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The Russia Trap: How Our Shadow War with Russia Could Spiral into Nuclear Catastrophe Cover Image
ISBN: 9781250316622
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Thomas Dunne Books - September 3rd, 2019

In his work, The Russia Trap, former head of CIA’s Russia analysis George Beebe describes various elements that underpin the relationship between the U.S. and Russia, and how those elements could cause that relationship to spiral out of control and result in a catastrophic war. Such an event doesn’t have to happen, however, and the author makes some salient recommendations that could help prevent it. 

Mr. Beebe contrasts two forms of analysis: one that believes Russia to be aggressive and requiring punishment and isolation, the other believing Russia to be defensive and in decline, requiring diplomatic conflict resolution and compromise. Neither approach is totally wrong; rather, both are incomplete. According to the author, we need to “balance firmness with accommodation, and military readiness with diplomatic outreach…”

He compares the U.S-Russia relationship to those extant among European countries prior to World War One, where there was great systemic rigidity. Peace could collapse from any small trigger. Later, he takes us through two absolutely horrifying hypothetical scenarios illustrating just how war could occur without our intent.

To prevent this, the first step is to recognize that the hazard is a complex systems problem. This means that there are many changing factors that interconnect, that problems cannot be solved piecemeal, and that many things need to be done at once. Most pernicious is the belief that each side represents an existential threat to the other.

The advent of the cyberage has resulted in great and significant changes. The dynamics surrounding MAD (mutually assured destruction) can no longer be based on the same rules. Command, control, communication, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance functions are now operated by satellites which entangle both nuclear and conventional weapons systems, making the nature of military actions unclear. Cyberintrusions may be espionage, sabotage or influence, and may or may not come from a state actor. (Read his take on the 2016 Russian intrusion of the U.S. election.) Both the U.S. and Russia have stated that a cyberattack could result in a nuclear response. And the multipolarity of today’s world suggests that bilateralism itself may be anachronistic, even though most of the world’s nuclear weapons are held by Russia and the U.S.

To help prevent a catastrophic escalatory spiral, “escalate to deescalate” doctrines must be abandoned. To avoid rigidity, stability strategies must be imaginative and adaptable. Resilience must be built into our communications, technological, and rule-making systems. Geographic restriction on deployment of strategic weapons and proscription against certain cyberintrusions, for example, should be a part of any new set of rules.

The U.S. and Russia might best regard each other not as partners, but as competitors. Then we may be able to establish ways of safely competing while reducing the risk of war.

Steve Brehm

32nd Avenue Books Toys & Gifts Bookstore



(price reflects 20% pre-order discount valid on orders placed by September 2, 2019)

Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don't Know Cover Image
ISBN: 9780316478526
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Little, Brown and Company - September 10th, 2019

Talking to strangers is not easy. This is the central premise of author Malcolm Gladwell’s workTalking to Strangers. Gladwell uses various events to demonstrate how misunderstandings occur, and how the results can be sad and egregious. From the intelligence services to politics in World War Two; from Bernie Madoff, Amanda Knox and Jerry Sandusky to sexual assault cases and psychological experiments and rates of suicide in England, the author cites two main causes of misunderstanding: the default to truth and transparency.

Default to truth means that people generally will regard a stranger’s words to be true rather than false because normally, that is the case. Yes, we risk being deceived on occasion, but the trade-off is “social coordination and efficient communication.” It would not have been useful to evolve a tendency for continual suspicion. For good reasons, we will sometimes misunderstand the words and behavior of others, leaving us with a best approach of relying on respect and humility when engaging strangers while realizing that our abilities to understand have limits.

We always have doubts, but only depart from the truth default when doubts exceed a reasonable threshold. We continue to believe because we lack enough reason not to. 

Only when there is sufficient doubt do we begin to disbelieve.

Yet there are those rare people called “holy fools” who have no threshold to overcome and will accurately assess deceivers from the start. Harry Markopolos, who saw through Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, was such a person.

Transparency is the idea that we can determine a person’s true disposition and intent by their outward expressions and behavior. This is a myth that can be demonstrated with a FACS (Facial Action Coding System) which numbers facial muscle movements. Seeing a face may cause us to misunderstand the true sentiment inside. This is shown to be the case when computers, which cannot see facial expressions, have a greater percentage of correct decisions compared to humans who can.

Gladwell also describes coupling, which refers to a likelihood that certain behaviors are coupled with certain circumstances and conditions. He examines suicide rates in London during and after their use of town gas. He refutes the assumption that people who want to commit suicide will simply switch to a different means, should they be kept from their chosen method (displacement). Before the 1970s, most suicide was by town gas. But after they switched to natural gas, suicide rates fell. He also describes how policing techniques appropriate in one place and time may not be appropriate in another. So when assessing strangers, we should also consider time, location, and conditions as variables that play a part in accurate and ethical communication.

Steve Brehm

32nd Avenue Books, Gifts & Toys Bookstore



(price reflects 20% pre-order discount valid on orders placed by September 16, 2019)

The Dutch House: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780062963673
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Harper - September 24th, 2019

Patchett, the New York Times-bestselling author of Commonwealth and State of Wonder, returns with a moving story exploring the indelible bond between two siblings, the house of their childhood, and a past that will not let them go.

"'Do you think it's possible to ever see the past as it actually was?' I asked my sister. We were sitting in her car, parked in front of the Dutch House in the broad daylight of early summer."

At the end of the Second World War, Cyril Conroy combines luck and a single canny investment to begin an enormous real estate empire, propelling his family from poverty to enormous wealth. His first order of business is to buy the Dutch House, a lavish estate in the suburbs outside of Philadelphia. Meant as a surprise for his wife, the house sets in motion the undoing of everyone he loves.

The story is told by Cyril's son Danny, as he and his older sister, the brilliantly acerbic and self-assured Maeve, are exiled from the house where they grew up by their stepmother. The two wealthy siblings are thrown back into the poverty their parents had escaped from and find that all they have to count on is one another. It is this unshakeable bond between them that both saves their lives and thwarts their futures.

Set over the course of five decades, The Dutch House is a dark fairy tale about two smart people who cannot overcome their past. Despite every outward sign of success, Danny and Maeve are only truly comfortable when they're together. Throughout their lives they return to the well-worn story of what they've lost with humor and rage. But when at last they're forced to confront the people who left them behind, the relationship between an indulged brother and his ever-protective sister is finally tested.

The Dutch House is the story of a paradise lost, a tour de force that digs deeply into questions of inheritance, love and forgiveness, of how we want to see ourselves and of who we really are. Filled with suspense, you may read it quickly to find out what happens, but what happens to Danny and Maeve will stay with you for a very long time.



(price reflects 20% pre-order discount valid on orders placed by September 30, 2019)

Who Says You're Dead?: Medical & Ethical Dilemmas for the Curious & Concerned Cover Image
ISBN: 9781616209223
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Algonquin Books - October 8th, 2019

Author Jacob M. Appel, M.D. teaches ethics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and is an attending psychiatrist in the Mount Sinai healthcare System. He has a medical degree from Columbia, a law degree from Harvard, and a master’s degree in bioethics from the Alden March Bioethics Institute of Albany Medical College. He has written several novels as well as other works of literature. 

Who Says You’re Dead? is a collection of seventy-nine hypothetical medical and ethical dilemmas, each of which is followed by a question that inspires ethical contemplation. This is the time for some deep, unforgettable, and character-revealing conversation! Actual case decisions, relevant standards, and experiential material then follow in a reflection relative to the dilemma, most of which remain open-ended.

What are the limits of doctor/patient confidentiality? Should people be able to sell their organs? Should sex be permitted in nursing homes? Should anyone be forced to take medication or required to have surgery? From reproductive issues to end-of-life situations, from body modification to experimental medicine, this collection of hypothetical dilemmas makes a treasurable spark for great conversation. 


Steve Brehm

32nd Avenue Books, Gifts & Toys Bookstore



Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine: A Novel Cover Image
ISBN: 9780735220690
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: Penguin Books - June 5th, 2018

This is a story of a young woman, Eleanor Oliphant, who is educated and well-spoken, yet odd, reticent, and quite awkward socially. She works in an accounts receivable job, and has very limited activities outside of work, which amount to little more than eating frozen pizza and drinking vodka on the weekends.   

One day, she and a co-worker witness a man stumble and fall in the street. They get help for the man and eventually befriend him and his family. She also obsessively fantasizes about a local rock musician, and her dreams become a belief that she and the musician will share a future. She has macabre conversations with her mother every week who, frankly, seems quite evil.

As the story progresses, she attends a concert of the musician she has become infatuated with. There, she discovers that he not only does he not notice her, but is undeserving of her respect or admiration. At this, her level of depression plummets and she contemplates suicide. Her friend and co-worker intervenes, and with the help of some therapy, gradually brings her out of her defective condition. As her problems unravel, their sad, true nature is revealed. 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is a panorama of the isolation, introversion and anxiety that surround loneliness. Thankfully, it is also a story of compassion and emergence.

What was most surprising to me was how this debut author used her writing skill to create a character with an excellent command of English but unable to make her words  sound other than contrived, klutzy and inappropriate. 

Eleanor was not at all completely fine, but by the end of the book, she is taking small, careful steps on a much healthier path.

Steve Brehm

32nd Avenue Books, Toys & Gifts  Bookstore




Who's Afraid of AI?: Fear and Promise in the Age of Thinking Machines Cover Image
ISBN: 9781615195503
Availability: Usually Ships in 1-5 Days
Published: The Experiment - April 16th, 2019

Who’s Afraid Of AI? is a basic work that tells the major risks and benefits of AI (Artificial Intelligence) or machine learning. The Janus of our times does represent dangers, but it also heralds progress that will benefit humanity. An important question is, will the disruptive changes caused by AI occur too rapidly for humanity to adjust?

AI refers to machines (computers) that learn from data and extrapolate. The core skills are recognition, insight and implementation. By classifying the results of its actions, AI has the ability to autocorrect. It requires a robust set of rules and a physical apparatus that processes information based on those rules, and depends on feedback of data and pattern recognition.

Who’s Afraid of AI? takes the reader through the history of AI, from the work of Alan Turing in the 1930s, to the Dartmouth Conference in 1956, to an AI “winter” in the 1970s; from the brute force algorithms of Deep Blue, to Watson’s semantic analysis, to the intuition and creativity of AlphaGo, and the strategic thinking and risk-taking of Libratus in 2017. AI development became strong once the computational speed of computer chips increased and cloud storage of data became a reality.

Weak or narrow AI is what exists today; super AI is conceptual and as yet, non-existent. Super AI would be cognitively advanced, human-like, and possibly have self-awareness or self-interest. However, the development of super AI seems unlikely, absent the ability to control quantum dynamics. “Apocalypticists”  fear that a super AI might simply grow exponentially in intelligence until it became a singleton, or a single, omnipotent decision-making entity. Humanity could be deposed from its position as “apex cogitator,” rendered obsolete, and exterminated.

Weak AI still poses threats and requires governance. Products and services with AI tend to cause market share gain, thus risking collapse of the market economy by destroying competition. Individuals can be manipulated by deception from virtual assistants, and mass manipulation, surveillance and oppression could result from a state ungoverned by the rule of law. Will people draw the line anywhere at all when it comes to machine-driven infantilization? AI may not relieve us of the burden to think, but will people rid themselves of it anyway if AI offers them such a delusion?

But the promises of AI include increased productivity and GDP growth. Computers can translate texts, pilot vehicles, predict stock prices, conduct medical research, make diagnoses, and perform legal and business work, as well as work in farming, in construction, and in many other industries. Such changes may result in large numbers of people being unemployed, so the best approach will be to use AI to augment decision-making rather than to allow total automation. 

Steve Brehm

32nd Avenue Books Toys & Gifts Bookstore


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