Book Report

An advice book, two novels and more

Alice McDermott’s novel The Ninth Hour (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, September 2017) is based on an underground world of nuns who cared for poor women and children in Brooklyn, New York, early in the 20th century. The Bethesda author was unexpectedly drawn to their stories of generosity and self-sacrifice, and wanted to explore the degree to which they were willing to do for others. “What gave the novel its shape and focus was my sense of astonishment about the unsung abilities of these hardworking women,” says McDermott, who has written seven other novels, none about religious life. “Up until now, I’ve been labeled as a Catholic writer and I’ve always felt like, no, I have characters who are Catholic. Now, finally, here is a Catholic novel.”

After a career of studying the climate system through satellites at 10,000 feet, David Goodrich wanted to see what it looked like on the ground and to talk to people about it. The 64-year-old retiree from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration biked 4,200 miles from Delaware to Oregon and wrote a hybrid environmental/travel book, A Hole in the Wind: A Climate Scientist’s Bicycle Journey Across the United States (Pegasus Books, June 2017). “Climate change is a here-and-now thing—a lot is baked into the system,” says the scientist from Rockville. He witnessed droughts in Kansas and dying forests in the Rockies, but also encouraging signs, such as windmills in Iowa. “The way people get energy is starting to change quite radically,” he says.

In Getting Grit: The Evidence-Based Approach to Cultivating Passion, Perseverance and Purpose (Sounds True, June 2017), Caroline Adams Miller talks about the need to aim high, work through challenges, learn from failure and inspire others. “We live in a society that is awe deprived,” says the executive coach from Bethesda. “We don’t know what excellent is anymore.” Miller believes the culture is misguided when everyone gets a trophy because parents, schools and coaches are so concerned about hurting kids’ feelings. “Research shows the happiest people wake up every day to the hard goals that are outside of their comfort zone,” Miller says. “Grit has to be part of who we are as human beings…without grit you don’t have any greatness in life.”

Allan Topol got lucky with the timing of his latest novel, Washington Power Play (SelectBooks, May 2017). He started his 13th book about two years ago, but the storyline is right out of today’s headlines: Washington infighting with the backdrop of China challenging the U.S. for world leadership and trying to influence the U.S. presidential election. “From the idea of money influencing elections, it didn’t seem like much of a leap to think about why couldn’t a foreign government do it—there is an awful lot at stake,” says Topol, an attorney who lives in Chevy Chase. Much of the action in the political thriller takes place in Bethesda, where the main character, a female FBI agent, thwarts a terrorist attack at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. 

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Before David Petr moved to Potomac last year, a colleague in Florida gave him a hard copy of The CEO as Urban Statesman by Sam A. Williams (Mercer University Press, 2014). Petr recently finished reading it, finding that much of the content related to his new job as president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, a public-private partnership that works to expand and retain business here.

The book describes how to bring together private business leaders—who may not see what they have to gain from getting involved in complex community problems—with local government officials and citizens to achieve a greater good, Petr says. Williams shares what works through case studies, explaining how Atlanta turned around a hospital, Oklahoma City revitalized its downtown, and Salt Lake City improved its infrastructure.

“It made me realize if I can do a better job of aligning people, getting people to communicate more and finding shared goals, we can accomplish better things than if we are all working individually,” says Petr, whose other big takeaway from the book is the importance of having a vision and of being bold and proactive. 

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