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in brief

Capsule reviews of selected titles

The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking

By Brendan Koerner

Crown, 318 pp., illustrated, $26

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When Roger Holder and Cathy Kerkow hijacked a Western Airlines flight in June 1972, their action was hardly unique. That year saw dozens of skyjackings, the last gasp of a decade-long era in which so many airplanes were diverted to Cuba that the FAA seriously considered building a replica of Havana’s José Martí Airport in South Florida to confuse the bandits. At a time before security lines, X-ray scanners, or boarding passes, any flyer could walk onto a plane with a weapon (real or fake) and force the airline to do his bidding. “Anyone who felt like an abject nobody,” writes Brendan Koerner, “could grasp the appeal of commanding such a powerful platform.”

Holder, an African-American Vietnam veteran, certainly fit that description, as did his freewheeling girlfriend, Kerkow, and their outlandish plan — which ended in their landing in Algiers to join the international section of the Black Panther Party — briefly captured the American imagination. Koerner’s account of their odyssey thrums with the revolutionary, paranoid energy of the era — with a cast of characters including Eldridge Cleaver, Richard Nixon, and Jean-Paul Sartre, how could it not? By the mid-1970s, the age of hijacking passed — partly because of improved security at American airports, partly because, as Koerner writes, “like so many theatrical fads, skyjacking did not age well.”

One and Only: The Freedom of Having an Only Child, and the Joy of Being One

By Lauren Sandler

Simon & Schuster, 209 pp., $24.99

“Being an only child is a disease in itself,” the noted child psychologist G. Stanley Hall said in a 1907 lecture, and even as the economic impetus for large broods dwindled and families increasingly chose to remain smaller, only kids still got a bad rap. Both an only child and the mother of a singleton herself, Lauren Sandler argues that it’s a choice more families should make — and that the research backs her, not Hall. In this thoughtful, well-reasoned book, Sandler presents a slew of studies concluding that only children, largely because they receive an undivided share of parental love and attention, tend to succeed academically, professionally, and personally — overthrowing the longstanding stereotype of the only child as selfish, maladjusted, and eternally lonely.

Sandler writes movingly about the strengths she attributes to growing up without siblings, including the ability to form particularly deep friendships, yet she acknowledges a few negative aspects, in particular the solitary burden she’ll bear as her parents age, and sometimes too intense emotional atmosphere of the one-child family, where the “gaze is more intense, the love undiluted.” While the research is compelling — especially for mothers, whose income drops with each additional child — it may be a difficult sell for readers who can’t imagine life without their siblings. Still, as Sandler argues, parents today can and should choose the life they want for themselves and their family, “whether that means five kids, or one, or none at all.”

What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France

By Mary Louise Roberts

University of Chicago, 351 pp., illustrated, $30

The American public may harbor ambivalence for the current and recent wars waged on its behalf, but our view of World War II as the good war — and those who fought in it as “the greatest generation” — has held steady. In this provocative reassessment, historian Mary Louise Roberts disrupts the familiar heroic narrative, examining the way American forces in France after D-day not only liberated but also humiliated and injured a war-weary nation. In particular, Roberts argues, the ways American GIs interacted with French women — from romance to prostitution to rape — illustrate “how sex was used to negotiate authority between the two nations.”

Handsome and well-nourished, their pockets bulging with candy and cigarettes, the American soldiers arrived in Normandy like superheroes — children, especially, adored them — but this masculine energy brought with it an ugly side, according to one café owner, of “arrogance, incredibly bad manners, and the swagger of conquerors.” Nowhere was this more clear than in the way America saw French women — presented in Life magazine, Roberts points out, as either “rescued princesses or shamed tarts.” “What Soldiers Do” offers a thoughtful re-examination of what Roberts calls “a sacred event in the American imagination.”

How We Do It: The Evolution and Future of Human Revolution

By Robert Martin

Basic, 304 pp., $27.99

“Everything began with sex,” says Robert Martin in this amiable information tour through the evolutionary history of mating, pregnancy, birth, and babies. Drawing on research old and new, Martin guides us through the intersecting routes of biology and behavior, along the way investigating whether there’s a pattern of women’s sexual desire that mirrors peak fertility, if men have larger brains than women for any reason other than physical size, and whether breastfeeding can help prevent post-partum depression.

While Martin doesn’t offer any startling new conclusions — his tendency instead seems to be to gently consider all sides of any scientific controversy — his is an intelligent, open-minded guide to the animal processes that somehow seem to make us most fully human.

Kate Tuttle, a writer and editor, can be reached at kate.tuttle@gmail.com.
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