Book reviews by Larry Cox
‘The Last Campaign: Robert F. Kennedy and 82 Days that Inspired America’
By Thurston Clarke (Henry Holt, $25)
Clarke, the widely acclaimed author and contributor to such publications as The New York Times, Vanity Fair and The Washington Post, has written the definitive account of Robert Kennedy’s last campaign.
Kennedy announced on March 17, 1968, that he would challenge Lyndon Johnson in that year’s Democratic primary. Richard Nixon, who had lost the presidency to John F. Kennedy in 1960, watched the announcement from a hotel room in Portland, Ore. Later that day, Robert Kennedy flew to New York where he marched in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. A short time later, Johnson told the nation that he would not seek a second term. During the next action-packed 82 days, from rally to rally, city to city, Kennedy staged an impressive campaign and seemed on his way to the White House. It all ended when RFK was assassinated one hot June night during a campaign stop at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles.
“The Last Campaign” raises all of the questions of what might have been. For example, what kind of a country would America be if Robert Kennedy had been elected that year instead of Nixon? Would Kennedy have been able to bring together the fractured country of four decades ago?
While reading this book, it is impossible not to see the parallels between the 1968 campaign and the one that is currently under way. Both then and now, the man occupying the White House was unpopular, voters were cranky and the country was mired in the middle of a war half way around the world. Clark’s account of the summer when a nation was conflicted and rallied by a charismatic politician reveals how America has changed – and not changed – during the 40 years since that incredible season of 1968.
‘Vets Under Siege: How America Deceives and Dishonors Those Who Fight Our Battles’ Book Review
By Martin J. Schram (Thomas Dunne Books, $25.95)
Our current president never misses an opportunity to use members of
the military as backdrops for his photo opportunities. Instead of
giving up golf, I wish he would read “Vets Under Siege.” Perhaps he
would have a better understanding of how we, as a country, have abused
and dishonored those who have served this country in uniform.
Syndicated columnist Schram has written a book that is nothing less
than an indictment and exposé of the Veterans Administration. He lays
out in cold, graphic detail the pattern of institutional neglect, delay
and denial in the VA system that confronts many of our vets in need.
Case in point is the tragic story of Bill Florey, a young man who
enlisted in the U.S. Army and served in the 82nd Airborne during the
Persian Gulf War. One March afternoon in 1991, Florey parked his Army
vehicle after a long morning’s work and watched as members of an
American military team detonated Iraqi chemical weapons near
Khamisiyah. Despite assurances to the contrary by his superiors, Florey
and many of his fellow soldiers were contaminated.
Shortly after Florey returned home, he discovered a lump on his
neck. It was eventually diagnosed as a rare cancer. After a series of
horrendous failures and delays in his treatment that left him
disfigured and cancer-ridden, the VA coldly rejected his modest request
for service-related disability compensation. Without even checking its
own data, which would have proved the merits of Florey’s case, the VA
concluded that it was “less likely than not” that the exposure to
chemical weapons in Iraq had contributed to his cancer. Months after
Florey died, a government study finally revealed that it was twice as
likely as not that the contamination triggered cancers such as the one
Florey had. Unfortunately for Florey, a honorable man who was in agony
for years and simply wanted help from his government, the clock had run
According to Schram, the time has come to cut through the red tape
to guarantee that all vets get the help and support they need. They
deserve nothing less.
‘Moyers on Democracy’
By Bill Moyers (Doubleday, $26.95)
One of this nation’s most respected journalists, Moyers was a
founding organizer of the Peace Corps, a senior White House assistant
and press secretary during the Lyndon Johnson administration, senior
news analyst for CBS News and award-winning producer for PBS. In his
new book, Moyers connects the dots to underscore some of the negative
things that are happening to our country including the growing economic
inequality between the very rich and the very poor, the assault on our
Constitution, the gaming of the electoral process, vicious attacks on
the independence of the press, and the despoiling of our planet.
‘Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It)’
By William Poundstone (Hill & Wang, $25)
At least five U.S. presidential elections have been won by the
second most popular candidate. Poundstone, the bestselling author of 10
books, builds a convincing case that even though unfair outcomes have
become commonplace, the solution may be fairly simple. The author
claims that the spoiler problem may be eliminated by what he calls
range voting that might satisfy both the right and left. Basically,
range voting would allow each voter to take home a photocopy of a
randomly selected ballot cast by someone else. Basically, range voting
would allow each voter to take home a photocopy of a randomly selected
ballot cast by someone else. Paper ballots could either by tallied by
hand or machine – it wouldn’t matter. By cross-checking with a serial
number, voters could verify that the ballots in their possession were
not altered or misread.
Would it work? Maybe, maybe not, but it certainly is an improvement over our present system of hit, miss and snatch.
‘Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters’
By Richard A. Clarke (ECCO, $25.95)
Clarke minces no words as he skewers the Bush administration for
what he calls the “mediocrity, entropy and collapse” that has become
endemic in our nation’s national security programs. He reveals shocking
new information about how soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan have died
needlessly as a result of poor training, equipment and leadership;
Homeland Security has made us less safe; and how mistakes and missteps
have made our country “deaf, dumb, and blind” to the dangers of a
future confrontation. This is a wake-up call by a former
counterterrorism director who draws on his knowledge gleaned from
serving under five Republican and two Democratic administrations.
‘The Post-American World’
By Fareed Zakaria (W.W. Norton, $25.95)
As the author explains, his new book is not about the decline of
America but rather about the rise of everyone else. It’s about the
great transformation taking place around the world, a change that will
bring about a power shift that will redefine our country’s role as the
arbiter of the world’s political, economic, and cultural issues and
force it to accommodate the new heavyweights such as China, Brazil,
Russia and India. Citing a wealth of statistics and facts, Zakaria
explains why the world is far safer and less at risk from terrorism
than many of us believe, why the Middle East is actually becoming more
stable, and why the majority of the world’s economies are experiencing
unprecedented growth. This is an illuminating look at our increasingly
complicated future, the growing influence of developing nations, and
how these forces of great changes will change the world as we know it.
‘Brotherhood of Warriors’
By Aaron Cohen with Douglas Century (ECCO, $25.95)
Cohen was a mere 17 years old when he turned his back on the glitz
of Beverly Hills to become not just a regular soldier in the Israeli
Defense Forces but also a commando in one of their elite all-volunteer
Special Forces units. In 1996, after 15 months of grueling training, he
was offered a top-secret assignment that allowed him to go into the
Palestinian-controlled West Bank and – disguised as an Arab – abduct
terrorist leaders and transport them to Israel for interrogation and
trial. This is an on-the-edge-of-your-seat book that documents how this
courageous young man overcame his fears to become an expert in combat
infantry tactics while participating in more than 200 life-or-death
missions, including the infiltration of a Hamas wedding to seize the
father of the bride.