Book bits

Review of "Giving" by Bill Clinton, three books about oil, Readers' Picks, Teen Read Week info

GIVING: How Each of Us Can Change The World

Author: Bill Clinton

Former US President Bill Clinton has stitched together a book imbued with a generous spirit, meant to help needy women, men, and children across the nation and around the world.

It reads more like a catalog than a narrative; it mentions hundreds of charitably minded individuals, private foundations, nongovernment organizations, and government agencies. It contains dollops of self-aggrandizement in the first person; nobody has ever honored Clinton for a small ego. It might never have become a book if a lesser personage had turned in a similar manuscript.

Still, the potential of Giving to do good ought to minimize the carping by reviewers like myself. The jacket even notes that "a portion of President Clinton's proceeds from this book will be donated to charities and nonprofits that are doing their part to change the world."

After an overview chapter titled "The Explosion of Private Citizens Doing Public Good," Clinton organizes the book by category of contribution: giving money, giving time, giving material goods, giving skills such as accounting or carpentry, giving reconciliation to beset groups within a divided (sometimes genocidal) society, offering gifts that keep on giving (such as cows to poor rural residents), replicating programs (such as HIV/AIDS prevention programs) in other locales once they have demonstrated success, supporting good ideas such as environmental education for students, working to make public-good projects like wind energy and solar energy more practical, and supporting government agencies that truly help the needy.

The final chapter deals with the interesting bifurcated question, "How Much Should You Give and Why?" No one answer fits all readers, but Clinton grapples with useful answers to the best of his ability. A resources section at the back of the text provides websites and reference books galore.

Clinton quotes Martin Luther King Jr., who said before his assassination, "Everyone can be great because everyone can serve." Clinton hopes that a large percentage of the book's readers will achieve their own brands of greatness. The book is more practical than inspirational. Still, it might nudge some readers toward the mind-set that Clinton wants them to adopt.

– By Steve Weinberg

3books aboutoil

When the Soviet Union collapsed, for many observers there was no bigger question than this: What happens to the oil? The race to tap the region's rich reserves is told in full and colorful detail by former Wall Street Journal correspondent Steve LeVine in The Oil and the Glory: The Pursuit of Empire and Fortune on the Caspian Sea. Superpowers, big oil, politics, human greed and exotic locale come together here in LeVine's skillful recitation.

It was 1955 when future Pulitzer Prize- winner Wallace Stegner was sent to Saudi Arabia by Aramco to write an authorized history of the company's search for oil in the region. But then the Suez Canal crisis intervened and Stegner's manuscript was shelved by Aramco. Only now is Discovery! The Search for Arabian Oil being published in the US. Stegner's book is an engaging look at a significant period in the history of today's oil industry.

Its crude is said to be sweet, light, and plentiful, and so the eyes of an energy-hungry world are turning ever more to Africa. To research Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Big Oil, Oxford historian John Ghazvinia toured the continent. Ghazvinia's book provides both a history of oil extraction in Africa to date and a primer on the challenges that face any future attempts. – Marjorie Kehe

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