Week ending February 8, 2013
Ai Weiwei: According to What? Prestel. 2012. 144p. ed. by Kerry Bougher & others. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9783791352404. $39.95. FINE ARTS
This catalog, published in conjunction with the first U.S. retrospective of Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, is a fine introduction to his intelligent, humane body of work. It’s excellent, too, for those who would like to understand better the methods underpinning conceptual art, the approach that Ai Weiwei pursues. Edited by Bougher (chief curator, Hirschhorn Museum), the attractive monograph is filled with color photographs, images that will help readers appreciate the artist’s choice of objects and materials (fragments of demolished homes or temples; a popular brand of bicycle; schoolchildren’s backpacks). Selected for the way they evoke the complex interplay of politics, culture, history, and individual and collective experience, these works reflect the continuity but also conflict between China’s past and present. Ai Weiwei has been called (and is probably best known as) a dissident for his outspoken criticism of the Chinese government, but his work—in it is exploration of memory, politics, and artistic expression—is far more subtle than what is typically considered political art.
Verdict This catalog is an excellent first step toward exploring all that Ai Weiwei has accomplished so far. Two essays, an author interview, and a selected bibliography add informative context and commentary. [See the review of a new DVD program on the artist, LJ 3/1/13.—Ed.]—Michael Dashkin, New York
Bergen, Benjamin K. Louder Than Words: The New Science of How the Mind Makes Meaning. Basic Bks: Perseus. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780465028290. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780465033331. PSYCH
Bergen’s (cognitive science, director of the Language and Cognition Lab, Univ. of California, San Diego) latest study isn’t for the faint of heart, as he explores and explains the science behind recent studies on cognition and the making of meaning. Bergen’s “embodied simulation hypothesis” suggests that mental imagery simulates the brain processes that enable one to make meaning out of real and imagined events. Mental simulation may be conscious or unconscious and is the foundation for the process of understanding meaning-making. One of Bergen’s more interesting claims suggests that imagining performing an action may be as effective as performing it. Thus, athletes benefit from imagining exercises that supplants, to a certain degree, physical training. Seemingly, academics are the book’s primary audience; however, general readers with a focused interest in cognitive studies could read and, with some persistence, comprehend this nonetheless excellent book.
Verdict Similar to what Stephen Pinker’s The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language is to linguists, this book is a sine qua non for cognitive scientists, ordinary language philosophers, and the intrepid general reader. Highly recommended.—Lynne Maxwell, Villanova Univ. Sch. of Law Lib., PA
Grave, Johannes. Caspar David Friedrich. Prestel. 2012. 288p. illus. ISBN 9783791346281. $120. FINE ARTS
Grave (associate director, Ctr. Allemand d’Histoire de l’Art, Paris) looks at German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich’s work from a new perspective. Although the book does examine his work chronologically and within the social, political, and intellectual framework of Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Grave argues that Friedrich’s paintings are not illusionistic depictions of reality that bring the viewer into the work of art. Instead, the work of art declares its own pictorality; its artificiality is a work of art of its own. This is exemplified in Friedrich’s landscapes in which rearview figures are inserted into the paintings and the viewer becomes a second-order observer, separate from the reality of the picture. Grave also adds that through this separation of the viewer from the space of the picture, the traditional interpretation of Friedrich’s representation of the sublime, in which the viewer is at one with nature, is uplifted and put into question.
Verdict Although scholarly in tone, this book is recommended for readers interested in 19th-century German painting.—Sandra Rothenberg, Framingham State Coll. Lib., MA
Grimes, Sandra & Jeanne Vertefeuille. Circle of Treason: A CIA Account of Traitor Aldrich Ames and the Men He Betrayed. Naval Inst. 2012. 240p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781591143345. $29.95. POL SCI
Here is the story of an intricate mole hunt straight from the source. Grimes and Vertefeuille are both veterans of the CIA’s clandestine and counterintelligence operations, respectively, and were members of the small CIA-FBI team investigating the disastrous 1985 loss of so many Soviet assets. A CIA mole must have caused it. But who? In the early 1990s, they narrowed the list of suspects down to one: Aldrich Ames, an apparently average CIA counterintelligence officer with increasing financial needs, who sold to Moscow his knowledge about U.S. operations against Russia. The authors also recount their careers in a male-dominated organization, the CIA’s corporate culture at the time, and debilitating Washington personality conflicts and turf battles. They honor those Russians who were arrested and executed as a result of Ames’s betrayal. The key lessons they know well: keep good records, watch everyone, follow the money, and note that such American traitors seem often to be very narcissistic.
Verdict A fascinating detective story for those interested in the spy scandals of the 1980s, the CIA’s painstaking investigative techniques, and how bureaucratic intelligence agencies really operate.—Daniel Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL
Hand, Learned. Reason and Imagination: The Selected Correspondence of Learned Hand. Oxford Univ. 2012. 484p. ed. by Constance Jordan. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199899104. $39.95. LAW
This collection of correspondence from U.S. District Court judge Hand (1872–1961), edited by his granddaughter Jordan (English & comparative literature, emerita, Claremont Graduate Univ.), covers the period 1909–1958. Each section of the book focuses on a particular time period and a general theme. The half-century of letters discusses everything from Progressive politics to the Red Scare of the 1950s; the correspondents range from Theodore Roosevelt to Felix Frankfurter. Hand was a well-respected legal figure whose name was often mentioned as a potential Supreme Court justice, although he was never nominated. His correspondence shows a thoughtful and curious mind, interested in current events and in the practice and study of law. The letters in this collection were written during a turbulent period in American history and offer insights into the future of American politics, mentioning figures such as Richard Nixon at the beginning of his career.
Verdict This book is not for the casual reader. Law students, historians, and those with a particular interest in Hand will find this book most interesting.—Becky Kennedy, Atlanta-Fulton P.L.
John, Suki. Contemporary Dance in Cuba: Tecnica Cubana as Revolutionary Movement. McFarland. 2012. 240p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786449019. pap. $38. DANCE
Here writer and choreographer John explores dance in Cuba through firsthand experience, historical overview, and appreciation of the choreographic art form. She examines the history of dance in Cuba along with key figures of the Cuban dance scene, including Alicia Alonso (Ballet Nacional) and Ramon Guerra (known as “the father of contemporary Cuban dance”). She lends her perspective not only to dance but also to the political landscape and daily life. In italicized sections that resemble diary entries, she describes her visits to Cuba from the 1970s until now, clearly seen with American eyes. The book also considers the impact of the variety of cultures that make up Cuba that, in turn, influenced dance and created a hybrid style. This book offers a window into a culture and dance technique that is not all that accessible, and John helps bring tecnica cubana into the dance lexicon for a wider audience. The bibliography includes many helpful sources.
Verdict A welcome addition to dance scholarship. Recommended for academic libraries with dance programs and for those interested in Cuban culture.—Barbara Kundanis, Longmont P.L., CO
Johnson, David W. Lonesome Melodies: The Lives and Music of the Stanley Brothers. Univ. of Mississippi. (American Made Music). 2012. 304p. photogs. discog. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781617036477. $50. MUSIC
This thorough (but not particularly gripping) history from music writer Johnson covers not only legendary bluegrass musicians Carter and Ralph Stanley but also the history and culture of postwar Appalachian America. Johnson interviewed hundreds of musicians and their families in this detailed history. The Stanley Brothers grew up in Dickenson County, VA, where recreation centered around music-making for Saturday evening fun and Sunday morning church. When not working arduous day jobs, amateur musicians traveled from town to town to perform. Phonograph records soon popularized hymns and songs until radio arrived, allowing the Stanleys and others to perform live for thousands of listeners. For over two decades, they traveled and performed throughout Appalachia, Ohio, and the South. Yet by the 1960s, bluegrass festivals, especially the more “country” variations, were declining in popularity. The Stanley Brothers continued to sing, despite Carter’s troubles with alcohol. With extensive notes, a bibliography, and a discography cover hundreds of books, interviews, and recordings.
Verdict Its wide scope makes this title a deserving addition; an essential volume for those studying old-time, bluegrass, and country music roots.—Linda Beck, Indian Valley P.L., Telford, PA
Kerpen, Dave. Likeable Business: Why Today’s Consumers Demand More and How Leaders Can Deliver. McGraw-Hill. 2012. 224p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780071800471. pap. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780071800488. ECON
Here Kerpen draws from the communication lessons he presented in his first book, Likeable Social Media, and shows how the same principles apply to business leadership. The book argues that businesses and business CEOs must focus on 11 key factors in order to satisfy their customers. Caring about customers only when something goes wrong isn’t good enough. Kerpen’s aspired leadership traits include authenticity, passion, team playing, gratefulness, and listening, among others; he provides examples from his company, Likeable Media, and others to demonstrate their practical application. For instance, in 2011, Netflix decided its DVD-by-mail and streaming services would become separate companies. Customers expressed disapproval, and the CEO quickly reversed the plan. Netflix services remain unified. Each chapter ends with social tools and action items to help readers get started.
Verdict An excellent book for anyone working in customer service, Kerpen’s work provides original ways of thinking about everyday actions. Recommended.—Leigh Mihlrad, National Insts. of Health, Bethesda, MD
Quitt, Martin H. Stephen A. Douglas and Antebellum Democracy. Cambridge Univ. 2012. 224p. notes. index. ISBN 9781107024786. $75; pap. ISBN 9781107639010. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781139534611. BIOG
Quitt resurrects the singular events of Stephen A. Douglas’s personal and political life beyond the celebrated 1858 debates with Lincoln and his painful defeat in the 1860 presidential election. He covers “the Little Giant’s” meager youth in Vermont made worse by unresolved family issues, his delicate constitution, and demanding early employment. In Illinois, Douglas hit his stride, serving in a number of state offices before winning a seat in Congress at age 28 and in the U.S. Senate four years later. Quitt traces Douglas’s attempt to walk a fine line on the prevailing slavery question by insisting that states/territories each had the right to accept the system, or reject it, as its voters saw fit (popular sovereignty). Predictably, Douglas’s Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854), embodying this scheme, lent significantly to the onset of the Civil War. Quitt details Douglas’s 1860 preelection tour of the South where he desperately tried but failed to champion the Union cause. Following his defeat at the polls and the fall of Fort Sumter, Douglas fully supported the Lincoln administration. He died of “bilious fever” on June 3, 1861.
Verdict Quitt’s assessment of Douglas’s ambivalent position on slavery is spot-on: “He was neither proslavery nor antislavery. Rather his policy…was true to how he felt about respecting and nurturing the diversity of American life as determined by local white majorities.” A superbly crafted thematic biography. Highly recommended.—John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland
Turse, Nick. Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Metropolitan: Holt. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780805086911. $28. HIST
“Kill anything that moves” was the battle cry of Capt. Ernest Medina at the March 15, 1968, My Lai Massacre, yet as Turse (The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives) describes in graphic detail, it was also the unwritten policy of American government and military officials for the entire Second Indochina War (1965–73). Based on the author’s doctoral dissertation, Turse’s work offers a grim portrayal of military recruits, mostly teenagers, programmed to believe that all Asians were “mere gooks,” who could be raped, mutilated, and killed. Several atrocities covered up by the military when they occurred are described here, significantly “Operation Speedy Express,” led by “The Butcher of the Delta,” Gen. Julian Ewell, whose troops went on a six-month murderous spree, resulting in at least 5,000 civilian deaths, ten times more than at My Lai. During the war, the “kill anything that moves” strategy resulted in two million Vietnamese noncombatant deaths.
Verdict This book will sadden and anger readers, many of whom view the war as an American tragedy in which the value of human life was greatly diminished. For a differing assessment that emphasizes the heroism and bravery of American forces, see John Prados’s In Country: Remembering the Vietnam War.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA