A dozen good ones for a midwinter night's read

Monday Book Review

February 03, 1992|By Myron Beckenstein

HERE IS a list of 12 good books one reader found last year. Maybe some will sound appealing. Some are new, some have been around for a while. All should be available at bookstores or libraries.

NONFICTION

President Reagan, the Role of a Lifetime, Lou Cannon. The most overlooked book of 1991. A readable, documented, shocking look at the Reagan presidency by someone who covered Reagan from way back. Not a diatribe but an explanation of what was happening behind all PR machine. Very long (948 pages, with notes, bibliography and index), but relatively quick reading and very worth reading. (Now out in paperback.)

What Did You Do In the War, Daddy?, Sabine Reichel. A probing and sensitive look at how World War II generation Germans deal with the war, their role in it and their responsibility. And how their children deal with them and their country.

Come Tell Me How You Live, Agatha Christie Mallowan. The great mystery writer tells about the adventure in her real life. Dead bodies all over the place, but not murdered ones. Her husband was a noted Mideastern archaeologist and she writes charmingly (yes, charmingly) about the places she visited, the people she met.

Lebanon, Sandra Mackey. A well-done look at the reasons for all the hate and turmoil in that plagued country, and how the U.S. got tangled up in the mess. Even the factions have factions. The amazing thing is that Lebanon ever worked at all.

The Medical Detectives, Berton Roueche. Fascinating true-life mysteries as medical personnel try to identify strange occurrences and figure out what is going on, things like the killer jeans and the orange-skinned man. Sometimes the solution is exotic, sometimes mundane, but always an eye-opener. There is a Volume II, but really only enough good stories for one and a half volumes.

Witness for the Defense, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham. Another book of case studies, this one legal and psychological. Memory expert Loftus tells how even well-intentioned witnesses come to believe they saw things they didn't. When lives hang in the balance, it is hard to justify the presence of a death penalty, she points out.

Pearl Harbor Ghosts, Thurston Clarke. Far more than just another Dec. 7 revisited book. Especially worthwhile are its look at how the Japanese attack affected the people on the ground -- the overlooked civilians, including the many Japanese-Americans -- and its look at Hawaii today and how the Japanese may have won in the long run.

Children of Cain, Tina Rosenberg. An incisive country-by-country look at six Latin American nations (Peru, Colombia, Argentina, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador) and the role violence has played in their recent history. All are different. No drop-in journalist, Ms. Rosenberg lived in the countries and got below the superficial.

FICTION

A Glancing Light, Aaron Elkins. An art curator as a detective? Indeed. Makes the reader (this reader) wish he knew more about art to more fully appreciate the color touches. Might almost make one forget Elkins' more famous detective, bone man Gideon Oliver. The story involves art forgery and Italy.

A First Class Murder, Elliott Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt as a detective? Indeed. Son-author Elliot died last year, but this nice series will continue for a few books more, offering interesting glances at a wide range of real people who get involved in the fictitious murders the president's wife finds herself involved in.

The Great Pacific War, Hector C. Bywater. A 1920s look at what World War II would be like, written by a naval affairs writer who knew his subject and had a good imagination. The book was reissued to mark Pearl Harbor Day.

Public Therapy Buses, Steven M. Johnson. Fiction or nonfiction? A book full of wonderful tongue-in-cheek, time-saving ideas for modern living. The one in the title combines analysis with getting to work. Others include recreational lawn mowers, bedsheets on a roll and executive walkers for the child who is really going to go places.

Myron Beckenstein is assistant foreign editor of The Sun.

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