Here are five books people are talking about this week -- or should be:
1. A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor: Betrayal, Blame, and a Quest for Justice by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swann (Harper)
Summers and Swann, investigative reporters and authors of The Eleventh Day: The Full Story of 9/11, take an unflinching look at the bombing of Pearl Harbor, on the 75th anniversary of the attack. Writing in a sober yet captivating style, they relate how the attack was planned and executed, but even more important they correct the historical record, explaining how U.S. intelligence methodically pushed out its own version of the events. Summers and Swann focus on Admiral Husband “Kim” Kimmel, commander of the Pacific Fleet, who was disgraced, and blamed for failing to anticipate the attack. The authors – husband and wife – convincingly contend that Kimmel was scapegoated after he was denied U.S. intelligence about the attack, and refute the charge that President Franklin D. Roosevelt knew of the impending attack that killed more than 2,000 Americans.
2. The Daily Show (The Book): An Oral History as Told by John Stewart, the Correspondents, Staff and Guests by Chris Smith, foreword by Jon Stewart (Grand Central Publishing)
Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” was a cultural phenomenon, and now it gets the oral history it deserves, one similar to Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, the instant classic by Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller. Smith tells the show’s story through artfully arranged first-person recollections. This panoply of voices comes together and conveys how Stewart pioneered a new form of humor, news-focused television and political commentary. Smith structures the book chronologically, from the show’s origins in the aftermath of 9/11 through the Obama presidency. Stewart, and stars like Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore and Samantha Bee are all here, as are many who labor behind the scenes, who enrich this history so it is more than a collection of famous moments, but rather a work of distinctive, original social commentary.
3. Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank Williams by Mark Ribowsky (Liveright)
Ribowsky traces Williams’ life, from his hardscrabble south Alabama childhood through his success as a teen-age singer, and later as a dark, vexed hero of country music, with hits like “Honky Tonk Blues,” Hey, Good Lookin’” and “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” After achieving icon status, it was a fast downward spiral for Williams, who was plagued with drug and alcohol problems, and tempestuous relationships – including a particularly ill-fated marriage – that eventually destroyed him on New Year’s Day, 1953, when he was just 29 years of age. Ribowsky, author of books about the Supremes and the Temptations, understands the era well, and this book – based on extensive interviews – is insightful, and unhindered by hagiography.
4. How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science
Tamed AIDS by David France (Alfred A. Knopf)
In this painfully vivid history, France relates how AIDS seemed to emerge suddenly and with deadly force, and how a grass-roots alliance of scientists and activists eventually thwarted the epidemic. France’s documentary How to Survive a Plague was an Oscar finalist, and this book enriches the power of that film. The battle was a winding one. France captures the internal dynamics within groups like ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Option Group), as well as the scientists like Anthony Fauci, and activists like Larry Kramer. He avoids idealizing or demonizing – although characters like Jesse Helms were worthy of the latter -- and opts for a more nuanced view of the struggle. Through it all, France captures the immense fortitude of those who continued to fight AIDS when it seemed unbeatable and while they were mourning the many lives lost around them.
5. Pull Me Under by Kelly Luce (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)
In this psychologically thrilling debut novel, the crime is announced in the opening pages. A 12-year old girl fatally stabs the boy who tormented her at school in suburban Japan. The girl, daughter of an acclaimed Japanese violinist and an American-born mother, lands in a juvenile detention facility, and eventually makes it to Colorado, where she remakes herself as a wife, mother and nurse. But she lives in a kind of internal dissonance until she returns to Japan after her father’s death — and drama ensues. Luce is an electrifying writer, fully in charge of atmospheric tension and deftly able to convey the feelings of a fiercely divided life.