Less a sequel than an addendum, the book offers a close-up view of the Oval Office in its darkest hour.

THE LAST OF THE PRESIDENT'S MEN

Four decades after Watergate shook America, journalist Woodward (The Price of Politics, 2012, etc.) returns to the scandal to profile Alexander Butterfield, the Richard Nixon aide who revealed the existence of the Oval Office tapes and effectively toppled the presidency.

Of all the candidates to work in the White House, Butterfield was a bizarre choice. He was an Air Force colonel and wanted to serve in Vietnam. By happenstance, his colleague H.R. Haldeman helped Butterfield land a job in the Nixon administration. For three years, Butterfield worked closely with the president, taking on high-level tasks and even supervising the installation of Nixon’s infamous recording system. The writing here is pure Woodward: a visual, dialogue-heavy, blow-by-blow account of Butterfield’s tenure. The author uses his long interviews with Butterfield to re-create detailed scenes, which reveal the petty power plays of America’s most powerful men. Yet the book is a surprisingly funny read. Butterfield is passive, sensitive, and dutiful, the very opposite of Nixon, who lets loose a constant stream of curses, insults, and nonsensical bluster. Years later, Butterfield seems conflicted about his role in such an eccentric presidency. “I’m not trying to be a Boy Scout and tell you I did it because it was the right thing to do,” Butterfield concedes. It is curious to see Woodward revisit an affair that now feels distantly historical, but the author does his best to make the story feel urgent and suspenseful. When Butterfield admitted to the Senate Select Committee that he knew about the listening devices, he felt its significance. “It seemed to Butterfield there was absolute silence and no one moved,” writes Woodward. “They were still and quiet as if they were witnessing a hinge of history slowly swinging open….It was as if a bare 10,000 volt cable was running through the room, and suddenly everyone touched it at once.”

Less a sequel than an addendum, the book offers a close-up view of the Oval Office in its darkest hour.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1644-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 20, 2015

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A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

CODE TALKER

A firsthand account of how the Navajo language was used to help defeat the Japanese in World War II.

At the age of 17, Nez (an English name assigned to him in kindergarten) volunteered for the Marines just months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Growing up in a traditional Navajo community, he became fluent in English, his second language, in government-run boarding schools. The author writes that he wanted to serve his country and explore “the possibilities and opportunities offered out there in the larger world.” Because he was bilingual, he was one of the original 29 “code talkers” selected to develop a secret, unbreakable code based on the Navajo language, which was to be used for battlefield military communications on the Pacific front. Because the Navajo language is tonal and unwritten, it is extremely difficult for a non-native speaker to learn. The code created an alphabet based on English words such as ant for “A,” which were then translated into its Navajo equivalent. On the battlefield, Navajo code talkers would use voice transmissions over the radio, spoken in Navajo to convey secret information. Nez writes movingly about the hard-fought battles waged by the Marines to recapture Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and others, in which he and his fellow code talkers played a crucial role. He situates his wartime experiences in the context of his life before the war, growing up on a sheep farm, and after when he worked for the VA and raised a family in New Mexico. Although he had hoped to make his family proud of his wartime role, until 1968 the code was classified and he was sworn to silence. He sums up his life “as better than he could ever have expected,” and looks back with pride on the part he played in “a new, triumphant oral and written [Navajo] tradition,” his culture's contribution to victory.

A unique, inspiring story by a member of the Greatest Generation.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-425-24423-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Dutton Caliber

Review Posted Online: July 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2011

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Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

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21 LESSONS FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

A highly instructive exploration of “current affairs and…the immediate future of human societies.”

Having produced an international bestseller about human origins (Sapiens, 2015, etc.) and avoided the sophomore jinx writing about our destiny (Homo Deus, 2017), Harari (History/Hebrew Univ. of Jerusalem) proves that he has not lost his touch, casting a brilliantly insightful eye on today’s myriad crises, from Trump to terrorism, Brexit to big data. As the author emphasizes, “humans think in stories rather than in facts, numbers, or equations, and the simpler the story, the better. Every person, group, and nation has its own tales and myths.” Three grand stories once predicted the future. World War II eliminated the fascist story but stimulated communism for a few decades until its collapse. The liberal story—think democracy, free markets, and globalism—reigned supreme for a decade until the 20th-century nasties—dictators, populists, and nationalists—came back in style. They promote jingoism over international cooperation, vilify the opposition, demonize immigrants and rival nations, and then win elections. “A bit like the Soviet elites in the 1980s,” writes Harari, “liberals don’t understand how history deviates from its preordained course, and they lack an alternative prism through which to interpret reality.” The author certainly understands, and in 21 painfully astute essays, he delivers his take on where our increasingly “post-truth” world is headed. Human ingenuity, which enables us to control the outside world, may soon re-engineer our insides, extend life, and guide our thoughts. Science-fiction movies get the future wrong, if only because they have happy endings. Most readers will find Harari’s narrative deliciously reasonable, including his explanation of the stories (not actually true but rational) of those who elect dictators, populists, and nationalists. His remedies for wildly disruptive technology (biotech, infotech) and its consequences (climate change, mass unemployment) ring true, provided nations act with more good sense than they have shown throughout history.

Harari delivers yet another tour de force.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-51217-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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