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Lessons from yesterday & today

Alan Wallace
| Saturday, March 30, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Here are six titles of interest to readers who want to learn more about the roots of one of the biggest challenges faced by Pope Francis I, Civil War-era U.S. history, the naval aspect of World War II, lifting developing nations out of poverty or succeeding in business in our high-tech era.

“Mortal Sins: Sex, Crime, and the Era of Catholic Scandal” by Michael D'Antonio (Thomas Dunne Books, available April 9) — The author, formerly part of a Pulitzer Prize-winning Newsday team, traces Roman Catholicism's ongoing pedophilia woes to the mid-1980s and two key figures: the Rev. Thomas Doyle and Jeffrey Anderson. Doyle, a top Vatican Embassy official in Washington, D.C., described by the publisher as “on a fast-track to becoming a bishop or even a cardinal,” tried to warn his superiors after receiving a letter from the bishop of Lafayette, La., where the first lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of boys by a priest had been filed. Anderson, “a young, radical lawyer” living in the fast lane in Minnesota, figured there had to be more than isolated instances of such cases after hearing a client's tale of sex with a priest that began when the client was 10. Realizing the church was stonewalling, Anderson filed a lawsuit that “would set off a legal war ... that would stretch to global implications,” according to the publisher. Billed as “the first comprehensive account” of the scandal that continues to bedevil the church three decades on, “Mortal Sins” won't be easy reading for anyone, but that uneasiness of course pales before what those abused by priests have endured.

“The Election of 1860 Reconsidered” edited by A. James Fuller; “Richmond Must Fall: The Richmond-Petersburg Campaign, October 1864” by Hampton Newsome (both Kent State University Press) — These two books, which deal with events just before the start and end of the Civil War, respectively, promise to fascinate readers fascinated by the bloodiest conflict in U.S. history — especially those with a taste for the academic approach. In “The Election of 1860 Reconsidered,” editor Fuller, a University of Indianapolis associate professor of history, gathers essays by seven historians, plus a couple of his own, all dealing with an election that the publisher says has been the focus of few studies to date. Challenging traditional views, various essays rebut the notion that Republican Abraham Lincoln was a passive candidate, emphasize ideology in examining voter turnout, explore European views and misunderstandings of the election and cover Stephen A. Douglas' Southern campaign tours, Frederick Douglass' abolitionist perspective and more. Of course, Lincoln won the presidency in that 1860 election; “Richmond Must Fall” picks up as the 1864 election approaches, with the Civil War's outcome inextricably linked to Lincoln's success at the ballot box. After Union victories at Atlanta and in the Shenandoah Valley, Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant and Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee order large-scale operations outside Richmond and Petersburg in Virginia — battles that this book treats “in unprecedented scope and detail,” says the publisher. Readers will gain insight into the two generals' personalities and styles as military commanders, relationships among members of their command staffs, the planning done before and the decisions made during the battles, and what those battles were like for the soldiers who fought them. Newsome puts it all in the context of the electoral politics of the moment, when neither side could afford to lose those battles. And as those battles paved the way for the war's closing actions months later, also in Virginia, greater understanding of October 1864's military events sheds light on why and how the Union triumphed when and where it did.

“The Hunt for Hitler's Warship” by Patrick Bishop (Regnery History, available April 8) — Launched by Hitler on April 1, 1939, the Tirpitz was the crown jewel of the Nazi navy, according to the publisher. Dubbed “the Beast” by Churchill, the Tirpitz would threaten Russian supply lines, Great Britain's trans-Atlantic lifeline and the Allies' ability to reinforce troops in the Pacific Theater. But unlike its sister ship, the Bismarck, which was sunk in 1941, the Tirpitz would survive 23 Allied attacks until it finally was sunk in November 1944 in an operation headed by James “Willie” Tait, wing commander of the Royal Air Force's Dambusters, one of the Brits' least-known World War II heroes. The author is a career war correspondent who has followed British soldiers on nearly all their deployments over the past three decades and previously wrote the international best-sellers “Fighter Boys” and “Bomber Boys.” He draws on previously unpublished sources and survivor interviews to tell the tale of the Tirpitz from both sides — the Germans defending it and the Allies determined to destroy it. Already available in the United Kingdom as “Target Tirpitz,” this book should help the Tirpitz saga take its rightful place next to that of the Bismarck in World War II naval history.

“Why Growth Matters: How Economic Growth in India Reduced Poverty and the Lessons for Other Developing Countries” by Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagariya (PublicAffairs, available April 9) — Published in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations and written by two Columbia University economics professors, this book takes India, where economic disparity is especially stark with hundreds of millions still in poverty, as a test case for dozens of public policies. They examine a series of Indian policies including Jawaharlal Nehru's pragmatic approach, Indira Gandhi's state socialism, economic liberalization in the 1990s and the expanding, increasingly mobile workforce India has today and how it has fared amid the global downturn. Their conclusion is that the only way to significantly help the poor — in India and in other developing nations that start in poverty — is to foster economic growth through free, open markets, whose value often is obscured in nations that emphasize redistributing wealth. Growth, they say, enables the poor to better their lot through work, generating revenue to finance government anti-poverty programs. The publisher calls this a “radical message (that) has huge consequences for economists, development NGOs, and anti-poverty campaigners worldwide.”

“Digital Disruption: Unleashing the Next Wave of Innovation” by James McQuivey and Josh Bernoff (Amazon Publishing) — As a vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research, main author McQuivey tracks digital innovation closely and constantly to advise others how to use “new platforms, tools, and relationships to undercut competitors, get closer to customers, and disrupt the usual ways of doing business,” says the publisher. With this book, he's offering such counsel to business owners, managers and entrepreneurs at large, drawing on his experiences with companies that include some of the largest — even in such traditional fields as insurance and packaged goods — and citing real-world examples from such fields as pharmaceuticals and high-tech apps. His recipe for digitally disruptive success calls for taking risks, investing as cheaply as you can, solving customers' problems as quickly as possible by building on existing platforms, finding new opportunities closely related to existing operations and making outdated, underperforming aspects of your business obsolete before competitors can. He emphasizes that digital innovation is leaving no field of commercial endeavor untouched, and that businesses can compete effectively only by evolving in keeping with that trend.

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

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