Be it stock car racing, life in the South, or military history, these new books put a fresh spin on
The Wildest Ride
By Joe Menzer
Simon & Schuster, $24

In the days before the old red clay and sharecropping portions of the South found prosperity and became the Sun Belt, stock car drivers like Junior Johnson — who once transported moonshine for a living and did some time for it — were regional heroes. But stock car racing grew up and went mainstream — as the national coverage of the tragic death of Dale Earnhardt made clear.

It has been a wild and colorful ride from the dirt tracks to the super speedways, and Joe Menzer tells the story in The Wildest Ride. The giant figures are all here — Richard Petty, David Pearson, Big Bill France, Curtis Turner, Fireball Roberts — and the great races are re-run, including the famous Daytona where Petty and Pearson crashed in turn four, heading for the finish at the Daytona 500. It is a great story that justifies, all by itself, this most entertaining and energetic book. — G.N.
Ava’s Man
By Rick Bragg
Knopf, $25

With some books, you know within a page or two you’re in for a great read. That’s how it was with Rick Bragg’s All Over but the Shoutin’, the eloquent story of his mother’s struggle to raise three sons in the hills of Alabama. And that’s how it is with this book, which tells the story of his mother’s daddy.

Call it determination, call it honor, call it stubbornness, but it seems to run in the family. Charlie Bundrum was the kind of man who could drive a nail with two hammer blows, who could dance and sing and break a man’s jaw, who liked a drink and loved babies. He took in a feeble-minded recluse to protect him from bullies, and he stood over his family like a great protecting oak.

Bragg has a Southerner’s way with words, and the language here is as clear and intoxicating as a jar of Charlie’s moonshine. There have just got to be more stories where this came from. —
Body of Knowledge
By Steve Giegerich
Scribner, $24

One of the most selfless of sacrifices is to dedicate one’s mortal remains to the education of medical students. The benefits to others are manifest: the advancement of knowledge, the development of healing skills. But no reward or recognition awaits the donor, whose memorial is a signature on a form locked in a file cabinet.

What happens to one of those gifts when it falls into the hands of four students — from a middle-aged nurse, embarking on a late career change, to an illegal immigrant — in an inner-city medical school — is the subject of this book by veteran journalist Giegerich.

Appalling, funny, sobering, and deeply moving, the story is a vivid reminder that we all are destined to a common fate, but our good works need not end in death. —
Carnage And Culture
By Victor Davis Hanson
Doubleday, $29.95

Carnage and Culture examines the way the West wages war, and its consequences in world history. It is a risky undertaking — with PC land mines strewn everywhere — but Hanson is not interested in making the case that Western armies and navies defeated non-Western forces because the West was somehow intrinsically superior. In fact, among the battles he studies are notable Western defeats. At Cannae, Hannibal crushed the armies of Rome in a battle that resonates among military thinkers. It was the perfect battle of annihilation, a case where the conception of one general was decisive. But Rome recovered and even- tually won the war and destroyed Carthage. What Hanson calls the Western way of war made this remarkable recovery possible —just as it made the defeat of a superior Japanese naval force possible at Midway, and led to the American withdrawal from Vietnam.

Hanson’s thesis is provocative, intelligently argued, and worth serious consideration as the U.S. reevaluates its war-fighting strategy. — G.N.

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.