Absolute Zero

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Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold by Tom ShachtmanABSOLUTE ZERO AND THE CONQUEST OF COLD. Available in paperback, and also as an e-book.

In a sweeping yet marvelously concise science adventure story, rich with historical characters, including Galileo, Newton, and Einstein, ABSOLUTE ZERO AND THE CONQUEST OF COLD takes the reader on a journey in which the extraordinary secrets of cold are teased apart and mastered, bringing advances in civilization and comfort. Starting in the 1600s with an alchemist’s attempt to air-condition Westminster Abbey, the story unfolds over several centuries, as early nineteenth-century merchants sell Walden Pond ice to tropical countries, and late nineteenth-century competing scientists pursue absolute zero with as much fervor as the contemporary races toward the North and South Poles. Today, as the final part of the book shows, ultracold remains one of sciences most important frontiers.

“A lovely, fascinating book which brings science to life.” — Alan Lightman, author of Einstein’s Dreams.

“Analyzes the social impact of the chill factor, explains the science of cold and tells the curious tales behind inventions like the thermometer, the fridge and the thermos flask …. Excellent use of analogies … [an] astonishing observation … a fascinating finale …. Recounts the history of cold with passion and clarity.” –- New York Times Book Review

“Intriguing … a disarming portrait of an exquisite, ferocious, world-ending extreme.” — Kirkus “An absorbing account to chill out with.” –- Booklist

“The pursuit of absolute zero may not, at first, seem important or exciting … But Shachtman –- who has a gift for telling scientific adventure stories –- has done a wonderful job of conveying the excitement …. This is a truly wonderful book: purchase this before it becomes an episode of Nova. –- Library Journal (starred review)

“Shachtman … holds the reader’s attention with the skill of a novelist as he relates the 400-year effort to fill out what scientists have called ‘the map of Frigor.’” –- Scientific American

“This esoteric scientific adventure story –- as keenly pursued as the simultaneous quest for the arctic regions –- is masterfully told …. In many ways an absolute delight, chock-full of quirky characters questing for ever-lower temperatures and discovering fundamental properties of matter along the way …. Shachtman has achieved an enormous feat, combining science, biography and analysis into a compelling narrative full of explosions, obsessed experimentalists and unexpected revelations.” – Atlanta Journal-Constitution

“For a subject bound to leave many readers, well, cold, [Shachtman] has compiled here a surprisingly fascinating account of what cold is and the role it has played and plays in our lives and nature.” — Copley News Service

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Edith and Woodrow

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Less than a year after President Woodrow Wilson’s first wife had died, he met Edith Bolling Galt, widowed, lovely, adventurous, independent in spite of a genteel Southern upbringing, and the proprietress of Washington’s best jewelry store. She instantly captivated the president, and with an instinctive grasp of politics became his trusted advisor. Following a brief, impassioned courtship — documented in a series of letters revealed to the public for the first time in this book – they married, Wilson braving public censure and private intrigue to do so.

This book is the story of the love that sustained a president through domestic turmoil, world war, triumph and tragedy, and that brought Edith Wilson so close to wielding power, when the president fell ill, that she became known as America’s first female president, a title she was at pains to deny.

“Shachtman’s analysis of the Wilson-Galt relationship is handled intelligently and unpretentiously. He does not canonize or romanticize his subjects — he draws them as they were, faulty lines and all. He knows his history and writes about it in colorful, compact prose.” Hartford Courant

“Shachtman’s handling of EDITH AND WOODROW is both elegant and revealing. Not least among the book’s virtues is its relative brevity and its succinct interweaving of just enough — but not too much — of the monumental political events of the Wilson era.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“The best personal history of Wilson.” Dr. Arthur A. Link, director of The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, Princeton University.

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Terrors and Marvels

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Terrors and Marvels by Tom ShachtmanTERRORS AND MARVELS: How Science and Technology Changed the Character and Outcome of World War II. In papeback as LABORATORY WARRIORS.

“There was more to WWII science than the atomic bomb, demonstrates Shachtman (Absolute Zero and the Conquest of Cold) in his fascinating history of the use of intelligent machines in the conflict. He traces the development of scientifically engineered weapons such as poison gases, encoding devices (like ENIGMA), rockets, radar and early heat-seeking defenses, showing how both sides relied to an unprecedented extent on the work of scientists. Germany’s defeat on the scientific front, Shachtman argues, was due largely to Hitler’s sluggishness in making full use of his researchers and to the Third Reich’s predilection for flashy, impractical weapons over the more mundane, efficient ones that could counter Allied bombs. Moving back and forth between Allied and Axis advances, Shachtman dramatically captures the breakneck pace of research and the charged atmosphere of the WWII lab. He examines the effects of scientific developments on pivotal battles, and he also profiles individual engineers, chemists, physicists and biologists in Europe and Japan. In addition, Shachtman shows how developments during the period would later improve the lot of postwar consumers. The impeccably researched, taut volume maintains its focus on the role of science without drowning in voluminous WWII historical material. This effortlessly readable text will be of interest to fans of history and science, and to the casual reader as well.” — Publishers Weekly

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The Gilded Leaf

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The Gilded Leaf by Tom Shachtman & Patrick ReynoldsTHE GILDED LEAF: TRIUMPH, TRAGEDY, AND TOBACCO: Three Generations of the R. J. Reynolds Family and Fortune, by Patrick Reynolds and Tom Shachtman

THE GILDED LEAF is the riveting, dramatic saga of the R. J. Reynolds tobacco family, one of America’s richest and most intensely private clans.

R.J. was the original founder of the company that became part of RJR Nabisco, which in 1988 was involved in the largest business takeover in history.

Spanning three generations, the Reynolds story moves from the triumphs of founder and corporate genius R. J. to the dissipation, scandal, and tragedy of his children, Dick and Smith, and to the difficulties and inherited money that plagued and enabled his six grandsons.

There is a redemptive close to the story, when grandson Patrick Reynolds becomes a leading anti-smoking advocate.

THE GILDED LEAF presents a complete account of the family who captured, spent — and eventually reclaimed — the American dream.

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“Fascinating…Illuminating…stunning detail.” Chicago Tribune

“Fascinating insight into the evolution of a family over three generations that is simply a good read…panoramic sweep, bitter irony and tragic touches.”Detroit Free Press

“Fascinating insider’s view of three generations of the R. J. Reynolds tobacco family…compelling.” Richmond Times-Dispatch

“An altogether fascinating story [that] quickly builds speed and interest and becomes an absorbing story of fortune and misfortune.” Washington Post Book World

“Readers of this captivating account may need to remind themselves that it is not fiction. There are colorful characters, a family rising from humble beginnings to attain fabulous wealth and power, scandal and tragedy wrought by excess—and an irony-laden finale.” Publishers Weekly

“A courageous and worthwhile book. More than an entertainment, it documents the danger of parents who confuse money with love.” New York Times

“Fiction doesn’t get any better than this. It’s the kind of true-life story Hollywood scriptwriters dream about — murder, mayhem, messy divorces, titillating escapades of a tobacco dynasty, souls bared to the tabloids, racing through life in the fast lane…The Reynolds family makes TV’s ‘Dynasty’ look downright hokey.” The Washington Times

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Torpedoed: An American Businessman's True Story of Secrets, Betrayal, Imprisonment in Russia, and the Battle to Set Him Free by Tom Shachtman & Edmond D. PopeTorpedoed: An American Businessman’s True Story of Secrets, Betrayal, Imprisonment in Russia, and the Battle to Set Him Free. By Edmond D. Pope and Tom Shachtman

It was the year 2000. Edmond D. Pope, former U.S. Naval Intelligence officer, then a private businessman, was in Russia looking for new technology to import to the United States.

Two things extraneous to him would come together to make his life into a nightmare. A top-secret Western intelligence attempt to steal one of Russia’s crown jewels, the plans to a submarine torpedo that traveled at an astonishing 300 miles per hour. And the coming to power in Russia of a new leader for the country, former KGB chief Vladimir Putin.

In TORPEDOED!, Ed Pope tells the real story of what led to his becoming the first American since Gary Powers to be convicted of espionage in Russia. Combining a gripping account of his arrest, trial and 253-day imprisonment with a deeply disturbing look at today’s Russia, Pope’s harrowing story reads like a Le Carré novel come to life. And with a large dollop of espionage-insider information and secret submarine warfare technology, Ed Pope’s harrowing memoir will remind readers of the best of Tom Clancy.

“Written with Tom Shachtman, this volume moves as quickly as its name suggests …. Pope gets thrown in prison within the first few pages. Accused of spying for the United States, he suffers indignities (strip searches, “mind games”) and intimidation (he’s told he belongs with terrorists and “serious criminals”) from the new state security guards. The indictment stems from his interest in the country’s “sensitive” Shkval torpedo, but what worries Pope the most, once he’s officially charged with espionage is his memory of “126 special clearances on matters of high importance to the security of the United States.” After all, the interrogations are intense and “you don’t just scrub [what you know] from your memory.” Pope’s fight for freedom is hampered by the questionable justice of the Russian legal system and a frustrating lack of support from the U.S. Embassy …. This is a page-turner, a great spy story that nearly encourages nostalgia for Cold War spy politics.” — Publishers Weekly.

“Ed Pope’s striking story tells us exactly what it’s like to be an innocent American caught up in Russia’s unchanged, Soviet-style judicial system still dominated by the Soviet secret police …. No spy novel could be as authentic – or as devastating.” – Thomas R. Pickering, Ambassador to Russia, 1993-96.

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Skyscraper Dreams

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Skyscraper Dreams: The Great Real Estate Dynasties of New York by Tom ShachtmanSKYSCRAPER DREAMS: The Great Real Estate Dynasties of New York

SKYSCRAPER DREAMS is the ground-breaking portrait of the visionary real estate moguls who created New York’s awe-inspiring buildings, and of the money and power that make up the world of New York real estate and its multimillionaires. The book takes us from the Astors and Rockefellers, at the outset of the skyscraper era, to the Kennedys at mid-century, and to three-generation families of the Tishmans, Rudins, and Roses, whose founders came to the United States as penniless Russian Jews fleeing pogroms. Along the way we meet other charismatic developers, such as “Big Bill” Zeckendorf, the model for “The Donald” Trump, and Harry and Leona Helmsley.

SKYSCRAPER DREAMS, which begins with a party at which the developers play “Monopoly” with real money for the benefit of a charity, is also a compelling record of the monied lives and petty feuds, the jealousies and inside tricks – both political and financial – of the players of the big-time real estate game.

“A fascinating history, showing how the city has been molded by the edifice complexes of risk-takers …. Shachtman ably sketches the rise and fall of these family empires …. The feuds of these real estate kingpins are the stuff of grand comedy … wonderful fun.” — Business Week

“Superb reporting on the industry’s wheeling and dealing …. Shachtman has done an enormous amount of research, and the story of how Manhattan was built is a fascinating one.”— New York Times Book Review

“Reads like a novel … about the dreamers and doers who built the skyscrapers of New York City. The book is filled with intrigue, dirt, corruption and everything else involved in the building of our greatest city.” — Cincinnati Enquirer

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Dead Center

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Dead Center by Shiya Ribowsky, Tom Shachtman DEAD CENTER: BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE WORLD’S LARGEST MEDICAL EXAMINER’S OFFICE, by Shiya Ribowsky and Tom Shachtman.

A city with eight million people has eight million ways to die

For fifteen years, Shiya Ribowsky worked as a medicolegal investigator in New York City’s medical examiner’s office—the largest, most sophisticated organization of its kind in the world. Utilizing his background in medicine, he led the investigations of more than eight thousand individual deaths, becoming a key figure in some of New York’s most bizarre death cases and eventually taking charge of the largest forensic investigation ever attempted: identifying the dead in the aftermath of the September 11 tragedies.

Now, in this mesmerizing book, Ribowsky pulls back the curtain on the New York City’s medical examiner’s office, giving an enthralling, never-before-seen glimpse into death and the city. Born and raised in New York City’s orthodox Jewish community, Ribowsky seems an unlikely candidate for this macabre profession. Nevertheless he has forsaken a promising career of medical work with the living, descending instead into the realm of the dead, enticed by the challenge of confronting death on a daily basis. Taking you through the vermin-infested Bowery flophouses and posh Upper East Side apartments of the city’s dead, Ribowsky explores in gruesome detail the skeletons that hang in the Big Apple’s closets. Combing through the autopsy room, he also exposes the grim secrets that only a scalpel and a dead body can tell and explains how forensic investigation does not merely solve crimes—it saves lives.

But it is in the aftermath of September 11 that the ME’s office is handed its biggest challenge: to identify as many of the fallen as possible. With poignant descriptions, Ribowsky provides a dramatic account of the office’s diligent and unflappable work with the families of the victims, helping them emerge from the ashes of this tragedy while displaying the strength, grit, intelligence, and compassion that Americans expect from true New Yorkers.

At once compelling and heartbreaking, Dead Center is a story of New York unlike any other, blending the haunting with the sublime, while painting a striking portrait of death (and life) in the city that never sleeps.

Short of becoming a murder victim, this is the closest most of us will ever get to the inner sanctum of a big city morgue. Gut-wrenching and sometimes gut-heaving, DEAD CENTER isn’t merely a chronicle of mayhem – it is a testament to the spirit of those who, in the midst of the grinding horror of urban crime, resist despair, and discover their most profound humanity. – Rene Balcer, executive producer and creator, Law & Order: Criminal Intent.

Fascinating. A well written, thoughtful insider’s account of life and death as seen through the eyes, and nose, of one of New York’s elite medicolegal investigators. — Warren Leight, Tony Award-winning playwright of Side Man.

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I Seek My Brethren

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I Seek My Brethren: Ralph Goldman and "The Joint" by Tom Shachtman“I SEEK MY BRETHREN”: RALPH GOLDMAN AND “THE JOINT”

The biography of a remarkable man driven by a simple mission—to help those in need, wherever they are found—and the story of an organization, which has, since 1914, sponsored rescue, relief and reconstruction programs throughout the world. Founded over 85 years ago as a response to the plight of Palestinian Jews caught up in the agony of World War I, the American Joint Distribution Committee (alternately known as the “JDC” or “The Joint”) is a nonsectarian, nonpartisan, apolitical, humanitarian relief agency whose work is deliberately low-profile because so much of it depends on secret negotiations with foreign governments. Its mission has taken its representatives to Western Europe after World War II (“the Jewish Marshall Plan”), to the establishment of the state of Israel, to the former Soviet Union, and to Africa and India. As an activist and leader in the organization since the 1960s, Ralph Goldman is the heart and soul of the JDC. He played a key role in Israel’s formative years, and has been on the front lines of the JDC’s humanitarian efforts worldwide.

“Ralph Goldman’s life is magically intertwined with the extraordinary work of the Joint Distribution Committee. [The book] combines historical events with personal experiences. Read it and you will be enriched.” – Elie Wiesel, Nobel Prize Laureate

“This is a fascinating tale of a rare individual – Ralph Goldman – and a unique group, the Joint …. As an orphan of the Holocaust, this book added to my understanding of the events that affected my life. As an educator, I believe this book should be required reading by Jews and non-Jews alike.” – Dr. Ruth Westheimer

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Around The Block

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Around The Block: The Business of a Neighborhood by Tom ShachtmanAROUND THE BLOCK: The Business of a Neighborhood

“A ‘near-classic’ … One of the best descriptions of American business in microcosm to come out of the 1990s [and] the sort of business book that is published too rarely …. Its subject goes to the heart of modern American business — and in the process tells you more about social conflicts, immigration, education and, indeed, America itself than countless loftier works …. Most memorable are the characters …. Mr. Shachtman is wonderful at detailing the obstinacy of small businessmen …. One of the book’s best chapters is on the stout defence put up by a gym and a video store against two national chains that move in across the street …. Another fascinating section looks at the economics of three deli-groceries ….” — The Economist

“To answer such questions as whether small businesses create jobs and how they survive the competition with big business, Shachtman spent a year exploring the assorted enterprises in a square block of Manhattan’s Chelsea. The book is crowded with real people speaking candidly about plans and problems as varied as their occupations, which range from dog grooming to wholesale plumbing supplies. A grand idea, splendidly executed.” — The New Yorker

“Fascinating detail, [a] terrific new book … a lively, insightful chronicle of a year in the business life of a Manhattan block …. AROUND THE BLOCK is a wonderful weave of personal stories and big-picture trends. Mr. Shachtman has mastered the art of the disciplined digression: his side trips into architecture, history and macroeconomics are short and sharply illuminating.” — The New York Times, Business Section

“A complex and detailed [study of] the gradual, almost invisible creation of jobs, wealth and economic growth through the establishment and nurturing of small businesses …. A thoughtful, interesting book ….. Tom Shachtman has written a good and useful book that — unlike so much else these days — gives cause to look to the future with hope.” — Washington Post Book World

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Parade! by Tom ShachtmanThe big Thanksgiving Day parades are a traditional kick-off to the holiday season, but not everyone realizes that parade day is preceded by a full year of planning. This book takes readers “backstage” at the Macy’s parade to see the process of preparation. Dozens of full-color photographs detail float and costume design, dance rehearsals, band practice and, of course, construction and maintenance of the famous giant balloons. The text is brief but accurate and suggests mounting excitement as the parade day approaches. At last, the book provides a grandstand seat for the parade itself. This exuberant and informative look at a familiar holiday ritual belongs in every holiday collection. — Elaine E. Knight, Lincoln Elementary Schools, Ill.

“Exudes excitement. You can hear the brass bands playing.” Horn Book

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