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Sunday, February 27, 2011

"The Black History of the White House," more

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Washington Post Book Reviews
For You
Sunday February 27, 2011
    HARLEM: The Four Hundred Year History from Dutch Village to Capital of Black America
    Jonathan Gill
    ISBN 978-0802119100
    520 pages

    Reviewed by Jonathan Yardley
    In September 1609 the English explorer Henry Hudson, en route -- or so he hoped -- to China in a ship belonging to the Dutch East India Company and called the Half Moon, steered into the river that in time would bear his name. He was attacked by native residents of the northern part of the island they called Manahatta. Blood was shed, and lives were lost, "a foretaste of Harlem's future," Jonathan Gill writes. He continues:
    "The clash of words and worlds, the allure of blood and money, the primacy of violence and fashion, the cohabitation of racial hatred and racial curiosity -- they have always been part of what uptown means. But from its days as a frontier outpost, to the time when it seemed like the navel of the black universe, to the era when it became the official symbol of poverty in America, Harlem has always been more than a tragedy in the making. ... Through it all, Harlem's contending forces of power and protest, intention and improvisation, greed and generosity, and sanctity and suspicion decisively shaped the American character."
    This may seem at first glance the exaggeration of a historian trying to make a case for the importance of his subject, but there is a good deal of truth to it. Though Harlem's strongest claim on history's attention indeed is its long role as the de facto capital of black America, Gill's account of what has occurred there in the four centuries since Hudson's arrival makes plain that there is much more to the story than that. Harlem was settled by the Dutch, who were then displaced by the British, who were themselves dealt a serious blow by George Washington in the Battle of Harlem Heights. In the two centuries that followed, Harlem served as a resort for the wealthy of lower Manhattan, transformed itself from a bucolic community to an urban metropolis, was "one of the largest Jewish communities in the world," and then, early in the 20th century, became the true heart of the African-American population, which it has remained ever since.
    Gill, a historian who has taught at Columbia and is on the faculty of the Manhattan School of Music, has done a stupendous amount of research, some of which might best have been left in his files. Though his "Harlem" certainly is authoritative and exhaustive, in addition to being well-written and perceptive, it also is exhausting and would have gained from being cut by at least 50 pages. Many of the details of Harlem's political life could have been set aside, and some of the portraits of its most notable and familiar figures -- Malcolm X, Bayard Rustin, Marcus Garvey, Father Divine, Langston Hughes, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. et al. -- would have lost nothing by being briefer.
    It seems fair, though, to consider this excessive length as a sign of the author's enthusiasm for his subject. We are in Gill's debt for digging so deeply into Harlem's past, for describing it with no agenda beyond thoroughness and fairness, and for reminding us that there is so much in Harlem to honor and celebrate as well as to deplore and lament. It is one of the most significant neighborhoods in the country, and its contributions -- in social leadership, in literature and the arts -- have been huge and invaluable.
    Except perhaps for the years after the Civil War, when Harlem was "the choicest spot on the island for horse racing, yachting, cricket, sleighing, swimming, and skating or simply glorying in the beautiful vistas and virgin forests that remained," Harlem has never had it easy. In its early years, when the Dutch called it Nieuw Haarlem -- why is a matter of continuing debate -- tensions and conflicts between the settlers and the natives were constant, and savage depredations were committed by both sides. Despite Washington's victory at Harlem Heights, by the end of the Revolution Harlem was "totally unoccupied, abandoned by the Americans and destroyed by the British." As Manhattan began to grow and prosper at its lower and middle ends, Harlem often felt itself a neglected stepchild, or, when attention was paid, felt itself at the mercies of more powerful people and institutions to the south.
    That Harlem was an important Jewish center in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is now often forgotten, yet among those who grew up there were George Gershwin, Lorenz Hart and the Marx Brothers, whose contributions to American culture are incalculably large. But with the arrival of a large black settlement around the turn of the 20th century, Harlem found the identity it has had ever since. It is useful to be reminded, however, that "there had been a significant and continuous uptown black presence, free and enslaved, since the 1630s. Some owned property, practicing their trades in peace and profit, and by 1703 a census of northern Manhattan counted thirty-three black men, thirteen black women, and twenty-six black children." By the 1880s "there was a real estate agent who specialized in houses and apartments for Negroes along Second and Third Avenues below East 125th Street, then Manhattan's second-biggest Negro neighborhood." That, though, was only the beginning:
    "Historians may argue about when the New Negro movement became the Harlem Renaissance, but they all agree that by the end of World War I something new was happening uptown, and it wasn't just Prohibition, which was an economic godsend, at least in the short run. The seeds of political and economic change that Garvey, Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. DuBois, A. Philip Randolph, and so many others had sown were resulting in a cultural harvest that would include the poems of Langston Hughes, the songs of Duke Ellington, the vocal recitals of Paul Robeson, the films of Oscar Micheaux, and the photographs of James Van Der Zee.
    However dire economic conditions might have been in the tenements along the side streets, Harlem was becoming the 'joy spot of America,' according to Billboard magazine."
    This coexistence of creative excitement and grinding poverty has been a constant in Harlem for at least a century -- in Spanish Harlem on the East Side as well as Black Harlem to the north and west -- and it is treated with care by Gill. Even as Ellington played to ecstatic (white) audiences at the Cotton Club, "black Harlem had become a community in crisis, leading the nation in poverty, crime, overcrowding, unemployment, juvenile delinquency, malnutrition, and infant and maternal mortality." All this only got much worse during the Depression, "when Harlem was 'on the verge of starvation,' as a writer for the Federal Writers Project put it." The Depression "turned Harlem into a black ghetto, 80 percent of whose businesses were owned by whites."
    Small wonder that anger and hopelessness were everywhere.
    World War II jump-started New York's economy, and a few benefits trickled uptown to Harlem, but from the Depression to the 1990s times were hard, never more so than during "the fiscal crisis that engulfed New York City in the mid-1970s." It's easy to forgot that period today, with much of Manhattan a mecca for the uber-rich and Harlem enjoying a revival, but for a while back then it seemed as if New York was about to collapse, with Harlem a major contributing factor. If Harlem really does not merely revive but prosper, it will be a miracle in the eyes of many.
    Over its long history, especially its history as capital of black America, Harlem has been both idealized and excoriated.
    Gill does neither. He doesn't wax sentimental about the Harlem Renaissance, and he reports the community's shortcomings without hectoring. His "Harlem" is so long and so clogged with detail that at times it's a bit of a slog, but it's worth the effort.
    Jonathan Yardley can be reached at yardleyj(at symbol)

    Copyright 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

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    City Lights
    ISBN 978-0872865327
    575 pages

    FAMILY OF FREEDOM: Presidents and African Americans in the White HouseKenneth T. Walsh
    ISBN 978-1594518331
    266 pages

    Reviewed by Patricia Sullivan
    On January 20, 2009, nearly two million people crowded into Washington, D.C., to witness and celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama. The television audience in the tens of millions created a collective experience that stretched across the country and around the world. Barely 40 years after legally mandated segregation was abolished, a black man became president of the United States.
    Two new books explore the long, complex relationship between African-Americans and the White House as a way to understand this momentous turning point. They start at the beginning -- when slaves laid the foundation of the new presidential residence in Washington -- and range across a broad, tumultuous stretch of history.
    Clarence Lusane's boldly titled "The Black History of the White House" probes black interactions with the occupants of the White House through the experiences and accounts of slaves, servants, political strategists, entertainers, civil rights leaders and administrative officials. In the process, it recovers a critical and largely neglected dimension of America's past. Lusane, a professor of political science at American University, tells how racial ideas and practices at the highest levels of government continually undermined America's founding principles and how the endurance, resistance and struggles of black women and men sustained the promise of equality, creating the dynamic essential for racial change.
    The book covers three periods: the slavery era; Emancipation to the 1960s; and post-Jim Crow to Obama. Drawing on the stories of a remarkable variety of individuals, it opens with Oney Maria Judge's dramatic escape from the temporary presidential residence in Philadelphia, and George Washington's aggressive effort to capture her. While it is well-known that eight presidents owned slaves while serving in office, this reality has powerful resonance here. Lusane describes the sights and sounds of the slave market that stretched along the Mall in clear view of the Capitol and the White House as late as the early 19th century.
    During the presidency of Abraham Lincoln, African-Americans gained political access to the White House for the first time.
    The relationship between Lincoln and Frederick Douglass offers insight into the evolution of Lincoln's leadership on the nation's most vexing issue. In a notable episode, Lusane describes how the 47-year-old Douglass "literally crashed through two police officers" attempting to bar him from the White House reception following Lincoln's second inaugural ceremony in 1865. He instructed the next layer of guards to tell the president that "Fred Douglass is at the door." Within minutes, the way was cleared. When Lincoln caught a glimpse of the abolitionist leader, he reportedly exclaimed: "Here comes my friend Douglass" and immediately engaged Douglass, anxious to know what he thought of the speech.
    A month later Lincoln was dead, and it would be Andrew Johnson, the great accommodator of the defeated South, who set the tone of presidential racial policies for decades to come, with the brief exception of Ulysses S. Grant. The storm of southern protest that met Booker T. Washington's dinner at the White House with Theodore Roosevelt in 1901, and Roosevelt's frantic pursuit of "damage-control," showed how tightly the line between the races was drawn.
    But even during the most repressive decades of Jim Crow, Lusane reveals how black Americans asserted their citizenship in relationship to the office of the presidency. In 1898, Ida B. Wells led a delegation to the White House to protest the mob murder of the black postmaster of Lake City, S.C., demanding a federal investigation. President McKinley assured them he would look into it; nothing was done. Three years later, a black man, James Benjamin Parker, tackled McKinley's assassin, nearly saving the president's life and risking his own. Parker, who worked as a waiter, explained, "I do say that the life of the head of this country is worth more than an ordinary citizen and I should have caught the bullets in my body rather than the President should get them."
    Lusane's treatment of the era from Franklin Roosevelt's administration through the Kennedy years is cursory. He describes it as a time when the White House became more open to black citizens and to racial concerns, but, with the exception of Harry Truman, suggests that presidential leadership continued to lag. Beyond a few "firsts" -- E. Frederic Morrow's appointment as an executive assistant to President Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy's recruitment of Abraham Bolden as the first black secret service officer assigned to the White House, the most notable expansion of the black presence at the White House appears to be on dinner lists and as featured artists for a variety of state occasions.
    Yet from the 1930s to the 1960s, the White House was the primary focus of intensified black political engagement at the highest level of government. A host of strategists leveraged the growing power of northern black voters and the liberalizing force of New Deal initiatives to gain fuller access to the White House, press for black inclusion in the government, open up the Democratic Party, and lay the groundwork for the civil rights legislation of the mid-'60s. A few prominent examples: Mary McLeod Bethune organized the power of black officials within the Roosevelt Administration and became a major conduit to black voters; the NAACP's Walter White, a fixture in Washington, compelled Harry Truman to establish his famous commission on civil rights; and Louis Martin, a key advisor to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, was largely responsible for the appointment of an unprecedented number of African-Americans to positions in the federal government, mentoring a generation of black political leaders and party operatives. These and other men and women -- in tandem with civil rights protests on the ground -- were critical to the process that made the election of Barack Obama possible.
    The book serves up a compelling account of the retreat from civil rights -- starting with the "southern strategy" of Richard Nixon and peaking with what Lusane calls Ronald Reagan's "anti-black agenda." There were, as the author notes, sharp differences in the racial attitudes and approaches of Republican and Democratic presidents in the closing decades of the 20th century.
    Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, both white Southerners, appointed more African-Americans to federal office than any president before them; five of Clinton's cabinet members were black. Yet Carter and Clinton's policies did little to challenge the direction set by the Republicans. Clinton signed crime and welfare legislation that yielded to a racially charged political environment.
    In an interesting twist, Lusane stretches beyond White House insiders to provide a fascinating series of profiles of a dozen black men and women who have pursued presidential aspirations since the 1960s (starting with Dizzy Gillespie).
    In "Family of Freedom," veteran White House correspondent Kenneth T. Walsh treads a narrow path. Organized chronologically around a succession of presidential administrations, his book provides a spare, uneven catalog of the racial policies and attitudes of individual presidents, paired with a description of the relationship between first families and African-Americans, particularly the black men and women who managed daily life in the White House. Walsh draws on the telling memoirs and recollections of the domestic staff as a window onto the personal behavior of presidents and first ladies. Comments by former presidents on their relationships with African-Americans in the White House are scarce, but revealing. At the end of his term, Lyndon Johnson publicly referred to Preston Bruce, who served five presidents, as "one of the dearest friends I have" and the one person, outside of his immediate family, who "has kept me going." George W. Bush told Walsh that he and Laura Bush felt "very close" to the White House residence staff. "They are family to us," he wrote, "and always will be." But Walsh provides little insight on how the policies of individual presidents and the actions of black people in the public arena informed the "arc of racial history" that, according to the author, culminated with the election of Barack Obama.
    Together these books underscore the cumulative consequences of more than two centuries of slavery and racial segregation as evident in fractured politics, distorted historical memories, and persistent racial divisions and inequities. In matters of race, President Obama, like presidents before him, confronts stubborn realities and constraints. Effective presidential leadership in advancing a racially just and inclusive society will continue to depend on, as it always has, the dedicated efforts of skilled political strategists and organized movements making demands that cannot be ignored.
    The symbolic removal of "whites only" from the White House has been a long time coming. What it "tells the nation and the world," as Clarence Lusane writes, is "that the struggle for equality, inclusion, and freedom has moved a bit further down the road."
    Patricia Sullivan teaches history at the University of South Carolina and is the author of "Lift Every Voice: The NAACP and the Making of the Civil Rights Movement."

    Copyright 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

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    New Books Newsletter
    For You
    Sunday February 27, 2011
    Check out this week's newest featured books from BookDaily! No matter what you're looking for, you'll be able to find it here -- there are thousands of books available, from classics to the hottest releases. Read sample chapters online and by e-mail, and buy your favorites right off the site. Enjoy this week's trivia and quizzes, and happy reading! Featured Books
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    Saturday, February 26, 2011

    "The Longest War" and "Swallow"

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    Washington Post Book Reviews
    For You
    Saturday February 26, 2011
      THE LONGEST WAR: The Enduring Conflict Between America and al-Qaeda
      Peter L. Bergen
      Free Press
      ISBN 978-0743278935
      473 pages

      Reviewed by Jessica Stern
      Is al-Qaeda still a threat to America? In his important history of the war on terrorism, "The Longest War," Peter Bergen aims to reassure his readers that al-Qaeda is significantly weakened. The reason for the diminished threat, he argues, is not that the U.S. government has been clever or effective, but that, fortunately for his enemies, Osama bin Laden has made so many mistakes. Among these are al-Qaeda's habit of killing Muslims and its inability to articulate a positive vision for its followers (or make the kinds of compromises necessary for running a political party). Bergen, a longtime student of terrorism who knows South Asia well, usefully distinguishes bin Laden's tactical skill, which he displayed with the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks, from his strategic failures, which he has displayed since.
      The greatest strength of "The Longest War" is that it provides a detailed history of what has occurred since al-Qaeda first appeared on the terrorist scene. Uniquely, it tells the history from three sides: the Americans involved in prosecuting the war; ordinary Muslims, the vast majority of whom remain unmoved by bin Laden's siren call; and the many terrorists and sympathizers whom Bergen has sought out in the field or whose voluminous writings he expertly synthesizes. "The Longest War" is also a very good read.
      The book begins in the months preceding Sept. 11, 2001, when intelligence about al-Qaeda's plan to attack the United States was accumulating. We've heard the story before -- the intelligence briefings that were ignored, the warnings that went unheeded.
      But Bergen tells the story with passion and with new details about some of the heroic individuals who tried to rouse the Bush administration from its "strangely somnambulant" state. Bergen was one of the rare journalists who understood the significance of al-Qaeda, long before Sept. 11. His frustration with the Bush administration's overconfidence is palpable. The White House had plenty of information and ample warning, Bergen complains. But Bush and his advisers were stuck in a Cold War mindset.
      "They just didn't get it."
      Bergen's account of the battle of Tora Bora, "the most consequential single battle of the war on terrorism," when al-Qaeda was under siege in Afghanistan, is riveting. Here, too, the story is told from all sides. We learn about the frustrations of U.S. intelligence and military personnel, whose plea for a mere 800 additional Army Rangers was rebuffed, followed by al-Qaeda's "great escape" through a back door to Pakistan. We hear details about the rag-tag Afghan militia, whose allegiance to the United States was wobbly at best. Bergen quotes Muhammad Musa, "a laconic, massively built commander" who led 600 Afghan soldiers to the Tora Bora front lines, on the fanatical braveness of al-Qaeda's fighters. "When we captured them, they committed suicide with grenades," Musa recalled. Bergen details the significant blows suffered by the terrorists, even as many of them fled to relative safety in Pakistan. He provides a nuanced picture of America's complex relationship with Pakistan. He also provides new details about the debate leading up to the surge in Iraq, often told from the perspective of the individuals involved.
      Bergen strongly supports a similar surge in Afghanistan. Even readers who disagree with his conclusions will find his arguments compelling. He has spent a lot of time in Afghanistan, and it shows.
      But the book strikes me as somewhat clumsy is in its cavalier approach to the people involved in the "longest war." The actors are portrayed as one-dimensional caricatures -- either heroes or villains. Bergen's fellow journalists and experts are prone to "hyperbolic reporting" of terrorists' attempts to acquire chemical weapons and "hysterical analysis" of Pakistan, which Bergen points out is "not poised for an Islamist takeover similar to what had happened to the Shah's Iran."
      (Never mind that these experts were not predicting an Islamist takeover, but warning about the threatening evolution of Pakistan's jihadi groups.) Bush administration officials are subjected to special ridicule for their ignorance of how the world had changed since the Cold War.
      Bergen's tone suggests a comedy of errors, but there is tragedy here, too. In the early years of the war on terror, I also criticized these same officials for their inability to recognize that the world had changed and that non-state actors now represented the most significant threat to U.S. national security. But in "The Longest War," Bergen aims to take a longer view. It seems to me that the more interesting lesson, 10 years after the Sept. 11 attacks, is not the naivete of these particular officials, but how difficult it is for all of us to adjust to the ever-increasing pace of change in the nature of warfare.
      Yes, the intelligence was available, and yes, these officials were repeatedly warned. But surprise attacks do not arise from too little information too late, but from too much information, too soon.
      What Bergen seems to be missing is the role of fear. When you are responsible for protecting the lives of others, especially defenseless civilians, fear takes on a new dimension, sometimes leading to heroism, but often leading to errors of judgment.
      This is not the first time that a frightening national humiliation, of the kind America suffered on Sept. 11, provoked self-defeating over-reaction and aggression. Journalists have the luxury of standing apart, observing the fear of others and watching them flail or fail. These lessons, which Bergen fails to draw from the comprehensive history he has laid out for us, are nonetheless more important, it seems to me, than the failings of the individuals he lampoons. Bergen would have benefited from a more nuanced appreciation of the challenges faced by those on the front lines, charged with waging war against a new kind of enemy, whose principal weapon is not bombs or rockets, but fear.
      Jessica Stern is a member of the Hoover Institution's Task Force on National Security and Law and the author of "Denial: A Memoir of Terror."

      Copyright 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

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      SWALLOW: Foreign Bodies, Their Ingestion, Inspiration, and the Curious Doctor Who Extracted Them
      Mary Cappello
      New Press
      ISBN 978-1595583956
      292 pages

      Reviewed by T. Rees Shapiro
      A 7-year-old girl has been unable to drink liquids for a week after she burned her throat by swallowing lye. Gently working his forceps, Dr. Chevalier Jackson, a pioneer in the field of laryngology, removes a chunk of scar tissue blocking the girl's esophagus. When a nurse hands the girl a glass of water, she takes a drink. "It went slowly down; she took another sip, and it went down," Jackson wrote about the case. "Then she gently moved aside the glass of water in the nurse's hand, took hold of my hand, and kissed it."
      In "Swallow," Mary Cappello retells the forgotten story of Jackson, who was once one of the country's most popular and respected physicians. Today, many of the items he removed from people's insides are filed away in a metal cabinet at the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia: safety pins, needles, nails, a crucifix with several rosary beads still attached, chicken bones, a half-dollar dated 1892, a bullet and a pin that ironically reads "B-A-2-Way Looker Says Care Fu Lee."
      Perfectly ambidextrous, Jackson removed most of the items nonsurgically, using bronchoscopes and esophagoscopes he helped design. He rarely used anaesthesia and almost never took a fee for his services. For many of his patients, he was the last resort. One man traveled 9,000 miles to have Jackson remove a nail from his lung. Some objects had been lodged in patients' throats for minutes, while others had been stuck for more than 40 years. The problem, as the doctor saw it, was a complete disregard for caution. He once wrote that Americans should "chew" their milk and suggested that "one should drive a motor car on the principle that every other driver on the highway is deaf, dumb, drunk or demented."
      Cappello's book is a warm and thoroughly researched portrait of Jackson, who died in 1958 at age 93. As a physician, he was obsessed with precision. Unfortunately, a reader may sense that Cappello lacks that same quality as a writer. Attempting to digest the material in her book, one could choke on some of the words and usages she has stuffed into the pages. (One sentence begins, "His purchase on the impossible borderlands of foreign-body lodgment is always a hermeneutic one. ...") Nuggets such as the story of the girl who kissed the doctor's hand in gratitude must be extracted from the author's prose as if with forceps.
      T. Rees Shapiro can be reached at shapirot(at symbol)

      Copyright 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

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      Washington Post Book Reviews
      For You
      Friday February 25, 2011
        Keigo Higashino
        Translated from the Japanese by Alexander O
        ISBN 978-0312375065
        298 pages

        Reviewed by Patrick Anderson, who regularly reviews mysteries for The Washington Post Book World
        Early crime fiction often invited the reader to match wits with the writer. Edgar Allan Poe invented the detective genre with his 1841 story "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," in which his hero deduces how two women were brutally slain in a fourth-floor room in which the windows and doors were locked from the inside. One of the first Sherlock Holmes stories, "The Sign of the Four," also features a locked-room mystery. Agatha Christie wrote dozens of ingenious puzzles, as did her many imitators. The genre ran into problems as plots evolved from ingenious to preposterous. By 1930, the "puzzle mystery" had begun to lose favor in America, thanks to the popularity of the pulp crime magazines and the novels of Dashiell Hammett, which in turn gave rise to the modern thriller, with its focus less on intellectual games than on violence and social realism.
        The puzzle genre never disappeared, however, and Keigo Higashino's "The Devotion of Suspect X" -- a best-seller in Japan and the basis of a popular movie there -- is a modern example of the games a clever writer can play with his readers. At the outset, we meet Ishigami, a stout, reclusive high-school math teacher who, we are told, is a genius. He lives in an apartment building outside Tokyo and has a crush on Yasuko, an attractive woman who lives next door with her teenage daughter. Ishigami, too shy to speak to Yasuko otherwise, each day goes to the carry-out shop where she works to order his lunch from her.
        One night, Yasuko's no-good ex-husband turns up at her apartment, forces his way in, taunts his ex-wife and makes suggestive comments to his ex-stepdaughter. The girl, furious, hits the man over the head with a vase. He hits her back and shouts that he'll kill her. A violent, three-way struggle ends with the man dead. At that point, the mother fears she's destined to go to prison for murder. This reader thought that, with a good lawyer, she'd claim self-defense and go free -- but that way there's no novel.
        Instead, Ishigami, the brainy math teacher, appears from next door -- he's heard the melee -- and takes charge. He assures Yasuko that if she and her daughter will do as he says, he will dispose of the body, construct an airtight alibi for them and, in effect, direct the perfect crime. The women agree and promise to tell the police a story about spending the evening at a movie and a karaoke bar. "Trust me," the mathematical genius assures the terrified women. "Logical thinking will get us through this."
        We meet Kusanagi, the detective in charge of the case, while he is playing chess with his friend Yukawa, a professor of physics at Imperial University and also a genius. This is, of course, significant, because we are soon to see a kind of chess game between Ishigami, the math teacher, and Yukawa, the physics professor, who were in fact once students together. In other words, we have here an intellectual battle between one genius who thinks he can carry off the perfect crime and another who thinks he can use logic to solve any crime.
        At one point, the scientist warns the detective: "A common criminal wouldn't think to put ticket stubs procured for an alibi in such a credible place. If we assume that the tickets really were bought to establish an alibi, that she put them in the pamphlet expecting you to come and ask her for them, I'd say that makes her an adversary to be feared." He might as well have added, "Elementary, my dear Watson."
        In the end, we learn which genius prevails. That cannot be revealed here, but I can say that I found the ending unsatisfactory. Back in 1928, when the puzzle novel was falling out of favor, S. S. Van Dine, author of the Philo Vance mysteries, wrote an article called "Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories." He argued that since the detective story is "a kind of intellectual game," self-respecting writers must follow certain unwritten rules. One was that the reader should have the same opportunity as the detective to solve the crime. Higashino has ignored that basic rule with an ending that introduces facts the reader had no way of knowing. The ending might strike some readers as ingenious, but I found it simply unfair, a cheat. This puzzle mostly just made my head ache.

        Copyright 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

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        KNOWN AND UNKNOWN: A Memoir
        Donald Rumsfeld
        ISBN 978-1595230676
        815 pages

        Reviewed by Gwen Ifill, moderator of "Washington Week" and senior correspondent for "PBS NewsHour"
        By definition, memoirists get to tell their stories the way they remember them. The retellings can be gentle or scorching, illuminating or concealing.
        Donald Rumsfeld has chosen all of the above in "Known and Unknown," a hefty and heavily annotated accounting and defense of his life in public service.
        "Never much of a handwringer, I don't spend a lot of time in recriminations, looking back or second-guessing decisions made in real time with imperfect information by myself or others," he writes.
        But hand-wring he does, in repeated blasts of Rumsfeldian score-settling that come off as a cross between setting the record straight and doggedly knocking enemies off pedestals.
        There is, indeed a lot about Rumsfeld himself that is known and unknown. Who recalls now that he was considered (and passed over) for vice president three times in three years? Who knew that he was inspired to public service by a liberal Democrat, Adlai Stevenson, and wrote a campaign check to New Jersey Democrat Bill Bradley when he ran for president in 2000? That he, Dick Cheney and Frank Carlucci -- all future secretaries of defense -- ran Richard Nixon's anti-poverty agency in 1969?
        The book is full of little nuggets like that, but at its heart, it is a revenge memoir.
        Most readers who came to know of Rumsfeld during the last stage of his remarkable career as secretary of defense for George W. Bush will not be surprised at the tone that runs through much of the book. Rumsfeld, according to Rumsfeld, was prescient, clearheaded, loyal and almost always right.
        But he is also acerbic, dismissive and reluctant to admit that he occasionally missed the policy mark. As a member of Congress in 1964, for example, he concedes he should have thought twice before voting for the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. Later in the volume, he skates over one of the reasons he was essentially fired as defense secretary in 2006: He did not agree that more troops were needed in Iraq.
        Mostly, Rumsfeld is certain -- never more so than when he is chronicling the deficiencies of others. His list of disdain runs long -- from former secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Colin Powell, to Coalition Provisional Authority chief Paul Bremer ("It remained difficult to get him to accept the idea that Iraq belonged to the Iraqis"), to former Army secretary Eric Shinseki, to former Joint Chiefs chairman Hugh Shelton, Powell aide Richard Armitage, Sen. John McCain and, of course, the news media.
        The most consistent censure is reserved for Powell, Rice and anyone who operated in their diplomatic orbit. Powell and his supporters, he writes, were skeptical of the administration's initiatives to the point of disloyalty. Apparently, it did not help that Democrats like then-Delaware Sen. Joe Biden described Powell to a newspaper reporter as a "good guy," but Rumsfeld as a "unilateralist."
        Rumsfeld is especially piqued about what he saw as Powell's behavior after the case he made to the United Nations about the existence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq later proved untrue.
        "Powell was not duped or misled by anybody," Rumsfeld asserts sternly. "Nor did he lie about Saddam's suspected WMD stockpiles. The President did not lie. The Vice President did not lie. Tenet did not lie. Rice did not lie. I did not lie. The Congress did not lie. The far less dramatic truth is that we were wrong."
        Rice, by contrast, was exceedingly loyal in Rumsfeld's estimation; she just wasn't competent -- as either national security adviser or secretary of state. Meetings, he said, were disorganized, and she refused to force a decision from the president. "The core problems the NSC faced resulted from the effort to paper over differences of views," he writes.
        Rumsfeld recounts more than one tense confrontation with Rice and traces much of his discontent to her. "I don't want four hands on the steering wheel," he advised Bremer, who he discovered was talking daily to Rice.
        "Human rights trump security," he quotes her as saying during a separate disagreement about U.S. relations with Uzbekistan. Rumsfeld begged to differ, but lost the argument.
        There are other digs along the way. Rumsfeld apparently does not think as highly of President George H.W. Bush as he does of his son. ("It has always amazed me that (George H.W.) Bush's version of what took place has consistently been contrary to the facts," he writes of one Ford administration-era dispute.)
        Rumsfeld has careful and consistent praise for only a few -- chief among them George W. Bush, Gerald Ford and Richard B. Cheney.
        The long friendship with Cheney -- which began when both were very young men -- has endured even though it was often the former vice president who delivered bad news. It was Cheney on the line when Rumsfeld learned he was being passed over for the 1976 vice presidential nomination, and it was Cheney calling again 20 years later, when Rumsfeld was forced out as secretary of defense.
        Rumsfeld's major regret appears to be the handling of the Abu Ghraib scandal, when photographs surfaced showing U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqis held at the notorious Baghdad prison. Twice, he offered to resign. Twice, Bush said no. Rumsfeld writes that not leaving then was his biggest "misjudgment."
        Throughout the book, which is organized a bit like a hopscotch game, Rumsfeld is intent on proving the Bush administration's pure intent. In his worldview, the news media and authors who recounted Bush's term in office have distorted almost everything -- including the timing of the decision to go to war in Iraq after the 9/11 attacks; the responsibility for holding, interrogating and prosecuting detainees in Guantanamo Bay; and even the handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
        History is determined by who gets to define it. So Rumsfeld patiently explains that the Bush administration did not practice "pre-emption," only "anticipatory self-defense." He provides hundreds of his own memos -- archived on the web -- to back up his case. They may be exhaustive, but they are still Rumsfeld's interpretation of the world as he saw it. By the time every Bush administration veteran finishes defining and redefining history, surely someone is going to have to come up with a brand new dictionary.

        Copyright 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

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        MONEYMAKERS: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters
        Ben Tarnoff
        ISBN 978-1594202872
        351 pages

        Reviewed by Carolyn See, who reviews books regularly for The Washington Post
        Books, as we know, make perfect presents, but sometimes our friends and family aren't as perfect as the books are. Relatives tend to be unnervingly idiosyncratic, and they often like our carefully chosen titles about as much as they like broccoli.
        But "Moneymakers" has to be the exception that proves the rule. This tale of counterfeiting is a treat for everyone. If you want to be prepared for any occasion, start by ordering up half a dozen copies to hand out to your inarticulate brother-in-law, that uncle who spends too much time in the garage, any hardworking office slave or an adolescent who daydreams about making a living without having to do any work.
        "Moneymakers" is about American counterfeiters from pre-Revolutionary times up through the troubled days of the Civil War. Although that particular line of criminal enterprise is difficult for the average person to take up in these complicated contemporary times, in olden days it was comparatively easy.
        The author, Ben Tarnoff, gives us a delightful history lesson in American financial customs, and he follows the lives of three highly successful counterfeiters. But unexpectedly, the book also conjures up fantasies of the past, of glamorous bandits who were feared by the rich and admired by the poor.
        Counterfeiters in the old days (and this digression in the review mirrors a digression in the book) were like the outlaws in Tom Sawyer's boyish daydreams. The first two-thirds of "Moneymakers" is filled with descriptions of lairs, dens and hideouts.
        David Lewis, a successful counterfeiter who worked in the Northeast during the early 1800s, hiked to "a camp in the wilderness, guiding a wagon weighed down by two locked trunks, each about three feet long. ... They reached the clearing where they had built their makeshift home. Around them lay all the necessities of frontier life: an ax, a butcher knife, a skillet, a canteen, a coffeepot, and various flasks of liquor. A nearby stream supplied the site with fresh water. Their hut consisted of a frame of saplings covered with a mat of branches." Indeed, a scene straight out of "Tom Sawyer."
        Lewis and his cronies knew that it was easiest and safest to make money somewhere out of the city, away from neighbors' eyes. They cranked out currency from simple engraved plates, hung the money out to dry in the fresh air and took great pleasure in passing bills to people who may or may not have known the currency was fake.
        Certainly, other counterfeiters must have toiled in obscurity and been plagued by boredom, but Lewis knew how to live. He was the subject of crazy poems written in contemporary newspapers: "I laugh in my sleeve, whilst I bid you adieu --/Farewell to your prison and Chambersburg too." And other outlaws remembered him fondly: "We had a number of little parties at the tavern," a barkeeper said, "and had great times. A number of the mountain ladies would come, and some of the men, and we would every now and then have a dance." Their life of crime, in retrospect, seems pure and wholesome, an innocent lark. Still, these men were robbing the government.
        Tarnoff elegantly profiles two counterfeiters besides Lewis: Owen Sullivan, an obnoxious Irish drunk who got busy with some engraved plates around 1749 and made a fortune before he got caught; and Samuel Upham, a mild-mannered shopkeeper who may have thought of himself as a patriot by selling counterfeit Confederate bills (bearing his name and address!) that were used by Union soldiers to buy goods. The treasury of the Confederate States of America was deluged under a flood of such funny money.
        There are two parts to this admirable and altogether charming book: a short, understandable history of American banking and finance over a period of a couple of hundred years and the profiles of those darling lawbreakers. All seemed to have had a wonderful time. I'd read "Moneymakers" again and again before handing it to my brother and uncle for their information and amusement.

        Copyright 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

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        Andrew Taylor
        ISBN 978-1401302870
        412 pages

        Reviewed by Wendy Smith, a contributing editor of the American Scholar, reviews books frequently for The Washington Post
        Andrew Taylor's brooding thriller opens with two tantalizing vignettes. First, a distraught, unnamed woman flees through the dark streets of Cambridge, England, fumbling for the key to a garden refuge. Then the scene shifts to a blasphemous "Last Supper" on the evening of Feb. 16, 1786, at which drunken members of the Holy Ghost Club welcome a fledgling "Apostle," who eagerly awaits his initiation rite: the deflowering of a virgin. But unfortunately, the virgin chokes to death on a nut before they can begin. "I suppose he would not take the girl like that?" wonders Mrs. Phear, hostess to the Apostles' revels. He's not that drunk, replies Philip Whichcote, the club's president. As they ponder their options in a secluded room with the corpse, the new recruit, Frank Oldershaw, stumbles in, demanding, "Where have you hidden my sweet little virgin?"
        With the deftness of a veteran storyteller (he's the author of dozens of crime novels), Taylor swiftly establishes a setting of corrupt privilege. Oldershaw, like most of the Apostles, is a wealthy student in Jerusalem College at Cambridge University. Whichcote, his university days behind him but too gentlemanly to actually work, makes a precarious living fleecing the Apostles at cards and providing the louche entertainments they consider their due as English aristocrats.
        Whichcote is under considerable pressure in the wake of the club's fatal supper. The virgin's dead body is spirited away without incident, but his wife, Sylvia, is discovered drowned in Jerusalem's Long Pond the next morning. (She was, we realize, the woman fleeing in the opening pages.)
        Into this fraught situation arrives John Holdsworth, a widower more mournful and guilt-ridden than the ice-cold Whichcote. Oldershaw suffered a nervous breakdown after the aborted initiation ceremony, and his mother, Lady Anne, has hired Holdsworth to find out why. Lady Anne knows nothing about the Apostles and attributes her son's collapse to his belief that he has seen the ghost of Sylvia Whichcote. It turns out she's read "The Anatomy of Ghosts," a tract Holdsworth wrote to debunk the claims of spiritualism, and she hopes he can convince her anxious son that the apparition was a delusion.
        The plot gears clank loudly in this setup, and it occasionally seems that Taylor must justify his title by having practically everyone in the novel haunted by otherworldly presences. The story's not-terribly-compelling metaphysical undercurrents are far less interesting than the large cast of vigorously imagined period characters.
        Holdsworth delves into the questions of what happened to the virgin's corpse, how Sylvia Whichcote ended up in Long Pond, and what drove Frank Oldershaw crazy -- if he really is crazy. These questions prove to be related, of course, but once we're past the contrived setup, Taylor makes plausible the intricate interconnections that unravel to expose a diseased society and some very nasty people.
        Although the Holy Ghost Club is fictional, in calling its members "Apostles," Taylor surely intends readers to recall the real-life Cambridge society of that name, whose 20th-century members included several Soviet spies who escaped detection for years due to the British establishment's inclination to protect its own. The elite was more entrenched in the oppressive 18th-century world that Taylor evokes so atmospherically; all Holdsworth can do with the killer is to promise spectral visitations from the victim -- not much retribution from someone who has declared he doesn't believe in ghosts. And not much consolation for readers who like their endings tidy and comforting. Those made of sterner stuff will relish Taylor's dark and gripping tale.

        Copyright 2011 Washington Post Writers Group

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