Bookshelf: June 14, 2013

The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies

By Jonathan Alter (June 14, 2013) - "In The Center Holds, Jonathan Alter produces the first full account of America at the crossroads. With exclusive reporting and rare historical insight, he pierces the bubble of the White House and the presidential campaigns in a landmark election that marked the return of big money and the rise of big data. He tells the epic story of an embattled president fighting back with the first campaign of the Digital Age. Alter relates the untold story behind Obama's highs and lows, from the raid on Osama bin Laden's compound to the frustration of the debt ceiling fiasco to his unexpected run-ins with black and Latino activists. There are fresh details about the Koch brothers, Grover Norquist, Roger Ailes, and the online haters who suffer from "Obama Derangement Syndrome." Alter takes us inside Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan's Boston campaign as well as Obama's disastrous preparation for the first debate. We meet Obama''s analytics geeks working out of "The Cave" and the man who secretly videotaped Romney's infamous comments on the "47 percent." The Center Holds will deepen our understanding of the Obama presidency, the stakes of the 2012 election, and the future of the country." (Simon & Schuster)

The Great Degeneration: How Institutions Decay and Economies Die

By Niall Ferguson (June 14, 2013) - "The decline of the West is something that has long been prophesied. Symptoms of decline are all around us: slowing growth, crushing debts, aging populations, anti-social behavior. But what is the cause? The answer, Niall Ferguson argues, is that our institutions -- the intricate frameworks within which a society can flourish or fail -- are degenerating. Representative government, the free market, the rule of law and civil society: these were the four pillars of Western societies, which set them on the path to global dominance after around 1500. In our time, however, these institutions have deteriorated. Our democracies have broken the contract between the generations by heaping IOUs on our children and grandchildren. Our markets are distorted by over-complex regulations. The rule of law has metamorphosed into the rule of lawyers. And civil society has become uncivil society. While the Arab world struggles to adopt democracy, and while China struggles to move from economic liberalization to the rule of law, Europeans and Americans alike are frittering away the institutional inheritance of centuries. To arrest the degeneration of the West, Ferguson warns, will take heroic leadership and radical reform." (Penguin UK)

'Gasland Part II'

A Documentary written and directed by Josh Fox (June 14, 2013) - "In the original 2010 film Gasland, director Josh Fox profiled hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, the process of injecting a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals down a drilled well, causing layers of rock deep in the earth to crack and release natural gas. The film inspired a national dialogue over the multi-layered environmental dangers potentially at risk. With GASLAND PART II, Fox examines the long-term impact of the controversial process, including claims of poisonous water, earthquakes and neurological damage, placing his focus on the people across the globe who say their lives have been irreparably changed. Traveling from the Gulf of Mexico to the heart of Texas (including Dish, home to free TV service and some of the highest concentration of gas wells in the nation), out to Los Angeles (where fracking for oil is now occuring), and back up to the Delaware River basin (where he has a family home), Fox investigates the effects of this extraction method, as well as the industry's reaction to negative allegations. The film provides startling claims that fracking may lead to earthquakes in communities that have never experienced ones before. Video footage shows wells venting methane (a powerful greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere in massive amounts. The film also shows how the practice of fracking has gone global, as seen in a visit to rural Australia, where stoic farmers assert that their wells have been turned into potential flame-spewing gushers. And as gas drills multiply, clean-energy options are being passed over -- like hydroelectric, wind, and solar, which some experts say can provide enough energy to power the world five times over. The film argues that the gas industry is using its wealth and power to influence government policy on fracking, while buying the silence of countless American homeowners forced to move out of their longtime homes because their water has become too polluted to drink." (HBO)