Book reviews: Notes from Neil

By Neil Rajala

Books for the Lawn Chairs

Thursday, May 22 – It's quite warm out as I write this week. Hot and sunny, following a couple days of rain. If I listen closely, I can just about hear my recently-mowed grass growing up past my ankles again. Here's what we're reading:

Kai Bird

The picture of CIA agent Robert Ames that Pulitzer-winning author Kai Bird paints in this fascinating new biography is indeed one of a very good spy. Good in the sense that he was a master at gaining confidences with key people in the Middle East by being compassionate, a trustworthy friend, respectful and, above all, a great listener. He never used the out-sized ugly American swagger to intimidate, nor did he believe buckets of cash or paramilitary raids were the answer to creating deep relationships that could create peace from volatility.

There are many of his contemporaries who believe his greatest relationship was with "The Red Prince", Ali Hassan Salameh - Yasir Arafat's right hand man and heir apparent. Their deep bond could have been the path to a lasting peace in the region. Sadly both were killed by assassination before their plans were fully realized and our relationships within the Middle East turned sour. To say that the removal of these two men from the arena led directly to 911 isn't much of a stretch, as Mr. Bird makes plain. A slice of history both inspiring and tragic. kobo eBook

Garrison Keillor

A Prairie Home Companion turns 40 this year! I found that quite amazing when I first heard. I first discovered it in my 20s without realizing it had already been airing for....well let's say some years.

How better to celebrate than a fat collection of essays, poems, monologues from the radio, excerpts from his novels and a couple of new pieces written just for this collection. There are some snatches of autobiography tossed in, too, making this a highly entertaining memoir of a unique talent. If you're as big a fan as I, you know you won't be able to read these without hearing his voice in your head, which makes it just that much more fun.


Jim Bell

This one's a no-brainer for those of us who have been enthralled by Neil deGrasse Tyson's wonderful spaceship on Cosmos that can seemingly go anywhere, during any era. This book can't quite promise you that, but if you don the included 3-D glasses you can get lost in fully dimensional versions of 150 or so of the images we've gathered from the Mars rovers. Granted, the images are pretty spectacular in 2-D, but when you feel like you can peek over the edge into a crater or gaze up at an ancient mountain, it's like you're there - except you can breathe and you're not melting, of course.

Once again, many of you chose to let me know which book (or books) have made you feel the most exhilarated over the years in response to the question I asked last week. So here's one for you crime buffs - what's the most impressive true crime story you've ever read? (I can't take credit for that one, the topic was suggested by a reader - thanks Chari!).

Until next week


NeilNeil Rajala is Currently Director of Community & Business Services for Schuler Books, Neil's decade with the company has included the wearing of many different hats - and lots and lots of reading.