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Picks and Pans Main: Books

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by Sebastian Junger |


People PICK


In blistering heat and tight quarters, often grieving for lost comrades and aware that at any moment the enemy might attack, how do combat soldiers get through each day? What gives them the ability and will to function? Junger, embedded over a 12-month period in ’07 and ’08 with a 173rd Airborne Brigade platoon in Afghanistan’s hostile Korengal Valley, explores these questions as he offers up a gritty portrait of life on the front lines. We meet tough-guy O’Byrne, anxious about returning to the civilian world; Pemble-Belkin, whose father was a war protestor; Giunta, who pursues the enemies dragging away his wounded buddy; and many others. They mourn the dead but love fighting. What no one talks about: War is exciting. “There’s nothing like it,” says one soldier. “It’s an adrenaline rush like you can’t imagine.” The big issues don’t matter here; the focus is protecting one another. “As a soldier, the thing you were most scared of was failing your brothers when they needed you,” writes Junger. “Compared to that, dying was easy.” Loyalty (verging on love) inspires extraordinary courage from ordinary people in combat and binds them for life-however long life lasts.

My Fair Lazy

by Jen Lancaster |



What do you do when your knowledge of the arts skews more toward The Hills than A Tale of Two Cities? If you’re Jen Lancaster, you decide to expand your horizons by replacing hours of reality TV with actual culture: theater, museums and brushing up on the classics-as she puts it, a “JENaissance.” Lancaster fans may be surprised to see this new side of the author (she hears the Survivor “shame rattle” in her head whenever she makes a gaffe), but Lazy has its moments of uproarious comedy-even if our heroine has acquired a little more class.

Last Call

by Daniel Okrent |



Why did Prohibition ever happen? In this brilliantly researched book, Okrent (a former editor and current consultant for Time Inc., which publishes PEOPLE) shows how factors including the suffrage movement and anti-German sentiment helped pass the 18th amendment-and how, thanks to “medicinal alcohol” and speakeasies, banning liquor didn’t stop the good times flowing. What it did was raise crime rates and decrease government revenues, leading to repeal in ’33. Last Call is fun, fascinating and as effervescent as champagne.