New Nonfiction that Reads like Fiction
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The Man Who Seduced Hollywood
James Gladstone, a noted entertainment lawyer here in Los Angeles himself, has written a sprightly biography of Greg Bautzer, a high-living, hard-charging attorney who was, as the subtitle has it, Tinseltown's Most Powerful Lawyer. Growing up without money or connections, Bautzer made his start by borrowing $5,000 and spending it all on a wardrobe. My favorite tidbit: he tipped on the way into restaurants -- what's the point of tipping after it's over? he asked. He dated an incredible roster of Hollywood's leading ladies, and wielded power from the golden age and his client Howard Hughes through the ascendancy of Barry Diller and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
The Short, Strange Life of Herschel Grynszpan: A Boy Avenger, a Nazi Diplomat, and a Murder in Paris
Another LA author, Jonathan Kirsch has investigated the very strange case of a teenage refugee from Poland, who in 1938 walked into the German embassy in Paris and murdered a low-level Nazi diplomat. Hitler used the event as the justification for Kristallnacht, the night when 1000 synagogues and 7000 Jewish businesses were destroyed and the mass deportations to concentration camps began. Grynszpan's story has spawned many conspiracy theories, including the one promulgated by Hannah Arendt, that he was put up to it by the Nazi's themselves. Reads like a mystery novel, with cliffhanger chapter endings and a constantly shifting landscape of motives and culprits.
Restless Valley: Revolution, Murder, and Intrigue in the Heart of Central Asia
This one's a thriller. Philip Shishkin has been reporting on Central Asia for a decade, however improbably young he looks in his author photo. I passed through the Fergana Valley just days before it erupted in the violence Shishkin gets to in the last third of this book, so I have a special interest. But given the complex relations we have had in Uzbekistan, Kyrgystan, and the other Central Asian republics since the war in Afghanistan began, when we greatly expanded and added to our military bases in these countries, and given the ongoing tensions throughout the region, this guide to recent (and longer term) history is a exciting and absorbing contribution.