I am starting my first column of the year by giving you some snap shot reviews of recent books that I have read in recent weeks. Maybe you are looking for a good read for a winter's day or have some money to spend from the holidays to spend on a good book. Here are some worthy selections for you attention.For the sports fan, please take note of two books on sports history and trivia that are sure to start discussion and debate. The Stark Truth by baseball writer Jason Stark deals his thoughts on the most overrated and underrated players in baseball history. Full of comparative and sometimes little known facts, Stark make his points in and engaging and thoughtful manner. His book is full information that in some cases might upset the reader and get him or her riled up a bit. Wait until you read what he has to say about Sandy Koufax. Interested in football? Sal Paolantonio has followed a similar path in his look at the history of the NFL and its players entitled The Paolantonio Report in which he opines about football greats and not so greats in an easy to read provocative narrative. Neither book will win a Pulitzer but both are entertaining, have strong Philadelphia roots in that the authors have reported on Philly sports for years and their books just might help you win a small bet sometime.
Lusitania by Diana Preston is a detailed and dramatic account of the German sinking of the Lusitania in May of 1915 in which some 1200 men, women and children perished. Controversy and questions have this event for years and even though Preston presents a riveting narrative of the magnitude and horror of the Lusitania's sinking and the related aftermath, she does not answer many of the basic question about the tragedy. Although she does do a wonderful job in telling the stories (some of which are not so honorable) of many on the victims and survivors, the role Winston Churchill played in the catastrophe, why Cunard Lines allowed the ship to sail in the first place and why the Captain William Turner and the crew did not do more to avoid the attack she leaves larger question unad-dressed. Full of rich detail about the construction and grandeur of the Lusitania, Preston's book is an informative read but falls short of answering the big questions about the attack and the motives for it. But maybe that will never be done.
Just because you think nothing more can be written of any worth on the Election of 1800, think again. Edward Larson in A Magnificent Catastrophe has crafted and unique and provocative look at the election of Thomas Jefferson and the intrigue and political maneuvering that surrounded that controversial contest. Larson's emphasis is on campaign itself and the tactics and posturing that took place between the factions (no political parties then) that did almost anything to influence the presidential electors and the process that got them elected. Slander, libel, lies, religious bigotry and the issues related to slavery all played significant roles in a crucial election for our new republic. This is a must read especially in this time our 2008 election. Not that it is anything to be proud of but it must be noted that the "politics of personal destruction" is nothing new. The Founders made it through a very difficult and contentious election and we can benefit from the lessons passed to us from the experiences of 1800.
Lastly, John Bowe, who is a new writer to me, has written a book that is sure to stir emotions and even outrage with his look at slave labor in the United States and around the world. No Bodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy raises many moral and legal questions related to the production and harvesting of the goods and products we wear and eat all the time and how the people who provide those items for us are treated. Bowe contends that virtual slavery exists in many of these industries and that conditions under which people work are in effect slavery. You will not be able to read this book and not be filled with various emotions and thoughts; most will range from disbelief to outrage. The bottom line, no pun intended, remains what to do about these conditions. Bowe has some answers but each reader must develop his. You may think you have none considering the vastness of the problem, but I guarantee you that the next time you drink a glass of orange juice or eat a piece of produce you purchased at the grocery, you will think of Bowe and what he has written.