WW Recommends Books (& other things)

In this feature of the Washington Watch, WW will primarily recommend books you may find interesting but may also mention a TV program or other things. I welcome your suggestions and your input. What have you been reading or watching that you think WW readers might like?

The troubles: 40 years past. The troubles revisited. Not that long ago: Thatcher and the IRA.
By Brady Williamson

It is that time of year: you need to pick a book or two or half a dozen for summer reading. Give in to your instincts to read fiction (again) about life in the Nantucket summer or the multi-talented art restorer from Israel. But you’ll not want to pass up the compelling, chilling, remarkable non-fiction account of the almost successful attempt to kill the British Prime Minister in 1984 at a party convention in Brighton. In “There Will Be Fire” {Putnam), Rory Carroll has captured not only the IRA bombing of a hotel seaside resort that killed five, but not Margaret Thatcher, he provides a reminder of “The Troubles” that plagued Northern Ireland and England for 30 years and the uneasy relative peace that has followed. That relative peace began with the Good Friday accords in 1998 and the advent of the theoretically shared Belfast government for those six counties, power shared but still not functioning given the still competing traditions represented by Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party. It remains timely because of Brexit’s effect and the reminder it provides of the difficulty of negotiating any form of peace in any part of the world torn by cultural, religious, economic divisions—or, for Northern Ireland, all of them.

At the most basic level, the book describes a brutal crime—part of a decades long campaign of bombing, terrorism, and reprisals. It painstakingly reconstructs the plan and the execution of it, answering the question of how the bomb, planted a month before the conference, would remain undiscovered until it was too late. With the political repercussions came Scotland Yard’s search for Patrick Magee, an IRA veteran, who hid the explosive device in a bathroom panel in a guest room. He was arrested in Glasgow, after leaving the safety of the Irish Republic, and ultimately freed as part of the peace process. With extended portraits of Gerry Adams, IRA hunger strikes, and political uncertainty in both Great Britain and the United States, the book’s focus on Prime Minister Thatcher—and, inevitably, President Reagan—recalls an Anglo-American history that seems distant but is neither distant nor irrelevant. (The political impact here of Irish culture, heritage and history has often been described; Carroll also documents the support in money and arms that a few in this country contributed to the IRA.)

Bill Clinton was the first serving President to visit Northern Ireland, accelerating the peace process. Every President since then (save one) has been there—most recently President Biden to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the accords. During that visit, a selfie went viral: President Biden and Gerry Adams, together, in Belfast. You have to read the book to appreciate the moment and the turns of history. A companion book: Patrick Radden Keefe’s “Say Nothing” (2019) (the title is from a Seamus Haney poem; the story is about a still-unsolved kidnapping of a mother of ten in 1972, closer to the beginning of The Troubles but, like Carroll’s newer book, about much more.)

Water Filmmakers in Four Acts: An Irreverent Look at Hollywood, Politics, Marriage, Filmmaking and a Planet on Fire
Marilyn and Hal Weiner

From the tenements of Brooklyn to Hollywood, Marilyn and Hal Weiner have seen it all on their way to becoming one of the most influential environmental filmmaking teams on the planet. Confessions of Fish-out-of-Water Filmmakers in Four Acts takes readers on a roller-coaster journey that starts with their wedding from hell and features a blockbuster collaboration with Matt Damon, the ghost of John Belushi, slapstick with Milton Berle, a pioneering cooking show, dangerous adventures om six continents, and multiple Emmy Awards. After more than 250 documentaries, three feature films, and more than 50 years of marriage, Marilyn and Hal are ready to tell another enthralling story–their own.

You Are What You Watch: How Movies and TV Affect Everything
Walter Hickey

In You Are What You Watch, Pulitzer Prize–winning author and data expert Walt Hickey explains the power of entertainment to change our biology, our beliefs, how we see ourselves, and how nations gain power through entertainment.

Virtually anyone who has ever watched a profound movie, a powerful TV show, or read a moving novel understands that entertainment can and does affect us in surprising and significant ways. But did you know that our most popular forms of entertainment can have a direct physical effect on us, a measurable impact on society, geopolitics, the economy, and even the future itself? In You Are What You Watch, Walter Hickey, Pulitzer Prize winner and former chief culture writer at acclaimed data site FiveThirtyEight.com, proves how exactly how what we watch (and read and listen to) has a far greater effect on us and the world at large than we imagine.

Employing a mix of research, deep reporting, and 100 data visualizations, Hickey presents the true power of entertainment and culture. From the decrease in shark populations after Jaws to the increase in women and girls taking up archery following The Hunger Games, You Are What You Watch proves its points not just with research and argument, but hard data. Did you know, for example, that crime statistics prove that violent movies actually lead to less real-world violence? And that the international rise of anime and Manga helped lift the Japanese economy out of the doldrums in the 1980s? Or that British and American intelligence agencies actually got ideas from the James Bond movies?

In You Are What You Watch, readers will be given a nerdy, and sobering, celebration of popular entertainment and its surprising power to change the world.

American Inheritance: Liberty and Slavery in the Birth Of a Nation 1765-1795
Edward J. Larson

From a Pulitzer Prize winner, a powerful history that reveals how the twin strands of liberty and slavery were joined in the nation’s founding.

New attention from historians and journalists is raising pointed questions about the founding period: was the American revolution waged to preserve slavery, and was the Constitution a pact with slavery or a landmark in the antislavery movement? Leaders of the founding who called for American liberty are scrutinized for enslaving Black people themselves: George Washington consistently refused to recognize the freedom of those who escaped his Mount Vernon plantation. And we have long needed a history of the founding that fully includes Black Americans in the Revolutionary protests, the war, and the debates over slavery and freedom that followed.

We now have that history in Edward J. Larson’s insightful synthesis of the founding. With slavery thriving in Britain’s Caribbean empire and practiced in all of the American colonies, the independence movement’s calls for liberty proved narrow, though some Black observers and others made their full implications clear. In the war, both sides employed strategies to draw needed support from free and enslaved Blacks, whose responses varied by local conditions. By the time of the Constitutional Convention, a widening sectional divide shaped the fateful compromises over slavery that would prove disastrous in the coming decades. Larson’s narrative delivers poignant moments that deepen our understanding: we witness New York’s tumultuous welcome of Washington as liberator through the eyes of Daniel Payne, a Black man who had escaped enslavement at Mount Vernon two years before. Indeed, throughout Larson’s brilliant history it is the voices of Black Americans that prove the most convincing of all on the urgency of liberty.

All the Demons Are Here: A Thriller
Jake Tapper

Bestselling author Jake Tapper’s “absolute page-turner” (Gillian Flynn) transports readers to the 1970s underground world of cults, celebrities, tabloid journalism, serial killers, disco, and UFOs.

It’s 1977. Ike and Lucy, the kids of Senator Charlie and Margaret Marder, are grown up—and in trouble.

US Marine Ike has gone AWOL after a military operation gone horribly wrong. Now he’s off the grid, working on the pit crew of the moody stunt master Evel Knievel and hanging in the roughest dive bar in Montana. His sister Lucy has become the star reporter of a brand-new Washington, DC tabloid breaking stories about a serial killer and falling in with the wealthy, shady British family that owns the newspaper.

As they deal with the weirdness and menace of the time—celebrities, cults, the rise of tabloid journalism, the death of Elvis Presley, the Summer of Sam, and a time of national unease—Ike and Lucy soon realize that their worlds are not only full of compromises and bad choices, but danger. As their lives begin to spiral out of control, they also spiral towards one another. And the decisions they make could mean life and death not only for them—but also their beloved parents.