'HOW THE BEATLES DESTROYED ROCK 'N' ROLL' (12/7/09) While the provocative thesis of this book is obvious from its title, fans of the Fab Four will be relieved to known that author Elijah Wald does not make that claim in apocalyptic terms, but rather as a statement of fact in his fascinating chronicle of how one genre superseded another in the incredibly rich tapestry of 20th century American music. LINK
'THE GAMBLE: GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS AND THE AMERICAN MILITARY ADVENTURE IN IRAQ, 2006-2008' (6/8/09) This is the story of how the U.S. was able to step back from the precipice in Iraq because of the Surge, a radically different strategy that succeeded militarily because of a solitary general who was able to convince the White House and Pentagon that business as usual would inevitably lead to defeat. LINK.
'A PEACE TO END ALL PEACE' (6/1/09) When Barack Obama set out on his historic 2009 trip to the Muslim Middle East he visited a region whose borders were carved up by the World War I victors with no thought given to ethnic, religious or historic concerns -- a nonsensical crazy quilt of national borders that resemble those today and continues to have global consequences. LINK.
'UP FROM HISTORY: THE LIFE OF BOOKER T. WASHINGTON': (5/11/09) A welcome corrective for a man whose legacy our changing attitudes about civil rights have distorted. Washington's efforts to sustain black morale at the nadir of their post-Emancipation struggle has to be counted among the most heroic efforts in American history. LINK.
'HITLER'S EMPIRE': HE WAS GOOD AT WAR BUT LOUSY AT GOVERNING (4/13/09) Those detail-obsessed Nazis gave little thought to governance, let alone a long-term vision for their immense empire. LINK.
THE MAN WHO UNLOCKED THE MYSTERIES OF CHINA'S MIDDLE KINGDOM (10/12/08) Chinese claims that they were responsible for hundreds of mankind's most familiar inventions -- including explosives, printing, the compass, hydraulics, ceramics, suspension bridges and even toilet paper -- were long viewed with skepticism by Westerners who were smugly certain that these ancient people were incapable of such advanced innovations. That was until Noel Joseph Terence Montgomery Needham came along. LINK.
'THE OPEN ROAD: THE GLOBAL JOURNEY OF THE FOURTEENTH DALAI LAMA' (9/17/08) Tibet is a land rich not just in history, but also in irony. "The Roof of the World" holds a special place in the popular imagination because of the movie Shangri-La and other gauzy Hollywood treatments, as well as one individual, the Dalai Lama. But those celluloid depictions are fawningly unrealistic, while the Dalai Lama is typically reduced to a caricature. LINK.
'TWILIGHT AT MONTICELLO' & JEFFERSON'S PARADOXICAL VIEWS ON SLAVERY' (6/27/08) Befitting the life of the great man himself, his Monticello seems much larger on the inside. It also is full of hidden passageways, secret chambers and other surprises. Indeed, if you like your dead presidents simple, then Jefferson is not your man. LINK.
PYNCHON'S 'MASON & DIXON,' AN 18th CENTURY MUSING ON ALL THINGS (5/18/08) A pun-filled send up on the clockwork-like machinations of and metaphysical musings on the universe disguised as an 18th century novel. Or at least I think it is. LINK.
A BAKER'S DOZEN: BEST BOOKS ON VIETNAM (5/3/08) Must reads for any serious student of the Vietnam War, ranging from a Bernard Fall classic published on the eve of the disastrous American build-up to the definitive Pentagon history of the war to a book on the secret bombing campaign in Cambodia to three fictional accounts. LINK.
OLIVER SACKS' 'MUSICOPHILIA' (3/30/08) It is a testament to the complexity of the brain that despite decades of research we still have relatively little understanding of why many of us enjoy music so deeply. LINK.
'LEGACY OF ASHES' (1/11/08) Although it may not be the best metaphor, if the Central Intelligence Agency had been a baseball team over the last 60 years, its record would be something like 5 wins and 95 loses in big games. Yes, the CIA has been that bad. LINK.