• July 20, 2012

Looking for a great laugh? Have fun with Christopher Buckley’s They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? A taste for more serious fare? Try The Taste of War. And for a wonderful survey of Chinese martial arts, historian Peter Lorge will take you from the Shang dynasty to the present. Enjoy!

They Eat Puppies, Don’t They?
by Christopher Buckley
335 pp.

Here he goes again. Christopher Buckley, Washington insider and one of America’s best comic novelists, has set off on another madcap ride sure to amuse any reader. As always, he has his sword drawn against conniving lobbyists, rapacious contractors, imperious pundits and solipsistic socialites. But in They Eat Puppies, Don’t They? he has expanded the cast to include members of China’s nine-member Politburo Standing Committee. And so, after much sophisticated silliness on the home front, and many hilarious plot twists involving domestic politics and Sino-American relations, you realize that as his stranger-than-life characters advance their own petty interests through seemingly absurd means, they are, collectively, hurtling us toward global conflict.

Walter “Bird” McIntrye is a successful lobbyist representing aerospace giant Groepping-Sprunt in an effort to secure funding for its ever more wicked weapons systems. Like Nick Naylor, Buckley’s protagonist in his best-known novel, Thank You for Smoking, Bird is skilled at using elaborate deceptions and securing influential if outrageous allies to achieve his clients’ sleazy goals. Here, after Congress rejects Dumbo, Groepping’s latest and greatest, Bird enlists the help of beautiful blonde neo-con media vixen Angel Templeton in an effort to turn the American people against the nefarious People’s Republic of China. When China’s arch-enemy, the internationally beloved Dalai Lama, is diagnosed with cancer, Bird and Angel scheme to convince the world that China has made him sick. In the process, the unhappily married Bird develops an interest in Angel’s dark charms. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, from his office off Tiananmen Square, Fa Mengyao, president of China and a promoter of consensus and peace, tries to ward off his scheming hardliners, bent on using the Dalai Lama’s illness to rescue China’s honor by provoking conflict with America. Though the Chinese Politburo is not Buckley’s home turf, it is clear he has done his research, so that the very funny yet deadly serious infighting among the Chinese leaders comes off as oddly credible. It is the rare comic novel that both entertains and teaches something important about international politics.

I found myself laughing out loud throughout this book. While the jokes themselves are often psychologically perceptive and culturally telling, Buckley’s great novelistic gift is that the jokes advance a briskly compelling story and serve to develop memorable characters. My small quibble with Buckley’s characters,  Bird and Angel in particular, is that they can be too outrageous by a third. Their exaggerated traits tend to take us a tad too far outside the real world, if, indeed, there is such a thing, or at least outside a world we end up truly caring about.
~Gerry Hogan

by Lizzie Collingham
634 pp.

This fascinating book about the role of food in World War II is exhaustively researched, well written in the way that British dons know how to write, and probably the definitive work on the subject. Collingham documents how the desire for food resources provided much of the motivation for going to war; how the need to feed both the military and civilians during the war dictated much of the strategy; and how a truly worldwide war radically disrupted a food-supply network that was already global in scope. She traces the successes and failures of various countries in coping with food supplies during the war — how Britain, for instance, kept civilians on the home front reasonably well fed but failed miserably in supplying the colonies and let millions in Bengal die of famine. She relates how the United States suffered virtually no rationing but developed methods of producing, processing and packaging food that have led to our current industrialized food supply. Because of the density of detail, this long book will appeal more to devotees of World War II history (who will see the conflict from a new perspective) and to those interested in the history of nutrition than to the general reader. The only real flaw perhaps is that the author’s narrow focus can be reductive: The reader could get the impression that Hitler went to war only to capture the grain fields in Ukraine or that the Allies’ entire shipping strategy was based on food supplies. But on the whole, Collingham provides new insights into an aspect of the war that movie dramas or standard histories rarely touch on: War or no war, people have to eat, a monumental challenge to leaders in every country.
~ Darrell Delamaide

by Peter Lorge
Cambridge University Press
288 pp.

It is paradoxical in martial arts: To know where you are going, you have understand the past. And to be aware of the past, you have to look to the future. To master each martial-art form, the student must be cognizant that each movement is honed by hundreds of years of evolution. Within each part of the form, there is not only a physical movement but also a long lineage of history and evolution. Peter Lorge, a Vanderbilt University historian of 10th- and 11th-century Chinese, does a masterful job of detailing the evolution of martial arts from the aristocrats of the Shang dynasty (approximately 1600 B.C.) to the practitioners of the 21st century. As an example of the uses of Chinese martial arts, he describes how a dance to entertain (for example, the beautiful longsword form) was actually a series of precise offensive and defensive moves to defend the emperor from a threatening action. A present-day practitioner may know that the form can be flowing and entertaining while still honing the martial aspects contained within. Lorge provides an analytical look at the history of the art while including stories about its legendary figures. The book will appeal to the casual reader as well as practitioners interested in a broad overview of how Chinese martial arts evolved.
~Vincent Shiau

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