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When a lawbreaker is a lovable rogue

Its title is long and the central character’s name, Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod, is both long and tongue-twisting. Never fear. This book is actually short — a novella rather than a novel, though lots of white space between lines and chapters expand it to an ergonomically appealing size. It’s also an appealing read.

The unbearable heaviness of being Russian

What Viennese wits used to say about the dying Austro-Hungarian Empire also applies to the corruption-stoked, smoke-and-mirrors world of Vladimir Putin’s Russia: “The situation is hopeless but not serious.” By the time you reach Page 131 of Peter Pomerantsev’s brilliant collection of sketches from the life in 21st century Russia you may find yourself echoing the lament of one of its more sympathetic characters (“Grigory,” an unusually bright, relatively cultivated member of the new class of Russian entrepreneur-tycoons): “There must be some way of working out how to make Russia work. Must be!”

When lies lead to murder

This riveting book is a compelling read not only for correcting a much-mythologized era, but also for reminding us of the harsh and often crass realities that influence all our presidents when they get blindsided by the unintended consequences of their acts.

The truth about communists in Hollywood

At last. After more than a half-century there is now available a book that thoroughly discredits all the movie industry protestations that there were no Communists in filmmaking during and after World War II, when in fact there were hundreds.

The lessons he learned in public service

Considering his life as a U.S. foreign service officer (FSO), Christopher Hill has few regrets. An FSO brat, his passion for diplomacy was fostered early. Referencing a formative experience in Cameroon, Mr. Hill explains, “I signed up for the Foreign Service exam … and resolved to pass it, because I knew that was what I wanted to do with my life.”

How animal rights activists doomed ‘Free Willy’

The film “Free Willy” captured the imagination of viewers in 1993 with a story detailing a young boy’s desire to free a killer whale named “Willy” from captivity in an amusement park. At the end of the film, Willy swims off to freedom. But the inspirational film bears little resemblance to reality, according to Mark Simmons, author of “Killing Keiko: The True Story of Free Willy’s Return to the Wild.”

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A downfall advanced by bad jewelry

It was a 2,800 carat diamond necklace that many people thought was ugly and it may be that Queen Marie Antoinette never either wore it or saw it, but it made a bitterly ironic contribution to the collapse of her world and her consequent death.

When the Nazis failed to cross the channel

The Nazi invasion of England — code-named "Operation Sea Lion" — so widely anticipated in the wake of the precipitate fall of France in June 1940 is one of the great non-happenings of history. This absorbing, detailed book by British journalist and historian Leo McKinstry shows that it might indeed have happened and explains the various reasons why it did not.

The wanting last of Bellow

For any writer, having his oeuvre collected in volumes by Library of America is in itself an accolade, a sign of his place in the literature of his nation. Saul Bellow (1915-2005) was not short on acknowledgments of his stature as a writer, winning just about every literary prize going, including the Nobel in 1976.

Rube Goldberg, M.D.

A folk song inspired by Philip Klein's latest book might be called "Shall We Overturn?" Just imagine a Bizarro Pete Seeger croaking out, "Shall we overtuuurn? Shall we overtuuuurn? Shall we overturn Obamacare some day?"

A call to arms, with humor

Mark Steyn's appeal has spread quickly in these early-21st century years. A big hit particularly in the English-speaking world, the author-analyst-humorist is best known in the United States as a frequent substitute on "The Rush Limbaugh Show," America's most popular radio talk show.

Reliving the life of a Seneca warrior

Jane Whitefield is unique in the annals of detective fiction. She is a throwback to a tribal world, still loyal to the beliefs of the Seneca Indians and still adhering to the call of a lost era. Thomas Perry has once again resurrected a remarkable character who seems imbued with a strange immortality and an unusual morality, and he is to be congratulated.

FILE - This is a Friday, Oct. 17, 2014 file photo of Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Francois Hollande, right, during a meeting on the sidelines of the  ASEM summit of European and Asian leaders in Milan, northern Italy. EU sanctions against Russia over the crisis in Ukraine are cutting both ways and pinching some big European companies. But economic relief isn't likely any time soon, diplomats and analysts say: EU rules make the sanctions tough to overturn.  France, Germany, Russia and Ukraine are trying to set up talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, toward easing the tensions behind sanctions that have hit Russia's economy, sent the ruble sinking and affected corporate Europe _ including banks, oil companies, machinery makers and food giants.    (AP Photo/Daniel Dal Zennaro, Pool, File)

The curious case of Vlad the Embezzler

Beware of historians bearing analogies. If every two-bit dictator whom post-World War II pundits and scholars have compared to Hitler or Stalin packed even a tenth of the wallop of the originals, we would all have been engulfed in World War III years ago. The latest dictator to come in for the Hitler-Stalin treatment is that indubitably bad, more than a little power-mad master of the Kremlin, Vladimir Putin.

How the United States became a superpower

"He came not to take sides but to make peace," Mr. Tooze writes. "The first dramatic assertion of American leadership in the twentieth century was not directed toward ensuring that the 'right' side won, but that no one did. ... That meant that the war could have only one outcome: 'peace without victory.'"

What the mad king endured

In this massively detailed royal biography it seems unfortunate and even unlikely that it takes more than 300 pages to reach the topic of porphyria, the strange disease that made England's George III known as "the mad king" and came close to wrecking his monarchy.

BOOK REVIEW: 'Michelangelo: Complete Works'

Last year marked the 450th anniversary of the death of one of the world's greatest artists, Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni. To commemorate this important anniversary, Taschen has reissued Frank Zollner's classic 2007 book, "Michelangelo: Complete Works."