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A shtick grows in Brooklyn

Sometimes history hangs by a thread. The history of American comedy certainly did one summer night in 1951 Chicago. During the seasonal break from “Your Show of Shows,” the reigning king of television comedy, Sid Caesar, had taken members of his troupe to the Second City for a two-week run of live theater. When the curtain fell, Caesar liked to hang out and drink with his entourage in his upper-story suite at the Palmer House.

When a McMansion takes root

Although this is a Washington novel — its fictitious setting is Willard Park — its scope is definitely much broader, and may even be universal.

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When violence can be found in holy books

With defeating the proliferation of religiously extremist-driven terrorism a major national security priority for governments around the world, what is the actual role and influence of the passages from the religious texts that such terrorists select to legitimize their evil violence?

Tale of a writer who became a spy

In Frederick Forsyth's memoir, "The Outsider: My Life in Intrigue," the author of the classic thriller, "The Day of the Jackal," tells how he came to perform various functions for the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS), also known as MI6.

Honoring two female spies in wartime

In time of war, should women be shunted aside and the fighting left to men? Call it chivalry or sexual prejudice, but the notion of women on or near the battlefield was historically anathema to most societies.

How manipulative Islamists attempt to fool the West

This is an interesting, original and important account of how Islamist supremacism's onslaught against the West, including the United States, employs a psychopath's nefarious and deceptive strategies and tactics to "devour" Western civilization -- just as an individual psychopath would hunt and swindle his unsuspecting and naive prey.

Offering all about bones

Call the genre "All-About-X" books, volumes that cover unlikely but particular subjects. Friends of mine have written or agented several: An omnibus of the olive; an anthology of encounters with angels; Mark Kurlansky's "Cod: Biography of the Fish that Changed the World."

When the criminal life was glamorized

For many weeks of 1840 London's newspapers and magazines throbbed with news about the murder of Lord William Russell and the subsequent execution of the man found guilty of the crime.

'Every villain needs his own island'

Critics of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels often state that the late, great thriller writer's villains, such as Goldfinger, Dr. No and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, were unrealistically grotesque and evil.

Capturing the breadth of political thought

My grandfather was fond of saying, when my father got to that age where some young people, smitten with a little learning, like to show off, "Oh, there goes the intellectual, so pale and ineffectual." I never did quite figure out the source of this little line, though that does not matter. The drift is what tickles me, and, I would guess, many Americans. As a practical people, we gravitate toward -- and prize -- doers; the scribbling class, influential as they may be, fails to capture our imagination.