Worthy Fights by Leon Panetta with Jim Newton, Penguin Press '14, $36, 498 pages, ASIN #1594205965. Index, notes, two groupings of b&w glossy images.
In his governmental and political career, Leon Panetta served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency, Secretary of Defense, a congressman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, and President Clinton's chief of staff. If any American government employee knew where the bones were buried in Democratic administrations over the past four decades, it is he. But as one wag put it decades ago, politics (and governmental service for that matter) "ain't beanbag."
To give the reader a brief excerpt of the style and content of Panetta's memoir, consider his account of the 2009 burial of his treasured CIA employee, Elizabeth Hanson, in his Prologue:
" It was a graveside service, modest and brief; she was buried in Area 60, beside many veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, just over a small rise from the Pentagon. Hanson and six other members of our agency were killed on December 30, 2009, at a remote CIA base in the Khost province of eastern Afghanistan.
"Liz Hanson and her colleagues were there that day to meet a potential agent, a jihadist who said he wanted to work for the CIA and steer us to the leadership of Al Qaeda. Instead, when he arrived at the meeting he detonated a diabolically powerful suicide vest, killing seven of our best and injuring a dozen more. That explosion was a signal tragedy for the CIA -- one of the largest losses of life in the agency's history."
Besides serving in high-ranking roles in the federal government and Congress from 1977 to 2013, Leon Panetta -- an Italian American Democrat, founded the Panetta Institute for Public Policy, and has served as a professor of public policy at his alma mater, Santa Clara University.
The Great Society Subway -- A History of the Washington Metro by Zachary M. Schrag, with a new preface, Johns Hopkins UPress '14, $29.95, 355 pages, ASIN #1421415771. Index, notes, b&w images sprinkled through text.
In 1992, while researching for my first book, Getting There: The Epic Struggle Between Road and Rail in the American Century, I had occasion to spend a month in Europe, interviewing high-level government and business leaders about -- among other things -- their view of the public transit systems in their countries.
In particular, I asked these representatives of perhaps 8 to 10 nations which transit system they considered the best in the world. The startling result, in my estimation, was that the unanimous choice was the Washington (D.C.) Metro.
In his new book, historian Zachary M. Schrag recounts the history of what he calls the Great Society Subway "from its earliest rumblings to its emergence as the nation's second-busiest rapid transit system."
Schrag argues that "the Metro can be understood only in the political context from which it was born: the Great Society liberalism of the Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon administrations." He scrutinizes the project "from the earliest days, including general planning, routes, station architecture, funding decisions, land-use impacts, and the behavior of subway riders. The story of the Metro sheds light on the development of metropolitan Washington, postwar urban policy, and the promises and limits of rail transit in American cities."
Author Zachary M. Schrag is a professor of history at George Mason University.
The Girl Next Door -- A Novel by Ruth Rendell, Scribner '14, $25, 272 pages, ASIN #1476784329.
From the dust jacket:
"In the waning months of the Second World War, a group of children discover earthen tunnels in their neighborhood outside London. Throughout the summer of 1944 -- until one father forbids it -- the subterranean spaces become their 'secret gardens,' where the friends play games and tell stories.
"Six decades later, beneath a house on the same land, construction workers uncover a tin box containing two skeletal hands, one male and one female. As the discovery makes national news, the friends come together once again to recall their days in the tunnels for the detective investigating the case. Is the truth buried among these aging friends and their memories?
"This impromptu reunion causes long-simmering feelings to bubble to the surface. Mild-mannered Alan, stuck in a passionless marriage, begins flirting with Daphne, a glamorous widow who was once his teenage sweetheart. Michael, lonely after the death of his wife, considers contacting his estranged father, who sent Michael to live with an aunt after his mother vanished in 1944. Lewis begins remembering details about his Uncle James, an army private who once accompanied the children into the tunnels and who later disappeared.
"In The Girl Next Door, Rendell brilliantly shatters all of our most deep-seated assumptions about age, showing that the choices people make -- and the emotions behind them -- remain as potent in late life as they were in youth."
Author Ruth Rendell, who has written some 60 books over a career spanning a half-century, has won three Edgar Awards, the highest accolade from Mystery Writers of America. She is a Member of the British House of Lords and lives in London.