Monthly Archives: May 2014

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Lawrence in Arabia’: Everything You Need to Know About T.E. Lawrence and Middle Eastern Front of World War I


Miniver cursed the commonplace

And eyed a khaki suit with loathing;

He missed the mediæval grace

Of iron clothing. — From Edward Arlington Robinson’s “Miniver Cheevy”

Thomas Edward Lawrence — “Lawrence of Arabia” — reminds me a lot of Robinson’s Miniver Cheevy, a man born out of time.

lawrence in arabia coverAs Scott Anderson describes him in the just-released trade paperback edition of last year’s bestselling history/biography “Lawrence in Arabia: War, Deceit, Imperial Folly and the Making of the Modern Middle East” (Anchor Books, a division of Random House, 624 pages, maps, photographs, notes, index, bibliography, $17.95) Lawrence’s early years saw him captivated by Arthurian legends, which he transferred to the Arab tribes of the Ottoman empire during World War I.


But the story of Lawrence is far more complex than that, as is the story of the Middle Eastern front of the Great War, later dubbed “World War I”. Lawrence’s war memoir “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” and the epic David Lean film “Lawrence of Arabia” are good starting points, but Anderson’s account of the Arab Revolt in the Ottoman Empire is by far the best I’ve seen of what Lawrence himself called “a sideshow of a sideshow” in the context of World War I.

Because it took place far from the much publicized Western Front in France, the conflict was shaped to a remarkable degree by a small handful of adventurers and low-level officers far removed from the corridors of power.

There are so many people in this book that it would have been a good idea to have a dramatis personae — a cast of characters — at the beginning of the book.

Anderson presents us with four main characters, all young and with diverse backgrounds.

Leading off, of course would be Lawrence himself, born 1888, died 1935. In early 1914 he was an archaeologist excavating ruins in Syria; by 1917 he was riding into legend at the head of an Arab army as he fought a rearguard action against his own government and its imperial ambitions. And no, he wasn’t the 6-foot-2 inch strapping character played by Peter O’Toole: He was a slight man, 5-3 to 5-5, looking younger than his years.

The list of people figuring in the story would include William Yale, a young descendant of the founder of Yale University and an oilman/spy working for Socony — Standard Oil Company of New York. Then, as now, oil played a big role in the Middle East, even though the big discoveries in present-day Iraq and the Arabian peninsula had yet to be made.

Curt Prüfer would be on the list of young men wandering around the Ottoman Empire “with suspect agendas,” as the author puts it. Prüfer was attached to the German embassy in Cairo but was basically a spy who wanted the Ottoman empire to join the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary in the war, which they eventually did.

Rounding out the list would be a Romanian-born Jewish citizen of the Ottoman Empire, an agronomist — an agricultural scientist — named Aaron Aaronsohn. He was famous throughout the region, with a reputation “cemented by his his 1906 discovery of the genetic forebear to wheat” writes Anderson. He was also a committed Zionist with a base of operations in a Jewish agricultural settlement at Athlit (now called Atlit) south of Haifa on the Mediterranean coast of present-day Israel who would go on to promote the cause of a Jewish homeland in the region. Like Prüfer, he was also a spy.

Based on four years of intensive primary document research, “Lawrence in Arabia” definitively overturns received wisdom on how the modern Middle East was formed. This aspect of the book reminded me of one on the Civil War that I recently reviewed, a book by Stephen M. Hood that aims to set the record straight on General John Bell Hood (my review: Anderson’s book also aims to clear up the errors in the story of Lawrence and others in the Middle East. In my opinion, I think he succeeded. The story was much more complicated than a young British adventurer leading Arab revolutionaries against the Turks, although that was a part of the overall picture.

“Lawrence in Arabia” is also an important part of the centennial observance of a war that really never ended, continuing to this day. The world has really attained the status of permanent war.

Anderson’s portrait of a contradictory leader — a very private person who at the same time was a charismatic leader of men — is the best I’ve seen of one of the most remarkable men of the early 20th Century. It’s no wonder that the 2013 publication of “Lawrence in Arabia” was greeted so warmly by the nation’s critics, being named a Finalist for the 2014 National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography; and One of the Best Books of the Year by The Christian Science Monitor, NPR, The Seattle Times, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Chicago Tribune. It was also named a New York Times Notable Book.

One day I was looking longingly at the hardback edition on the new books shelf at our local public library and the next day, the trade paperback was at my back door! It took me a couple of weeks to devour the book, but I came away feeling that those four years of research by Anderson were worth it.

Scott Anderson’s book reads like a spy novel, but it’s backed up by solid research. I recommend it to anyone interested in World War I history — and especially anyone who wants to understand the Middle East.

 About the Author

Scott AndersonScott Anderson, born 1959, is a veteran war correspondent who has reported from Lebanon, Israel, Egypt, Northern Ireland, Chechnya, Sudan, Bosnia, El Salvador and many other strife-torn countries. A frequent contributor to the New York Times Magazine, his work has also appeared in Vanity Fair, Esquire, Harper’s and Outside. He is the author of yjr novels “Moonlight Hotel” and “Triage” and of non-fiction books “The Man Who Tried to Save the World” and “The 4 O’Clock Murders”, and co-author of “War Zones” and “Inside The League” with his brother Jon Lee Anderson.

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Here’s an excerpt from the book:



BOOK REVIEW: ‘John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General: Setting the Record Straight on an Important Civil War General

“L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace.” — General George S. Patton and his alter ego, Napoleon, made “Audacity, audacity, always audacity” a famous phrase encouraging bold courage in the face of great challenge. John Bell Hood displayed many of the qualities of Patton — something recognized by his battlefield foes including Gen. George H. Thomas, who defeated Hood’s forces at Nashville in the closing weeks of 1864.

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“God alone knows the future, but only an historian can alter the past” — Ambrose Bierce; chosen by Stephen M. Hood as the epigraph for the Introduction

John Bell Hood cover
What is there about Confederate General John Bell Hood (1831-1879) that made historians and many of his fellow Confederate comrades in arms want tear him down? This destruction was taking place at the same time Union officers had nothing but compliments for the Kentucky native who is forever linked to his service on the frontier in Texas. The sprawling Fort Hood army base in central Texas is named for John Bell Hood.

Stephen M. “Sam” Hood of Huntington WV devotes an entire book “John Bell Hood: The Rise, Fall, and Resurrection of a Confederate General” (Savas Beatie LLC, Eldorado Hills, CA, 384 pages, $32.95) to setting the record straight on Hood, who resigned after his army was defeated by Union Gen. George H. Thomas at Nashville, Tenn. at the end of 1864. Sam Hood’s tome — the product of ten years of exhaustive research, with access to previously undiscovered documents — is the latest in a series of books that aim to resurrect John Bell Hood to his proper place in the pantheon of Civil War generals.

In his lengthy and informative foreword to Sam Hood’s book about his collateral ancestor, Thomas J. Brown, who died before the book was published, blames much of the criticism of Gen. John Bell Hood on the “Lost Cause” ideology practiced by Virginians. They needed a scapegoat and the general who dared to comment on the battlefield shortcomings of Gen. Joseph E. Johnston was targeted by the Virginians as a scapegoat. Johnston, born in Farmville, VA in 1807, outlived Hood by more than a decade, dying in 1891. That gave Johnston plenty of time to build up his reputation and tear down that of Hood. It’s no secret that Virginians considered themselves a cut above the other states of the Confederacy.

Too, there’s the matter of the departure of the Southern Historical Society from the South’s largest city, New Orleans, to the former Confederate capital, Richmond, VA. The society was formed in New Orleans, where Hood moved after the war, but left for Richmond in 1873. Hood was a businessman in New Orleans and died in 1879 of yellow fever along with his wife. His memoir “Advance and Retreat: Personal Experiences in the United States and Confederate States Armies” was published posthumously tin 1880.

In the introduction — which should be carefully read, please don’t skip it — the author says that “some reviewers might call it [the book] a hagiography of General Hood and say that it lacks balance. In fact, this book does not require balance because it represents the balance that is missing from most modern books and articles that have been published about Hood and his tenure as commander of the Army of Tennessee.”

Acknowledging that most Civil War history buffs will read books by authors like Wiley Sword, James McDonough, Thomas Connelly, and others, Hood says his wish is that readers use his book in conjunction with those who’ve portrayed General Hood in an unfavorable light. The author describes the battles fought by Hood and his armies, noting in details the errors and distortions historians used to demolish John Bell Hood’s reputation.

I was as shocked as the fictional Captain Renault in the classic movie “Casablanca” to find that Hood’s published version of many of the major events and controversies of his Confederate military career were met with scorn and skepticism. Some described his memoirs as nothing more than a polemic against his arch-rival Joseph E. Johnston. The publisher, on the Savas Beatie website, notes that “These unflattering opinions persisted throughout the decades and reached their nadir in 1992, when an influential author described Hood’s memoirs as ‘merely a bitter, misleading, and highly distorted treatise’ replete with ‘distortions, misrepresentations, and outright falsifications.’ Without any personal papers to contradict them, many historians and writers portrayed Hood as an inept and dishonest opium addict and a conniving, vindictive cripple of a man. One writer went so far as to brand him ‘a fool with a license to kill his own men.’ What most readers don’t know is that nearly all of these authors misused sources, ignored contrary evidence, and/or suppressed facts sympathetic to Hood.”

This is the first time I’ve seen the author’s debunking of the myths surrounding Hood — and I found it refreshing. Writing history is as much of an art as it is a science, maybe more art than science, so it’s important that opinions in history books be backed up by facts on the ground, or on the battlefield in the case of war histories.

Stephen M. Hood expected his work would be met with derision by historians — and was pleasantly surprised when it was praised and honored. The book was selected as the 2014 winner of the Albert Castel Book Award.

The award is given biennially by the Kalamazoo Civil War Round Table to authors writing on the subject of the Civil War in the Western Theater.

According to reviewing members of the Kalamazoo CWRT:

“The voluminous inclusion of citations to historical documents and other primary source material challenge previous interpretations of Hood’s military actions. A look back at past author’s interpretations of John Bell Hood’s record reveals the biases, inventions, and myths that have darkly colored his Civil War reputation. This book refutes the aspersions of ‘historians’ to name Hood the sole cause of the loss of Atlanta, and failure at Spring Hill, Franklin and Nashville.” –Margean Gladysz

“Anyone who wants the true story of the fall of Atlanta and the Tennessee campaign needs to study this book.” –Graham Hollis

“Sam Hood makes a compelling case that Hood’s reputation has been unjustifiably tarnished over the years by authors who have repeated half-truths and myths that are not supported by primary sources. Even people with little or no interest in Hood should read it as a cautionary tale that the things that ‘everybody knows’ are not always true.” –Dave Jordan

Just in (May 30, 2014): I received an email from the author about yet another CWRT award: “The North Shore CWRT of Huntington, Long Island, New York (hometown of Walt Whitman) has named my book their 2014 Walt Whitman Award as the year’s best Civil War book. I’ll receive the award in Huntington on Sept 4, 2014.”

Two Yankee CWRTs have spoken! This is a must-read book for any Civil War history buff.

stephen m. Hood
Stephen M. Hood

About Stephen M. “Sam” Hood

Stephen M. “Sam” Hood graduated from Kentucky Military Institute, Marshall University (BBA, 1976), and is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. A collateral descendant of General Hood, Sam is a retired industrial construction company owner, past member of the Board of Directors of the Blue Gray Education Society, and a past president of the Board of Directors of Confederate Memorial Hall Museum in New Orleans. He lives in his hometown of Huntington, West Virginia, with his wife of 35 years, Martha, and is the proud father of two sons: Derek Hood of Lexington, Kentucky, and Taylor Hood of Huntington, West Virginia.


About Savas Beatie LLC: Savas Beatie LLC is a leading military and general history publishing company.



MEMORIAL DAY BOOK REVIEW: ‘Brothers Forever’: You Can’t Read This Book Without Tears Streaming Down Your Face


First off, I’m dedicating this review of “Brothers Forever; The Enduring Bond Between a Marine and a Navy SEAL That Transcended Their Ultmate Sacrifice” (Da Capo Press, 312 pages, glossy photo inserts, notes, index, foreword by Gen. John Allen, USMC Ret., $25.99) to all the men and women who’ve served their country in the armed forces. I especially dedicate it to those who — like Travis L. Manion and Brendan Looney — made the ultimate sacrifice.

Brothers Forever jacketAuthors Tom Sileo and Col. Tom Manion, USMC Ret., have produced a magnificent book that I couldn’t finish without tears streaming down my face. It’s that moving. It’s a story of two U.S. Naval Academy classmates who became best friends. The authors show Travis L. Manion and Brendan Looney in their hijinks and rivalries: Doylestown, PA native Manion was a devoted Philadelphia Eagles fan and Looney, from suburban Maryland, was just as devoted to the Washington Redskins. But when they went to an Eagles game or a ‘Skins one, they swapped their sweatshirts!

Travis Manion died first, on April 29, 2007, felled by a sniper’s bullet in the so-called Pizza Slice neighborhood of Fallujah, Al Anbar province, Iraq, possibly the most dangerous place in Iraq.

His “Brother Forever”, Brendan “Loon-Dog” Looney, a Navy SEAL lieutenant, died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan on Sept. 21, 2010 — just days before his six-month tour of duty would be concluded and he would return to his wife, the former Amy Hastings, in San Diego.

The Manion and Looney families bonded as one and decided that the two men deserved to be buried together and they succeeded in having Travis and Brendan buried side by side in Section 60 of Arlington National Cemetery. The last photo in the book — facing page 243 — shows the burial site.

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Award-winning journalist Tom Sileo and Travis’s father, former Marine colonel Tom Manion, tell the intimate and personal story of how these Naval Academy roommates exemplified a generation’s sacrifice after 9/11, and how Travis and Brendan’s loved ones overcame heartbreak to carry on in their memory.

Travis’s incredible heroism on the streets of Fallujah to Brendan’s Navy SEAL training in San Diego in the wake of his friend’s death — he was unable to attend Travis’s funeral in Pennsylvania — and his own heroism in the mountains of Afghanistan, make this book a remarkable story of friendship, family, and war.

When I said I couldn’t read a page without tearing up, I was especially drawn to the accounts of the women in the book: Travis’s mother, Janet; his older sister Ryan Borek; Ryan’s daughters Maggie and Honor; Brendan’s wife Amy, and his mom, Maureen. They displayed the finest qualities of women in America. This is not to slight the men in the lives of Travis and Brendan: they represent men at their finest in their emotional support of the women.

Both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama have recognized the achievements and sacrifices of Travis Manion and Brendan Looney and their families. I hope this review of “Brothers Forever” will bring this book to the attention of more readers. The book should be read by everyone, especially in this era of all-volunteer military service. The lack of a draft or universal military training brings enhanced meaning to the inscription on Travis Manion’s marker: IF NOT ME THEN WHO.

About the Authors

Tom Sileo is an award-winning, nationally syndicated columnist whose weekly newspaper column has been distributed by Creators Syndicate since 2011. He is a Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and lives in Marietta, Georgia.

Tom Manion is the father of First Lieutenant Travis Manion. He started his career in the Marine Corps, retiring after thirty years at the rank of colonel. He is chairman emeritus at the Travis Manion Foundation and lives in Doylestown, Pennsylvania.

Here is a link to a wonderful illustrated story in Parade magazine about Travis and Brendan:

Publisher’s website:

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Delicious!’: Ruth Reichl’s Fiction Debut Should Appeal to Foodies, General Readers

The year 2009 was an an annus horribilis (horrible year) for foodies,  with the end of monthly publication of Gourmet magazine after almost 70 years of continuous publication.

Delicious jacket0_Former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl obviously drew on some of the elements of the end of the magazine in her debut novel ‘Delicious!’ (Random House, 400 pages, $27.00) but it’s not a roman a clef.

Wilhelmina “Billie” Breslin, the novel’s first-person protagonist, comes to work as an assistant to Jake Newberry, editor of Delicious!, New York’s signature food magazine. Billie is happy to get a job in publishing, especially in an era of disappearing advertising revenue — something common to all magazines. Subscriptions only cover a tiny part of any magazine’s revenue.

Billie has left her native California in an attempt to change her life and soon becomes immersed in the wonderful world of food in a city where ethnic food enclaves persist.

In Little Italy Billie meets Sal and Rosalie Fontanari, owners of Fontanari’s, an Italian food shop with authentic cheese selections and meats Italian style. Billie likes the shop so much she signs on for weekend work behind the counter. She doesn’t know it at the time, but the connection with Sal and Rosalie will change her life.

After passing the “Sal Test” Billie is accepted by the eccentric staff of Delicious! who inhabit a landmark building called Timbers Mansion. The midtown Manhattan house was built in the 1830s as a country house when New York City was a small city at the tip of Manhattan Island. The mansion — especially a hidden room — is actually a character in the novel as it allows Billie and a James Beard-like staffer named Sammy Stone to discover a series of letters from a 12-year-old girl from Akron, Ohio, named Lulu Swan to pioneering food writer James Beard, then on the staff of Delicious!

When the publishers of the magazine decide to shut it down, they keep Billie on as the sole employee, answering phones from subscribers and continuing the Delicious! Guarantee hotline. The publishers guarantee to refund the cost of ingredients to the magazine’s readers if the recipe doesn’t produce the desired results.

The letters to Beard show a wonderfully realized Lulu Swan, born about 1930. Lulu’s mother works in a defense plant run by Akron icon Goodyear and her father is in the U.S. Army Air Force (the present-day U.S. Air Force wasn’t created until 1947). Reichl expertly shows how the home front coped with the world at war, including blackout rules and wartime food rationing.

“Delicious!” is a genre breaking novel, combining aspects of historical fiction and a love story with a recipe or new food item on virtually every page. There’s even a recipe for Billie Breslin’s signature gingerbread at the end of the book. And I learned, thanks to the Internet, that Langue du Chat doesn’t involve the dissection of my favorite animals, cats!

Both foodies and general readers will enjoy “Delicious!” I guarantee it, just as Billie Breslin maintained the Delicious! Guarantee hotline!
About the author

Ruth ReichlRuth Reichl, born in New York City in 1948, is the author of the best-selling memoirs “Tender at the Bone”, “Comfort Me with Apples”, and “Garlic and Sapphires.” She is executive producer of the two-time James Beard Award-winning Gourmet’s Diary of a Foodie, which airs on public television across the country, and the editor of the Modern Library Food Series. Before coming to Gourmet, she was the restaurant critic for The New York Times, receiving two James Beard Awards for her work. Before that she was restaurant critic for the Los Angeles Times. She lectures frequently on food and culture. She lives in New York City with her husband, TV producer Michael Singer, son Nick and two cats. In October 2009, Conde Nast, publisher of Gourmet, said the monthly magazine would cease publication, replaced by special issues and TV programming. Bon Appetit, Gourmet’s sister publication at Conde Nast, will continue publication. Ruth Reichl’s website:


OP-ED: ‘The Way of the SEAL’: Another Path Toward Personal, Business Success


When I received my review copy of ‘The Way of the SEAL: Think Like an Elite Warrior to Lead and Succeed” (Readers Digest Association, 224 pages, $21.99) I reflected about the other business books I’ve read — and I’ve read and reviewed many — and how the Way of the SEAL applies to civilians. If we can learn from Trappist monks — — why not an elite military unit like the SEALS?

The Way of the SEALMark Divine, an ex-Navy commander and 20-year SEAL veteran, along with co-author Allyson Edelhertz Machate, provide the reader with exercises, meditations and focusing techniques to train your mind for mental toughness, emotional resilience and uncanny intuition.

“War is Hell” as the famous Civil War general William T. Sherman said. There’s a bit of a dispute about where and when he first said it, but it’s on record that on April 11, 1880, he addressed a crowd of more than 10,000 at Columbus, Ohio and said: “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”

The world of work is often just as hellish: Just ask veteran news person Jill Abramson, who was recently fired after less than three years as the top editor at The New York Times!

“The Way of the SEAL” may help readers focus of what’s important and what can be ignored. I have a feeling this book will be more relevant to small business owners and entrepreneurs than to employees because Divine himself tells how his business suffered a severe loss of income and had to be restructured.

Just as the the secrets of the Trappist monks of South Carolina may help business people — and people in general — so may Divine’s formulations may help people reaffirm your ultimate purpose, define your most important goals, and take concrete steps to make them happen. In any case, it’s a practical guide for businesspeople or anyone who wants to be an elite operator in life — and a fun read. “The Way of the SEAL” will teach you how to:

Lead from the front, so that others will want to work for you

Practice front-sight focus, the radical ability to focus on one thing until victory is achieved
Think offense, all the time, to eradicate fear and indecisiveness
Smash the box and be an unconventional thinker so you’re never thrown off-guard by chaotic conditions
Access your intuition so you can make “hard right” decisions
Achieve twenty times more than you think you can
and much more

Blending the tactics he learned from America’s elite forces with lessons from the Spartans, samurai, Apache scouts, and other great warrior traditions, Divine has distilled the fundamentals of success into eight powerful principles that will transform you into the leader you always knew you could be.

About the Authors
mark divineY100_.pngA native of Oneida County, New York, Mark Divine served in the U.S. Navy SEALs for 20 years, retiring as a commander, and holds an MBA from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business. The founder of SEALFIT,, and U.S. CrossFit, he

Mark Divine

has started and led six multimilliondollar business ventures. Having coached thousands of Navy SEAL and other Special Operation candidates with a success rate near 90 percent, Mark now trains the public in the eight Way of the SEAL principles through his Unbeatable Mind Academy ( The author of “8 Weeks to SEALFIT” and “Unbeatable Mind”, he lives in Encinitas, California, with his wife, Sandy, and son, Devon.


allysonAllyson Edelhertz Machate ( is a Phi Beta Kappa member and the founder of Ambitious Enterprises, an award-winning business that offers expert writing and editorial services to business professionals, publishers, agents, and authors. A New York native, she leads a team of content professionals from her home near Baltimore, Maryland.


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Hidden Child’: Cop Shop Chronicle Reminiscent of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct Novels Transported to Sweden

In my opinion,  there’ s nothing in fiction quite like the 87th Precinct crime novels of the late, great Ed McBain (1926-2005). They’re unparalleled in handling the personalities of the detectives, including their home lives.

The Hidden Child jacketIn Camilla Läckberg’s “The Hidden Child” (Pegasus Crime, 544 pages, $25.95, translated from the Swedish by Marlaine Delargy) I’ve found a crime novel that treats the members of the Tanumshede, Sweden police squad much as Ed McBain did the 87th squad in a very thinly described New York City called Isola.

(McBain’s series is based on the work of the police detectives of the 87th Precinct in Isola, which represents Manhattan. Other districts in McBain’s fictionalized version of NYC correspond to the Big Apple’s other four boroughs: Calm’s Point standing in for Brooklyn. Majesta representing Queens, Riverhead representing the Bronx, and Bethtown a stand-in for Staten Island. Isola is Italian for “island”: McBain, the crime writing pen name of novelist Evan Hunter, was born Salvatore Albert Lombino — and all of New York’s boroughs are on islands, except for the Bronx.)

One of the Tanumshede detectives, Patrik Hedström, is on paternity leave. He’s married to crime writer Erica Falck, who is shocked to discover a Nazi medal among her late mother’s possessions. For those who are history deprived, Sweden was neutral during World War II — a period covered in flashback in this novel — but it supplied raw materials for Nazi Germany. Sweden also had a homegrown Nazi movement sympathetic to Germany.

Erica’s childhood was anything but ideal, even by the standards we’ve come to expect from “Nordic Noir” typified by Läckberg and Stieg Larsson, among other Scandinavian writers.

Erica — like the good writer she is — decides to investigate what caused her mother’s coldness. Her enquiries lead her to the home of a retired history teacher, Erik Frankel. He was among her mother’s circle of friends during the Second World War but her questions are met with bizarre and evasive answers. Two days later he meets a violent death. Despite being on leave, Patrik Hedström soon becomes involved in the murder investigation, much to the annoyance of Erica, who wants him to bond with their year-old girl, Maja — and free her from mothering for a while so she can do her work.

Who would kill so ruthlessly to bury secrets so old? At first, Erica is reluctant to read her mother’s wartime diaries. When she does, she unearths a painful revelation about Erica’s past. Could what little knowledge she has be enough to endanger her husband and baby girl?

In addition to the characters in the small city’s police force, Erica encounters a journalist who isn’t all that different from Larsson’s Mikael Blomkvist and his “Millennium” magazine. “Millennium” is modeled on “Expo,” co-founded by Stieg Larsson.

“The Hidden Child” is a magnificent work of crime writing and the characters that include police officers Martin Molin, Bertil Mellberg and Paula Morales are every bit as interesting as Steve Carella, Meyer Meyer, Bert Kling, Arthur Brown and all the other 87th Precinct cops. That’s high praise indeed from a devotee of McBain!

About the author

camillaCamilla Läckberg, 39, educated at Gothenberg University, worked as an economist in Stockholm until a course in creative writing triggered a drastic career change. Her novels have all been #1 bestsellers in Sweden, and she is the most profitable native author in Swedish history. She was the #1 bestselling female author in Europe last year and her novels have been sold in thirty-five countries. Her previous novels are “The Ice Princess” and “The Preacher”, also available from Pegasus Books. Camilla lives in a suburb of Stockholm with her husband and five children. Her website in English:

More about Swedish Nazis:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘Under the Egg’: Middle Grade Art Thriller That Adult Readers Can Enjoy


My favorite books are those that can be enjoyed by a wide variety of readers — including readers of all ages. Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s middle grade thriller “Under the Egg” (Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Group U.S.A., 256 pages, $16.99) is a book that can be enjoyed by middle grade readers (ages 8-12), young adults and adults.

under the egg jacketThirteen-year old Theodora Tenpenny lives with her grandfather Jack and her mother Angelika in a 200-year-old townhouse in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Jack is a security guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and is the sole support of the family. The house is paid for and they subsist on a backyard garden and a flock of chickens. Chickens in Greenwich Village! That was enough to make this son of a Michigan chicken farmer read on! (An insight: people who long to go back to the land never grew up on a farm).

When Jack Tenpenny dies one day of a burst embolism, he whispers a few enigmatic words to Theodora, about looking under the egg and something about a “treasure.”

Theodora’s once brilliant mom is, to put it politely, “unstable,” obsessing over a mathematics dissertation that everybody’s forgotten, as well as expensive teas sold to her by their French neighbor Madam Dumont, a women Theo calls a “tea pusher.” Angelika Tenpenny reminds me of the older Edie Bouvier Beale in the 1975 documentary film “Grey Gardens” by Albert and David Maysles.

Shortly after her beloved grandfather’s death, Theo spills a bottle of rubbing alcohol on her late grandfather’s painting, and discovers what seems to be an old Renaissance masterpiece underneath. This could be an “Antiques Roadshow” moment for Theo, who’s struggling to hang onto her family’s in-need-of-major repairs townhouse and support her unstable mother on her grandfather’s legacy of $463. All would be great except that Theo’s grandfather’s occupation might have enabled him to steal the painting from the museum.

At her favorite restaurant, where the owner, Mr. Katsanakis, often provides free meals, Theo meets Bodhi, a girl her own age who’s the daughter of celebrity actors Jake Ford and Jessica Blake. The two girls hit it off from the start and begin their investigation of the mysterious painting. In the process, she meets experts, including a very helpful librarian named Eddie, a Pakistani street vender of nuts who knows a lot about paint, a savvy woman Episcopalian priest and many more. Theo and Bodhi learn about the Monuments Men and their search for artwork stolen by the Nazis and discover a shocking secret about her beloved grandfather.

I knew about much of the subject matter from reading books like Lynn H. Nicholas’ “The Rape of Europa” and Noah Charney’s “Stealing the Mystic Lamb” (my review:…) and I’ve read about Berga, a German concentration camp where American Jewish soldiers were selected out from the general population at a nearby P.O.W. camp and worked to death (,_Thuringia). The story of Berga is a shameful part of American history with the government doing its best to make the Germans feel good as the U.S. recruited Nazi scientists under Operation Paperclip.

The author’s research is outstanding and contributes to making “Under the Egg” a worthy book for readers of all ages — as I noted at the beginning of this review. For those who want to see the monuments men in action, mark Tuesday, May 20, 2014 on your calendar. That’s the release date of the DVD and Blu-Ray of a movie, “The Monuments Men”, produced, directed by and starring George Clooney. Cast members include Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon and Bill Murray. Based on the novel “The Monuments Men” by Robert M. Edsel, the movie features a group of allied soldiers and French citizens who rescued art that had been robbed by the Nazis for destruction during WWII.

laura marx fitzgerald_75_22_0.50_1.20_0.00_jpg_srz
Laura Marx Fitzgerald
About the author

Laura Marx Fitzgerald drew on her study of art history at Harvard and Cambridge University to writer her middle grade debut novel “Under the Egg.” She lives with her husband and two children in Brooklyn. Her website:

Publisher’s website:


BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Blonde’: Marilyn Monroe Reinvented as Soviet Spy in Counterfactual Thriller/Biography


If Marilyn Monroe hadn’t existed, it would have been necessary to invent her. Of course that’s exactly what happened to Norma Jeane Mortensen (later Baker) born June 1, 1926 in Los Angeles. But the transformation of Norma Jeane into Marilyn isn’t enough for Anna Godbersen.

The Blonde jacketIn “The Blonde” (Weinstein Books, 400 pages, $26.00) Godbersen — in her first novel for adults — re-imagines Marilyn Monroe as a Soviet spy controlled by a mysterious Russian named Alexei Lazarev. It’s the dawn of the Cold War and the Russians see in the young aspiring actress something even the moguls of Hollywood didn’t grasp: A smart woman with glamour potential who can help them achieve their vision of world dominion.

In Hollywood In 1947, Alexei provides N.J., as he calls her, with a young agent at the William Morris Agency. As anyone in Hollywood or anywhere else in show business knows, without an agent there’s no way of succeeding, but with the help of Johnny Hyde at the powerful Morris agency, Marilyn gets the start she — and Lazarev — needs.

Her early roles were small, but her acting in “The Asphalt Jungle” and “All About Eve”, both in 1950, showed the moguls that Marilyn had the potential to be the hottest property in Hollywood.

(In real life, Norma Jeane Baker was signed by 20th Century Fox in 1946 to a film contract, after a brief career as a model, but Godbersen is not concerned with the facts in her re-creation of Marilyn). And that’s a good thing as we plunge into an alternate universe with Alexei returning twelve years later, in 1959, with an assignment for Marilyn. In return for a meeting with her father — whom she’s never met — Marilyn is tasked with seducing a young Senator from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy.

Not only do Alexei Lazarev and his Soviet bosses suspect that JFK is a rising star, but also the FBI under J. Edgar Hoover, who has index cards on everybody of interest. Hoover is particularly interested in womanizers like Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr.

Enter another important figure in the novel, Doug Walls, an FBI agent assigned to follow Marilyn and JFK. Thanks to his mother’s show business connections, the young agent has access to parties like that given by actor Peter Lawford, who is married to JFK’s sister Patricia (1924-2006). Dougie, as his mother, actress Maureen “Mosey” Douglas Walls, calls him, has the kind of social background and Ivy League education that would normally have drawn him to the CIA, but instead he chose the FBI.

I won’t give away any more of the complicated plot of “The Blonde.” Suffice it to say that you’ll never guess what happens as Marilyn Monroe’s involvement with Kennedy continues — or where it will lead. Godbersen has produced a thriller, a counterfactual portrait of the late 1950s and early ’60s and a stunning portrait of a Marilyn Monroe that might have been.

Anna Godbersen

Anna Godbersen

About the author

Anna Godbersen was born in Berkeley, California, in 1980, and moved to New York to attend Barnard College. After graduating she worked in the literary department of Esquire magazine, where she also wrote book reviews. Her debut novel was the first installment of the bestselling LUXE series for young adults, which she followed with the BRIGHT YOUNG THINGS series. “The Blonde” is her first book for grownups. She lives in Brooklyn.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Bigs’: Answers to Questions College Graduates, Young Professionals May Never Have Thought Of


9781118917022_Cover copy.pdfFirst off, what the heck does author Ben Carpenter mean by “The Bigs” — as in the title of his self-help/memoir “The Bigs: The Secrets Nobody Tells Students and Young Professionals About How to Find a Great Job, Do a Great Job, Be a Leader, Start a Business, Stay Out of Trouble, and Live A Happy Life” (John Wiley & Sons, 288 pages, $25.00)?

That’s an easy one: “The Bigs” refers to the Big Leagues of business and the phrase is derived from professional baseball where “the bigs” is slang for the big leagues. When you become responsible for yourself, and you are being paid to do a job, you are in the big leagues. The real world is tough, competitive, and much is expected.

There are lots of sports anecdotes in Carpenter’s book — he enjoyed competitive sports in the many high schools he attended as his family moved around the country — and when he attended Bowdoin College in Maine.

But if you’re not a jock or jockette, don’t worry: The advice he gives is far more specific than the high-flown oratory of college commencement speakers and it will help both college students, graduates and young people in their first jobs. If, instead of playing on the athletic teams, you played an instrument in your high school band and/or orchestra — as I did in the 1950s in a small town in Illinois — you’ve already experienced the teamwork that Carpenter values so much.

The book is part memoir — a very entertaining one — and part advice to the job seeker. The anecdotes are as important as the specific advice Carpenter gives about informational and job interviews because they are carefully chosen to make a point.

Readers will encounter a colorful cast of real-life characters — with identities disguised to protect the innocent and the guilty — including Big Hank, The Brit, Hoops, Sweater Girl, Never, The Zombies, Mr. Nuts, The Cheese, Deep Throat, and The RAT.

Carpenter encountered these people as he rose through the Wall Street financial ranks as a green-as-grass liberal arts graduate, to the owner of an out-of-control bar in Manhattan’s upper East Side, to the CEO of a major international investment company.

So how did this successful financial executive, who survived multiple moves around the country as his dad lost job after job and when he endured multiple heart-related operations, come to write a book of advice to the job-lorn?

It all began with an innocent question from his daughter, Avery: “Is this okay to send?”: to convince Ben Carpenter that today’s young people are woefully unprepared for a harsh work world.

Those five fateful words were the subject line of an email Avery sent him after getting her first “real” post-college job offer with a network daytime TV talk show (a stepping stone to her dream career). Until her horrified dad stopped her, Avery was about to ask her new boss for a later start date so she’d have more time to “tie up loose ends” (i.e., move out of her parents’ home and into her own apartment).

“This was when I realized that while Avery had received a top-notch academic education, she had no clue how the working world actually, well, worked,” says Carpenter. “And it occurred to me that Avery probably wasn’t the only one. Through no fault of their own, most recent college graduates and young professionals are naïve about the realities of the real world.”

In “The Bigs”, Carpenter seeks to fill that void. Using a combination of detailed, colorful anecdotes and tactical advice, he lays out a blueprint that employees of any age and level of experience (not just recent grads) can use to get—and do—a great job. Having done it all, from opening his own bar to working his way through the Wall Street ranks to becoming the CEO of a major international financial services company, Carpenter is the perfect coach.

“I learned a lot of lessons because I made a lot of mistakes, and watched others make even more,” he comments. “Conventional advice is easy to come by, but it’s the same advice everyone else is getting. You may not like hearing everything I have to say—in fact, some of it may fly in the face of what you wish were true—but it will help you get ahead in the real world.”

In my recent review of a book about how to write about everything — appropriately titled “How to Write Anything” (link to my review: — I wrote that I wished the book had been available when I set out from college to the real world. The same thought occurred to me as I read “The Bigs.” I probably would have made mistakes, as I did in real life, but they might have been fewer and far between with Carpenter’s advice in hand. Then again, they might not!

Today, more than ever — certainly more than in 1961 when I graduated from college — “The Bigs” is a must-have book for college students, college graduates and people in jobs who want something different. To say the least, the job market is tight — even for graduates of prestigious colleges like Bowdoin.

Get a copy of “The Bigs” and enjoy the anecdotes and absorb the advice Carpenter gives. Pay particular attention to his admonitions of what not to say! Keeping the old pie-hole shut when you’re about to go negative can protect you from the fate of people like L.A. Clippers owner Donald Sterling. Negativity about anything is a no-no in Carpenter’s list of things to say!

Carpenter has been there, done that and has the scars to prove it. He gives full credit to his wife of three decades, Leigh. (Behind every great man is a woman who nudged or shoved him away from pitfalls). “The Bigs” is a must-read book and would make an ideal gift for students and young job holders.
About the author

Ben Carpenter began his career as a commercial lending officer at Bankers Trust Company. Two years later he joined Bankers Trust’s Primary Dealer selling U.S. Treasury bonds. After a brief stop at Morgan Stanley, Ben joined Greenwich Capital, which, during his 22-year career there, became one of the most respected and profitable firms on Wall Street. At Greenwich Capital Ben was a salesman, trader, sales manager, Co-Chief Operating Officer, and Co-CEO.

Currently, Carpenter is the Vice Chairman of CRT Capital Group, a 300-person institutional broker-dealer located in Stamford, CT. He resides in Greenwich, CT with his wife, Leigh, and three daughters: Avery, Kendall and Cameron.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘The Doctor Crisis’: Improving Health Care on Grassroots Level



Rick: How can you close me up? On what grounds?

Captain Renault: I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here! — “Casablanca”, 1942, directed by Michael Curtiz, with Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine and Claude Rains as Renault.

* * *

Many people — especially those not involved in the inner workings of America’s health care industry — will be as “shocked” as Captain Renault to find that everything is not even close to perfection in that sector.

But after reading “The Doctor Crisis: How Physicians Can, and Must, Lead the Way to Better Health Care” (PublicAffairs Books, 240 pages, $23.99, also available as an ebook) by Jack Cochran, M.D., and Charles Kenney, those same people might be even more shocked to learn how bad things really are.

In a superb example on contrast and compare, the authors describe how a multispecialist team of medical professionals successfully separated two newborn conjoined (Siamese, in popular parlance) twin girls, providing them with normal lives.

Contrasting with this example of the best of the U.S. health care system, they go on to describe how Denver-based Kaiser Permanente Colorado — the same organization that provided such a successful result in 2001 and the following years for the daughters of Jim and Emily Stark — was in the mid-1990s was “a period rich with lessons for improvement.”

That may be the understatement of the year!

During this time, the authors write, KP Colorado was beset by problems: Patients experienced great frustration in simply trying to make an appointment or get advice from a nurse. After being placed on hold for a long time, many patients were unable to get the appointment with the doctor they wanted. The problems extended beyond the call center: KP Colorado experienced significant membership losses, with 12,000 members leaving the system, contributing to major financial problems. Not only potential patients left, the authors write: physician satisfaction rates plunged and many doctors abandoned KP Colorado.

Fundamental flaws in the US health care system make it more difficult and less rewarding than ever to be a doctor, Cochran and Kenney write. They don’t specifically lay the blame at “American exceptionalism” — the belief that our health care system is the best in the world — but they come close.

In a book I reviewed more than two years ago, “The New Health Age” ( authors David Houle and Jonathan Fleece point out that honor belongs to France: We’re dismal No. 37, despite the vast expenditures we make in health care.

Much of that money is wasted — an amount “approaching $750 billion of health care money every year, Cochran and Kenney write — blaming much of the waste on unnecessary medical procedures and tests.

In my review of “The New Health Age” I referenced an outstanding book on health care by T.R. Reid, “The Healing of America.” My review: Reid says one reason France ranks at the top of the health care pyramid is their computerized “smart card,” the “carte vitale.” In my review of “The New Health Age” I wrote:

“We don’t even have computerized health care cards like the French do. My Medicare card is a piece of flimsy cardboard, unlike the French “smart”card — called the “carte vitale” — which is encoded with the holder’s health care information, making diagnoses much easier when there’s an emergency.”

Why the world leader in technology, the U.S., doesn’t have an equivalent “smart card” testifies to the fragmented nature of health care in this country, in my view. OK, I’m just a simple B.A., but it doesn’t take an M.D. to make sense of this mess!

More from my review of “The New Health Age” which equally to “The Doctor Crisis”:

“Newsweek referenced Reid’s outstanding book — I recommend it without reservation — in a February 2010 article, which I found on the Daily Beast site:

“When veteran foreign correspondent T. R. Reid set out to write about France’s health-care system for his recently published book, what impressed him most was not the country’s universal coverage. Nor was it the system’s low prices and wide-ranging benefits. Instead, as he explains in The Healing of America, the defining element of the French health-care system is a small green card that each patient carries: the carte vitale. The plastic credit card carries all the essentials of health care: medical records, insurance information, prescriptions, and reimbursements. It is used to check in, identify the patient, and provide the doctor with a complete background on the patient. “For me,” Reid explains, “the carte vitale … became a symbol of what the French have achieved in designing a health-care system to treat the nation’s 61 million residents.” In fact, the only picture that Reid includes in his 277-page book is one of the carte vitale.

“Quoting from my 2009 review of Reid’s book — which I once again recommend to everybody:

“Washington Post correspondent Reid traveled to about a dozen countries in his quest to fix his aching right shoulder and — more importantly — to find out which system would work to fix our ragged, patchwork quilt health care delivery system. “The numbers tell the story: All the other developed industrial nations spend far less on health care than the U.S., which spends a whopping 15.3 percent of its GDP on health care (in 2005…it’s closer to 17 percent now) and have greater longevity, lower infant mortality and better recovery rates from major diseases than Americans, Reid says, and backs up these statements with statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other agencies.”

* * *

Speaking of degrees, Cochran and Kenney deal with something many people have experienced at one time or another: The arrogance of people with M.D.s. This arrogance alienates other health care professionals, especially nurses, they write, to the point where KP Colorado experienced a strike by nurses. KP Colorado’s nurses probably struck for higher salaries, but the authors point out (Page 97) that a study by the Veterans Administration — an organization currently under fire for problems similar that experienced two decades ago by KP Colorado — showed that “when asked whether they had ever experienced abusive behavior by a physician toward a nurse, 96 percent of nurses said yes.”

Cochran and Kenney write that many factors prevent primary care and specialty physicians from doing what they most want to do: Put their patients first at every step in the care process every time. Barriers include regulation, bureaucracy, the liability burden, reduced reimbursements, and much more. Physicians must accept the responsibility for guiding our nation toward a better health care delivery system, but the pathway forward—amidst jarring changes in our health care system—is not always clear.

“The Doctor Crisis” shows how Cochran and others fixed the problems at KP Colorado, showing how other organizations can do the same. But I’m still pessimistic about the monetary and human waste engendered by our fragmented health care system. At the very least, we should copy the French and put in place our very own “carte vitale.”

About the authors

Jack Cochran, MD, FACS, is the executive director of The Permanente Federation, headquartered in Oakland, Calif. Prior to his appointment to The Permanente Federation in October 2007, Dr. Cochran served as executive medical director, president and chairman of the board of the Colorado Permanente Medical Group for Kaiser Permanente. Dr. Cochran serves as a member of the board of directors of the Alliance of Community Health Plans and the UCSF Global Health Group Advisory Board. Dr. Cochran is also a past president of the Consortium for Community Centered Comprehensive Child Care (C6), a foundation that has built hospitals in East Africa. He is a vocal advocate for nurses and oversees the Lois and John Cochran Education Award, an annual scholarship given to oncology nurses at Lutheran Medical Center in Denver. Dr. Cochran earned his medical degree from the University of Colorado and served residencies at Stanford University Medical Center and the University of Wisconsin Hospital. He is board certified in otolaryngology (head and neck surgery) and in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Charles Kenney is the author of many books including The Best Practice: How the New Quality Movement Is Transforming Medicine. He formerly worked as a reporter and editor at the Boston Globe.