Drift (Crown, $25) describes how the American way of war has changed, shifting from traditional reluctance to all-too-easy engagement. Rachel Maddow traces the overexpansion in recent decades of presidential power to send U.S. forces into combat, the weakening of congressional constraints, and the lessening of public attention. In making her case, she draws on an impressive amount of research but keeps her book an entertaining read, displaying a lively, puckish writing style laced with witty asides and numerous believe-it-ornot anecdotes.
David Willman’s The Mirage Man (Random House, $27) has not gotten the attention it deserves, perhaps because some of those in Willman’s cross-hairs are his fellow journalists. But this is an important piece of investigate reporting by a Pulitzer Prize- winning (and old-school) investigative reporter for The Los Angeles Times. In exploring the bizarre events and investigation surrounding the anthrax attacks after 9/11, Willman’s reporting shows how and why the people and institutions—from politicians to the news media to the FBI—entrusted with the protection of the public, failed in their duties. In the hands of such a skilled reporter, the story becomes a cautionary tale as much as an exposé. We learn from The Mirage Man what happens when emotion, hysteria, and collective psychology infuse judgment and decision-making. And we are reminded that it is not simply institutions, or laws, or regulations that must work to protect the public. It is rational, dispassionate thinking on the part of human beings—and reliance on good old- fashioned evidence—that are desperately required.
When I picked up this book, I had my doubts. The Whole Damn Deal: Robert Strauss and the Art of Politics (PublicAffairs, $29.99) is about political rainmaker Robert Strauss, and the author, Kathryn F. McGarr is his great-niece. Then I started reading. And I couldn’t stop. Not only is Strauss endlessly interesting (especially to those of us who suffered through the Democratic Party’s struggles and triumphs in the late 20th century), his great-niece is a terrific researcher who knows how to weave a tale. She is a young Stanford grad and aspiring historian whose book grew out of her studies at Columbia Journalism School. And while she can’t conceal her affection for the man she is writing about, she refused to give him editorial license, working hard to maintain her literary independence without severing her family ties. The end result is a fascinating—and highly entertaining—chronicle of one of Washington’s most skillful, colorful, and irrepressible players. One can’t help wondering after reading this book: What if Bob Strauss were pulling America’s political strings today?