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A G-Man sorts through his Arkansas past

“Don’t shoot, G-Man,” Machine Gun Kelly cried out to the federal agents who were moving in to arrest him in 1933. The term later came to be synonymous with FBI special agents.

Life of the complex celebrity crime maven

The notion of Americans reinventing themselves has become such a well-worn trope — even among cliches — that one is hesitant to use it. I can never forget that self-appointed cultural arbiter, the late Susan Sontag, using it over and over again to explain what her novel chronicling the California life of Polish actress Helena Modjeska “In America” was about.

How to liberate children from ‘perpetual adolescence’

“I believe our entire nation is in the midst of a collective coming of age crisis without parallel in our history,” writes Ben Sasse, junior senator from Nebraska and former president of Midland University.

Russia at a turning point

Much as I deplore the trend within the academy towards ever more micro-courses dealing with a subsection of a subject, when it comes to books honing in on such slices of history, I feel entirely differently. After all, is it too much to ask that if a college course does not quite leave students seeing life steadily and whole (in the words of Matthew Arnold), it should at least give them some context and not result in them not knowing, say, who came first, Jackson or Lincoln?

The dynamics of Irish-American family life

“Saints for All Occasions tells the stories of the Flynn sisters: Nora and Theresa, who leave their home in Ireland to settle in Boston in 1958. Theresa is the adventurous one; Nora is the older, shy, responsible one. She’s engaged to Charlie Rafferty, who is already in Boston.

The wrong cure for a real crisis

One of the problems with a book titled “The Crisis of the Middle-Class Constitution” is that, more than two centuries after ratification of that document, we still have no real consensus on exactly what is meant by the term “middle class.”

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How a demagogue shaped world history for the worst

In the spring of 1917, the German spy service sensed a sure-fire means of persuading Russia to make a separate peace and exit the Great War. Czar Nicholas II had abdicated in the face of mass protests that swept the streets of Petrograd, the then-capital, and signs of war-weariness were increasingly evident.

The fantasy of turning swords into plowshares

Professor Eliot A. Cohen, a Johns Hopkins University historian who served as an adviser in both the Defense and State Departments, chose an unambiguous title for his latest book: "The Big Stick: The Limits of Soft Power and the Necessity of Military Force."

Seeing impending doom, and following up

This book is about the capability to forecast future trends, particularly impending disasters, in spite of conventional wisdom's usual dismissal of such warnings, which is part of what is termed the Cassandra complex. Cassandra, the authors explain, was a Greek princess who was endowed with "the ability to see impending doom, but the inability to persuade anyone to believe in her."

Unraveling the mystery of who said what when

Whether he knows it or not, Garson O'Toole writes detective stories. His specialty is detecting suspect quotes, separating fact from fantasy and stalking them back to their authentic sources. More often than not, getting there is half the fun. Consider the case of an alleged quote attributed to Franz Kafka and used as a chapter head by comedian Russell Brand in his 2010 bestseller, "Booky Wook 2: This Time It's Personal":

Dreaming of economic revival in a small Swedish town

"Beartown," Fredrik Backman's latest novel, takes place in a remote, on the skids, small Swedish town whose people are hoping that their junior hockey team might bring them national glory and with it economic revival. All is going great until suddenly a terrible incident changes everything, not only shattering the dream but also tearing the community apart.

Writing about the middle class from a privileged perch

A basic problem with Sen. Elizabeth Warren's well-written and at times eloquent book is the difficulty she has in explaining why so many members of the middle class she purports to be fighting for voted for Donald Trump -- who, in cahoots with "billionaires and corporate lobbyists," is pushing the middle class toward extinction. Nor is it ever quite clear that, like many Democrats today, she still has a grip on what constitutes the American middle class.

The horror of urban combat in Vietnam

A few years ago, I was lecturing my students on strategic surprise. I asked each of them to write paragraph on how surprise was used at Hue in 1968 based on what they knew of it.

The Venice laguna and a tale full of heat

When Commisario Guido Brunetti of the Venice police goes to the idyllic island Sant' Erasmo for some down time, he takes with him Pliny's "Natural History" plus works by Suetonius, Herodotus and Euripides.

'Churchill and Orwell showed us the way'

What could still be left unsaid about Winston Churchill and George Orwell, two of the 20th century's most ferociously original thinkers? They regularly outraged their contemporaries while defining Britain's historical struggles against fascism, communism and imperialism. One measure of their legacy: We still we praise our best leaders as "Churchillian," our most provocative writers as "Orwellian."