Week ending November 22, 2013
The Best American Essays 2013. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. (Best American). 2013. 336p. ed. by Cheryl Strayed & Robert Atwan. notes. index. ISBN 9780544103887. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780544105744. LIT
Guest editor Strayed (Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail) has selected 26 titles from hundreds of essays gathered by longtime series editor Atwan, chosen from national and regional literary magazines. In her compelling introduction, Strayed admits that the essays she loves the most are the ones “that made me feel…as if the rest of the world had fallen away.” The pieces are outstanding—descriptive, intimate, thoughtful. Contributors Richard Schmitt describes the reality of joining a circus, Walter Kirn confronts Mormonism, Marcia Aldrich agonizes through the birth of her daughter, Charles Baxter survives a terrifying limo accident, and Steven Harvey ponders his mother’s suicide. The essays are very personal and reveal, as Strayed describes, the author’s desire to know more about the known world. Many of these essays had this reviewer nod in recognition or shake her head in disbelief; most will suspend readers in a state where the world does indeed fall away.
Verdict Highly recommended to readers interested in creative nonfiction, especially those who enjoy personal essays.—Kathryn Bartelt, Univ. of Evansville Libs., IN
Chappell, David L. Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. Random. Jan. 2014. 288p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781400065462. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780812994667. HIST
Signed into law shortly after Martin Luther King’s death, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the Fair Housing Act) is seen as King’s last great achievement, even the last achievement of the civil rights movement.The post-King struggle for civil rights is typically depicted as lacking inspiration and being an endless debate over the scope of affirmative action. Chappell (modern American history, Univ. of Oklahoma; A Stone of Hope) paints a different picture of the continued struggle for equality. Focusing on legislative efforts in the 1970s further to empower blacks, the signing into law of a national holiday for Martin Luther King in 1983, the two presidential runs of Jesse Jackson in 1984 and 1988, Chappell depicts a civil rights movement, in victory and defeat, that expanded its reach and added to the meaning of freedom in America. His book might better have focused on the legislative wins of the 1980s, and his narrative is not cohesive. He ends with a discussion of how even revelations of adultery and plagiarism could not eclipse King’s accomplishments or tarnish his legacy.
Verdict Chappell adds to the literature on the post-King years. Recommended to readers interested in post-King civil rights history and later 20th-century America.—Jason Martin, Stetson Univ. Lib., DeLand, FL
Difford, Simon. diffordsguide Gin: The Bartender’s Bible. Firefly. 2013. 350p. photos. ISBN 9781770852631. $39.95. BEVERAGES
Difford (difford’s Encyclopedia of Cocktails: 2600 Recipes) quite possibly could be the “King of Cocktails.” The founding voice of diffordsguide.com, a website for the discerning drinker, he’s also the author of a large number of cocktail books that focus on history, ingredients, and preparation of the best versions. Difford’s newest title is a sort of love letter to gin, the alcoholic beverage made from grain spirits flavored with juniper berries and aromatics. But this is no ordinary bartending book; rather, it is a reference guide for the gin connoisseur. The work lists the history of the drink (would you believe it can be traced as far back as the 1100s in the Arab world?), how it’s made, and entries on 18 of the top distilleries (including locations, recipes, grains and aromatics, production, and information on their top sellers, along with tasting notes and ratings). Readers will also find a catalog of 175 gin brands with tasting notes and a rating system. Interspersed throughout are high-quality photographs and recipes for beverages containing gin.
Verdict This hefty volume would be the perfect holiday gift for a gin enthusiast, and its attractive design makes it ideal for display purposes at any public library.—Jane Hebert, Glenside P.L. Dist., Glendale Heights, IL
Gilmour, Jane. Colette’s France: Her Lives, Her Loves. Hardie Grant. 2013. 220p. illus. notes. ISBN 9781742705354. $34.95; ebk. ISBN 9781743580677. LIT
Born Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette (1873–1954), the French novelist and performer has always been better known by her pen name, Colette. Her many novels (Chéri; Gigi) epitomized France’s Belle Époque (1871–1914). She challenged societal norms and had numerous love affairs, including one with her 17-year-old stepson. Biographer Gilmour’s prolog describes the years she spent in France studying at the Sorbonne, where she wrote her doctoral thesis on the novelist. During this time, Gilmour even met with Colette’s third husband. Decades after returning to her native Australia, Gilmour revisits Colette in this book. She describes the writer and her life’s intrigues with an unpretentious style that keeps the reader engaged. Interspersed with numerous photographs, illustrations, and other artifacts, the book takes the reader on a photographic tour of the places Colette frequented, from Paris to regions such as her native Burgundy, Franche-Comté, Provence, and Brittany and concludes with a list of suggested places for readers to visit in their own search for Colette.
Verdict A charming book that will appeal to Colette fans and students of French literature and civilization.—Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Media, PA
Hession, Julie Anne. 100 Best Decorated Cookies: Featuring 750 Step-by-Step Photos. Firefly. 2013. 256p. photos. index. ISBN 9780778804567. $29.95. COOKING
With her latest work, cookbook author, feature writer, and food blogger (175 Best Mini-Pie Recipes) Hession has set out both to inspire creativity and make decorating cookies seem less intimidating. Though this volume has only 11 cookie recipes and two for icing, it does contain 100 examples of individual cookies, with 750 step-by-step photos. Hession starts off with information on equipment, techniques, and recipes. The work features a variety of cookies (those for the holidays, weather-inspired shapes, children-themed assortments, and party cookies—there’s even one that looks like Elvis!). The final pages include several templates, a source guide, and a useful index.
Verdict This graphics-heavy book, with its many detailed photos, would be a great source for beginners. However, it doesn’t have much in the way of recipes, so it should be paired with another title of the same ilk such as Martha Stewart’s Cookies: The Very Best Treats To Bake and To Share or Taste of Home: Cookies; 623 Irresistible Delights.—Jane Hebert, Glenside P.L. Dist., Glendale Heights, IL
Klaidman, Stephen. Sydney and Violet: Their Life with T.S. Eliot, Proust, Joyce, and the Excruciatingly Irascible Wyndham Lewis. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. 2013. 288p. index. notes. ISBN 9780385534093. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385534109. LIT
Journalist Klaidman (Coronary: A True Story of Medicine Gone Awry) here presents his research on the lives of the Schiffs—Sydney (1868–1944) and Violet (1874–1962)—who were influential in England’s early 20th-century modernist literary circles and served as a bridge between the classicism of west London’s Bayswater and the romanticism of the city’s central Bloomsbury. Now largely forgotten, Sydney was a major writer in his day; Violet, a musician. Klaidman describes the couple’s friendships with such literary luminaries as T.S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and Marcel Proust. The Schiffs shared a friendship with the Eliots that waned as Vivienne Eliot’s physical and mental illnesses worsened. Their attachment to Lewis is hard to understand, given his leanings toward anti-Semitism (the Schiffs shared a Jewish background though neither was observant), fascism, and misogyny. In the end, Lewis skewered the Schiffs in a vicious satire. Proust was the duo’s favorite, although their relationship consisted almost entirely of letters. Klaidman acknowledges that gaps in factual information necessitated conjecture in writing the book, which draws heavily on correspondence from the subjects’ friends.
Verdict More chatty than scholarly, this work reads like a novel, with its detailed descriptions of people and places. It will entertain those interested in the personal lives of movers and shakers in early 20th-century English literature.—Denise J. Stankovics, formerly with Rockville P.L., CT
Ryan, Alan. On Aristotle: Saving Politics from Philosophy. ISBN 9780871407061; ebk. ISBN 9780871407498.
Ryan, Alan. On Machiavelli: The Search for Glory. ISBN 9780871407054; ebk. ISBN 9780871407504.
ea. vol: Liveright. (Classics). Nov. 2013. $14.95. PHIL
Ryan (former warden, New Coll., Oxford Univ.; politics, Princeton Univ.; John Dewey and the High Tide of American Liberalism) begins with this short work on Aristotle to distill his larger two-volume On Politics into a projected 12 volumes of pocket editions devoted to individual thinkers. Equally a history of both Athenian and Aristotelian political thought, which both, argues Ryan, are necessary to understanding our own conceptions of political theory, the book’s first half attempts to bring us forward from Aristotle’s Athens, through the Middle Ages, and into the modern period with discourse on ethics and politics but also on economics, economic activity, political analysis, citizenship, ideal states, and slavery. Readers will become familiar with select passages from Benjamin Jowett’s translation of The Politics and James Edward Cowell Welldon’s translation of The Nicomachean Ethics.
On Machiavelli contains a finely crafted analysis of the subject’s place in the political cannon. Ryan has selected long passages from The Prince (itself a short work), excluding outdated historical examples, and a shorter selection from The Discourses. The second title to inaugurate Liveright’s new “Classics” series, this is as much about the development of political thought of the time leading to, during, and subsequent to the16th-century reformation in Italy as it is about the philosopher’s contributions.
Verdict Ryan’s rich analysis of Aristotle serves as an introduction to his contemporaries, among them Greeks and Persians, but also the Arabs who first preserved and translated the Greek and ultimately modern philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes. His erudition regarding the history of political thought works superbly when discussing Machiavelli, since the philosopher’s arguments make sense best when read in their historical context.—Robert C. Robinson, CUNY
Sulick, Michael J. American Spies: Espionage Against the United States from the Cold War to the Present. Georgetown Univ. 2013. 320p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781626160088. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781626160095. HIST
This is Sulick’s next volume after his Spying in America: Espionage from the Revolutionary War to the Dawn of the Cold War of last year. Sulick worked for 28 years in the CIA; he knows his subject. He covers the last 70-plus years, presenting case studies of Americans passing defense or intelligence secrets to other countries, recounting the serious damage done by particular spies, their capture, and the aftermath. Included are familiar names, such as John Walker, John Pollard, and Aldrich Ames, and less known spies such as Clyde Conrad and Ana Belen Montes. Most interesting is Sulick’s discussion of individual motives. Primarily they are financial but are also born of particular psychological issues (frequently involving a son’s relationship with his father) and only secondarily relate to political beliefs. Sulick also shows how these spies evaded detection for so long: many times the blame lies in substandard administrative procedures. Sulick’s stated goal is to get our overly complacent nation to recognize the various complicated internal threats to its security and to understand why restrictions on access to some government and corporate information is necessary, the more so in today’s world of cyberactivity. Well documented and indexed but with no photographs.
Verdict An accessible overview of a serious topic from a CIA counterintelligence perspective. For all readers drawn to espionage history and its human motivations.—Daniel Blewett, Coll. of DuPage Lib., Glen Ellyn, IL