THE ASSOCIATION OF SMALL BOMBS by Karan Mahajan

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(A New Delhi market that is central to the novel)

It is safe to say that most of us accept the fact that we live in a world where terrorists can plant bombs or blow themselves up at any time and probably any place.  When these events occur we are horrified whether it is in Boston, Paris, Istanbul, or elsewhere.   We tend to devote our attention to the victims of terror, and less so to the thoughts and appeal that is exerted on the terrorists themselves.  In Karan Mahajan’s powerful second novel, THE ASSOCIATION OF SMALL BOMBS the reader experiences the usual grief and psychological impact of the victims of an attack in a market in Delhi, but also insights into the inner lives of the terrorists themselves.  The novel begins rather casually when Vikas Khurana, a documentary filmmaker sends his two boys, Tushar and Nakul, ages 11 and 13 to pick up a television at a repair shop in the Lajpat Najar neighborhood along with their friend Mansoor Ahmed.  While walking in the neighborhood a bomb explodes killing the Khurana boys with Mansoor surviving with injuries to his wrist and arm.  The core of the novel focuses on the Khuranas and Mansoor’s feelings of grief as a result of the attack, the psychological effects of the violence on Mansoor and how he copes, the lack of trust and hatred between Hindus and Muslims, and the battle between the corrupt values of the west represented by India and the purity of Islam.

Title: The Association of Small Bombs, Author: Karan Mahajan

The range of emotions by the main characters is profound.  Mansoor suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder almost immediately as he expressed his survivor’s guilt.  Vikas was filled with self-loathing, doubt, and bitterness because of the decisions he had made previously, particularly remaining in the family house in Delhi and not moving to Bombay where this documentary filmmaker could have been more successful, or perhaps continuing his career as an accountant and giving up film.  Deepa, the dead boy’s mother was filled with grief and did not know how to channel her revenge and wanted to meet the terrorists face to face.   Mahajan even explores the emotional world of the terrorists in examining the relationship of the bomb maker, Shaukat “Shockie” Guru and that of Malik Aziz said to be the ideologue of the JKIF (Jammu Kashmir Islamic Force) responsible for the attack, who in reality was his intellectual friend who was against the use of terror.  Once Malik is arrested by the police and is tortured, Shockie wonders what has become of him.

Each of Mahajam’s characters goes on a separate journey in order to try and recover from the blast.  For the Khuranas it is personal and difficult as they try to maintain their own relationship and gain insights into themselves and their new situation.  Vikas is more introspective as he relives his life before the attack through dreams at night and during the day.  The result is despair as he tries to keep his wife Deepa from going over the edge.  In their attempt to emerge whole they produce a daughter, Anusha as Mahajam has a poigniont scene where they think back to how they all slept together in one bed, and with the boys gone, they refuse to sleep in the large bed and place a mattress on the floor instead where their daughter is conceived.  For Mansoor’s parents there are accusations against Vikas who they blame for the plight of their son, who survived the bombing, but inscurs nerve and psychological damage as a result.  They become overprotective and the end result causes more damage to Mansoor, rather than providing him the freedom and support that he needed.

Mansoor’s journey is ironic and complex as Mahajam develops his novel.  The journey is one of self-discovery as Mansoor who survived the 1996 blast perpetuated by Islamic terrorists that causes excrutiating nerve pain in his wrists that will eventually preclude him from pursuing his main interest in computer science.  The nerve pain develops immediately after the blast, but subsides as he travels to the United States for college.  However, at Santa Ckara University his condition deteriorates as he has the freedom to surf the internet resulting in increased physical pain to his wrists and arm and an addiction to porn.  When he returns to Delhi he becomes involved with a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called “Peace For All” that is involved in assisting the men who have been charged with carrying out the 1996 attack.

The problem is that the authorities have arrested and tortured the wrong men and “Peace For All” leaders try and get Mansoor to join them in fighting the authorities.  One of the NGO members, Ayub convinces Mansoor to read a book, Religion of Pain and inside he learns of the concepts of introspection and visualization that help him overcome the psychological component that contributes to his pain threshold.  In so doing he allows himself to pursue Islam, a religion that he had not practiced in years.  Through the theology of Islam and attending the Mosque with Ayub he finds a cure for his addiction to porn and reduces his pain level substantially.  Mansoor comes to the realization that his body had imploded since 1996, and that he himself had become the bomb.

Mahajan’s evocative and deeply personal approach to his characters allows the reader to develop an understanding of the emotional depths they explore, allowing them to look at their own lives, decisions they have made in the past, and consider a somewhat different approach to the future.  However, despite progress, Mansoor suddenly takes a step back and the self-loathing returns.

The story meanders and grows fascinating as the lives of the characters become intertwined and by the end of the novel it seems everyone comes full circle.  What amazed me while reading the book is how Mahajan pulls together all aspects of the story on many levels and creates an ending that one could not have imagined.  The novel’s conclusion is tragic for all involved, victims and their perpetrators, leaving the reader wondering if this is a true reality.  The title, THE ASSOCIATION OF SMALL BOMBS may refer to a self-help organization for victims of terrorism, but in reality it is all of us as we try to navigate what our world has become.  The book is a meditation on how we cope with everyday life as the Delhi neighborhood where most of the novel takes place can be anywhere.

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(A New Delhi neighborhood that could be central to the novel)

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THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF BENJAMIN NETANYAHU by Neill Lochery

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(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu)

A few days ago the United States withheld its veto of a resolution in the United Nations Security Council demanding that Israel end its settlement expansion in occupied Palestinian territory.  Reflecting the Obama administration’s frustration with Israeli settlement policy it broke with the long tradition of Washington shielding Israel from UN condemnation.  It further points to President Obama’s final “shot” at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a man that the administration has been at “diplomatic war” the last few years be it over the Iranian Treaty or settlement policy.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has let it be known that he is looking forward to the inauguration of Donald Trump and smoother relations with the United States.  The situation in the Middle East has put Netanyahu in the news a great of late and it is propitious that Neill Lochery, a Professor of Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Studies at University College London has published his new book, THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF BENJAMIN NETANYAHU at this time.  The work is not a traditional biography, though the most salient aspects of his family background and the course of his life is presented.  Instead of a chronological approach Lochery presents his subject by a series of nine of the most decisive moments in Netanyahu’s career to tell his life’s story.

The key theme that Lochery develops is that Netanyahu has been “more American” and “less Israeli” throughout his life.  Lochery points out that Netanyahu did not fit “into the notorious closed and business elites in Israel,” a country that remains wary of outsiders, and many see the current Prime Minister as a stranger, even after all of these years.  It is difficult in assessing Netanyahu’s career because I wonder what the man stands for other than his own political survival.  Lochery understands this dilemma and does his best to deal with it as Netanyahu places numerous roadblocks in the path of diplomacy, doing his best to retain the status quo.  However, if Netanyahu survives the next two years in office he will become Israel’s longest serving Prime Minister, even surpassing, David Ben-Gurion, with his negative attitude toward the rest of the Middle East, the Palestinians, and at times, the United States.

The arrival of Netanyahu on the Israeli political scene in 1990 was part of a wider cultural revolution in Israel that ushered in the “Americanization” of Israeli politics, media, and business.  The key to Netanyahu’s rapid rise was his telegenic face and oratory style.  As the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1 was ushered into our living rooms on CNN with its 24 hour news cycle, Netanyahu began to appear regularly as Israel’s chief spokesperson during the war.  As his popularity rose outside of Israel, the elites in the Jewish state did not take him seriously which contributed to his rapid rise.  Lochery points out that the Bush administration was growing tired of the hawkish Shamir government in Israel, so Netanyahu’s arrival came at a critical time as the war made him a political star, particularly after the 1991 Madrid Conference.

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(Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barak Obama in May, 2009)

Netanyahu’s rise was assisted by changes in the Israeli political process which began to mimick that of the United States.  The institution of primary elections allowed the “Likud Princes,” (young Likud politicians like Netanyahu who had links to Revisionist Zionism) to leap ahead of others on Likud political lists and move toward party leadership quickly.  Another change was the move toward the direct election of the Prime Minister which would greatly assist in Netanyahu’s victory and assumption of the Prime Ministership in 1996.  In part Netanyahu modeled himself after President Clinton in 1992 when he publicly admitted an affair and placed his wife Sara out front in his political campaign.  Further, in what was known as “Bibigate,” (Netanyahu’s nickname was Bibi) which he viewed it as a conspiracy against him.

The assassination of Yitzhak Rabin was a political disaster for Netanyahu.  Lochery correctly points out that Netanyahu’s virulent public opposition and bombastic accusations against Rabin’s Oslo Accords Agreement with Yasir Arafat had in part been responsible for the assassination.  Netanyahu’s rhetoric had energized right wing extremists who opposed Oslo and one of them, an Israeli student, Yigal Amir shot Rabin.  Netanyahu had compared Rabin’s actions to Neville Chamberlain’s Munich Agreement with Hitler and opponents to Oslo carried signs accusing Rabin of being a “Nazi devil.”

Lochery does an excellent job explaining the factionalism that existed and still exists in Israeli politics that was based on forming coalition governments as ruling parties never seem to be able to gain a direct ruling majority.  This leads to deal making with lesser parties, particularly religious and immigrant factions that the ruling party is then beholden to.  The internal schisms within the party are also developed with an excellent example being the rivalry between Netanyahu who at times appears as an ideologue, and Ariel Sharon’s development into a pragmatic politician.

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(Former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin)

With the increase in terror attacks in Israel after Rabin’s assassination, Netanyahu was able to base his campaigns on fear to increase support.  With the first suicide bombing on October 19, 1994 at a bus station that killed 22 and injured well over 100, Netanyahu’s support was energized beyond his right wing base.  Netanyahu was first elected Prime Minister very narrowly (50.4% to 49.5%) over Shimon Peres on May 29, 1996.  Netanyahu’s election campaign was run by Arthur J. Finkelstein, an American political consultant and was funded by a number of rich American contributors, a pattern that would dominate future elections.  Netanyahu outspent Peres on television ads, campaign paraphernalia, and pursued the JFK v. Nixon strategy in their own television debate.  Apart from his media strategy Netanyahu zeroed in on the religious and Russian immigrant vote to win.

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(Yonatan Netanyahu, Benjamin’s older brother killed at Entebbe)

Lochery does a good job developing Netanyahu’s family background and his relationship with his brother.  If there is a criticism to be made, the author does not provide a detailed history of Netanyahu’s family background, particularly his father’s bitterness against Israel and the United States, the impact of his views on Benjamin, and the role he played in early Israeli politics until half way through the narrative.   Benzion was a scholar of Jewish history and the Zionist political movement, and he and Yonatan, his older brother one of Israel’s most decorated soldiers had a profound influence on Benjamin, especially their hawkish views concerning the Arabs. In growing up in the United States Benjamin was greatly influenced by the American political culture.  Unlike his father who was an ideologue, Benjamin saw how pragmatism worked in the American political process and pursued that strategy throughout his political career.  Central to Benzion’s scholarly work was the traditional Zionist ideology of Ze’ev Jabotinsky which rested on the belief that Jews faced racial discrimination and any attempts to reach a compromise with the Arabs was futile.  Yonatan Netanyahu was being groomed as the star of the family.  First, a career in the Israel Defense Force, reach the rank of general, retire to assume a career in politics and eventually become Prime Minister.  Yonatan a hero in the 1973 Yom Kippur War stationed in the Golan Heights was well on his way to fulfilling his father’s dreams when he was the only Israeli soldier killed in the successful Entebbe Raid in Uganda.  Yonatan death was a life changing event for Netanyahu.  His brother had believed that it was better to continuously live by the sword, then lose the state of Israel.  Netanyahu vowed he would achieve everything his brother had hoped to, protect his brother’s legacy, in addition to ingratiating himself with his hard to please father, a man who never showed any emotion.

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(Benjamin and Yonatan Netanyahu)

Another area that Lochery should develop more was Netanyahu’s life in the United States.  He continuously points to America’s influence, but other than a few lines about his business education, connections in America, serving as the Diplomatic Head of Mission to the United States, and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations between 1982 and 1988, he offers little.

Lochery does a much better job narrating and analyzing Netanyahu’s performance as Prime Minister in dealing with Yasir Arafat and negotiations on the Interim Agreements fostered by Oslo under Rabin.  Netanyahu is a cagy politician who brings in Ariel Sharon as Foreign Minister in order to deal with Likud members who oppose any further negotiations.  Netanyahu realized that President Clinton facing impeachment and the Lewinsky scandal needed a deal at the Wye River Conference resulting in a diplomatic framework that only cost Israel an eight month hold on settlements and the release of 750 Palestinian prisoners.  Lochery’s coverage of the 1999 election is perceptive and he points out that his loss to Ehud Barak and his subsequent resignation of his Likud held seat in the Knesset was a grave error because it allowed Sharon to reorient the party in a direction away from Netanyahu’s approach to governing.  It would take him six years to recover and almost made himself politically irrelevant.

Most of Netanyahu’s problems center on his ego and his belief that only he could effectively rule Israel and that the public trusted him more than any other Israeli politician.  Lochery is correct in arguing that Netanyahu would later unseat Sharon as leader of the Likud coalition by moving further to the right on the Israeli political spectrum as the former war hero had moved to the center.  The campaign began with Netanyahu’s withdrawal from Sharon’s cabinet in 2005 in opposition to complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza.  Sharon’s response was to withdraw from Likud and create a new political party, Kadima.  Once Sharon had a stroke, Ehud Olmert replaced him and was elected Prime Minister in 2006, leaving Netanyahu the task of rebuilding a Likud Party that won only 12 seats in the Knesset. Netanyahu’s machinations behind the scene in opposition in the Knesset, the scandals that engulfed Olmert, and other events resulted in new elections in 2009.

Lochery’s analysis of the Israeli electorate throughout the narrative allows the reader to experience the ebb and flow of Israeli politics with great understanding, particularly in 2009, the election that returned Netanyahu to power.  The election coincided with the assumption of Barak Obama as president of the United States, thus beginning their eight year testy and sometimes controversial relationship.  Once in power Netanyahu focused on remaking the Middle East which brought him into conflict with Obama, especially in relation to Iran and its nuclear program.  One of Netanyahu’s defining moments came when he accepted a Republican Party invitation to address Congress on March 3, 2015, a speech that angered many supporters of Israel.  Lochery examines the speech in detail and correctly points out that it was vintage Netanyahu as he presents a problem, emphasizes the historical nature of the problem, and then does not offer any viable alternatives in solving the problem.  This was Netanyahu’s modus operandi throughout his career whether dealing with Israeli domestic issues or its foreign policy.  Whether it was Iran or the Palestinian peace process, Lochery is dead on, the Israeli Prime Minister would obfuscate, stall, and in the end the status quo would remain essentially the same, a strategy defined by conflict management, not conflict resolution.  The arrival of the Arab Spring in 2010 further solidified Netanyahu’s power in Israel and heightened tension with Obama.  The Israeli public saw the Arab Spring as a threat, so it leaned further toward the right thereby increasing Netanyahu’s political support.  Obama saw it as an opportunity, but the two sides could never bridge that gap.  Lochery is accurate in his conclusions concerning the distaste that each had for the other, to the point that he wonders if Netanyahu would have made a better candidate for Republicans in 2012 than Mitt Romney in opposing Obama.

When reading Lochery’s narrative one can get the feeling that he concentrates mostly on foreign policy and internal political issues.  To his credit he does explore Netanyahu’s role in turning Israel away from what he calls the “inefficient Zionist model” to a market driven economy.  He presents Netanyahu as a “Thatcherite” and credits Netanyahu’s reforms as Finance Minister as laying the foundation of bringing the Israeli economy into line with other Western capitalist ones.  Netanyahu moved in this direction according to Lochery because he saw no alternative in securing Israel’s future, but it created tremendous political problems as the poor and lower classes suffered the most from these reforms, but at the same time, he needed their political support to be reelected.

No matter what area of Netayahu’s life or policy Lochery delves into the reader will gain an interesting perspective of what drives the man.  This is important as we pick up the newspaper each day and we learn the latest machinations of the Israeli government, i.e., this morning we learn that Israel is about to defy the United Nations and build more settlements.  A direct strike against President Obama, and a belief in Tel Aviv that Donald Trump will view this action more favorably.

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MIDDLE EAST READING LIST (FORMERLY ARAB-ISRAELI READING LIST: FROM GAZA TO ISIS) Updated December 24, 2016

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FROM GAZA TO ISIS/Dr. Steven Z. Freiberger

This list has been updated on December 24, 2016.  It includes the latest books published in 2016 that I believe are important and members of the new Trump administration should consult.  Further, it includes some older books that I left of the previous versions of the list.

szfreiberger@gmail.com

www.docs-books.com

READING LIST:

Achcar, Gilbert. THE ARABS AND THE HOLOCAUST

Anderson, Scott. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

Ansary, Tamin. DESTINY DISRUPTED: A HISTORY OF THE WORLD THROUGH ISLAMIC EYES

Avineri, Shlomo. HERZL’S VISION

Bacevitch, Andrew. AMERICA’S WAR FOR THE GREATER MIDDLE EAST

Bacevitch, Andrew. BREACH OF TRUST: HOW AMERICANS FAILED THEIR SOLDIERS AND THEIR COUNTRY

Bacevitch, Andrew. THE LIMITS OF POWER: THE END OF AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM

Bar-Zohar, Michael. SHIMON PERES

Bishop, Patrick. THE RECKONING

Blanford, Nicholas. WARRIORS OF GOD

Blumenthal, Max. GOLIATH: LIFE AND LOATHING IN GREATER ISRAEL

Blumenthal, Max. THE 51 DAY WAR: RUIN AND RESISTANCE IN GAZA

Bolger, Daniel P. WHY WE LOST

Byrne, Malcom. IRAN-CONTRA

Cobban, Helena. THE PLO

Cockburn, Patrick. THE RISE OF THE ISLAMIC STATE

Coll, Steven. GHOST WARS

Cooper, Andrew Scott. THE FALL OF HEAVEN: THE PAHLAVIS AND THE FINAL DAYS OF IMPERIAL IRAN

Crist, David. THE TWILIGHT WAR: THE SECRET HISTORY OF AMERICA’S THIRTY YEAR WAR WITH IRAN

Dalin, David and Rothman, John F. ICON OF EVIL

Doran, Mike. IKE’S GAMBLE: AMERICA’S RISE TO DOMINANCE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Elon, Amos. HERZL

Ehrenreich, Ben. THE WAY TO THE SPRING: LIFE AND DEATH IN PALESTINE

Ephron, Dan KILLING A KING: THE ASSASSINATION OF YITZHAK RABIN AND THE REMAKING OF ISRAEL

Faulkner, Neil. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA’S WAR

Fawaz, Leila Tarazi. A LAND OF ACHING HEARTS

Filiu, Jean-Pierre. GAZA: A HISTORY

Filiu, Jean-Pierre. FROM DEEP STATE TO ISLAMIC STATE

Fishman, Brian H. THE MASTER PLAN: ISIS. AL-QAEDAS, AND THE JIHADI STRATEGY FOR FINAL VICTORY

Freiberger, Steven Z. DAWN OVER SUEZ

Gardner, Lloyd. THE ROAD TO TAHRIR SQUARE

Gerges Fawaz A. ISIS: A HISTORY

Gorenberg, Gershon. THE ACCIDENTAL PEACE

Gordes, Daniel. MENACHEM BEGIN

Gutman, Roy. HOW WE MISSED THE STORY

Halevi, Yossi Klein. LIKE DREAMERS

Hamid, Shadi. ISLAMIC EXCEPTIONALISM

Hardy, Roger. THE POISONED WELL: EMPIRE AND ITS LEGACY IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Hefez, Nir and Bloom, Gadi. ARIEL SHARON

Herff, Jeffrey. NAZI PROPAGANDA AND THE ARAB WORLD

Hoffman, Bruce. ANONYMOUS SOLDIERS: THE STRUGGLE FOR ISRAEL, 1917-1947

Jones, Seth G. HUNTING IN THE SHADOWS: THE PURSUIT OF AL-QAEDA SINCE 9/11

Judis, John B. GENESIS: TRUMAN, AMERICAN JEWS, AND THE ORIGINS OF THE ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT

Karsh, Efraim. ARAFAT’S WAY

Karsh, Efraim. PALESTINE BETRAYED

Khalidi, Rashid. THE IRON CAGE

Khalidi, Rashid. RESURECTING EMPIRE

Kinzer, Steven. RESET: IRAN, TURKEY, AND AMERICA’S FUTURE

Kinzer, Stephen. ALL THE SHAH’S MEN

Lamb, Christina. FAREWELL KABUL: FROM AFGHANISTAN TO A MORE DANGEROUS WORLD

Landau, David, ARIK

Levitt, Matthew. HAMAS

Lewis, Bernard. ISLAM AND THE WEST

Lewis, Bernard. FAITH AND POWER

Lewis, THE CRISIS OF ISLAM

Lister, Charles R. THE SYRIAN JIHAD

Lochery, Neill, THE RESISTIBLE RISE OF BENJAMIN NETANYAHU

Lynch, Marc. THE NEW ARAB WARS

McCants, William. THE ISIS APOCALYPSE

McMeekin, Sean. THE OTTOMAN END GAME: WAR, REVOLUTIOMN, AND THE MAKING PF THE MODERN MIDDLE EAST, 1908-1923

Motadel, David. ISLAM AND NAZI GERMANY’S WAR

Morris, Benny. THE BIRTH OF THE PALESTINIAN REFUGEE PROBLEM, 1947-1949

Morris, Benny. 1948

Morris, Benny. RIGHTEOUS VICTIMS

Nasir, Vali. THE SHI’A REVIVAL

Nissenbaum, Dion. A STREET DIVIDED

Oren, Michael. SIX DAYS OF WAR

Oren, Michael. ALLY

Pagden, Anthony WORLDS AT WAR: THE 2500 YEAR STRUGGLE BETWEEN EAST AND WEST

Pappe, Ilan. THE ETHNIC CLEANSING OF PALESTINE

Parsi, Trita. TREACHEROUS ALLIANCE

Parsons, Laila. THE COMMANDER: FAWZI AL-QAWUQJI AND THE FIGHT FOR ARAB INDEPENDENCE 1914-1948

Rabinowitch, Abraham. YOM KIPPUR WAR

Radosh, Allis; Radosh, Ronald. SAFE HAVEN: HARRY S. TRUMAN AND THE FOUNDING OF ISRAEL

Razoux, Pierre. THE IRAN-IRAQ WAR

Rogan, Eugene. THE FALL OF THE OTTOMANS

Ross, Dennis. THE MSSING PEACE

Ross, Dennis. DOOMED TO SUCCEED: THE US-ISRAEL RELATIONSHIP FROM TRUMAN TO OBAMA

Rubin, Barry and Wolfgang G. Schwartz. NAZIS, ISLAMISTS, AND THE MAKING OF THE MODERN MIDDLE EAST

Rubin, Barry and Rubin, Judith Colp. YASSIR ARAFAT

Schiff, Ze’ev and Ya’ri Ehud. INTIFADA

Shilon, Avi. MENACHEM BEGIN

Schneer, Jonathan. THE BALFOUR DECLARATION

Segev, Tom. THE SEVENTH MILLION

Segev, Tom. 1967

Shane, Scott. OPERATION TROY

Shlaim, Avi. ISRAEL AND PALESTINE

Shlaim, Avi. LION OF JORDAN

Shlaim, Avi. THE IRON WALL

Shapara, Anita. DAVID BEN-GURION

Shavit, Ari. MY PROMISED LAND

Shilon, Avi. MENACHEM BEGIN: A LIFE

Siniver, Asaf. ABBA EBAN

Smith, Lee. THE STRONG HORSE: POWER, POLITICS, AND THE CLASH OF ARAB CIVILIZATIONS

Solomon, Jay THE IRAN WARS

Stern, Jessica and Berger, J.M. ISIS

Summers, Anthony; Robbyn Swan. THE ELEVENTH DAY: THE FULL STORY OF 9/11 AND OSAMA BIN LADEN

Takeyh. Ray; Simon, Steven. THE PRAGMATIC SUPERPOWER: WINNING THE COLD WAR IN THE MIDDLE EAST

Tolan, Sandy. THE LEMON TREE: AN ARAB, A JEW, AND THE HEART OF THE MIDDLE EAST

Tuzelmann, Alex. BLOOD AND SAND

Turner, Barry. SUEZ 1956

Tyler, Patrick. FORTRESS ISRAEL

Von Tuzelmann, Alex. BLOOD AND SAND

Warrick, Joby BLACK GLAGS: THE RISE OF ISIS

Wawro, Jeffrey. QUICKSAND

Weiss, Michael and Hassan. ISIS: INSIDE THE WORLD OF TERROR

Wilford, Hugh. AMERICA’S GREAT GAME: THE CIA’S SECRET ARMY AND THE SHAPING OF THE MIDDLE EAST

Wilson, Jeremy. LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

Wood, Graeme. THE WAY OF STRANGERS: ENCOUNTERS WITH THE ISLAMIC STATE

Worth, Robert F. A RAGE FOR ORDER: THE MIDDLE EAST TURMOIL, FROM TAHRIR SQUARE TO ISIS

Wright, Lawrence. THIRTEEN DAYS IN SEPTEMBER

Wright, Lawrence. THE TERROR YEARS: FROM AL-QAEDA TO THE ISLAMIC STATE

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CONCLAVE by Robert Harris

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Robert Harris’ new novel, CONCLAVE takes the reader inside the world of the Vatican and its byzantine politics.  Set in Rome, the Pope has died and there is a question of what he said to certain Cardinals upon his passing and what impact it might have on the impending election of a new Pope.  Harris’ moderator is the seventy-five year old Jacobo Lomeli, the Dean of the College of Cardinals, but a person who would like to return to a religious order to live out his life in prayer.  With the death of his holiness, Lomeli finds himself as the overseer of the Conclave to choose the next leader of the Catholic Church.  As is true with any large organization that must choose a new leader, there is a great deal of intrigue and power brokering.  As I read the novel all I could think of was the American Congress and its inability to come to fruition on something substantive.

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The factions within the College of Cardinals is somewhat traditional.  On one side we have the liberal wing that is coalescing around its intellectual Secretary of State Aldo Bellini; the Confessor-in-Chief Joshua Adeymi, who hopes to be the first black Pope; the Chamberlain of the Holy See, Joseph Tremblay, a Canadian with strong links to the Third World, and the Patriarch of Venice, Goffredo Tedesco, the hope of conservatives who are against the ordination of women and wants to move away from Italian to the use of Latin in all areas.  Lomeli immediately faces two challenges aside from assuaging the egos of these cardinals.  It seems that before the Pope passed away he created a new Cardinal, Vincent Benitez, the Archbishop of Baghdad and he did it “in pectore” (only the Pope knows) and did not inform anyone.  Benitez appears unannounced at the Conclave and is recognized for his work in Africa dealing with victims of terrorists like Boko Haram and the dangers of leading the Catholic Church in Iraq.  The second challenge occurs when he chooses to forgo part of his prepared oration to the Conclave and speaks extemporaneously.  As a result of what he calls for in the church, many Cardinals now see him as a candidate.

The tradition, ritual, and pageantry of the Catholic Church is on full display as Harris develops his novel.  The ceremonies are intricate as Lomeli leads the 118 member College of Cardinals in choosing the next Pope.  But what dominates the plot is the contending factions and the behind the scenes actions taking place.  Harris takes the reader through each ballot with intrigue and deal making paramount.  The first four ballots are dominated by scandals and stress for Lomeli, but then events take place that the Conclave cannot control.  Those who are fans of Robert Harris, be it because of his books FATHERLAND, ARCHANGEL, or his trilogy dealing with the struggle for power in ancient Rome will not be disappointed, particularly with the ending!

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COUNTDOWN TO PEARL HARBOR: THE TWELVE DAYS TO THE ATTACK by Steve Twomey

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(December 7, 1941)

Steve Twomey is a superb writer whose new book COUNTDOWN TO PEARL HARBOR: THE TWELVE DAYS TO THE ATTACK is a useful addition to the list of books recently published commemorating December 7, 1941.  Employing numerous primary source documents, memoirs, interviews, and a mastery of secondary materials Twomey has recreated the tension filled days leading up to the Japanese attack. The reader is provided a front row seat from which to witness the debates within the Roosevelt administration, the work of the intelligence community, and the approach the American military took in responding to the Japanese threat.  In addition, the author explores the Japanese perspective on all events.

Twomey, a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter for the Washington Post incorporates numerous biographical sketches of the major figures and these sketches include Japanese as well as American figures.  Prominent on the Japanese side are Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Vice Minister of the Imperial Navy, the architect of the attack; Kichisaburo Nomura, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States; Takeo Yoshikawa, a Japanese spy who took a job as a dishwasher at Pearl Harbor;  Admiral Harold Starks, Chief of Naval Operations; Admiral Husband Kimmel, Commander of the Pacific Fleet; Joseph J. Rochefort, Head of the Combat Intelligence Unit; William Knox, Secretary of the Navy; General George C. Marshall, Chief of the Army, and General Walter Short, Army Command in Hawaii, among others.

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(Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Vice Minister of the Japanese Navy who planned the attack)

Twomey follows the week and a half leading to the attack, providing context and analysis as he brings to the fore a number of issues.  The role of the Washington bureaucracy and its communications with military commanders is especially important, as is the flow of intelligence that was made available.  The intelligence issue is paramount because the United States had broken Japanese diplomatic and naval codes referred to as MAGIC and these intercepts had a limited dissemination.  The preparation taken by commanders in the Philippines and Hawaii receives a great of attention as does the inability of Washington to supply the numbers of planes and pilots for reconnaissance to provide a warning to deal with the Japanese threat.  Marshall and Stark had a limited ability to supply the Pacific theater, and even reduced Pearl Harbor’s forces by 25% to assist in the Atlantic war against Germany.

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Twomey deals with those who were supposedly the most culpable for the lack of preparation at Pearl Harbor, and unlike Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan’s recent book he finds Admiral Kimmel guilty of a lack of judgement in preparing his command and presents him as a person who had little contact with Japan, and believed they might bluff but would not be reckless enough to attack the United States.  Twomey also dissects the intelligence community concentrating on the cryptographic miracles that occurred in the “dungeon,” the nickname for Rochefort’s office.  Men like Lt. Commander Edwin T. Layton, a Lt. Commander of the intelligence division who held a strong knowledge of Japanese culture and language, and Capt.  Arthur H. McCollum, Chief of the Far Eastern Section of Naval Intelligence who assisted in the breaking of the MAGIC code are discussed in detail in an enlightening chapter entitled, “Their Mail Open and Read.”

A number of telling things emerge in dissecting the lack of preparation at Pearl Harbor.  Twomey’s critique of Stark is very accurate as during the course of 1941 up until the collapse of diplomatic negotiations with Japan at the end of November, his warnings to the Pacific fleet were like a “yo-yo.”  On January 13, 1941 he informed Kimmel that war “may be in a matter of weeks.”  On October 17, 1941 he told Kimmel that “I do not believe the Japs are going to sail into us,” but on November 7, 1941 he stated the situation was “worser and worser and in a month may see literally most anything.”  The problem as the author correctly points out is that Stark did not put himself in the minds of a commander with his double bind messages.  Further, Stark kept the Japanese intercepts away from Kimmel and General Short, and when messages that were forwarded did not include a threat to Pearl Harbor as it emphasized the Philippines.

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(FDR: “A Day that will go down in infamy”)

Another interesting chapter that Twomey presents deals with Army-Navy relations at Pearl Harbor.  The lack of trust, poor communication, and little or no training together by the two services before the arrival of Kimmel and Short is damning to say the least as is their lack of coordination of reconnaissance flights, the destination and location of naval forces, and other issues.  The situation does improve once the new command is in place, but it took a long time to try and undo the past relationship.

The role of Joseph Grew, the American Ambassador to Japan and his attempts at reaching a settlement between the two adversaries is interesting as is Secretary of State Cordell Hull’s negotiations with the Japanese in Washington.  The Japanese process was simple in its application of diplomacy, stall and create a charade of amiability until their navy was in place, then move quickly to the deadline date.  Another important component in Twomey’s narrative is his accurate portrayal of American racist views.  This deprecation of Japanese culture led to ridiculous views of the abilities of Japanese naval forces and their pilots.  Our view of their inferior technology, intelligence and decision making also contributed to the disaster of December 7th.   Another fascinating area is Twomey’s discussion of how American naval intelligence lost sight of Japanese aircraft carriers weeks before the attack.  They went silent and intelligence analysts could not determine its true meaning for the near future.  But, by December 3rd intercepts showed that Japanese diplomats were destroying their code machines and documents and they feared for their seizure once the attacks in the Pacific took place.  If Stark was convinced this was a prelude to war why didn’t he make firmer warnings to Kimmel?

In the final analysis Twomey argues American readiness for an attack on Pearl Harbor was an outright gamble.  After sifting through all the documentation the author can make the case that certain steps should have been taken by Stark, Kimmel, Short and others to prepare American forces for a Japanese attack.  However, those in charge in Washington and Pearl Harbor held the belief that the Japanese would not be ignorant enough to hit Pearl Harbor so distant from their home base.  The Philippines was most likely to be attacked, but for government officials, civilian and military, Pearl Harbor should not have been a target.  The question who is responsible for the disaster that followed, the blame could be spread around and should not be focused on one or two individuals.

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(December 7, 1941)

“After the Islamic State” by Robin Wright (NEW YORKER, December 12, 2016)

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Middle East historian and correspondent Robin Wright has just written a perceptive article for the December 12, 2016 edition of the New Yorker that is worth exploring.  At a time when the Islamic State (or Daesh as it is known in the Gulf States) is now experiencing a number of major defeats since it created its “caliphate,” Wright’s article, “After the Islamic State” is very timely.  Her analysis concentrates on what should our policy be once Daesh is defeated.  As its territory recedes the west faces the prospect of more Paris and Brussel types of attacks as the “caliphate” changes the battlefield as American drones continue to target their leadership and fighters.  Wright recently traveled throughout the region and found ongoing wars in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and Iraq.  Further, Lebanon, Turkey, and Jordan have become sanctuaries for hundreds of thousands of refugees.  On top of this the oil rich Gulf States, she believes are very fragile.  The instability across the region has led to economic distress and high unemployment and the long term viability of certain Arab states is called into question.  The fear is that the destabilization that has manifested itself in Syria, Iraq, and Libya could spread across the region and engulf countries like Algeria, Morocco, or other Arab states.

In addition, Wright points out that the reemergence of al-Qaeda, i.e., the al-Nusra front in Syria is very problematical for the west and the Arab states.  Further complicating matters is the increased role of the United States with roughly 5,000 troops/advisors, drone attacks, and expenditures of $12.6 million per day on the eve of a new presidential administration that has done very little to educate the public as to what its policy might be in the future.  Iraq itself, despite its Mosul offensive against Daesh suffers from political paralysis and corruption.  Above all the dream of a caliphate is still out there and once Daesh is driven out of Raqqa, its supposed capitol, some other jihadi group will try and rekindle the concept.  Wright brings up a number of important issues and it would be well worth the time for the Trump administration and its European “allies” to think long and hard as to how to confront the future.

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A MATTER OF HONOR: BETRAYAL, BLAME AND A FAMILY’S QUEST FOR JUSTICE by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan

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December 7 , 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor)

This week Americans commemorate the 75th anniversary of the December 7, 1941 bombing of Pearl Harbor and the United States’ official entrance into World War II.  The date has fostered the appearance of a number of recent books dealing with the Japanese attack and its repercussions.  Among these monographs are JAPAN 1941: COUNTDOWN TO INFAMY by Eri Hotta, PEARL HARBOR: FROM INFAMY TO GREATNESS, by Craig Nelson, COUNTDOWN TO PEARL HARBOR: THE TWELVE DAYS TO THE ATTACK by Steve Twomey, SEVEN DAYS OF INFAMY: PEARL HARBOR ACROSS THE WORLD by Nicholas Best that concentrate on the overall attack, what lay behind it, its repercussions, and A MATTER OF HONOR: BETRAYAL, BLAME AND A FAMILY’S QUEST FOR JUSTICE by Anthony Summers and Robby Swan which focuses in on the role of Admiral Husband Kimmel who was relieved of his command and accused of dereliction of duty due to the success of the Japanese attack.  The focus of this review is the narrative exploration and defense of Admiral Kimmel who Washington officials made one of the major scapegoats for the losses at Pearl Harbor, and his fight, during his lifetime to clear his name, and the continued battle with the Washington bureaucracy by his sons to absolve their father and restore his reputation.  The book is presented in two parts.  The first section, about two thirds of the book explores events, decisions, intelligence, and personalities leading up to the attack.  The last third deals with the charges against Kimmel, his defense, and the families attempt to restore his reputation and absolve him of total responsibility for the failures that led to December 7th.

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After putting to bed some of the conspiracy theories pertaining to the reasons behind the Japanese success at Pearl Harbor the authors move on to deal with the issue of culpability that stands on firmer ground.  In terms of whether the accusations leveled at Kimmel hold water Summers and Swan point to the change in US strategy for the Pacific in January, 1941.  Under Admiral Harold R. Stark’s direction “Plan Dog” was implemented to restrain Japan by using the fleet operating out of Pearl Harbor as a bulwark against Japanese aggression.  Stark was very concerned that a sudden attack in Hawaiian waters would be very problematical and he asked the War Department to provide additional equipment and protective measures, i.e., increased air-born patrols, augment anti-aircraft patrols, newer and more efficient aircraft, increase the lack of aircraft detection devices among a number of requests.  It was clear that the naval command at Pearl Harbor felt its defenses were inadequate.  In February, 1941, Kimmel who was made Commander and Chief of the Pacific Fleet also made requests to Army Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall who was not forthcoming with materials and planes as he remarked that the country was “tragically lacking in material…we cannot perform a miracle.”  Letters to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson and Navy Secretary Henry Knox reflected the position that the army would be unable to assist at Pearl Harbor and that materials were not available.  This at a time, based on earlier exercises going back to 1928, as well as a number of other warnings from well-placed individuals who claimed to know Japan’s plans, it seems obvious that the US military was fully aware of the Japanese threat, including an accurate prediction by Knox as to what could occur in the future.

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(Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson)

Summers and Swan discuss many facets of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  They have mined the communications between London and Washington, including the political and intelligence sharing components.  They explore the important meetings in Washington involving the president, his cabinet and military officials as they evaluated intelligence information, negotiations with the Japanese, and military readiness and strategy should Tokyo strike.  The coverage of a number of interesting components of intelligence operations, human and non-human are excellent, in addition to the dissemination of information learned.  Portraits of the key characters and decision makers are integrated into the narrative, i.e., President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Henry Knox, Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, Chief of Naval Operations Harold R. Stark, US Military Commander responsible for Hawaii Walter C. Short, FBI Head, J. Edgar Hoover, Japanese Ambassador to the United States Kichisaburo Nomura, and the Japanese Admiral in command of the attack on Pearl Harbor Isoroku Yamamoto, among many more.

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(Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Harold R. Stark)

There were many interesting aspects to Summers and Swan’s description leading up to December 7th.  Their discussion of spies such as Ulrich von der Osten, a German spy stationed in Shanghai who ran a leather goods salesman, Kurt Ludwig in gathering intelligence for Japan is fascinating.  The role of British double agent, Dusko Popov and Hoover and other officials refusal to take his warnings seriously sheds light on the dysfunctional relationship between US and British spymasters before the attack on Pearl Harbor.  The authors zero in on the negotiations between the US and Japan the last week of November, 1941, including MAGIC and PURPLE intercepts since the US had broken Japanese codes. Other intercepts include the November 27th warning to US bases overseas and the intelligence assessments as of November 30, all pointing to a number of conclusions.  First, the Japanese were acting out a charade in conducting negotiations, Kimmel was not party to intelligence and the analysis of the ongoing talks that had reached a standstill, and Hawaii/Pearl Harbor was left out of any warnings and intelligence pertaining to a Japanese attack.  It was pretty clear that officials were much more concerned with the Philippines than Pearl Harbor.

The first damning action taken was the creation of the Roberts Commission a week after the attack.  The commission headed by Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts provided its report on January 24, 1942 and concluded that Marshall and Stark had sent appropriate warnings to Hawaii.  Further, it vindicated senior members of the government including naval and army commanders.  It argued that Kimmel and Short did not respond appropriately and charged them with “dereliction of duty,” a failure to “properly evaluate the seriousness of the situation,” and errors in judgement.”  Interestingly, Kimmel was never asked if he received MAGIC intercepts, and the senior officials who said he received them were not under oath at the time.  The result Kimmel was relieved of command on December 16, 1941, was coerced into retiring, and was the subject of hate mail, death threats, denunciations in Congress, and was told that a court martial could take place in the future.  This for a man who gave over forty years to his country.  First he was not allowed to have a lawyer present with him before the commission, and secondly, he was not allowed to question his accusers.  According to commission member William Standley, a retired admiral the result was a self-fulfilling prophecy as the investigation “precluded any investigations into the activities of high civilians in Washington….Army and naval officers and high civilian officials equally more culpable.”  In addition, he points out based on the information available to them Marshall and Stark did not serve with distinction to say the least.  The only way to exonerate Kimmel was to make parts of MAGIC intercepts public, but that would be a threat to American national security.  Finally, a congressional investigation did take place in late 1945 after FDR’s death and it concluded that MAGIC intercepts should have been sent to Kimmel.  He may have been guilty of “errors in judgement,” but not “dereliction of duty.”  This was not enough and Kimmel would spend the rest of his life trying to restore his honor.

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(Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall)

Following his death, Kimmel’s sons, grandchildren, and other family members worked to restore his correct place in history by trying to get the the Defense Department, Congress and the President to restore his naval rank as it existed before December 7, 1941.  The authors examine this effort and its results, a quest that continues to this day.  A MATTER OF HONOR is a fascinating look at the inner workings of our defense, diplomatic, and intelligence policies leading up to the war and its effect on one person who is aptly described as “an American Dreyfuss” because of what he went through.  Summers and Swan have written a cogent narrative and their conclusions dealing with FDR, Marshall, Stark and other government officials are dead on.

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(December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor)

SURRENDER, NEW YORK by Caleb Carr

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(Taconic region of New York State)

For those who enjoyed Caleb Carr’s THE ALIENIST and THE ANGEL OF DARKNESS his latest effort is something to look forward to.  It takes place up in the Taconic area of New York state called Surrender, hence the title SURRENDER, NEW YORK.   The novel’s narrator is Dr. Trajan Jones, a former criminal psychologist and profiler for the NYPD, who suffers from the effects of childhood osteosarcoma that forces him to be bent over while working on his online forensic course that he teaches for SUNY Albany with his partner Dr. Michael Li, a trace evidence expert.  Their classroom is an old fuselage of a pre-World War Two Junker that Jones’ father purchased and flew to his sister’s farm in Burgoyne County, NY.  Dr. Li is about to begin Skyping with his class when Deputy Sheriff Pete Stienbrecher pulls up in his patrol car and asks them for their assistance in a murder case.  Jones and Li had been run out of New York because of their unorthodox methods and opposition to “forensic corruption” that has dominated some news cycles.  Both men have a low opinion of CSI types who are so popular on television.  When they arrive at the crime scene, there is a lot that is unspoken by Sheriff Steve Spinetti, particularly what is meant by “a series of murders” involving teenage girls.  When Dr. Ernest Weaver, the Medical Examiner pronounces that the death of the fifteen year old girl “is cut and dried, murder of a teenage runaway, with possible sexual implications,” Jones and Li are very skeptical, as Weaver’s conclusions make little sense.

As Carr develops his plot his own views of the criminal investigative system emerge.  Through Jones and Li, Carr complains that bullying, incompetent collection and observation of evidence made the chain of forensic investigation fatal to the field’s ascension to a true science.  He argues that investigators have “careerist ambition” that leads to “tunnel vision” whereby supposed experts see and hear only those facts and theories that reinforce their initial impressions and suspicions in order to satisfy their law enforcement superiors to solve the case quickly.  Carr calls this “cognitive shortcuts, that make ones initial; instincts, prejudices, and simple hunches appear the result of legitimate intellectual processes.”  It is obvious that the author has a distaste for CSI television programs as they create expectations in investigating real crimes that are not achievable.  For Jones and Li their work is hampered by serious political and turf battles as people above the Sheriff and his Deputy have political ambitions and are willing to “select, blend and pervert evidence in these murder cases to suit their own agendas.”  Throughout the book there is a great deal of social commentary that is both caustic and thoughtful that enhances the flow of the novel.  Another important area of concern deals with children that are abandoned by their parents so they have to make way all by themselves with little or no resources.  Jones analyzes and has great sympathy for these “throwaway children,” especially when all the murder victims seem to fit that description.

The novel revolves around Dr. Jones and Dr. Li becoming drawn deeper and deeper into the investigation until it becomes extremely dangerous.  It appears that there is a force that does not like where their investigation is leading them.  The political powers that the doctors are up against want to blame the murders on a serial killer, but Jones and Li believe it has more to do with the actions of the “throwaway children” which is seen as an embarrassment to state officials, and evidence that leads back to New York City.    When people who work with Jones and Li are attacked, the doctors realize how precarious their position is, and from this point on the novel becomes addicting.

The relationship between Jones and Li is very similar to Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.  Their banter throughout the novel is fascinating as they conjecture about the victims they investigate as well as the state of forensic pathology as they apply it to their current and past cases.  They seem to mirror each other’s thought patterns and apply deductive logic in reaching similar conclusions.  Their interactions are unique and entertaining as they are masters of wit and sarcasm as their dialogue contains many important conclusions for the murders they are trying to solve.  Their approach is very flexible and resilient as they try and incorporate new methods and ideas to assist them, for example Li’s use of a portable X ray unit developed for veterinarians and the military for their cases.  Their flexibility is also reflected with their relationship to a fifteen year old boy named Lucas Kurtz.  Kurtz is another example of the “throwaway children,” but in his case he runs into Jones on his property and the doctor is impressed with the young man’s precocious nature and intelligence and as a result makes him a junior partner in their investigation as a junior investigative trainee.  Jones’ reasoning is clear, he and Li are investigating the murder of fifteen year olds, why not use an expert of that age group.  In addition to Lucas, Carr introduces a number of interesting characters.  Derek Franco, Lucas’ autistic friend, also a “throwaway child” who has been adopted by Lucas’ sister Ambyr, a twenty year old blind women who is exceptionally bright, caring, and ultimately cunning.  Adding to this group is Jones’ aunt Clarissa, who took him in when he was recovering from cancer, along with Li to live on her farm, and Jones’ large pet, an “African hunting dog” named Marcianna.

According to Michael Connelly, Carr’s work “is charming and eloquent between the horrors it captures,” further by linking his story and “making Jones the world’s leading authority on Laszlo Kreizler – the Alienist,” Carr is celebrating “the dawning era in the application of science to crime detection, from fingerprinting to other means of physically and psychologically identifying suspects [as] Carr now uses Jones to sound the warning that things may be going awry.  Forensics should not be treated as faith.” (NYT, August 15, 2016)  Dr. Trajan Jones is a wonderful character to build the novel around.  He is an empathetic figure with a sense of what is wrong with society and how it might be improved.  His engaging manner will capture the reader’s attention, and the result will be a very satisfying few days immersed in a painful, but real story.

Image result for photo of taconic region of NYTitle: Surrender, New York, Author: Caleb Carr

(Taconic region of New York State)