Founding fathers, Teamster wannabe fathers, and blue-collar fathers. If we bend an ear — and a knee — we might learn something from a few of them.
JOHN ADAMS
By David McCullough
Simon & Schuster, $35

Even in his own day, most people underestimated John Adams. Yet he was the motivator behind the Declaration of Independence, a skilled diplomat, a dedicated peacekeeper. In this fine biography, he emerges as both a crucial historical figure and a vital, thoroughly likable human being, as does his wife, Abigail, one of the most brilliant and accomplished women in American public life.

McCullough combines the historian’s sober analysis with the novelist’s eye for character. Not only Adams, but Jefferson, Hamilton, Franklin, and even that stone pillar Washington emerge as vivid and fully fleshed as any characters in fiction.

This book is destined to take its place alongside the author’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, bestselling 1992 biography, Truman. —
THE RACKETS
By Thomas Kelly
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24

Jimmy Dolan knocks down a union boss during an argument at a political function. This impulsive act costs Dolan his job as advance man for the mayor, who is running for reelection. Dolan’s lover leaves him; he is an embarrassment to her, too. The outburst also hurts Dolan’s father, an honorable, old-fashioned union man who is running for president of the Teamsters against the man his son knocked down, a man who is thoroughly corrupt and, worse, related to an old-time mob boss.

The Rackets has the makings of a plot-rich page-turner that is high in entertainment calories but low in literary nutrients. But this book achieves a higher rank as a novel of urban life in the wonderful, if neglected, tradition of John Dos Passos, James T. Farrell, and Theodore Dreiser.

Kelly knows the territory, having worked construction for 10 years. Most importantly, he can appreciate the suffering of people whose neighborhood has gone, taking their way of life with it. — G.N.
RENOVATIONS
By John Marchese
Riverhead Books, $23.95

There’s probably an easier way for son and father to bond than restoring an old house together. Swords or dueling pistols, for example. When John Marchese, a freelance writer and sometime musician, buys a little cottage in upstate New York, his blue-collar father, a one-time construction worker, volunteers to help. Pretty soon they’re tearing out walls and ripping up each other.

Dad — Tully — has an enormous capacity for work, but no capacity for patience, and he needs plenty because his trumpet-playing son is all thumbs. The son seems as inept with relationships as he is with hammer and saw.

How they find their way to an accommodation, and beyond accommodation to love, is the subject of this sweet and funny book. Marchese learns to handle the tools of his father’s trade, and he’s soon hanging sheetrock like a pro. Little by little, he is able to enter into his father’s life, to understand the old man from the inside out. —
LONG SHADOWS
By Erna Paris
Bloomsbury, $27.50

Since it seems impossible to forget the past, the hope for mankind lies in learning how to remember. This is the optimistic thesis of Long Shadows.

Nations come to terms with the dark chapters of their histories in different ways. The Japanese buried the memory of Nanking and of Unit 731, which conducted germ warfare experiments on living humans during World War II. The French maintain that the nation as a whole engaged in the Resistance when, in truth, most Frenchmen tried merely to get along or even collaborated with the Nazis. Germany has attempted to confront its guilt as a means of reconciliation, and South Africa has formally inquired into its own dark past. In the United States, the curse of slavery will not go away.

Erna Paris thinks hard and writes lucidly about these matters. The resulting book is profound, illuminating, and original. — G.N.

To order these and other books, call (800) 266-5766, Dept. 1624, or log on to www.books now.com/americanway.htm.

By Bill Marvel and Geoffrey Norman Marvel is a senior features writer for The Dallas Morning News. Norman is the author of nine novels and several nonfiction books.