Pussy Riot, Rob Ford and Edward Snowden made dimensional

Biographical titles written by journalists about fascinating political figures including Rob Ford speed their way into print.

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Thanks to our 24-hour news cycle, it’s difficult to resist the pull of information when something noteworthy happens. The publishing world responds to our impatience too, and of-the-moment analysis and biographies are quick to arrive on the heels of headlines. To wit: New books about a certain crack-smoking mayor, a Russian art-punk collective and an NSA whistle-blower recently appeared, and we tore through them to find out whether they do justice to these intriguing political characters.

Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story by Robyn Doolittle (Viking, $26)
Extreme figure in question: Ticklish, trash-talkin’ Toronto
mayor Rob Ford
How his case is presented: This thorough investigation by Toronto Star reporter Doolittle explores how the conservative politician cultivated his average-joe persona. Even being caught on video while smoking crack hasn’t meant political downfall; his supporters relish his accessibility and crusade for low taxes. Although the city council has stripped Ford of much of his authority, Doolittle believes he might still win reelection.
Verdict: Doolittle’s tome gives this train wreck more attention than he deserves.—DS

Words Will Break Cement: The Passion of Pussy Riot by Masha Gessen (Riverhead, $16)
Extreme figures in question: Feminist Russian performance group Pussy Riot
How its case is presented: Russian-American nonfiction writer Gessen understands her subject deeply. She wrote a book about Vladimir Putin, spent a lot of time with the family of the group’s detained members, and ran in the same circles while organizing protests in Moscow. The breezy yet pointed Cement covers the highlights: the upbringing and ideological foundations of core members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Maria Alyokhina; Pussy Riot’s rebellious acts; and the members’ subsequent trial and conviction.
Verdict: Though the most we hear from the pair themselves comes in letters sent to Gessen from prison, the book still offers a genuine glimpse into their unjust (former) incarceration.—ML

The Snowden Files: The Inside Story of the World’s Most Wanted Man by Luke Harding (Vintage, $14.95)
Extreme figure in question: Zealous confidential-document leaker Edward Snowden
How his case is presented: Not surprisingly, Snowden, who delivered a cornucopia of classified NSA documents about U.S. mass surveillance to The Guardian, receives a positive portrait from Harding, a journalist for the liberal British newspaper. In this in-depth exposé, the controversial former CIA employee is depicted as an idealistic computer geek with libertarian leanings, who risked imprisonment because he was disturbed that the NSA was scooping up phone and
Internet data en masse.
Verdict: Even if you don’t believe Snowden’s deeds constitute a patriot’s act, this book raises important issues about the right to privacy in the digital age.—DS


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