The Literary Hill – June 2017

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No “I” in Team
“In the early years of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts,” writes Chris Fussell, “we were trying to defeat a twenty-first century threat with a twentieth-century playbook.” A lumbering, top-down military was pitted against Al Qaeda, an organization with a decentralized, tech-savvy network that could move with speed and agility. Clearly, changes were needed.

The new playbook, developed by General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the Joint Special Operations Task Force in Iraq and Afghanistan, became the best-selling “Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.” A co-author on that book, Fussell worked as an aide-de-camp to McChrystal, where he got a first-hand look at how a band of disparate groups, each with its own agenda, became a fully focused and integrated team of teams.

He has now taken the concept a step further with his new book, “One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams.” In it, he not only describes how the new approach worked on the battlefield, but he then applies that same methodology to organizations in general. He explains, among other things, how to create teams around a unifying narrative, establish connections, and balance empowered action with the need to realign and adapt to change.

Fussell illustrates his points with real-life examples from government and business, as well as from his personal experience, including a thrilling play-by-play of the Task Force’s communication network in action, with minutes ticking down on a potential enemy strike as updated intelligence flies around the world.

“One Mission” is not only a valuable how-to for organizations who don’t want to become “a footnote of history,” but it’s also a fascinating glimpse behind the scenes of a global military operation from a very astute observer with a front-row seat.

Fussell is a former Navy SEAL officer who left active duty in 2012 and is now a partner at the McChrystal Group Leadership Institute.

Taking the Plunge
“Graduating from college,” writes Caroline Kitchener, “is like leaving a pool and jumping into the ocean.” How she and four of her Princeton classmates grappled with the uncertainties and undercurrents of that plunge is the subject of her new book, “Post Grad: Five Women and Their First Year Out of College.”

Kitchener deftly weaves the story of her own experience during the year after graduation with those of an aspiring jazz singer, a gay woman trying to carve her niche in the tech world, the daughter of immigrants from Cameroon headed for med school, and a documentary film maker.

She records their intimate struggles with their parents, and their efforts to define themselves outside their romantic relationships, to build new communities for themselves, and to achieve financial independence. “No one talks about the isolation, the identity crisis, or the all-consuming panic that sets in when you realize you have no idea what you want to do with the rest of your life,” she writes.

While Kitchener acknowledges that the experiences of her small sample of Ivy League grads may not apply across the board, she nonetheless hopes that her book might help others. “I wish someone had told me how difficult the upcoming year would be,” she writes. Hence her message to new grads: “Congratulations. This is going to be a hell of a year.”

Caroline Kitchener’s work has appeared in The Atlantic, Vox, and the Guardian. Find her at carolinekitchener.com.

Shakespeare Noir
“The Voynich Gambit” starts with a bang. Literally. A shoot-out in the lobby of the Folger Shakespeare Library leaves two men dying, while Special Police Officer Lt. Norman Blalock collapses with a heart attack on the floor of the reading room. Blalock is luckier than the two shooters. He pulls through—and that’s when his real problems begin.

In Quintin Peterson’s new noir novel, a sequel to “Guarding Shakespeare,” Blalock and his partner in crime, the luscious Kavitha Netram, are once again being coerced by unscrupulous “antique dealer” Rupert Whyte to purloin treasures from the Folger collection. This time, Whyte is after the Voynich Manuscript, one of the rarest and most mysterious books in the world, slated to go on exhibit at the Folger.

Double-crosses abound as the head-snapping action bounces from Capitol Hill to London to Nigeria—with a wink-worthy stop at the Trump International Hotel—before wrapping up with a bloody twist at Congressional Cemetery. Along the way, Peterson reveals his knowledge not only of all things Folger, but also of DC history, high technology and, especially, human nature in all its Shakespearean complexity.

Quintin Peterson is a critically acclaimed author of noir fiction who served as a DC police officer for 30 years and has worked at the Folger since 2010. “The Voynich Gambit” is his fourth DC-based crime novel and his stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Find him at http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B002BMCR2E.

On the Hill in June
East City Bookshop hosts the ECB Fiction Book Club, discussing Dinaw Mengestu’s “The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears,” June 5, 6:30pm, and the Reality Literature Book Club, reading “Evicted,” June 28, 6:30pm; the book launch of “The Alice Network,” a new WWII spy thriller by Kate Quinn, June 6, 6:30pm; Bella Pollen, author of “Meet Me in the In-Between,” June 8, 6:30pm; Grant Ginder, author of “The People We Hate at the Wedding,” June 12, 6:30pm; a celebration of the paperback release of “Harmony” by Carolyn Parkhurst, June 13, 7pm; Chris Sharp, author of the new fantasy adventure, “Cold Counsel,” June 15, 6:30pm; Panthea Reid, author of “Body and Soul: A Memoir of Love, Loss, and Healing,” June 20, 6:30pm; Zach Powers, author of “Gravity Changes,” June 21, 6:30pm; Min Jin Lee, author of “Pachinko,” June 22, 6:30pm; and Nicole Harkin, author of “Tilting: A Memoir,” June 27, 6:30pm. eastcitybookshop.com

The Hill Center offers a Talk of the Hill with Bill Press featuring Scott Simon of NPR Weekend Edition, author of “My Cubs: A Love Story,” June 5, 7pm; and Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and author of “SEA POWER: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans,” June 21, 7pm. Free but register at www.hillcenterdc.org or 202-549-4172.

The Library of Congress presents a Books & Beyond reading with Margaret Wagner, author of “America and the Great War: A Library of Congress Illustrated History,” June 8, noon; and kicks off its summer and fall youth reading-writing programs with a contest called “A Book That Shaped Me: Letters About Literature,” with prizes to be awarded Sept. 2 at the National Book Festival. Submission forms available at the Young Readers Center in the Jefferson Building and at participating public libraries. www.loc.gov.

The Northeast Branch of the DC Public Library holds its spring used book sale June 10, starting at 10am. Donations and volunteers welcome. For more information, call FONEL president Vincent Morris at 202-556-1071.

Smithsonian Associates presents “Britain in WWII” with Lynne Olson, author of “Last Hope Island: Britain, Occupied Europe, and the Brotherhood that Helped Turn the Tide of War,” in conversation with historian Evan Thomas, June 5, 6:45pm. www.smithsonianassociates.org.