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In this season of giving, there's no better gift than words


The Lowell Sun

Updated:   11/29/2015

By Michael Goldman


It's always amused me that immediately after Thanksgiving we slide into the so-called season of "giving."

As I say each year, there is nothing better than to give -- or to receive for that matter -- than the written word.


What follows are not necessarily the best books of 2015, but rather the first of two columns that highlight the best books I have personally read this past year.


It seems appropriate given the recent bombings in France to start with two great books explaining the terrorist group ISIS.


Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Pulitzer Prize-winning writer/reporter Joby Warrick of The Washington Post is an amazing book about how a single dead former Jordanian thug and gangster remains the inspiration for one of the world's most effective terrorist group.


The other book is ISIS: The State of Terror co-authored by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger. Stern is also the author of the phenomenal best-seller Terror In the Name of God. Their take is that while ISIS is a more sophisticated operation than most in the West would like to concede, it is not a serious "existential" threat to the United States.

Time will tell if they are correct.


The Witches -- Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff is one of those books you read to remind smart alecks like me that no matter how much we think we know of the past, the historical truth is always denser and more convoluted than we think. As we dive deeper into this political season, where fear and hate are significant elements to the rhetoric of some candidates, it is important to see what fear did to good people of this region more than 300 years ago.



Switching topics, if you don't know who Sam Phillips is you should do yourself a favor and read Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock 'n' Roll by Peter Guralnick. I have taught students for decades that if the return of black soldiers from World War II; the murder of Emmett Till in the early 1950s; and the Montgomery, Alabama bus boycott headed by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. were key elements of the civil rights struggle, than so too was the rise of rock 'n' roll throughout America.

This book proves once and for all that I was right all along.

Ghettoside: A True Story of Murder in America by Jill Leovy is the book that both most haunted me as well as most impacted my thinking on a subject I thought I knew well. Written by a reporter who covered crime in Los Angeles for a decade, this book rival's Ted Conover's 2001 classic, Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing in helping me understand that every crime story has a substantial myriad of impacted players. Simply put, this is a book with victims and villains you'll think about and remember long after you put it down.


Finally, I offer for your consideration some very good books written by folks whom I'm personally proud to know and call friends.


First up, Mark Edmundson's Self and Soul: A Defense of Ideals. The author of previously recommended books including Why Teach?: In Defense of a Real Education, Why Read? and Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game, the Malden-born and Medford-educated Edmundson is, as one critic has noted, "an idealist in an age of cynicism." As you will soon agree, we need more of his rich thinking for the rest of us to consider.


Old pal, and former political advance man, Patrick S. Halley has rediscovered a smalltime Boston hanger-on named Dan Coakley, who you'll soon become convinced is worthy of Halley's title for him, Dapper Dan: America's Most Corrupt Politician. In three words: What a character!


Finally, first-time author and press secretary of U.S. Rep. Niki Tsongas of Massachusetts Michael Hartigan has written a compelling novel called Stone Angels, a book about guilt and the consequences of bad decisions. It's great, fun and well worth the read.

Next week, part two.

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