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The Family Jewels
University of Texas Press, $24.95
In his capacity as a senior fellow at the National Security Archive, John Prados regularly sees top-secret documents as they quietly enter the public domain. The book is part of the publisher’s Discovering America series, which is based on the premise that much of the American experience remains to be told by historians and cultural critics with fresh takes on events and individuals seemingly well-known but often masked.
When the author viewed the documents known collectively as “the Family Jewels,” which set out covert CIA operations from the 1950s to the early 1970s, he realized he could teach about the contemporary American surveillance state by referencing and examining recent history. After all, the Family Jewels, never meant to be shared with the general citizenry, demonstrates how the CIA has spied on Americans despite a ban against domestic operations, has tortured alleged enemies captured during wartime and peacetime, and has assassinated overseas leaders viewed as enemies of the U.S.
The book seems ripped from the headlines due to the recent massive news coverage of the NSA’s monitoring of telephone and digital conversations, perhaps without legal authority. Prados takes readers inside not only the CIA in an attempt to plumb the thinking behind the questionable secretive operations, but also the White House, the halls of Congress and newsrooms. As a result, he casts light on shadowy cultures that often undermine democracy.
Prados will speak and sign copies of his book at 7 p.m. Monday at BookPeople, 603 N. Lamar Blvd.
Rebecca Eaton and Patricia Mulcahy
Chronicling her 25-year career with PBS, Rebecca Eaton provides a behind-the-camera look into the creative process involved in producing Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! As a self-described Anglophile, the author’s career path to executive producer of Masterpiece seems to have been predestined. Eaton’s mother was an actress on Broadway in the 1930s and a Hollywood contract player in the 1950s; her father taught Shakespeare and other literature at MIT and elsewhere.
“Brought up on a steady diet of classic British literature,” she writes, “I’m amazed at the inevitability that my life’s work has turned out to be as a purveyor of this particular opiate.” The author combines personal anecdotes with interviews of writers, directors, hosts and numerous stars who contributed to her projects over the course of her career.
For those interested in the technical aspects of producing a TV show, Eaton lays out the process. She uses the Masterpiece program “Cranford,” starring Judi Dench, as her case study, and she also recounts her quest to rebrand Masterpiece for a younger demographic using marketing and social media as promotional tools. “Our social media presence for Downton [Abbey] season three created the highest-ever Twitter buzz for a PBS program,” she writes. Eaton explores the possible explanations for the remarkable success of “Downton,” which “has catapulted Masterpiece into a whole new orbit of publicity, visibility, and popularity.”