Walter Isaacson is the CEO of the Aspen Institute, a former managing editor of Time, and the author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life. Here he chooses his favorite books of the current season.
The Fabric of the Cosmos by Brian Greene (Knopf, $28.95). With a conversational style and fun examples, Greene makes relativity and quantum physics understandable. Don’t worry about getting confused; he holds your hand as he walks you through contemporary speculations about space and time.
The Grand Idea by Joel Achenbach (Simon & Schuster, $26). George Washington was obsessed with the Potomac River. Achenbach, with wit and color, explains why. In the process, he shows the values that helped shape a new nation.
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Rise of the Vulcans by James Mann (Viking, $25.95). Evan Thomas and I once wrote a book about the early Cold Warriors called The Wise Men. This book is a similar chronicle, of Bush’s war-cabinet members. Unlike the Wise Men, the rising “Vulcans” were deeply ideological—especially Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz—and Mann shows how they operate.
Soft Power by Joseph Nye (Public Affairs, $25). America’s influence depends more on the appeal of its values than the might of its military. Professor Nye provides a timely reminder of that.
In an Uncertain World by Robert Rubin (Random House, $35). A remarkable source of wisdom about Washington, Wall Street, and powerful people, written with humility and insight by the former treasury secretary. It’s both personal and poignant, like Madeleine Albright’s riveting best-seller, Madam Secretary (Miramax, $27.95), the other juicy recent memoir of the Clinton years.
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