11.30.09

This Week's Hot Reads

This week: a new history of the neoconservative movement, a perceptive biography of Justice Scalia and his conservative vision, the unsung Danish scientist who saved the world’s wheat supply, a thriller about the search for Napoleon’s lost treasure, and a wintry novel about two women’s clash for the truth by a Finnish master.

The Forty Years War: The Rise and Fall of the Neocons, from Nixon to Obama
by Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman

A revisionist history detailing the rise of America's neoconservatives.

Since the Nixon administration, the U.S. has been fighting an internal 40-year war, one that pits rising neoconservatives against the American foreign-policy establishment. The central character in this revisionist investigation by authors Len Colodny and Tom Shachtman is Fritz G.A. Kraemer, a shadowy Pentagon civilian who managed to influence the government's power brokers. Kraemer's line of protégés include Henry Kissinger, Alexander Haig, and more recently Donald Rumsfeld. Formed in opposition to Nixon's foreign policies, neoconservatives have challenged administrations from Gerald Ford to Jimmy Carter, finally gaining traction under Ronald Regan and George W. Bush. Though the Obama administration has dethroned them, noecons continue to argue their views as adamantly as ever. The Lichtfield County Times says the authors' account "reveals a powerful sub-current of ideological warfare that has affected American foreign policy over the past four decades."

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American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. By Joan Biskupic. 448 pp. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. $28. ()

American Original: The Life and Constitution of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia
by Joan Biskupic

A comprehensive biography of a Supreme Court justice at the apex of his power and fame.

Antonin Scalia is leading the Supreme Court's conservative charge, and in this new biography about the justice, Joan Biskupic illuminates how he seems to be at his pinnacle of influence. Known for his support of "originalism," a legal theory that draws upon reading the Constitution as it was intended at the time of writing, Scalia is a crucial justice to understand for anyone invested in the inner workings of the court. Biskupic's biography paints a portrait of the justice's first-generation Italian-American background, and traces his path through Washington as a friend of Dick Cheney and other Watergate acolytes. Biskupic, a court reporter for USA Today, gained unprecedented access to Scalia and his fellow justices in order to reveal the roots of Scalia's conservatism. The Boston Herald writes, "There are almost no revelations here, a bit surprising since Biskupic is USA Today’s court writer and among the best at ferreting out stories from the cloistered justices." But the Los Angeles Times says the book is "full of strong reporting" and "scrupulously even-handed."

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The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist's Struggle to Preserve the World's Harvest. By Susan Dworkin. 256 pp. Walker & Company. $26. ()

The Viking in the Wheat Field: A Scientist's Struggle to Preserve the World's Harvest
by Susan Dworkin

A Danish scientist's unsung effort to save the world's wheat supply.

In 1999, the world's wheat supply was threatened when a menacing new form of stem rust began ravaging wheat fields in Uganda, Kenya, and Iran, and soon spread to India and Pakistan, which together produce 20 percent of the global wheat supply. Scientists worldwide tried to stem the spread of the disease before it reached America and China, the world's largest wheat producer. Danish scientist Bent Skovmand, who for over 30 years had amassed a giant collection of wheat varieties, emerged as the epidemic's hero. Skovmand traveled around the globe to consult with local farmers to discover new wheat strains resistant to the rust plague and other environmental disasters. As opposed to big corporations and national governments protective of their breeding patents, Skovmand kept his seed bank open and free, and played a key role in preventing the further spread of the epidemic and worldwide famine. "In vivid language, Dworkin presents Skovmand's legacy as ample reason for a new generation of genetic researchers to take the cause," writes the Kirkus Review.

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The Paris Vendetta. By Steve Berry. 432 pp. Ballantine Books. $26. ()

The Paris Vendetta
by Steve Berry

In this historical suspense novel, Cotton Malone tries to solve the mystery of Napoleon's spoils.

In his newest thriller, New York Times bestselling author Steve Berry draws upon the legend that Napoleon Bonaparte took to his grave the whereabouts of countless riches he had pillaged from palaces and national treasuries. Former Justice Department operative Cotton Malone is pulled into the centuries-old mystery when a Secret Service agent stumbles unexpectedly into his Copenhagen bookshop. Soon, Malone and a friend find themselves caught up in the sinister plans of the Paris Club, a group of millionaires set out to undo the global economy. Along the way, Malone will have to choose between friend and country, past and present. The Library Journal writes, "Berry has written another amazing blend of suspense and history. Fans will love it, and for newcomers it’s the perfect place to start."

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The True Deceiver. By Tove Jansson. 208 pp. NYRB Classics. $14.95 ()

The True Deceiver
by Tove Jansson

A wintry tale about two women and the search for truth.

Finnish writer Tove Jansson is best known for her children's series on the Moomins, but she is a gifted writer of adult fiction as well. English-speaking readers will now be able to enjoy for the first time The True Deceiver, translated by Thomas Teal. In the dead of the Scandinavian winter, Katri Kling, a blunt, impatient outcast, moves in with a benevolent artist, Anna Aemelin, to help care for her mansion. Katri's true intent is to take over the house, and soon she has even taken over Anna's life. As the winter grows bleaker, the two women find themselves at odds, set up to answer Jansson's questions about truth, deception, self-deception, and the truth in fiction. " The True Deceiver is almost deadpan in its clarity and seeming simplicity, and is at heart one of [Jansson's] most mysterious and subtle works," writes The Guardian. The Financial Times calls Jansson's book "an unsentimental—often mischievous—novel of ideas that asks whether it is better to be kind than to be truthful, especially for an artist."

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