Snap Judgment: Books

Dining With Terrorists by Phil Rees

The frivolous title misleads. During his 20 years as a British journalist, Rees has indeed met--and eaten with--a great many militants from Kashmir to Ireland. But his purpose is to tackle a more serious question: what is a terrorist? After all, many of his interviewees consider themselves freedom fighters. No party, says Rees, can claim sole right to the moral high ground. "If we don't want to describe America and Britain as terrorist nations the only principled alternative is to purge the word [terrorism] from the lexicon." That smacks of relativism, but his account should trouble anyone who believes Washington's enemies in the war on terror are easily identified.

--William Underhill

The Threat of North Korean Special Forces By Atsushi Shimizu (in Japanese)

The soldiers of North Korea's People's Army may be malnourished and undisciplined. But according to this work, Kim Jong Il's estimated 120,000-member Special Forces are still to be feared: they endure extensive training to become dedicated killers. The author, an expert on North Korean military affairs, elaborates on their organization and preparation--including lessons to master South Korean dialects so they can disguise themselves for infiltration. He also analyzes security at Japanese nuclear-power plants and on bullet trains to evaluate how prepared the country is for an attack. His answer: "far from enough."

--Hideko Takayama

The Bright Forever by Lee Martin

Using deft strokes of detail, Martin gets inside the various personalities composing the Indiana town where the 9-year-old daughter of a prominent family goes missing while riding her bike to the library. Different characters take turns filling in bits of the story: the girl's guilt-ridden older brother, who tattled on his sister for forgetting to return her books; the creepy pedophilic math tutor; the pill-popping drifter. The grim outcome isn't much of a surprise, but what the story lacks in suspense it makes up for in its vividly nuanced portrayal of a small town in the heat of a troubled summer.

--Susan H. Greenberg