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Ike, freedom vs. order, & heroism

| Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012, 9:17 p.m.
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Whether you're looking for something to read yourself or books to give as Christmas presents, the following three titles — an assessment of one president's leadership style, a different take on classical economics and a first-person account of heroism — can fit the bill.

“Ike's Bluff: President Eisenhower's Secret Battle to Save the World” by Evan Thomas (Little, Brown and Co.) — A former Time and Newsweek writer and editor who has written best-selling history and biography books portrays Dwight Eisenhower as what the publisher calls “a master of calculated duplicity” — in the most positive sense. He argues that Ike's image among many when he entered the White House was that of “a doddering lightweight,” but that such outward appearances were deliberate — and advantageous in dealing with not just Soviet and Chinese threats, but with American generals who thought America could survive only by striking first. And it wasn't his approach to just politics: “As with his bridge and poker games he was eventually forced to stop playing after leaving too many fellow army officers insolvent, Ike could be patient and ruthless in the con, and generous and expedient in his partnerships,” according to the publisher. Eisenhower thereby accomplished what the author says was his mission: keeping America out of major wars during his two-term presidency.

“The Invisible Hand in Popular Culture: Liberty vs. Authority in American Film and TV” by Paul A. Cantor (The University Press of Kentucky) — With its title alluding to Adam Smith's shorthand for markets' ability to organize and regulate themselves, this book explores what the publisher calls “the tension between freedom and other core values, such as order and political stability” through the prism of such TV shows as “Star Trek” and “South Park” and such movies as “The Aviator.” The author, a University of Virginia English professor, draws on classic proponents of freedom — Smith, Locke, de Tocqueville — as he grapples with the question of whether Americans can manage their own lives or must have political elites do so for them. By dipping into pop-culture portrayals of “both top-down and bottom-up models of order,” the author makes it easier and more enjoyable for today's readers to relate to the ideas he discusses, including Marxist “culture industry” notions and absolute state control a la Hobbes.

“Living with Honor: A Memoir” by Salvatore A. Giunta with Joe Layden (Threshold Editions) — Giunta is America's first living Medal of Honor recipient since the Vietnam War ended, decorated in 2010 by President Obama for combat heroism in Afghanistan, where he rescued wounded comrades in arms during a Taliban ambush, despite being struck himself by enemy fire. He recounts that experience and “illustrates the empowering, invaluable lessons he learned,” according to the publisher. Now retired from active duty, Giunta was 17 and working at a Subway when he entered an Army recruiting center in search of a free T-shirt; before he walked out, he had enlisted. And though most of the book deals with his military experience, he does deal briefly with his family's history and his life before the Army, too, maintaining that his background is as ordinary as the way he views himself in the military context — “just a soldier.” Giunta inspiringly shows how such an ordinary American can achieve extraordinary recognition for extraordinary valor.

PRINT'S DECLINE COSTS PA. JOBS

A possible merger with Simon & Schuster isn't HarperCollins' only response to the changes that publishers are facing — as nearly 200 Pennsylvanians know all too well.

Dampening those Teamsters Local 200 members' Christmas cheer is the knowledge that they'll be losing jobs that pay around $20 per hour (plus benefits) in September 2013, when HarperCollins will close its warehouse and distribution operation across the state in Dunmore, according to The Citizens Voice of Wilkes-Barre.

“It just makes sense for us to go this route as we shift to a more digital industry,” a HarperCollins spokeswoman told the newspaper.

The publisher also is closing a Nashville, Tenn., warehouse as it turns its warehousing and distribution over to Chicago-based RR Donnelly, which already handles most of HarperCollins' printing.

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or awallace@tribweb.com).

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