Sunday, May 10, 2015

Non- Fiction Throw Down

In recent weeks there has been a huge number of top notch non-fiction reads that truly demand your attention. Here is a quick throw down of some of the best.

Ashley’s War – Gayle Tzemach Lemmon – (Harper)

Women in combat has been a debate that has seesawed back and forth for decades. Women have always been involved on the fringes of combat, often limited to support roles that rub up against all out battle.  Ashley’s War by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon is so much about tat debate as it is about the cultural and societal role women in the military can play during times of battle.

The tried and true methods and techniques of war have been up against a new learning curve when it comes to the War on Terror and the fronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. The former Soviet Union learned the hard way that straight on battle would not get the job done. U.S. forces have learned to adapt to situations and taken on field strategies in new directions. While technology has played a role, military thinkers have also made smart choices in utilizing the more quickly adaptable Special Forces to fight and win battle.

In Ashley’s War, Lemmon details the role that women played in working alongside special forces operators to help break down cultural barriers within the tribes and opposing forces in Afghanistan. While it starts out with personnel histories of some of those women and comes off like a bit of a screed, when seemingly every one of the women had been alleged to be victims of some form of sexual assault, Lemmon moves on to detail how the process got started and the role these brave women played.

Operation Nemesis – Eric Bogosian (Little Brown)

Gotta tell you…this is not what I would have expected from actor, comedian, playwright Eric Bogosian. With a historian’s skill and a storyteller’s flourish, Bogosian details the story of a dedicated unit of assassin’s who set out to avenge the genocide of one million Armenians. It is fitting that in the year of the one hundredth anniversary of one of the greatest crimes of the 20th Century, that we look back at this story.

Bogosian weaves the story of this unlikely band of brothers; an accountant, a newspaper editor, and insurance salesman, a diplomat and an engineering student, who dubbed themselves Nemesis and set out seeking retribution for the slaughter. Bogosian’s Armenian roots shine through this richly textured and detailed account. Not exactly a light beach read, but certainly a well crafted tale.

The China Mirage – James Bradley – (Little Brown)

A look at today’s U.S. foreign policy will disclose a muddled mess crafted by often inexperienced and na├»ve leaders. But is this really anything new? While we are living in an age of 24 hour news cycles and citizen journalism, what will history and those who write it have to say about our current foreign policy when we will be able to dig more deeply into what is not currently revealed in the name of news.

Bestselling author James Bradley has served up a tightly drawn portrait of U.S.-China foreign relations dating back to the 19th century and forward into World War II and the Vietnam War; it is a history replete with warts and all that detail the deeply troubled relationship between two super powers. As with his previous endeavors, Flags of Our Fathers and Flyboys, Bradley again manages to reveal hidden truths behind U.S. Military engagements Southeast Asia. It is his undying pursuit of answers and the truth that set Bradley apart from his peers.

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Col. Chris Hadfield (Back Bay/Little Brown)

I feel sad for my kids and a generation of their friends. I grew up in the era of The Right Stuff and NASA’s first forays into manned space flight and missions to the moon. I remember when class work would come to a screeching halt and we would all gather around a television with a scratchy picture and watch the latest Apollo launch from Cape Canaveral or get the latest update from Mission Control has pictures of brilliant men in crisp, short-sleeved, white shirts worked over “modern” control panels to guide the Astronauts from Earth.

I remember the sadness that enveloped me the day of the Challenger disaster and later covering for radio the Columbia shuttle disaster. I also remember the thrill of interviewing Chris Kraft, flight controller, call sign Houston, from Mission Control about his life as a NASA Engineer.

Given the current sorry state of NASA, the suspension of manned space exploration beyond hitching a ride on a Russian craft to the International Space Station; the U.S. space agency has been boiled down to a social and political correctness incubator. Those rare launches are moved from prime to the back pages; now only a Red Bull sponsored daredevil jumping off a space platform to parachute back to Earth gets anyone’s attention.

Thank God for Col. Chris Hadfield and his efforts to revive interest and spark curiosity about NASA and space flight. Hadfield serves up a firsthand perspective as one of the most experienced of the current crop of astronauts. Hadfield’s An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth cements his status as a true NASA rock star. Combined with prolifically viewed YouTube videos and massive Twitter base, he could sigle handedly spark a renewed interest in space flight.

At times An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, takes on a Howard Wolowitz-like quality as Hadfield dishes on the cool stuff he gets to do, but why shouldn’t he?! The guy has logged 4000+ hours in space! That is pretty damn cool!

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