Books: They make you smart. Well, not if you don't read attentively.
Anyway, here are some recent and upcoming releases to exercise your brain:
Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War, by Andrew J. Bacevich (Metropolitan Books, Aug. 3)
U.S. military planners assume that world order depends on our spending much, much more than any other nation on defense and our maintaining huge military bases and hundreds of thousands of troops in a semi-permanent state of readiness. Lt. Col. Andrew J. Bacevich (U.S. Army, Ret.) wants us to ask: What if those assumptions are wrong?
Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homeless to Harvard, by Liz Murray (Hyperion, Sept. 7)
Dad's a drug dealer; Mom's a cokehead; they tend to disappear on binges; the apartment's a mess. Soon Mom is dead and Liz is living on the streets. Somehow, she gets scholarships and earns an Ivy League admission. And yes, it was a made-for-TV movie. But the book's better. I mean, this girl graduated from high school in just two years — while she was homeless.
Making Our Democracy Work: A Judge's View, by Stephen Breyer (Knopf, Sept. 14)
Originalism is not determinative: so much for Scalia and Thomas. Breyer advocates a more pragmatic and less fundamentalist approach: The social and political circumstances of those affected by a legal case should be considered by judges — not just their legal situation, narrowly interpreted. As an example, Breyer explains how the same constitutional principles led to distinct handling of Japanese internment camps and the prison at Guantanamo.
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart Presents Earth (The Book): A Visitors' Guide to the Human Race, by Jon Stewart (Grand Central Publishing, Sept. 21)
Humanity is extinct — but at least we were thoughtful enough to leave behind a nice coffee table book for any aliens who drop by in the future. In Stewart's book, creationists come in for some derision. So do Earth's advertisers — who, when sales dropped precipitously, "could fall back on a desperate gambit: offering a quality product at an affordable price. But this was strictly a last-ditch effort.”
Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk, by David Sedaris (Little, Brown — Sept. 28)
Personified animals: Whatever they say, the satire's built in. Take the final story, "The Cat and the Baboon," in which the former is the client and the latter just has to suck up to the customer. The baboon had just been to some marsh rabbits' wedding, during which the rabbits wrote their own vows, "carrying on that their love was like a tender sapling or some damn thing." All of which recalls Sedaris' fascination with marmots when he last visited Spokane. (No marmots, alas, in this book.) Illustrations by the Olivia guy, Ian Falconer.
** The author pictured above is neither Sedaris nor Stewart. Yet as an associate at the firm known as SCOTUS, he arguably has nearly as much political power as Stewart.