Tag Archives: politics

American Dialogue: The Founders and Us by Joseph J. Ellis

American Dialogue: The Founders and Us by Joseph J. Ellis. October 16, 2018. Knopf Publishing Group, 283 p. ISBN: 9780385353427.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

The award-winning author of Founding Brothers and The Quartet now gives us a deeply insightful examination of the relevance of the views of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams to some of the most divisive issues in America today.

The story of history is a ceaseless conversation between past and present, and in American Dialogue Joseph J. Ellis focuses the conversation on the often-asked question “What would the Founding Fathers think?” He examines four of our most seminal historical figures through the prism of particular topics, using the perspective of the present to shed light on their views and, in turn, to make clear how their now centuries-old ideas illuminate the disturbing impasse of today’s political conflicts. He discusses Jefferson and the issue of racism, Adams and the specter of economic inequality, Washington and American imperialism, Madison and the doctrine of original intent. Through these juxtapositions–and in his hallmark dramatic and compelling narrative voice–Ellis illuminates the obstacles and pitfalls paralyzing contemporary discussions of these fundamentally important issues.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

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Reviews

Booklist (September 1, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 1))
Eliis (Revolutionary Summer, 2013), a Pulitzer Prize-winning and best-selling historian, is aware of the difficulties and dangers implicit in seeking answers to our current debates and dilemmas in the archives of the Founding Fathers, yet he attempts to do so here, and his effort to apply the views of four historical icons to current political conflicts is interesting and useful. On the topic of racial relations, Ellis refers to Thomas Jefferson and seems to delight in pointing out Jefferson’s inconsistencies and contradictions on the topic. Considering political equality, Ellis turns to John Adams, who didn’t view equality as the “natural” political order and didn’t share Jefferson’s faith in the wisdom of the people; in fact, he viewed a very powerful executive as necessary to protect the public from both an emerging elite and themselves. On foreign policy, Ellis turns to Washington, who strove to manage “foreign” relations with Native nations and maintain American neutrality between France and Britain. Ellis is provocative and interesting and reminds us that our present controversies are not unique or new.

Kirkus Reviews starred (July 15, 2018)
An eminent historian sharply illuminates the “messy moment” of the nation’s founding and its implications for contemporary America.Ellis (Emeritus, History/Mount Holyoke Coll.; The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution, 1783-1789, 2015, etc.), winner of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award, offers a lucid and authoritative examination of America’s tumultuous beginnings, when the Founding Fathers grappled with issues of race, income inequality, law, and foreign policy—all issues that still vex the nation. Believing that history is “an ongoing conversation between past and present,” the author asks what Jefferson, Washington, Madison, and Adams can teach us today. “What did ‘all men are created equal’ mean then and now? Did the ‘pursuit of happiness’ imply the right to some semblance of economic equality? Does it now?” These and other salient questions inform Ellis’ vivid depiction of the controversies swirling as the Constitution was drafted and ratified. The Founders were men of deep contradictions and evolving political views. As a young man, for example, Jefferson “insisted that the central principles of the American Revolution were inherently incompatible with slavery.” The older Jefferson, who owned hundreds of slaves and fathered many children with his slave Sally Hemings, fervently believed that races should not mix. Slaves should be freed, he conceded, and then sent to the unpopulated West, Santo Domingo, or Liberia. As to equality, the Founders “were a self-conscious elite” who did not value “the innate wisdom of the common man.” John Adams’ “prognosis for the American future was a plutocratic aristocracy.” Freedom to pursue wealth, he asserted, “essentially ensured the triumph of inequality.” Ellis places Washington’s famous warning against foreign entanglements in the context of westward expansion, Native American removal, and postwar negotiations. Most fascinating is the author’s cogent critique of constitutional originalists, intent on recovering “the mentality and language of the framers on their own terms in their own time.” A discerning, richly detailed inquiry into America’s complex political and philosophical legacy.

About the Author

Joseph J. Ellis, a professor of history at Mount Holyoke College, is a nationally recognized scholar of American history from colonial times through the early decades of the Republic. The author of seven books, he is recipient of the National Book Award in Nonfiction for American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson and the Pulitzer Prize for Founding Brothers. He lives in Massachusetts.

Her website is www.josephellishistorian.com

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Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow

Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist by Eli Saslow. September 18, 2018. Doubleday, 304 p. ISBN: 9780385542869.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, the powerful story of how a prominent white supremacist changed his heart and mind

Derek Black grew up at the epicenter of white nationalism. His father founded Stormfront, the largest racist community on the internet. His godfather, David Duke, was a KKK Grand Wizard. By the time Derek turned nineteen, he had become an elected politician with his own daily radio show–already regarded as the “the leading light” of the burgeoning white nationalist movement. “We can infiltrate,” Derek once told a crowd of white nationalists. “We can take the country back.” Then he went to college.

Derek had been home-schooled by his parents, steeped in the culture of white supremacy, and he had rarely encountered diverse perspectives or direct outrage against his beliefs. At New College of Florida, he continued to broadcast his radio show in secret each morning, living a double life until a classmate uncovered his identity and sent an email to the entire school. “Derek Black…white supremacist, radio host…New College student???”

The ensuing uproar overtook one of the most liberal colleges in the country. Some students protested Derek’s presence on campus, forcing him to reconcile the ugliness his beliefs for the first time. Other students found the courage to reach out to him, including an Orthodox Jew who invited Derek to attend weekly Shabbat dinners. It was because of those dinners–and the wide-ranging relationships formed at that table–that Derek started to question the science, history, and prejudices behind his worldview. As white nationalism infiltrated the political mainstream, Derek decided to confront the damage he had done.

Rising Out of Hatred tells the story of how white-supremacist ideas migrated from the far-right fringe to the White House through the intensely personal saga of one man who eventually disavowed everything he was taught to believe, at tremendous personal cost. With great empathy and narrative verve, Eli Saslow asks what Derek’s story can tell us about America’s increasingly divided nature. This is a book to help us understand the American moment and better understand one another.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Discrimination, Racism

 

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Reviews

Booklist (August 2018 (Vol. 114, No. 22))
As the son of infamous white supremacist Don Black, Derek Black was a rising star among white nationalists, preaching racial separatism from his own radio-show pulpit by the age of 19. After enrolling at the leftist-leaning New College of Florida in 2010, where Black reasoned he could work his subversive influence from the inside, his views about racial tolerance underwent a radical shift away from his elders’ philosophy. Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporter Saslow’s decision to recount Black’s transformation with politically neutral detachment makes his story no less captivating. Saslow notes that Black, unlike his father and fellow racist cohorts, chose to strip his rhetoric of inflammatory language and cleverly reframe the movement in terms of white persecution by Jews and minorities. Yet, while Black’s unearthed presence at the New College quickly triggered protests, his growing friendships with a Hispanic roommate and a Jewish student forced him to reexamine his formative indoctrination and eventually break with his family. Amid the current swirling controversies around racial issues, Saslow’s work is both timely and encouraging.

Kirkus Reviews (July 1, 2018)
Pulitzer Prize–winning Washington Post reporter Saslow (Ten Letters: The Stories Americans Tell Their President, 2011) delivers a memorable story of a prodigal son who broke with white supremacy thanks to the kindness of strangers.It is a small irony that Derek Black abandoned the nationalist, white power movement at just about the time that a president entered the White House who consciously put white nationalist rhetoric at the center of his campaign. Black came by his race hatred naturally, following his father’s ideology as the founder of Stormfront, the neo-Nazi clearinghouse, and that of his godfather, KKK stalwart David Duke. From his father, Black carried the urgent message that whites were being made victims of cultural genocide in their own country, a grievance of the loss of privilege. However, he had a different vision in which hooded, hidden supremacists would become respectable, persuading his father to outlaw “slurs, Nazi insignia, and threats of violence or lawbreaking” from the Stormfront website. Thus Charlottesville, with its clean-cut, polo shirt–wearing torchlight parade marchers. By then, though, Derek was long gone. Bright, well-read, and skilled in debate, he had gone off to college in Florida, and there, his home-schooling parents’ worst nightmare was realized: He formed a bond with a Jewish girl, though he continued his agitating, and when his identity as a white nationalist was exposed, a Jewish conservative invited him to exchange ideas. Black’s eventual renunciation of the nationalist cause threw his parents into turmoil; as Saslow writes, his father hoped that “maybe Derek was just faking a change in ideology so he could have an easier life and a more successful career in academia.” But absent widespread changes of heart, Black’s story is an anomaly, if an instructive one—and one that closes with a dark message that conflict is looming as the white nationalist movement appears to be mushrooming. A sobering book that deserves a wide audience among politics-watchers in an age of reaction.

About the Author

Eli Saslow is an author and a staff writer for The Washington Post, where he travels the country to write in-depth stories about the impact of major national issues on individual lives. He won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Explanatory Reporting for a series of stories about the rise of food stamps and hunger in the United States. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing in 2013, 2016 and 2017. An occasional contributor to ESPN the Magazine, four of his stories have been anthologized in Best American Sportswriting. He grew up in Denver, graduated from Syracuse University and now lives in Portland, Or., with his wife and three children.

Her website is www.elisaslow.com

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Taking Cover by Nioucha Homayoomfar

Taking Cover: One Girl’s Story of Growing Up during the Iranian Revolution by Nioucha Homeyoomfar. January 1, 2019. National Geographic Society, 160 p. ISBN: 9781426333675.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

This coming-of-age memoir, set during the Iranian Revolution, tells the true story of a young girl who moves to Tehran from the U.S. and has to adjust to living in a new country, learning a new language, and starting a new school during one of the most turbulent periods in Iran’s history.

When five-year-old Nioucha Homayoonfar moves from the U.S. to Iran in 1979, its open society means a life with dancing, women’s rights, and other freedoms. But soon the revolution erupts and the rules of life in Iran change. Religion classes become mandatory. Nioucha has to cover her head and wear robes. Opinions at school are not welcome. Her cousin is captured and tortured after he is caught trying to leave the country. And yet, in the midst of so much change and challenge, Nioucha is still just a girl who wants to play with her friends, please her parents, listen to pop music, and, eventually, have a boyfriend. Will she ever get used to this new culture? Can she break the rules without consequences? Nioucha’s story sheds light on the timely conversation about religious, political, and social freedom, publishing in time for the 40th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Use of the word “whore”

 

About the Author

An international citizen from a young age, Nioucha Homayoonfar was born in Brussels to an Iranian father and French mother, spent her earliest years in Pittsburgh, and became a teenager in Tehran. Homayoonfar grew up caught between two worlds: a free and Western life lived indoors, and a repressive life lived outside the confines of the family home. The family finally left Iran when Nioucha was nearly 17 years old. In the U.S., she studied art history and Spanish at the University of Pittsburgh. She now lives in the Washington, D.C., area with her husband, author and journalist Stew Magnuson, and their two children.

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The Perfect Candidate by Peter Stone

The Perfect Candidate by Peter Stone. October 2, 2018. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 320 p. ISBN: 9781534422179.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA.

From debut author Peter Stone comes a heart-stopping, pulse-pounding political thriller that’s perfect for fans of Ally Carter and House of Cards

When recent high school graduate Cameron Carter lands an internship with Congressman Billy Beck in Washington, DC, he thinks it is his ticket out of small town captivity. What he lacks in connections and Beltway polish he makes up in smarts, and he soon finds a friend and mentor in fellow staffer Ariel Lancaster.

That is, until she winds up dead.

As rumors and accusations about her death fly around Capitol Hill, Cameron’s low profile makes him the perfect candidate for an FBI investigation that he wants no part of. Before he knows it—and with his family’s future at stake—he discovers DC’s darkest secrets as he races to expose a deadly conspiracy.

If it doesn’t get him killed first.

Potentially Sensitive Areas:  Mild sexual themes; Underage drinking

 

Reviews

Booklist (October 15, 2018 (Vol. 115, No. 4))
Grades 8-11. High-school graduate Cameron Carter has secured an internship with Congressman Billy Beck. When he moves to Washington, D.C., Cameron is full of idealism and political drive. He has even managed to find a friend and confidante in Ariel Lancaster, a fellow staffer, who is much more welcoming than his roommates (who act partly as superfluous comic relief). But just as Cameron feels he’s hitting his stride, Ariel dies in a car crash, an FBI agent corners him in an elevator, and the seemingly perfect congressman’s kindness and attention takes on a sinister dimension. As Cam gets swept up in an investigation he wants no part of, he teams up with the FBI agent and the daughter of the Mexican ambassador to try to get to the bottom of a dangerous conspiracy. Although the antagonists are somewhat two-dimensional, Stone’s debut novel will nevertheless engage readers looking for a politically charged, high-stakes thriller with a hint of romance. Hand to fans of Ally Carter’s All Fall Down (2015).

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2018)
During a summer internship, a teenage boy is thrust into the middle of a murderous political game in Stone’s thriller debut. Cameron Carter is in serious trouble. He was thrilled when a summer internship in his congressman’s office, the opportunity of lifetime, landed in his lap. He makes friends with fellow interns, impresses several staffers, and even sparks a relationship with Lena Cruz, the adventurous daughter of the Mexican ambassador. But when Ariel, a staffer who had taken Cameron under her wing and asked for his help on a secret project, dies suddenly in a car crash, fissures of doubt around her death begin to break apart the shiny facade of the capital and the congressman himself. Character development takes a back seat to an enthralling plot of power, greed, and murder that threatens to swallow its protagonist whole. Cameron is something of an Everyman—a white teen in a very white Washington, D.C., he is YA’s answer to Harrison Ford—but his dogged (even reckless) proclivity for pursuing questions and some complexity with regard to his supposedly deceased mother keep readers from losing him in the high-octane plot. Some artless setup for a sequel may detract from the narrative’s overall punch, but readers can’t help but wonder what will come next. While not pushing the genre into new territory, Stone has crafted a narrative driven by that most potent of fuels: political intrigue. (Political thriller. 14-17)

About the Author

Peter Stone is a lifelong fan of thrillers on the big screen, small screen, and page. Prior to his career in TV and film marketing, he worked in Washington, DC, first as an intern on Capitol Hill and later as a Spanish tutor for a former Speaker of the House. The Perfect Candidate is his debut novel. He lives in Tokyo, Japan, with his wife and two sons.

His website is www.peterstonebooks.com

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Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis

Talking to My Daughter About the Economy by Yanis Varoufakis. May 8, 2018. Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 224 p. ISBN: 9780374272364.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

In Talking to My Daughter About the Economy, activist Yanis Varoufakis, Greece’s former finance minister and the author of the international bestseller Adults in the Room, pens a series of letters to his young daughter, educating her about the business, politics, and corruption of world economics.

Yanis Varoufakis has appeared before heads of nations, assemblies of experts, and countless students around the world. Now, he faces his most important―and difficult―audience yet. Using clear language and vivid examples, Varoufakis offers a series of letters to his young daughter about the economy: how it operates, where it came from, how it benefits some while impoverishing others. Taking bankers and politicians to task, he explains the historical origins of inequality among and within nations, questions the pervasive notion that everything has its price, and shows why economic instability is a chronic risk. Finally, he discusses the inability of market-driven policies to address the rapidly declining health of the planet his daughter’s generation stands to inherit.

Throughout, Varoufakis wears his expertise lightly. He writes as a parent whose aim is to instruct his daughter on the fundamental questions of our age―and through that knowledge, to equip her against the failures and obfuscations of our current system and point the way toward a more democratic alternative.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

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About the Author

Yanis Varoufakis is a former finance minister of Greece and a cofounder of an international grassroots movement, DiEM25, that is campaigning for the revival of democracy in Europe. He is the author of the international bestseller Adults in the RoomAnd the Weak Suffer What They Must?, and The Global Minotaur. After teaching for many years in the United States, Great Britain, and Australia, he is currently a professor of economics at the University of Athens.

His website is www.yanisvaroufakis.eu.

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Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough

Alexander Hamilton, Revolutionary by Martha Brockenbrough. September 5, 2017. Feiwel & Friends, 372 p. ISBN: 9781250123190.  Int Lvl: YA; Rdg Lvl: YA; Lexile: 1000.

Complex, passionate, brilliant, flawed―Alexander Hamilton comes alive in this exciting biography.

He was born out of wedlock on a small island in the West Indies and orphaned as a teenager. From those inauspicious circumstances, he rose to a position of power and influence in colonial America.

Discover this founding father’s incredible true story: his brilliant scholarship and military career; his groundbreaking and enduring policy, which shapes American government today; his salacious and scandalous personal life; his heartrending end.

Richly informed by Hamilton’s own writing, with archival artwork and new illustrations, this is an in-depth biography of an extraordinary man.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Guns, Mild language, War, Mild sexual themes

 

Reviews

Booklist (August 2017 (Vol. 113, No. 22))
Grades 7-10. Let’s face it: as a subject, Alexander Hamilton is hot, thanks to the wildly popular Broadway musical bearing his name. This brings a built-in audience to Brockenbrough’s ambitious biography, which follows Hamilton’s eventful life from his illegitimate birth in the West Indies to his appointment by George Washington as America’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Brockenbrough gives particular attention to Hamilton’s service in the Revolutionary War and to his role as Washington’s protégé, which gave him influence far beyond his rank. Those expecting a warts-and-all look, however, will be disappointed. The few flaws the author offers—Hamilton’s vanity, his recklessness, his ill-advised extramarital affair, his obsession with honor, which would be his undoing—are largely papered over or dismissed. By the same token, his adversaries, especially Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, are often strongly demonized. All this said, Hamilton’s life is an inspiration, a fact that Brockenbrough captures nicely in a well-written biography that fills a gap in the literature. Expect wide reader interest.

Kirkus Reviews (August 15, 2017)
Over 200 years after his death in a duel with former Vice President Aaron Burr, founding father Alexander Hamilton’s story is a major player in popular culture. Brockenbrough begins her narrative with a list of the contradictions of Hamilton’s life and then sets out to describe many of them in detail. Hamilton’s wretched childhood and struggles for survival and an education set a tone that depicts him as the consummate self-made man whose flaws damaged both his political career and personal life. Hamilton’s courtship and marriage to Elizabeth Schuyler, a daughter of one of the country’s most influential families, is a key part, along with prominent figures from American history. Sometimes the intricacies of Revolutionary War strategy and Constitutional Convention maneuvering slow things down, making the pace uneven. However, tidbits about Hamilton’s role in the episode with Benedict Arnold and his close relationships with fellow soldier John Laurens and his sister-in-law Angelica Church are intriguing. The story is targeted to an older audience than Teri Kanefield’s Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America (2017), so the sex scandal that derailed Hamilton’s political career is part of the story, as is, of course, the duel that ended his life. After the epilogue, the volume includes information on 18th-century medicine, attire, and warfare among other contextualizing topics ; the volume will be illustrated with archival material (not seen). With the demand for all things Hamilton still strong, this will resonate with many teen readers. (timeline, source notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 12-18)

About the Author

Martha Brockenbrough draws on her diverse experience in journalism, research, nonfiction, and literary teen fiction to bring Alexander Hamilton to life. A powerful storyteller and narrative voice, Brockenbrough is the author of the critically acclaimed YA novels The Game of Love and Death and Devine Intervention. She enjoys reading Hamilton’s original correspondence, playing board games, and spending time with her family. She lives in Seattle, Washington.

Her website is marthabrockenbrough.com

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Alexander Hamilton by Teri Kanefield

Alexander Hamilton: The Making of America by Teri Kanefield. March 7, 2017. Harry N. Abrams, 208 p. ISBN: 9781419725784.  Int Lvl: 5-8.

The America that Alexander Hamilton knew was largely agricultural and built on slave labor. He envisioned something else: a multi-racial, urbanized, capitalistic America with a strong central government. He believed that such an America would be a land of opportunity for the poor and the newcomers. But Hamilton’s vision put him at odds with his archrivals who envisioned a pastoral America of small towns, where governments were local, states would control their own destiny, and the federal government would remain small and weak.

The disputes that arose during America’s first decades continued through American history to our present day. Over time, because of the systems Hamilton set up and the ideas he left, his vision won out. Here is the story that epitomizes the American dream—a poor immigrant who made good in America. In the end, Hamilton rose from poverty through his intelligence and ability, and did more to shape our country than any of his contemporaries.

Related subjects and concepts discussed in the book include:

Law and Legal Concepts
Due process
Bill of Rights
Freedom of Speech and the Press
Originalism / nonoriginalism (theories of Constitutional interpretation)

Government
Checks and Balances
Democracy
Electoral College
Republic

Financial Concepts
Capitalism
Credit
Inflation
Interest
Mercantilism
Securities: Stocks and Bonds
Tariffs
Taxes

Miscellaneous
Demagogues
Dueling
Pastoralism

Potentially Sensitive Areas: None

 

Reviews

Kirkus Reviews (February 1, 2017)
The contributions and eventful life of founding father Alexander Hamilton are examined and explained.The enthusiasm for Broadway hit and cultural phenomenon Hamilton, The Musical shows little signs of abating, and its popular cast album has generated interest in the country’s first treasury secretary among all ages. This brief biography seeks to answer questions about the talented founding father whose background was so unlike those of his peers. Beginning and ending with Hamilton’s duel with then–Vice President Aaron Burr, the remainder follows his life, focusing on many of the highlights that brought him to prominence. Of course, his efforts to determine the country’s economic system and the rivalry they spawned with Thomas Jefferson are prominent. Kanefield provides necessary context for the differing worldviews of the two men, cogently explaining the strong distrust between growing mercantile interests and the planter class. In much the same way, she compares the similarities between Hamilton and Burr as well as the political differences that eventually drove them to the duel. Given the target audience, there is no mention of the sex scandal that tarnished Hamilton’s public reputation, but there is some sense of his complicated personality. The strength of the book is the generous use of Hamilton’s own words, including a section with samples of his writings. Illustrations and sidebars add clarity to the readable narrative. A solid introduction to a charismatic founding father. (timeline, chapter notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 10-14)

Publishers Weekly Annex (February 13, 2017)
Well-timed to tap into ongoing Hamilton-mania, Kanefield (The Extraordinary Suzy Wright) revisits America’s formative years in a lucid biography that illuminates the personality and politics of Alexander Hamilton, spotlighting his role in shaping the structure of the U.S. government and economy. Disinherited and shunned due to his illegitimate birth at a time when birthright paved one’s way to success, Hamilton emigrated from the island of St. Croix to New York City, determined to improve his financial and social status and find fame through his own achievements. Kanefield credibly reveals how Hamilton’s intelligence, high self-expectations, commitment to his beliefs, and skills as an orator and writer fueled his advocacy of a strong central government rooted in mercantilism and manufacturing. Details about Hamilton’s complex relationships with George Washington and Thomas Jefferson offer insight into the ideologies and character of all three statesmen, and add additional human dimension to this portrait of this nation’s beginnings. Excerpts from Hamilton’s writings, period art, and sidebars defining historical, political, and legislative terms further enhance this absorbing chronicle. Ages 10-14. (Mar.)

About the Author

Teri writes novels, short stories, essays, stories for children, nonfiction for both children and adults, and lots of appellate briefs.

Her stories and essays have appeared in publications as diverse as Education Week, Scope Magazine, The Iowa Review, Cricket Magazine, and The American Literary Review.

Teri’s law practice is limited to representing indigents on appeal from adverse rulings.

She lives in California near the beach.

Her website is www.terikanefield.com.

Teacher Resources

Alexander Hamilton “Grab and Go” Teaching Resources

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The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee. November 1, 2016. Berkley, 304 p. ISBN: 9781592409006.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 1200.

The thrilling, true-life account of the FBI’s hunt for the ingenious traitor Brian Regan—known as the Spy Who Couldn’t Spell.

Before Edward Snowden’s infamous data breach, the largest theft of government secrets was committed by an ingenious traitor whose intricate espionage scheme and complex system of coded messages were made even more baffling by his dyslexia. His name is Brian Regan, but he came to be known as The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell.

In December of 2000, FBI Special Agent Steven Carr of the bureau’s Washington, D.C., office received a package from FBI New York: a series of coded letters from an anonymous sender to the Libyan consulate, offering to sell classified United States intelligence. The offer, and the threat, were all too real. A self-proclaimed CIA analyst with top secret clearance had information about U.S. reconnaissance satellites, air defense systems, weapons depots, munitions factories, and underground bunkers throughout the Middle East.

Rooting out the traitor would not be easy, but certain clues suggested a government agent with a military background, a family, and a dire need for money. Leading a diligent team of investigators and code breakers, Carr spent years hunting down a dangerous spy and his cache of stolen secrets.

In this fast-paced true-life spy thriller, Yudhijit Bhattacharjee reveals how the FBI unraveled Regan’s strange web of codes to build a case against a man who nearly collapsed America’s military security.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Mild language

 

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Reviews

Booklist (September 15, 2016 (Vol. 113, No. 2))
In his first book, Bhattacharjee, who writes for Science, the New York Times, and the Atlantic, will leave readers wondering whether classified information from the U.S. government is always vulnerable to being sold, for the right price. Before Edward Snowden’s data breaching or Julian Assange’s WikiLeaks, Brian Regan, a former American intelligence specialist, committed one of the most massive acts of espionage in American history, by selling U.S. classified and secret information to foreign governments. But, because Regan was arrested shortly before September 11, 2001, Bhattacharjee argues, his extraordinary story has never fully been told. Bhattacharjee now writes the true tale of the dyslexic man who became known as “the spy who couldn’t spell” and the FBI special agent who, along with a team of experts, identified Regan’s illegal activities, tracked his steps, and broke into his coded messages and letters (which were often riddled with misspellings). Readers interested in spy thrillers, cybercryptology, and the history of U.S. espionage will find this book to be both entertaining and helpful in understanding today’s complex landscape of leaked classified information.

Publishers Weekly (September 19, 2016)
Journalist Bhattacharjee skillfully touches all the bases in recounting the story of Brian Regan, who pilfered reams of top secret information from his job at the National Reconnaissance Office and offered to sell them to foreign governments. Regan stole more secrets than Edward Snowden would over a decade later, but few have heard of him because he was quickly caught and imprisoned. Bhattacharjee covers Regan’s unsatisfactory life. He was mired in debt and unpopular at the NRO. In 1999, after studying the techniques of other spies, Regan concocted a bizarre scheme. The result: in 2000 the Libyan consulate received three separate letters containing a sample of secret documents and pages of codes that, when deciphered, described his offer. Sadly for Regan, an informant forwarded them to the FBI, who soon identified him through bad spelling and several clumsy errors. Regan’s arrest was straightforward. Far more difficult was recovering his immense buried cache of documents and other materials, because he had forgotten many of the complex codes needed to locate them. Readers may skim the explanations of Regan’s codes, but they will thoroughly enjoy this fast-moving account of a failed spy who, despite his incompetence, easily filched thousands of secrets.

About the Author

Yudhijit Bhattacharjee is an award-winning writer whose features and essays on espionage, cybercrime, science and medicine have appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, National Geographic, Wired and other U.S. magazines. Yudhijit spent 11 years as a staff writer at the weekly journal Science, writing about neuroscience, astronomy and a variety of other topics in research and science policy. His work has been anthologized in the Best American Science and Nature Writing series. Yudhijit has an undergraduate degree from the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, and a master’s in journalism from The Ohio State University. He lives in a suburb of Washington, D.C., with his wife, his two children and a big red dog.

His website is www.yudhijit.com.

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The Nix by Nathan Hill

The Nix: A Novel by Nathan Hill. August 30, 2016. Knopf, 640 p. ISBN: 9781101946619.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD.

From the suburban Midwest to New York City to the 1968 riots that rocked Chicago and beyond, The Nix explores—with sharp humor and a fierce tenderness—the resilience of love and home, even in times of radical change.

It’s 2011, and Samuel Andresen-Anderson—college professor, stalled writer—has a Nix of his own: his mother, Faye. He hasn’t seen her in decades, not since she abandoned the family when he was a boy. Now she’s re-appeared, having committed an absurd crime that electrifies the nightly news, beguiles the internet, and inflames a politically divided country. The media paints Faye as a radical hippie with a sordid past, but as far as Samuel knows, his mother was an ordinary girl who married her high-school sweetheart. Which version of his mother is true? Two facts are certain: she’s facing some serious charges, and she needs Samuel’s help.

To save her, Samuel will have to embark on his own journey, uncovering long-buried secrets about the woman he thought he knew, secrets that stretch across generations and have their origin all the way back in Norway, home of the mysterious Nix. As he does so, Samuel will confront not only Faye’s losses but also his own lost love, and will relearn everything he thought he knew about his mother, and himself.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Strong sexual themes; Drugs; Alcohol; Criminal culture; Description of sexual abuse

 

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Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 21))
Growing up in a small, watchful Iowa town, Faye endures her brooding Norwegian immigrant father’s frightening ghost stories, especially one about a spirit known as the nix, which can haunt a family for eons. This is the kernel from which Hill’s accomplished, many-limbed debut novel germinates. Cartwheeling among multiple narrators, it spins the galvanizing stories of three generations derailed in unexpected ways by WWII, the Vietnam War, and the Iraq War. Faye inflicts the chilling tale of the nix on her hypersensitive son, Samuel, and then abandons him and his father. Twenty-three years later, in 2011, Samuel, a failed writer and English professor so disheartened by his cell-phone-addicted students and litigation-phobic administration that he routinely retreats into a multiplayer video game, is dragged back into the real world when his long-estranged mother is arrested for assaulting a right-wing presidential candidate. This precipitates a leap back to 1968 and Faye’s wounding experiences during the infamous Democratic convention in Chicago. As more subplots build, including the mesmerizing tale of young Samuel’s relationships with twins fearless Bishop and violin prodigy Bethany, Hill takes aim at hypocrisy, greed, misogyny, addiction, and vengeance with edgy humor and deep empathy in a whiplashing mix of literary artistry and compulsive readability. Place Hill’s engrossing, skewering, and preternaturally timely tale beside the novels of Tom Wolfe, John Irving, Donna Tartt, and Michael Chabon.

Kirkus Reviews starred (June 1, 2016)
Sparkling, sweeping debut novel that takes in a large swath of recent American history and pop culture and turns them on their sides.The reader will be forgiven for a certain sinking feeling on knowing that the protagonist of Hill’s long yarn is–yes–a writer, and worse, a writer teaching at a college, though far happier playing online role-playing games involving elves and orcs and such than doling out wisdom on the classics of Western literature. Samuel Andresen-Anderson–there’s a reason for that doubled-up last name–owes his publisher a manuscript, and now the publisher is backing out with the excuse, “Primarily, you’re not famous anymore,” and suing to get back the advance in the bargain. What’s a fellow to do? Well, it just happens that Samuel’s mother, who has been absent for decades, having apparently run off in the hippie days to follow her bliss, is back on the scene, having become famous herself for chucking a rock at a rising right-wing demagogue, the virulent Gov. Sheldon Packer. Hill opens by running through the permutations of journalism that promote her from back to front page, with a run of ever more breathless headlines until a “clever copywriter” arrives at the sobriquet “Packer Attacker,” “which is promptly adopted by all the networks and incorporated into the special logos they make for the coverage.” Where did mom run off to? Why? What has she been up to? Andresen-Anderson is too busy asking questions to feel too sorry for what his editor calls “your total failure to become a famous writer.” There are hints of Michael Chabon’s Wonder Boys as Hill, by way of his narrative lead, wrestles alternately converging and fugitive stories onto the page, stories that range from the fjords of Norway to the streets of “Czechago” in the heady summer of 1968. There are also hints of Pynchon, though, as Hill gently lampoons advertising culture, publishing, academia, politics, and everything in between. A grand entertainment, smart and well-paced, and a book that promises good work to come.

About the Author

Nathan Hill’s short fiction has appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, AGNI, The Gettysburg Review, and Fiction, where he was awarded the annual Fiction Prize. A native Iowan, he lives with his wife in Naples, Florida. The Nix is his first novel.

His website is nathanhill.net.

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The Fire This Time by Jesmyn Ward

The Fire This Time: A New Generation Speaks About Race by Jesmyn Ward. August 2, 2016. Scribner, 240 p. ISBN: 9781501126345.  Int Lvl: AD; Rdg Lvl: AD; Lexile: 1230.

National Book Award winner Jesmyn Ward takes James Baldwin’s 1963 examination of race in America, The Fire Next Time, as a jumping off point for this groundbreaking collection of essays and poems about race from the most important voices of her generation and our time.

In light of recent tragedies and widespread protests across the nation, The Progressive magazine republished one of its most famous pieces: James Baldwin’s 1962 “Letter to My Nephew,” which was later published in his landmark book, The Fire Next Time. Addressing his fifteen-year-old namesake on the one hundredth anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, Baldwin wrote: “You know and I know, that the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.”

Award-winning author Jesmyn Ward knows that Baldwin’s words ring as true as ever today. In response, she has gathered short essays, memoir, and a few essential poems to engage the question of race in the United States. And she has turned to some of her generation’s most original thinkers and writers to give voice to their concerns.

The Fire This Time is divided into three parts that shine a light on the darkest corners of our history, wrestle with our current predicament, and envision a better future. Of the eighteen pieces, ten were written specifically for this volume.

In the fifty-odd years since Baldwin’s essay was published, entire generations have dared everything and made significant progress. But the idea that we are living in the post-Civil Rights era, that we are a “postracial” society, is an inaccurate and harmful reflection of a truth the country must confront. Baldwin’s “fire next time” is now upon us, and it needs to be talked about.

Potentially Sensitive Areas: Strong language; Violence; Mild sexual themes; Criminal culture; Racial epithets. 

 

Reviews

Booklist starred (July 2016 (Vol. 112, No. 21))
James Baldwin’s famous book of essays, The Fire Next Time (1963), brilliantly examines the interrelated roles of race, history, and religion in the U.S. Building on Baldwin’s title, editor Ward has assembled poetry, essays, and flash nonfiction to address the renewed racial tensions that continue to boil in America in the twenty-first century. The author of two award-winning novels and the critically acclaimed memoir Men We Reaped (2013), Ward divides the volume into three sections: “Legacy,“ “Reckoning,“ and “Jubilee.” The result is a powerfully striking collection, from Honorée Jeffers’ illuminating and exhaustive efforts to correct the legacy of Phillis Wheatley, the first African American woman to publish a book of poetry in the U.S., to poet Kevin Young’s insightful consideration of the humor and tragedy at the heart of the racial hoax perpetrated by the former president of a chapter of the NAACP, Rachel Dolezal. “White Rage,” a short piece by Carol Anderson, deftly reconfigures the outrage and violence of Ferguson, Missouri, as the result of calculated oppression, and poems by Jericho Brown, Natasha Tretheway, and Clint Smith punctuate the book. An absolutely indispensable anthology that should be read alongside other recent, equally transformative works, including Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me (2015) and Claudia Rankine’s Citizen (2014).

Kirkus Reviews (May 15, 2016)
Poets, scholars, and essayists reflect on race in America.In this insightful collection, novelist and memoirist Ward (Creative Writing/Tulane Univ.; Men We Reaped: A Memoir, 2013, etc.) brings together 18 writers “to dissent, to call for account, to witness, to reckon.” Taking her title from James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time (1963), Ward hopes this book will offer solace and hope to a new generation of readers, just as Baldwin’s work did for her. Many essays respond to racial violence, invoking the tragedies of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Sarah Bland, worshipers at Charleston’s Emanuel Church, and Abner Louima, among many others. Edwidge Danticat reports that she asked Louima recently how it feels each time he hears that a black person was killed by police. “It reminds me that our lives mean nothing,” he told her. As other parents reveal in their essays, Danticat feels she must have two conversations with her daughters: “one about why we’re here and the other about why it’s not always a promised land for people who look like us.” She wishes, instead, to assure them “they can overcome everything, if they are courageous, resilient, and brave.” Poet Claudia Rankine was told by the mother of a black son, “the condition of black life is one of mourning.” Besides fear for their children’s futures, some writers focus on their black identity. As a result of genetic testing, Ward discovered that her ancestry was 40 percent European, a result that she found “discomfiting.” “For a few days after I received my results,” she writes, “I looked into the mirror and didn’t know how to understand myself.” Wendy Walters resisted thinking about slavery until the discovery of long-buried slaves in New Hampshire provoked her to research the past. Poet Kevin Young shrewdly probes NAACP leader Rachel Dolezal’s motives to pass as black. Carol Anderson, Emily Raboteau, Natasha Trethewey, and others also add useful essays to this important collection. Timely contributions to an urgent national conversation.

About the Author

Jesmyn Ward is the author of Where the Line Bleeds, Salvage the Bones, and Men We Reaped. She is a former Stegner Fellow (Stanford University) and Grisham Writer in Residence at the University of Mississippi. She is an associate professor of Creative Writing at Tulane University.

Her work has appeared in BOMB, A Public Space and The Oxford American.

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