Just One Catch: A Biography of Joseph Heller by Tracey Daugherty. St. Martin’s (548 pp.) Heller’s great success was Catch-22, and Daugherty does a splendid job of telling the story of that novel, which puttered along for years in manuscript before its 1961 publication by Robert Gottlieb at Simon & Schuster. At one point, Heller was working with nine different drafts, handwritten and typed. His NYU mentor was Maurice Baudin, a generous English professor. There are wonderful moments with Heller’s agent, Candida Donadio, a character with a keen eye for talent, who sometimes exclaimed in delight: “I thought my navel would unscrew and my ass would fall off.”
Divine Rebels: American Christian Activists for Social Justice by Deena Guzder. Lawrence Hill. (305 pp.) Jesus advocated for the poor, lost, and marginalized, not the powerful, wealthy, and pious. You’d be hard-pressed to realize that by listening to right-wing Christians. Freelance journalist Guzder profiles 10 of “the most beautiful holy rebels alive today.” Part of a long, little-recognized tradition of Christian social activism, they include John Dear, Catholic priest and pacifist; Charlotte Keys, evangelist and founder of Jesus People Against Pollution; Jim Zwerg, former minister and Freedom Rider; Robin Harper, war tax resister; and Shane Claiborne, a founder of The Simple Way in Philadelphia. Informative and inspiring.
Top Secret America: The Rise of the New American Security State by Dana Priest and William M. Arkin. Little, Brown (296 pp.) In this gem of reporting, two Washington Post staffers describe the alarming rise of a parallel top secret U.S. government. Conducted out of 33 large complexes located in the nation’s capital and elsewhere, the “gigantic” counter-terrorism apparatus has grown out of the “cult of fear” following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Top Secret America is awash in data, with few experienced analysts, and much wasteful duplication. The authors note the 230,000-person Department of Homeland Security will be headquartered in $3 billion digs on the grounds of the former St. Elizabeths psychiatric hospital in Washington, D.C.