Remarkable contributions by women to society are plentiful in this week’s selections. In one, the story is told of how an immigrant woman from humble beginnings became a senior presidential advisor and helped shape policy during and after World War II. In another, a fearless French archeologist stood up to Nazi occupiers to save ancient treasures, and later rallied dozens of countries to preserve ancient Egyptian temples.
In a third, a late-night Fox news commentator and comedienne warns us that her beloved freedom of speech is on the decline, and in Newsmax’s fiction offering of the week, an FBI special agent must rely on his timeless female protégé for help.
“The Best Strangers in the World: Stories from a Life Spent Listening,” by Ari Shapiro (HarperOne)
NPR’s “All Things Considered” host Ari Shapiro takes the reader on a trip around the world to reveal the faces of the great and small that are behind the front-page stories.
“People often ask how I stay optimistic in the face of everything that’s happening in the world, with all the terrible things we as journalists cover every day, And the answer I give them is a version of what I’ve put in this book,” he told MSNBC. “Which is the people I’ve met who give me hope, who give me faith in humanity, who remind me that we have so much in common with one another.” In an era marked by division, these are the stories that should give the reader hope that all is not lost — that mankind will make it in the end. (Nonfiction)
“The Cabinet of Dr. Leng,” by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central Publishing)
In this, the 21st book in the coauthors’ popular Agent Pendergast series, the FBI special agent finally meets someone who, for the first time in his career, he cannot deal with on his own — Manhattan’s most infamous serial killer, Dr. Enoch Leng. “The brilliant duo of Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child began their collaboration with Relic (1995), one of the greatest thrillers ever written and the first featuring FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast,” writes Laury A. Egan for New York Journal of Books. “As with every Preston and Child book, prepare to be astounded by these two authors who know everything about everything and take pleasure in displaying their encyclopedic mastery of history, paleontology, gems, architecture, Indian art, absinthe cocktails, and myriad sciences, much to the reader’s delight.” (Fiction)
“The Confidante: The Untold Story of the Woman Who Helped Win WWII and Shape Modern America,” by Christopher C. Gorham (Citadel)
This is the story of Anna Marie Rosenberg, the Hungarian Jewish immigrant who became Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s closest advisor and special envoy to Europe in World War II. By virtue of her position, she could go where FDR could not and was among the first Allied women to enter a concentration camp after its liberation, and stood in Hitler’s mountain retreat, Eagle’s Nest, days after its capture. She also helped shape the G.I. Bill of Rights and oversaw the direction of the Manhattan Project, which led to the development of the world’s first atomic bomb — and she did it despite her humble beginnings and armed with nothing more than a high school education. Rosenberg “used her natural skills and smarts to become a key advisor to the most powerful men in America,” wrote Marissa Moss for New York Journal of Books. “Christopher Gorham has done his homework, and the depth of his research pays off in this portrait of how one person can make an enormous difference, even someone as disadvantaged as Anna was.” (Nonfiction)
“Empress of the Nile: The Daredevil Archaeologist Who Saved Egypt's Ancient Temples from Destruction,” by Lynne Olson (Random House)
This is the remarkable story of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt, the real-life French female version of Indiana Jones. She was a gutsy archeologist who spearheaded an international campaign to save Egypt’s ancient history from the mammoth Aswan Dam project’s floodwaters. She was eventually joined by another woman — then-American first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who enlisted her husband, John F. Kennedy, to call on Congress to help fund Desroches-Noblecourt’s rescue effort. All told 50 countries contributed $1 billion to save Egyptian history, including “hundreds of temples, tombs, churches, fortresses, inscriptions, and carvings—the fruit of half a dozen cultures and civilizations,” according to the author. “If a director or producer were ever tempted to make a female version of the Indiana Jones story, they would need look no further than the life of Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt for inspiration,” wrote Robin McKie, reviewing for The Guardian. “This was a daredevil whose real-life antics put Hollywood fiction to shame.” (Nonfiction)
“You Can't Joke About That: Why Everything Is Funny, Nothing Is Sacred, and We're All in This Together,” by Kat Timpf (Broadside Books)
The golden age of comedy is over, and with it the era of free speech, often referred to as the hallmark of a free society. This is evidenced by a 2019 study, in which 40% of Americans who were polled claimed that they censored their own thoughts out of fear of offending others. Timpf argues that as a result, the way we discuss sensitive subjects with others is all wrong — we push ourselves into conflicts that are unnecessary by adhering to the wrong rules. Life was better and less complicated back when we could joke about sensitive subjects. “Politically correct progressives and social justice warriors have attacked comedians who dare offend them and try to silence them. This is a curtailment of free speech--and humor,” writes Powell City of Books. “Thoroughly researched and refreshingly honest, ‘You Can't Joke About That’ is the book conservatives have wanted to take down Cancel Culture with humor and get America laughing again.” (Nonfiction)
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