"The Unfulfilled Promise of the American Dream" by Dale Tavris (CreateSpace, $17.99)
The purpose of Dr. Dale R. Tavris' subtitled "The Widening Gap Between the Reality of the United States and Its Highest Ideals" is to fix what's become wrong with us. But the cure pales beside the magnificence of the 744-page indictment of our ills: imprisonment rates, rampant militarism, climate change, breaking international laws and income inequality.
This is not a beach read. It is better absorbed as an encyclopedic reference, dipped into for focused readings on specific topics. I wonder at the American electorate voting so often against its own self-interest by sending its sons to war or against its own income equality. Tavris' chapter on "Psychological Factors" was especially enlightening to me. A great many voters are "submissive to authority ... willing to attack other people in the name of the authority." Where this predisposition comes from and how it leads not only to our torturing prisoners in Guantanamo but also to not prosecuting anyone for war crimes makes for a fascinating read.
Tavris is hard on the Obama administration and does not support his re-election. Despite the author's generally progressive leanings, he criticizes the passive left for not standing up for its supposed values as much as right-wing authoritarians for violating them. Tavris seems to be apolitically disappointed with the whole political process today.
Read this book both to challenge and to further inform your opinion of the American dream as it stands today. Whatever you know about, say, the 9/11 inquiry, Tavris knows more and has it meticulously annotated. A detail I hadn't known was that we failed to shoot down the plane that hit the Pentagon because our jets scrambled to find Flight 11, a plane that had already crashed into the World Trade Center. The 9/11 Commission's major failure was choosing an executive director who'd fired Robert Clarke, the nation's top counter-terrorism expert when Bush took office, and who was close friends with Condoleeza Rice, the National Security chief who ignored the CIA's warnings.
Tavris supports his arguments with the best footnotes I've ever used. He sensibly lists them consecutively from the beginning, all 1,187 of them, not by chapter as is standard, making it much easier to find them. My only criticism is that, at 744 pages, the book is not long enough! It's available on Amazon in paperback or Kindle.
by Rick Boettger
"Rome's Most Faithful Daughter" by Neal Pease (Ohio University Press, $26.95)
In "Rome's Most Faithful Daughter: The Catholic Church and Independent Poland, 1914-1939," Prof. Pease has written an excellent description of the Catholic Church in Poland and the Vatican between the wars. He is direct, pulls no punches and shows a considerable sense of irony.
From my point of view, as I consider how to portray the Catholic Church's impact on the holocaust in the novel I am currently writing, these are among Pease's most pertinent observations: Anti-Semitic rhetoric was a prominent theme in Polish Catholic discourse, with no sense of obligation to treat Judaism with respect; a Polish Jesuit review declared the Jews should be "eliminated" from Christian society ... the Church repeatedly lent its imprimatur to the defamation and marginalization of Jews, then hypocritically sought to disavow the animosities and outrages that predictably ensued ... Archbishop Eugenio Pacelli (later Pope Pius XII) negotiated and signed the Reich Concordan in 1933 in order to protect the Church in Germany; this treaty lent international legitimacy to the Third Reich many years before Hitler had consolidated his power.
It is important to note that many Polish Catholics, including quite a few priests and nuns, made valiant efforts to save Jews from Nazi extermination with courage and morality, standing in stark contrast to a Church hierarchy that displayed neither quality. It seems to me that many ordinary Polish Catholics might well have concluded there was no reason to risk their own lives resisting Hitler's program of mass murder, since their Church failed to set even the most minimal standard of opposition.
by Lew Weinstein
"Wine Secrets" by Marnie Old (Quirk Books, $19.95)
This small, multi-author book, subtitled "Advice from Winemakers, Sommeliers and Connoisseurs," kept me absorbed for a long time. It's a good sign, as far as I'm concerned, when I don't want to put a book down.
Here are nuggets from some of my favorite chapters: "How to get started in wine stores," by Madeline Triffon, one of the first two female master sommeliers in the world in 1987. "Determine your budget: $10 to $15 will buy a good bottle of wine."
"How to pair more gracefully by choosing light-bodied wines," by Terry These, noted wine importer. "The lighter the wine, the more flexible it is with food."
"How to use leftover wine in the kitchen," by noted chef and author Jacques Pepin. "If a wine tastes bad, don't cook with it ... If a wine tastes very good, don't cook with it."
I liked this book for all of its advice -- "wine marinades keep fish moist and tenderize meats" is another example -- and its size (small), the design (easy to find things) and good graphics. Wine educator Marnie Old has done a really good job putting it together.
by Lynn Kalber