The Daily Beast Recommends
This week: a Harvard thriller, the answer to Blink, a funny novel about an aging family, and the true story of the Italian Mob.
The Battle for America 2008by Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson
Two WaPo reporters on the historic election.
The election may have been only last year, but it seems ages ago. Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson, two campaign reporters for The Washington Post, are some of the first to take a stab at chronicling the historic race. Their new book, The Battle for America 2008, is likely to satisfy political junkies and the more casual reader, but the pair of journalists also have a knack for the anecdote as microcosm, as certain moments seem to sum up aspects of the epic narrative that played out in 2008. One such moment occurred early in 2007, when Barack Obama was stranded in a small six-seat chartered plane on the tarmac with a handful of aides. Suddenly, two motorcades of black SUVs pulled up to deliver Bill and Hillary Clinton to two Gulfstream jets awaiting them. The planes promptly took off, leaving Obama and his crew in the dust. “I guess this really is a grassroots campaign,” Obama joked. Details such as this, along with new insight into Ted Kennedy’s decision to endorse Obama and John McCain’s ups and downs with Sarah Palin, further enrich an already remarkable tale.
A fast-paced, detailed account of the original gangs of New York.
Before The Godfather and The Sopranos were the original gangsters: the little-known Italian immigrants who would become one of the most feared, ruthless, and secretive crime organizations in the world. The First Family describes the origins of the Italian Mafia in New York from the 1890s to the 1920s, and the one-fingered Mob boss, Giuseppe Morello, who came to control much of Lower Manhattan. The book provides a detailed account of the Mafia’s earliest roots—and explains how mobsters came from Sicily through Ellis Island (19 out of 20, Dash writes, were found to be carrying weapons through the checkpoints) and created a community in Little Italy. The book is thoroughly researched: Dash includes 34 pages of footnotes, many of which cite primary sources such as Secret Service records. And because Mob families tend to have more characters than the average Russian novel, Dash has conveniently included a “rogues’ gallery”—a who’s who of the Mafia, in addition to detailed maps and family trees.
Forget Blink—here’s a new book on how we think.
As a few signs have emerged that point to economic recovery, now is the time to stay alert with financial decisions and not fall into the same trap that got us into this mess. According to David E. Adler, that means playing it safe and knowing what instincts to ignore. His new book, Snap Judgment, seeks to refute the assertions made by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestseller Blink and writes that intuition can actually lead toward disaster. Adler, who has a master’s degree in economics from Columbia University, examines the psychology behind the decision-making process and concludes that one must be very discriminating when considering the proverbial “fork in the road.” A reliance on instinct, he argues, is largely to blame for our current economic troubles, and a great deal of restraint will be needed to get us out of it. Sounds like a hard sell on Wall Street.
The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America by Douglas Brinkley
A massive tome serves as the seminal biography of the Rough Rider.
Tackling a character as remarkably complex as Theodore Roosevelt behooves over 800 pages, and this is exactly what Douglas Brinkley delivers: A comprehensive biography of the man who helped usher in the 20th century in America while simultaneously preserving its wild roots. Brinkley's subject, an ardent environmentalist, seems especially timely as America struggles to cope with climate change while preserving its ideals. Roosevelt advocated conservation before the word was even en vogue. Without him, we would not have the Grand Canyon, Crater Lake, Muir Woods and numerous other crown jewels in America's national park system. Brinkley paints a fascinating portrait of Roosevelt's frantic energy, which led him to seek solace in nature. As the U.S. got over its manifest destiny hangover, it was Roosevelt who recognized that the American character was fundamentally tied to the wild. The New York Times Book Review wrote "this book makes abundantly clear...that his inspiration, vision and courage were as rare 100 years ago as they are today and that without them our country would be uglier, and poorer."
Amigolandby Oscar Casares
A hysterical and poignant family road trip.
Old age, irritating siblings, and Mexican immigration are issues with significance in many of our lives, but very rarely is such a cocktail shaken into literature. In Oscar Casares’ first novel, Amigoland, he combines delicate analysis of all these issues, with a road trip thrown in to boot. Don Fidencio and Don Celestino are aging and incontinent brothers who both live near each other, just north of the Mexican border, but never speak after falling out over their memories of their grandfather. Don Celestino’s young Mexican housekeeper-cum-girlfriend convinces him to spring his brother, Don Fidencio, from his nursing home to rekindle their relationship. They drive into Mexico, bickering all the way, to solve the mystery of their grandfather’s kidnapping. BookPage calls the book a “liberating journey full of warmth and color” with an ending that is “bittersweet, unexpected and undeniably precious.”