Karen Armstrong, Richard Ford, Ha Jin, & More | Barbara’s Picks, Nov. 2014, Pt. 1

Armstrong, Karen. Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence. Knopf. Nov. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780307957047. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780385353106. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. HISTORY
A best-selling author of insightful books on religion and winner of the 2008 TED Prize, which armstrongkarenfacilitated her work with TED on the Charter for Compassion, Armstrong here goes beyond jihad or the Crusades to offer (uniquely) a comparative study of violence in religion. She starts by explaining that all faiths arose in agrarian societies, where keeping or expanding one’s land (and keeping those who worked it in their place) was the only way to assure wealth. At the same time, an impulse toward justice arose, opposing the violence inherent in this setup. These matching strands were wound tightly together as religious practice developed, but what does that mean in the world today?

Bolger, Daniel. Why We Lost: A General’s Inside Account of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars. Eamon Dolan: Houghton Harcourt. Nov. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780544370487. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780544438347. MILITARY
Bolger recently completed 35 years in the U.S. Army, retiring in 2013 as a lieutenant general; he served as a commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan, carrying a rifle alongside his troops. Here he puts himself on the line again by arguing that we actually lost the campaigns in both countries—and that these losses weren’t necessary. Blaming generals like himself, he highlights poor intelligence, overreliance on theory or ideology, and a failure to understand the enemy for what he sees as a hugely missed opportunity. Obviously, a book that will provoke sevendaysdiscussion; with a 75,000-copy first printing.

di Giovanni, Janine. Seven Days in Syria. Liveright: Norton. Nov. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780871407139. $26.95. MIDDLE EAST
An award-winning foreign correspondent who has covered upheaval from the first Palestinian intifada to Chechnya, the Balkans, and beyond and who currently serves as Middle East editor of Newsweek, di Giovanni draws on several years’ worth of reporting on Syria to show what the fighting there has cost the populace. She tells her story from the perspective of seven individuals, among them a doctor, a musician, and a student, revealing blood, tears, and moments of real decency.

Ford, Richard. Let Me Be Frank with You. Ecco. Nov. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9780061692062. $27.99. lrg. prnt. LITERARY FICTION
You already know Frank Bascombe as the protagonist of Ford’s The Sportswriter, Pulitzer Prize and PEN/Faulkner Award–winning Independence Day, and National Book Critics Circle finalist The Lay of the Land. Now, after an eight-year hiatus, Frank is back, once again summing up an important American moment by wrestling with the displacement caused by Hurricane Sandy. With an eight-city tour to Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York City, Portland (ME), San Francisco, and Washington, DC; a 100,000-copy first printing.hajin

Ha Jin. A Map of Betrayal. Pantheon. Nov. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780307911605. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307911612. LITERARY FICTION
After her parents’ deaths, Lilian Shang unearths the diary of her Chinese-born father, a CIA agent convicted many years previously of spying for China. Through the diary, Lilian follows her father’s difficult journey from 1949 Shanghai to Okinawa to America and learns of yet another duplicity: unknown to her or her Irish American mother, he had another family in China, long since left behind. She also comes to understand that despite his loyalty to China, her father had come to love his adopted country. What price duty? You can expect an elegant answer from an author whose honors include the National Book Award,  PEN/Faulkner Award (twice), Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, and PEN/Hemingway Award.

Harris, Shane. @War: The Rise of the Military-Internet Complex. Houghton Harcourt. Nov. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780544251793. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780544250444. MILITARY
According to Harris, the battlefield of the future is cyberspace, already regarded by the U.S. military as warfare’s “fifth domain” (with land, air, sea, and space). In fact, the Department of Defense, the National Security Agency, and the CIA all boast hackers able to launch computer virus strikes against enemy targets; cyberwarfare helped advance our cause in Iraq. Since Harris is a senior writer at Foreign Policy magazine and winner of the Gerald R. Ford Prize for Distinguished Reporting on National Defense, we need to listen. The idea of a tight link between the military and companies like Google and Apple is pretty unsettling.

Johnson, Denis. The Laughing Monsters. Farrar. Nov. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780374280598. $25; ebk. ISNB 9780374709235. CD: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY FICTION
The National Book Award–winning author of Tree of Smoke can be expected to deliver literate and insightful suspense in a novel that opens with Roland Nair (Scandinavian but traveling on a U.S. passport) returning after ten years to Sierra Leone, where he had made a lot of money with his friend Michael Adriko. Michael, who calls himself a soldier of fortune, introduces Roland to his American fiancée, and together they travel to the Uganda-Congo borderland to thesiegemeet Michael’s clan. Not surprisingly, this trip reveals dark secrets and divided loyalties in a fractured post-9/11 world.

Pérez-Reverte, Arturo. The Siege. Random. Nov. 2014. 624p. tr. from Spanish by Frank Wynne. ISBN 9781400069682. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780812994728. HISTORICAL FICTION
Even as Napoleon’s armies lay siege to Cádiz in 1811, the bodies of murdered women start appearing in strange corners of the city, mocking police commissioner Rogelio Tizón—or perhaps sending him an important message as the enemy’s ballistics specialist begins delivering bombs with ever more chilling accuracy. Meanwhile, Lolita Palma makes sure that her father’s mercantile business thrives despite the blockade while unexpectedly grabbing the attention of heart-of-gold corsair Pepe Lobo. The author of literary thrillers like The Flanders Panel  will bring out this story’s dark and twisty chills while also illuminating life under siege; former war correspondent Pérez-Reverte’s The Painter of Battles is one of the best novels available about the costs of war.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.