Washington's "magical thinking" reliably leads the U.S. into catastrophe, argues this unsparing indictment of American foreign policy. Georgetown foreign relations professor Leebaert (To Dare and to Conquer) analyzes the follies and failures of "emergency men," the political appointees, intellectuals, and policy entrepreneurs of the national security establishment, from the Best and Brightest architects of the Vietnam debacle to the neo-con masterminds of the Iraq War. He traces their misadventures to deep-rooted, delusional mental habits: an infatuation with vigor and boldness; an overconfidence in miracle technologies, managerial techniques, and far-fetched historical analogies; a near-total ignorance of foreign cultures coupled with a certainty that they can be fine-tuned to specification. Leebaert combines trenchant analyses of geo-strategic blunders--from military disasters in the Korean War to the morally disastrous use of torture in the fight against terrorism--with acid-etched profiles of the leaders who committed them. (His portrait of Henry Kissinger as a publicity hound who "excelled at putting an intellectual twist on bad ideas" is especially vicious.) Written in a lively, pungent prose that's full of sharp-eyed insights, Leebaert's stinging critique of American hubris and wishful thinking is a must-read for concerned citizens and policy-makers alike. (Sept. 7)
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"She was an inveterate letter-writer," Norwich (Absolute Monarchs: The History of Papacy) declares in the introduction to his intriguing but uneven collection of letters from his mother, Lady Diana Cooper. She was born to a duke, and became a socialite, a great beauty, a movie actress, ambassador's wife, and doting mother. Cooper led an extraordinary life by any standard, and her letters give readers entrée to a rarified world. This sampling of correspondence covers crucial years during which Cooper's husband served as minister of information during WWII, as well as Cooper's life in Paris as an ambassador's wife, and her eventual retirement to the French countryside. Her letters are open and honest, even when writing to her son when he was still a child, and peppered with references to her famed acquaintances, including Winston Churchill, Laurence Olivier and Janet Leigh, and Nancy Mitford. The book is most engaging in the first half, as Cooper describes London during the Blitz and her adventures running a small farm. With plenty of room devoted to mundane details like the weather or illness, the volume is admirably annotated, though readers may struggle to keep track of all the names cited, and yearn for more context. Nevertheless, Cooper is always quick with a turn of phrase, and the collection reminds us of a time, not so long ago, when letters were a natural part of life. 45 b&w photos in 16-page insert. (Aug.)
At the outset of this atmospheric, if overly long and sometimes ponderous mystery set in 1899 from British author Appignanesi (Sanctuary), widowed professor of law James Norton leaves his Boston home for Paris, intending to untangle his journalist brother, Rafael, from Olympe Fabre, an actress. On arrival, he finds Paris battling over the aftermath of the Dreyfus case; his sister, Ellie, sinking into mysterious invalidism; and Olympe missing. Soon, Olympe turns up dead. With Raf under suspicion, James feels compelled to investigate. Several other women have died in similar circumstances; are the deaths suicides, crimes of passion, or displays of anti-Semitism? As he questions Olympe's father, benefactress, and former admirers, James heals from his own losses, but not before uncovering secrets that change his family forever. Appignanesi's knowledge of the politics and culture of the era shines. Scenes set in the Salpêtrière Hospital, where Olympe's mentally ill sister is confined, are especially vivid. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Associates (U.K.). (Jan.)
Since at least the 18th-century, Western culture has consigned art and science to separate realms, seldom exploring their intersections and using each as discrete explanations of reality. Yet, as historian and philosopher of science Miller so deftly demonstrates in this survey of what he calls "artsci," both artists and scientists—since at least Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon—have probed the porous border between art and science, creating aesthetic objects that incorporate scientific ideas—such as Suzanne Anker's Zoosemiotics, "tiny chromosomal sculptures laid out in identical pairs"—or engaging in the type of process-driven "interdisciplinarity" found at the MIT Media Lab. Miller eloquently chronicles the story of artsci in brief vignettes of the lives and works of the individuals working at the intersections of these disciplines. For example, "semi-living sculptures" like the Pig Wings of Australian husband-and-wife team Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr took shape while reflecting on pigs actually flying. They used "stem cells from a pig's bone marrow" to create a sculpture from living tissue that "provide a platform to study ethical issues around life." Through these works and many others, Miller declares confidently that art and science will merge into a long-overdue third culture, opening the door to the "next, as yet unimaginable, avant-garde." Illus. (June)
Don Tillman is a scientist. He thinks logically and approaches the world in a similar manner. Hence, when he needs to find a wife, he creates a long and involved questionnaire to winnow out unsuitable choices. (His requirements: nonsmoker, body mass index under 26, punctual, mathematically literate, a meat eater, and so on.) The 16-page, double-sided, scientifically valid document, he believes, offers his best chance of finding the perfect partner. That is, until he meets the fiery and intelligent Rosie Jarman. Rosie, who doesn't meet any of his requirements, is trying to track down her biological father, and she needs Don's expertise in genetics to do it. The two pursue their quests in tandem, but gradually, as their relationship deepens, their missions converge. VERDICT Readers will root for Don and Rosie throughout Simsion's delightful romantic comedy. Fans of the TV show The Big Bang Theory will see shades of Sheldon and Penny in these characters. [See Prepub Alert, 4/29/13; this title was also touted at the fifth annual BEA Librarians Shout and Share panel.—Ed.]—Robin Nesbitt, Columbus Metropolitan Lib., OH