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A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win
A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win
by Shelby Steele
Edition: Hardcover
139 used & new from $0.01

14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Who's the real "bound man"?, March 12, 2009
It's easy to mock Shelby Steele for the title of his 2008 book "A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited about Obama and Why He Can't Win" (Free Press; hardcover; ISBN 1-4165-5917-5). The book's imprudent subtitle has effectively turned Steele into the worst kind of false prophet: the prophet who has been undeniably proven wrong. Still, I decided to check the book out of the public library and give it a read.

The 143-page, small size hardcover is a trifle which a good reader could finish in one sitting. In it, Steele tries to analyze Obama's appeal in light of the racial burdens of American history and culture. A number of things struck me about the book. First: the book seems to be as much about Steele as it is about Obama. Over and over again he starts writing about himself, and often comparing himself to Obama: "I, too, was born to a white mother" (pp. 3-4); "I, too, fellow-traveled a little with black nationalism" (p. 36); "I have always liked my little burden of racial exceptionalism" (p. 42); etc., etc., ad nauseam. Steele comes off as a hopeless narcissist who is merely using Obama as a tool by which to exorcize his own personal demons.

Second, Steele makes a number of statements about Obama that I found very presumptuous, even outrageous. For example: "Strong convictions seem to be anathema to Barack Obama because he is a bound man" (p. 55). How can Steele make such a claim? Has he ever met Obama--had a serious talk about profound moral issues with him? Steele's words trivialize Obama and insult the many principled people, like Colin Powell, who supported his presidential campaign.

Particularly interesting is Steele's attempt to strike a contrast between Obama and Al Sharpton. The controversial Sharpton is too easy a target. Steele compares Sharpton to "the overweight slattern next to the svelte beauty in the weight loss ad" (p. 104)--a comparison loaded with curiously gender-coded language. Steele seems to have a real hatred for Sharpton, and yet I wonder if Steele secretly desires that he, rather than Obama, be the "svelte beauty" against which Sharpton might be so cruelly measured.

Steele has a few interesting, if underdeveloped, ideas. He tries to spice up the book with literary and cultural references (Louis Armstrong, Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man," etc.), but the book still feels like a glorified college essay. Steele comes across as a small, bitter man determined to tear down another man (Obama) whose potential for greatness unsettles him. In the end, it is Shelby Steele who is truly a "bound man"--bound by his own racial obsession, petty jealousy, and relentless self-absorption.


Future Wars
Future Wars
by Martin H. Greenberg
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
23 used & new from $0.01

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ten speculative visions of war, April 2, 2006
"Future Wars," edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff, contains ten science fiction stories that explore the theme of war. The tales range in length from 14 to 60 pages, and each one is accompanied by biographical information on its author. Some of the selections that most impressed me were as follows. "Faith on Ice," by James H. Cobb, brings high-tech combat action to an Antarctic setting. "Los Ninos," by William H. Keith, Jr., is a darkly satiric story about a war between humans and an alien species; Keith creates a vivid picture of ground combat involving space Marines. "Ranger," by Bill Fawcett, follows a military team on an infiltration mission inside an enemy nation known as "the Jihadic State"; this story presents a particularly intriguing look at ingenious high-tech weaponry.

Ron Collins' "The Vacation" is an interesting change of pace from the anthology's combat-driven stories; it follows two elderly women on a vacation to an alien world in the aftermath of war. Robert J. Sawyer's "On the Surface" is a sequel to H.G. Wells' classic "The Time Machine"; Sawyer shows what happens when Wells' Morlocks, in possession of time-travel technology, go to war against an enemy in the far future. "Air Infantry," by R.J. Pineiro, is set in Alaska during a time when Earth has been invaded by a hostile alien species that seeks human hosts for its reproductive needs; one of the collection's longer pieces, "Air Infantry" is exciting and well-paced, and strikes a solid balance between action and character development.

Overall the stories have an interesting variety of settings--some on Earth, some on alien worlds. There is also an interesting variety of male and female characters. Although there were two stories in the collection that struck me as somewhat tedious, the overall quality of the selections is very good. Along the way the authors deal with many notable themes, among them artificial intelligence, interspecies communication, terrorism, sexual assault by enemy combatants, war's effect on family members, guerrilla warfare, propaganda in wartime, and the interface between human beings and high-tech gear. "Future Wars" is a well conceived and tightly focused anthology; it's a satisfying addition to the specialized canon of military science fiction.
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The War Within: A Novel of the Civil War
The War Within: A Novel of the Civil War
by Carol Matas
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.29
197 used & new from $0.01

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping story of a Jewish family caught up in the U.S. Civil War, March 29, 2006
"The War Within: A Novel of the Civil War," by Carol Matas, is narrated in the first person by the book's main character, Hannah Green. Hannah is a 13-year old Jewish girl who lives with her slave-owning family in Mississippi during the time of the U.S. Civil War. In the course of the war Ulysses S. Grant orders the expulsion of all Jews from the territory he controls. The novel explores the impact of the war in general, and Grant's expulsion order in particular, on Hannah and the other characters.

Matas has created a complex and compelling human tapestry. It's not a simple "good guys" versus "bad guys" equation. Hannah's world is filled with a diverse group of characters--Jew and gentile, slave and free, Confederate and Union, soldier and civilian, abolitionist and pro-slavery, male and female. Ironically, some characters suffer the impact of anti-Semitism even while they perpetuate racism against African-Americans. As the story unfolds, Matas' characters debate vital issues, such as abolitionism, the role of religion in war, and Jewish solidarity across the Confederate/Union divide.

Hannah's opening lines declare, "The war has changed everything. And it has changed me." A key theme in the book is the complexity of Hannah's multiple overlapping identities as a Confederate, a Jew, a "white" person, a "Southern lady," etc. These identities basically get deconstructed in the turbulence of war. Matas deals frankly with the violence and destruction of war. She creates some powerful conflict and biting dialogue. Matas also supplements the main text with information about the history behind the story, and with insight into the research that went into the writing of the book. Hannah--flawed but admirable--is a powerfully rendered character, and her story is a well-written and thought-provoking narrative about a fascinating aspect of the Civil War.


Soldier Mom
Soldier Mom
by Alice Mead
Edition: Paperback
44 used & new from $0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars When a single mother goes to war, March 29, 2006
This review is from: Soldier Mom (Paperback)
"Soldier Mom," by Alice Mead, is a novel set in the time of the Persian Gulf War. The story's first-person narrator is Jasmyn, or "Jas," an eleven-year old girl who lives with her single mother and baby half-brother in a Maine coastal town. Her mother's boyfriend, who is the father of Jasmyn's half-brother, is also part of the family equation. Jasmyn's world is shaken when her mother, an Army reservist, is mobilized for the military conflict with Saddam Hussein.

The novel covers some important themes: the sacrifices and adjustments that family members must make when a military reservist is deployed; the importance of communication, especially letter writing, between a deployed soldier and her family; and the impact of televised war coverage on family members. Mead looks closely at some of the very down-to-earth practical concerns that Jasmyn's family faces, such as working a schedule around child care. Jasmyn's anxieties and conflicted feelings over the stressful situation are also key elements of the story. Jasmyn is a tough but sensitive heroine, and I found it particularly interesting to read a story about the impact of war on a non-traditional family.


Aleutian Sparrow
Aleutian Sparrow
by Karen Hesse
Edition: Paperback
Price: $7.19
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A moving story about the impact of WW2 on the Aleut people, March 25, 2006
This review is from: Aleutian Sparrow (Paperback)
"Aleutian Sparrow," by Karen Hesse, tells the story of how the Aleut people of Alaska's Aleutian Islands were removed from their homes during World War II and sent to evacuation camps on the Alaskan mainland. The story is told in the first person by Vera, the daughter of an Aleut woman and a white man. The front cover describes this book as a novel. However, the text is presented in the form of a series of short free verse poems which stylistically reminded me somewhat of Walt Whitman's "Leaves of Grass." Inside the back cover is some information about author Hesse; it is noted, "A school visit to Ketchikan, Alaska, was the genesis for this book." Also mentioned is that she lives in Vermont. In an "Author's Note" Hesse states that the book "is a work of fiction based on true events." The story covers the time period from May 1942 to April 1945.

Hesse's poetic language is beautiful; she creates phrases and images that are bold and refreshing. Her narrative is rich in details that illuminate her Aleut characters' lives both on the islands and at the mainland evacuation camps. The poems cover recreation, transportation, work, food, and other aspects of life. Particularly interesting is Hesse's portrait of the Aleut people's pre-evacuation relationship to the land on which they live, the sea that surrounds them, and the plants and animals that share these spaces. The significant themes of the book include relationships among three generations of Aleuts, relations between Aleuts and whites, the tension between Americanization and the preservation of traditional Aleut culture, Aleut folklore, and the struggle of the Aleuts to deal with life in a very alien environment while evacuated to the mainland.

"Aleutian Sparrow" is a tragic, ironic, and haunting narrative. It's a valuable addition to the canon of literary works inspired by WW2. For a powerful companion text I recommend "Farewell to Manzanar," by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James D. Houston, which tells a story about Japanese-American internment during WW2.


The Matchlock Gun
The Matchlock Gun
by Walter D. Edmonds
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.29
137 used & new from $1.54

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars War's impact upon a family in colonial America, March 20, 2006
This review is from: The Matchlock Gun (Paperback)
"The Matchlock Gun," by Walter D. Edmonds, features illustrations by Paul Lantz. The copyright page notes that this book was originally published in 1941. The entire book is about 80 pages long; the main text is 62 pages long and is divided into ten chapters. In his foreword Edmonds establishes the setting of the book: the French and Indian War in colonial America. The tale looks at the war's impact on the Van Alstyne family: husband Teunis, wife Gertrude, 10-year old son Edward, and 6-year old daughter Trudy. Teunis, "a true Dutchman," is a militia captain. The tale's first chapter establishes Edward's fascination with the gun of the title, a massive Spanish weapon that hangs over the mantel.

Edmonds has crafted a simple but suspenseful tale of life in what one character calls "the wild America" during wartime. He appeals to the senses with vivid details such as the smell from butter churning. The book also gives a glimpse into his characters' domestic and social lives. Despite its short length, this is a rich text that touches on such themes as advancing weapons technology, the Dutch cultural presence in colonial America, and--most importantly--the impact of war upon families. Edward is an appealing young hero. A short author bio at the end of the book notes that Edmonds was born in upper New York State and that in 1942 this book received the Newbery Medal.


Seals #1
Seals #1
by Jack Terral
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
63 used & new from $0.01

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars An entertaining military adventure that gets bogged down by bad writing, March 19, 2006
This review is from: Seals #1 (Mass Market Paperback)
"SEALS," by Jack Terral, is a novel about the exploits of a platoon of U.S. Navy SEALs. Known as "Brannigan's Brigands," the platoon is led by Lieutenant William "Wild Bill" Brannigan. The novel has a post-9/11 setting, and the Brigands' mission takes them to wartime Afghanistan, where they face conflict with a local warlord. The backdrop for the story includes opium poppy cultivation, the effort to bring democracy to Afghanistan, and the aftermath of the Soviet occupation; the hunt for Osama bin Laden gets mentioned.

"SEALS" is a fast-moving, entertaining adventure story that is full of violent action. There is plenty of killing. However, the book is hurt by painfully cliched characters and dialogue. For example, a SEAL named Bruno Puglisi is described as coming "from a mob family," and his dialogue further reinforces the unimaginative stereotype. The overall structure of the book is awkward; informational passages are clumsily incorporated into the story. There is also a ridiculous romantic subplot that seems absurdly out of place and includes such unforgivable lines as "'He's so handsome! So Brad Pitt!'" At times it almost feels like Terral is purposely trying to write an over-the-top parody of military fiction.

Readers may be offended by the author's frequent use of the slur "raghead" to describe Afghan characters. It's one thing for a character to use it, but the third person narrative voice also uses the slur a number of times. The overall portrayal of the Afghan people is very negative--in this story they basically are either corrupt, greedy exploiters, foolish religious fanatics, or pathetic, passive victims of abuse. Still, Terral's Afghan villains and their henchmen are much more interesting and entertaining than his ridiculous cardboard SEALs. Although Terral's "SEALS" can be fun at times, the book left a foul aftertaste. The book's back cover promises that it is just the first in an "explosive new military action series."


Seals the Warrior Breed: Enduring Freedom
Seals the Warrior Breed: Enduring Freedom
by H. Jay Riker
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: $7.19
98 used & new from $0.01

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A solid post-9/11 military adventure with more substance than you might expect, March 17, 2006
"Enduring Freedom," by H. Jay Riker, is the story of a team of Navy SEALs whose duty takes them on a mission to Afghanistan after the 9/11 terrorist attack against the United States. The book's title references Operation Enduring Freedom, the military campaign against the Taliban regime and the Al Qaeda terrorist organization. In an afterword dated Spring 2005, the author states, "This is a work of fiction, based on real-world events." A blurb on the back cover notes that this novel is book ten in the "SEALs The Warrior Breed" series; the preceding volumes are listed inside the front cover, and include such titles as "Medal of Honor" and "Silver Star." "Enduring Freedom" opens with a prologue dated September 11, 2001; the rest of the sections of the narrative are also dated, and span from December 27, 2001 to January 1, 2002.

Riker is a good storyteller; although this novel is substantial in size at 426 pages, it is a fast and entertaining read. The book does have its flaws. At times the narration and dialogue struck me as being corny or cliched. Also, a debate between two characters on the purpose of the war in Afghanistan is poorly developed by the author. But overall I was impressed at how Riker intelligently incorporated some important themes into the adventure narrative. Particularly interesting is the theme of SEALs dealing with issues of cross-cultural insight as they operate in foreign environments; Riker's SEALs are challenged to use their intellect and diplomatic skill in addition to their muscles and prowess with weapons. Also significant is the book's critique of the "Rumsfeld Doctrine" of warfare. Riker also explores the mechanics by which different organizations--SEALs, the CIA, anti-Taliban Afghans, etc.--work together in combat operations. And while the book presents an overall positive image of the U.S. military, Riker also touches on the potential moral ambiguities of the Afghanistan campaign.

The book covers action not just in Afghanistan, but also in other locales, and at times has an entertaining sort of "James Bond" flavor. There is plenty of explosive combat action. I liked how Riker incorporated real-world events and people into the story--U.S. President George Bush even becomes a "character" in the book via his televised addresses to the nation in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Also worthy of note is the detailed attention Riker pays to the hardware used by his SEALs for combat, communication, and intel gathering--it's a feast for fans of technical talk. But who is H. Jay Riker? I believe the answer lies in the anthology "Future Wars," edited by Martin H. Greenberg and Larry Segriff (DAW Books, 2003). One of the anthology's contributors is William H. Keith, Jr., and a short paragraph notes of Keith, "Writing under the pseudonym of H. Jay Riker, he's responsible for the extremely popular _SEALS: The Warrior Breed_ series."


Gentleman Soldier: John Clifford Brown and the Philippine-American War (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series)
Gentleman Soldier: John Clifford Brown and the Philippine-American War (Williams-Ford Texas A&M University Military History Series)
by John Clifford Brown
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $29.23
34 used & new from $4.83

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A richly detailed account of military life at the end of the 19th century, March 10, 2006
"Gentleman Soldier: John Clifford Brown & the Philippine-American War," edited by Jospeh P. McCallus, is part of the Texas A&M University Military History Series. The heart of this book is made of the letters and journal entries of Brown, an American soldier and veteran of the U.S. campaign in the Philippines. Brown's wartime writings were previously published in 1901 with the title "Diary of a Soldier in the Philippines"; McCallus notes that "Gentleman Soldier" contains the complete, unabridged text from that earlier book.

Brown's text is richly supplemented with additional material: a thorough general introduction by McCallus (pages 3-55), the introduction to the 1901 text, endnotes, a list of works cited, and an index. The visual appeal of the book is enhanced by a generous selection of photographs, as well as by maps. McCallus divides Brown's text up into five chapters and provides a separate introduction to each chapter. The sixth chapter is drawn from an unpublished 1951 manuscript written by Brown's sister; McCallus provides a separate introduction to this chapter. Brown's own dated entries run from June 1899 to August 1900.

In the intro McCallus gives some background on Brown. Born in Portland, Maine in 1872, Brown was a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and served as a captain in the volunteer Army. He then enlisted as a private in the regular Army's Corps of Engineers, and served as a combat zone cartographer in the Philippines. Brown's writings, which document his wartime service as an enlisted soldier, constitute a rich and fascinating human document. He covers many topics: his work as a cartographer, the activities of the Philippine insurgents, soldiers' recreation activities, the differences between regular and volunteer military forces, and the memorable milestones of his own military career. Particularly interesting is his detailed account of the food that he and other soldiers ate; at one point he even includes a complete week's worth of menus for all three daily meals.

Brown also offers some opinions of African-American troops and on the people of the Philippines; his words definitely have an uncensored, "politically incorrect" flavor that may shock some contemporary readers. He is a skilled writer and crafts some really vivid descriptions of the things he saw and experienced on his wartime odyssey. Comments specifically written for his mother further humanize the text. His writings in general are definitely not a "war-is-hell" or "disgruntled soldier"-type record; Brown seems to have relished his service, at one point declaring, "I think I am happier in the ranks than I will ever be anywhere else." He comes off in his own words as a likeable, observant, and irrepressible character, and his writings are indeed a pleasure to read. McCallus has given Brown's writings a well-crafted and informative frame. In his preface McCallus notes that Brown's record "is certainly one of the most important and compelling primary accounts of America's first war in Asia." For a companion text to this fine volume I recommend "'Surrounded by Dangers of All Kinds': The Mexican War Letters of Lieutenant Theodore Laidley," edited by James M. McCaffrey.


To Afghanistan and Back: A Graphic Travelougue
To Afghanistan and Back: A Graphic Travelougue
by Ted Rall
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $14.36
98 used & new from $0.01

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An angry alternative view of the Afghanistan campaign, March 10, 2006
"To Afghanistan and Back: A Graphic Travelogue," by Ted Rall, is one of the most fascinating texts to emerge from the post-9/11 era of war. The book's dustcover notes that it is an updated edition with new material at the end. Although this book has a copyright date of 2002, its epilogue (pages 111-126) is dated May 3, 2003. The book also contains a brief introduction by political humorist Bill Maher. In the epilogue Rall notes that he went to Afghanistan in November and December 2001 in order to cover the U.S.-led war there for "The Village Voice" and KFI radio. The book is a striking blend of elements: Rall's reports from the war zone, photographs from the war zone, a three-chapter "graphic novella" about Rall's experience as war correspondent, and a generous helping of stand-alone cartoons about the war and post-9/11 America.

A core theme of the book is Rall's claim that the mainstream media fed the public a load of "mindless jingoism" instead of truthful reportage; he describes his Afghan mission as an attempt "to separate propaganda from reality." In the course of the book Rall satirizes mainstream media, the U.S. military, U.S. foreign policy, and the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance. His view of the U.S. military is particularly scathing. In the graphic novella U.S. military personnel are invisible, distant, but dangerous agents of indiscriminate violence; in the stand-alone cartoons, they are grotesque and destructive parodies. Rall creates a pungent, nightmarish portrait of wartime Afghanistan, and describes in great detail the dangers, discomforts, and frustrations endured by himself and other journalists. War itself is depicted as an ambiguous, messy, and even absurd enterprise.

Rall's passion is evident and admirable, but the book is at times hurt by his arrogant tone. He sometimes sounds a little too convinced about the absolute truth of his own opinions, such as when he declares the Afghan war to be "merely an escalation of genocide," or when he claims that the war "will accomplish exactly nothing." With statements like those Rall strikes me as being as narrow of vision as some of the folks that he mocks elsewhere. Still, this is a bracing and thought-provoking book; Rall skillfully and effectively blends text, photography, and comic art into a compelling whole. I highly recommend "To Afghanistan" for all those with a serious interest in the Afghanistan campaign; as a military veteran of that campaign, I greatly appreciate Rall's work.


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