Soldier Girls (Simon & Schuster, $28), Helen Thorpe’s meticulously reported book about three women who join the Indiana National Guard in the decade before 9/11, brilliantly illuminates the human costs of America’s forays into far-off wars. Through her subjects, Thorpe, also the author of Just Like Us, explores the realities of a volunteer military, the modern role of the National Guard, and most importantly, what America’s most recent engagements in Afghanistan and Iraq have meant to the lives of women who, in growing numbers, are being deployed to help wage America’s war on terror. Thorpe interviewed her subjects over several years and had access to a trove of personal documents, from emails to therapists’ notes. Soldier Girls is a journalistic tour de force.
The keepers of Scientology have a reputation for mercilessly going after those who dare to criticize the church. So it’s not surprising that Lawrence Wright, while researching the religious movement, received threatening letters from its lawyers and some of its celebrity adherents. They had reason to be worried. The book that Wright produced, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief (Knopf, $28.95), is a thorough and scathing examination of the organization founded by L. Ron Hubbard, who was a best-selling science fiction writer before he became the prophet of a new religion. Wright goes out of his way to be fair, which makes his book’s indictment even more compelling. For all of Scientology’s power and claims of benefits, the book, as a Wall Street Journal reviewer noted, shows the church to be “a charmless system of belief and a small-time organization made large through celebrity and money.”
Rick Atkinson completes his trilogy on World War II with The Guns at Last Light: The War in Western Europe, 1944-1945 (Holt, $40), and like the previous two volumes, this one has been hailed as nothing less than magnificent. Even other chroniclers of the war have positively gushed over the book—its gripping narrative, sublime prose, the masterful weaving of big assessments with a multitude of details perfectly placed. As Max Hastings raved in The Wall Street Journal, this is “as good as military history gets.” At the end of the book, Atkinson sums up the advantages in organization, manpower, and resources that helped the United States and the Allies crush Germany. “Warfare like yours is easy,” he quotes a German prisoner complaining. But of course, as Atkinson writes, there was nothing easy about waging the war in Europe.