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Notable books

Notable Books | Four noteworthy nonfiction books reviewed by Susan Olasky

Save the Males

According to syndicated columnist Kathleen Parker, even boys in America understand a modern truth: women good, men bad. She gives examples of this attitude in social policy, popular culture, and education. That idea gives rise to other absurdities: Since fathers aren't really necessary, how about virtual babysitting via computer from thousands of miles away? Websites exist to teach noncustodial parents (usually fathers) to have virtual visitation (distanceparent.org).

Parker writes with zest and avoids the broad generalizations some use to gin up controversy. Her endnote-that what's bad for one sex can't be good for the other-should be something upon which we all can agree.

While America Aged

Lowenstein recounts three episodes in America's pension history-the UAW and GM in the 1940s, the public transit unions in NYC, and scandal-plagued San Diego-to show how weak-willed executives made extravagant future promises to gain short-term peace. Although pensions grew out of concern for the elderly, their excessive growth hurt productivity, threatened the survival of the U.S. auto industry, brought cities to bankruptcy, and weakened the financial health of the United States.

Lowenstein does a good job of explaining how we got into our current bind, but he's less clear when explaining how we get out, especially since political timidity and short-term thinking still characterize corporate, union, and political leaders.

My Stroke of Insight

This clever book promises an insider's view of a stroke by a brain scientist who experienced one. It doesn't advertise itself as a New Age tome, but that's what it is. Taylor's "stroke of insight" is her discovery that when the left side of her brain-the rational, linear, systematizing half-was damaged by the stroke, it freed the right side-her intuitive, expansive half.

That half, she claims, is connected to all energy in the universe. That half is at one with everything. And so, she argues as a scientist, we need to learn to free the right side of our brains in order to bring peace to the world. The book does contain sound advice for those caring for stroke victims.

Boys Should Be Boys

Pediatrician Meg Meeker has written a wise book about raising sons. In the course of her practice she has counseled many parents of boys; here she describes some of the issues facing them. Her criticisms are gentle, meant to teach and encourage and not inflame.

The book is written for a broad audience but Meeker's advice will resonate with Christians, although they might come to her conclusions from a different base. Arguing from research, she writes that "religion is good for boys." She goes on to say that traditional religion is better than vague forms of spirituality. She also asserts that boys need structure and parental time; they also need the outdoors and to develop virtue.

Spotlight

A recent New York Times story on illegal immigration in Italy confirmed knowledge I had acquired from reading mystery novelist Donna Leon's Venice-based story, The Girl of His Dreams (Atlantic Monthly Press, 2008), in which a young gypsy is found drowned in a canal. Commissario Guido Brunetti's investigation uncovers sordid facts about the Roms, the politically correct term for "gypsies," and disturbing attitudes among the Italians towards them.

Like the other Leon mysteries featuring Brunetti, this one contained no bad language or graphic sex or violence. Brunetti is a delightful protagonist, happily married and with two teenage children who respect him. His wife, a university professor, cooks lovely meals that Leon describes with great care.

Christians will appreciate Leon's nuanced characters and her concern for the plight of the powerless-but politics never trumps good storytelling. Leon's worldview, although not religious, understands man's frailty and the existence of evil. Religious themes are never far off: In another novel Brunetti muses about which of the deadly sins motivated the criminal.

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