Category: Good Reads (page 1 of 3)

A Fine Mess : A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System by T. R. Reid

New York Times bestelling author T. R. Reid travels around the world to solve the urgent problem of America’s failing tax code, unravelling a complex topic in plain English – and telling a rollicking story along the way.

The U.S. tax code is a total write-off. Crammed with loopholes and special interest provisions, it works for no one except tax lawyers, accountants, and huge corporations. Not for the first time, we have reached a breaking point. That happened in 1922, and again in 1954, and again in 1986. In other words, every thirty-two years. Which means that the next complete overhaul is due in 2018. But what should be in this new tax code? Can we make the U.S. tax system simpler, fairer, and more efficient? Yes, yes, and yes. Can we cut tax rates and still bring in more revenue? Yes.

Other rich countries, from Estonia to New Zealand to the UK—advanced, high-tech, free-market democracies—have all devised tax regimes that are equitable, effective, and easy on the taxpayer. But the United States has languished. So byzantine are the current statutes that, by our government’s own estimates, Americans spend six billion hours and $10 billion every year preparing and filing their taxes. In the Netherlands that task takes a mere fifteen minutes! Successful American companies like Apple, Caterpillar, and Google effectively pay no tax at all in some instances because of loopholes that allow them to move profits offshore. Indeed, the dysfunctional tax system has become a major cause of economic inequality.

In A Fine Mess, T. R. Reid crisscrosses the globe in search of the exact solutions to these urgent problems. With an uncanny knack for making a complex subject not just accessible but gripping, he investigates what makes good taxation (no, that’s not an oxymoron) and brings that knowledge home where it is needed most. Never talking down or reflexively siding with either wing of politics, T. R. Reid presses the case for sensible root-and-branch reforms with a companionable ebullience. This affects everyone. Doing our taxes will never be America’s favorite pastime, but it can and should be so much easier and fairer.

Recommended by Gary Banks.

A Beautiful Place to Die : a Novel by Malla Nunn

Award-winning screenwriter Malla Nunn delivers a stunning and darkly romantic crime novel set in 1950s apartheid South Africa, featuring Detective Emmanuel Cooper — a man caught up in a time and place where racial tensions and the raw hunger for power make life very dangerous indeed.

In a morally complex tale rich with authenticity, Nunn takes readers to Jacob’s Rest, a tiny town on the border between South Africa and Mozambique. It is 1952, and new apartheid laws have recently gone into effect, dividing a nation into black and white while supposedly healing the political rifts between the Afrikaners and the English. Tensions simmer as the fault line between the oppressed and the oppressors cuts deeper, but it’s not until an Afrikaner police officer is found dead that emotions more dangerous than anyone thought possible boil to the surface.

When Detective Emmanuel Cooper, an Englishman, begins investigating the murder, his mission is preempted by the powerful police Security Branch, who are dedicated to their campaign to flush out black communist radicals. But Detective Cooper isn’t interested in political expediency and has never been one for making friends. He may be modest, but he radiates intelligence and certainly won’t be getting on his knees before those in power. Instead, he strikes out on his own, following a trail of clues that lead him to uncover a shocking forbidden love and the imperfect life of Captain Pretorius, a man whose relationships with the black and coloured residents of the town he ruled were more complicated and more human than anyone could have imagined.

The first in her Detective Emmanuel Cooper series, A Beautiful Place to Die marks the debut of a talented writer who reads like a brilliant combination of Raymond Chandler and Graham Greene. It is a tale of murder, passion, corruption, and the corrosive double standard that defined an apartheid nation.

Recommended by Jan Selkowitz

Troublesome Young Men : the Rebels Who Brought Churchill to Power and Helped Save England by Lynne Olson

A riveting history of the daring politicians who challenged the disastrous policies of the British government on the eve of World War II

On May 7, 1940, the House of Commons began perhaps the most crucial debate in British parliamentary history. On its outcome hung the future of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s government and also of Britain―indeed, perhaps, the world. Troublesome Young Men is Lynne Olson’s fascinating account of how a small group of rebellious Tory MPs defied the Chamberlain government’s defeatist policies that aimed to appease Europe’s tyrants and eventually forced the prime minister’s resignation.

Some historians dismiss the “phony war” that preceded this turning point―from September 1939, when Britain and France declared war on Germany, to May 1940, when Winston Churchill became prime minister―as a time of waiting and inaction, but Olson makes no such mistake, and describes in dramatic detail the public unrest that spread through Britain then, as people realized how poorly prepared the nation was to confront Hitler, how their basic civil liberties were being jeopardized, and also that there were intrepid politicians willing to risk political suicide to spearhead the opposition to Chamberlain―Harold Macmillan, Robert Boothby, Leo Amery, Ronald Cartland, and Lord Robert Cranborne among them. The political and personal dramas that played out in Parliament and in the nation as Britain faced the threat of fascism virtually on its own are extraordinary―and, in Olson’s hands, downright inspiring.

 

Recommended by Tom Reifenheiser

Born a Crime : Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • The compelling, inspiring, and comically sublime story of one man’s coming-of-age, set during the twilight of apartheid and the tumultuous days of freedom that followed.

 

Recommended by Gary Banks

The Polish Officer
Alan Furst

Capt. Alexander de Milja is a chameleon. A cartographer by profession, de Milja works as an intelligence officer in the Polish underground at the outset of World War II. When the Germans discover de Milja’s identity in Poland, he goes to France and later Russia to continue his work. Under a series of false identities, mingling with the bon vivants of occupied Paris, he becomes a prized intelligence resource, surviving by cunning and passing valuable strategic information to the British. De Milja is in even more danger, working as a saboteur based in a Ukrainian forest as the Germans march east. De Milja’s disguises are many-he passes as a Russian writer, a Czech coal merchant, and a Polish horse breeder-and he embraces each persona completely as he goes about the business of espionage and sabotage. De Milja comes across as a genuine individual who, in his weaker moments, grapples with his desire to give up the fight. This well-written, realistic novel paints a vivid picture of the grayness and despair of the German occupation.

Recommended by Tom Reifenheiser

And the Show Went on :
Cultural Life in Nazi-occupied Paris
Alan Riding

In the weeks after the Germans captured Paris, theaters, opera houses, and nightclubs reopened to occupiers and French citizens alike, and they remained open for the duration of the war. Alan Riding introduces a pageant of twentieth-century artists who lived and worked under the Nazis and explores the decisions each made about whether to stay or flee, collaborate or resist.We see Maurice Chevalier and Edith Piaf singing before French and German audiences; Picasso painting and occasionally selling his work from his Left Bank apartment; and Marcel Carne and Henri-Georges Clouzot, among others, directing movies in Paris studios (more than two hundred were produced during this time). We see that pro-Fascist writers such as Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Robert Brasillach flourished, but also that Camus’s The Stranger was published and Sartre’s play No Exit was first performed-ten days before the Normandy landings.Based on exhaustive research and extensive interviews, And the Show Went On sheds a clarifying light on a protean and problematic era in twentieth-century European cultural history

Recommended by David Mace

The Cost of Courage
Charles Kaiser

This heroic true story of the three youngest children of a bourgeois Catholic family who worked together in the French Resistance is told by an American writer who has known and admired the family for five decades. In the autumn of 1943, Andre Boulloche became de Gaulle’s military delegate in Paris, coordinating all the Resistance movements in the nine northern regions of France only to be betrayed by one of his associates, arrested, wounded by the Gestapo, and taken prisoner. His sisters carried on the fight without him until the end of the war. Andre survived three concentration camps and later became a prominent French politician who devoted the rest of his life to reconciliation of France and Germany. His parents and oldest brother were arrested and shipped off on the last train from Paris to Germany before the liberation, and died in the camps. Since then, silence has been the Boulloches’s answer to dealing with the unbearable. This is the first time the family has cooperated with an author to recount their extraordinary ordeal.

Recommended by Taylor Strubinger

The Paris Architect : a Novel
Charles Belfoure

A beautiful and elegant account of an ordinary man’s unexpected and reluctant descent into heroism during the second world war.” —Malcolm Gladwell A thrilling debut novel of World War II Paris, from an author who’s been called “an up and coming Ken Follett.” (Booklist) In 1942 Paris, gifted architect Lucien Bernard accepts a commission that will bring him a great deal of money – and maybe get him killed. But if he’s clever enough, he’ll avoid any trouble. All he has to do is design a secret hiding place for a wealthy Jewish man, a space so invisible that even the most determined German officer won’t find it. He sorely needs the money, and outwitting the Nazis who have occupied his beloved city is a challenge he can’t resist. But when one of his hiding spaces fails horribly, and the problem of where to hide a Jew becomes terribly personal, Lucien can no longer ignore what’s at stake. The Paris Architect asks us to consider what we owe each other, and just how far we’ll go to make things right. Written by an architect whose knowledge imbues every page, this story becomes more gripping with every soul hidden and every life saved.

Recommended by Jan Selkowitz and Burt von Stuelpnagel.

Avenue of Spies
a True Story of Terror, Espionage, and One American Family’s Heroic Resistance in Nazi-occupied France

Alex Kershwaw

The best-selling author of The Liberator brings to life the incredible true story of an American doctor in Paris, and his heroic espionage efforts during World War II The leafy Avenue Foch, one of the most exclusive residential streets in Nazi-occupied France, was Paris’s hotbed of daring spies, murderous secret police, amoral informers, and Vichy collaborators. So when American physician Sumner Jackson, who lived with his wife and young son Phillip at Number 11, found himself drawn into the Liberation network of the French resistance, he knew the stakes were impossibly high. Just down the road at Number 31 was the “mad sadist” Theodor Dannecker, an Eichmann protégé charged with deporting French Jews to concentration camps. And Number 84 housed the Parisian headquarters of the Gestapo, run by the most effective spy hunter in Nazi Germany. From his office at the American Hospital, itself an epicenter of Allied and Axis intrigue, Jackson smuggled fallen Allied fighter pilots safely out of France, a job complicated by the hospital director’s close ties to collaborationist Vichy. After witnessing the brutal round-up of his Jewish friends, Jackson invited Liberation to officially operate out of his home at Number 11–but the noose soon began to tighten. When his secret life was discovered by his Nazi neighbors, he and his family were forced to undertake a journey into the dark heart of the war-torn continent from which there was little chance of return. Drawing upon a wealth of primary source material and extensive interviews with Phillip Jackson, Alex Kershaw recreates the City of Light during its darkest days. The untold story of the Jackson family anchors the suspenseful narrative, and Kershaw dazzles readers with the vivid immediacy of the best spy thrillers. Awash with the tense atmosphere of World War II’s Europe, Avenue of Spies introduces us to the brave doctor who risked everything to defy Hitler.

An interesting fact about this book is that two grand uncles of one of our members, Burt von Stuelpnagel, are in the book.

Recommended by Taylor Strubinger and Burt von Stuelpnagel

Dereliction of Duty
H. R. McMaster

From respected Lieutenant General and Trump Administration National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster, an authoritative, highly critical analysis of the arrogance, deception, and controversial decisions at the highest level of government that led to America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. “The war in Vietnam was not lost in the field, nor was it lost on the front pages of the New York Times or the college campuses. It was lost in Washington, D.C.” —H. R. McMaster (from the Conclusion) Dereliction Of Duty is a stunning analysis of how and why the United States became involved in an all-out and disastrous war in Southeast Asia. Fully and convincingly researched, based on transcripts and personal accounts of crucial meetings, confrontations and decisions, it is the only book that fully re-creates what happened and why. McMaster pinpoints the policies and decisions that got the United States into the morass and reveals who made these decisions and the motives behind them, disproving the published theories of other historians and excuses of the participants. A page-turning narrative, Dereliction Of Duty focuses on a fascinating cast of characters: President Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor, McGeorge Bundy and other top aides who deliberately deceived the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the U.S. Congress and the American public. McMaster’s only book, Dereliction of Duty is an explosive and authoritative new look at the controversy concerning the United States involvement in Vietnam

The Iran Wars : Spy Games, Bank Battles, and the Secret Deals That Reshaped the Middle East
Jay Solomon

This is the deeply reported, riveting account of a war waged on many levels–military, financial, covert–that most don’t realize America has been engaged in for years. For over a decade, against the backdrop of the Middle East, Central Asia and the Far East, the United States and Iran have been engaged in a conflict as significant as it is hidden from view. Using a combination of economic sanctions, assassinations, global diplomacy and intelligence work, the United States has struggled to stabilize and contain what it sees as the most alarming foreign policy threat we face, while at the same time Iran has used the overthrow of Saddam Hussein and their own formidable intelligence networks and proxies to undermine the United States’ foothold in the Middle East. Through missed opportunities, miscommunication, and mistrust the two nations periodically moved toward and backed away from moments of understanding and compromise. Even as Iran built up their nuclear technologies, they were eventually brought to the negotiation table under crushing sanctions. Jay Solomon provides an unprecedented glimpse into the power struggle that the United States and Iran are locked into and the machinations that led to a historic agreement

Recommended by Frank Johnson

Blood and Sand
Alex von Tunzelmann

bloodsandOver sixteen extraordinary days in October and November 1956, the twin crises of Suez and Hungary pushed the world to the brink of a nuclear conflict and what many at the time were calling World War III. Blood and Sand is a revelatory new history of these dramatic events, for the first time setting both crises in the context of the Arab–Israeli conflict, and the treacherous power politics of imperialism and oil.
Blood and Sand tells this story hour by hour, with a fascinating cast of characters including Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anthony Eden, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev, Christian Pineau, Imre Nagy and David Ben-Gurion. It is a tale of conspiracy and revolutions, spies and terrorists, kidnappings and assassination plots, the fall of the British Empire and the rise of American hegemony. Blood and Sand is essential to our understanding of the modern Middle East and resonates powerfully with the problems of oil control, religious fundamentalism and international unity that face the world today.

Recommended by Tom Reifenheiser

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