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FLIPPING AHEAD

Those were the Games

June 28, 2008|Josh Getlin | Times Staff Writer

This is the first installment of a column looking at notable new and re-released titles arriving in bookstores.

Doping controversies swirl around Olympic athletes. Global tensions threaten the spirit of international cooperation, as TV viewers count down the days to the opening of the summer games. It sounds like a preview of this year's Olympics in Beijing, but we're talking about 1960, when the Rome Olympics ushered in a modern age of athletic competition.

That's the idea behind "Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World" (Simon & Schuster). David Maraniss, author of books about Bill Clinton, Vince Lombardi and Roberto Clemente, takes a fresh look at an Olympics that saw the rise of African American superstars like sprinter Wilma Rudolph, decathlete Rafer Johnson and an 18-year-old boxer from Louisville, Ky., named Cassius Clay -- later known as Muhammad Ali. They were the first games to be to commercially televised; the first where an athlete was paid for wearing a certain brand of shoes. During 18 dramatic days, the author notes, the games underscored Cold War rivalries and reflected growing pressures to end discrimination against blacks and women.

"In the history of the modern games, other times and places have drawn more notice, but none offers a deeper palate of character, drama and meaning," Maraniss writes. "The contests in Rome shimmered with performances that remain among the most golden in athletic history. . . . With all its promise and trouble, the world as we see it today was coming into view."

Looking for a political fix? Two new books offer sharply different critiques of U.S. foreign policy and international relations: "Statecraft: And How to Restore America's Standing in the World" (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)by Dennis Ross, former Middle East envoy and peace negotiator for President George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, argues that many of America's most troubling foreign policy problems are rooted in the present Bush administration's failure to use statecraft and other diplomatic tools. In "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations" (Threshold Editions), John Bolton, the former U.S. envoy to the United Nations, blasts U.N. bias against Israel and America. He also points a finger at State Department bureaucrats who undermine presidential initiatives to protect U.S. power on the world stage.

If that's too heavy for beach reading, check out Elin Hilderbrand's "A Summer Affair" (Little, Brown and Co.), the story of a happily married woman who drifts into a "good-hearted" liaison with the director of her charity's Summer Gala on Nantucket. Or Lisi Harrison's "Kristen" (Poppy) from the Clique Summer Collection for teens and tweeners. Thriller mavens can pick up Brad Thor's "The Last Patriot" (Atria), the story of a Homeland Security operative racing to find an ancient secret about Muhammad that could deal a stinging blow to radical Islam.

Among new self-help titles, "The Depression Helpbook" by Wayne Katon, Gregory Simon and Evette Ludman (Bull Publishing Co.)explains the causes of this illness and telltale signs, and how to make decisions about treatment. "The No-Nonsense Guide to Menopause" by Barbara Seaman and Laura Eldridge (Simon & Schuster) offers an overview that helps women make decisions for themselves. Seaman, a pivotal figure in the women's health movement, died several months ago.

It wouldn't be summer, of course, without escapist books for a variety of tastes: If you want to sink your teeth into vampire fare, check out MaryJanice Davidson's "Undead and Unworthy" (Penguin), the latest novel about Betsy Taylor, who doubles as a vampire by night and a suburban bride by day.

And if your Sopranos addiction shows no signs of abating, check out Philip Carlo's "Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss" (HarperCollins), the tale of Anthony Casso, former Lucchese crime family boss, now serving 13 consecutive life sentences plus 455 years at a Colorado prison, who might be looking for some escapist reading of his own.

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josh.getlin@latimes.com

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