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Baby You’re a Rich Man

By 12.4.13

Beatles vs. Stones
By John McMillian
(Simon & Schuster, 320 pages)

The Beatles vs. The Rolling Stones is a debate long waged, with cases mounted in high school cafeterias and counterarguments teased out in the basement dens of baby boomers. Contrarian dorm rats pick apart "With a Little Help from My Friends" and "When I'm Sixty-Four" while championing the obscure Mellotron moans of Their Satanic Majesties Request. Ragged copies of The White Album rub grooves with beat-up pressings of Beggars Banquet. Idealism and realism, order and chaos, innovation and authenticity; comparisons between The Beatles and The Rolling Stones reduce to hyperbole fraught with clichés.

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When Neither Lunch Nor Speech Is Free

By 12.3.13

The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Homes Changed His Mind—and Changed the History of Free Speech in America
By Thomas Healy
(Metropolitan Books, 336 pages, $14.99)

Those of us who review books for fun and profit rarely go back to read a tome a second time. We give a review our best shot and then move on. So many books, so little time. But with this biography I have gone back to it again because of a nagging doubt I had with its very title. 

Did that whited sepulcher for civil libertarians, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Homes Jr., really change his mind on free speech? And has the constitutional guarantee of free speech really changed? And if not, as I suspect, just how great a dissent could his carefully hedged demur in a 1919 sedition case have been? 

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The Shadow of Debt

By 12.2.13

Riots, massive unemployment, hyperinflation, savings accounts wiped out, financial markets in chaos — these are potential scenarios for America’s future, but exactly when and how the nation’s debt crisis will unravel is still a matter of speculation. Most economists doubt that the United States will soon experience the kind of catastrophic meltdown that struck Greece in recent years, but the U.S. national debt is now more than $17 trillion and growing, with no plans to pay it back. The national debt, which was about $11 trillion when President Obama took office, is now larger than America’s annual gross domestic product (GDP), and is expected to increase by about $700 billion in the next year.

Even though budget sequestration has slowed the rate of deficit spending, the federal government continues hemorrhaging red ink, and the national debt will be nearly $20 trillion by the time Obama leaves office in January 2017. America already has the ninth worst debt-to-GDP ratio in the world, and the piling up of unpaid debt cannot continue forever, says Murray Holland.

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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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