Sachar (Vintage). This tome of more than 800 pages by an eminent scholar covers the past 400 years and chronicles the many roles Jews played in the development of modern civilization.

``Four Quarters of Light: An Alaskan Journey'' by Brian Keenan (Broadway). Irishman Keenan, who spent more than 1,500 days as hostage in Beirut from 1986 to 1990, takes his family to live in Alaska for a summer and revels in the freedom of its wide-open spaces.

``Bonjour Laziness: Why Hard Work Doesn't Pay'' by Corinne Maier (Vintage). Frenchwoman Maier became a cult hero after writing this little Gallic shrug of a book that warns against selling your soul to the corporation and suggests cultivating ``active disengagement'' at work, which is both practical and subversive.

Le Carre Stages Coup, Albom's Froth at Starbucks: New Novels

Le Carre Stages Coup, Albom's Froth at Starbucks: New Novels

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Books by some big names in fiction head into stores this month, including John le Carre, Alice McDermott, Cormac McCarthy, Claire Messud, Sebastian Faulks, Mark Haddon, Mark Z. Danielewski, Bruce Wagner and Ward Just. Here are some of the month's highlights.

``The Mission Song'' by John le Carre (Little, Brown). The author's 20th novel returns to Africa, the setting of ``The Constant Gardener,'' and the Congo, where a mixed-race Congolese interpreter married to a famous British tabloid journalist becomes embroiled in a possible coup.

``The Road'' by Cormac McCarthy (Knopf). McCarthy channels Samuel Beckett in this story of a father and son who traverse a blasted landscape of post-apocalyptic America in search of the sea. They dodge gangs of murderous thugs and scavenge for food, while the father reminisces about a civilization the son has never known.

``World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War'' by Max Brooks (Crown). Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio got into a bidding war over the film rights to this entertaining, tongue-in- cheek chronicle -- by the son of Mel Brooks -- of the decimation of the world by a plague of zombies.

``The Emperor's Children'' by Claire Messud (Knopf). This group portrait shows a trio of spoiled, over-educated, 30-year- old New Yorkers living in the orbit of their friend's famous father -- a celebrated journalist -- whose reputation is threatened when a malicious Australian magazine publisher plans to take him down.

``Human Traces'' by Sebastian Faulks (Random House). The British master of high-toned historical fiction depicts the Victorian-era birth of psychiatry through a pair of globe- trotting doctors who travel from academe to insane asylums and from Gold Rush California to unexplored regions of Africa.

``A Spot of Bother'' by Mark Haddon (Doubleday). Haddon's ``The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,'' about an autistic boy, was a surprise hit. His new novel, an English social comedy, delivers more dysfunction in the form of a retired family patriarch who is mistakenly convinced he's dying of cancer and ignores his wife and adult children's pleas for attention.

``After This'' by Alice McDermott (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). The author of ``Charming Billy,'' which won a National Book Award, tells of Irish-Catholic Long Islanders Mary and John Keane as they contend with the changing social mores of post-WWII America and grapple with their four children in the cultural ferment of the Vietnam War era.

``When Madeline Was Young'' by Jane Hamilton (Doubleday). The Oprah-blessed author returns with another affecting family saga, in which a young husband copes with caring for his brain- damaged first wife while trying to raise two children with his second.

``For One More Day'' by Mitch Albom (Hyperion). The Detroit sportswriter-turned-sensitive-scribe agreed to sell this novel in Starbucks, where he hopes coffee addicts will imbibe the tall, frothy tale of a drunk getting a second chance to bond with his dead mother as she haunts his childhood home.

``Paint It Black'' by Janet Fitch (Little, Brown). Another Oprah anointee, Fitch took seven years to write this doleful novel about a druggy Los Angeles punk rocker whose artist boyfriend kills himself and then finds her life intertwined with that of the man's mother, a world-class concert pianist with her own issues.

``Only Revolutions'' by Mark Z. Danielewski (Pantheon). The fall's most inventive novel, Danielewski's typographically tricky tale -- half the book is printed upside-down -- portrays a pair of lovers on a time-traveling road trip across America in which they literally try to outrun history in a progression of ever- faster autos.

``Memorial'' by Bruce Wagner (Simon & Schuster). This latest outing from a maestro of the Hollywood satire tells of a shattered Angelino family that includes an architect daughter designing a memorial to the victims of the 2004 Asian tsunami, a mother lured into a wicked confidence scheme and a father who has sued the LAPD for shooting his dog.

``Forgetfulness'' by Ward Just (Houghton Mifflin). In this elegant thriller, a retired CIA spy who has turned to portrait painting realizes he can't outrun his past when his wife is killed by Moroccan terrorists as payback for an earlier job and he's forced to seek revenge.

``The Last Town on Earth'' by Thomas Mullen (Random House). Part history, part horror, this debut novel describes the tumult that ensues in the utopian logging community of Commonwealth, Washington, after it enacts a self-imposed quarantine during the 1918 influenza pandemic and a sick soldier is shot dead at the town's gates.

``The Book of Fate'' by Brad Meltzer (Warner). ``The Da Vinci Code'' meets ``The West Wing'' and the Masons in Meltzer's latest, which requires the hero, a Washington politico, to decipher a 200-year-old code written by Thomas Jefferson to solve the mystery of what really happened during a failed presidential assassination eight years earlier.

``The Meaning of Night'' by Michael Cox (Norton). A Victorian-era page-turner starring an ambitious, blood-thirsty bibliophile, Edward Glyver, who murders an anonymous ``red-haired man'' as prelude to dispatching his despised literary rival, a man who threatens to inherit wealth intended for Glyver. Unfortunately, an unseen witness has complicated Glyver's plans and must be confronted first.

``The Interpretation of Murder'' by Jed Rubenfeld (Holt). In the latest worthwhile mystery to feature historical heroes, the year is 1909 and Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are enlisted to assist in the investigation of the torture and murder of a young Manhattan heiress. Only the master himself has the skills to coax the clues from the memory of one hysterical near-victim and help catch the culprit.

``The Thirteenth Tale'' by Diane Setterfield (Atria). In this sprawling modern gothic tale, intentionally echoing the Bronte sisters, a young author is summoned to a creepy mansion to write the death-bed biography of a world-famous writer and discovers her own secret history in the process.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Wozniak Revisits Apple, O'Reilly Rants Again: September Nonfiction

Wozniak Revisits Apple, O'Reilly Rants Again: New Nonfiction

By Edward Nawotka

Sept. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak's autobiography, Bill O'Reilly's latest screed and a look at Bush's ``propaganda presidency'' by Frank Rich are among the highlights of new September nonfiction.

``iWoz: From Computer Geek to Cult Icon: How I Invented the Personal Computer, Co-Founded Apple, and Had Fun Doing It'' by Steve Wozniak (Norton). Steve Jobs may get much of the credit for Apple Computer's nearly decade-long revival, but Wozniak's maverick vision continues to have an imprint on the brand.

``Making Globalization Work'' by Joseph E. Stiglitz (Norton). The 2001 Nobel Prize-winner's sequel to his best-seller ``Globalization and Its Discontents'' prescribes practical solutions for sustaining global economic growth while limiting the negative impact on people and the environment.

``Supermob: How Sidney Korshak and His Criminal Associates Became America's Hidden Power Brokers'' by Gus Russo (Bloomsbury). A fascinating chronicle of the rise to power of the enigmatic and influential Korshak, who helped negotiate the collaboration between labor unions and organized crime and counted Ronald Reagan, Frank Sinatra and Joe DiMaggio among his clients.

``Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships'' by Daniel Goleman (Bantam). In a sequel to the best-selling ``Emotional Intelligence,'' Goleman looks at the social propensities of humans and how they can be nurtured or stymied.

``The Price of Admission'' by Daniel Golden (Crown). In this investigative work by a Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal reporter, the subtitle says it all: ``How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way Into Elite Colleges -- and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates.''

``The J Curve: A New Way to Understand Why Nations Rise and Fall'' by Ian Bremmer (Simon & Schuster). Bremmer theorizes that all nations fall along a ``J'' curve, with the left side representing stability because of economic and political isolation (Cuba, North Korea) and the right stability because of openness (the U.S., Japan). To shift from left to right, countries face ``dangerous instability'' at the curve's bottom.

``Murder in Amsterdam: The Death of Theo Van Gogh and the Limits of Tolerance'' by Ian Buruma (Penguin Press). Buruma, an insightful Anglo-Dutch writer, examines an unusual incident for the culturally diverse and tolerant Netherlands, where an Islamic extremist killed the Dutch filmmaker Van Gogh (great-grandnephew of the painter) after he made a film depicting Muslim women as victims of abuse.

``The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million'' by Daniel Mendelsohn (HarperCollins). In this powerful and real-life take on the plot of ``Everything Is Illuminated,'' Mendelsohn visits a dozen countries in search of evidence of six Ukrainian forebears killed by the Nazis in the Holocaust.

``The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West'' by Niall Ferguson (Penguin Press). The Harvard and Oxford historian asserts that three factors -- ``ethnic conflict, economic volatility and empires in decline'' -- caused most conflicts in the 20th century, whether global, such as the world wars, or local, such as the genocides in Armenia and Rwanda.

``There Is No Me Without You: One Woman's Odyssey to Rescue Africa's Children'' by Melissa Fay Greene (Bloomsbury). In a narrative that combines history, reporting and personal experience (Greene has adopted two Ethiopian children), this book tells of a woman who started an orphanage for AIDS babies in Addis Ababa.

``Culture Warrior'' by Bill O'Reilly (Broadway). The Fox News personality vents some familiar peeves: the decline in personal responsibility, the shortcomings of media rivals like Al Franken, and the sins of what he dubs the ``secular-progressive'' movement embodied by George Soros.

``China Shakes the World: A Titan's Rise and Troubled Future -- and the Challenge for America'' by James Kynge (Houghton Mifflin). The former Beijing bureau chief of the Financial Times writes that China's growing hunger for raw materials and oil may cost us, but the country's systemic fraud, corrupt banks and spineless government institutions are an even greater threat to global economic stability.

``Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation'' by Michael Zielenziger (Doubleday). The former Knight-Ridder Tokyo bureau chief uses profiles of socially withdrawn youths know as ``hikikomori'' to show how Japan's rigid, tradition-steeped society has stifled economic revival, political reform and social evolution, abetting its eclipse by China.

``The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina'' by Frank Rich (Penguin Press). The New York Times editorialist delivers a full-on assault of the Bush administration and its PR-savvy cronies, accusing them of running a ``propaganda presidency'' and reducing truth to collateral damage in the war on terrorism.

``How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime'' by Sidney Blumenthal (Princeton University Press). A politically astute collection of columns from the former Clinton staffer analyzing George W. Bush's use of executive privilege and power to stifle debate and push through his agenda, whether it's cutting taxes or invading Iraq.

``Things I Didn't Know: A Memoir'' by Robert Hughes (Knopf). The bombastic art and culture critic offers a rich and irreverent reminiscence of his Australian childhood, one that included a truculent father, Catholic boarding school and, later, a period of formative, far-out years in England during the swinging '60s.

``The Shakespeare Wars: Clashing Scholars, Public Fiascoes, Palace Coups'' by Ron Rosenbaum (Random House). Rosenbaum's personal and passionate guide to the contemporary battles being fought over how to interpret the life and work of the Bard, whether on stage, on film or in the academy.

``Creationists: Selected Essays: 1993-2006'' by E.L. Doctorow (Random House). This noteworthy collection of 16 essays from the award-winning novelist considers the work of dozens of writers, artists and visionaries -- from Twain and Hemingway to Harpo Marx and Albert Einstein -- and in the process offers a one-volume master class on creativity.

``The Immortal Game: A History of Chess or How 32 Carved Pieces on a Board Illuminated Our Understanding of War, Art, Science, and the Human Brain'' by David Shenk (Doubleday). Shenk tracks the game of chess from its origin in India about 500 A.D. to the beginning of modernism, arguing that it has had a pervasive influence on intellectual development.

``The Beautiful Fall: Lagerfeld, Saint Laurent, and Glorious Excess in 1970s Paris'' by Alicia Drake (Little, Brown). This gossipy recreation of the high-chic fashion wars of the era features Warhol, Jerry Hall and a host of others behaving badly.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

To contact the writer on this story: Edward Nawotka at ink@edwardn.com .

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Zadie's Beauty, Ellis's Satire, Banville's Sea: New Paperbacks

Zadie's Beauty, Ellis's Satire, Banville's Sea: New Paperbacks

Aug. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Zadie Smith's magnificent ``On Beauty,'' Bret Easton Ellis's kooky satire of confessional autobiography, ``Lunar Park'' and John Banville's cerebral Booker Prize-winning ``The Sea'' are among some of the choice paperback releases in August.

``On Beauty'' by Zadie Smith (Penguin). Smith is considered by many critics to be one of the finest novelists writing in English, and rightly so. Her latest is a superb 21st-century riff on E.M. Forster's ``Howard's End'' that transplants the action to a thinly disguised Harvard, where two families, each headed by a rival Rembrandt scholar, find their lives and children intertwined.

``Lunar Park'' by Bret Easton Ellis (Vintage). The aging bad boy of American letters --- Ellis wrote the controversial ``American Psycho'' --- is back with an edgy satire about a middle-aged novelist named Bret Easton Ellis who, despite his marriage to a Hollywood starlet and fatherhood, still loves drugs and is wracked with phantasmagoric visions that threaten to destroy his sanity and family.

``End of the Line: The Rise and Coming Fall of the Global Corporation'' by Barry C. Lynn (Currency). Relying on examples from General Electric, Dell and Microsoft, Lynn argues that the outsourcing of production to developing nations has put the U.S. economy at risk by leaving it vulnerable to any breakdown in the already fragile global supply chain.

``The Tender Bar'' by J.R. Moehringer (Hyperion). The L.A. Times reporter recalls his 1970s childhood on Long Island and the days he spent at the local tavern, where his Uncle Charlie and his Sinatra-loving sidekicks -- Colt, Bobo and Joey D -- schooled him in the manly arts and looked after him while he matured.

``The Sea'' by John Banville (Vintage). Last year's Man Booker Prize-winning novel portrays a middle-aged Irishman, mourning the loss of his wife, who returns to his seaside childhood home to brood and reminisce. It's literature with a capital ``L'': dense and demanding, but ultimately rewarding.

``The Story of a Life'' by Aharon Appelfeld (Schocken). The treasured septuagenarian writer's memoir of growing up in Romania and then surviving the Holocaust in the Ukraine by escaping from a prison camp and passing himself off as an orphaned gentile, until he emigrated as a refugee to Palestine.

``Mining California: An Ecological History'' by Andrew C. Isenberg (Hill & Wang). If you think California is heaven on earth, you should have seen it before the 19th-century gold rush felled ancient redwood forests, washed away mountains and poisoned rivers with mercury, all vividly depicted in this unsettling history of environmental pillage and its aftermath.

``The Scent of Your Breath'' by Melissa P. (Black Cat). P's first book, the autobiographical erotic coming-of-age story ``100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed,'' has sold 2 million copies worldwide. In this sequel, Sicilian Melissa is now 19 and living in Rome, where she abandons one lover, finds another, miscarries and carries on.

``Follies of Science: 20th Century Visions of Our Fantastic Future'' by Eric Dregni and John Dregni (Speck Press). Whatever happened to the personal jet packs we were promised by the hyperbolic prognosticators of the last century? This intriguing illustrated book looks back at a world that might have been, but never was.

``A Fictional History of the United States with Huge Chunks Missing'' edited by T Cooper and Adam Mansbach (Akashic Books). Howard Zinn has met his match in this wry and winking account of these United States in 17 chapters, each by a different writer, that starts with the Chinese discovery of America in 1426 and ending with the war to end all wars in 2011.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Iraq `Fiasco': New Books Target Stupid Policies, Corporate Greed

Iraq `Fiasco': New Books Target Dumb Ideas, Corporate Greed

Aug. 2 (Bloomberg) -- Publishers are releasing an unprecedented number of books that cast a critical eye on the U.S.-led intervention in Iraq.

The most scathing critique yet comes from Thomas E. Ricks, senior Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post. In ``Fiasco: The American Military Adventure in Iraq'' (Penguin Press, 482 pages, $27.95), he writes that the decision to invade Iraq in 2003 ``ultimately may come to be seen as one of the most profligate actions in the history of American foreign policy.'' Not only was it ``based on perhaps the worst war plan in American history,'' but it ``confused removing Iraq's regime with the far more difficult task of changing the entire country.''

Though Ricks covers some of the same ground as earlier books, notably ``Cobra II'' by Michael R. Gordon and Bernard E. Trainor (his counterparts at the New York Times), this account -- based on hundreds of interviews and the review of 37,000 documents -- is insightful on the origins of the deadly insurgency and failure of the reconstruction.

Ricks argues that U.S. policies and tactics, especially Paul Bremer's de-Baathification order and disbanding of the Iraqi army -- which put half a million armed and skilled men out of work -- provided the insurgency with all the capable recruits it would ever need.

Few are spared the author's criticism. Congress is rebuked for being too passive: ``In previous wars, Congress had been populated by hawks and doves,'' Ricks writes. Now ``it seemed to consist mainly of lambs who hardly made a peep.'' In a chapter entitled ``The Corrections,'' journalists, including former Times correspondent Judith Miller, are held equally accountable.

`Blind Into Baghdad'

One of the few journalists Ricks praises is James Fallows of the Atlantic magazine, a publication, Ricks says, that did an ``exemplary job in posing the right questions about Iraq both before and after the invasion.''

Five of Fallows's essays on the war have been collected in ``Blind Into Baghdad: America's War in Iraq'' (Vintage; coming Aug. 15; 229 pages, $13.95).

Fallows's work is notable for its prescience. He counters then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz's assertion that Saddam Hussein's regime was equal to that of Hitler's during the Holocaust, and thus necessitated intervention. Instead, Fallows posits World War I as the better analogy, because it is ``relevant as a powerful example of the limits of human imagination, specifically, imagination about the long-term consequences of war.''

`Blood Money'

Wolfowitz also argued that invasion would be cheap. In ``Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq'' (Little, Brown, coming Aug. 29; 352 pages, $24.95), author T. Christian Miller, an investigative reporter for the Los Angeles Times, points out that just a week after the March 2003 invasion, Wolfowitz told a group of congressmen, ``There's a lot of money to pay for this. We are dealing with a country that can really finance its own reconstruction and relatively soon.''

Initially in 2003, the Bush administration budgeted $2.3 billion for the reconstruction. Since the invasion, the U.S. has spent more than $30 billion to rebuild Iraq. Still, writes Miller, all that cash ``did not spark an economic renewal. It did not win the trust of a shattered people. And it has not made Iraq more peaceful.''

A dogged reporter, Miller follows the money trail and uncovers escalating tales of thievery: U.S. officials and soldiers who pocketed hundreds of thousands of dollars that they used to buy Cadillac Escalades and Breitling watches; a private security company guilty of $3 million in fraud; and, in the most egregious plot of all, an Iraqi arms broker's scheme to skim as much as $2 billion intended to buy new weapons for the Iraqi security forces.

`Prince of the Marshes'

The young British diplomat Rory Stewart experienced the frustration of working in the postwar reconstruction firsthand. In ``The Prince of the Marshes and Other Occupational Hazards of a Year in Iraq'' (Harcourt, 397 pages, $25) he offers a vivid, unflinching chronicle of the 11 months in 2003 and 2004 during which he served as provisional and deputy governor of Maysan and Dhi Qar provinces in the marshland of southern Iraq.

Just 30 years old when he went to Iraq, Stewart already had plenty of experience in the Muslim world: in 2002, he hiked across war-torn Afghanistan (an experience he documented in the best-selling ``The Places in Between'' published in April). In Iraq, he finds the system is broken. Stewart mocks Paul Bremer's seven-point plan for Iraq as ``seven steps to heaven.''

Despite this cynicism, he maintains a stiff-upper-lip resolve to re-establish a political system representing every Iraqi affiliation, Islamist and insurgent alike. Like a contemporary George Orwell, Stewart delivers a harrowing series of episodes, starting with the threats by local tribal strongman -- the prince of the title -- and ending with the fear of being blown to pieces by an unappreciative populace.

`Babylon by Bus'

In contrast, ``Babylon by Bus'' by Ray Lemoine and Jeff Neumann (Penguin Press, 316 pages, $24.95) is decidedly less serious. Its obnoxious subtitle tells much of what you need to know: ``Or, the True Story of Two Friends Who Gave Up Their Valuable Franchise Selling Yankees Suck T-Shirts at Fenway to Find Meaning and Adventure in Iraq, Where They Became Employed by the Occupation in Jobs for Which They Lacked Qualification and Witnessed Much That Amazed and Disturbed Them.''

The slacker frat-boys serve up a string of picaresque misadventures while working for the Coalition Provisional Authority coordinating NGOs from the Green Zone in Baghdad, and later distributing clothes in the Sadr City slum.

``If we were the good news from Iraq, the CPA had a problem,'' they write. ``Here we were, two penniless idiots running a rag-tag program with zero funding and experience, and there was nothing better than us going on under the CPA?''

They came, they helped, they partied. And when it looked like they faced kidnapping or death, they left.

(Edward Nawotka is a critic for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)