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eReviews Dyman Associates Book Publishing Inc: Book Review - Girl in the Dark by Anna Lyndsey

This memoir is wonderfully written, beautifully arranged, and a heart-wrenching but hopeful masterpiece.

"Something is afoot within me that I do not understand, the breaking of a contract that I thought could not be broken, a slow perverting of my substance."

Anna was living a pleasantly ordinary life, working for the British government, when she started to develop her sensitivity to light. At first, her face felt like it was burning whenever she was in front of the computer. Soon this progressed to intolerance of artificial lights, then of sunlight itself. The reaction soon spread to her whole body. Now, when her symptoms are at their worst, she must spend months on end in a dark room covering window and door cracks, and mummified in layers of light-protectant clothing.

She spent her days in the dark talking to people on the phone, watching TV during short periods out of her blacked-out room by looking at its reflection in a mirror, making word games to keep herself occupied, but usually she got through audio books.

Lyndsey discovered she could go out for a walk at dawn and dusk for about an hour without it affecting her skin, and her husband made a covering of black felt for the back of the car so they can drive somewhere else, such as a forest, during daylight hours, ready for a sunset walk.

Despite everything, Anna's husband named Pete stays around with her. Pete brings some light, although only of the emotional kind, into her life. She feels she should leave him, but is incapable of doing so unless he asks her to go – and thus far, he has not. "That is the miracle that I live with, every day," she writes.

With gorgeous, lyrical prose, Anna brings us into the dark with her, a place where we are able to see the true value of love and the world.

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Dyman Associates Publishing Inc. Book Review: Prince Caspian (The Return to Narnia)

It's always a joy to rediscover old favorites, especially something from famous novelist CS Lewis. 

His classic series of fantasy novels for children has already spawned three movie adaptations, but I still like to go back to the books as much as possible. His dialogues for the characters do not leave much to be desired when it comes to wit and form.

The book I reread recently was the second one (in order of publication), Prince Caspian. It started with the return of the Pevensie siblings, Peter, Susan, Edward and Lucy to the world of Narnia, set a year after the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The four kids were on a train station on their way to their respective boarding schools when they were quite suddenly transported back to Narnia. They did not realize it at first because much has change in that world since they were there. Apparently, a year in their real world is equivalent to centuries in Narnian time so they were surprised to find their camping ground was actually their former home, Cair Paravel, where they reigned during the Golden Ages.

By crossing paths with Trumpkin the dwarf, they soon discovered that the Telmarines, a new race, has invaded Narnia and forced the magical creatures to go in hiding. Meanwhile, they learned of the circumstance surrounding their sudden return in Narnia -- the rightful ruler, Prince Caspian, who needed their help blew the magical horn which summoned them back.

Surprisingly, it was not the titular character who stood out for me. Though Caspian has his moments, it was definitely Reepicheep, the swashbuckling mouse with a sharp tongue, unquestionable loyalty and infallible courage who's very memorable. I'd say he is easily the most interesting and engaging character in this installment. 

As with any fantasy story with a kingdom setting, this one has lessons about chivalry and courage. It remains a classic as a novel for young people mainly because its characters are ordinary kids who get to do heroic stuff (and because of the humor, too). It's a world where children are competent and plays an active role in shaping history.

And as I'm certain most of the readers already know, its parallels to Christianity are still apparent in this installment, but in a much subtler way than in the previous book. At any rate, it won't make the book unbearable for unbelievers so I still strongly recommend that everyone read through the whole series via Dyman Associates Publishing Inc.( )

I can't say I hate the film adaptation just because it was not at all faithful to the book, but I honestly prefer the original source over it. (What I can I say; I'm more of a bookworm than a movie buff.)

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eReviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: Why Are We Obsessed With the Great American Novel?

Each week in Bookends, two writers take on questions about the world of books. This week, Cheryl Strayed and Adam Kirsch try to get to the bottom of our long-running obsession with the Great American Novel.

By Cheryl Strayed

The idea that only one person can produce a novel that speaks truth about the disparate American whole is pure hogwash.

In 1868, John William De Forest published an essay in The Nation titled “The Great American Novel.” In it, he argued for the rise of fiction that more accurately reflected American society than did the grand, romantic novels of the time, whose characters he thought belonged to “the wide realm of art rather than to our nationality.” In the course of making his case, De Forest considered, then cast aside, the likes of Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper and Nathaniel Hawthorne before landing on Harriet Beecher Stowe. Her “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” was, in De Forest’s opinion, if not quite the Great American Novel, “the nearest approach to the desired phenomenon” of a book that captured what was, to him, America — a populace of “eager and laborious people, which takes so many newspapers, builds so many railroads, does the most business on a given capital, wages the biggest war in proportion to its population, believes in the physically impossible and does some of it.”

That De Forest was arguing in hopes of not one Great American Novel, but rather the development of a literary canon that accurately portrayed our complex national character, has been lost on many, as generation after generation of critics have since engaged in discussions of who might have written the Great American Novel of any given age, and writers have aspired to be the one chosen — a competitive mode that is, I suppose, as American as it gets. It’s also most likely the reason that the idea has persisted for so long. To think that one might be writing the Great American Novel, as opposed to laboring through a meandering 400-page manuscript that includes lengthy descriptions of the minutiae of one’s mildly fictionalized childhood (pushing a bicycle up a hill on a hot Minnesota day, sexual fantasies about Luke Skywalker), is awfully reassuring. I have a purpose! I am writing the Great American Novel!

Or so one can tell herself until one day an austere portrait of Jonathan Franzen shows up on the cover of an August 2010 issue of Time magazine alongside the words “Great American Novelist.” As I beheld it, I could all but hear the wails and curses of 10,000 novelists across the land — a sizable fraction of whom are also named Jonathan, as it turns out — each of them crushed and furious over the fact that they weren’t deemed the One. Never mind that Franzen is indeed a great American novelist. Never mind that a lot of other people are too. Never mind that this idea — that one person, and only one person, in any given generation can possess the intellectual prowess, creative might, emotional intelligence and writing chops to produce a novel that speaks truth about the disparate American whole — is pure hogwash. Jonathan Franzen on the cover of Time with that age-worn, honorific phrase beside his solemn face either rattles or reassures us because we’re American. It’s in our national character — which is to say, deep in our bones — to believe that when it comes to winners, there can be only one.

But art isn’t a footrace. No one comes in first place. Greatness is not a universally agreed-upon value (hence there’s no need to email me to disagree with my admiration of Franzen, or to offer advice about whether I should include Luke Skywalker in my next novel). America isn’t one story. It’s a layered and diverse array of identities, individual and collective, forged on contradictory realities that are imbued with and denied privilege and power. Our obsession with the Great American Novel is perhaps evidence of the even greater truth that it’s impossible for one to exist. As Americans, we keep looking anyway.

Cheryl Strayed is the author of the #1 New York Times best seller “Wild,” the New York Times best seller “Tiny Beautiful Things,” and the novel “Torch.” Strayed’s writing has appeared in “The Best American Essays,” The New York Times Magazine, Vogue, Salon, Tin House, The Rumpus — where she wrote the popular “Dear Sugar” advice column — and elsewhere. The movie adaptation of “Wild,” starring Reese Witherspoon, was released in December. Strayed holds an MFA in fiction writing from Syracuse University and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. She lives in Portland, Ore., with her husband and their two children.


By Adam Kirsch

The more deeply a novel lays bare the darkness in American society and the American soul, the more likely it is to become a classic.

Early last year, the publication of Lawrence Buell’s study “The Dream of the Great American Novel” gave critics a chance to ask whether that dream is still alive. For the most part, their answer was no. The GAN, to use the acronym Buell employs (taking a cue from Henry James), represents just the kind of imperial project that contemporary criticism has learned to mistrust. What writer, after all, has the right, the cultural authority, to sum up all the diverse experiences and perspectives that can be called American in a single book? To Michael Kimmage, writing in The New Republic, the “dream of the GAN” appeared “silly and naïve and antiquated.” Adam Gopnik, in The New Yorker, observed wryly that “nothing is more American than our will to make the enormous do the work of the excellent. We have googly eyes for gargantuan statements.”

In his book, however, Buell reminds us that the term “Great American Novel” has seldom been used unironically. Almost from the moment it was coined, by the novelist John De Forest in 1868, it has been used to mock the overweening ambition it names. Buell quotes one post-Civil War observer who compared it to such “other great American things” as “the great American sewing-machine, the great American public school [and] the great American sleeping-car.” When Philip Roth actually wrote a book called “The Great American Novel,” in 1973, it was, inevitably, a satire.

It might be hard today to find a critic, especially an academic critic, who would accept the idea of the GAN or even of its component parts. Greatness, Americanness and the novel itself are now concepts to be interrogated and problematized. Yet somehow the news of this obsolescence has not quite reached novelists themselves, who continue to dream about writing the big, complex book that will finally capture the country. There is nothing subtle about this ambition: When Jonathan Franzen wrote his candidate for the GAN, he called it “Freedom”; Roth named his attempt (sincere, this time) “American Pastoral.” These are titles that call attention to their own scope, in the tradition of John Dos Passos, who titled his trilogy of the-way-we-live-now novels simply “U.S.A.”

And the response to “Freedom” and “American Pastoral” — two of the most successful and widely praised literary novels of our time — shows that readers, too, have not given up on the promise of the GAN. The thirst for books that will explain us to ourselves, that will dramatize and summarize what makes Americans the people they are, is one manifestation of our incurable exceptionalism. Of course, we could learn from Tolstoy or Shakespeare what human beings are like, but that does not satisfy us; Homo americanus has always conceived of itself as a new type, the product of what Lincoln called “a new birth of freedom.” This conviction, which can be traced in our politics, economic system and foreign policy, cannot help influencing our literature.

Yet as Buell also emphasizes, the novels that we now think of as canonical GANs are by no means patriotic puffery. On the contrary, the more deeply a novel lays bare the darkness in American society and the American soul, the more likely it is to become a classic. “Moby-Dick,” the most obvious GAN candidate, is centered on a vengeful megalomaniac; “The Great Gatsby” is about a social-climbing fraud; “Beloved” is about slavery and infanticide. Even “The Catcher in the Rye,” a book whose modest scale and New York focus might seem to keep it out of the pantheon of Great American Novels, is at heart a naïvely passionate indictment of American phoniness and fallenness.

Perhaps what drives these books, and drives us to read them again and again, is the incurable idealism about America that we all secretly cherish, and which is continually disappointed by reality. “America when will you be angelic?” Allen Ginsberg demands in “America,” which belongs in the much less discussed category of Great American Poems. As long as the question makes sense to us, our novelists will keep asking it.

Adam Kirsch is a columnist for Tablet. He is the author of two collections of poetry and several other books, including, most recently, “Why Trilling Matters.” In 2010, he won the Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism.

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eReviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: 'Whipping Boy' by Allen Kurzweil

When a middle-class Jewish boy from New York enrolled at a Swiss boarding school in 1971, the lessons in swordsmanship and elocution were hardly the strangest things he encountered. Unchaperoned boys were often sent with minimal supplies on expeditions into the frozen Alps for multiple days.

Younger boys, barefoot and without gloves, cleaned pubic hair and dirty gunk from the drains of the common showers (which dispensed cold water). And once the doors in the dormitories closed each night, supervision, minimal as it was, ceased.

Even faint rumors of the behavior in the anecdotes from Allen Kurzweil's new memoir, "Whipping Boy," would trigger lawsuits today. Kurzweil's roommates forced him to swallow painful quantities of hot sauce; they whipped him with a belt while playing "The Thirty-Nine Lashes" from "Jesus Christ Superstar;" they hurled his most treasured possession, an irreplaceable family heirloom from his deceased father, out the window of their fifth-story room. The worst of the bullies threatened to throw Kurzweil out the window as well.

"Boys will be boys" doesn't capture the gravity of their behavior; "boys will be sadistic little monsters whose victims suffer lifelong trauma" is more precise. Suffice it to say that boarding school made a lasting impression on Kurzweil. He was a middle-class Jewish kid from New York, but his peers were the sons and daughters of bankers, aristocrats and heirs to vast fortunes. He was soon nicknamed "Nosey" in sneering tribute to his Jewish roots.

This might make Kurzweil's memoir sound like the typical fare publishers favor: a work that wallows so happily in childhood misfortune that sympathy slowly gives way to suspicion that the author is secretly thrilled by the chance to relate such infinite suffering. But the alpine agonies of the 10-year-old Kurzweil occupy only the first 50 pages of the book. What follows is something much stranger and more interesting than an ordinary woe-is-me story.

After a year at the Swiss boarding school, Kurzweil returned to the States and grew up to be a successful author and journalist. But hot sauce and songs from "Jesus Christ Superstar" still prompted painful memories of his chief tormentor, a boy aptly named Cesar Augustus. Encouraged by his wife and experienced in sleuthing as a journalist, Kurzweil decided to research what became of his old bully.

He learns that Cesar, full name Cesar Augusto Viana, played a vital role in an international fraud scheme involving associates implicated in acts of deception, forgery, fraud and assassination. In short, his old bully seems to have behaved with all the unscrupulous and ravenous ambition befitting his imperial name. "Never in my wildest dreams had I expected to unearth such exquisite corroboration of childhood villainy," Kurzweil writes after a key discovery.

The fraud scheme itself is a fascinating demonstration of the power of prestige. Some of the details are pure Hollywood. A group of disingenuous men claimed the titles of minor European royalty, dressed in silk ascots and tailcoats, and made liberal use of a Maltese lapdog and a gold-handled cane. This regal paraphernalia helped them swindle hundreds of thousands of dollars from prospective borrowers who were constantly criticized for their lapses in etiquette and their tastelessly casual clothing.

Those duped were not necessarily naïve — they included a powerful television executive and several lawyers at one of the most prestigious firms in Manhattan. The combination of brazen lying and subtle manipulation fooled the worldly and gullible alike. Eventually the group was prosecuted and its principals found guilty of fraud. The trial generated a massive paper trail that Kurzweil tracks with a doggedness bordering on obsession. But his research is rewarded with appalling and hilarious revelations about Viana and his fellow con men.

Certain features of the hustle are suspiciously evocative of the Swiss boarding school that Viana and Kurzweil attended. The crest of the invented loan consortium resembles the logo of the school, and an emphasis on ornamental displays of rank is central to both institutions. A deeper continuity runs between Viana as a 12-year-old bully and an adult con man: He inflicts material and psychological damage with the same callous cruelty in both incarnations.

Kurzweil's book is a captivating hybrid of investigative journalism and memoir. His tone is more often comic than aggrieved or vindictive, but the stakes are serious. Viana inflicted real emotional anguish and financial loss on many people. When Kurzweil confronts Viana in person at the end of the book, he's not simply settling a private score; he's standing up for anyone who has ever been bullied.

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eReviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: ‘Amnesia,’ Peter Carey’s novel about cybercrime

Halfway through Peter Carey’s new novel, “Amnesia,” I began to worry I was suffering from it.

Who wrote this tedious mess?

Where was that two-time Booker winner who gave us such spectacular novels as “Oscar and Lucinda” and “Jack Maggs”?

Readers may have trouble remembering the jacket copy, too, which describes “Amnesia” as a cerebral thriller involving cybercrime and international intrigue. That’s true for about 20 pages. Carey, a former advertising executive, knows the importance of a great hook, and the opening of “Amnesia” couldn’t be more relevant and exciting:

“It was a spring evening in Washington DC; a chilly autumn morning in Melbourne; it was exactly 22:00 Greenwich Mean Time when a wormCar entered the computerised control systems of countless Australian prisons and released the locks in many other places of incarceration, some of which the hacker could not have known existed.”

Because those computer systems had been designed by American firms, the worm instantly spreads through the United States, too, breaking open thousands of prisons, including secret black sites in [REDACTED] where the CIA keeps [REDACTED]. On computer screens across the world, the group behind this apocalyptic amnesty announces: “The corporation is under our control. The Angel declares you free.”

Who you gonna call — James Bond? Ethan Hunt? Jason Bourne?

No, this is a job for a glib, left-wing writer named Felix Moore, “the most controversial journalist of his generation.” He’s just been financially ruined by a defamation case (his 99th), which makes him especially grateful for the support of a rich old friend, Woody Townes. Bereft of money, home and family, Felix could use a big project to rehabilitate himself, and for his own mysterious reasons, Woody wants Felix to write a flattering biography of the Angel computer hacker. “The defendant won’t talk to anyone but you,” Woody tells him. “I bailed the bloody Angel before the US could touch her.”

Her. Yes, the Angel is a young woman.

“Australianize her,” Woody demands. “Make it up, and most of all make the bitch lovable,” so lovable that the CIA won’t be able to spirit her away without causing national outrage. Because this isn’t just any young woman. She’s Gabrielle Baillieux, the daughter of a famous actress that Woody and Felix knew (and loved) in their radical student days. Writing an exculpatory biography about the young computer criminal will be an audacious and dangerous literary stunt, but it also promises to bring Felix back in touch with the girl’s mother.

This exhilarating setup is infected with all kinds of destructive malware, but for a while, the story races along Carey’s fiber-optic lines. Woody is a lot more threatening than he first appears. Young Gaby is aligned with some awfully unsavory figures, and she seems unwilling to participate in the sugarcoating of her life story. Most troubling of all, Gaby’s mother, the famous actress, is surely manipulating everyone involved. Even before Felix can figure out whom he’s really working for, he’s given miles of meandering audiotape and whisked away to an undisclosed location, where he’s ordered to start writing — fast — on a manual typewriter (the last defense against the NSA). It doesn’t take a computer genius to realize that whatever he composes is likely to get people — starting with himself — killed. But he knows, “This was the story I had spent my life preparing for.”

Truth and deception have long been adulterous lovers in Carey’s fiction. He lashed together a similarly treacherous triangle a few years ago in a svelte novel about art crooks called “Theft.” And in “My Life as a Fake,” he nested deceptions within hoaxes surrounded by monkey business to write about literary fraud. Those novels, though, no matter how much they feinted, were always fantastically engaging.

“Amnesia” may leap off today’s front-page headlines, but it quickly gets lost in Felix’s dull recreation of Gaby as a young hacker in the early days of personal computers. This teen drama — think “DOSon’s Creek” — can’t possibly compete with the chaos we’re asked to imagine is now ravaging the world’s computer systems.

It doesn’t help that “Amnesia” is predicated on a largely forgotten political conflict between Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and President Richard Nixon. Old spooks and students of Asia-Pacific politics will remember what Felix calls “the traumatic injury done to my country by our American allies in 1975”: The CIA conspired with MI6 to bring down Whitlam in a bloodless coup designed to protect Pine Gap, America’s secret listening post in Alice Springs, Northern Territory. That evil footnote in our nation’s diplomatic history received a bit of new attention in 2013, when Edward Snowden revealed that Pine Gap is now part of the PRISM program that allows the NSA to spy on almost everyone all the time. But U.S. and British fiddling with Australian politics in the mid-1970s might as well remain classified information for all its currency among American readers — and Carey’s elliptical and erratic narrative does little to draw back that veil of secrecy.

What a missed opportunity for one of the best writers in the world. With his story of the muckraker and the cyberterrorist, Carey might have given us a provocative update on Janet Malcolm’s “The Journalist and the Murderer.” Or he could have breathed life into that forgotten coup of 1975 the way he reimagined the folk hero in “True History of the Kelly Gang.” But instead, all the potentially fantastic elements of “Amnesia” are minced and scrambled and finally overwhelmed.

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Book Review: The Seven Dials Mystery

Starting the year is a look-back on a classic from the Queen of Mysteries herself Agatha Christie, known for, well, great mystery novels.

The Seven Dials Mystery started out lightly in a country house with a group of young people making fun of their friend for always waking up late. The friends unanimously decided to play a joke on him by buying 8 alarm clocks to set off the next morning. But the alarm clock prank backfired and turned into a grim joke instead when their friend was discovered dead the next afternoon, supposedly from an overdose of sleeping drug.

The novel basically centers on the death of the young man during the vacation at Chimneys, home to the heroine Bundle Brent of 'The Secret of Chimneys' fame. At first, she was just curious about the true cause of death of the victim who used her room during the vacation. Then while poking around, she accidentally chanced upon a letter which seemed to be meant for the victim's half-sister. 

Unsurprisingly, another member of the group of friends who stayed at Chimneys turned up dead not long after. And Bundle was there just in time to hear the dying words of the person pertaining to a certain "seven dials". Thinking back to the first death, was there a connection to the 7 neatly arranged alarm clocks on his room to the last words of this second victim?

Honestly, the characters were not very intriguing except for the gardener MacDonald who seemed to have delusions of grandeur and the admirable manservant Jimmy. The supposed heroine just didn't work well except for serving as a means to lead the readers to an obviously wrong conclusion.

Unlike the usual mystery story, there is neither an apparent 'murder scene' nor an obligatory gathering of the characters at the end for the revelation. It was more of an action-adventure type of story with a little romance. However, that's not saying it was not good -- it's sort of refreshing to deviate from the usual dark atmosphere of a mystery novel. Also, this time there's no Poirot or Miss Marple, instead we got the 'wooden' Superintendent Battle so maybe that's a factor for the non-formulaic narration.  

All in all, the ride was not an absolute bore. After all, it's always great fun reading a Christie novel and this one's no exception even though it's considerably light-hearted than the usual fare from Dyman Associates Publishing Inc...

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Book Reviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: 'The Skeleton Crew' by Deborah Halber

About 4,000 unidentified corpses turn up in the U.S. every year, of which about half have been murdered. Can the Internet help?

The public seems fascinated, if not obsessed, with crime-solving, if the high ratings of TV shows such as "CSI" and "NCIS" are any indication. The interest in crimes often proceeds from the high-profile identity of the victim or perpetrator. Think of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, the vanishing of Jimmy Hoffa or the trial of O.J. Simpson. At the other end of the spectrum are crime victims who have no identity at all.

These are the John Doe and Jane Doe corpses that are found without any papers or other identification markers. Even in an age when we are tracked electronically by our phone companies at every single moment, about 4,000 unidentified corpses turn up in the U.S. every year, of which about half have been murdered. In 2007 no fewer than 13,500 sets of unidentified human remains were languishing in the evidence rooms of medical examiners, according to an analysis published in the National Institute of Justice Journal.

In her brilliant book "The Skeleton Crew," Deborah Halber explains why local law enforcement often fails to investigate such deaths:"Unidentified corpses are like obtuse, financially strapped houseguests: they turn up uninvited, take up space reserved for more obliging visitors, require care and attention, and then, when you are ready for them to move on, they don't have anywhere to go." The result is that many of these remains are consigned to oblivion.

While the population of the anonymous dead receives only scant attention from the police or the media, it has given rise to a macabre subculture of Internet sleuthing. Ms. Halber chronicles with lucidity and wit how amateur investigators troll websites, such as the Doe Network, Official Cold Case Investigations and Websleuths Crime Sleuthing Community, and check online databases looking for matches between the reported missing and the unidentified dead. It is a grisly pursuit involving linking the images of dead bodies to the descriptions posted by people trying to find someone.

Ms. Halber devotes most of "The Skeleton Crew" to describing a handful of cases that have given rise to this bizarre avocation. It started with an infamous Kentucky crime known as the Tent Girl Case: The victim was known only as Tent Girl because her body was found in 1968 inside a canvas tent bag. The hero of the story is Todd Matthews, a factory worker in Tennessee. Mr. Matthews became fascinated with the mystery in 1988, when he was still a teen, but was unable to find any clues to her identity until a decade later, when he stumbled on new information on the Internet. In 1998 he began searching forums and found one for lonely hearts and genealogy that had an intriguing post from a woman still looking for her long-lost sister, Barbara Hackmann-Taylor.

Barbara had vanished in late 1967, on a date not far from the time when the Tent Girl was found. She had lived near the Tent Girl's locale, and her sister's description roughly matched that of Tent Girl. Mr. Mathews wrote the Kentucky police, who arranged for the remains of Tent Girl to be exhumed and her DNA to be tested. Eureka, it matched, and Tent Girl finally had a name. Mr. Matthews later founded the Doe Network, which became a nexus for curious citizens who wanted to follow in his footsteps.

Ms. Halber superbly reports [ ] on this morbid new subculture. Aside from Tent Girl, she describes such odd cases as the Lady of the Dunes found in Cape Cod, Mass., in 1974; the Jane Doe in a red T-shirt who was found in Baltimore in 2000; and what Ms. Halber calls the "head in the bucket" case from Kearney, Mo., in 2001. Besides interviewing the Sherlock Holmes wannabes who have pursued these cases, Ms. Halber talks to police officers, forensic experts and medical examiners. She even attends grisly autopsies. As a result, we learn many unusual details: A human skeleton, it turns out, will fit in a 200-square-inch box.

But the focus on anecdotes, as interesting as they are, diverts attention from a larger question. Just how many murders do these amateur sleuths help solve (if one considers cases like Tent Girl, where the murderer was never discovered, to be solved)? Ms. Halber estimates that, since the identification of Tent Girl in 1998, roughly 30,000 unidentified murder victims have been discovered. The posse of amateur sleuths, as far as I can see from her book, have helped police crack no more than a dozen cases. So 99.99% remain unsolved.

The key to finding a solution to the stockpile of unidentified corpses, I would suggest, is not Internet sleuthing or crowdsourcing the identification of images of human remains, but increasing the efficiency of the FBI's National Crime Information Center database. At present, the NCIC stores more than 100 million fingerprints in its automated fingerprint-identification system and is in the process of developing a national DNA- matching system. Its computers and software need to be upgraded to better mesh with those of local police, sheriffs and medical examiners. Once that task is accomplished, it has the potential to greatly (and speedily) reduce the population of the unidentified dead.

Amateur sleuths, no matter how great their dedication, simply lack the resources. Because of legitimate privacy concerns, they do not have access to this FBI database. To be sure, they now can use a government-run website [ ] called National Missing and Unidentified Person System to find a roster of fresh cases, and they can continue searching for macabre matches on the Internet. And amateur sleuthing provides great satisfaction to armchair detectives, the author makes clear, not only in America but in such far off places as Kazakhstan, Mongolia and Indonesia. Ms. Halber's real service is to bring to light the workings of this fascinating new subculture and one can expect her entertaining book [ ] will only add to their numbers.

Book Reviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: ‘Unstoppable’ by Ralph Nader

Ralph Nader wants liberals and conservatives to work together. In his new book, “Unstoppable”, he cites many instances in which such cooperation ought to be possible, at least theoretically. But the book’s greater value may lie in the opportunity to contemplate, almost half a century after he first stepped onto the national stage, where Nader himself fits on the ideological spectrum.

Any discussion of Nader must begin with the acknowledgment that he is a great man. He created modern consumer advocacy when he published “Unsafe at Any Speed,” his 1965 book about auto safety, and he founded a network of nonprofits dedicated to muckraking and lobbying in the public interest, challenging the government on a host of regulatory issues that previously received scant attention. It’s a backhanded compliment to Nader that the stampede of corporate lobbyists into Washington starting in the 1970s began as an effort to counter him (before it acquired a fevered momentum of its own).

Most people would situate Nader on the left. That’s a reasonable judgment but also a simplistic one, because in many ways he is fairly conservative — conservative enough to harvest favorable book-jacket blurbs for “Unstoppable” from the likes of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and anti-immigration activist Ron Unz. No doubt part of Nader’s appeal to such folks is their sheer gratitude that he helped keep Al Gore out of the White House (though with a margin as thin as the one in Florida’s vote count, you could blame Gore’s 2000 defeat — or, if you prefer, thwarted victory — on just about anything). But the right’s affinity for Nader is not based solely on partisan interest. He holds more beliefs in common with conservatives than is generally recognized.

Income distribution, a long-standing concern for the left, has seldom interested Nader, except insofar as government can be stopped from redistributing upward. He favors much stronger government regulation of corporations, but his argument is that corporations would otherwise avoid the sort of accountability that any well-functioning market demands. If a pro-regulatory, highly litigious libertarian can be imagined, that’s what Nader is.

“Any government intrusion into the economy,” he wrote in 1962, “deters the alleged beneficiaries from voicing their views or participating in civic life.” He probably wouldn’t put it so tea-party-ishly today. But he remains much less enamored than most liberals of representative government as a solution to life’s problems. Nader’s allegiance is not to politicians and bureaucrats, whom he routinely excoriates, but to the citizens who petition them, sue them and vote for or against them. His ideal is a small community (like Winsted, Conn., where he grew up) that unites to force corporations and unresponsive government to act in the public interest. Think of every Frank Capra movie you ever saw. People often assume that Capra was a New Deal Democrat, but in fact he was a lifelong Republican.

An entire chapter of “Unstoppable” celebrates the Southern Agrarians, a reactionary populist movement of the 1930s that cast “a baleful eye on both Wall Street and Washington, D.C.” Nader admires the Southern Agrarians not for their racial attitudes (most of them were notably racist and anti-Semitic) but because they believed fiercely in maintaining small-scale rural economies in which both ownership and control stayed local, often in the form of a co-op. Squint a little, and the Southern Agrarians may start to resemble today’s left-wing microbrewers and locavores.

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Book Reviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: Book Review on '935 Lies' by Charles Lewis

With the founding of the Center for Public Integrity in the 1980s, Charles Lewis probably did more than anyone else to launch institutional nonprofit journalism in America. So it is worth paying attention to what he has to say, especially when his subject includes the fate of journalism itself. Mr. Lewis's "935 Lies" repays such attention, though not right away.

The first half of the book is an unremarkable recounting of America's supposed loss of innocence—its missteps and transgressions as well as its attempts to restore the nation's ideals—from the Tonkin Gulf and Freedom Summer to the Pentagon Papers and Watergate, from the Chilean coup to Iraq. An entire chapter, breaking no new ground, is devoted to the stubborn problem of race in America. The book's historical narrative is meant to show, as the subtitle has it, "the decline of America's moral integrity." The title itself, which the author essentially disowns in a concluding note, refers to 935 statements by the George W. Bush administration about Iraq. Mr. Lewis asserts that the statements were all erroneous but concedes that they may not have been "lies" in the sense of knowing falsehood. In any case, the Iraq war plays only a limited role in Mr. Lewis's tale of woe.


But hang in—or skip to the second part, which is mostly a memoir and almost all about journalism. It includes one of the toughest critiques of television news ever written by an insider. From 1977 to 1989, Mr. Lewis worked for ABC News and then for CBS's news program "60 Minutes."

Mr. Lewis begins with an admiring portrait of Edward R. Murrow, whose wartime reporting and work at CBS in the early 1950s, he believes, embodied a time when the news business managed to avoid the plague of risk aversion that would later come from corporate masters seeking ever larger profits. Then he takes us into the halls of Don Hewitt's "60 Minutes" and makes the most of his own disillusioning experience.

"Serious journalism," Mr. Lewis says, "will necessarily be undertaken by commercial TV news executives with great caution." He argues that, as TV news began seeking a mass audience, the networks became "mostly interested in the illusion of investigative reporting." Time pressures required that almost all their work in this area be derivative of work previously done by others, usually in print. "Well-connected, powerful people and companies with questionable policies and practices," he says, were not investigated "precisely because of the connections and power they boasted."

He describes a CBS corporate culture in which his first 150 story ideas yielded only three broadcast segments, either because there was insufficient time to develop them or because they lacked "characters." What he was being asked to produce, he ultimately recognized, was "formulaic, good-versus-evil" pieces devoid of policy or nuance.

The most acute of Mr. Lewis's frustrations came when Hewitt, the executive producer of "60 Minutes," refused to broadcast a Lewis report on former government officials profiting as U.S. lobbyists for foreign interests unless the name of Hewitt's good friend Pete Peterson, then chairman of the Blackstone BX +1.27%  Group, was excised from the script. In the story, a photograph showed five smiling Blackstone executives, all former federal appointees, in a Japanese newspaper advertisement seeking business for their lobbying efforts. Mr. Peterson was singled out by name in the voice-over narrative. Correspondent Mike Wallace, for whom Mr. Lewis worked directly, implored him in a shouting match to remove Mr. Peterson's name, to no avail. But Hewitt was more subtle, simply refusing to schedule the piece for airing. Mr. Lewis bitterly relented to Hewitt's implicit demand and quit the day after the story was broadcast.

As for ABC, Mr. Lewis reports that its legendary news chief Roone Arledge killed a tough story on tobacco at the request of "the Corporate guys," who were fearful that the network could complicate its position in a libel suit that Philip Morris PM -0.35%  had already filed against the broadcaster. In another instance, Mr. Lewis was given just a few hours to determine the veracity of an allegation that Lyndon Johnson, when he was Senate majority leader, had accepted large cash bribes. Mr. Lewis accurately calls such an assignment "a fool's errand."

The book's critique is less sure-footed when Mr. Lewis turns from TV to newspapers. At one point he suggests that investigative journalism in newspapers has been in retreat since 1968. He blames the decline almost entirely on "shortsighted greed and increasing corporatization" and hardly at all on the true culprit, the digital revolution that wreaked havoc on newspaper business models. The decline has largely occurred over the past decade, not anything like 45 years, and it has coincided with a collapse in newspaper profitability, which peaked in 2000.

Mr. Lewis's personal story by no means ended when he left broadcast television. The Center for Public Integrity opened its doors in late 1989, and its first report followed up on his last "60 Minutes" piece. The center's mission was to do investigative work in the public interest "using a 'quasi-journalistic, quasi political science' approach," issuing long reports and later books. CPI was really the nation's first independent nonprofit newsroom.

A serial nonprofit entrepreneur, Mr. Lewis has also founded the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and other organizations aimed at promoting and undertaking nonprofit reporting. His reflections, especially on network television, point up the inherent limits of our largest legacy news organizations and embody the hope that new entrants will fill the gaps in newsgathering and, thereby, enlarge the public's capacity for democratic governance.

By Richard J. Tofel

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Book Reviews Dyman Associates Publishing Inc: J.K. Rowling’s New 'Harry Potter' Story Is a Marketing Scam

There are celebrities—and then there are celebrities.” That’s the first line of J.K. Rowling’s latest Harry Potter short story, published this morning on her own website, Pottermore. Rowling, who has always had a strained relationship with her own fame, might as well be talking about herself. (She published her second pseudonymous detective novel last month, to solid reviews.) There are celebrity writers, and then there are celebrity writers—the kind who can post a 1500-word piece of writing on their personal website and immediately make international headlines.

If, like me, you woke up this morning excited by the headlines and tweets ( ) declaring that Rowling has written a new Harry Potter story, you may be disappointed. Almost seven years after publishing the final Harry Potter book, Rowling has returned to the wizarding world for the first time, but the results are flimsy. What’s being billed as Rowling’s first post-Deathly Hallows short story set in the “Harry Potter” universe is just a brief fictional dispatch from Rita Skeeter, the wizarding world’s nastiest gossip columnist. If you aren’t already a member of Pottermore, Rowling’s official fansite, you’ll have to sign up for an account. When I finally read the story, after surrendering my name, email address, and birth date, I felt a little conned. This wasn’t a short story—this was a digital marketing campaign.

Rita Skeeter is writing from the Quidditch World Cup championship fifteen years after the events of the final book, providing a “Where Are They Now” game that’s sort of fun. Harry is nearly 34, his hair is beginning to gray. Poor Ron is already losing his hair. (As someone who was the same age as Harry when the first books were published, this premature aging is tough to read about.) Hermione is balancing motherhood with a demanding career. (“Does Hermione Granger prove that a witch really can have it all?” Skeeter asks.) We get updates on Ginny Weasley, Neville Longbottom, Luna Lovegood, and even Viktor Krum. Like the reunion special of a TV soap, the next generation—Bill Weasley’s daughter and Remus Lupin’s son, now teenagers—are romantically involved.

All this information comes from an unreliable source, of course. Rita Skeeter, with her poison pen and claw-like nails, was one of the minor villains of the Harry Potter series, spreading catty, made-up gossip about our heroes and showing no moral qualms. She’s also an avatar for Rowling’s aggrieved relationship with the media. “It really was like being under siege or like a hostage,” Rowling told the Leveson Inquiry when testifying a few years ago about the British press. In that light, the new story reads like a barely veiled attack on the entitlement and moral bankruptcy of British tabloid culture. “One always hesitates to invade the privacy of young people,” Rowling, in the voice of Skeeter, writes. “But the fact is that anyone closely connected with Harry Potter reaps the benefits and must pay the penalty of public interest.” 

Unlike the series’ ill-advised epilogue, the new story doesn’t wrap everything up in a bow. We’re left wondering where the cut on Harry’s face came from and how much of the column is vicious rumor. But like that epilogue, it’s a symptom of Rowling’s reluctance to cede control of her creations. Since ending the series, she’s revealed that Dumbledore was gay, that Harry and his cousin Dudley reconciled, and that Harry and Voldemort were related by blood. You don’t have to be a Barthesian grad student to chafe at Rowling’s impulse to clarify the words on the page. When writers adopt the paratextual world of fanfic as their own, they both diminish their books’ literary authority and interfere with the freewheeling spirit of fan writing. 

So if you’re really jonesing for a Harry Potter fix, you’re probably better off re-reading the originals or turning to some of the fantasy writers who influenced or were influenced by Rowling—Diana Wynne Jones, Susan Cooper, Suzanne Collins. And don’t forget: has 82,406 stories, and counting.

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