Book Reviews   


My man, Lenny: JCPL library lover and patron, Leonard Gordon










































When I am left alone to read, there is not a problem in the world which can touch me. If I could bag the occasional beaver and have food to survive and a modest roof overhead, and all the books I could desire, I would live happily quite happily and happily indeed. If there are no books in heaven, I DON'T WANT TO GO THERE.

-- Rich Sheppard


Note: reviewer Rich Sheppard reads about 7-8 and as many as 10 books a month, and finds that he can't keep up with reviews for each book. He recalls when he was in grade school, he usually read the assigned books but could never complete the book reports, which were among his least desirable activities. 

His book reviews now stem not from a sudden love of "book reports," but from a desire to share his impressions, and also to keep track of the books he reads, which run together in his head. He gets confused with manifold facts from book sources he can't pinpoint in his mind. Reading, he submits, makes him "knowledgeable," as opposed to "smart," or "intelligent."

He would like to gratefully acknowledge the Jersey City Public Library, an outstanding institution which provides all of the books he reads - often just as they are published. It has always been among the best-run services offered in his homecity, Jersey City.

Pictured below: Current Release table at Jersey City Public Library.



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Latest Reviews:

Bitter Ocean by David Fairbank White

Bitter Ocean offers stories of individual freighters and warships, and entire convoys that battled the U-boat wolf-pack. The U-boats dominated the early years, the “Happy Time” when they held the deadly advantages of surprise and superior tactics. From mid-1943 onwards, the Allies, as in every WW2 theater, turned the tide .. [More]


Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer

A nuanced reading of Overthrow provides peppy recounts of American military adventures out in the bad wide world. You can always ignore the sermonizing “Pox America” tone and savor, at least while we can, being the nation that waggles the Big Stick and doesn’t submit to it. The author doesn’t make that distinction so you the reader might so choose.. [More]


Pride and Prinstripes by Mel Stottlemyer (with John Harper)

As the Yankee ace during their post-season drought decade, Mel pitched fine, until in June, ’74 when an arm injury put his entire playing career in doubt. And in 1975, the Boss, George Steinbrenner purchased the Yanks, and was looking to make immediate on-field changes to restore the Yankees’ post-season rituals. Mel had assurances he could take his time coming back from his injury for the 1975 season, but .. [More]




Rosie Oh by 'we don't know'

It's overall humdrum stuff about a fat, troubled, annoying, wise-cracking lesbian made good. Rosie herself gave interviews with the Enquirer likely in the vain belief that she might at least influence their coverage; no one cares. [More]


Have You Met Miss Jones? by Tarsha Jones

."...Not so her relationship with Busta Rhymes, who drills Tarsh remorselessly while also providing hooks into the industry." [More]


Culture Warrior by Bill O'Reilly
.. there's no question a battle is underway on many religious, legal, academic, and human relations fronts.. [More]


Killer Elite by Michael Smith
Killer Elite is chock-full of derring-do by some brave, brave American operatives: be they civilian intelligence or armed forces personnel. From the 1980 Iranian hostage rescue failure at Desert One, through the "War on Drugs" in Columbia, and to today's worldwide anti-terror campaign.. [More]


Six Frigates by Ian W. Toll
Though badly outnumbered and often confined by blockades to port, America's Navy, the "six frigates" in the Atlantic, and more critically smaller, makeshift vessels on the Great Lakes, more than held its own against the British.

Thermopylae by Paul Cartledge. Chronologically, Thermopylae kicks off in 480 B.C, with the account of "300" (298 actual) picked, top-flight Spartans warriors under the general Leonidas, forming the nucleus of about 4-7,000 hoplites (armored infantry) from various Greek city-states. [More]

A War Like No Other by Victor Davis Hanson. Hanson draws parallels between wars in Ancient Greece with contemporary conflicts to demonstrate man's deeply ingrained insistence on settling differences through violence. [More]


Kennedy and Roosevelt by Michael Beschlossn. The Roosevelt/Kennedy relationship went back to the early 20's, when Kennedy was a shipyard manager and FDR a powerful and politically savvy .. [More]


Africa Speaks by Mark Goldblatt. Fashion Institute of Technology instructor Mark Goldblatt, a conservative media contributor, nails today's street idiom in this ripping urban satire.  [More]

Samuel Adams -- Father of the American Revolution by Mark Puls.  So yes, yes: go ahead, hoist a brew to Samuel Adams, America's popularly conceived "brewer-patriot. But in more lucid moments, recognize a man of conviction who ranks among the greatest political organizers in history. [More]  
The Prince by William Simpson -- The "Prince" of the book's title is Prince Bandar Bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's long-time ambassador (he recently left the post) to the United States, and globetrotting freelance diplomatic fixer. Outfitted with his own superjet and eclectic set of Western friends... [More]  

Founding Fish by John McPhee -- McPhee's thorough journalism is usually enjoyable depending on the topic; sometimes his meanderings go far a-field. In this case he applies himself to the seemingly humble Shad fish, a river-spawning and sea-living fish species of no particular note except McPhee enjoys catching and eating them. [More]



Politics and the News

Forever Young - My Friendship with John F. Kennedy, Jr, by William Sylvester Noonan -- If you're interested in the widely-examined life of John F. Kennedy, Jr., a book like this, written by his "best friend," Mr. Noonan, is sure to catch your attention.

My Bad
25 Years of Public Apologies and the 
Appalling Behavior that Inspired Them
by Paul Slansky and Arleen Sorkin -- This book captures the timbre of our celebrity-besotted times: the very public verbal and/or behavioral screw-ups by some overexposed dimwit, followed by their sometimes hilarious, sometimes teeth-grinding apologies..[more]

Can She be Stopped? Hillary Clinton Will Be the Next President of the United States Unless.. by John Podhoretz -- Podhoretz highlights several scenarios whereby a deceitful Hillary convinces just enough of the undecided electorate of her "moderate" outlook to gain the top prize. Along the way, he wisely points out how GOP assumptions about Hillary's (and Bill's) past transgressions against decency and taste .. [more]

Condi vs. Hillary by Dick Morris -- Love him or hate him, Morris is one of the best pure and astute political analysts out there. No one doubts Hillary is running for president in 2008; Morris makes a decent if unconvincing case (for this reviewer) of a Condi presidential campaign.. [more]

Spanking the Donkey-- If you voted for Bush or if you voted for Kerry or if you voted for Dean, you owe it to yourself to pick up this book. I bet you will laugh and be morbidly drawn to the details and behind-the-scenes observations ..[more]

The Final Days : The Last, Desperate Abuses of Power by the Clinton White House

KingFish: The Reign of Huey P. Long by Richard White -- Former depression-era Louisiana Governor Huey Long is one of those blazing figures who recurs infrequently but inevitably in American life and who nearly defy description.

Dark Side of Camelot -- Kennedy was far and away, far and away the most prolific philanderer to ever occupy the Oval Office. The guy banged everything that he could get his hands on and then some.


Steaming to Bamboola
The World of a Tramp Freighter by Christopher Buckley -- Steaming to Bamboola describes an isolated, world-unto-itself workplace and the workers who make it run... On the way back, they encounter a Force 12 storm coming out of the English Channel.

Old Glory
A Voyage Down the Mississippi by Jonathon Raban -- An English travel writer takes a 16-foot motorboat (Raven's Nest) down the length of the Mississippi River. It is not a trip that can be taken on a lark, given the unpredictable personality of what Abraham Lincoln once colorfully described as "the Father of All Waters."..

Crazy Money: Nine Months on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline by Chester Wickware -- A feather-light story about a welder who in 1974 treks to Alaska's North Slope in pursuit of high-paying work on the Trans-Alaska pipeline...Guy was essentially up there welding pipe, drinking, screwing around with broads and pay-per-dos, and banking as much "crazy money" paycheck as he could..

The Meadowlands -- Wilderness
Adventures at the Edge of a City
-- Absorbing tales of failed water and development projects, ferocious mosquitoes, and an occasionally off-balance bunch of characters who work in, study, and precariously live within this abused but beautiful sanctuary.

Science and Technology

Creating the World's First Jumbo Jet and 
Other Adventures from a Life in Aviation
by Joe Sutter-- The 747 arose when the legendary head of Pan American, Juan Trippe, an aviation pioneer and astute industry seer, foresaw in the mid-sixties massive growth in air travel through the end of the century..

My Einstein by John Brockman -- For those who -- like this reviewer -- have a rudimentary understanding of physics and the immortal plateau on which Albert Einstein resides, this excellent collection of essays contains additional understanding of the forces that rule the Universe..

Chronos: How Time Shapes Our Universe by Etienne Klein -- A heck of an interesting book when you can grasp the concepts, and a more difficult read when you can't. The author makes an admirable effort at explaining the notion of "time," which most people would merely admit.. [more]

The Knife Man: The Extraordinary Lift and Times of John Hunter, Father of Modern Surgery by Wendy Moore -- Fascinating tale of John Hunter, an 18th century Englishman who was obsessed with human anatomy to the extreme of grave-robbing and dissecting thousands of corpses. No nearby freshly deceased was safe from the clutches.. [more]


The View from the Center of the Universe -- Discovering Our Extraordinary Place in the Cosmos by Joel R. Primack and Nancy Ellen Abrams -- ...just as the Universe itself had a critical "moment" of inflation which set all things on an endless outwards and vanishing journey, we humans are at a critical "moment" in our existence that we must ...

The Quantum Zoo by Marcus Chown -- Another book about the biggest unanswered question in science: is there a single theory which explains the laws of the Universe from the sub-atomic level to the edge of the cosmos?

Riding Rockets -- Astronaut Mike Mullane’s Rocket Ride continues the story where 'The Right Stuff' left off -- into the Space Shuttle era.

Man on the Moon -- About the Apollo missions, and was the basis for the HBO documentary about the same topic.

The Mob

Goodfella Tapes -- It's amazing how stupid the Stanfa faction of the mob was. They botched more hits... It was like recruiting hitmen from the dregs of NY's rummy bar scene.

Underboss -- Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia -- Underboss' author Peter Maas took the easy route - he sat down with a tape recorder and let Mr. Gravano rant.


Grand Central Terminal: Railroads, Engineering, and Architecture in New York City  by Kurt C. Schlichting -- .. As one would expect in any book about the New York Central, tales of financing hijinks and Vanderbilt's battles with fellow railroad magnates Jay Gould and Jim Fisk bring the story of that tumultuous .. [more

Rubble: Unearthing the History of Demolition by Jeff Byles -- A fun and informative look at the evolving, everyday practice of "unbuilding." The book describes how societies define themselves not only by what is built, but what it first destroys .. [more]

Streets of the City

Detective -- The Inspirational Story of the Trailblazing Cop Who Wouldn't Quit by Kathy Burke (with Neal Hirschfeld) -- ...The final act of her police story involved some low-level mob types, a misunderstood surveillance set-up, and the tragic shooting death of her male partner Tony Venditti outside a Queens diner in 1986... [more]

Downtown -- My Manhattan by Pete Hamill -- ...Reading Pete Hamill's ode to Downtown promised an appealing psychic connection with Mr. Hamill, a well-known newspaperman, author, and raconteur man-about-town... [more]


Iraq and The Middle East

Marines in the Garden of Eden:
The Battle of An Nasiriyah
by Richard Lowry -- A detailed account of units from Task Force Tarawa, comprised of the Marine forces who fought the first significant battle of the Iraq War in 2003...

Twilight in the Desert by Matthew R. Simmons -- Potentially scary book about the nature and limitation of the world's largest (Saudi Arabian) oilfields... Scary apprehension in reading this book increases when.. [more]

Torture - A Collection, Edited by Sanford Levinson -- The notion and nature of torture is in high season nowadays, as America engages an enemy that is both brutal and largely outside the rules of war. This collection of essays covers a large swath of the debate...

Cold Zero -- The FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) is probably the elite (non-military) law enforcement outfit in the United States, if not the world.

The Wizards of Langley
Inside the CIA's Directorate of Science & Technology by Jeffrey T. Richelson -- An interesting if narrow look at the scientific aspects of intelligence collection..

Military History and Intelligence

The Detonators: The Secret Plot to Destroy America and the Epic Hunt for Justice by James Maguire -- ... the story goes beyond Jersey City, reaching across the Hudson River to the offices of some of Germany's New York-based diplomats, interned seamen, and spies... [more]

The Somme -- Horror and Heroism in the First World War by Marin Gilbert -- ...Once these barrages lifted to allow the assaulting troops to cross no-man's land and engage the German, the Germans were there to fend them off with machine-gun fire. The artillery was nearly ceaseless for weeks and months on end from both sides, and churned bodies and mud alike to such a state...

War in a Time of Peace: 
Bush, Clinton, and the Generals
-- Halberstam offers an individual-eyed look into the hair-pulling and baffling dramas that surrounded America’s reluctant involvement in the Balkans from the end of George H.W. Bush’s presidency down through the end of Bill Clinton’s. Along the way, the reader gets an education about a region that is so wickedly twisted that.. [more]

The Silent War -- Enter author John Pina Craven and his lively stories of deep-sea research, rescue, and skullduggery which would become The Silent War.

Warlords: An Extraordinary Re-Creation of World War II Through the Eyes and Minds of Hitler, Churchill, Roosevelt, And Stalin by Simon Berthon and Joanna Potts -- Told in chronological order from Hitler's invasion of France through his self-inflicted gunshot end in his bunker. The book focuses on the European Theater, and using known communiqués, offers detailed descriptions of how the thought-processes among these warlords shaped first the European battles, and .. [more

The Execution of Major Andre -- While Major Andre is quite unknown to most Americans, his story is timeless if for no other reason that it wonderfully illustrates how an accumulation of small events and bad timing can radically change the course of history.

Hanging of Captain Gordon: The Life and Trial of an American Slave Trader by Ron Soodalter -- Little-known Civil War-era story about ship Captain Nathaniel Gordon, who in 1862 became the only American to be executed for slave-trading. Excellent authorial research especially relating to New York City, where the trial and hanging.. [more]

(Great Generals) by John Mosier and Wesley K. Clark -- The authors aver that he was not the mere "numberless casualties" butcher of somewhat conventional Grant wisdom. Grant never lost a battle; an accolade few, if even one other notable field commander can claim..

The Birth of the Modern -- Concentrates on the period from 1815 - 1830 -- just a 15-year span wherein critical events transformed the Post-Napoleanic world from quasi-feudalism into 'modern' civilization.

Trafalgar -- Countdown to Battle, 1803 - 1805 -- A Gripping Depiction of an Authentic "Epic Sea Battle".

Business and Economics

In Our Hands by Charles Murray -- If there is one public policy book you are considering reading soon, burn all of the others and read In Our Hands, Charles Murray's short, concise, and hopefully influential proposals for America's future.

Backstory: Inside the Business of the News by Ken Auletta -- Ken Auletta used to write a column for the New York Daily News that would annoy this reviewer to no end. It so happened...

The Message of the Markets by Ron Insana -- CNN commentator Ron Insana's book is a summary treatment of how to read market movements which might help you predict money-making opportunities.


My Team
Choosing My Dream Team From Forty Years in Baseball by Larry Dierker -- As the title indicates, Dierker selects players from roughly 1960 through the present day. He does a fair job of this, the book is a sure-fire argument starter as he leaves off some significant players, not including Pete Rose for obvious reasons, but also trying to leave off..

The Education of a Coach by David Halberstam -- New England football coach Bill Belichick gets the full "genius" treatment from well-known contemporary historian (and Belichick's Cape Cod neighbor) David Halberstam. Halberstam's pedestal-ing of the admittedly perfectionist and successful Belichick gets tiresome after a while; the guy is a football coach, not a world-saving humanitarian. [more]

A Pitcher's Story -- Innings with David Cone -- Roger Angell, a sportswriter and author of some renown, had an idea for a book: he wanted to undertake an intensive study across an entire season of one of baseball’s most influential on-field participants, the pitcher.

At the Altar of Speed
The Fast Life and Tragic Death of Dale Earnhardt
-- Earnhardt, born in the small town of Kannapolis, North Carolina, caught the wave of collectibles rights fees, appearance money, multiple sponsorships, and all the accoutrements that go with celebrity and surfed on to become rich beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.  

The Final Season: My Last Year as Head Coach in the NFL -- Tuna’s overkill “will to win” causes two complimentary and yet diverging realities: He HATES losing, so as the Jets struggle in 1999, he wonders about his balky heart condition

Bob Feller's Little Black Book of Baseball Wisdom -- Feller mixes statistics and personal anecdotes about these baseball gods, in the process bringing more than a touch of humanity to what would otherwise be a dry numbers recital.


Impresario -- The Life and Times of Ed Sullivan by James Maguire -- ...Sullivan, who had failed several times to build a radio audience, was determined to succeed in TV. He saw the new medium as his ticket to "being famous", as opposed to being notable for "covering the famous" as a reporter... [more]

Rebel Without a Crew by Robert Rodriquez -- Robert Rodriquez is a well-known Hollywood director today, but back in 1991-92 he was a film student with a borrowed camera and a dream. With hardly any money and with a scraped-up cast and a crew of one (himself) he made “El Mariachi,” a quirky, .. [more]

Wishy Wally & Loopy Larry – Peapod Blowhards:

A Reporters Life, By Walter Kronkite and 
Anything Goes! What I learned from Pundits, Politicians, and Presidents
By Larry King
-- Wally is famous after all for editorializing at the end of one of one of his overblown CBS newscasts that the U.S. had “lost” Vietnam during Tet in 1968 (note to readers: it still took several years for Nixon to extract American troops, but as far as Wally was concerned, the whistle already blew and tough shit to the guys who still had to fight and die).

Fame, Ain't It a Bitch -- There are few more compelling stories than that of a fellow dude who achieves intimacy with (1) his favorite porno actress, and (2) his favorite supermodel, and (3) throw in an unspecified liaison with John Gotti gooma Lisa Gastineau.

A Drinking Life: A Memoir -- Hamill's descriptions of his youth into manhood are tedious and overwrought. [more]