Wednesday, November 12, 2014

New Books! Sarah Thornton on Art, Bush II on Bush I, Tracy Borman and Others on Cromwell, Brandon Garrett on Corporate Culpability, Harold Holzer on Lincoln (Again), and Karen Armstrong on Religious History (Again).

I was very excited about the release of 33 Artists in 3 Acts (Norton), the new book by Sarah Thornton, author of Seven Days in the Art World. I even found a few partners to put something together, but in the end, the competition was too great to host. If you live near Los Angeles, Washington DC, Brooklyn, or Detroit, you might want to visit this site for more information about the tail end of her tour. For the rest of us, Thornton, formerly an art critic for The Economist, shows us how an artist works in today's world. Alas, MiChelle Jones in the Dallas Morning News finds the profiles banal. Ouch.

Speaking of numbers, yesterday was the release date for 41: A Portrait of My Father (Crown), by George W. Bush. Following his presidential memoir, Decision Points, George W. Bush has penned a portrait of his father, the first father-son presidential legacy since John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Dana Perino on Fox News writes: "Throughout the book, there is a theme of prioritization — faith, family, country and hard work - and in that order, always. These are the lenses through which 41 lived his life, and what he taught his children. What are we here for if not to respond to God’s calling and accept His grace; to build, support and enjoy our families; to serve our country or give back to it in some way; and to do our part to leave a mark on the world - to say, I was here, and I contributed? Throughout the book, I was constantly reminded that if you have your priorities straight, things fall into place."

It's been out for a bit, but I've been remiss in talking up Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant (Atlantic Monthly), by Tracy Borman, author of five previous histories and currently chief executive of the Heritage Education Trust. Alison Weir's cover rec: "An exceptional and compelling biography about one of the Tudor age's most complex and controversial figures." Folks reading Hilary Mantel's novels probably want to know more about this figure; Suzannah Lipscomb in the New Republic points out there are no less than four recent biographies. She writes: "Borman writes admirably; her prose trips along merrily and is full of intriguing titbits."

Moving to more contemporary matters, Brandon L. Garrett looks at why corporations are not held accountable when criminal charges are brought to them in Too Big to Jail: How Prescutors Compromise with Corporations (Belknap). "Presenting detailed data from more than a decade of federal cases, Brandon Garrett reveals a pattern of negotiation and settlement  in which prosecutors demand admissions of wrongdoing, impose penalties, and require structural reforms." Alas, the reforms are vaguely defined, most companies pay no fine, and payments are often reduced, plus high-level employees usually face no punishment. Some might say it's almost funny, like Kyrie O'Connor in a recent "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell me."

One can always count on Harold Holzer to write a good Abraham Lincoln book and his newest is Lincoln and The Power of the Press: The War for Public Opinion (Simon and Schuster) Did you jnow that at one point, Lincoln "authorized the most widespread censorship in the nation's history, closing down papers that were disloyal, even jailing or exiling editors who opposed enlistment or sympathized with secession."?  David C. Reynolds in The New York Times Book Review offers: "Full of fresh information and superb analysis, Holzer’s engaging, deeply researched book is destined to be recognized as a classic account of Civil War-era journalism and the president who both swayed it and came under its sway."

And finally there is Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence (Knopf), from Karen Armstrong, the religious scholar who keeps coming up with insightful topics, this time about the connection between religion and violence. Interesting enough, a caller on Wisconsin Public Radio recently noted this correlation, but Armstrong's premise is that while these wars might look religious in nature, when you really get to the heart of the conflict, it is usually politics at the core. From Graydon Royce in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: "Armstrong freely criticizes reactionary and violent movements that distort faith traditions. Yet, eliminating religion from the ideological pantheon would not dissolve aggression, she said. The wars of the 20th century and the brutality of totalitarian regimes testify to that point." And she also notes that modernity and secularism, as well as nationalism, have become their own religions.

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