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Fresh insight, at home & abroad

| Saturday, Feb. 16, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Here are three current titles that stand out for providing new insight — into the GOP's Civil War motivations, a prominent advocate of public-school reform and the real-life counterparts of James Bond.

“Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861-1865” by James Oakes (W.W. Norton & Co.) — Just named winner of the 2013 Gilder Lehrman Lincoln Prize awarded by Gettysburg College and the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History — earning its author $50,000 and a bronze replica of Saint-Gaudens' life-size bust “Lincoln the Man” — this book rebuts the notion that the Civil War was fought primarily to preserve the United States and that emancipating slaves was added to the agenda only when doing so became a military necessity. Its author — Distinguished Professor of History at The Graduate Center, City University of New York, and co-winner of the same prize in 2008 for his book “The Radical and the Republican: Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and the Triumph of Antislavery Politics” — traces political initiatives by Lincoln and congressional Republicans, along with U.S. military efforts to free slaves and enlist those who'd fled their Southern owners, to show that keeping the Union intact and emancipation were integral components of Republican policy from the Civil War's outset.

“Radical: Fighting to Put Students First” by Michelle Rhee (Harper) — With an author who might well be “Exhibit A” for anyone who wants to make the case that reforming U.S. public education is not an exclusively Republican cause, this book — part autobiography, part policy prescription — should hearten all who favor school vouchers, basing teacher employment on performance, reining in unions' influence over classrooms and budgets, and returning learning to the top of the educratic priority list. Rhee, a Democrat, recounts her pertinent life and career experiences, including teaching in inner-city Baltimore, her 2007-10 stint as chancellor of the dysfunctional Washington, D.C., school system, and her current role as founder and CEO of the advocacy group StudentsFirst. She examines what works, discussing “students who've left behind unspeakable home lives and thrived in the classroom” and “teachers whose groundbreaking methods have produced unprecedented leaps in student achievement,” according to the publisher. Rhee also outlines steps toward better schools for all American children, maintaining that reform will require grassroots support — and conveys her heartfelt determination to fix what's wrong with public schools.

“The Art of Betrayal: The Secret History of MI6: Life and Death in the British Secret Service” by Gordon Corera (Pegasus) — Drawing on first-hand accounts from those directly involved, this book focuses on Great Britain's legendary, century-old covert spy agency during the years since World War II. The author, a BBC News security correspondent, contends that MI6 “has undergone a dramatic transformation from a gung-ho, amateurish organisation to its modern, no less controversial, incarnation,” the publisher says. Cutting through official secrecy and pop-culture myth stemming from Ian Fleming's fiction and the movies based on it, “The Art of Betrayal” focuses on figures from spymasters to agents, telling their stories against the backdrop of the Cold War, the Berlin Wall's rise and fall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, 9/11, the Iraq War and high and low points for MI6 along the way. Espionage, deception, brushes with death and moral ambiguity are all parts of the tale. There's no real-life Goldfinger here, but there is truth that often seems stranger than fiction — and clear-eyed debunking of far-fetched conspiracy theories about Britain, America and the invasion of Iraq, too.

Now, just Apple vs. Justice

It's now solely up to Apple to fight the U.S. Department of Justice's antitrust lawsuit over alleged e-book price-fixing.

On Feb. 8, “Macmillan became the fifth and final publisher to settle with the government,” Reuters reports. Justice sued Apple and the publishers over the “agency model” for e-book pricing that the tech giant had championed in a bid to blunt Amazon's market dominance.

Though Justice is seeking a ruling that Apple violated antitrust law, not monetary damages, some legal experts think money might motivate Apple, too, to settle.

That's because of a class-action lawsuit filed on behalf of consumers and a similar case brought by the attorneys general of dozens of states, which seek unspecified monetary damages from Apple. Those plaintiffs could use an Apple loss in the Justice case as evidence in their cases — and if they win, they could recover three times whatever amount their litigation establishes for actual damages.

An Apple victory at trial, however, could set an antitrust-law precedent that could help it in various media-content ventures.

Stay tuned.

Alan Wallace is a Trib Total Media editorial page writer (412-320-7983 or

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