Glyn Morgan, a Harvard political science professor, reviewed Bernard Henri-Lévy's reprise of Alexis de Tocqueville's visit to America in the March 2006 number of Le Monde diplomatique and concluded that "Americans have more to learn from Tocqueville's work than from" American Vertigo: Travels in Tocqueville's Footsteps.  --  But some of the most interesting things about BHL's book is what it does not contain: "He found its people open, welcoming and surprisingly free of the francophobia he had expected to find," writes Morgan.  "Oddly, his one significant encounter with francophobia came on Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry's campaign plane, when he discovered that he alone of the travelling hacks was not permitted to interview the senator. Lévy couldn't understand why.  'Do you want an explanation?' asked the journalist sitting next to him.  'Yes of course I do!' said Lévy, confused and exasperated.  The explanation, as any semi-informed American could have told him, was that Kerry was terrified of being seen talking to a Frenchman after Karl Rove, director of the Republican campaign, had successfully branded the senator a French-speaking sophisticate."  --  Morgan finds American Vertigo strongest as a travelogue, weakest as a work furthering understanding (which is odd, given Bernard Henri-Lévy's stature as a philosopher):  "Lévy is not strong on explanations."  --  For those, readers should return to Alexis de Tocqueville....


Fresh on the heels of the debunking of James Frey's memoir, A Million Little Pieces, on Sunday the New York Times undertook to take another successful memoir down a notch:  John Perkins's Confessions of an Economic Hit Man.[1]  --  Published in hard cover in November 2004, the book has become a bestseller in the paperback edition that was published in December 2005.  --  What's more, Landon Thomas Jr. reported that "The book is also being taught in classrooms at DePaul University . . . in Chicago and at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass. Hollywood has also shown an interest: Beacon Pictures bought an option to make a movie from the book as a prospective vehicle for Harrison Ford."  --  Thomas passed in review some of the recent titles that have enriched the considerable genre of confessional autobiographies of American business operators, then embarked on a skeptical examination of a few of the book's claims:  "Mr. Perkins has faced numerous questions about the veracity of some of his dreamier contentions.  Earlier this month, for example, the State Department released a brief report called "Confessions -- or Fantasies -- of an Economic Hit Man" that took issue with one of Mr. Perkins' primary assertions:  that the National Security Agency, with a wink and a nod, was aware of and may even have approved Mr. Perkins's hiring at Main."  --  In our opinion, the Times's skepticism is justified.  --  UFPPC's Monday evening book discussion group, "Digging Deeper," read Confessions of an Economic Hit Man in June 2005.  --  Some readers were persuaded of Perkins's veracity, but for my part, I came away convinced not only that the work is a semi-fictional narrative (albeit one that aspires to address in this appealing way a larger truth), but that Perkins has woven into his Confessions of an Economic Hit Man about a dozen clues to point the reader to the work's true character.  --  In this way, Perkins has no doubt been able to justify to himself the approach he has taken.  --  Briefly the clues are these:  --  (1) Perkins writes in the introduction that "This is not fiction" (p. x), a formulation which is itself an allusion to the hoary literary tradition of fictional denials of fictionality (a classic one is Balzac's "Ce drame n'est ni une fiction ni un roman. All is true, il est si véritable, que chacun peut en reconnaître les éléments chez soi, dans son coeur peut-être," at the beginning of Le Père Goriot).  --  (2) Perkins tells us that a publisher "advised [him] to fictionalize" his story (p. x).  --  (3) Perkins reports that in an improbable encounter with Graham Greene, the English author told him that "[Fiction] gives me much greater freedom . . . Why don’t you write a book?" (p. 107).  --  (4) Perkins claims to have written in publications that do not seem to exist (pp. 133, 234). (5)  --  Perkins resigns on April Fools' Day (p. 150).  --  (6) Perkins repeats Graham Greene’s expression "my fifth visit" to Panama (pp. 103, 159).  --  (7) Perkins misdates the failed overthrow of Chávez by one year for dramatic effect (and this is not just a misprint) (pp. 199-203). (8)  --  Perkins writes: "The real story is that we are living a lie" (216).  --  (9) Perkins invokes Longfellow’s "Paul Revere's Ride" in concluding (217-19).  --  (10) The "John Perkins Personal History" presented at the end of the book is merely a plot summary (pp. 226-29).  --  (11) The "About the author" section asserts only that this is a "real-life story" (248).  --  In brief, in our view John Perkins is a canny author with an important message to convey about America's relation with the world, and he has chosen to present a symbolic narrative to give his ideas wider reach.  --  He is neither the first nor the last author to do so, and by all appearances his strategy is succeeding admirably. -- A chapter-by-chapter summary of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man is appended following the Landon Thomas Jr.'s article.[2] ...


In a long article published on Jan. 21 in the Wisconsin State Journal, reporter Ron Seely recounts how "after Abu Ghraib, [University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Alfred] McCoy began his own methodical investigation into the connections between the CIA and torture."  --  McCoy had recognized in the Abu Ghraib photographs an "image [that] was a classic demonstration of torture techniques pioneered and taught by the Central Intelligence Agency -- something McCoy has run across several times around the world during his research on subjects ranging from drugs to revolution."  --  The result of his research is now available in a book McCoy has just published, entitled A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation, From the Cold War to the War on Terror (Metropolitan Books, 2006), which "implicates the CIA in the use and propagation of psychological torture techniques worldwide."  --  Seely reports that "McCoy's book has been well received, even in some unexpected places.  A review on Forbes.com described the book as 'scrupulously documented and grippingly told' and 'a devastating indictment of inhumane practices that have spread throughout the intelligence system, damaging America's laws, military, and international standing.'"  --  "It was never McCoy's intention to track and detail the activities of the CIA," writes Seely.  "But, from the jungles of Laos to the palaces and prisons of Manila, the CIA has always been in the shadows where McCoy has traveled and worked."  --  McCoy describes how beginning in the 1950s the CIA engaged in research that "would lead to a new psychological kind of torture. Known as 'no-touch' torture, it involved the use of stress positions, sensory deprivation and sexual humiliation."  --  McCoy's own conclusion:  "Torture will not and cannot serve as a bargain-price shortcut to security. It is a deal with the devil that will leave Satan holding a balloon mortgage on the American birthright of liberty." ...