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  • Getting the Strait of Hormuz straight: an FAQ

    Getting the Strait of Hormuz straight: an FAQ

    Iran has caused a stir with its threat this week to close down the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions were imposed on Iranian oil exports. Here’s why this small body of water generates so much world attention.

  • Who's who in Iraq after the US exit?

    Who's who in Iraq after the US exit?

    The US troop surge in 2007 helped quiet Iraq's bloody civil war. But it failed to deliver on what US officials and officers said was crucial for Iraq's future at the time: sectarian reconciliation. Rather than forging a new national identity out of the horrors of Iraq's war, Iraq's Shiite and Sunni Arabs and ethnic Kurds sullenly retreated to their own sectarian corners, and the country's political parties remain vehicles for ethnic or sectarian interests. The next year is probably going to be the most crucial for determining the future of Iraq since the US-led invasion of 2003, as Iraq's various political factions compete for power and influence without foreign troops getting in the way. Here are a few of the major players.

  • Just how isolated is North Korea? 6 facts to consider

    Just how isolated is North Korea? 6 facts to consider

    North Korea's outlook has earned it the title of the 'hermit kingdom.' The country is both cut off from the wider world and intensely focused on its neighbors.

  • Election 101: Where the GOP candidates stand on the economy

    Election 101: Where the GOP candidates stand on the economy

    With more than 13 million Americans out of work and wage increases so modest they’re failing to keep up with inflation, voters have put the economy and jobs at the top of their checklist of presidential issues. The Republican candidates all share the same broad approach: Spur private-sector confidence and job creation through permanent tax cuts, reduced federal deficits, and lighter regulatory burdens on businesses. In the same vein, they generally call for efforts to boost trade, encourage domestic oil and gas production, and limit the power of organized labor. But who has the best economic plan?

  • Christmas toys: Five ways to make sure they're safe

    Christmas toys: Five ways to make sure they're safe

    More than two dozen Christmas toys on sale this year have too much lead, contain dangerous plastic additives, or pose choking or hearing hazards, according to a recent report from consumer group U.S. Public Interest Research Group (see my blog post on it). But often, the dangers aren’t discovered until after the presents are bought and opened. So how can parents ensure that their children’s new Christmas toys are safe? Here are five ways to stay informed.

  • 6 books you should resolve to read in 2012

    6 books you should resolve to read in 2012

    It’s common practice, as the year draws to a close, to reflect on the past twelve months – to think back on what you did, how you spent your time, and who you spent it with. My years, more than anything, are shaped by books so when I look back I’m thinking about what I read. The same goes for thinking about the year to come: When I make my New Year’s resolutions, it’s pretty much just a long list of books that I want to get my hands on. And so, in looking forward to 2012, here are some things that I’ve already gotten my hands on; it would be wise of you to do the same. If what I’m reading (and loving) is any indication, 2012 is going to be a strange and wonderful year.

  • 5 books to keep kids happy on a trip

    5 books to keep kids happy on a trip

    If you're going over the river and through the woods for a holiday trip to relatives, long drives (or plane trips) can make kids a little squirmy once the novelty of that new toy has worn off. Here are five books that are sure to keep them turning pages until you get there. (Just make sure to check out the age ranges listed so you're getting a book that's age-appropriate.)

  • 13 best 2011 author interviews

    13 best 2011 author interviews

    A loose young woman in Nazi-era Berlin. A titanic failure of courage on the Titanic. A Supreme Court justice with a thing for hot blondes. An American president's scandalous love child.  Book authors answered questions about these earthy topics and many more – from sandwiches to Shakespeare – during Monitor interviews with me this year. Here's a baker's dozen of the memorable things that these authors had to say. Click on the links to read the full interviews.

  • 5 standards for presidential leadership

    Opinion 5 standards for presidential leadership

    When it comes to presidential leadership, how should voters judge the candidates? The sheer number of books on leadership hint that not even the consultants and gurus can agree on a set of standards. Why not ask a historian, who spends a significant portion of life in the mental company of people who really did turn out to possess the Midas touch of leadership? Here, Prof. Allen C. Guelzo, an authority on Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg College, suggests five leadership standards, personified in such figures as Lincoln, Churchill, and Admiral Nelson.

  • Top 10 sports biographies I wish somebody would write

    Top 10 sports biographies I wish somebody would write

    Call this a wish list to publishers. Of course it's true that’s there hardly any major sports star who hasn’t already achieved hardcover immortality a time or two or more. So why check back in with some already familiar sports luminaries? With the passage of time comes fresh perspectives on playing days, teammates, and rivals. And maybe even a little more honesty. So here goes, in no particular order: the Monitor’s Top 10 sports figures we’d put in the publishing on-deck circle.

  • 10 best movies of 2011

    10 best movies of 2011

    From young love to a documentary on capital punishment, here are the 10 movies that wowed Monitor film critic Peter Rainer at the multiplex this year

  • The most expensive items on Amazon

    The most expensive items on Amazon

    Amazon is known for its bargains, but did you know you can also use the site to fritter away colossal amounts of money? Of course you did. But do you have any idea how much money? We went through each of Amazon's departments looking for the most expensive item, and what we found was surprising. While there were some objects of genuine value, we found many others that were absurdly overpriced, with sellers often charging millions – or even trillions – of dollars for everyday products.  Some of these prices are surely inadvertent. Maybe someone accidentally keyed an inventory code into the price field, or maybe they forgot to convert the currency from rupees. Perhaps others are simply attempts by the retailer to better understand Amazon's search algorithm. And just maybe a few of them are people with dreams of striking it rich. It is, after all, a free country.   Note that this 26-item list was compiled in December 2011, and that Amazon's inventory changes quickly. To see what are currently the most expensive items on Amazon's, simply visit one of Amazon's departments and sort the items by "Price: High to Low." You'll probably want to disable one-click shopping first, just in case.  

  • 10 book-to-movie adaptations coming this holiday season

    10 book-to-movie adaptations coming this holiday season

    From the ultra-violent 'The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo' to 'Hugo,' Martin Scorsese's love letter to silent films, the movie listings this holiday season are full of films that came from the printed page. Here are some that are already out as well as a few that are yet to be released.

  • Election 101: Where the GOP candidates stand on China, Iran, Israel and other key foreign issues

    Election 101: Where the GOP candidates stand on China, Iran, Israel and other key foreign issues

    On issues of foreign policy and national security, stopping Iran, supporting Israel, and standing up to China are three themes GOP candidates are using to hammer at what they consider President Obama’s weakness and highlight what they hope will be seen as their own toughness. But Americans don't seem to see Mr. Obama as particularly soft, and even many Republican leaders rank Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton as the administration's best asset. Take a look at where each of the GOP hopefuls stands on foreign policy and national security issues.

  • HBO makes great TV from books

    HBO makes great TV from books

    How do you compress a complicated novel into a two-hour, cinema-friendly format? The answer, most often, is: you can't. A better solution for many authors is to have their books turned into HBO series. The end result is often an in-depth adaptation – with story and characters intact – that would have been impossible get at the multiplex. Here are some of the best-known books that have been turned into successful HBO series – with many more to come.

  •  Kim Jong-il's death: 4 questions about 'dear successor' Kim Jong-un

    Kim Jong-il's death: 4 questions about 'dear successor' Kim Jong-un

    The third son of North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il appears well on his way to succeeding his father, in name if not in style and substance. He will lead the committee in charge of the funeral on Dec. 28 and will then be referred to as “successor.” Just when he will assume the real titles held by his father is a matter of intense speculation. Past precedent suggests a wait of as long as three years, according to Korean custom. For now, Kim Jong-un, 28 or 29 years old, faces the prospect of manipulation by high-ranking relatives and generals. “He’s very much an untested quantity,” says Shim Jae-hoon, a political analyst in Seoul. His lone qualification, according to Mr. Shim, is that “he symbolizes the house of Kim” – a reference to his grandfather, long-ruling “Great Leader” Kim Il-sung, who died in 1994, and his father.

  • Election 101: Where the GOP candidates stand on energy and the environment

    Election 101: Where the GOP candidates stand on energy and the environment

    Energy and the environment are typically “back burner” issues in national elections, but both are huge this year for Republicans. From tarring President Obama’s administration with allegations of mismanagement and favoritism for pushing renewable-energy and a “green jobs” agenda, to lambasting “job-killing” environmental regulations, GOP candidates have embraced both energy and environmental issues with gusto. Take a look at where each of them stands. 

  • Eight ingredients for a peaceful society

    Opinion Eight ingredients for a peaceful society

    What makes for a peaceful society? Hot spots from Congo to the Middle East would benefit from such knowledge. But so would the United States, which, at home, isn’t always so harmonious and abroad, is still at war in Afghanistan. The Institute for Economics and Peace, an international research group, has come up with eight ingredients for more peaceful societies. They’re laid out in a report, “Structures of Peace,” based on the institute’s annual Global Peace Index and more than 300 data sets from around the world. The US does pretty well on five of them, but falls far short on three key ingredients. Michael Shank, vice president of the institute’s US office gives his take on eight ingredients America needs to reap the economic and social benefits of peace.

  • Ready for winter? Six tips to winterize your car.

    Ready for winter? Six tips to winterize your car.

    Is your car ready for winter? The average age of a vehicle in the United States is 11 years, which means that many cars on the road today have been through more than a few winters. Fortunately, most cars manufactured in the last 15 years are built to withstand the test of time – and weather – provided they receive the proper care. This is especially important during the winter months when cold weather can take a toll on older vehicles. Simple maintenance and good driving habits can help lengthen vehicle life, prevent costly repairs, and most importantly, ensure that you arrive at your winter destinations safe and sound. Here's a six-point checklist for winterizing your high-mileage vehicle: 

  • Christopher Hitchens: 10 memorable quotes

    Christopher Hitchens: 10 memorable quotes

    Christopher Hitchens, who passed away this week in Houston at age 62, was remembered for his one-liners and willingness to write or speak about any controversial subject. Over the years, he published books including 'God Is Not Great' and the collection of essays that came out this September, 'Arguably.' He also wrote for Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, Slate and the magazine The Nation and often served as a TV commentator. Here are some of his more memorable opinions.

  • Top 15 money games, toys for kids

    Top 15 money games, toys for kids

    One of the best ways to teach kids about money is to make it fun. There are plenty of toys and games – even books – that do just that. Here are my 15 recommendations for money toys and games that entertain as well as teach something about how to handle cash, ATM cards, debt, and so on. These money games and toys are age-specific, so click through to the age of the child you plan to buy for. (Descriptions include links to examples from Amazon.com, but there are many alternatives you can find).

  • 5 best mysteries of the holiday season

    5 best mysteries of the holiday season

    I've often thought that Ebenezer Scrooge's famous indictment of holiday well-wishers would make a terrific set-up for a mystery. "If I could work my will," said Scrooge indignantly, "Every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart." Failing that, here are five 2011 mysteries for the suspense lover on your Christmas list. A legend returns, officially; murder pays a visit to Austen; an Old Bailey hack reminds us how much we miss his creator; a Scottish writer returns to old haunts with a new hero; and a freelance journalist stumbles onto murder and Noel Coward impersonators in rural Michigan.

  • 5 of America's best presidential losers

    5 of America's best presidential losers

    Henry Clay. Al Smith. Thomas E. Dewey. Their names probably prompt hazy recollections of high school history class – but not much else. By missing out on the presidency, many would say they lost their place in history, too. But even those who didn't take the oath on Inauguration Day had their impact. Here are five great examples from Scott Farris's new book 'Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation.'

  • Newt Gingrich: 8 of the GOP idea man's more unusual ideas

    Newt Gingrich: 8 of the GOP idea man's more unusual ideas

    Newt Gingrich is a big ideas guy. Ask anybody. Some of the ideas end up working, like the one a couple of decades ago that the Republican Party could actually take control of the House after 40 years of Democratic rule. Others are a little out there. An elaborate system of space mirrors to light highways? Check. Say what you will, but at least the former House speaker – and now the clear front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination – has a fertile imagination. Here are some of his more unusual ideas.

  • 'Clockwork Prince': what to read next

    'Clockwork Prince': what to read next

    It's on all the bestseller lists and it is definitely the book of the moment. 'Clockwork Prince' is the second in author Cassandra Clare's projected 'Infernal Devices' trilogy (which is in itself a prequel to Clare's popular 'Mortal Instruments' series). 'Clockword Prince' is set in a Victorian London with angels, vampires, and warlocks where a heroine named Tessa gets caught in the war between the strange Magister and the demon-fighters known as the Shadowhunters. With her companions, the moody Will and frail but kind Jem, Tessa must journey to a manor house that holds secrets of Tessa's past and present-day horrors for all three. But once you've read 'The Clockwork Prince' – what next? Here are a few books to keep you entertained at least until Book No. 3 of 'Infernal Devices" comes along.

 
 
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