Thursday, April 26, 2012

What ifs of American History

What Ifs? of American History : Eminent Historians Imagine What Might Have Been
     edited by Robert Cowley

 An all-American collection of essays on the pivotal moments in our nation's history by award-winning historians, the third in the bestselling series. The "what if" concept is one of the most original and engaging on the current history bookshelf. The essays are chock-full of provocative ideas; they are as accessible to the general reader as they are to the scholar; and they are the perfect gift for the dedicated history buff on anyone's list. In this new collection of never-before-published essays, our brightest historians speculate about some of America's more intriguing crossroads.

Each historian examines a pivotal event, then considers the ramifications had the event come out differently. Contributor's include;David McCullough,James M. McPherson,Tom Wicker and Robert Dallek. Some of my favorites are Beyond the Wildest Dreams of John Wilkes Booth by Jay Winik and The Cuban Missile Crisis: Second Holocaust by Robert L. O'Connell.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

First Great Triumph

First Great Triumph : How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power
by Warren Zimmermann

"We were sure that we would win, that we should score the first great triumph in a mighty world-movement."--Theodore Roosevelt, 1904

Americans like to think they have no imperial past. In fact, the United States became an imperial nation within five short years a century ago (1898-1903), exploding onto the international scene with the conquest of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Hawaii, Guam, Samoa, and (indirectly) Panama. How did the nation become a player in world politics so suddenly? What inspired the move toward imperialism in the first place? Read and find out.

The authors center the story on five men Theodore Roosevelt, Alfred T. Mahan, Henry Cabot Lodge, John Hay, and Elihu Root. These five friends pushed for the U.S. to be involved in international affairs at a time when their elders remembered or fought in the Civil War and knew how awful war could be.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

To Win a Nuclear War

To Win a Nuclear War: The Pentagon's Secret War Plans
by Michio Kaku and Daniel Axelrod, Introduction by Ramsey Clark

The authors show that the U.S. nuclear policy of nuclear deterrence has been nothing but political spin. The real policy has been one of threatening the use of nuclear weapons. The book uses unclassified documents to show the evolution of the pentagons nuclear strategy and efforts to integrate nuclear weapons into war fighting doctrine.

What this book shows is how President Eisenhower and the military chiefs debated the possibility of a first strike against the U.S.S.R. in 1952. Amazing that the decision was made all behind closed walls and that Eisenhower kept us out of a nuclear war.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Mike Suggests Guy Delisle

Being a librarian means that I'm in danger of contracting a type of book malaise, because I'm constantly inundated with pre-publication information and I never can seem to get a handle on the torrent of books that I come across daily. That malaise was overcome today when I realized that one of my favorite graphic novelists, and a fantastic travel writer to boot, is going to be releasing his newest on April 24th. Guy Delisle has written and illustrated insightful travelogues that focus on societies traditionally closed to Westerners, largely because he worked in these countries as an animation supervisor or traveled with his wife (who works at an NGO). Delving into societies and the cultures of Burma, China, and North Korea, Delisle's graphic novels provide us with a perspective of an everyman struggling to understand and make himself understood in these societies while displaying the humanity, inherent in the cultures, that's being perverted by totalitarian cultures. This makes it all the more interesting that this round he's focusing on Jerusalem, which is rife with topics for him to explore. To top it all off he'll be at the Harvard Book Store on the 25th, and I'm sure it'll be a treat for all who go.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Rob recommends "The Visitor"

After I finished watching "The Visitor" and after a thoughtful discussion with my family, I began to imagine the same plot in the hands of another director. This didn't have to be a great movie...
Richard Jenkins plays a middle-aged college professor who's lost his wife and with her death, his spirit. He arrives at his seldom-used apartment in Manhattan to find an immigrant couple living there without his knowledge (victimized by a scam-artist). He ends up letting them stay. That touch of compassion sets in motion a reawakening of his own humanity and slowly, his zest for life. Tarek, the man of the couple, is a Syrian drummer who is as open and friendly as Walter (Jenkins) is shut down. The two bond and Tarek teaches Walter to play the African drums. Trouble strikes when Tarek is swallowed up by the immigration authorities.
I couldn't help but think about the many ways another director might have overplayed it: casting a flashier Walter, zeroing in on his transformation (rather than allowing the changes to seep in more believably), hard-selling the message about illegal immigrants, in general going for the cliche instead of nuance, easy sentiment instead subtlety.