Three top Washington thinkers have new books, all much more readable than their physical weight and subject matter suggest. Daniel Yergin engagingly weaves together the economy and the war on terror in a way few historians have done. Thomas L. Friedman, with Michael Mandelbaum, argues that the US is failing to confront the challenges of globalization. Christopher Hitchens returns with about 100 of his best recent essays. Here’s a comparison of these intellectual heavyweights.
An Indian scout who helped Scott Wallace on his Amazon trek. Photograph of Indian scout by Scott Wallace
With only five days’ notice, National Geographic photojournalist Scott Wallace was launched into the Amazon rainforest, accompanying Brazilian activist Sydney Possuelo on a potentially deadly expedition to research the flecheiros, one of the last remaining native tribes untouched by the outside world. Possuelo’s team hoped to learn as much as possible about the flecheiros without letting its presence be known, with the goal of helping prove to the Brazilian government that the tribe should be protected from outside contact. Wallace’s new book, The Unconquered, is a gripping tale of the adventure, a 2002 journey replete with dangers including drug traffickers, wildlife, disease, and those they were there to help—the flecheiros, whose way of life is glimpsed in the translation of their name: people of the arrow. Here’s a conversation with Wallace.
Girls in White Dresses
Here’s a strategy for fine-tuning your first novel: Get a job at the DC bookstore Politics and Prose and float the manuscript to your coworkers, prodigious readers all. Chicago transplant Jennifer Close did just that, and Girls in White Dresses—a lit-lite tale about a trio of female Manhattanites drinking and dating their way through their twenties—is the result.
Read a full review of Girls in White Dresses.
The American military operation that killed Osama bin Laden in May was shocking not only for its outcome but for where it went down—not in the mountains between Afghanistan and Pakistan but in Abbottabad, a leafy, middle-class community that also houses a major Pakistani military academy.
The school’s proximity to the terrorist leader’s compound raised questions about the Pakistani government’s dealings with radical organizations, among them al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Lashkar-e-Taiba, the group responsible for the 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai. In The Unraveling, his uppercut of an extended essay about America’s fraying relationship with the Islamic republic, John Schmidt of George Washington University argues convincingly that Pakistan’s policy of jihadist appeasement has its root in the country’s proxy war with India for regional dominance.
Schmidt, who worked in the US Embassy in Islamabad for years, ornaments his polemic with personal anecdotes and hard-won insights. The book’s final chapter, in which he lays out what could happen if jihadists were to take control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal, will have you riveted.
Between budget battles and the coming reelection campaign, President Obama probably doesn’t have much time to relax with a good book. But he’s got plenty to choose from. This year, representatives of the American Booksellers Association presented Obama, his wife, and their daughters with some 300 titles, including bestsellers and “hidden gems” that the independent booksellers’ trade group selected over the past year.
The ABA’s donation to the White House library dates to 1929, when Herbert Hoover found himself wandering the White House on his first night in office before his belongings arrived, looking for a book to read. He borrowed one from a White House guard, and when the Washington Post picked up the story the next day, an ABA staffer decided the White House shelves should be stocked. The Hoovers were presented with 500 books that April, and the ABA has made a donation to every President since.
Maud Casey, University of Maryland associate professor of English whose latest novel is Genealogy, recommends The Moviegoer by Walker Percy: “This was my first favorite book, one of those life-changing reads. It’s a wickedly funny novel about existential angst, and it’s also full of summery things: malaise, sultry climes, and the cool, magical relief of the movies.”
Few writers are more qualified than Sandra Beasley to pen a memoir about living with food allergies. The Washington native is allergic to “dairy, egg, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard.” Even fewer could navigate the nuances of this problem with such humor, pathos, and flair.
Read a full review of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl.
The Good and the Ghastly
James Boice’s trigger-happy third novel is a graffiti-rough mural of America in the 3300s, a thousand years after a nuclear holocaust has reduced the US Capitol and the Declaration of Independence to ash, rendered Ikea side tables and Target rugs as priceless treasures, elevated Oprah Winfrey and Stephen King to the ranks of the Founding Fathers, and turned the country into a wasteland operated by executives from Visa.
Read the full review of The Good and the Ghastly.
“What’s most beautiful about boxing,” novelist Colum McCann wrote, “are the lives behind it. They’re so goddamn literary.” That could be jacket copy for The Big Fight, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard’s cursory yet deeply confessional autobiography (written with Michael Arkush). Replete with episodes of childhood abuse, adultery, violence, drugs, and second chances, it lends vulnerability to a fighter whose footwork and head fakes, not to mention his patented bolo punch, made smoother, stronger opponents look clumsy and dazed.
Read the full review of The Big Fight.
These reviews appear in the July 2011 issue of The Washingtonian.
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It never fails. Every few years, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward produces a new book, and within days official Washington has analyzed and argued about it. It becomes part of the conversation, its anecdotes shared at parties, its methods and revelations debated. But has anyone actually read it?
Woodward’s books aren’t the only ones to get this treatment, though he may be the only author whose books are all treated this way. And most writers don’t have the guarantee, as he does, of extensive excerpts in the city’s paper of record. (Whether the excerpts are fully read is uncertain, too.)
Woodward’s books are subject to what can be called the Washington Read—not to be confused with the Index Scan: a glance over the credits to see if you’re mentioned. Washington social doyenne Juleanna Glover, host of countless book parties, says she has often seen guests do Index Scans immediately up on picking up the featured book.
The Washington Read is the phenomenon by which, through a form of intellectual osmosis, a book is absorbed into the Washington atmosphere.
In the spring of 1979, Mattson writes, the Lasch book rode “a wave, becoming the most discussed, if not necessarily read, work of serious nonfiction.” It’s not clear whether Carter read the book, either. Mattson writes that, after meeting with Caddell to discuss the lengthy memo Caddell had written on the subject, “Carter told Caddell that he’d do some speed reading, books by Christopher Lasch and James MacGregor Burns (and even Alexis de Tocqueville’s old classic, Democracy in America).”
More Hybrid-Electric Buses for Metro: WMATA on Tuesday unveiled 152 brand new hybrid-electric buses, which will be used to replace part of the transit system's aging fleet. The buses feature new security cameras, '“better-cushioned, lumbar-supported” seats, handhold straps that hang down lower for those who stand, and an improved system to monitor heating and air conditioning.' [Washington Post]
Vienna Hires a New Town Manager: Say hello to Mercury Payton, a Dale City native and former Manassas Park city manager, who was appointed this week as Vienna's new town manager. [Sun Gazette]
Former Peace Corps Volunteers Speak Out on Rape: The House Foreign Affairs Committee has a hearing set for today to examine “serious crimes” committed against Peace Corps volunteers, including sexual assault and murder. A number of returned volunteers have described a “blame the victim” culture at the Peace Corps when such crimes are reported. [New York Times]
Another Set of Banners Goes Up Downtown: This time, promoting urban forestry programs. [Housing Complex]
Bethesda Preps for U.S. Open: With just about a month before the the U.S. Open Championship comes to Bethesda's Congressional Country Club, residents, schools, and businesses are getting ready for increased traffic from 250,000 golf fans. [Gazette]
A Brief History of Wizards Uniforms: In photos, courtesy the Post. The team, as you will have heard by now, has unveiled a new look that, as one ESPN writer puts it, constitutes a great victory in the war on teal.
Poll Shows Support for DC Tax Hike: Faced with a $322 million budget shortfall, District voters responding to a DC Fiscal Policy Institute poll overwhelmingly support increasing taxes on residents who make more than $200,000 a year. "A large majority – 70 percent – of poll respondents said it is more important to preserve services than to hold down taxes." [DCFPI]
Related: Council Chairman Kwame Brown "says the budget he will put before the council will not include any increases in property or income taxes, despite the mayor's proposal to raise incomes taxes on the wealthy." [Examiner]
Tim Kaine, George Allen in Early Tie: "George Allen and Timothy M. Kaine are locked in a dead heat 18 months from Election Day, according to a new Washington Post poll, suggesting that the U.S. Senate race between the Virginia titans may live up to its billing as one of the most competitive contests in the nation." [Washington Post]
Alexandria Mulls New Parking Restrictions for Mark Center: That massive new housing development for Pentagon workers in Alexandria looks like it could force the creation of special parking district in neighborhoods on Seminary Road. "City officials are worried about nightmarish traffic conditions that are likely to occur once thousands of employees begin commuting to work along Seminary Road and Interstate 395, the intersection where the Mark Center office space is located. [Examiner]
Related: WTOP package on Why BRAC is About to Change Your World.
President Obama on 60 Minutes: 'Well, it was certainly one of the most satisfying weeks not only for my presidency but I think for the United States since I've been president. Obviously, bin Laden had been not only a symbol of terrorism but a mass murderer who had eluded justice for so long and so many families who have been affected I think had given up hope. And for us to be able to definitively say, "We got the man who caused thousands of deaths here in the United States" was something that I think all of us were profoundly grateful to be a part of.' [CBS]
Carman Wins James Beard Award: Local food critic Tim Carman, now with the Post, took home the James Beard Award for food-related columns and commentary over the weekend for three columns penned for his former publication, Washington City Paper. Links to those stories and well-deserved bragging rights can found here.