Keith Herrell

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Dads can be notoriously tough to buy for, so Father’s Day brings a fair amount of angst for gift-giving sons and daughters. Here are five books to spare you from buying a necktie or golf balls and make you a family hero.

KING OF THE COURT
We’ve all said it—especially harried parents torn between workplace and home, with precious little time to themselves: “If only I had the time to practice, I could get really good at (fill in the blank).” 

In Late to the Ball, Gerald Marzorati recounts how, at age 60, with work and family responsibilities winding down, he fills in the blank with competitive tennis. Marzorati, formerly editor of The New York Times Magazine, knows what he is up against in his quest to make the leap from decent club player to a force on the national senior circuit: lifelong players with extensive backgrounds in the game, many with international experience. But he stubbornly (and at no small expense) makes the effort. There’s the requisite coach along the way (more than one, in fact), but also cameos by a psychotherapist, a biomechanics expert and an ill-fated friend, all of whom have lessons to impart. Marzorati soaks them all in, but in the end—and to the reader’s benefit—appears to succeed just as much in improving his perspective on life as in perfecting his backhand. 

STOPPING THE BOMB
Don’t be surprised if, partway through The Winter Fortress, you get the urge to flip to the back cover and make absolutely sure that it’s a nonfiction book. This tale of a daredevil mission to slow Germany’s World War II progress toward an atomic bomb could only be conjured by a master storyteller. Neal Bascomb’s a master all right, but the events he describes in fly-on-the-wall fashion—working from recently declassified documents, firsthand interviews and previously unseen diaries and letters—are true. In 1942, the Nazis were bent on developing a nuclear capability, and a fortress-like facility in Norway was crucial to their goal. Making incredible sacrifices, commando teams made up largely of Norwegian patriots battled harsh conditions and nearly insurmountable odds in their quest to derail the Germans’ plans. It’s part spy tale, part action-adventure yarn as the saboteurs strap on skis and undertake the mission of a lifetime. We know how it will turn out, but there are plenty of surprises along the way in a book that, once you reach the midpoint, is almost impossible to put down.

BOTTOMS UP
Taking on a subject near to almost any dad’s heart, The United States of Beer: A Freewheeling History of the All-American Drink is a light, informative read that goes down easily on a hot summer day. Author Dane Huckelbridge clearly loves his subject, and it’s obvious he had fun drinking his way through the necessary (really it is, Dear) research. And you’ll get quite an education as Huckelbridge starts in New England and works his way across the country, with shoutouts to beloved brands such as Iron City, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Anchor Steam Beer. He traces beer’s roots in other cultures, notes that it came over on the Mayflower and describes how, for a time, beer battled with whiskey before emerging as America’s alcoholic beverage of choice. Breweries large and small are toured, and there are numerous history mini-lessons along the way, with such figures as Ben Franklin and George Washington making appearances. And who knew that Gen. George Armstrong Custer unwittingly played a role in the early mass marketing of beer? So it almost goes without saying: Tell Dad to enjoy this book with a glass of beer close by.

SUMMONING THE FORCE
Perhaps you’ve noticed that the world has a few problems. But Cass R. Sunstein is here with The World According to Star Wars to tell you the Force can fix them, along with taking off those extra five pounds and curing the common cold. OK, just kidding on those last two—but Sunstein, a Harvard professor and behavioral economics expert when he’s not geeking out with the Imperial March playing in the background, is a true believer and then some when it comes to the wildly successful Star Wars films. In Sunstein’s view, fortunately written in an un-professorial tone, the movies unify people, connect generations (got that, Dad?) and form a modern myth that exists as a “rousing tribute to human freedom.” And just to seal the Father’s Day deal, there are enough “I am your father” references to sustain a drinking game, and there’s an entire chapter (this book calls them “episodes”) entitled “Fathers and Sons.” So sure, you can just read that one chapter. But trust the Force—you’ll enjoy Sunstein’s musings all the way through.

SECRETS OF THE PAST
The world cannot end in The House of Secrets, because it’s billed as the first in a series. The conspiracy thriller is co-written by Brad Meltzer and Tod Goldberg, with Meltzer getting top billing—that’s understandable, as his credits include multiple bestselling novels, plus graphic novels and children’s books. He also hosts “Brad Meltzer’s Decoded” on the History Channel and “Brad Meltzer’s Lost History” on H2. Novelist Goldberg (the Burn Notice series) is no slouch either, so they have combined for a fast-paced novel that keeps the reader guessing all the way through. After all, how can you go wrong when you start off with a dead body (oops, make that two!) that has a Bible implanted in its chest and is dressed in a Revolutionary War uniform? The task of making sense of all this falls to the daughter of a TV host who’s a lot like, well, Brad Meltzer. And Meltzer (the real one) says the book’s premise is based on fact. So buy it for Dad, but don’t be surprised if you see him acting strangely as he turns the pages.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Dads can be notoriously tough to buy for, so Father’s Day brings a fair amount of angst for gift-giving sons and daughters. Here are five books to spare you from buying a necktie or golf balls and make you a family hero.
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Gift-buying trends come and go, but for some readers, history books are a sure source of enlightenment and pleasure. Here are five of our favorites this season, sure to brighten the holidays for any history buff.

SHAPING NEW YORK
Looking for the perfect gift for someone who loves all things New York? You can’t go wrong with The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910, which covers the 40-year period known for rampant capitalism and audacious displays of wealth. With its handsome cover featuring the Flatiron Building and a full-page photo of the  Cornelius Vanderbilt mansion facing the introduction, this is a book that cheerfully joins in the celebration. But don’t be fooled—author Esther Crain has produced a comprehensive look at the Gilded Age, peeling back the veneer to examine the multiple flaws that led to progressive reforms. So yes, there are plenty of photos and reproductions of mansions, costume balls and luxury hotels, but Crain also carefully depicts all aspects of life in the Big Apple, with chapters focusing on the poor, crime (and sin!) and the rise of the “New Woman.” Treat this like a coffee table book, merely flipping through pages to gaze at the pictures, at your peril. With numerous breakout sections on such topics as crusading reporter Nellie Bly, “The Opera House War” and an all-female stolen-goods ring, it’s a fascinating history lesson as well. 

BLACK PANTHER LEGACY
The founders of the Black Panther Party probably didn’t expect a coffee table book about the group’s creation when they got together 50 years ago, but this year’s anniversary commemorations include Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers. Authored by Stephen Shames and party co-founder Bobby Seale, the book uses photographs from the early days (almost all of them black and white) and oral recollections to tell the story of the revolutionary social organization created as a response to racism and social inequality. Most controversially, the Black Panthers advocated armed self-defense to counter police brutality. (One of the most striking images shows Seale and other party members armed during a protest at the California State Legislature.) Seale’s voice dominates the text, but many figures important to the movement, including Angela Davis and Eldridge Cleaver, are also heard from. The photographs are by Shames, who acknowledges in the introduction that the Panthers have made errors but emphasizes a legacy of positive social programs, including free breakfasts and health care. His photographs capture it all, including recent images that make it plain that the struggle continues.

MARVELS OF INVENTION
Just as you can’t eat only one potato chip, it would be impossible to stop with one selection from America the Ingenious: How a Nation of Dreamers, Immigrants, and Tinkerers Changed the World. Written by novelist and journalist Kevin Baker (Paradise Alley), it’s a celebration of more than 75 inventions and innovations—some of which we take for granted, some of which we’ve almost forgotten (cotton gin, anyone?) and some of which we still marvel at. Each entry checks in at about three pages, including illustrations, which makes this the book to pick up any time you’re looking for that perfect factoid or cocktail party anecdote. Did you know that the death of legendary football coach Knute Rockne hastened the development of the transcontinental airplane? Or that 3-D printing has been around in some form since the 19th century? Thanks to Baker’s efficient and witty commentary, the learning goes down easily and leaves the reader wanting more. His selections are eclectic—don’t go looking for a recounting of how Bell invented the telephone—and he casts a wide net, somehow managing to work in such disparate subjects as the safety pin and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

SURPRISE ATTACK
The weekly Life magazine that baby boomers grew up with may be gone, but its editors still maintain an online presence and publish books on a broad range of subjects. The latest is Pearl Harbor: 75 Years Later, which carries on the Life tradition of iconic photographs, with additional features. The photographs—most of them black and white—are striking, of course, and include images from a Japanese aircraft carrier bound for Pearl Harbor in December 1941. As for the attack itself, destruction on the ground and at sea is depicted in page after page of photos, with black smoke filling the sky. But don’t overlook the accompanying words, including a thoughtful explanation of the run-up to the war and a valuable timeline for Dec. 7, 1941. Additional features include maps, breakouts such as “Did Roosevelt Know?” and a look at another surprise attack on American soil: Sept. 11, 2001. And in a nod to tradition, archival pages from Life coverage of the attack on Pearl Harbor are replicated at the end of the book. One indication of how things have changed: No photos from the actual attack appeared until the Dec. 29 issue.

GOING BIG
If you like your gift books with a little ambition, look no further than Big History: Examines Our Past, Explains Our Present, Imagines Our Future. As the subtitle indicates, all it seeks to do is “ponder some of the most exciting and enduring questions about life, the universe, and what the future holds for humans.” A project of the Big History Institute at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia, this is a fascinating book with vivid illustrations and—despite its high-flying ambitions—easy-to-understand, forthright text. Divided into eight sections, from “The Big Bang” to “Industry Rises,” it presents an array of maps, graphics and text to educate the reader on what it terms a “grand evolutionary epic.” Particularly useful are the “Goldilocks Conditions” charts that open each section, laying out how the right conditions occurred at just the right time to trigger fundamental change—including the emergence of life. Also useful: back-of-the-book timelines of world history, with breakouts on such topics as culture, inventions and great buildings. Even at more than 400 pages, it’s a book you don’t want to see end.

 

This article was originally published in the December 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Gift-buying trends come and go, but for some readers, history books are a sure source of enlightenment and pleasure. Here are five of our favorites this season, sure to brighten the holidays for any history buff.
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With Father’s Day approaching, it’s time to wrap that present you’ve had hidden away for months. Wait, you have nothing hidden away and no idea what to buy Dad? Here are five books that will be even more welcome than a box of golf balls.

What Father’s Day list is complete without an unabashedly sentimental—yet realistic—look at the father-son relationship from first-person experience? Two and Two: McSorley’s, My Dad, and Me, by Rafe Bartholomew, fills that bill admirably. It also serves as a history of McSorley’s Old Ale House, a 163-year-old institution in New York’s East Village, as well as a compendium of anecdotes about things that can only happen at a beloved neighborhood bar (nowadays, alas, also a frequent tourist stop). Bartholomew, a sports writer and editor, writes lovingly of his father, known as “Bart” over the course of his 45-year bartending career, and also gives us some of his own coming-of-age glimpses along the way. If you can survive St. Patrick’s Day at McSorley’s, we learn, you can survive just about anything. But just when you think this is strictly a fathers-and-sons book, some of the best writing appears in the chapter dealing with the author’s mother, Patricia, who conquered alcoholism only to find life had an even bigger punch in store for her.

BROTHERS IN ARMS 
Fatherhood takes a back seat to brotherhood in The Jersey Brothers: A Missing Naval Officer in the Pacific and His Family’s Quest to Bring Him Home, but the family ties are just as strong. They extend to the author, Sally Mott Freeman, a former speechwriter and public relations executive who is the daughter of one of the brothers. Her curiosity piqued by a family argument, she sought to unravel the story of her uncle Barton’s life as an MIA naval ensign during World War II (it’s no spoiler to note that he was actually a prisoner of war) and the efforts of his two brothers—also Navy men—to find and rescue him even as they fight their own battles. Meanwhile, the home fires are tended by a tenacious mother who never hesitates to pick up her pen and give the powers that be—all the way up to President Roosevelt—a piece of her mind. Tenacious in her own way, Freeman uses archives, interviews and diaries to uncover Barton’s tragic story along with those of his brothers and fellow prisoners, who endured unspeakable horrors in Japanese prison camps as war raged in the Pacific.

TEAMS AT THE TOP
Want to see Dad exercise his long-dormant debating skills? Just give him a copy of The Captain Class: The Hidden Force That Creates the World’s Greatest Teams and watch him search for his favorite team in author Sam Walker’s Tier One ranking. He’ll hunt in vain for baseball’s Big Red Machine Cincinnati Reds of the 1970s, or the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls. (Hint: He’ll find Jordan in the chapter titled “False Idols.”) Rest assured, the New York Yankees (1949-53 edition) did make the cut, along with the Collingwood Magpies of Aussie Rules football and 14 other teams. If your team isn’t on the list, Walker is ready with the reasoning for the snub (for example, the lack of a “true championship,” i.e., Super Bowl, for part of their existence kept the 1960s Green Bay Packers from Valhalla). And perhaps not surprisingly, given Walker’s background at The Wall Street Journal (he founded its daily sports report), the book doubles as a guide to success in business, with pointed commentary on what makes leaders effective or ineffective (go easy on the vitriol directed at teammates, Mr. Jordan).

WHAT A CATCH
Dad can get in touch with his inner Walter Mitty with Shark Drunk: The Art of Catching a Large Shark from a Tiny Rubber Dinghy in a Big Ocean. The seemingly sane author, Morten Strøksnes, and an eccentric artist friend decide they want to haul up a Greenland shark—bigger than the great white, and thus the world’s largest flesh-eating shark—from the oceanic depths off the coast of Norway. Think ­Moby-Dick, but shorter and funnier with enough random factoids to fill a whale’s belly. Waiting for a shark to bite (the line, that is) gives ­Strøksnes plenty of time to muse on such topics as Norwegian history and mythology, seafaring tales, space exploration and even the shark itself. (The “drunkenness” referred to in the title comes from eating the flesh of the Greenland shark, which contains compounds used in the nerve gas trimethylamine oxide.) Ranging over a full year, the quest for more than a nibble yields satisfying insights into friendship, aspirations and the thrill of the chase. When the end comes, it’s almost anticlimactic.

CLIMBING HIGH
Warning: Reading The Push: A Climber’s Journey of Endurance, Risk, and Going Beyond Limits can be a queasy experience, for at least a couple of reasons. For starters, the author of this absorbing memoir, expert rock climber Tommy Caldwell, spends a fair amount of time thousands (yes, thousands) of feet above ground level, protected only by a web of ropes, attempting to conquer the Next Big Climb. His targets include El Capitan’s 3,000-foot Dawn Wall in Yosemite National Park, which he conquers in 2015 with climbing partner Kevin Jorgeson. But Caldwell’s relationship with his gung-ho, adventure-guide father is also cringe-inducing and provides insight into his motivations and doubts, along with at least one failed relationship. If Caldwell’s name rings a bell, it’s possibly because one of his international expeditions ended with him and his companions—including the woman who would become his first wife—being held hostage by militants in Kyrgyzstan in 2000, escaping only when Caldwell pushed a captor off a nearly sheer dropoff. Somehow the captor survived, but it’s clear the incident still haunts Caldwell. Between the thrills, this book will haunt the reader, too.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

With Father’s Day approaching, it’s time to wrap that present you’ve had hidden away for months. Wait, you have nothing hidden away and no idea what to buy Dad? Here are five books that will be even more welcome than a box of golf balls.

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Ah, the American wild: teeming with animals roaming free, right? Two new books might change your thinking on that, as well as the role of humans and government.

In American Wolf, Nate Blakeslee gives us a tale of survival and obsession, replete with impressive detail gleaned from numerous interviews, diaries and personal observations. His account mostly takes place in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone National Park, where wolves were reintroduced starting in 1995 after becoming nearly extinct in the United States by the 1920s. As the wolves go about the unending business of survival, they become the objects of obsession for cattle ranchers, trophy hunters and people who rise before dawn to get a glimpse of the skilled predators. All of this plays out against a background of political, bureaucratic and court battles as opposing interests clash, with the wolves caught in the middle.

Wisely—and compellingly—Blakeslee focuses much of the narrative on one particular wolf, an alpha female known as O-Six. While she becomes a media star thanks to interviews given by park personnel, Blakeslee goes behind the scenes to give readers a richly detailed look at the complicated dynamics of pack life (and death) in the Rockies, all while avoiding the cuddly tone of a Disney-esque documentary. He also takes care not to fawn over heroes or superficially target villains in an account that, like the wolves themselves, has many shades of gray.

ECOLOGICAL CONUNDRUM
While the reintroduction of wolves brought with it a number of challenges, it was practically a walk in the park compared with the sad dilemma presented by America’s wild horses, also known as mustangs. While not native to the United States (Spanish conquistadors brought them here), there are thousands of mustangs in the West, living on hardscrabble land almost exclusively owned by the federal government. As David Philipps recounts in Wild Horse Country, their current situation is deeply troubling and marked by helicopter-aided roundups, segregation of horses by sex in long-term holding ranches where they await adoption that rarely comes and, in the worst cases, sale to slaughterhouses. There are (again) multiple competing interests, and the federal Bureau of Land Management is tasked with keeping the horses’ numbers down in response to demands by cattle ranchers. Even so, the mustangs’ numbers continue to grow as every “solution” is met with fierce opposition.

Philipps tells the horses’ story in entertaining fashion, with side trips to prehistoric times, the world of Western pulp novels and the life of an early animal-rights activist bent on dynamiting slaughterhouses. Philipps also indulges in some old-fashioned shoe-leather reporting, getting to the bottom of modern-day slaughterhouse rumors and even confronting a U.S. Cabinet member. And he offers up a solution of his own that makes just enough sense to ensure it won’t be adopted.

 

This article was originally published in the October 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Ah, the American wild: teeming with animals roaming free, right? Two new books might change your thinking on that, as well as the role of humans and government.

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How has the United States changed over the past 250 years, and how has it remained the same? Here are five gift ideas for readers with a serious interest in where we’ve come from, how we got this far and just how far we have left to go.

The word “frenemies” wasn’t around during the founding of the United States, but it could certainly be applied to the relationship between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, which is detailed by Gordon S. Wood in Friends Divided: John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. The acerbic Adams and the idealistic Jefferson were divided by geography and social standing in addition to temperament. Yet they forged a friendship in the early days of the nation before later falling out over issues large and small as the years rolled by and both served presidential terms. The rift was healed with the help of a mutual friend in their later years, providing a heartwarming ending to the intertwined biographies of two men who famously both died on the Fourth of July, 1826. Their differences remained to the end, but as Wood shows—with the help of the numerous letters between the pair that survive—the combatants’ jousting took on a mutually respectful tone. A 1993 Pulitzer Prize winner for The Radicalism of the American Revolution, Wood is a skillful guide to Revolutionary-era principles, both profound and personal.

EMPIRE STATE OF MIND
Historian Mike Wallace is a Pulitzer Prize winner for his co-authorship of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898, and he has now produced the second volume in the series, Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919, and it’s a worthy sequel packed with insight and information. Organized by topic, it can be read straight through (just not all in one sitting) or approached as an encyclopedia, jumping from section to section while savoring the photos and illustrations. If you want to start with dessert, flip to the Cultures section, with its histories of Broadway, the Bronx Zoo, Coney Island and more. But don’t overlook the more serious fare, most notably the excellent explanations of the rise of Manhattan’s skyscrapers and the history of the island’s famous tunnels and bridges. Through it all, Wallace holds to a historian’s tone that maintains an easy appeal with the casual reader.

WE HAVE HIT BOTTOM
If anyone ever appeared to be eminently qualified to be president of the United States, it was Herbert Hoover. A self-made millionaire largely untainted by politics, Hoover had a long history of rolling up his sleeves and getting important work done when he was elected to the job in 1928. So how did things go off the rails, ending with his defeat by Franklin Delano Roosevelt four years later? Kenneth Whyte tackles that question and more in Hoover: An Extraordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. While no apologist for the man who became synonymous with the Great Depression, Whyte details how Hoover was up against worldwide economic forces that he had no way of controlling and points out that the hard times continued long into Roosevelt’s presidency. Just as interesting, however, are Whyte’s accounts of Hoover’s early life, from his rise from orphanhood to world-traveling problem solver, and his post-presidency attempt to restore his image and regain his place among the 20th century’s most admired people.

A KEN BURNS COMPANION
Another Ken Burns PBS series? Delightful! And with the series comes the companion book, The Vietnam War: An Intimate History, by Burns and historian Geoffrey C. Ward. Burns’ style has proven irresistible over the years: It’s straight history inter­spersed with personal vignettes and peppered with photographs. The iconic images from the war are here, of course, but look for the lesser-known shots, such as President Lyndon B. Johnson watching television coverage of the war in bed with his wife, Lady Bird, or an overhead shot of the famed Ho Chi Minh Trail, which continued to be used despite multiple American airstrikes. Still, the personal stories—from all sides—will grab the reader most tightly, as individual soldiers are followed from enlistment to, in one case, the day an obituary appears in a hometown newspaper.

RACE AND DEMOCRACY
The winner of the 2015 National Book Award for Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates has produced a new book of essays—some new, some previously published in The Atlantic—titled We Were Eight Years in Power: An American Tragedy, which refers to a quote from a Reconstruction-era congressman but also, of course, to President Barack Obama’s two terms as president. Coates, a black man, was astonished by Obama’s election, and in a scathing epilogue, sees his successor, Donald Trump, as a return to the natural order of things. Indeed, Coates views him as the nation’s “first white president,” because “his entire political existence hinges on the fact of a black president.” But it’s not all presidential politics with Coates—two of the most thought-provoking essays included in the book are “The Case for Reparations” and “The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration.”

 

This article was originally published in the December 2017 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

How has the United States changed over the past 250 years, and how has it remained the same? Here are five gift ideas for readers with a serious interest in where we’ve come from, how we got this far and just how far we have left to go.

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Father’s Day comes but once a year, and boy are we lucky for that. With ties going out of style thanks to tech billionaires (they’re all wearing hoodies now), the gift choices are slimmer than ever. Fortunately, as is so often the case, books can come to the rescue.

FOR THE SPORTS FAN
When it comes to sports, the “what-if” possibilities are endless. Mike Pesca has assembled 31 of them in Upon Further Review: The Greatest What-Ifs in Sports History. His list might not match yours, but it’s still a fun exercise and a highly readable departure from traditional sports literature. Pesca, host of the Slate podcast “The Gist,” keeps his readers on their toes with a different author for each scenario, so an earnest “What If the National League Had the DH?” is followed by a whimsical “What If Nixon Had Been Good at Football?” (The verdict: still a president, but no Watergate.) Other authors bolster their arguments with charts (“What If Major League Baseball Had Started Testing for Steroids in 1991?”) or, in the case of “What If Nat ‘Sweetwater’ Clifton’s Pass Hadn’t Gone Awry?,” 38 footnotes. The contributors are a multitalented lot, including actor Jesse Eisenberg, radio host Robert Siegel and journalist/historian Louisa Thomas. The contributors are a multitalented lot but each one embraces the task with gusto, inspiring readers to come up with some “what-ifs” of their own.

FOR THE BIG READER
You probably know Michael Chabon as a Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, but he’s also an acclaimed essayist. His first collection, Manhood for Amateurs (2009), was subtitled “The Pleasures and Regrets of a Husband, Father, and Son.” This time around, with Pops: Fatherhood in Pieces, he’s produced seven essays, all dad-oriented. The centerpiece, “Little Man,” recounts a trip to Paris Fashion Week with his youngest and most individualistic child, Abe. (Chabon was on assignment for GQ, where the essay originally appeared.) The essay is not about finding common ground, as is often the case in such essays where father and son are poles apart, but rather Chabon’s happiness that his son has finally found “your people.” The remaining essays are shorter and peppered with humorous insights, particularly “Adventures in Euphemism,” which has Chabon trying to read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to his children without uttering a certain word. Chabon’s relationship with his own father, of course, does not go unexamined, and again he zigs where others zag, taking care not to be overly sentimental.

FOR THE MOVIE BUFF
A cute gopher popping out of his hole adorns the cover of Caddyshack: The Making of a Hollywood Cinderella Story. This is ironic, because the makers of the film hated the last-minute addition of the animatronic gopher that bedeviled Bill Murray in the 1980 film. They saw it as an example of the Hollywood studio system destroying their masterwork. But gopher or no gopher, Caddyshack, a slobs-versus-snobs tale set at a country club golf course, became a cult classic, rife with quotable lines and fondly remembered scenes. Film critic Chris Nashawaty tells the behind-the-scenes story in an entertaining fashion, starting at the very beginning with the founding of the National Lampoon, which served as a springboard for Doug Kenney, who co-wrote the classic Animal House and co-wrote and produced Caddyshack. In fact, Nashawaty doesn’t start recounting the actual filming of the movie until well past halfway through the book. No worries though, as readers will enjoy the backstories of writing, casting and the cocaine-fueled shenanigans of Murray and his pals, including Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Kenney, the real star of the book if not the movie.

FOR THE COMIC-BOOK FAN
The genre of graphic literature has grown past just comic books and the newspaper funny pages, and Michael Kupperman, whose work has appeared in The New Yorker and Marvel comics, is deadly serious in All the Answers. This black-and-white graphic memoir is perfect for dads who grew up reading comic books and are looking for something with a bit more weight to it. It tells the story of the author’s father, Joel Kupperman, who became famous as one of the stars of the 1940s and ’50s radio and television show “Quiz Kids.” The elder Kupperman subsequently became an author and professor of philosophy, but he retreated from public life as an adult. Spurred by his father’s diagnosis with dementia, Michael coaxes him into talking about his experiences in the public eye and how they shaped his life as an adult. In the process, father and son have some frank exchanges. The son learns how to be a better father as a result of the failings of his own dad, who was perfect in math, perhaps, but not so perfect in the challenges of marriage and family life. Kupperman’s simple, stark drawings add to the somber mood of the book and enhance readers’ understanding of its haunting story.

FOR THE JOKESTER
So Dad thinks he’s funny, eh? He likely has nothing on Tom Papa, whose Your Dad Stole My Rake: And Other Family Dilemmas is a collection of essays with laughs on every page. The aptly named Papa, a father and head writer for the radio variety show “Live From Here” (formerly known as “A Prairie Home Companion with Chris Thile”), has a one-liner for every family situation, from Facebook (“a class reunion every day”) to owning a cat (“like dating a supermodel”). The book is organized by topics (wives, grandparents and so on), so skip around if you like, or simply read straight through for an extended look at Papa’s twisted but ultimately sunny (well, no more than partly cloudy) vision of family life. If you’re lucky, it lines up with your own.

 

This article was originally published in the June 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

Father’s Day comes but once a year, and boy are we lucky for that. With ties going out of style thanks to tech billionaires (they’re all wearing hoodies now), the gift choices are slimmer than ever. Fortunately, as is so often the case, books can come to the rescue.

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Ah, San Francisco—a tourist mecca with cable cars, the Golden Gate, steep hills and more. But the city’s cosmopolitan image doesn’t quite match up with its rough-and-tumble, often racist history, as demonstrated by two new books that might cause you to look at its past differently.


Already a bustling seaport while Los Angeles was still in its infancy, San Francisco in the mid-19th century was a major entry point to the American West and beyond. At the height of the California gold rush, thousands of men streamed in from China in search of jobs. Women followed, of course, and many encountered challenging and dangerous conditions—including involuntary prostitution. In The White Devil’s Daughters: The Women Who Fought Slavery in San Francisco’s Chinatown, Julia Flynn Siler recounts the history of these girls and women, as well as the social pioneers who battled Chinatown gang leaders and the city bureaucracy to rescue them from sex slavery and indentured servitude.

At the center of the story is Donaldina Cameron, a Presbyterian missionary nicknamed the “White Devil” by her many opponents in an attempt to keep their victims from fleeing to her. Operating from the Occidental Mission Home at the edge of Chinatown, Cameron provided a refuge for escapees, even seeking them out and spiriting them away from their captors. (Ironically, once safely at the mission, the girls and young women were subject to strict supervision, partly for their safety, and required to convert to Christianity.)

Siler tells the stories of many of these women in episodic fashion, with short chapters that keep the reader turning the pages. Heart-tugging personal stories include the history of Tien Fuh Wu, who was brought in the arms of a policeman to live at the mission as a child, and Tye Leung, who fled at age 12 to avoid an arranged marriage with an older man. Both women became trusted aides at the mission.

Iconic San Francisco historical events are prominent in Siler’s book, including the 1906 earthquake and fire and two outbreaks of the bubonic plague in the first decade of the 20th century. David K. Randall focuses on the plague in Black Death at the Golden Gate: The Race to Save America From the Bubonic Plague. Chinatown is again the locus of events, as the first victim of the city’s plague outbreak in 1900 was a Chinese immigrant, and city officials immediately ordered a quarantine of the neighborhood. 

Racist leaders demanded that Chinatown be burned down, and corporate interests minimized the threat of danger to “European” residents of the city. It took a man of science with a compelling personal story, U.S. Public Health Service official Rupert Blue, to convince civic and corporate leaders that only the eradication of rats—and the fleas that carry the plague virus—would stop the disease’s spread. Randall brings Blue to life through letters to his family and co-workers and convincingly maintains that, had his efforts not been successful, the disease would have spread across the continent and San Francisco would not be the dream destination we know today.

Ah, San Francisco—a tourist mecca with cable cars, the Golden Gate, steep hills and more. But the city’s cosmopolitan image doesn’t quite match up with its rough-and-tumble, often racist history, as demonstrated by two new books that might cause you to look at its past differently.

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It's not your father's Father of His Country at the forefront of Peter Stark's Young Washington. Think more along the lines of a rash nephew. That's because in his pre-Revolutionary War days, George Washington was anything but the placid aristocrat gazing forth from the dollar bill. He was, as Stark puts it, “a very different Washington from the one we know and hold sacred.” Young Washington is Stark's explanation of how the gap was bridged.

Stark, a historian and adventure writer, gives us plenty of both as he starts with a vivid depiction of Washington deep in the Ohio Valley wilderness, carrying a message from Virginia's colonial administrator to a French military officer. (Stark skips over Washington's boyhood, so no cherry tree is harmed in the production of this book.) It's 1753, and the British and French are jostling for supremacy in the region. Later, Washington's surprise attack on a French reconnaissance party becomes the opening salvo in the French and Indian War. He serves alongside the British, fighting rough terrain, reluctant colonial soldiers and the occasional bout of “bloody flux” (dysentery) as well as the French and their tribal allies.

Stark, at one point using 11 uncomplimentary adjectives in one sentence, doesn't sugar-coat his subject. The young colonel is vain and frequently threatens to resign his commission, and he isn't above bending the facts in letters to authorities. He also unapologetically hangs two deserters “for example's sake,” in his words. Along the way, he finds time to court wealthy widow Martha Custis while professing love for the unattainable wife of a friend. But that's just a sidelight in Young Washington. In the crucible of war, he learned to control his passion in more ways than one.

It's not your father's Father of His Country at the forefront of Peter Stark's Young Washington. Think more along the lines of a rash nephew. That's because in his pre-Revolutionary War days, George Washington was anything but the placid aristocrat gazing forth from the dollar bill. He was, as Stark puts it, “a very different Washington from the one we know and hold sacred.” Young Washington is Stark's explanation of how the gap was bridged.

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If you’re sitting down with the audaciously titled Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eileen McNamara, you may find yourself exhausted by vicariously participating in the life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the woman who most famously founded the Special Olympics but also served as cheerleader-in-chief for the Kennedy political dynasty.

Shriver, the fifth of nine children born to Joseph Kennedy Sr. and his wife, Rose, never stopped working for the causes she believed in. The book’s full title serves as a pointed reminder that had she been a man, Shriver would have been fully encouraged to ascend to the political heights achieved by her male family members, such as her brother, John F. Kennedy.

The Kennedys have fiercely controlled their family’s reputation, making honest biographies a challenge. But following Shriver’s death at 88 in 2009, members of the Shriver family provided McNamara with access to 33 boxes of private papers that open a window into a remarkable life, warts and all. Most amusing among the papers are Shriver’s notes to herself, including tips on how to make small talk at the many parties she attended.

But access isn’t everything, and McNamara wields a deft touch as she recounts Shriver’s role in the Special Olympics and extending rights for the developmentally disabled, which was surely influenced by the tragic story of her older sister Rosemary, who was born with intellectual disabilities and sent out of public view after a botched lobotomy. Audaciously titled or not, Eunice leaves no doubt that its subject truly changed the world.

 

This article was originally published in the April 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

If you’re sitting down with the audaciously titled Eunice: The Kennedy Who Changed the World by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Eileen McNamara, you may find yourself exhausted by vicariously participating in the life of Eunice Kennedy Shriver, the woman who most famously founded the Special Olympics but also served as cheerleader-in-chief for the Kennedy political dynasty.

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How can a dictator hide in plain sight, telegraphing evil intentions years or even decades after their demise? Daniel Kalder posits that it’s simple: Many of them left behind a body of literature. Kalder, a journalist who lived in Moscow for 10 years, immersed himself in “dictator literature” and has collected his analyses of their often terrible writing and its consequences in The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy. As it turns out, in addition to being despots and practitioners of genocide, dictators are typically megalomaniacs who like to put their thoughts on paper for posterity.

Kalder started reading the works of dictators around 2011 and somehow managed to finish the requisite reading and complete his own book within the decade. To say this was a tall task would be an understatement—there has been no lack of dictators in the course of human history—but Kalder delivers with this entertaining and highly informative book. It helps that he keeps his sense of humor. “Dictators usually live lives that are rich in experience,” he deadpans early on, and the quips are sprinkled throughout (including a shot at everyman author Bill Bryson). Given the subject matter, they are never unwelcome.

As for the dictator-authors, it’s safe to say there are no Brysons among them. Mussolini comes off best in terms of writing skill (“borders on the readable”), while Hitler (“staggeringly incompetent”) takes a pounding. Kalder then dutifully leads us through the writings of Mao Tse-tung, Saddam Hussein, Ayatollah Khomeini and a few lesser-known despots. There’s a handy summary at the end in which Kalder also considers the impact of social media and warns—perhaps more aptly than he realized when writing this book—about the ability to “wage war . . . through the medium of text.”

 

This article was originally published in the March 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

How can a dictator hide in plain sight, telegraphing evil intentions years or even decades after their demise? Daniel Kalder posits that it’s simple: Many of them left behind a body of literature. Kalder, a journalist who lived in Moscow for 10 years, immersed himself in “dictator literature” and has collected his analyses of their often terrible writing and its consequences in The Infernal Library: On Dictators, the Books They Wrote, and Other Catastrophes of Literacy. As it turns out, in addition to being despots and practitioners of genocide, dictators are typically megalomaniacs who like to put their thoughts on paper for posterity.

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If your view of youth in China involves drab clothing and groupthink, it’s time to come into the 21st century. And it would take quite a long march to find a better guide than Zak Dychtwald’s Young China: How the Restless Generation Will Change Their Country and the World. Dychtwald, in his 20s himself, has lived and traveled extensively in China, and his first book is an entertaining and instructive exploration of the Chinese generation born after 1990.

Want to immerse yourself in a foreign culture? Take a cue from Dychtwald, who first leaves Hong Kong for “the real China” speaking “no meaningful Chinese” and brimming with garnered advice such as, “Don’t let the prostitutes steal your internal organs.” With admirable determination, he learns to speak fluent Mandarin, lives with Chinese roommates and survives multiple awkward situations.

Along the way, Dychtwald develops insights about everything from the obscure (the hugely popular “double-eyelid” cosmetic surgery, which creates a more “Western-shaped” eye) to the well known (China’s now abolished one-child policy) to the inevitable (sex). He discovers that contemporary young people in China and the United States have essentially identical dreams. But the journey to this point is a fascinating story, and Young China tells it well.

 

This article was originally published in the February 2018 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

If your view of youth in China involves drab clothing and groupthink, it’s time to come into the 21st century. And it would take quite a long march to find a better guide than Zak Dychtwald’s Young China: How the Restless Generation Will Change Their Country and the World. Dychtwald, in his 20s himself, has lived and traveled extensively in China, and his first book is an entertaining and instructive exploration of the Chinese generation born after 1990.

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