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Thirteen Days in September: Carter, Begin, and Sadat at Camp David

Lawrence Wright. Knopf, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-35203-1

Wright (Going Clear), Pulitzer Prize winner and staff writer for the New Yorker, offers a thorough study of the Camp David Accords of 1978 in this meticulously researched affair, which goes beyond the core events to address a multitude of historical factors. On the surface, this is about U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and the 13 days the men and their respective staffs spent trying to hammer out a peace treaty. Wright takes the conference day by day, detailing the clashes and compromises that marked the final results. He also delves into biblical events and the numerous conflicts following Israel’s creation in 1948. As Wright puts it, “This book is an account of how these three flawed men, strengthened but also encumbered by their faiths, managed to forge a partial and incomplete peace, an achievement that nonetheless stands as one of the great diplomatic triumphs of the twentieth century.” Alternating between biographical studies of the people involved, sociopolitical histories of the countries and faiths represented, and an almost nail-bitingly tense unfolding of the conference itself, Wright delivers an authoritative, fascinating, and relatively unbiased exploration of a pivotal period and a complicated subject. Maps & photos. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Struggle for Pakistan: A Muslim Homeland and Global Politics

Ayesha Jalal. Harvard/Belknap, $35 (440p) ISBN 978-0-674-05289-5

Jalal (The Oxford Companion to Pakistani History) begins her history of Pakistan with the murder of two prime ministers, and, although she suggests that matters have not gone well, she thinks the country may be doing better. The Tufts University history professor emphasizes in this scholarly political analysis that the catastrophic 1947 partition left Muslim Pakistan with no central government, “less than 10 % of the industrial base in the subcontinent,” and a crushing, expensive single-issue foreign policy: a hatred of India that began with its occupation of Muslim-majority Kashmir and continues to fester. Jalal considers Pakistan’s elite mostly corrupt, self-serving, and submissive to the military whose budget takes priority over economic development. Equally clueless, Americans fume when Pakistan spends its lavish aid arming against India instead of fighting terrorism and regret that little aid benefits Pakistan’s citizens while puzzling over their persistent anti-Americanism. Pakistan remains a muddled, America-dependent security state, but Jalal concludes with tepid approval of the relatively free 2013 election. Though insightful, this is an academic work, and lay readers may prefer Husain Haqqani’s Magnificent Delusions (2013) or Ahmed Rashid’s Pakistan on the Brink (2013), which cover identical ground in less detail but with more lively prose. Photos & maps. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Life and Legends of Calamity Jane

Richard W. Etulain. Univ. of Oklahoma, $24.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-8061-4632-4

Known for buckskins, profanity, shooting, and an “unladylike” proficiency in mule driving, the belligerent, hard-drinking, and always complicated Calamity Jane also built a reputation for her career as a practical nurse and midwife no to mention her stints as a dance hall girl. Etulain (Lincoln and Oregon Country Politics in the Civil War Era) painstakingly sifts through unreliable reports—including those from the illiterate legend herself—and public records to establish likely biographical details while using contemporary and modern media sources to detail the evolution of Calamity Jane’s legacy. Interestingly, this unusual and extensive examination of her contributions to American folklore adds depth not only to the lionized Wild West figure, but also reflects the late-19th-century national trend in celebrating the disappearing frontier, further immortalizing Calamity Jane by pairing her with Wild Bill Hickok, whom she only knew for five weeks, and Jesse James, whom she never met. Etulain’s careful and honest research illuminates Jane’s historical place in frontier history while revealing her humanity through both his admiration for her multifaceted character and frustration with her willful obfuscation—an adroit way to honor such an elusive character. 61 b&w illus. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Large Hadron Collider: The Extraordinary Story of the Higgs Boson and Other Stuff that Will Blow Your Mind

Don Lincoln. Johns Hopkins Univ, $29.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4214-1351-8

Particle physicist Lincoln follows up The Quantum Frontier: The Large Hadron Collider with an insider’s look at the LHC in the wake of the Higgs boson’s discovery. Particle accelerators are designed to replicate the high-energy conditions of the early universe 13.8 billion years ago, and the LHC is the most powerful accelerator ever built. Lincoln describes in vivid, accessible language how the LHC works, using surfers, tetherballs, and more. He also covers the day the LHC came online and the day the discovery of the Higgs was announced. What sets the book apart is a chapter of “War Stories” full of oddball facts, such as the economics of cave digging and that some LHC parts use brass from decommissioned Soviet naval shell casings. While nothing will actually blow your mind, Lincoln’s tales of the LHC, from its proton-making “Duoplasmatron”—“which seems to have stolen its name from 1930s pulp science fiction”—to the valuable information gathered by its detectors, offers readers fresh insight into some of the most significant research in modern physics. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Collection of Sand: Essays

Italo Calvino, trans. from the Italian by Martin McLaughlin. HMH/Mariner, , $13.95 ISBN 978-0-544-14646-4

Calvino’s diverse interests are on full display in this collection of delightful and erudite essays by the author of Invisible Cities. Originally published in Italian in 1984, it was the last volume of new work published in his lifetime. Many of the eclectic pieces are collected from a newspaper column Calvino (1923–1985) wrote for La Repubblica, and from a series of travel essays set in Iran, Japan, and Mexico. Museum exhibitions draw Calvino’s attention to the natural world, to the bizarre—and to the past. His subtle humor threads its way through staid descriptions of wax museums, automata, knots, and the ruins of a pig sty. The collection includes a moving remembrance of Roland Barthes and several idiosyncratic but valuable book reviews. Calvino’s travelogues, particularly those set in Japan, are the best example of his ability to capture the real world with the same vigor and verve as his imaginative fiction. In Mexico, Calvino visits a 2,000-year-old tree and walks away with the impression that, like history itself, the tree grows “according to no plan” but finds continuity through redundancy. “In the beginning was language,” he writes, and it’s clear that no matter where he turns his attention, his universe begins and ends in reverence for the written word. The book offers a delectable array of cognitive insights, ancient history, and Calvino’s indispensable voice. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Can Israel Survive?

Richard Cohen. Simon & Schuster, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4165-7568-9

Caveat lector: despite its title, much of this disjointed book is not about the current situation in and future prospects of the country of Israel. Rather, Washington Post columnist Cohen has written a series of short essays about modern European anti-Semitism, pre-Holocaust diplomacy, and the repercussions of the Holocaust, all of which helped shape Israel’s founding in 1948 and its history since. Cohen largely reduces Israel’s history, and its basis for legitimacy, to these factors, as when he reductively states, “Israel was created not just in reaction to anti-Semitism but by anti-Semitism.” More seriously, Cohen’s prose sometimes assumes too much knowledge on the part of his readers rather than making his argument clear, leading to possibly confusing, even contradictory, analyses, as when he notes that the Jews “foisted the nakba (the Palestinian term meaning “catastrophe” for the exile wrought by the 1948 war following Israel’s independence) on the Palestinians, but then states on the same page that “the driver of events was... the Arabs.” He also calls Israel the product of “mistakes of time and place—a last-gasp colonial enterprise... the settlement of an alien people in the midst of the Islamic world,” leading readers to wonder whether the title should be “Should Israel Survive?” Cohen’s writing is too muddled about whether it deserves to do so. Agent: Mort Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders

Lindsey Pollak. Harper Business, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-232331-6

Career consultant Pollak (Getting from College to Career) presents an engaging, smart leadership manual for Generation Y. Acknowledging that some strategies will never change (be ethical, avoid screaming at people), Pollak suggests that millennials will be operating in a different economic, technological, and demographic terrain than Warren Buffett and Jack Welch, and thus need a different road map. Some of her advice concerns being young: for example, how do you respond when your colleague says “you’re young enough to be my granddaughter”? She offers tips for navigating the transitions from the old to new way of doing things: business cards are becoming obsolete, but for now they’re necessary; learn how to deal with voice mail, even though you might hate it. She also includes welcome guidance for keeping your whole life together, with tips regarding getting enough sleep and starting to save for retirement. Call-out boxes, checklists, and quizzes make the book user-friendly and fun to read. This insightful guide is not just for younger leaders; it would also benefit older employers or employees who want to better understand their younger colleagues. Agent: Michelle Wolfson, Wolfson Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Speed Limits: Where Time Went and Why We Have So Little Left

Mark C. Taylor. Yale Univ, $28.50 (400p) ISBN 978-0-300-20647-0

With panache and flashes of brilliance, Taylor (After God), a Columbia University religion professor and cultural critic, offers a philosophically astute analysis of how time works in our era: more is being squeezed into smaller and smaller bits of time, and everyone feels that they have less of it. Email has, in part, created this time warp, but technology is inseparable from larger economic and philosophical forces. Taylor offers some occasionally potted history lessons, such as how the Protestant Reformation, the invention of the clock, and the rise of consumer credit all contributed to our current state. In the present, he touches on Google Glass and financial markets, as well as citing familiar, but nonetheless disturbing, data about how many texts people send, and our inability or refusal to actually enjoy leisure on our days off. Society has become fragmented, reflective subjectivity has morphed into “competitive individualism,” and, ironically the “values that have allowed Western capitalism to thrive now threaten its collapse.” There is, appropriately, no quick fix, but Taylor provides plenty of provocative, learned ideas. Agent: Don Fehr, Trident Media Group. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rebel Yell: The Violence, Passion, and Redemption of Stonewall Jackson

S.C. Gwynne. Scribner, $35 (688p) ISBN 978-1-4516-7328-9

Journalist Gwynne follows his bestselling Empire of the Summer Moon with a stimulating study of Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson. Jackson today remains a figure of almost mythical proportions and embodies the more heroic elements of the Southern cause. Gwynne, in a primarily chronological narrative, reveals him to have been an early master of modern mobile warfare and a clear-eyed interpreter of what modern “pitiless war was all about.” In 1861, Jackson was “part of that great undifferentiated mass of second-rate humanity who weren’t going anywhere in life.” But underneath his efflorescent eccentricities, he was “highly perceptive and exquisitely sensitive,” as well as an “incisive and articulate observer.” In the spring of 1862 those qualities shaped the brilliant Shenandoah Valley campaign that reinvigorated a stagnant Confederate war effort and established him as the “most famous military figure in the Western world.” Exhaustion limited Jackson’s contributions to the Peninsular Campaign, but from Second Bull Run through Antietam to his mortal wounding at Chancellorsville, his achievements and his legend grew. Gwynne tells Jackson’s story without editorializing and readers are likely to agree that, without Jackson, Lee “would never again be quite so brilliant,” while even in the North Jackson was considered, rather than a rebel, a “gentleman and... fundamentally an American.” Maps and 16-page photo insert. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Founders as Fathers: The Private Lives and Politics of the American Revolutionaries

Lorri Glover. Yale Univ, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-300-17860-9

With an inventive twist on the “founding fathers” moniker, historian Glover (The Shipwreck that Saved Jamestown) probes the link between family and politics, but limits her focus to the lives of wealthy Virginians. Men like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, Glover persuasively argues, became the founders of a new country precisely because of their views on fatherhood and family and because they were family men. She moves briskly from the imperial crisis of the 1760s through the generation that followed the creation of the Constitution, demonstrating the importance of familial words and ideas to the launch of a new country, always keeping tight rein on her argument. It’s a sophisticated history peppered with tidbits from the private sphere: of particular interest is the chapter on the Virginians’ wrestle with the institution of slavery, especially because it benefited their own families and fortunes even while clashing with enlightened principles of freedom and independence. As a social historian, Glover covers gender as well as racial issues, exploring women’s roles in the family and the nation, and explaining how the founders viewed the inequality of women as part of the world’s natural order. Fans of these influential men should delight in this inventive addition to the historical literature. Illus. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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