Picks and Pans of 2014

The Brothers:  John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War – Stephen Kinzer  In-depth duo bio of the US foreign policy heavies and their often dangerous influences on the world during the Twentieth Century.  My original review

Civilization:  The West and the Rest – Niall Ferguson  Popular historian’s entertaining if not especially original history of the Western world’s “killer apps” which allowed it to flourish, and how they have been adopted by other countries since.

Command and Control:  Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Incident, and the Illusion of Safety – Eric Schlosser  Expert journalist Schlosser (Fast Food Nation, Reefer Madness) delves into the numerous US nuclear close calls of the Cold War.  Useful when researching my own Calling Dr. Strangelove.

The Friedkin Connection – William Friedkin  Memoir by the director of The Exorcist and The French Connection concentrates on the filmmaking process rather than industry gossip, although the author’s body of work is less impressive when put into this long perspective:  two classics and several overwrought fumbles.

The Day of the Triffids – John Wyndham   One of my favorite sci-fi authors (not that I read many) uses an takeover by sentient plants as the trigger for a post-apocalyptic survival yarn.

Long After Midnight, Ray Bradbury  Short story collection has some startling gems and some rather sappy duds; I’m not a huge RB buff.

This Year in Jerusalem – Mordecai Richler  Typically feisty take by the late Canadian novelist on Zionism, modern-day Israel (the book is from 1994), and the complicated loyalties of diaspora Jews.

Face the Music:  A Life Exposed – Paul Stanley  The Kiss frontman writes candidly and thoughtfully about his decades in rock ‘n’ roll.  Not as self-serving as it could have been, although he still dishes plenty of dirt on his bandmates.

Led Zeppelin:  An Oral History, Barney Hoskyns  As per the title, lots of insider accounts of the rise and fall of the mighty Zep.  Not much beyond the usual s, d, & r ‘n’ r.  My original review

Sexplosion – From Andy Warhol to A Clockwork Orange:  How a Generation of Pop Rebels Broke All the Taboos – Robert Hofler  So-so cultural history of changing standards and censorship battles during the late 1960s and early 1970s; the provocative subject deserves a more considered book.

Product DetailsDirty!  Dirty!  Dirty!  Of Playboys, Pigs, and Penthouse Paupers:  An American Tale of Sex and Wonder, Mike Edison  Breezy history of American girly magazines, starring Hugh Hefner, Bob Guccione, Larry Flynt, and Al Goldstein.  Mike’s colorful and very pro-free-speech approach (I’ve worked with him as an editor) makes for a superficial but enjoyable, um, ride.

What You Want Is in the Limo:  On the Road With Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, and the Who in 1973 […], Robert Walker  More rock history – I learned a bit about Cooper and the Who, although the Big Picture Walker aims for doesn’t really come into focus.  One of my Zep books is in the Bibliography.

Talk Show:  Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets, Dick Cavett   Collection of the celebrated interviewer’s New York Times essays. Some of the showbiz stuff is old ground, but other pieces are poignant and typically witty.

Masters of the Air:  America’s Bomber Boys Who Fought the Air War Against Nazi Germany, Donald Miller  Personal stories, some harrowing, of pilots and aircrew flying and dying over Europe between 1942 and 1945. Surprisingly critical of US commanders and their strategies.

Retromania:  Pop Culture’s Addiction to Its Own Past, Simon Reynolds Intriguing but ultimately frivolous examination of music fandom in an age of YouTube and Ipods.  My Original Review

Mr. Playboy:  Hugh Hefner and the American Dream, Steven Watts  Authorized but still admirably objective bio of the eponymous publisher and hedonist, and his influence – for better or worse – on contemporary society.  Weirdest anecdote:  Hef nearly gags on a ben-wa ball while being used for its intended purpose.

Product DetailsStrange Angel:  The Otherworldly Life of Rocket Scientist John Whiteside Parsons, George Pendle   Fascinating story of a Californian explosives expert who was both a pioneer of rocketry and the Occult; Parsons’ associates included Wernher von Braun, L. Ron Hubbard, and Aleister Crowley.

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