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TCEN Journal of Genocide Excerpt

The Shards of Kristallnacht

December 1st 2008

Book Covers - 48 Hours of Kristallnacht

An Excerpt from: 48 Hours of Kristallnacht: Night of Destruction/Dawn of the Holocaust; The Lyons Press, 256 pages, 2008.

Kristallnacht. November 9-10, 1938. The night of the broken glass in Nazi Germany.

It is difficult to say that the destruction of buildings and books were more catastrophic than the physical attacks on Jews, the arrests, and the incarceration of men in concentration camps. But the destruction of synagogues, Torah scrolls, and prayer books attacked the very spirit and the soul of the Jewish people. Although the treatment of Jews varied from time to time and place to place in Germany, the existence of houses of prayer for decades and, in many cases, centuries, were symbols of the longstanding Jewish roots in Germany.

As the birthplace of the Reform movement of Judaism, Germany also represented one of the cradles of Jewish religious intellectualism. For Orthodox Jews, the attacks on the synagogues were devastating blows to their hearts. Jews who were not observant, however, were also shocked and hurt by the devastation because they too understood the importance of the symbols to their religion and peoplehood.

Orders to destroy synagogues throughout Germany and Austria went out on November 9-10, as seen in the following order given by a group commander on November 10: “All Jewish synagogues in the area of Brigade 50 have to be blown up or set afire ... The operation will be carried out in civilian clothing ... Execution of the order will be reported ...” Read more ..

Book Review

A Very French Assessment of the Left and the Right in Dark Times

November 24th 2008

Book Covers - Left in Dark Times

Bernard-Henri Levy. Left in Dark Times: A Stand Against the New Barbarism. September 2008, Random House. 256 pages.

The terms Left and Right were coined in 1789 to describe seating arrangements for the National Assembly during the early stages of the French Revolution. Those seated to the podium’s right wanted to preserve parts of the past; those on the left hoped, in the name of progress, to invent a new future. But the maneuverings of politics soon muddied the initial transparency of these terms into an enduring illegibility. The ideas of the bloody minded right-wing reactionary Joseph de Maistre, the intellectual arch-enemy of the Revolution, for instance, became an inspiration for the early socialists—and so it has gone ever since.

The flamboyant French litterateur Bernard-Henri Lévy, widely known in Paris as BHL, acknowledges the problem. In his new book, he writes that “the famous split between Left and Right that has structured French politics... has become harder and harder to believe in.” That is because, to his dismay, much of the Left, cuckolded by history, no longer believes in progress or modernity. He describes the contemporary Left, with its signature scowl of anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism, and anti-liberalism, as “that great backward falling corpse which the worms have already started to chew.”

Despite his disdain for much of the current Left, and despite the fact that many of those closest to his point of view in France endorsed the presidential candidacy of the “right-wing” flag bearer Nicholas Sarkozy, a personal friend, Lévy refused to abandon the Socialist ticket. His dilemma, he told Sarkozy, was that no matter how much he liked, respected, and even agreed with the French president, he couldn’t support him because “the Left is my family.” Lévy’s new book is an effort—part memoir, part essay, part polemic—to explain the nature of those family ties. Read more ..

Book Review

The Mismanagement of America's Great Disaster in Iraq

November 17th 2008

Book Covers - War Without End

Michael Schwartz. War Without End: The Iraq War in Context. 320 pages. September 2008, Haymarket Books.

The Iraq War has been among the greatest disasters in modern American history. Michael Schwartz’ illuminating new book War Without End: The Iraq War in Context provides a comprehensive overview of the ideological roots of the war and its harrowing social costs for the Iraqi people. He argues quite convincingly that rather than it being purely a matter of administrative incompetence and mismanagement, the ideological zealotry of leading neo-conservatives was a principal cause of the American failure to establish political legitimacy after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. He shows how neo-liberal policies and the rapid privatization of state resources backed by a doctrine of massive force helped to exacerbate the suffering of ordinary Iraqis who increasingly turned to resistance against U.S. power and rule and remain disdainful of the occupation.

According to Schwartz, a professor of sociology at Stony Brook University, America’s war aims were clear from the outset: to create a strategic base for the establishment of control over the Middle East’s prized energy reserves and to usher in an economic transition from the “socialist dictatorship” of Saddam Hussein to an unfettered free-market capitalist state capable of serving as a model for the region. In the aftermath of the invasion, Lieutenant L. Paul Bremer and his staff moved to rapidly privatize state resources, including the formerly state-owned oil industry and all sectors of the economy including the health and educational systems. They rewarded multinational corporations like Haliburton and Bechtel with major contracts to help rebuild the country’s infrastructure, which had been devastated during the shock and awe campaign and previous wars and economic sanctions. Read more ..

Book Review

Assassins and Assassinations and their Role in History Examined With Facts Not Conspiracy

November 17th 2008

Book Covers - Assassins

Paul Donnelley. Assassins and Assassinations: History's Most Infamous Plots. February 2008, New Holland Publishers. 192 pages.

Assassins and Assassinations: History's Most Infamous Plots is a compelling study by Paul Donnelly revealing the strange and complex world of the assassin. Throughout, the author shows the shocking ease in which psychopathic, professional or personal assassins can carry out their appalling act of murder---sometimes with devastating effect on the societies they attack. He has also shown how assassination in many parts of the world has not only been a normal and rational political act but has often been effective in the transference of power.

From the Wolf’s Lair of Hitler’s ‘1000-year Empire’ to the inner sanctums of the Kremlin, from the murderous world of organized crime to the political plotting of American and European anarchist groups and Islamic jihadists, assassins have attempted to change the course of history. Donnelley delineates the sinister history of this common and deadly profession with dozens of cases---chosen for their pertinence to world events and the effect they had on the society of the day. Particularly interesting are those cases which are usually not found in books about this subject, including Hitler’s would-be assassin Johann Georg Elser and Irish patriot Michael Collins’ assassin, Denis O’Neill.

Assassins and Assassinations is triumphant in two ways. The first is stylistic. Unlike similar books on the subject Donnelley writes with authority but does not tire the reader with turgid prose. The second triumph is ethical. Donnelley does not allow himself to pander to the constant harpings of conspiracy theorists who see every American assassination as an act of government betrayal. Instead, Donnelley focuses clearly on the facts and treats speculative accounts as nothing more than the efforts of the conspiracy-minded who always prevent facts from interfering with their prejudices. Read more ..

Author's Own Story

Mr. Jefferson's Women--A Look into Colonial Gender Realities

November 17th 2008

Book Covers - Mr. Jefferson's Women

Jon Kukla. Mr. Jefferson's Women. October 2008, Vintage. 304 pages. 

Hundreds of books and articles have been written about Thomas Jefferson’s extraordinary life, genius, and achievements. With few exceptions, however, little was known about the women who figured in Jefferson’s life when I began my research for Mr. Jefferson’s Women. The book become a pioneering inquiry addressing two basic questions: What kinds of relationships did Thomas Jefferson have with women? And, more generally, how did the American Revolution affect the situation of women in society and politics?

As to the first question, my research cast fresh light upon things we thought we knew about Rebecca Burwell, Elizabeth Walker, Martha Jefferson, Maria Cosway, and Sally Hemings. Readers have often expressed appreciation for the care with which I tried to show both sides of these relationships, but the primary-source evidence sometimes led me to surprising, troubling, or controversial conclusions. An angry email message sent after the book was mentioned in the press wondered whether I wrote about Sally Hemings because I was “ignorant or just a pathological liar.”

More interesting and less predictable reactions came from well-informed scholars dismayed by the loss of a favorite story (such as the highly romantic version of the Maria Cosway flirtation) or skeptical about the loss of a cherished assumption. “Do you find Jefferson any more sexist that any other of the founders?” a distinguished historian asked. We need to know more about the others, but the answer (especially after Jefferson’s experience in France) is probably “Yes.” Clearly Mr. Jefferson’s Women does contradict the hopeful essayist who assumed that an “enlightened view of women’s abilities” prompted Jefferson “to extend his democratic ideology to embrace women.” Read more ..

Book Review

How the Iraq War Aided America's Enemies

November 10th 2008

Book Covers - Unintended Consequences

Peter Galbraith. Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies. September 2008, Simon & Schuster. 224 pages.

The last time Peter Galbraith wrote a book about Iraq, the title summed up the problems of the entire volume: based on his own, highly idiosyncratic reading of Iraqi history, Galbraith prematurely announced “The End of Iraq." However, in his new book on Iraq, the title is nothing short of brilliant: Unintended Consequences: How War in Iraq Strengthened America’s Enemies. That is by all accounts a crisp summary of some of the main problems that have afflicted U.S. policy in Iraq ever since 2003. So does it mean that Galbraith’s latest offering is an improvement on his previous one?

The beginning of the book is a little ominous. Included in the front matter is a page titled “Iraq’s Ethnic and Sectarian Divisions.” In the description of the “Shiite South,” Galbraith comments that “Iraq’s Council of Representatives has enacted a law permitting Iraq’s nine southern Governorates to form a single Shiite Region [capitalization as per the original] with the same powers as Kurdistan.” There is nothing wrong in the statement as such. It’s just that the law Galbraith refers to also happens to permit more than 100 other federalization scenarios. Basra can become a region in its own right with the other governorates remaining governorates; Maysan can become a region in its own right; Basra and Maysan together may become a region, and so on and so forth. None of these scenarios is mentioned by Galbraith and this is quite typical of his approach: he leaves out information he does not like and instead uses those few bits and pieces that appeal to him. The result is an outdated fantasy image of what politics in Iraq is like. Read more ..

Book Review

A Much Too Promised Land

November 3rd 2008

Book Covers - The Much Too Promised Land

Aaron David Miller. The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace. December 2008, Bantam Publishers. 416 pages.
After years of disengagement, the Bush Administration seems bent on brokering an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord before President George W. Bush leaves office. But could such an ambitious plan do more harm than good? In his new book, The Much Too Promised Land, alumnus Aaron David Miller puts the Bush Administration’s attitude toward the Middle East into decades of context, and plots the complex and tangled roadmap to peace in the Middle East.

In August 2004, Aaron David Miller, a senior Middle East adviser to six American secretaries of state, brought 200 Arab and Israeli youngsters to the White House to meet the president. They were members of Seeds of Peace, a nonprofit organization that trains promising youths from regions at war to become future leaders.

George W. Bush came out on the steps of the Old Executive Office Building, grinned for a group photo, then turned to leave. When Miller asked for a word of encouragement to the kids, the president said: “Gotta go, gotta go.”  Then, looking back over his shoulder, he called: “Gotta implement that road map. Gotta do it.”  Read more ..

Book Review

The Method, Morality, and Madness of Killing Civilians in Warfare

October 27th 2008

Book Covers - Killing Civilians

Hugo Slim. Killing Civilians: Method, Morality, and Madness in War. Columbia University Press. 300 pages.

“War is cruelty and you cannot refine it,” Gen. William Sherman proclaimed in self-justification to the civilian population of Atlanta a few days before taking the city. In Just and Unjust Wars, Michael Walzer doubted and resisted Sherman’s dicta, especially the refusal to refine or restrain. War may be hell, Walzer explained, but “[e]ven in hell, it is possible to be more or less humane, to fight with or without restraint.”

In Killing Civilians: Method, Morality, and Madness in War, Hugo Slim provides a panoramic perspective to this debate. Some readers will decide that the book is not their cup of tea when, early in the second chapter, he sets forth his seven-part categorization of civilian suffering. To abandon the book, however, would be to miss out on an illuminating, if necessarily superficial tour of the costs of war.

To take Slim’s catalogue of horrors at face value, more wars have been fought in Sherman’s mould—less humanely rather than more. While most religious traditions, including all three of the great monotheisms, have longstanding traditions of just war, it has been in only the past 150 years that governments have made concerted, coordinated efforts to restrain themselves in advance. The 1863 Lieber Code, adopted by the Union army, and the First Geneva Convention of 1864, mark the modern advent of coordinated efforts to make war more humane, first by establishing minimal rules of humane conduct, and then by putting the force of (international) law behind those rules. Most recently, international tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the International Criminal Court have added potent muscle to law. Read more ..

Book Review

Edwin Black's "Plan," a Much-Needed Rational Roadmap For Oil Interruption

October 20th 2008

Book Covers - The Plan

The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day the Oil Stops — or the Day Before. Edwin Black. Dialog Press. 192 pages.

I was expecting a dark tale of gloom and doom, a post-apocalyptic tableau of a born-again, prehistoric oil-free society. After all, Edwin Black is the author of the chillingly revelatory IBM and the Holocaust, a disheartening exposé of America's disgusting attraction to the racist pseudo-science of eugenics, War Against The Weak, and other sobering and impeccably researched investigative works.

Surely Black's new book about ending our country's self-destructive addiction to fossil fuels would be brilliant, but dark and deeply depressing.


Black states the problem clearly and without hyperbole or hysterics. He then presents a sane and remarkably rational step-by-step scheme for quitting our fossil fuel dependency. Along the way, he cites published, noncontroversial works plus his own primary research, which keeps the proceedings well out of the realm of science fiction, except perhaps for one element (I'll get to that in a bit).



The fact that this unending and expanding thirst for oil is the world's economic and political choke point is no accident, as Black recalls from his previous book, Internal Combustion. Throughout history, fuel has been controlled by political and commercial interests that were, as now, two sides of the same coin. And despite the fact that oil pollutes, affects all other prices and forces us to play nice with interests that are antithetical to our own, a huge socioeconomic infrastructure supports and promotes its perpetuation. But rather than pound the obvious, Black calmly sets the table, then moves on to his recommendations for extricating ourselves from the nightmare. Read more ..

Book Review

Hotel California: The True Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young...and Their Many Friends

October 13th 2008

Books - Hotel California

Hoskyns, Barney. Hotel California: The True Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends (Wiley&Sons, New Jersey, 2006).

In Hotel California: The True Life Adventures of Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young, Mitchell, Taylor, Browne, Ronstadt, Geffen, the Eagles, and Their Many Friends (Wiley, 2006), esteemed music historian Barney Hoskyns provides an intelligent, engaging chronicle of the “singer-songwriters and cocaine cowboys” of the Los Angeles canyons, circa 1967-76. “This is an epic tale,” Hoskyns declares, “of songs and sunshine, drugs and denim, genius and greed…It’s about the myriad relationships, professional and personal, between these artists and the songs they wrote…(and) it’s a narrative of rise and fall…from the hootenanny innocence of boys and girls with acoustic guitars to the coked-out stadium-rock superstardom of the mid-1970s.”

In addition to examining the private lives of the canyon artists, Hoskyns explores the financial side of the story. He shows how such tough, savvy businessmen as David Geffen, Elliot Roberts, and Irving Azoff guided the careers of the L.A. musicians. Hoskyns also discusses the vibrant club scene where much of the action took place: the Whisky a Go Go, the Roxy, and Doug Weston’s Troubadour.

Hoskyns paints vivid pictures of his subjects. Consider, for instance, his colorful rendering of Stephen Stills, Neil Young, and Linda Ronstadt. “A tenacious Texan with thinning blond hair, Stills had spent time in a military academy and brought the discipline of the place to bear on his musical career.” Young, Stills’s partner in Buffalo Springfield and CSNY, “was skinny and quiet and more than a little freaked out by the bright automotive sprawl of Los Angeles. His intense dark eyes in a face framed by long sideburns mesmerized women…The unearthly fragility of his voice paradoxically gave it strength and intensity. His guitar playing, too, was unique: instinctual, primitive, spat-out.” And Ronstadt “had deep, soulful eyes and a big, gutsy voice. She’d grown up in Arizona dreaming of freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.” Read more ..

Book Review

A Lack of Historical Context in The Case Against Barack Obama

October 6th 2008

Book Covers - Case Against Obama

The Case Against Barack Obama. David Freddoso, Regnery Publishing 2008. 298 pages.

David Freddoso is among the young white men who rose out of the National Review-Young Republican farm league where Ronald Reagan is god and hating "liberals" is a way of life. He has written The Case Against Barack Obama: The Unlikely Rise and Unexamined Agenda of the Media's Favorite Candidate. John O'Neill, of Swift Boat Veterans for Truth fame, blurbs the book, and Freddoso acknowledges and quotes his "former boss" and mentor: the arch-rightwinger Robert Novak. It is another Regnery hit job on a Democratic presidential candidate, the same right-wing publishing house that brought us Michelle Malkin's treatise on how great was the internment of 112,000 Japanese-Americans during World War Two, as well as O'Neill's 2004 partisan screed that defecated all over John Kerry's sterling Vietnam war record.

Freddoso cites as "evidence" emails he received from random people when they heard he was writing a book on Obama, and arbitrary posts from the comments section of the Obama campaign's web site. He quotes a "letter to the editor" from an obscure newspaper, and he cites Fox's "Hannity and Colmes" and "The O'Reilly Factor" as well as Chris Matthews. He cites a blogger from Jamaica, the charlatan Jonah Goldberg, the Harvard Crimson, and writers from the National Review, which give the book an "echo chamber" quality. There are numerous factual errors in the book that Media Matters.org has already documented. Read more ..

Book Review

Business Wisdom Gained From Major Business Stupidity

September 29th 2008

Book Covers - Billion Dollar Lessons

Billion-Dollar Lessons: What You Can Learn from the Most Inexcusable Business Failures of the Last Twenty-Five Years. Paul B. Carroll, Chunka Mui, Portfolio. 320 pages.

It always cracks me up when I'm reminded that hindsight is not only 20/20 but is often magnified as if viewed through the Hubble Telescope, especially true of tales found in business books. Whenever a spectacular yet disastrous deal is recounted, the warning signs are never subtle, always appearing in big, red, bold capital letters of flashing neon, and accompanied by ear-splitting sirens, wailing horns, and thundering timpani.

It's amazing! How did anyone make such stupid moves? That they were doomed to failure was just so obvious! There was no way they could possibly succeed. The executives who came up with the ideas, NS proposed, funded, supported, managed and perpetuated them were colossal dunderheads who should have known better. Big duh!

It's pretty much the same deal with Billion-Dollar Lessons, the new book by Carroll and Mui. The proprietary document fax service Zapmail by FedEx, Motorola's Iridium project, the funeral-home consolidation strategy of the Loewen Group, Ames Department Stores' acquisition of Zayre's, Kodak's stubborn refusal to get into digital photography, Sears' patchwork-quilt assemblage of disparate business—all of these ill-conceived and poorly executed ventures, and more, are recounted, deconstructed and criticized. And all seem doomed to failure, at least in retrospect. Read more ..

Book Review

Presidential Travels--from George to George

September 22nd 2008

Books - Richard Ellis

Ellis, Richard J.  Presidential Travel: The Journey from George Washington to George W. Bush (University Press of Kansas, 2008)

Presidential travel is big news today. George W. Bush’s state visit to Britain in November 2003 filled papers on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet it was not a story pertaining to the “illegal” war in Iraq that dominated the front pages. Neither was it the exaggerated scale of the “Stop the War” march that colonized newsstands. Rather it was the litany of requests from the White House: from diplomatic immunity for 250 Secret Servicemen to blast-and bullet-proof windows installed in Buckingham Palace.

The commander-in-chief and a 700-strong entourage worthy of a traveling medieval monarch flew into London Heathrow. Once Bush stepped off Air Force One, Marine One flew the Bushes to the Palace where they enjoyed the pomp and circumstance of the Queen’s hospitality.

How Thomas Jefferson would turn in his grave. The regal six-story jet offends the Jeffersonian image of a citizen’s executive traveling modestly among his people. Unlike the 43rd President of the United States, the 3rd shunned the trappings of monarchy and the “flattery and scheming of courtiers” (p.168). Even at his first inaugural, in 1801, Jefferson dramatized his “republican simplicity” (vii) by refusing the customary horse and carriage, choosing instead to walk the route. Unlike the 3rd President of the United States, the 43rd, at his first inaugural, in 2001, dramatized his “present-day celebrity” (vii) by choosing instead to drive the route, refusing the customary walk — up until the last block that is, after protests even larger than against Nixon, the 37th, in 1969. Read more ..

Book Reviews

The Depressing Truth about the Blindness Leading up to the First World Trade Center Bombing

September 15th 2008

Book Covers - Andrew McCarthy

Andrew C. McCarthy. Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad. (Encounter Books. New York. 2008).

Before he was the notorious Blind Sheikh, the spiritual advisor and instigator of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and convicted terrorist in his own right, Omar Abdel Rahman was a guest of the American government. Between 1986 and 1989, the Egyptian-born Rahman applied at least four times for a U.S. tourist visa—such visas typically last 90 days. Already a credentialed militant, in 1987 he earned a place on the State Department’s terrorist watch list for his fatwa years earlier, urging the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and for his relentless preaching of jihadist violence. Only once did the U.S. refuse him a visa. But by then, it was too late.

Andrew McCarthy was the lead federal prosecutor of the World Trade Center bombing conspiracy trial in 1995 and the man who would put Rahman away for life. When he invokes “willful blindness” in the title of his absorbing new book, it is this depressing history—a fatal mixture of bureaucratic bungling and strategic shortsightedness—that he has in mind. Part survey of Islamic terror in the 1980s and nineties, part memoir of the nine-month trial that brought the World Trade Center bombers to justice, Willful Blindness is a bracing chronicle of the first major terrorist attack on American soil and a valuable reminder that radical Islam was a real and present threat to the United States long before September 11. Read more ..

Book Review

The First Amendment - Creation or Evolution

September 8th 2008

Book Covers - Anthony Lewis

Lewis, Anthony. Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment. (New York: Basic Books, 2008.)

Freedom for the Thought That We Hate: A Biography of the First Amendment is part of Basic Books’ “Basic Ideas” series in which “a leading authority offers a concise biography of a text that transformed its world, and ours.” The authority here is Anthony Lewis, law professor, former New York Times columnist, Pulitzer Prize winner, and author of the bestselling 1964 classic Gideon’s Trumpet and the 1992 work Make No Law: The Sullivan Case and the First Amendment.

Writing for a popular audience, Lewis makes no great revelations in this new book, though drawing on judicial opinions and secondary scholarship, he offers a concise, useful volume on one of Americans’ most cherished and misunderstood legal rights.

Lewis delineates his main argument over the course of twelve chapter essays on the judicial history of the First Amendment. He asserts that the amendment did not arrive fully articulated when the Framers added the Bill of Rights to the proposed Constitution in 1787. Rather, its meaning took shape over time through a series of Supreme Court rulings. Not until 1931 did the Court invoke the amendment in order to protect free expression. The First Amendment “has no discernable history,” Lewis explains, meaning that justices have no record of the Framers’ intentions. So calls for original intent hit a dead end. Lewis focuses mainly on judges, who, he maintains, are influenced by their social surroundings when rendering decisions. He also writes about the significance of other actors—political leaders and citizens—in driving debates about the First Amendment. Judges function as the heroes in Lewis’s book, but he emphasizes that they have frequently ignored or upheld legislative and executive challenges to the right of Americans to think and express themselves. Read more ..

The Author's World

Authors as Road Warriors

September 1st 2008

Books - Joseph Finder
Joseph Finder

It's not enough to write a great book. Authors are now expected to play an active role in book marketing and promotion. In this brave new world of always-on media, scribes are expected to either pursue or make themselves available to every potential reader.

Though there have always been opportunities for interviews, reviews, in-store signings, book fairs, seminars and broadcast appearances, now publishers want to make sure no avenue for multimedia exposure is overlooked as a book competes with every other form of entertainment.

Most book companies have full-time staff devoted to pursuing publicity for their books and authors, but nothing is guaranteed.

"Publicity departments are too small and stretched too thin," author Joseph Finder, author of "High Crimes," "Company Man" and "Paranoia," said in a telephone interview from his Boston office. "They do their best, but there’s always another book coming out and I want to make sure that mine gets the attention it deserves before they move on to the next one."

But he notes his publisher, St. Martin’s Press, "was extremely cooperative when I came up with the idea of including an audio CD” to promote his current book, Killer Instinct. “From the CEO on down, they’re totally behind my books. In fact, the marketing director is a fan," he said. 

Still, Finder felt the need to do more. “I paid for my Web site josephfinder.com, hired someone to design it and someone else to run it. It’s impossible to gauge, but I see more and more response from reviewers, journalists and booksellers, and readers communicate with me, too,” he said. “Everyone likes to get inside information and have a connection.” Read more ..

Personal Stories

What Tolkien Taught Me about the Battle of the Somme

August 25th 2008

Contributors / Staff - Martin Gilbert headshot
Martin Gilbert

J.R.R. Tolkien and the Somme were inextricably linked. I learned this forty-four years ago, shortly after I was elected to my first university appointment, at Merton College, Oxford. I was twenty-six years old.

In those days there was a strict seating order at college dinners. The head of the college sat in the centre, the senior fellows on either side of him, and the junior fellows at the far ends of the table. Also at the ends were the Emeritus Fellows, long retired, venerable, sometimes garrulous guardians of the college name. Several of them had served in the First World War. When they discovered a historian, new to his craft, filled with the keenness of a youngster amid his elders, they were happy to talk about those distant days, already more than forty years in the past.

Some enjoyed singing the songs of the trenches, in versions far ruder than those sung today. Tolkien was more reticent, yet when he did open up, full of terrible tales. There was never any boasting. The war's scars were too many, its reality too grim, to lead to self-glorification, or even to embellishment.

In 1916, the twenty-four-year-old Tolkien was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Lancashire Fusiliers. On the evening of July 14 — two weeks after the start of the Battle of the Somme — his battalion went into the line. He had never seen action before. What he later called the "animal horror" of the trenches was as yet unknown to him. But he already knew that one of his closest friends, Robert Gilson, had been killed on the first day. Read more ..

Book Review

Two War Books Shine a New Light on Crucial Moments in World War II

August 11th 2008

Book Covers - TwoWW2Books

Atkinson, Rick. The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944. (New York: Henry Holt, 2007).

Holland, James. Italy’s Sorrow: A Year of War, 1944-1945. (New York: St. Martin’s, 2008)

It is tempting to say that, just as the Allied campaign in Sicily and Italy in World War II was of less significance and decisiveness than the one that carried the Allies from Normandy to Germany, so the course of the historiography has tended to emphasize the last year of war in northern Europe. And no doubt there have been more books written about D-Day, The Battle of the Bulge, and the collapse of the Third Reich, than about the race to Messina, the Salerno and Anzio landings, the bombing of Monte Cassino, the capture of Rome, and what followed. But it can’t really be said that historians of the war have overlooked the Mediterranean theater. Douglas Porch has recently seen it as The Path to Victory for the Allies; Robin Neillands has followed the British Eighth Army from North Africa to the Alps; Lloyd Clark has revisited Anzio; and Robert Katz has recounted both the military campaign and partisan activity involved in the Battle for Rome. Rick Atkinson won a Pulitzer Prize for An Army at Dawn, about the war in North Africa with an emphasis on the U. S. Army; and James Holland has written about the Italian and German siege of the British-held island of Malta, and the stand of the British and American Allies, they having forged their alliance, in North Africa.

It is now tempting to say that in coming to these most recent World War II histories by Atkinson the American and Holland the Englishman, we can expect to see the perspectives and the prejudices of the wartime Allies researched and represented. Why Britain should have been fighting in North Africa in the first place; and why North Africa should have been the first place in which America would fight, are two points that must be covered in histories of the war in the Mediterranean theater. Whether and why the Allies should have gone from North Africa to Sicily, and from Sicily to Italy, are two more questions that call for historiography. And then it was indeed in the Mediterranean theater that the British and the Americans learned how to fight alongside each other, and to get along with each other as they fought the common enemy. The American troops who came ashore in Operation Torch were quite green; the British troops who had just defeated the Afrika Korps in the Battle of El Alamein had been battling Germans and Italians for over two years. This occasioned a good deal of condescension and resentment between the English-speaking Allies. Read more ..

Book Review

Real Time Twists the Reader from Script to Diary and Back

August 4th 2008

Book Covers - Real Time

Real Time. By Pnina Moed Kass. Clarion Books. 2004. 204 pages.

In most novels, there is usually one protagonist, whose innermost thoughts and feelings are shared with the readers. Readers follow that one person through his or her triumphs and struggles, victories and losses. Rarely are readers given glimpses into the inner life of more than one character.

“Real Time” by Pnina Moed Kass (Clarion Books, hardcover, $15) is an exception. Told in first person, the novel has more than 10 protagonists, thereby allowing readers to hear the multiple voices in one common story.

The formatting of the novel twists between a script and a diary, with each chapter headed with the writer’s name, location and time. Kass’s characters are not simply recording events; they are talking, thinking and living through their lives.

As viewpoints alternate, events are seen from many different angles, providing an interesting perspective for the readers.

“Real Time” is set in Israel during the first intifada (1987-1993). The story opens with Thomas Wanninger, a 16-year-old from Berlin, on a plane to Israel to volunteer at Kibbutz Broshim, outside of Jerusalem. Part of his reason for going to Israel is to volunteer in the greenhouses on the kibbutz, but he is also searching for answers to questions he has about his grandfather, a Nazi officer in World War II.

At the same time, Vera Brodsky is getting ready to pick up Thomas from the airport. An Odessa native, Vera has lived on the kibbutz for three years. Still healing after her boyfriend’s suicide and her father’s abandonment, she is becoming interested in rediscovering her Jewish heritage. Read more ..

Book Review

Author Probes Islamic Intolerance of Jews and Christians

July 28th 2008

Book Covers - The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism

The Legacy of Islamic Antisemitism: From Sacred Texts to Solemn History. Edited by Andrew G. Bostom. Prometheus Books, 2008. 766 pages.

In an exclusive interview, author and physician Andrew G. Bostom showed how familiar he is not only with the Koran, but also with a thousand years of Islamic law and commentary on the Islam’s holy book. This has armed him well to address the history of relations between Islam and Judaism in his newest book, The Legacy of Islamic Anti-Semitism: from Sacred Texts to Solemn History (Prometheus Books). This collection of scholarly articles citing centuries of Islamic texts provides numerous examples of anti-Semitism reaching back to the very beginnings of Islam.

Being a physician, Bostom referred to the various manifestations of Islamic intolerance of Christians and Jews, or “People of the Book” (in Arabic, Ahl al- Kitâb), with a reference to medical terminology. “A forme fruste is medical term that refers to an incomplete manifestation of a disease entity,” he said, describing treatment meted out to Christians and Jews in Islamic countries. “I don't see signs that Muslim practice has relegated these teachings to the back burner.”

Asked whether it is possible for Jews, or Christians, to live unmolested in Muslim lands, Bostom answered, “There is no sign of that yet.”  If indeed there were a rejection of such practices, asked Bostom, “then where is the outcry from Islamic scholars? Where is the outcry from the Al Azhar (the renowned center of Islamic learning in Cairo)? Where is the protest against the violence and extremism in Iraq?” Read more ..

Book Review

Between Nanjing and Chongqing

July 21st 2008

Book Covers - Wuhan 1938 200 pixels

Wuhan, 1938: War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China, Stephen MacKinnon. University of California Press, 2008. 204 pages.

War is hell, none more so than the stymied, enraged, calculated brutishness of the Japanese invasion of China in 1937 and 1938. The Rape of Nanjing is familiar, but less well known is what happened afterwards. Chiang Kai-shek moved his government to Wuhan, on the mid-Yangzi, and presided over a bloody and successful strategy of resistance and retreat which left the Japanese exhausted. In the ten months before the Japanese took Wuhan in October 1938, a vast United Front formed. The epic retreat to the wartime capital to Chongqing, in Sichuan, had the same heroic, mythic ring as did Mao's Long March. In the years upriver, Chiang's regime stagnated, but when he arrived in Chongqing in early 1939, Chiang was, paradoxically, both defeated and triumphant.

Stephen MacKinnon's Wuhan, 1938: War, Refugees, and the Making of Modern China (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008) tells the story of these crucial months between Nanjing and Chongqing. The story exposes the foundations of change which are usually suppressed and epitomizes the recent re-thinking of military history, a trend which MacKinnon helped to organize. As with Margaret MacMillan's The Week That Changed The World, a brief period illuminates longer sweeps of history.

 For the "Wuhan moment" was a watershed. Fissiparous provincial generals (often misleadingly called "warlords"), Communists, and cultural entrepreneurs of the earlier generation came together in one place and rallied to the national cause. The lion did not exactly lie down with the lamb, but Zhou Enlai had tea with an Anglican Bishop, Mme. Chiang Kai-shek welcomed the notorious radical Agnes Smedley, Edgar Snow wrote an encomium to the Generalissimo, and Chiang, precisely because he did not have unchallenged control, presided over a United Front which was militarily effective and culturally creative. Read more ..

Book Excerpt

How Ignorant Are We? The Voters Choose… But On The Basis of What?

July 14th 2008

Book Covers - Just How Stupid Are We Book Cover

Excerpted from Just How Stupid Are We?, by Rick Shenkman, in arrangement with Basic Books.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." -- Thomas Jefferson

Just how stupid are we? Pretty stupid, it would seem, when we come across headlines like this from Associated Press March 01, 2006: "Homer Simpson, Yes -- 1st Amendment 'Doh,' Survey Finds"

"About 1 in 4 Americans can name more than one of the five freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment (freedom of speech, religion, press, assembly and petition for redress of grievances.) But more than half of Americans can name at least two members of the fictional cartoon family, according to a survey.

"The study by the new McCormick Tribune Freedom Museum found that 22 percent of Americans could name all five Simpson family members, compared with just 1 in 1,000 people who could name all five First Amendment freedoms."

But what does it mean exactly to say that American voters are stupid? About this there is unfortunately no consensus. Like Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, who confessed not knowing how to define pornography, we are apt simply to throw up our hands in frustration and say: We know it when we see it. But unless we attempt a definition of some sort, we risk incoherence, dooming our investigation of stupidity from the outset. Stupidity cannot mean, as Humpty Dumpty would have it, whatever we say it means. Read more ..

Book Review

The Ten-Cent Plague Offers no Comic Relief as it Chronicles Yet Another Entertainment Blacklist

July 7th 2008

Book Covers - The Ten Cent Plaque

The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic-Book Scare and How It Changed America. David Hajdu. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. 448 pages.

In The Unfinished Journey (2007), William Chafe asserts that the concept of paradox is crucial to understanding the affluent society of post World War II America. In the midst of prosperity, poverty persisted in many rural areas and the nation’s inner cities. While popular culture extolled the cult of domesticity for housewives, more women than ever worked outside the home to support growing patterns of middle-class consumption. Conformity emerged as a dominant theme in suburbia, yet the period was also characterized by cultural rebels such as the Beats and actors Marlon Brando and James Dean. Americans appeared triumphant in World War II, but the atomic bomb and Cold War insecurities undermined post war confidence. Within the realm of popular culture, post war fears were represented in film noir and the science fiction genre. On a more adolescent level, the national mood of apprehension was evident in accusations that juvenile delinquency was the product of comic books undermining the morals of American youth.

This refrain, which culminated in the comic industry’s internal censorship of the Comics Code and the blacklisting of hundreds within the profession, is the subject of David Hajdu’s The Ten-Cent Plague. Hajdu is a New York City journalist, whose Positively Fourth Street focusing upon the early career and love lives of Joan Baez and Bob Dylan, enjoyed commercial and artistic success. The Ten-Cent Plague, while concentrating upon the early 1950s, presents a history of the comic book industry from its inception with the “Yellow Kid” of William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal to the discontinuation of horror comics and the birth of Mad Magazine in 1955.

The comics of the early twentieth-century mass circulation newspapers in metropolitan areas such as New York City resonated with the rising immigrant population from Southern and Eastern Europe, but these lower-class manifestations of popular culture were denounced by the respectable bourgeoisie. The creative sons (and sometimes daughters) of these immigrants, many of them Jewish, were often awkward socially but found an artistic avenue of expression and assimilation during the depression era in the creation of such super heroes as Superman. Comic book readership expanded during the Second World War with the military purchasing comics in bulk as reading material for the troops. With Superman, Wonder Woman, and Captain America battling the Axis powers, approximately 10 million comics were sold each month during the Second World War. Read more ..

Book Review

Walt and Mearsheimer's Lobby Fantasies

June 16th 2008

Book Covers - Isarel Lobby cover

The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy. Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007. 484 pages.

When Stephen Walt and John Mearsheimer’s article on the Israeli lobby first appeared, it was rightly ridiculed for its shoddy scholarship. They were two prominent political scientists who knew nothing about the Middle East and had demonstrated their ignorance. Had they remained interested in their academic reputations, they would have pretended it was all a mistake, but their apparent conviction that Jews really are to blame for 9/11 and what they consider a disastrous war in Iraq would not let them give up their conspiracy theory.

The fact that anti-Semites and others inclined to believe their nonsensical arguments treated them credibly, and gave them publicity, prompted a publisher to offer them a reported six-figure advance. It was no surprise then that two eggheads whose work would usually generate yawns from the public and feeble or non-existent advances from academic presses would take the money and build a book from the thin reeds in their article.

If someone didn’t know the pedigree of the authors, they would never believe it was written by academics because the book shows such profound ignorance of all aspects of Middle East history and politics. Apparently they didn’t get much help from anyone who might know more. In their acknowledgments they mention only one person who has written seriously on U.S.-Israel relations and he’s a frequent critic of Israel. Clearly they didn’t speak to anyone with any expertise in the subject of the book who might have differed with their preconceived notions. They mention eight Israelis whose work influenced them — six are post-Zionists. They mention sources, but did no interviews with members of the lobby or those influenced by it. Read more ..

Author's Own Story

Stupid Title Result of Polls and Provocation

June 9th 2008

Book Covers - Just How Stupid Are We Book Cover

What was I thinking when I decided to name my book: Just How Stupid Are We? Facing the Truth About the American Voter? I'm starting to wonder. Reviewers are finding the title easy to mock (I knew they would). And it's led one or two to conclude I'm the stupid one. Still, I'm convinced it was the right title.

First, I think book readers will understand that I am not talking about them, contrary to what one reviewer suggested (no, I’m not going to name this person). I am talking about people who don't think hard about politics not those who do. Somebody buying my book is obviously interested in the subject and willing to explore it.

Second, the title was meant to be provocative but that's all. My purpose in going for this kind of title was to try to get a national debate going about a topic most of us would rather not talk about. My goal was not to characterize the American people but our politics. It would be stupid to say that the American people are stupid--as stupid as saying the American people are smart. It's impossible to generalize--and silly. But our politics are often stupid. And there are times when no other word, harsh as it is, seems to capture the essence of the turn politics have taken. Over the last few months we've had national debates about Barack Obama's bowling score, Hillary Clinton's knocking back a tumbler of Scotch, and John McCain's non-stop smiling. Read more ..

Book Review

Memoir: Bare Legs, Weird Chats at Israel's U.N. Mission

June 2nd 2008

Books - Gergory Levey
Author Gregory Levey

Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned in the Israeli Government—A Memoir. Gregory Levey. Free Press, 288 pages.

When people used to ask me about the two-and-a-half years I spent writing speeches for the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, I often would describe myself as a recovering Zionist.

Representing Israel in an irredeemably hostile environment while witnessing firsthand the inane squabbles, petty politicking, and often comic ineptitude of Israel's diplomatic corps was nearly enough to purge me of any trace of the starry-eyed Zionism I inherited from my youth. It seemed to be the kind of experience that should be followed by enrollment in a 12-step program. By all indications Gregory Levey, one of my successors in the speechwriter's chair, feels the same.

In his new and often hilarious memoir "Shut Up I'm Talking" (Free Press, 2008, 267 pp.) Levey recounts his experience as U.N. speechwriter and his subsequent drafting to work in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem under Ariel Sharon.  Read more ..

Book Review

Syria--The Cycle of Wishful Thinking

May 26th 2008

Unknown - The Truth About Syria
The Truth About Syria

The Truth About Syria. Barry Rubin. Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. 304 pages.


The age of illusions is over,” the historian Walter Laqueur wrote recently, referring to the illusions the West continues to entertain about the confrontation with radical Islam. Needless to say, Laqueur did not mean that we in the West no longer have any illusions on this subject; those still abound. He meant, rather, that we can no longer afford to harbor them and that the time has come to shed them. Yet human beings have great difficulty in freeing themselves from illusions—even quite dangerous ones—as long as they offer comfort and provide peace of mind. The best place to start the freeing process is by heeding those who are willing to tell us disturbing truths. Barry Rubin, the distinguished scholar of the Middle East, falls into this tiny minority. His brilliant and provocative new book, The Truth about Syria, not only challenges the illusions of those naturally inclined to prefer lovely daydream over harsh reality; it also challenges the illusions of those in the West who, by their own definition, are hard-nosed realists and wily pragmatists.

Consider the case of the Iraq Study Group and its recommendation that the United States engage Syria in an attempt to bring stability and peace to post-Saddam Iraq. The authors of the report included James Baker and Lawrence Eagleburger, each of whom had served as Secretary of State during the administration of George H.W. Bush. Both are generally known for being tough pragmatists, the kind of men one bets would be good poker players even among the toughest competitors in the game. Indeed, the members of the Study Group might be said to represent our contemporary version of the famous “wise men” who guided us through the Cold War with signal success; and if we were still in the midst of the Cold War, we could perhaps sleep more easily at night knowing that the fate of the West was in such shrewd and prudent hands. But today the challenge is radically different. We are not confronting another great superpower in the poker-like game called the balance of power, and even our wisest wise men have yet to grasp that they are currently playing a game about whose rules they have no clue. Read more ..

Book Review

Conservatives Happier Than Liberals

May 19th 2008

Logo - Gross National Happiness
Gross National Happiness

Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America--And How We Can Get More of It. Arthur C. Brooks. Basic Books. 277 pages. 

Conservatives are happier than liberals, according to a new book by Arthur C. Brooks entitled, "Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters to America and How We Can Get More of It.”

"You find that all the way back to the early 1970s, as long as we've been keeping data on the subject, conservatives have consistently shown greater life satisfaction than liberals," say Brooks.

In one study, people who identified themselves as conservative were nearly twice as likely to say they were very happy as people who said they are liberal.

In contrast, Brooks says, "Liberals are less likely to be optimistic about the future, and they're more likely to say they feel like a failure." The question is, why?

About half the reason conservatives are happier than liberals is that they are more likely to attend a house of worship or be married. Such people tend to be happier anyway.

How each group see things accounts for the rest of the difference, says Brooks. “Conservatives have a more optimistic, hopeful worldview," he says.

Conservatives are not happier because they have more money. In fact, they are not necessarily better off financially than liberals.

Moreover, money doesn't necessarily make us happier, says Brooks, who is a Louis A. Bantle professor of business and government policy at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Whitman School of Management. Read more ..

Musical Edge

Conductor Victor Vener Bucks the Trend by Escaping "Dark Ages"

April 28th 2008

Headshot - Victor Vener
Conductor Victor Vener

Victor Vener, the conductor and chief force behind the California Philharmonic, which he founded more than a decade ago, makes music in a way that isn’t particularly trendy. He just conducted the complete Bach "Brandenburgs," then turned his attentions to lighter faire on warm Saturday evenings at the Los Angeles County Arboretum & Botanic Garden and Sunday nights at Disney Hall beginning in June. Instead of playing the likes of Bach and Shostakovich, there will be Gershwin, Copeland, Broadway tunes and movie music.

Whatever the music, he prefers it has melody. He has no desire to force aleotoric, tone rows or excessive dissonance down anyone’s throat. He has no desire to make his audiences squirm by being forced to listen to unlistenable music of the type favored by academics and foundations and, until recently, the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

He knows that those who are snobby about their classical music don't like to show they might not know everything. But that doesn’t stop him from speaking to the audience about the music before he plays it, especially in this day and age when maybe more people than ever listen to classical music but they also know nothing about it.


Film Review

Everything is Personal

April 7th 2008

Everything is Personal
Everything is Personal

Rabin-Peres: Everything is Personal. Israel 2007. Directed by Arik Henig. 64 min, in Hebrew with English subtitles.

Near the end of this Israeli documentary, two confidants of Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin neatly sum up the nearly five-decades of competition and tepid – at best – final reconciliation between the historic leaders. One refers to Rabin and Peres as the Jewish state’s “yin and yang,” the other as a long-time bickering couple who finally decide to stay married.

The bitter rivalry of these two men to both head the Labor Party and the nation was indeed intensely personal. As but one example, Rabin’s stinging 1979 autobiography was woven with attacks on Peres. (The Hebrew version is much more indicting than the English one.) Then there was Peres’ harsh verbal lashing of Rabin during an open party speech (Rabin is shown chuckling with confidantes.)

Even during the last day of Rabin’s life, which ended the night of Nov. 5, 1995, as three bullets from Yigal Amir’s pistol slammed into his body, longtime Labor activist Giora Eini spent hours shuttling between the homes of the two leaders to mediate matters; Rabin and Peres evidently could not discuss the issues face-to-face.


Book Review

A Penetrating Insight into Who Murdered Israel's Moderate Arabs

March 30th 2008

Army of Shadows
Army of Shadows

Hillel Cohen (translated by Haim Watzman). Army of Shadows. 2008, University of California Press. 344 pages.

This is a book I purchased because I was tempted by its cover photograph of a Jew visiting an Arab village in 1940, even as I was repelled by the word "collaboration" in its subtitle.

The Jew—the jacket description calls him a "settler"—wearing a Western suit, is sitting slightly higher than the Arab, who is traditionally dressed and wearing a keffiyeh. The Arab has his hand on the visitor's knee. He looks warily at the camera as his guest, whom we see in profile, speaks.

In Army of Shadows - Palestinian Collaboration with Zionism, 1917–1948, Hillel Cohen of the Harry S. Truman Institute for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem tells the absorbing story of the Palestinian Arabs who sought accommodation with the Zionist movement. This book answers the question: Where are the Palestinian moderates?

For more than 90 years, Arab radicals have been at war not only with with Zionism, but simultaneously with any Arab voice—Christian, Muslim, Druse or Beduin—advocating moderation and coexistence with the Zionist enterprise. So, where are the moderates?

Answer: They are dead—hacked up with axes, riddled with bullets, slaughtered with knives and exploded by bombs. That's where the Arab moderates are. This book chronicles their story from the start of the British Mandate until the War of Independence. Read more ..

Film Review

Reflections of Silver, Beneath the Rain

March 12th 2008

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly"

"The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" ("Le Scaphandre et le Papillon"), France 2007. Directed by Julian Schnabel, from a screenplay by Ronald Harwood, based on the book by Jean-Dominique Bauby. Miramax/Pathe Renn, 112 minutes, in French with English subtitles.

American reviews of "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly" ("Le Scaphandre et le Papillon"), and of the autobiographical book by Jean-Dominique Bauby on which it is based, have called the story "amazing" and "a triumph of the human spirit." I can’t agree.

These bland clichés and the flabby thinking behind them only insult director Julian Schnabel’s fully realized portrait of Bauby, editor of French "Elle," earthy and intellectual and greedy of life, "a family man and a free spirit" and "a stranger to failure" whose sudden stroke at age 43 left him entombed in his own body, a victim of the rare "locked-in syndrome." On Sunday, Schnabel ("Basquiat," "Before Night Falls") won a Golden Globe for his technically dazzling and meticulously paced direction, and "Diving Bell" was named best foreign film.

The original French lyrics of chansonnier Charles Trenet’s "La Mer" that frame the opening and closing credits set the mood in a way their peppy English translation ("Somewhere Beyond the Sea") never could. "Reflets d’argent ... des reflets changeants, sous la pluie." "Silver reflections, changing reflections, underneath the rain" describes equally well the shifting, drowning, hall-of-mirrors effects of Janusz Kaminski’s brilliant cinematography, and the shattering and slow rearranging of Bauby’s world it depicts.


Book Review

Superman Book Offers Cautionary Tales

March 3rd 2008

Superman book cover

Jake Rossen. Superman vs. Hollywood: How Fiendish Producers, Devious Directors and Warring Writers Grounded an American Icon. February 2008, Chicago Review Press. 393 pages.

You would think that making a Superman movie would be the easiest thing in the world to do. As a business decision, it's a no-brainer. The template has already been created. Just cast and shoot. There have already been successful radio and TV shows, serials, cartoons and comic books—published continuously for the past 70 years. But the degree of intrigue, incompetence, misfortune and other problems that have plagued the character and his interpreters over the years is astounding. And it continues to the present day.

But how can a business—in this case the film business—screw up something that seems like a natural? This is Superman, after all, the prototypical, archetypal superhero. Second, third and fifth-stringers like Blade, Swamp Thing, Constantine, The Crow, Elektra, The Mask, Hellboy and others have been the subjects of popular flicks. A-listers such as Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man are into their second or third go-rounds. In the meantime, after a tortuous development process, the sequel to the recent, relatively successful Superman Returns movie has yet to begin pre-production.

Originally for a cover story in the hyperbolic, testosterone-drenched fanzine Wizard, writer Jake Rossen recounted the history of the character's big and small screen presence. In expanding his piece into a book, Rossen presents a panoramic view of the business and creative processes and their vicissitudes. For example, when slacker-film director Kevin Smith turned in a fairly straightforward and appealing script, Jon Peters, the Warner Brothers producer responsible for the property's development, decided that no less than Sean Penn would be the perfect actor to play ''The Man of Steel.'' Of course, that bizarre notion went nowhere. Read more ..

After the Holocaust

Dreaded Book on Deaths of Polish Jews Enters Second Print Run in Poland

February 4th 2008

World Citizens - Jan Gross via JTA
Jan Gross

Bookstores in Poland are restocking copies of a book on Polish anti-Semitism after World War II as a prosecutor investigates whether it violates a law prohibiting ``slander against the nation.''

The book, ``Fear. Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz'' by Princeton University professor Jan Tomasz Gross, sold out days after the first 25,000 volumes were published. A second print run of 20,000 is being sent to bookstores from today.

"We sold so many copies of the book, and so quickly we had a big gap in supplies,'' Monika Marianowicz, a spokeswoman for Empik Media & Fashion SA, that sells books in stores throughout Poland, said by phone today.
Gross's book, which blames the murder of hundreds of Jews after World War II on Polish anti-Semitism and greed, has been criticized by academics, the Catholic Church and ordinary Poles.

"This book is a pack of lies,'' said Lech Raczynski, a 64- year-old agricultural engineer from Kielce, where a 1946 pogrom took place in which more than 40 Jews were murdered. ``It's obvious that the Jews did it -- it was a purge by the communist leaders, who were all Jews, against the others. Poland isn't an anti-Semitic country at all.'' Read more ..

Author's Own Story

Why Take the Risk?

February 4th 2008

Ben Carson book
Gifted Hands

Many people would describe my youth and upbringing as being “at risk.”  But my whole life has involved a series of risks.  Since success in life really depends upon identifying and appropriately reacting to the risks in our lives, I thought it would be a wonderful endeavor to analyze my life in terms of the risks and to generalize on how to evaluate risks in our lives, and determine which risks are worth taking and which are not worth worrying about. 

This is a vitally important topic because there are many people in our society who never achieve anything in life because they are afraid to take risks.  There are other people who never achieve anything in life because they take too many of the wrong risks.  In this book, we are able to explore how we get in contact with our own value system which helps us to be able to determine which risks are appropriate for each of us.  It should be noted that the answer will not be the same for each person. 

I grew up as the product of a single parent home with a mother who had only a third grade education in the inner cities of Detroit and Boston with dire poverty, rampant violence, terrible grades, poor self-esteem, and a horrendous temper.  You can see why some would consider me to be an “at risk” youth.  Even though my mother only had a third grade education, she was wise enough to recognize that my life was going nowhere fast, as was that of my brother.  She observed the people that she worked for as a domestic and also observed that they were very successful and, therefore, attempted to apply the principles she saw at work in their lives to our lives.  That was certainly a risk for her because it involved drastically reducing our outside play time and increasing our inside study time as well as drastically curtailing our television viewing.  She was ostracized by many and criticized by her friends for taking such an unorthodox approach, particularly in our social setting, but it was a risk she was willing to take and it obviously paid big dividends. Read more ..

Author's Own Story

Thugs--How I Selected the Worst of the Worst

January 27th 2008

Micah Halpern headshot

Thugs is a popular history. It is about legacy and continuity. It is about the horrors that shaped history and the perpetrators of those horrors. It is an accessible entrée into the lives and careers of some of the world’s most powerful leaders.

Who was despotic enough, demonizing enough, ruthless, barbaric, merciless enough to make the cut and be included in this book?

My guiding principle was that these be leaders who cared not a whit about the values and ideals that I and my world—the free and democratic world—hold dear. These are leaders who used their power for the purpose of furthering their own personal and political goals. Thugs is a peek into the private lives of the rich and infamous. It is a glimpse into the political aspirations of the biggest and most notorious of egos.

There are many despots, dead and alive, to choose from. I chose to write about leaders not because they were necessarily worse than others but because of the way they impacted history. I chose people for the roles they played, not merely for the barbaric acts they performed. Brutality alone was not enough to warrant a place in Thugs. I wanted characters about whom there was controversy. Controversy centering on their place in history. Controversy about the role they played during their own historical period and in their own country. I chose people who arouse controversy in academic circles and around the dinner table, I chose men and women who are the subjects of popular debate. Read more ..

Author's Own Story

Will Israel Survive? Author Bets "Yes"

January 11th 2008

World Citizens - Mitchell Bard
Mitch Bard

I gave my new book the provocative title “Will Israel Survive?” because Israel faces so many challenges today that it is a legitimate question. In fact, a little more than a year ago, nearly one-fourth of Israelis said they were not certain if Israel would exist in the long run and 54% feared for the existence of the state.

Israelis have good reason to be concerned. Consider the threat of Islamic jihadism that appears to be gaining strength along its borders following the Hamas takeover of Gaza, and also the war with Hezbollah. Radical Islamists cannot accept Jews ruling over Muslims or any territory that belongs to the past or perceived future Islamic empires. They will wage war so long as Israel exists so it does not matter where the borders are drawn.

Israel can live with terrorism, but what happens if Iran acquires a nuclear bomb? Can Israel risk the threat of annihilation? If not, what can it do? Should it rely on the international community or the United States to prevent Iran from acquiring the bomb or deterring it from using one? Does it have the capability to act unilaterally to stop Iran and what are the consequences of a military strike? Read more ..

Amazon Author Wars

Shadowy New Amazon Service Kindles More Questions than Answers

December 14th 2007

Amazon Kindle2
Amazon's Kindle

Many Authors have recently become astonished to discover their books being offered by Amazon at a steep discount on a promising and highly promoted if shadowy new Amazon service called Kindle. Most authors did not know their books were being converted into that format, and what the royalties will be. This latest Amazon technological incision into copyrighted content has only deepened the divide between the company and the world of writers who have collectively voiced resentment over the company’s sales tactics.

What is Kindle? The service is simply an e-book system rigged to work only with a sleek new Amazon ten ounce electronic PDA-style reader called Kindle that stores books remotely. But it is wireless. You only own a virtual copy that does not exist outside a wireless-enabled environment. Forget about it on a cruise, a trip into the wilderness, crossing the border into Mexico or Canada unless you download books into a handheld library which can be a time consuming an expensive proposition especially for those who have to pay for a wireless connection.

The $400 reader, currently not shipping due to limited manufacturing, is the latest attempt to convince people to read books on palm-top computer screens instead of holding them in their hands. Previous attempts have suffered a dismal fate. Initial reviews are mixed from unlimited praise by first adopters on the Amazon website to "not used friendly and destined to failure" by one publisher working closely with the site. That said, the Kindle concept is more than nifty. It may be the wave of the future. Unfortunately for now, Amazon’s mishandling of the program is giving it a black eye. Read more ..

Travel on Television

History Channel Finding Its way with Lost World--Masada

History Channel logo

No one should venture a trip to Masada without first viewing the History Channel's "Lost World" episode regarding Herod's monumental works in ancient Israel, especially at Masada.The "you discover" epsiode is packed with the type of computer graphics and visualizations that generate greater views and perspectives than the standard long shots of the ramps and staging areas below. Of particular interest is the explanation of Herod's innovative mountaintop mid-desert bath houses which generated both steam and cool water in an arid desert where nearby water did not exist. To bring even greater life to the history, trying viewing the two-part dramatic series Masada. The story of Masada is one of history's first great mass sacrifice for freedom, and enduring tale to this day.

Grand Opening

Spertus Institute Readies for a Grand Reappearance--from Wolfgang Puck to "The Transfer Agreement"

September 7th 2007

Spertus Institute

Chicago’s Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies is finally moving into its long-awaited new home on trendy South Michigan Ave. November 30, 2007, the acutely angular 10-story glass edifice, $55 million in the making, will open its doors for studies, research, and cultural amazement. Spertus’s college, museum, collections and performance venues along with the Asher Library and Chicago Jewish Archives will function beneath tenth floor garden bestowing sweeping views of majestic Lake Michigan and Grant Park.

Among the special features, Spertus will provide a 400-seat multimedia theater for speaking events, music, dance and film. Wolfgang Puck Catering will operate the kosher café. The Chicago Jewish Archives, managed by archivist Joy Kingsolver, offers more than 200 valuable collections, including the pivotal records of Chicago Zionists instrumental in the dramatic events swirling around the Holocaust and establishment of the State of Israel.

Among the Chicago Jewish Archives collection supervised by the hardworking Kingsolver is collection 72, the original research files used by author Edwin Black in assembling his bestselling award-winning book, The Transfer Agreement. Read more ..

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