Category Archives: Nonfiction

“The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump”

Andrew G. McCabe

I think it was David Frum who said “there is no bottom” to the misdeeds of the Trump administration. If anyone needed more proof of that statement, this book would provide it. McCabe writes about his entire career focusing on the way the FBI works and the essential nature of its tasks. The professionalism and dedication to the rule of law that he portrays is in sharp contrast to what the president wants: unquestioning loyalty.

The book would probably be better if McCabe weren’t constrained by security restrictions, but it’s a memoir, not a journalistic account. It’s chilling enough as it stands.

“The Spy and the Traitor”

Ben Macintyre

From 1982 to 1985 the KGB’s top man in London, Oleg Gordievsky, was working for Britain’s MI6. “The Spy and the Traitor” is the story of Gordievsky’s life, his career working for the KGB and MI6, and his dramatic 1985 exfiltration from the USSR as a result of CIA agent Aldrich Ames’ betrayal. Ames, the “traitor” of the title — though from the Soviet perspectivve Gordievsky was also a traitor — had sold information to the KGB.

Macintyre is a good story teller and this story, told with Gordievsky’s cooperation, is a good one.

“Spain: The Centre of the World 1519-1682”

Robert Goodwin

The story of Spain from the reign of Charles V to that of Phillip IV is a big subject. Goodwin does a good job of telling that story by using the lives of several famous figures to frame his tale.

I enjoyed reading this book on my recent trip to Spain. Thanks to Goodwin I knew more about Velázquez and El Greco than I otherwise would have while enjoying their paintings. And I appreciated my visit to the University of Salamanca more because of what I read in the book about Francisco de Vitoria and his defense of the sovreignity of native peoples.

“The Life of Hinduism”

John Stratton Hawley and Vasudha Narayanan

My recent trip to India left me with a curiosity about Hinduism as it’s lived, probably because religion is lived very publicly in India. This book — a collection of mostly academic pieces by various authors — helped me satisfy that curiosity a little. It is less personal than I had hoped it would be (I was hoping for something more journalistic, like ““Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India”“). Also, some of the pieces are surprisingly old, given the book’s 2006 publication date.

“Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India”

William Dalrymple

Dalrymple profiles nine Indians who participate in the several religions — Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, etc. — of India in different ways. It’s an interesting peek into the colorful but opaque-to-oustsiders worlds of Indian faith and practices.

I read this before my recent trip to India, and I may reread parts now that I’ve experienced the country.

“Kaleidoscope City: A Year in Varanasi”

Piers Moore Ede

Varanasi (formerly Benares) is a city on the Ganges in northern India. It’s an ancient city, continuously inhabited for thousands of years, and is considered a holy city by Hindus, Jains, and Buddhists. The previous sentence is a pretty dry description; this book — which I read before visiting Varanasi — reveals a lot about the life of the city. But nothing can compare to being there: it’s chaotic, colorful, dirty, loud, and beautiful. From a boat on the Ganges you see people doing laundry, people engaged in ritual bathing, and cremation fires, all over a fairly short distance. I’d recommend “Kaleidoscope City” to anyone with the least interest in India or its religions. Now that I’ve been to the city, I may read the book again.