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Is Anybody There?

By From the November 2013 issue

Five Billion Years of Solitude: The Search for Life Among the Stars
By Lee Billings
(Penguin, 304 pages, $27.95)

IN THE PRINCIPLES of Philosophy (1642) Descartes lamented: “We do not doubt but that many things exist, or formerly existed and have now ceased to be, which were never seen or known by man, and were never of use to him.” Descartes didn’t know the half of it. As our understanding of the natural world has improved across the past half-millennium there has been a clear trend of dethronement, of blows to the collective self-esteem of Homo sap

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Persecuting Our Heroes

By 11.26.13

Honor and Betrayal: The Untold Story of the Navy SEALs Who Captured the “Butcher of Fallujah” – and the Shameful Ordeal They Later Endured
By Patrick Robinson, with Matthew McCabe and Jonathan Keefe
De Capo Press, 356 pages, $26.99

On Veterans Day in 2010, I published an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch about three heroic Navy SEALs who participated in a bold and successful raid to capture a notorious terrorist, and how they were later accused of “abuse” and ultimately acquitted in court martial trials. I was interested in their story as a Navy veteran and as a lawyer who has represented both companies and individuals accused of wrongdoing by our Department of Justice. Moreover, I have a connection to one of the SEALs: I know Jonathan Keefe’s parents, and his uncle Peter Keefe is a close friend; no finer people walk the planet.

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Center of Gravity

By 11.21.13

Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game
by Allen St. John and Ainissa G. Ramirez.
(Ballantine Books, 273 pages, $26)

The football doesn’t fall far from the tree, it seems. Newton’s Football: The Science Behind America’s Game, so named for the apple-pondering scientist, makes good on the description found on its dust jacket flap: “[A] clever and accessible look at the big ideas underlying the science of football.”

Various scientific and mathematical phenomena are on display in football, but most of us do not notice them any more than the millions who flourished before Isaac Newton noticed gravity. In unpretentious fashion, this book discusses (I am quoting the authors’ delightful chapter headings) “The Divinely Random Bounce of the Prolate Spheroid,” “How to Turn A Big Mac into A Linebacker,” and “Why Woodpeckers Don’t Get Concussions,” and even answers the pressing question “How Is a Quarterback Like Your Laptop?”

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Seeing Robert Redford in a Dream

By From the January-February 2014 issue

The Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Suddenly Gave Up Sex
By Sophie Fontanel

(Scribner, 160 pages, $22)

When I was handed Sophie Fontanel’s award-winning memoir The Art of Sleeping Alone: Why One French Woman Suddenly Gave Up Sex, I flipped to the first full page of text and looked for a laugh. Here, after all, were portents of sub-Sheryl Sandberg rubbish by the editor of the French Elle, the sort of book that high-powered she-executives read when they are cut off from their email at 10,000 feet. I was expecting equal parts bolt-cutter feminism and cloying sentimentality, tossed with a few sassy self-help tips. 

Fontanel may have chosen to spend her middling years sexless, but her memoir is mum on whether everyone else ought to. On page nine she suggests duh-ishly that not having sex if you don’t feel up to it “does a world of good.” Otherwise The Art of Sleeping Alone is pretty standard memoir fare.

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Whatcha Gonna Do If They Come for You

By 11.5.13

Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces
By Radley Balko
(Public Affairs, 400 pages, $27.99)

As a first year law student and aspiring prosecutor, I was in potential-employment heaven at the government jobs fair. Nearly every federal agency was there, along with many state and local agencies, all promising opportunities to throngs of would-be deputies. Several federal agencies, including the Inspector General’s Office in the Social Security Administration, advertised that they let their employees carry a gun. That this gave me no pause at the time demonstrates that Radley Balko, a prominent critic of police militarization and author of Rise of the Warrior Cop, has his work cut out for him.

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Capitalism’s Theologian

By From the November 2013 issue

Writing from Left to Right: My Journey From Liberal to ConservativeBy Michael Novak(Image, 336 pages, $24) MICHAEL NOVAK IS one of the great public theologians of the last half-century, and his new memoir, Writing From Left to Right: My Journey From Liberal to Conservative, illustrates why. Born in 1933 to a Slovak family in flood-famous Johnstown, Pennsylvania, Novak witnessed the last century’s great political disasters. His earliest such memory is of Germany’s 1939 invasion of Poland.  As an Eastern European and a Catholic, Novak viscerally felt the totalitarian horrors that brutalized his ancestral land. And he would deeply identify with, and come to know, his fellow Slav, Pope John Paul II. Novak ideologically pivoted right when the mainstream Left lost interest in robustly defending democratic order. In the 1980s he pioneered a spiritual defense of democratic capitalism that morally explained the resurgent success of America and Britain under Reagan and Thatcher, both of whom credited Novak’s insights.

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Who’s The Hippest of Them All?

By From the November 2013 issue

What Jefferson Read, Ike Watched, and Obama Tweeted: 200 Years of Popular Culture in the White HouseBy Tevi Troy(Regnery, 416 pages, $18.95) HOW AWESOME CAN you get? The morning announcers on WTOP, Washington’s all-news station, couldn’t get over it. Bill Clinton and Bono had appeared on the same stage the day before and, as the show’s teaser put it, the President and the Rock Star were sometimes difficult to tell apart. Bono, it seems, started it by doing his impression of Mr. Clinton’s raspy and much-imitated voice. But then, to the delight of the delirious crowd, Mr. Clinton returned the favor by doing an equally recognizable impression of Bono. “They make fun of each other because they’re friends,” said one of the announcers. “That’s awesome!” said the other.