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My most-visited reviews

If you’ve been reading this blog for more than week or two, you’ve seen the pattern — that I typically post twice a week, including one nonfiction book and one novel. All told, in the three years I’ve been writing this blog, I’ve produced a total of more than 250 book reviews out of 308 posts. Below, I’m listing the 10 most popular reviews in descending order of the number of visits. Six are nonfiction books and four are novels (including, uncharacteristically, one collection of short stories, which I tend to shun). 


1. A review of 99 to 1: How Wealth Inequality Is Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It, by Chuck Collins. A lucid analysis of how the 1% got to be that way, and how the 99% can fight back. Written by the founder and former executive Director of United for a Fair Economy, who made a study of this topic for many years before the Occupy Wall Street movement came to the fore.

2. A review of In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin, by Erik Larson. In telling the story of the U.S. ambassador to Nazi Germany in the 1930s and of the anti-semitic officials who headed the State Department, makes clear why the U.S. failed to speak out against the rise of Hitler.

3. A review of The Pyramid and Four Other Kurt Wallender Mysteries, by Henning Mankell. A collection of five stories that span the time from Swedish detective Kurt Wallender’s rookie year on the police force to his retirement decades later. The Pyramid lays bare the roots of his many, complex psychological problems. For any Kurt Wallender fan, it’s well worth reading.

4. A review of The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, by James Bradley. Explores the racism rampant in America, and in Teddy Roosevelt’s administration, that dominated U.S. imperial policy in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Focuses on the cruise of a U.S. battleship in 1905 carrying Secretary of War and Roosevelt’s “assistant president” William Howard Taft and a passel of Congressmen and Senators to extend the U.S. empire beyond the Philippines and onto the Asian mainland. 

5. A review of The Litigators, by John Grisham. If you’re a John Griisham fan, as I am, you’ll probably be surprised at how many chuckles and guffaws his latest novel forces out of you. The Litigators, on one level a legal procedural like so many other Grisham works, is also a comedy. Even the title is a joke, as you’ll learn once you’ve made your way into the meat of this book.

6. A review of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, by Michelle Alexander. One of the most important books in English published so far in the 21st Century. Lays bare the ugly reality of the “War on Drugs” and the mass incarceration it brought about, exploring both how they came about and how deeply they wound communities of color in the United States.

7. A review of The Self-Made Myth, and the Truth About How Government Helps Individuals and Businesses Succeed, by Brian Miller and Mike Lapham. A timely and brilliant contribution to the public debate about politics and the economy. Dissects the mythology that lies at the heart of Right-Wing economic ideology in America today, making it unmistakably clear that the so-called “job creators” lionized by Republicans achieved their success not through rugged individualism but within a society in which government lent them support in dozens of crucial ways.

8. A review of Agent 6, by Tom Rob Smith. A superb suspense novel set in the USSR, the U.S., and Afghanistan. The compelling conclusion of a trilogy that tells the story of Leo Demidov, a member of Stalin’s secret police as a young man. Involves a central character who closely resembles the legendary African-American Communist singer and activist Paul Robeson.

9. A review of Creative Community Organizing: A Guide for Rabble-Rousers, Activists, & Quiet Lovers of Justice, by Si Kahn. In this delightful and illuminating memoir, the celebrated singer-organizer provides the reader with a front-row seat on history from the vantage-point of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, one of the most militant elements in the civil rights struggle) to the UMWA (the Mineworkers Union) to the recent nationwide campaign to end immigrant family detention.

10. A review of Believing the Lie, by Elizabeth George. The latest installment in the running saga of hereditary earl and Scotland Yard Inspector Thomas Lynley, picking up the tale after a long hiatus following the murder of his wife.

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Cults, neo-Nazis, gorgeous young women, and a detective who can never forget


A review of Disciple of the Dog, by R. Scott Bakker

@@@@ (4 out of 5)

If Philip Marlowe were to roam the back streets of today’s cities, he might bear at least a slight resemblance to Disciple Manning, the protagonist of R. Scott Bakker’s mystery novel, Disciple of the Dog. They’re both tough-talking tough guys with a special affinity for the dark recesses of society. Manning is a troubled ex-soldier — he fought in Iraq in the first Gulf War — with a ceaseless hunger for pot and sex. He is, of course, fiendishly handsome, but he still manages to alienate women with his crude and usually unwelcome honesty.

However, Manning’s most notable distinguishing feature is his memory, which sets him apart from Philip Marlowe and, apparently, the rest of the human race as well. It’s been the subject of university lab tests for many years: he cannot forget ANYTHING. Now, this is not your run-of-the-mill eidetic memory, which is fundamentally visual. In fact, his memory of the written word doesn’t seem to be the equal of his memory of the conversations and confrontations he’s had in the course of three decades of a topsy-turvy life. He remembers everything ever said to him by anybody. Everything. Everybody. And not just the words, but the expressions, the body language, the intonation, and the context, including everyone else in the picture.

Disciple Manning is not a happy man. In fact, from time to time he despairs of humanity, having what he believes to be a far more accurate picture of human behavior than just about anyone else, and as a result has slit his wrists on several occasions. Somehow, though, he manages to pull through.

In Disciple of the Dog, Manning is hired by the wealthy parents of a 21-year-old woman who has disappeared from the cult headquarters where she’s been living for two years. The scene is a small town in rural Pennsylvania, a former industrial center now shrunk to a fraction of its previous size. In the course of investigating the cult, a small operation led by a former UC Berkeley professor of . . . guess what? cults . . . Manning encounters another unusual organization that has set down roots in the same town. It’s a neo-Nazi “church” led by a clique of ex-cons from the Aryan Brotherhood, and it appears to own the town. Manning rockets between believing that first one, then the other of these evil-seeming organizations is responsible for the young woman’s disappearance and, he firmly believes, her death.

Bakker’s writing style is lively, to say the least. The tale is told in Manning’s interior voice, which is rich with imagery, profane, and endlessly engaging. The story is intricately plotted, though that’s difficult for the reader to see until Manning reveals key points in retrospect as he sorts through his memories. The book is full of surprises. It’s a lot of fun.

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