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This Week’s Hot Reads

This week, a commando raid on occupied Crete, an opium-tinged mystery, and the story of one Russain nobleman’s attempts to expand the empire into California.

Rustication by Charles PalliserCharles Palliser (author of 1989’s million-seller The Quincunx) uses the opening pages of his first novel in over ten years, titled Rustication, to establish an interesting framing device: an author’s note (signed “CP”) explains that the following story is merely Palliser’s transcription of a Victorian journal that he found moldering in a records office somewhere. It’s unclear what point the device serves—couldn’t the story simply stand on its own?—until one realizes just how much Palliser likes to play with voyeuristic perspective, and add layers of confusion onto what might have at first appeared clear.

SEAL Tales

Hunting the Butcher


One fateful night in 2009 a team of Navy SEALs grabbed the Butcher of Fallujah—and then everything went wrong. This is the story of that night.

The pictures the SEALs saw were not great, but they were adequate. Al-Isawi would be recognizable mostly by the twisted scowl on his face, which was probably how he looked when he hanged the burned bodies of the Americans from the old bridge at Fallujah five years previously.But the key to positive identification was that stubby little finger on his left hand. “The guy with the stunted pinkie,” as Matt somewhat graphically observed, “that’s our target.

Battle Lit

5 War Books You Must Read

Anyone interested in war has read Michael Herr’s ‘Dispatches,’ ‘Matterhorn,’ and others, but what about these five books recommended by Jake Tapper? Doubt it.

I read war books before I started writing The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor, but I dove into them during that project. (The paperback version came out last week.) I am as in awe of Dispatches, Matterhorn, and The Things They Carried as the next person, and I assume those interested in reading about war have libraries containing Hemingway and Heller. Blackhawk Down, We Were Soldiers Once…, A Rumor of War, Where Men Win Glory, War —I will assume you have those.

Vets’ Portraits

Bryan Adams’s Unlikely Wounded

Bryan Adams

Just in time for Veterans Day, the musician is out with an unexpected new book of photos of veterans who were injured in Iraq or Afghanistan. The experience has been humbling, he says.

The face on each page is unique, but they all share the same air of defiance. Every man and every woman featured in a new book of portrait photography by the Canadian musician Bryan Adams has survived catastrophic injuries on the battlefields of Iraq or Afghanistan.The Wounded project is as compelling as it is unlikely, pairing one the 1990s’ best-loved crooners with the brutal consequences of modern warfare. “This book is just a small example of the atrocities that happen when we bear arms against each other,” Adams told The Daily Beast.

Commandress in Chief

Putting a Woman in the White House


Marianne Schnall’s new book poses a simple question: Why does America lag behind so many other countries when it comes to electing a female leader?

This book started with a question. When Barack Obama was first elected, my family and I were talking about how wonderful it was to have our first African American president. My then-eight-year-old daughter, Lotus, looked at me through starry eyes and deadpanned this seemingly simple, obvious question: “Why haven’t we ever had a woman president?” It was a really good question, one that, despite having spent two decades running the women’s nonprofit website Feminist.

Banter with the Beast

America’s Cassandra

Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic, via Getty

He is America’s greatest living playwright, but lately he’s scandalized his old friends with his right-wing views. Now David Mamet has written his first fiction—about violence and war.

David Mamet is blessed—and cursed—with an obsessively acute ear.In his plays, films and prose—including Three War Stories his just-published trilogy of novellas concerning the degrading and/or uplifting effects of (often grisly, occasionally sadistic) martial violence on the human character—Mamet hears voices and then retransmits them after dexterous literary processing.In his politics—which, over time, have crossed the ideological gulch from “brain-dead liberal,” as he once called himself in a noted essay, to rabid right-winger—Mamet also hears voices.


Reliving Her Mother’s Terror

Bancroft Press

In her new memoir, ‘Diamond in the Dark,’ Phyllis Hain recounts leaving the abuse of her childhood only to find a new type of violence in her first marriage.

JJ’s uncle’s job was delivering newspapers, so I looked forward to going through our paper page by page every day. I would read and share the local news with Granny. We would sit and talk about the strange things happening in our world. I listened to her—she had a very interesting perspective. I avoided telling her much about the Vietnam War because I felt sick thinking of it and so helpless to make any difference. On a Sunday in the fall of 1969, an advertisement appeared in the classified section of the paper.


The Conservative JFK

Ernie Sisto/The New York Times via Redux

JFK was one of America’s most liberal presidents, right? Wrong. Former aides Arthur Schlesinger Jr. and Ted Sorensen rewrote history to make him more liberal than he really was.

President Kennedy was a tax-cutting Cold Warrior who was tough on unions (“the cancer of labor racketeering”), slow on civil rights legislation, and called abortion “repugnant.”So how in the world did he wind up as an icon of liberalism?The matter puzzled even some of JFK’s former aides: Kennedy speechwriter Ted Sorensen acknowledged at one event, “Kennedy was a fiscal conservative. Most of us and the press and historians have, for one reason or another, treated Kennedy as being much more liberal than he so regarded himself at the time.

Second Career

Miles of Art

David Redfern/Getty

Jazz great Miles Davis took up drawing and painting in the last decade of his life and proved that genius recognizes no boundaries.

Musical Offering

Bach in Flesh and Blood


Conductor John Eliot Gardiner talks about the pleasures and difficulties of writing a monumental—but always accessible—biography of Johann Sebastian Bach.

It never happens often enough, but now and then, a subject gets the book it deserves. So it is with John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach: Music in the Castle of Heaven, a biography so thoughtful, well-researched, and beautifully written that it should satisfy both the well-informed enthusiast and readers simply seeking to become better acquainted with a musical giant. Johann Sebastian Bach was such a protean composer that tomorrow someone could publish a completely different and equally wonderful biography.

Turning Point

What Made The Beatles Great

Dan Grossi/AP

The Fab Four’s success did not come from hours spent on stage in Hamburg or Liverpool—it erupted from a crazy combination of ambition, talent, and—most of all—arrogance.

When English writer Mark Lewisohn first informed Neil Aspinall—a Liverpudlian accountant who at 19 began ferrying four local lads known as the Beatles to and from gigs in an £80 maroon Commer van, then became the boys’ road manager, personal assistant, and all-purpose fixer, and eventually wound up running their record company, Apple, for the last 39 years of his life—that he, Lewisohn, was planning to pen a three-volume, multi-thousand-page history of the Fab Four, the band’s oldest, closest friend responded with a grunt.


The Lost Epic Travel Book


One of the greatest travel books ever published, the late Patrick Leigh Fermor’s two-volumes of his walk across Europe in the 1930s, is finally finished.

In 1933, at the age of 18, Patrick Leigh Fermor set off to walk across Europe from the Hook of Holland to Istanbul, or Constantinople, as he always called it.  He reached his destination at the end of 1934, after many memorable adventures and encounters, but he did not write about the journey until nearly thirty years later.By then, he was a war hero, celebrated for his part in the abduction of a German general in occupied Crete in 1944, and a writer whose books included two loving tributes to his adopted home of Greece.

Final Cut

The Better ‘Birds’

Everett Collection

Know what Hitchcock’s “The Birds” is based on? Thought not, but you should because Daphne Du Maurier’s original story is superior and creepier in every way.

“The novel on the cutting room floor”They are literature’s cold cases, the Missing and Presumed Dead. They are the unlucky novels and stories that inspired movies so successful that they eclipsed the originals almost completely.  Some books weather a subsequent movie’s success. Gone With the Wind survives as a classic film and a classic novel. But how many people know that before it was a movie, Die Hard was a very good novel called Nothing Lasts Forever, or that Forrest Gump is based on the novel Forrest Gump?Good fiction deserves a better fate.


The Week’s Best Reads

The Daily Beast

From how Nazi science is influencing American abortion politics to hitmen who turn on those who hire them, The Daily Beast picks the best journalism from around the web this week.

The Nazi Anatomists Emily Bazelon, Slate How the corpses of Hitler's victims are still haunting modern science—and American abortion politics.The A-Team Killings Matthieu Aikins, Rolling Stone Last spring, the remains of 10 missing Afghan villagers were dug up outside a U.S. Special Forces base—was it a war crime or just another episode in a very dirty war?Oops, You Just Hired the Wrong Hitman Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ Say you want someone, you know, eliminated—a lover, a business partner, a mother-in-law.

Brain Power

What is a Genius?

You might think you know genius when you see it, but as a new book shows, the very definition and idea has had a fluid history. From the divine to the profane, what we mean when we say that potent word.

In 1917, a young psychologist at Stanford University did something strange: he tried to measure the IQs of dead people. Despite the challenge of testing the mental agility of deceased subjects, Lewis Terman claimed that reports of childhood activities, accomplishments, and pastimes could supply the essential data. Terman and his assistant relied on biographical accounts of illustrious individuals to compute the scores. The smartest of the overwhelmingly male and European luminaries they ranked was John Stuart Mill, with an estimated IQ of 190.


Vidal’s Tragic Years

Sophie Bassouls/Sygma/Corbis

One of America’s sharpest literary personalities spent his last decade drunk and lonely, but remained fiery and lusty till the end, as his friends like Susan Sarandon, employees, and relatives recount.

Gore Vidal opened his second memoir, Point to Point Navigation, published in 2006, writing that he hoped he was moving graciously “toward the door marked Exit… For the young, death is supremely unnatural. For the old, it is so natural that it is not worth thinking about.” Death was “unavoidable,” Vidal said of his partner Howard Austen’s death in 2003. “One or the other is going to die, it’s inevitable that both will be dead. I’m stoic.”But there was very little calm or graceful about Vidal's final decade, as I learnt researching my book In Bed With Gore Vidal: Hustlers, Hollywood and the Private World of an American Master.


CBS Backs Off Benghazi Source


The executive producer of ‘60 Minutes’ says a key source for its blockbuster Benghazi report told a different story to the FBI.

The CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes lost confidence in a key source for its report on Benghazi that aired last month after the network confirmed that an FBI interview with the source less than a week after the 2012 attacks did not match the account he gave the network.  The source, a former British military officer named Dylan Davies, claimed in the interview—as well as in his new book—that he scaled the walls of the U.S. compound in Benghazi on the night of the attacks and disabled one of the attackers.

Silk and Lace

The Tricky Business of Sex

Goldmund Lukic/Getty

Novelist Amy Tan talks about her new novel, ‘The Valley of Amazement,’ set in a Shanghai courtesan house, how she researched Chinese history, and learning how to write about sex.

Amy Tan has a wicked sense of humor. She’s attained sensational literary success; her novels The Joy Luck Club, The Kitchen God’s Wife, and The Bonesetter’s Daughter have defined the Chinese-American immigrant experience. But she’s also a master of the deadpan spoof, as in a YouTube video she made for this year’s Ecco/Harper Collins sales conference. Sitting at the grand piano in her spacious living room, she talks about everything her new novel, The Valley of Amazement, is not.

Why Obama Won

Pushing Back ‘Double Down’

Charlie Neibergall/AP

Mitt Romney’s chief strategist looks at ‘The Gamble,’ the other new book about the 2012 presidential race, and the cold, hard data on why President Obama won.

There are two new books out about the 2012 presidential election that are wonderfully different but complementary. You’ve probably heard of Mark Halperin and John Heilemann’s Double Down, a sequel to their 2008 campaign book, Game Change. But there’s another book that must be read if you are interested in what happened in 2012: The Gamble by John Sides and Lynn Vavreck, two youngish political scientists at George Washington University and UCLA.


The Macabre Maestro

Nigel Beach

Celebrated filmmaker Guillermo Del Toro (‘Pan’s Labyrinth’) released an eye-opening new book, ‘Cabinet of Curiosities,’ containing sketches and diary entries for his myriad projects. Del Toro opened up to Marlow Stern about his relationship with James Cameron, Justice League and Marvel projects, collaborating with Kanye, and more.

You know a Guillermo Del Toro film when you see one. It’s a dazzling mélange of ghastly creatures, ornate sets, and beauteous viscera. The work of a true artist.Now, the Mexican auteur behind movies like Hellboy, Pan’s Labyrinth, and Pacific Rim has provided a gateway into his macabre mind with the release of the tome Guillermo Del Toro Cabinet of Curiosities: My Notebooks, Collections, and Other Obsessions. The hardcover book contains never-before-seen sketches, notes, and illustrations—all of which are housed at his own personal museum, which he’s dubbed “Bleak House”—affording readers a rare glimpse into his singular cinematic process.

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