Older Book Reviews

Mike is a constant reader. Recently-read books will be reviewed in the blog, but for a while he was providing book reviews for the newsletter of the Belfast Free Library in Belfast, Maine. To promote readership, he was asked to review only books he liked, so he recommends all of the books listed below. Due to space limitations in the newsletter, these reviews had to be kept to 100 words or less.


Ambling into History: The Unlikely Odyssey of George W. Bush
by Frank Bruni

To many Americans, George W. Bush was an unlikely candidate for the world’s most powerful office. An affable “good old boy” with poor oratory skills and an apparently limited intellect, he squeaked into the White House under controversial circumstances. But after September 11th, he surprised his critics by revealing a newly-found sense of resolve and gravity. Frank Bruni, who covered Bush during the campaign and the first eight months of his Presidency, looks beyond the verbal gaffes and laid-back style to reveal some important insights into Bush’s background, and into the mind and character of our 43rd President.

The Bureau and the Mole: The Unmasking of Robert Philip Hanssen, the Most Dangerous Double Agent in FBI History
By David A. Vise

What caused FBI agent Robert Hanssen to become the most notorious double agent in the bureau’s history? How did he remain undetected for two decades? Pulitzer winner Vise gives the answers in a fascinating book, revealing a dour egotist with a troubled childhood and a passion for secrecy. Hanssen’s tale is interwoven with a candid picture of the FBI and director Louis Freeh, a rising star ultimately felled by the revelation of a spy in the bureau’s midst. This is a spellbinding look into the mind of a traitor and the heart of a bureau struggling to reinvent itself.

Charlie Wilson’s War: The Extraordinary Story of How the Wildest Man in Congress and a Rogue CIA Agent Changed the History of Our Times
by George Crile

Imagine a hard-drinking, womanizing Texas congressman who teams up with a maverick CIA agent to plan, fund and carry out a covert operation to support Afghani freedom fighters struggling against a Soviet Union invasion. He brings his personal belly dancer to Egypt, convinces Israelis to provide weapons to fundamentalist Muslims, and secretly spirits hundreds of millions of dollars out of the U.S. budget to further his cause. Such a story would make an almost unbelievable novel, but the most amazing thing about George Crile’s book is that it is a true account of the largest secret operation in American history.
The Conquerors: Roosevelt, Truman and the Destruction of Hitler’s Germany, 1941-1945
by Michael Beschloss

Historians agree the harsh penalties imposed on Germany after World War I sowed the seeds for the rise of Hitler and WWII. But as the second war ended and the horror of the Holocaust became known, how were the Allied leaders able to resist imposing similar harsh penalties? Instead, they created a democratic Germany which has existed peacefully for more than a half century. Michael Beschloss describes this critical period in world history with fascinating detail, revealing the complex personalities and often conflicting motivations of the men who stopped Hitler and forged the agreements that restored the world to peace.
Debating the Death Penalty: Should America Have Capital Punishment? The Experts on Both Sides Make Their Case
Edited by Hugo Bedau and Paul Cassell

In this outstanding book, four advocates from each side of the death penalty debate square off and present their best arguments for the preservation or the abolition of this ultimate legal penalty. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges, philosophers and politicians all present their strongly-held convictions in eight compelling essays that together provide a balanced and thoughtful view of all aspects of this issue. Whether or not this book changes the reader’s mind, it makes fascinating reading and demonstrates how eight highly-biased opinions can be presented in an unbiased way.

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America
by Erik Larson

This book is a fascinating history of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and its architect, Daniel Burnham. Nicknamed “The White City” for its dazzling architecture, the fair introduced the nation to everything from Shredded Wheat and the Ferris Wheel to the wonders of electricity. But what sets the book apart is the parallel story of Henry Holmes, a serial killer who built a hotel near the fair and used his considerable charm to lure innocent young women to their deaths. This is a masterful depiction of the best and worst of human behavior at the turn of the 19th century.

Evil: An Investigation
by Lance Morrow

What is evil? Is evil a human condition, or a distinct malevolent presence that has always existed in the universe? Why, when we truly analyze it, does it seem to vanish, changing to something more explainable such as madness or religious zealotry? Can evil be measured–was Stalin more evil than Hitler because he was responsible for more deaths? Evil, which seems to be more prominent in the headlines than ever before, has always intrigued journalist Lance Morrow, and he thoroughly explores all aspects of this troubling but compelling subject in a series of superbly-written essays.

The Millennium Problems: The Seven Greatest Unsolved Mathematical Puzzles Of Our Time
by Keith Devlin

In 2000, the Clay Mathematics Institute offered $1,000,000 each for the solution to any of seven unsolved problems, from the fields of physics, computer science, number theory, topology and many others. The answers to these esoteric problems, if they can be found at all, will likely come from professional mathematicians who devote lifetimes of effort, but Keith Devlin does an outstanding job of describing them and introducing the historical and modern figures who explore these mathematical frontiers. Any reader with a moderate background and a strong interest in math will find this a challenging and fascinating book.

Seeing in the Dark : How Amateur Astronomers Are Discovering the Wonders of the Universe
by Timothy Ferris

Each evening, after most of us have turned in, there are people in backyards and on roofs, peering through telescopes at the night sky. Timothy Ferris provides a fascinating look at amateur astronomers, past and present, and at the avocation that has captivated him since childhood. Amateurs have made significant discoveries, conducted important research, and act as Earth’s first line of defense in the search for nearby objects that threaten our planet. Ferris also describes the heavens and the techniques of astronomy well enough that some readers may find themselves outside after dark, gazing up at the sky.

Six Days of War: June 1967 and the Making of the Modern Middle East
by Michael B. Oren

The uneasy coexistence between Israel and the neighboring Arab countries exploded into violence in June, 1967, a conflict Israelis named the Six Day War and the Arab nations call simply “The Setback.” Israel crushed the armies of Egypt, Jordan and Syria, more than tripled its territory and changed forever its own self-image. Michael Oren examines this defining moment in history through the eyes of the Arab and Israeli participants, as well as those of the Cold War leaders who negotiated for peace while carefully avoiding dangerous entanglements. This book is essential for anyone wanting to fully understand this important event.

A Viking Voyage: In Which an Unlikely Crew of Adventurers Attempts an Epic Journey to the New World
By W. Hodding Carter

Hodding Carter is an unlikely candidate for a seafaring adventure. An admitted whiner under difficult conditions, his sailing experience consists of wrecking the family Sunfish. But he dreamed of duplicating Leif Eriksson’s voyage from Greenland to Newfoundland in an open Viking boat. Crew choices made the task more formidable: Friends who couldn’t refuse, strangers who were crazy enough to go. Few had sailed. Facing seasickness, homesickness, icebergs and polar bears, they nurse their recalcitrant vessel onward. That people crave adventure is no surprise. That people like Carter, who seem ill-equipped for adventure, pursue it anyway makes this an entertaining book.

A Voyage for Madmen
By Peter Nichols

In 1968, nine men left England in boats of varied designs, variously suited for the journey at hand: a solo nonstop race around the world. In the age before GPS, laptops, email and satellite links, they navigated by sextant and communicated with unreliable radios (one forsook the radio for a slingshot, to shoot messages onto passing ships.) Some were presumed missing for months. One sent false reports of his progress around the globe while never leaving the Atlantic. Peter Nichols uses his extensive sailing experience to bring alive these individual journeys, one to victory, others to failure, madness and death.

Who’s Your Caddy?: Looping for the Great, Near Great, and Reprobates of Golf
by Rick Reilly

The way to get to know professional golfers and other celebrities, decided sportswriter Reilly, would be to carry their bags for a round. No matter that he knew nothing about caddying, and was fired by Masters champion Tommy Aaron after nine holes. He doggedly kept on, gaining remarkable insights into the lives of pros like Jack Nicklaus, John Daly (“If Psychology Today ever runs a centerfold, he’d be it”), LPGA pro Jill McGill, and non-pros like Deepak Chopra, Donald Trump and Bob Newhart (“the Anti-Trump”). Packed with humor and feeling, this is a book for golfers and non-golfers alike.

Why Terrorism Works: Understanding the Threat, Responding to the Challenge
by Alan M. Dershowitz

Should a suspected terrorist be tortured to reveal the location of a ticking bomb? Should the U.S. institute a national ID card and random state border checks? Should we target terrorist leaders for assassination? The fight against terrorism raises many difficult questions, examined in depth in this important new book by Alan Dershowitz. He describes the concessions that many countries have made to terrorists, which have merely caused the attacks to increase. Only by removing all incentives to terrorism, and taking every prudent step to detect and capture the perpetrators can we hope to combat this horrific evil.


The Alias Man
by Bill Pronzini

Charming, attentive and handsome, he is welcomed into the arms of the women he targets. They fall in love, marry, and live blissfully for about four years. During that time he spirits away their savings and then disappears, sometimes faking his own death, leaving his women heartbroken and alone. But Morgan, the wife he has just abandoned, discovers information leading her to Sarah, his previous victim, and Jessie, the one he now has in his sights. Bill Pronzini, best known for his outstanding Nameless Detective series, weaves a complex tale of what happens with not one, but three women scorned.

Cold: A Novel
By John Smolens

The title element dominates this dark thriller: The bitter winter of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the setting for a mortal struggle among memorable characters, each flawed or damaged in some way. Lonely Sheriff Del Maki tracks Norman Haas, who has walked away from prison in a blizzard and is running back to Noel, a woman made partially deaf by his beating. Now divorced from Norman’s abusive brother, she lives under the thumb of her father. Driven by infidelity, betrayal and greed, the players careen toward a violent ending, at risk not only from each other, but from the ever-present bitter cold.

Dead Aim: A Novel
by Thomas Perry

Edgar winner Thomas Perry, author of Metzger’s Dog, The Butcher’s Boy and the popular Jane Whitefield series, delivers again with this latest thriller. Wealthy retired contractor Robert Mallon saves a young woman intent on drowning, only to have her run away and shoot herself. Unable to put it behind him, he tries to learn more about her, inadvertently making himself the target of a seemingly unending stream of killers, trained in the deadly arts by their implacable and merciless leader. Mallon’s struggle to find the truth while staying alive makes this a difficult book to put down.

by Pete Hautman

Nick Fashon has a successful business, a beautiful girlfriend, and an eccentric grandfather he manages to avoid. Then his business burns to the ground and his grandfather dies and leaves Nick a caboose in the desert and a collection of odd inventions. The Comb-n-Clean unfortunately ignites hair, but the Pet Coffins sell fairly well. The HandyMate, however, a do-it-all kitchen tool, could make millions and put Nick’s life back on track. All he must deal with are a homicidal loan shark, a voluptuous and avaricious restaurant owner, accusations of arson and the fury of his girlfriend to achieve his dreams.

by Randy Wayne White

Perhaps not as well known as Carl Hiaasen or Elmore Leonard, White has nonetheless made an entertaining contribution to the Florida mystery genre with his Doc Ford novels. In the tenth of the series, marine biologist Doc, despondent over the loss of a love, has let himself go. He is in no shape to help an old flame, but help he must. Aided by his oddball hippie friend Tomlinson, Ford takes on Bhagwan Shiva, an avaricious cult leader bent on adding to his fortune even at the expense of a few lives and the fragile Everglades ecosystem.

No Way to Treat a First Lady: A Novel
by Christopher Buckley

The President of the United States lies dead in his bed, his forehead bearing the imprint of an antique Paul Revere spittoon that reveals the fingerprints of First Lady Elizabeth MacMann. Indicted for assassinating the President, hated by the Secret Service, called “Lady Bethmac” by the media and condemned by the American public, Beth’s only hope is defense attorney Boyce “Shameless” Baylor, whom she jilted in college to marry the future President. With help from the FBI, the CIA, expatriate spies and Hollywood starlets, this scathingly hilarious romp through our legal and political system will have you laughing out loud.

The Hanged Man’s Song (Kidd)
by John Sandford

John Sandford, author of the best-selling “Prey” thrillers, delivers the fourth in the series featuring professional thief Kidd. With the help of his partner and occasional lover LuEllen, Kidd must solve the murder of a reclusive hacker and recover a stolen laptop, which contains far too much information about Kidd and his associates. He quickly learns, however, that it contains secrets far more terrifying than that as the chase leads him through a dangerous web of murder, kidnapping and shocking government secrets. With charismatic characters and furious, high-tech action, this novel provides just what Sandford fans have come to expect.

Hearse Case Scenario, The (Hitchcock Sewell Mysteries)
By Tim Cockey

We’ve seen cops, lawyers, little old ladies, even cats become detectives. Tim Cockey takes the next step, a crime-solving undertaker. This is the third in his series featuring Hitchcock Sewell, a Baltimore mortician whose aunt does the embalming while he meddles in police business. This time he helps his childhood friend who admits to shooting, but not murdering, her sleazy boyfriend. Aided as usual by his gorgeous ex-wife, Hitch wisecracks his way to justice. This series offers an original twist, with the added suspense of wondering what the next labored “hearse” title will be.

Heart Seizure: A Novel
by Bill Fitzhugh

Spence Tailor’s mother Rose needs a heart transplant, and has worked her way to the top of the list. But just when an organ becomes available, the President keels over with a heart attack. His aides bend the rules and attempt to snatch Rose’s heart. Outraged, Spence steals it himself and, pursued by the President’s henchmen, races off with Rose and a burgeoning band of oddballs to find a willing surgeon,. Meanwhile, the President’s opponent, a Senator with agents of her own, sends them to ensure that the heart never reaches the Presidential chest. And that’s when things get weird.

Jolie Blon’s Bounce
by James Lee Burke

James Lee Burke is one of the most talented writers of crime fiction today, with a lushly detailed style that draws the reader inexorably into the environment of the story. This novel marks the return of Louisiana homicide detective Dave Robicheaux, a Vietnam vet and recovering alcoholic whose dangerous job forces him into terrible struggles with his own inner demons. This time, the hunt for the murderers of two women leads him into the path of a preternaturally evil foe, one who seems capable of bringing about Robicheaux’s utter physical and emotional destruction. Burke’s fans will not be disappointed.

Man and Wife
By Andrew Klavan

Successful psychiatrist Cal Bradley agrees to take the case of Peter Blue, a troubled youth accused of beating his girlfriend, setting fire to a church and threatening the police chief. But as he probes the background of this strangely spiritual young man, Cal begins to discover links between Peter’s dark past and his own life, revealing secrets that threaten his idyllic marriage to his beautiful wife Marie and that ultimately lead him into a dark world of fear, deception and murder. This is a compelling novel that will keep you reading late into the night.

Sinister Heights: An Amos Walker Novel
By Loren D. Estleman

Readers who think Spenser and Matthew Scudder are tough guys never met Amos Walker, hardest-boiled of the private eyes. Asked what kind of system he uses, Walker growls “Cigarettes and whiskey.” This time, Walker tracks the heirs of a wealthy automaker at the request of his young widow. But she lives in Iroquois Heights, where money means power, cops are unfriendly, and the guy in the Mayor’s office isn’t in charge. Prowling Detroit’s gritty streets, Walker takes more than one beating, leaves more than one body, and learns that not everyone is who they seem to be in Sinister Heights.

Small Town: A Novel (Block, Lawrence)
by Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block’s latest novel introduces an ensemble of new characters living in New York City after September 11. A recovering alcoholic, a trendy gallery owner, a retired police commissioner and a struggling writer all find their lives changing in ways they cannot understand or control. Meanwhile, a man whose world was shattered by the terrorist attacks descends helplessly into madness, finding meaning in his tragedy only by spreading more terror throughout the city with a series of seemingly random killings. As the characters’ paths cross, each learns that in New York, nothing will ever be the same.

The Last Detective
by Robert Crais

When Robert Crais started his Elvis Cole series, Elvis was the irreverent “World’s Greatest Detective” with a Mickey Mouse clock and a carefree attitude, and his partner Joe Pike an invincible Rambo who could always get Elvis out of trouble. Over the years, Elvis and Pike have gained realism while Crais has matured as a writer. In this book, Pike struggles to recover his confidence after a life-threatening injury, and Elvis faces the imminent departure of his girlfriend Lucy while he searches for her son, kidnapped by mysterious assailant threatening to bring up a dark secret from Cole’s past.

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