Edward Morris

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Want to savor your retirement years? Then dream big, eat wisely and develop the financial acumen of Ben Bernanke. That’s the distilled advice from three new “geezer guides” for all those Baby Boomers now shuffling along the path to the Abyss.

Living the dream
Robert and Patricia Gussin’s What’s Next . . . for You? is more how-we-did-it than how-you-can-do-it. In realizing their ongoing dreams, money never seems to be a problem for the Gussins. Both are physicians who retired in 2000 from well-paying executive posts at subsidiaries of Johnson & Johnson. He was 62, she “a few years younger.” With money in the bank, their kids gone and homes on Long Island and Longboat Key, Florida, the Gussins could have spent their twilight years in a supine position. Instead, both took up writing—she thrillers, he humor. This led, indirectly, to them forming their own fully staffed book publishing company. In 2002, they once again demonstrated their boundless interests by buying a working vineyard in New Zealand—and the villa that went along with it. Apart from overseeing these two thriving new businesses, the Gussins also volunteer as health providers for low-income seniors. Their stamina is simply epic. While most retirees are less wealthy, less connected, less educated and less energetic than this couple, their experiences nonetheless demonstrate that retirement doesn’t have to lead to a mental or an emotional fadeout.

Super foods for super health
Dr. William Sears’ Prime-Time Health, co-written with Martha Sears, is billed as “a scientifically proven plan for feeling young and living longer.” At the heart of Sears’ life-extending regimen is the wise consumption of 16 “super foods”: seafood (especially salmon), berries (especially blueberries), spinach, nuts, olive oil, broccoli, oatmeal, flaxseed meal, avocados, pomegranate juice, tomatoes, tofu, yogurt, red onions, garlic and beans and lentils. He explains how each food improves the functioning of specific organs and how to maintain a dietary balance. There are also tips on exercise and a colossally unimaginative chapter on how to have “better (and more) sex.” Sears could have done more to address the concerns of aging vegetarians who have qualms about eating fish. Still, his science is convincing and his tone reassuring.

Thinking ahead
The Bogleheads’ Guide To Retirement Planning, compiled and edited by Taylor Larimore, Mel Lindauer, Richard A. Ferri and Laura F. Dogu, takes its title from—and bases its investment strategies on—the teachings of John C. Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group. Consequently, there is no one-size-fits-all schematic. Instead, there are discussions of major financial instruments, from savings accounts and IRAs to Social Security, and how each applies to people of differing ages, incomes and retirement aspirations. The most accessible part of the book is the “Pearls of Wisdom” segment that offers such all-purpose economic maxims as “It’s what you keep, not what you earn” and “Don’t invest in things you don’t understand.”

Given the time it takes to digest and adapt other people’s solutions, perhaps the best strategy is just to keep on working.

Edward Morris, unretired and unrepentant, reviews from Nashville.

Want to savor your retirement years? Then dream big, eat wisely and develop the financial acumen of Ben Bernanke. That’s the distilled advice from three new “geezer guides” for all those Baby Boomers now shuffling along the path to the Abyss. Living the dreamRobert and Patricia Gussin’s What’s Next . . . for You? is […]
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America’s Revolutionary War is so encrusted in myth and preconceptions that there always seems room for another angle. Three new histories take only sidelong glances at the war itself, instead examining such aspects as motivation, political maneuvering and the significant people who never achieved the status of “Founding Fathers.”

FROM THE GROUND UP
T.H. Breen’s American Insurgents, American Patriots argues that without the anti-royalist groundswell that occurred throughout the colonies following Parliament’s passage of the Coercive Acts in 1774, the men now acknowledged as our Founding Fathers would have constituted no more than a debating society. The Coercive Acts were Britain’s tough response to the Boston Tea Party. In showing its willingness to punish the people of Boston indiscriminately, Britain simultaneously revealed the danger it posed to the freedoms of all colonials. Responding to that perceived danger, towns and villages from New Hampshire to Georgia began forming militias and “committees of safety” to resist imperial heavy-handedness. They used newspapers and pamphlets to advance their arguments and keep abreast of each other’s activities. Their collective pressure, Breen notes, made the First Continental Congress, which convened in Philadelphia in September 1774, far more radical in its outlook than it otherwise would have been. These local resistance units were manned by volunteers in the months leading up to the war; but as other histories have shown, volunteerism waned dangerously as the war progressed. Filled with anecdotes about citizen hyperactivity, Breen’s book is a valuable addition to Revolutionary War scholarship.

OF THE PEOPLE, BY THE PEOPLE
Jack Rakove’s Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America delineates the political realities Americans faced from just before the war began until the ascent of George Washington to the presidency. He does so by chronicling the political evolution and interactions of dozens of activists, among them the firebrands John and Samuel Adams; the moderates John Dickinson, Robert Morris, James Duane and John Jay; Washington as a military leader; Tom Paine as the supreme propagandist; George Mason as a constitutional theorist; and Henry and John Laurens as ambivalent anti-slavers. In the post-war period, Rakove dissects the uneven contributions of Thomas Jefferson, James Madison (“the greatest lawgiver of modernity”) and Alexander Hamilton. While Rakove’s research traverses well-worn territory, he presents an excellent overview of intricate Revolutionary politics and the role personality played in shaping them.

TRUTHS AND MYTHS
William Hogeland’s Declaration takes the reader inside the nine weeks of wheeling and dealing—May 1 to July 4, 1776—that culminated in the passage and signing of what is now called the Declaration of Independence. (Originally, it had no title.) Although America was fully embroiled in war at that time, sentiments still ran high in some of the colonies—particularly in Pennsylvania, where the Second Continental Congress was meeting—to reach a resolution with England that did not involve actual separation from the mother country. Hogeland describes how Samuel Adams and his faction, which burned for independence, conspired successfully with working-class radicals to turn Pennsylvania around. The author also shreds some myths about the Declaration, noting, for example, that it isn’t a legal document but an explanatory one; that it didn’t flow fully formed from Thomas Jefferson’s pen but was picked apart by other delegates before it was agreed on; and that it was not signed by the delegates on the day of passage (July 2, not July 4) but over a period of six months. Declaration is immensely readable and entertaining—almost like being there.

America’s Revolutionary War is so encrusted in myth and preconceptions that there always seems room for another angle. Three new histories take only sidelong glances at the war itself, instead examining such aspects as motivation, political maneuvering and the significant people who never achieved the status of “Founding Fathers.” FROM THE GROUND UPT.H. Breen’s American […]
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This is a rich season for readers whose imaginations (and libidos) were first unleashed back when vinyl was the dominant musical medium and Broadway was still a wellspring of popular songs. Five new books provide a kaleidoscopic view of that charmed era.

MAN WITH THE GOLDEN THROAT
James Kaplan’s Frank: The Voice is a gossipy, immensely readable account of Frank Sinatra’s rise from sweet-singing mama’s boy to teen idol to Academy Award-winning actor. (The biography ends on the night of March 25, 1954, with Sinatra walking the streets of Beverly Hills and brandishing his best supporting Oscar for From Here To Eternity.)

Kaplan could have just as accurately subtitled his book The Groin, since he focuses as much on that busy region as he does on the entertainer’s golden throat. Central to his chronicle is Sinatra’s love affair with and marriage to Ava Gardner, the one woman whose temper and sense of entitlement were as formidable as the singer’s own. “Like Frank,” says Kaplan, “she was infinitely restless and easily bored. . . . Both had titanic appetites, for food, drink, cigarettes, diversion, companionship, and sex. Both loved jazz and the men and women, black and white, who made it. Both were politically liberal.” The author also assesses the influences of such other Sinatra intimates as Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, bandleaders Harry James and Tommy Dorsey, songwriters Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen, Sinatra’s long-suffering publicist George Evans and his even longer-suffering first wife, Nancy. There are few new facts or insights here, but Kaplan does a masterful job of stitching the reams of previously published material into a vivid, fast-paced narrative.

BEYOND THE BEATLES
Howard Sounes’ Fab: An Intimate Life of Paul McCartney is impressively thorough and up-to-date. The author devotes a mere 22 pages of his mammoth text to McCartney’s youth—that is, the period before he joined his first real band, the Quarrymen—and he polishes off the Beatles era less than halfway into the book. That’s as it should be, given the substantial body of work and public presence McCartney has created on his own. While Sounes did not talk with McCartney or the other surviving Beatle, Ringo Starr, he did interview well over 200 other people who were closely or tangentially connected with the star. The picture that emerges is of a man well aware of his place in musical history but given to taking artistic short cuts, not quite demanding as much from himself as his talent could render. Still, his bedrock of compassion and generosity generally shows through. Sounes allots plenty of space to McCartney’s disastrous marriage to Heather Mills, a test of character if there ever was one.

A PROPHET OF HIS TIMES
No one else has anatomized Bob Dylan, his music and his personality as relentlessly or as minutely as Greil Marcus. Witness now the culmination of that obsession in Bob Dylan by Greil Marcus: Writings 1968-2010. Marcus first came face to face with Dylan in 1963 at a Joan Baez concert in New Jersey. That experience was so transformative that he has since viewed the iconic singer/songwriter as something of a cultural weathervane. These essays and speeches tend either to sigh with admiration or seethe with contempt as Dylan goes through his various stages from folkie to rocker to Christian convert to elder statesman to enigma-in-residence. No album or gesture goes unnoticed. All the pieces aren’t strictly about Dylan, though; in some, he’s just a footnote, a shadow passing by. Readers who are not into Dylan minutiae can still follow what Marcus is talking about, since most of these writings were for publications that catered to broad audiences. But this is more than a study of Dylan—it’s a jagged portrait of the age.

BACKSTAGE WITH ROCK GODS
Spurned by rock critics for being over-hyped, depraved and savage toward the press, Led Zeppelin finally decided in 1975 that it might be a business advantage to invite a handful of top-tier reporters to accompany the band on what was certain to be a triumphant tour of America. One of the chosen few was Stephen Davis, a former writer for Rolling Stone who, on this trip, would be on assignment for The Atlantic. The upshot is LZ-’75. Zeppelin proved to be just as thorny and exhausting to cover as expected. As Davis chronicles it, the tour was a transcontinental bacchanal, in which each member of the band had his own peccadilloes and flash points; imagine Spinal Tap with higher IQs and better management. Davis, who would later write the much-disputed Led Zeppelin biography Hammer of the Gods, misplaced his notes of the tour (The Atlantic declined his proposed article) and didn’t find them until 30 years later. Thus the delay, and the sense that we’ve read all this before, though the material and the gossip still compel.

A LIFE IN THE THEATER
Readers are hereby warned not to start on Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat if they have vital appointments pending. His prose is just too alluring to put aside. This is the first of two planned volumes in which the great lyricist recounts his experiences writing songs for musical theater; the book covers 13 plays from 1954 to 1981. Besides providing and discussing the lyrics to all his songs in these plays, Sondheim also offers illuminating critiques of fellow Broadway songwriters. He is a hard man to please, finding literary fault with such master stylists as Oscar Hammerstein II (his mentor), Lorenz Hart, Alan Jay Lerner, Ira Gershwin and Noel Coward. He is more admiring of Dorothy Fields, Irving Berlin and Frank Loesser, although not unreservedly so. It’s astounding the number of classics Sondheim can claim, among them “Maria” and “Tonight” from West Side Story, “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” from Gypsy, “Everybody Ought to Have a Maid” from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, “Send in the Clowns” from A Little Night Music—the list goes on, and fortunately, so does Sondheim.
 

This is a rich season for readers whose imaginations (and libidos) were first unleashed back when vinyl was the dominant musical medium and Broadway was still a wellspring of popular songs. Five new books provide a kaleidoscopic view of that charmed era. MAN WITH THE GOLDEN THROAT James Kaplan’s Frank: The Voice is a gossipy, […]
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It is an open question whether history as it comes down to us, with all its political and psychological overlays, has something useful to teach us about our own affairs. What is not in dispute about history, though, is its power to entertain and inspire us with its myths and stories. In this regard, the four annals considered here are all enormously satisfying and thought-provoking—maybe even instructive.

MAKING HISTORY BY HAND
As director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor had only to look around him to find the exemplary artifacts he discusses in A History of the World in 100 Objects. The oldest is a stone chopping tool discovered in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania and estimated to be between 1.8 and 2 million years old, while the newest is a solar-powered light and charger made in China in 2010. Each object is illustrated in color and explained by MacGregor in essays that manage to be both scholarly and conversational in tone. Embedded within certain of these essays are additional wise commentaries from the likes of David Attenborough, Martin Amis, Yo Yo Ma, Karen Armstrong and Seamus Heaney.

Not surprisingly, most of the objects cited are from the large civilization centers of Europe, Africa and Asia. But there are also ones from less bustling locations: a Clovis spear point from Arizona, a pestle from New Guinea, a textile fragment from Peru, a bark shield from Australia. The choices here will no doubt spur arguments about significance (was the Hawaiian feather helmet really symbolic of human development?), omissions (where is the can of Spam? the Swiss pocket knife?) and political correctness (is the Suffragette-defaced penny anything more than an oddity?). But, then, isn’t raising issues the best part of reading histories?

WHEN IN ROME
The congenitally combative art critic Robert Hughes began his long love affair with Rome on his first visit there in 1959. In Rome: A Cultural, Visual, and Personal History, he undertakes the gargantuan task of chronicling more than 3,000 years of myths, battles, political intrigues, religious upheavals and, most dear to him, art in its infinite manifestations. He begins his account in the mists of prehistory and carries it forward to what he sees as Rome’s present condition—a pestilential tourist beehive in which art is viewed and checked off one’s list rather than savored.

No figure is too transient, no artifact too trivial and no political movement too bizarre to merit Hughes’ attention as he strides those city streets through the ages. His descriptions are sharp and vivid. Of the battle at Cannae between the Carthaginian Hannibal’s troops and Roman soldiers, he writes, “Roman losses in a single day at Cannae were almost as great as American combat losses (58,000) in the Vietnam War. And it all happened within about nine hours on a late-spring or early-summer day, blindingly hot, fogged with the clouds of dust kicked up by thousands of men in their relentless, terminal struggle.”

Although his prose often has a working man’s swagger to it, Hughes can become lyrical given the right stimulus. Recalling the Church of Santa Maria della Consolazione in nearby Umbria, he says, “There is no town around it; it simply emerges from the earth, flooded with light inside. No mosaics, no statuary, no gilt, no marble: only strong, ideal geometrical form. To have such an interior to oneself, in the light of a spring morning, is to grasp a fleeting sense of what Dante meant—‘luce, intellettual, piena d’amore’: the light of the mind, suffused with love.”

SEEING THE CIVIL WAR ANEW
Margaret E. Wagner’s The Library of Congress Illustrated Timeline of the Civil War is a real factual and pictorial treasure. Illustrated by more than 350 photographs, drawings, editorial cartoons, maps, handbills and manuscript reproductions (many in color), the book begins on February 4, 1861, when representatives from six secessionist states meet in Montgomery, Alabama, to form a Confederate government, and ends on May 29, 1865, when newly elevated President Andrew Johnson grants amnesties or pardons to most of those who rebelled against the Union.

All the entries are brief, so the accounts of skirmishes and battles are necessarily summaries. But the length is perfect for anecdotes that reveal the human side of the war, such as this one from October 15, 1863: “Inventor H. L. Hunley is among eight men who die when the Confederate submarine H. L. Hunley sinks (for the second time; see August 29, 1863) during a practice dive in Charleston Harbor.” Or take this missive for February 10, 1864: “When flames are spotted at the president’s stables near the White House, Abraham Lincoln dashes outside, leaping over an intervening boxwood hedge ‘like a deer’ . . . and ‘with his own hands burst open the stable door.’ ” Lincoln was restrained from entering the building, and the fire killed six horses, including one that had belonged to his deceased son.

The book’s illustrations are large, fully captioned and powerfully narrative in their own right. Among the curiosities depicted are a drawing from a surgery manual showing how to amputate a leg; a printed envelope bearing the likeness of Lincoln’s reluctant general, George B. McClellan, and identifying him as “The Bag of Wind”; and a letter written by Jefferson Davis’ secretary with lines running both across and up and down the page to save precious paper. It is hard to imagine a more accessible survey of the Civil War than this one.

500 YEARS OF BLACK HISTORY
Strange as it may seem now, as recently as 50 years ago, textbooks on American history barely touched on the contributions of African Americans. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s stirring collection, Life Upon These Shores, is a chronicle of important figures and events that were long overlooked, forgotten or ignored. He begins in 1513, when Vasco Núñez de Balboa first sighted the Pacific Ocean at the Isthmus of Panama, with 30 Africans among his party. Just over 100 years later, in 1619, the first shipment of slaves to America arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. The terminus of Gates’ survey, naturally enough, is the election of America’s first black president.

Illustrated with more than 750 drawings, paintings and photographs, the book offers little historical vignettes much like those in an encyclopedia, except that these entries are in chronological rather than alphabetical order. The recurring themes—as Gates presents them in his measured, conversational tone—are resistance, persistence, imagination, self-help and thwarted attempts at assimilation.

Perhaps because it has been so minutely anatomized elsewhere, Gates devotes only a few pages to the Civil War proper, concentrating instead on events leading up to the war and the devastating Reconstruction period that followed. In the modern era, he pays much attention to the influence of African Americans on the arts and popular culture—from Duke Ellington and Richard Wright to Muhammad Ali, Spike Lee and Oprah Winfrey. He also illuminates political conflicts within the African-American community via snapshots of such volatile figures as Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Farrakhan and Clarence Thomas, and summarizes the achievements of African Americans in municipal, state and national politics. One may quibble with his omissions, but Gates’ task here is truly Herculean, and he has handled it superbly.

It is an open question whether history as it comes down to us, with all its political and psychological overlays, has something useful to teach us about our own affairs. What is not in dispute about history, though, is its power to entertain and inspire us with its myths and stories. In this regard, the […]
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In Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage, Nicholas Wapshott tries rather too hard to draw parallels between the early lives of Reagan and Thatcher when all he really needs to do to explain why they faced the world as a united front is focus on their remarkable correspondence, much of which is revealed here for the first time. The two bastions of conservatism chatted and flirted like teenagers. It's true that both leaders pulled themselves up by imagination and hard work. But they succeeded less by their own virtues than by cashing in on the manifest failings in some quarters of liberal politics, which, at the time of their triumphs, was basically running on theory, moral outrage and a sense of entitlement.

Although their gestures of respect and affection toward each other were clearly sincere and abiding, the two clashed on the Falklands War (Thatcher was unreservedly for it, Reagan against), the U.S. invasion of Grenada (Thatcher mildly objected, Reagan deemed it essential) and nuclear disarmament (Thatcher vehemently opposed it). It may not be all that instructive but it is surely thought-provoking to compare the dismal state of the left when Reagan and Thatcher ascended to office to the similarly shaky condition of the right today as it contends with its own Vietnam.

ON- AND OFF-CAMERA
Peter Jennings took over the anchor spot at ABC's World News Tonight early in the Reagan/Thatcher era and held that position until 2005. Friends, family members and colleagues of the late Canadian-born ABC-TV newscaster have combined their memorial statements and reminiscences into Peter Jennings: A Reporter's Life. As one would expect from such sources, the portrait that emerges is unwaveringly positive. Jennings is depicted as a fierce editor who demands both flair and substance from his reporters. But that's about as rough as it gets. By all accounts, Jennings had an insatiable curiosity, an urge to see for himself the world's hotspots and a genuine affection for the downtrodden. More than any other network anchor, his colleagues claim, he attempted to bring balance to his reports from the Middle East. The chief flaw here is that so many of the same tales and viewpoints are repeated that they end up sounding more like character references than personality sketches. Included are a list of contributors, a Jennings chronology and a selected list of his documentaries and news specials.

TELLING TODAY'S STORIES
Edited and introduced by public radio host Ira Glass, The New Kings of Nonfiction are united only by Glass' zeal for compelling narratives. [W]e're living in an age of great nonfiction writing, he asserts, in the same way that the 1920s and '30s were a golden age of American popular song. Giants walk among us. It's a big tent these giants occupy. Michael Lewis spotlights the Security and Exchange Commission's absurd war against a teenage stock trader. Gambler James McManus whisks the reader into his world of high-stakes poker. Mark Bowden presents a stomach-turning prewar glimpse into Saddam Hussein's mad and gratuitous cruelty. Gay activist Dan Savage chronicles his thwarted efforts to become a good Republican. On the frothier side, Coco Henson Scales tells what it's like to be the hostess for a trendy New York restaurant at which the customer is always wrong or at least made to feel so.

THE WAR 40 YEARS ON
Doyle D. Glass' Lions of Medina is a splendid piece of historical reporting. He traces a group of young men from their joining the Marines, through their basic training, to their week-long ordeal by fire in northern South Vietnam during a 1967 campaign labeled Operation Medina, to their less than glorious homecoming, either to be buried, hospitalized or to face the hostility of war protesters. Glass' battle descriptions are nerve-wracking. His account is richly illustrated with battleground maps and photos. There is also a helpful list of principal characters with identifications, a glossary and an index.

In Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher: A Political Marriage, Nicholas Wapshott tries rather too hard to draw parallels between the early lives of Reagan and Thatcher when all he really needs to do to explain why they faced the world as a united front is focus on their remarkable correspondence, much of which is revealed […]
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Johnny Merrimon, the central figure in John Hart’s The Last Child, is a lineal descendant and spiritual soul mate of Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield. Like them, this 13-year-old survivor is resilient, endlessly resourceful and determined to do the right thing in a world that settles for moral shortcuts.

Johnny’s self-imposed mission is to find his twin sister, Alyssa, who went missing a year earlier, presumably kidnapped. Her disappearance has shredded his once idyllic family. Now his father is also gone, driven away by guilt—so Johnny’s mother supposes—for having failed to pick up Alyssa when he was supposed to. Bereft by this double loss, Johnny’s ethereally beautiful mother, Katherine, has fallen into drugs, alcohol and the brutal arms of her former suitor, Ken Holloway, one of the richest men in (mythical) Raven County, North Carolina, where the narrative unfolds.

Police detective Clyde Hunt is just as obsessed as Johnny with finding Alyssa. His single-minded pursuit of the case has already cost him his wife and is threatening to snap his already frayed ties to his son. To complicate matters, he is becoming increasingly attracted to Katherine. Reduced to a summary, the story sounds like a soap opera. But it’s not. Here, the interior struggles far outweigh the interpersonal encounters.

Constitutionally a loner, Johnny resorts to every device he can think of—from Christian prayer to Indian rituals to door-to-door canvassing—in his unrelenting search for his sister. At the same time, he’s scheming feverishly to protect his mother. He becomes a footloose avenger, a truth-seeking creature of the night, fearful only of failing those he loves. If, like Huck Finn, he risks going to hell for doing his duty, then so be it.

Hart knows how sensitive boys feel and think behind those tough, smirking masks and with what ferocity they cling to their causes. Johnny is innocence and experience in perfect balance.

 

Edward Morris reviews from Nashville, Tennessee.

Johnny Merrimon, the central figure in John Hart’s The Last Child, is a lineal descendant and spiritual soul mate of Huck Finn and Holden Caulfield. Like them, this 13-year-old survivor is resilient, endlessly resourceful and determined to do the right thing in a world that settles for moral shortcuts. Johnny’s self-imposed mission is to find […]
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While it’s easy enough to show that the events of any given year were pivotal to one cause or another, Fred Kaplan makes a persuasive argument in 1959: The Year Everything Changed that the highlighted year was a real political, scientific and artistic watershed. It was the year Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the U.S. Civil Rights Commission issued its withering report on racial discrimination in America, the microchip and the birth control pill were introduced, and the first American soldiers were killed in Vietnam.

In addition, relations eased between the U.S. and Russia, thanks to high-level diplomatic exchanges; scientists probed deeper into space; courts overturned literary censorship laws; and jazz musicians, painters and comedians debuted exciting new forms of expression. (Having been a 24-year-old and reasonably culturally aware graduate student in 1959, this reviewer thinks Kaplan should have also mentioned the then rising tide of politically tinged folk music.)

Fortunately, the author does a great deal more than merely enumerate this torrent of transitional wonders. He also fills in each of their backstories and demonstrates subtle connections between seemingly discrete occurrences. Naturally enough, he ends the book with a chapter on Sen. John F. Kennedy laying the groundwork for what would turn out to be his successful run for the presidency the following year.

As Kaplan correctly concludes, 1959 set the stage for the massive “upheavals of the subsequent decades.” America would quickly end its love affair with Castro. The Cuban missile crisis would soon sweep away the threads of harmony between the two reigning superpowers. Civil rights would move from the courts into the streets of Little Rock, Montgomery, Birmingham and beyond. The pill would enable Americans to make love without fear even as they made war with increasing fearfulness in Vietnam.

“Above all,” says Kaplan, “there was suddenly a palpable sense [in 1959]—brought on by jet travel, space exploration, and the shift from nuclear domination to a competitive arms race—that the world was shrinking and that America was part of that world, locked into it, no longer merely affecting events but also affected by them. . . . ”

Fifty years later, the country is still coming to terms with those realities. 

While it’s easy enough to show that the events of any given year were pivotal to one cause or another, Fred Kaplan makes a persuasive argument in 1959: The Year Everything Changed that the highlighted year was a real political, scientific and artistic watershed. It was the year Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba, the […]
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The more we learn about Elvis Presley, the more sad and pathetic his life seems to have been. Presley's apologists will maintain, of course, that his music and presence were so world-changing that they render all his other personal characteristics moot. But as the audience that was initially transformed by his music grows older, the bulk of the population is left with the image of a man whose excesses ate him alive. That is basically the story Peter Harry Brown and Pat H. Broeske relate in Down at the End of Lonely Street: The Life and Death of Elvis Presley.

Without ignoring or minimizing Presley's astounding talent and charisma, the authors provide us a parallel account of his descent into an exhausting and ultimately joyless hedonism. It reveals a man for whom solitude was horrifying and whose most creative thinking was devoted to the acquisition of drugs. Squeezed on the one side by his hard-driving, Machiavellian manager, Colonel Tom Parker, and on the other by his own insatiable appetites for food, women, drugs, and respect, Presley is as doomed as the hero in a Greek tragedy but without the moral stature. The singer shines brightest in this book during his days as a conscientious, high-achieving soldier in Germany. Although Brown and Broeske cover much the same ground as the legion of other Presley biographers, they do offer a more thorough and up-to-date account of his death and a more charitable assessment of Presley's personal physician, the much vilified George Dr. Nick Nichopoulos. Enriching the text, which is indexed, are 16 pages of pictures, a chronology of Presley's entire life, a list (with summaries) of all his movies, a selective discography, and a list of his television appearances.

Edward Morris is a Nashville-based journalist.

The more we learn about Elvis Presley, the more sad and pathetic his life seems to have been. Presley's apologists will maintain, of course, that his music and presence were so world-changing that they render all his other personal characteristics moot. But as the audience that was initially transformed by his music grows older, the […]
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Reality is the most effective antidote to a religion whose tenets are designed to keep their members segregated from “the world.” In Leaving the Witness: Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life, Amber Scorah chronicles her journey into the world and, subsequently, away from her religious community. By Scorah’s account, her Jehovah’s Witnesses church kept its members preoccupied studying, preaching and submitting records of their activities; discouraged them from going to college and cultivating friendships outside their congregation; and advised them to take subsistence jobs rather than pursuing careers that might refocus their interests. Why bother with careers, after all, when Armageddon is just around the corner?

Email turned out to be the serpent in Scorah’s Eden. After she and her husband moved to Shanghai in 2005 to preach their gospel (which was illegal there and had to be done furtively), she took a job podcasting about life in China. Listeners were encouraged to email her questions and comments. One who did so was Jonathan, a screenwriter in Los Angeles. It becomes clear that something emotionally seismic is brewing in the narrative when the reader notices that Scorah never states her husband’s first name or endows him with personality but quotes lavishly from her correspondence with Jonathan, who views her religion as a cult and tells her so.

Although she was so devoted to the Witnesses that she learned Mandarin in order to preach in China, she finds her faith slipping under Jonathan’s barrage of skepticism. Her exhilaration at finally making the break is tempered greatly, however, by the realization that it has cost her the comfort and friendship of everyone she’s been close to throughout her insulated life, including her entire family. With nothing to hold her elsewhere, she relocates to New York to embark on a new plane of existence. The last pages of her story are heartbreaking, but unlike many apostates who look back wistfully at the beliefs they’ve left behind, Scorah has no doubt that she has delivered herself from a kind of evil.

In Leaving the Witness, Amber Scorah chronicles her journey into the world and, subsequently, away from her Jehovah’s Witness religious community.
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Because of journalist Elliott Maraniss’ close ties to the Communist Party, various government agencies and informants shadowed him throughout his life—from the late 1930s when he was a student and editorial writer at the University of Michigan, through his meritorious service in World War II, and well into his post-war civilian life. This surveillance came to a boil on March 12, 1952 in Detroit, when Maraniss appeared, as subpoenaed, before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Merely being summoned to appear had cost him his job at the Detroit Times, and his refusal to answer the committee’s questions about his political affiliations and associates doomed him to being blacklisted and hounded out of work for years.

David Maraniss, Pulitzer Prize winner and associate editor of the Washington Post, focuses on this persecution of his father and other leftists to construct both a social and a family history, enlivened by family letters and other personal artifacts. Maraniss readily acknowledges that his father was a Communist who was slow to reject the party line dictated from Stalinist Russia. But ultimately he sees his father as a liberal idealist who never wavered from his belief in America’s essential goodness. Elliott Maraniss’ ordeal, his son asserts, failed to make him bitter or lessen his zeal for social justice. Always the objective reporter, Maraniss humanizes his father’s inquisitors by probing deeply into their backgrounds to ferret out both their virtues and flaws.

The University of Michigan bristled with leftist politics in the late 1930s. Future playwright Arthur Miller was there at the time and was one of many protesting the rise of fascism in Spain and Germany. So was Elliott’s future wife, Mary, who was possibly even more fervent in her politics than he, and her brother Bob Cummins, who would put his life and career on the line by taking up arms against the fascist forces in the Spanish Civil War.

After moving from state to state and job to job, Elliott Maraniss finally found a journalistic home at the Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin, where, over the next quarter of a century, he would rise from reporter to executive editor. In Madison, the author concludes, his parents were at last able to shake off “the chains of the past with their idealism and optimism intact.”

Author David Maraniss focuses on the persecution of his father and other leftists to construct both a social and a family history of the Red Scare.
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Anuradha Bhagwati has defined herself through acts of resistance. As the only child of prominent India-born academics, she was a dutiful daughter during her preteen years in Boston and New York, deferential to authority and always—as demanded—earning top grades. But in high school, her “good girl” stature began to erode—at least in her parents’ eyes. She developed a crush on a female classmate and, much to her father’s distaste, became “obsessed” with playing basketball. Then, while she was attending Yale, she became deeply involved with an older, black and marijuana-smoking boyfriend.

Her greatest cultural aberration, however, came in 1999 when she dropped out of graduate school at Columbia, where both her parents taught, and joined the Marines. She was 24. “I wanted trials. I wanted to be tested. I wanted something extreme,” she writes. That experience and its politically related aftermath are the main themes of this book. Even as she relished in and thrived on the physical agonies of Marine training, she came to abhor the Corps’ contradictory attitudes toward women—on the one hand, paternalistically forbidding them from combat and, on the other, viewing them as sexual playthings. She admits to being quite sexually active herself while in service—from hiring a female prostitute in Thailand to sleeping with “a small assortment of Marine men.”

Ultimately, Bhagwati fought the command structure over its indifference to sexual harassment—but with little success. She resigned from the Corps after five years with the rank of Captain. After that, Bhagwati became active in seeking better treatment of female veterans and demanding that women be allowed to serve in battle.

A thicket of conflicting impulses, Bhagwati still has contempt for the Marines while also excoriating herself for not having been a better one. Oddly enough, for someone so politically outspoken about gender and race, she says nothing about America’s military invasions of other countries.

Anuradha Bhagwati has defined herself through acts of resistance. As the only child of prominent India-born academics, she was a dutiful daughter during her preteen years in Boston and New York, but in high school, her “good girl” stature began to erode

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