1. American Soldier - Tommy Franks
Content: Memoir by the recently retired general who led American forces in Afghanistan and in Iraq.
Gist: When Tommy Franks talks about his childhood, especially his relationship with his father, this book sings. It's also a gritty war memoir, with shades of Tom Clancy. While rising through the ranks, Franks oversaw a major transformation in military strategy. His language is rough and unfiltered, so this fascinating story will be uncomfortable reading for some.
2. Unfit for command - O'Neill, Corsi
Content: A scathing indictment of John Kerry by Vietnam War vets who served on Swift Boats with the presidential candidate.
Gist: A challenge to John Kerry's war record. Eyewitness accounts and documentation portray a man always looking forward to a political career. The second and stronger half of the book documents Kerry's anti-war activities, including his congressional testimony and trips to Paris to talk to the Vietcong while still in the Navy reserves.
3. Bushworld - Maureen Dowd
Content: New York Times columnist Dowd has delighted in skewering George Bush and his administration. Here she puts together a collection of columns.
Gist: Sometimes called the "mistress of ellipses" for her habit of omitting crucial words in a quotation, Dowd has a knack for the sucker punch: Google "Maureen Dowd" and "misquote" and 915 items come up. A trip to Dowd's Bushworld provides a glimpse of the world through the eyes of the conspiracy-seeking left.
4. My Life - Bill Clinton
Content: Bill Clinton's oversized memoir revisits some events of his life in minute detail, and glosses over many others.
Gist: Instead of going deeper, the 42nd president is still fighting the same political battles, using the same tactics, and skirting the truth. The poorly done index won't help those hoping to skip a few of the 1,008 pages. It leaves out general search terms like Christianity, forgiveness, repentance, and scandal, though all of these subjects are discussed.
5. Eats, Shoots and Leaves - Lynne Truss
Content: With wit and style Lynne Truss presses the case for correct punctuation and assures people it's more than OK to be a punctuation stickler.
Gist: It's surprising that a book about the correct use of punctuation should shoot to the top, especially in a day of slap-dash e-mails. Truss fills the book with amusing examples of poor punctuation and meanings changed by carelessly omitted marks.
In the spotlight
Tommy Franks's common sense, blunt style, and rags-to-riches story makes American Soldier (Regan Books, 2004) an engaging read that offers an important perspective on the war on terror. About terrorist czar Richard Clarke: "I never received a single page of actionable intelligence from Richard Clarke." About politics in Washington: "With each man or woman killed or wounded, with each crisis, with each investigation, the Washington blame game will be extended a few more innings. Bush should be booted; Rumsfeld fired. I am constantly amazed at the shallow thinking that underpins such commentary. Things go wrong in war. If war were easy and convenient, there would be too many of them."
Although Gen. Franks endorsed President Bush at the GOP convention, he doesn't defend every decision. He does write this about second-guessing: "If we had it all to do over again-armed with what we know today-I'm sure some of the decisions would be different. I am not at all sure, however, that all the different decisions would be better." He also describes turf fighting between the Departments of Defense and State, as well as among the Joint Chiefs of Staff: "If this continues, our troops-and the country-will suffer. We should not allow narrow-minded four-stars to advance their share of the budget at the expense of the mission."