Week ending July 22, 2016
Blaugrund, Annette. Thomas Cole: The Artist as Architect. Monacelli. Apr. 2016. 120p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781580934626. $30. FINE ARTS
Thomas Cole (1801–48) is best known as the founder of the Hudson River School of painting—his popular landscapes often featured realistic American scenes—but the artist and writer also designed several buildings. Cole spent his early life in England, then immigrated to Ohio before settling in New York. This is the catalog of a current exhibition at the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY, which will travel to the Ohio’s Columbus Museum of Art in November. Curator/museum consultant Blaugrund (Charting New Waters: Redefining Marine Painting; The Tenth Street Studio Building: Artist Entrepreneurs from the Hudson River School to the American Impressionists) curated the exhibition. The catalog includes an essay by Franklin Kelly (chief curator, National Gallery of Art) about Cole’s paintings. The exhibition focuses on his visual works, which include buildings, as well as on architectural documents. According to Blaugrund’s research, the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus was based on Cole’s competition entry. He then designed an Episcopal church for his congregation and an art studio for himself, both in Catskill. The studio has recently been reconstructed to become a National Historic Site. Unbuilt projects include a concept for the Washington Monument and his family home.
Verdict This title clearly presents the self-taught Cole’s architectural knowledge and output, illustrated with fine color plates. Ohio and New York readers interested in the arts should especially appreciate this thorough study.—David R. Conn, formerly with Surrey Libs., BC
Cohen, Richard. She Made Me Laugh: My Friend Nora Ephron. S. & S. Sept. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781476796123. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781476796147. LIT/FILM
In this lengthy, repetitious, digressive, and selective presentation of the life of essayist, playwright, film director, and scriptwriter Nora Ephron (1941–2012), Washington Post columnist and author (Is It Good for the Jews?) Cohen presents his own personal memories, speculations, observations, and hearsay culled from the many years he was acquainted with her. They first met when both worked at the Post. Some parts seem to assume an audience’s general familiarity with personalities in popular journalism and film, others seem aimed with gossipy name-dropping at writers and producers in a sort of in-crowd in New York and Washington; some seem to seek agreement on the degrees of capability of film directors who are women. Ephron’s career is outlined and embellished, with emphasis on her food and cooking fixation, appearance, marriages, managerial skill in connecting and communicating, and her professional and personal challenges. Her courageous choice of a private final passing gets a lot of coverage, as does her strong admiration for her husband, Nicholas Pileggi, and friends Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, and Mike Nichols. The organization of the book is as orderly as vegetable soup, and all those vague pronoun references are hard to swallow.
Verdict See instead the many substantive and moving online remembrance articles on Ephron’s death; especially recommended is the recent HBO documentary Everything Is Copy, directed by her son, Jacob Bernstein. [See Prepub Alert, 3/28/16.]—Ann Fey, SUNY Rockland Community Coll., Suffern
Crystal, David. The Gift of the Gab: How Eloquence Works. Yale Univ. Jun. 2016. 256p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780300214260. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780300219418. LANG
While it is commonly believed that eloquence is a gift or trait that is inherent in some and absent in others, the distinguished linguist and prolific writer Crystal provides a practical and instructive guide on what exactly comprises spoken eloquence and how we can all achieve it. Using examples from the worlds of politics, Hollywood, music, popular culture, history, and the classics, Crystal shares the notion that all of us can be well spoken; we are, as he says, “homo eloquens.” There are sections on timing, audience, intonation, word choice, etc., to help us understand the success of outstanding speakers and how we can join their ranks. This highly readable book is filled with good sense and solid advice. Crystal deals effectively with different kinds of speaking occasions, including debates, broadcasting, introductions, presenting and receiving awards, and speeches for virtually every opportunity. While many eloquent speakers are cited throughout, Crystal devotes special attention to two well-known speeches: President Obama’s victory speech following the November 2008 election and Martin Luther King Jr’s address at the August 28, 1963, March on Washington are both reproduced in their entirety in the appendix. With its list of further reading, this book will be useful, informative and enjoyable.
Verdict A valuable addition to all libraries.—Herbert E. Shapiro, Lifelong Learning Soc., Florida Atlantic Univ., Boca Raton
Dolce, Joe. Brave New Weed: Adventures into the Uncharted World of Cannabis. Harper. Oct. 2016. 320p. notes. ISBN 9780062499912. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062499943. SOC SCI
Though his tongue is often firmly in his cheek, Dolce (former editor, Details and Star) is in deadly earnest here. Most people recognize that one of the great social changes of the past 20 years has been the legal status of marijuana use whether for medicinal purposes or just for pleasure. Dolce takes for granted it is a good thing. He provides a journalistic account of the contemporary scene with full portraits of examples of the medical benefits, for example, and ethnographic-like descriptions of the various dispensaries from San Francisco to Amsterdam. Political economy is discussed with the Colorado example being evidence of the benefits of taxation with legalization. Since science has also played an important role in the recent history of cannabis, considerable content is devoted to it. Dolce discusses the ways in which the various chemicals in marijuana have been synthesized, the benefits of the different breeds, and ingestion methods. Clearly, the book comes down strongly on the side of decriminalization.
Verdict General audiences will enjoy this buoyant romp through the past and present socioculture space of Mary Jane.—David Azzolina, Univ. of Pennsylvania Libs., Philadelphia
Florine, Hans with Jayme Moye. On the Nose: A Lifelong Obsession with Yosemite’s Most Iconic Climb. FalconGuides. Sept. 2016. 240p. ISBN 9781493024988. $25. SPORTS
American rock climber Florine has ascended Yosemite’s towering sheer rock wall El Capitan more than 100 times. In this memoir of his lifelong obsession, Florine details his competitive career in speed climbing events such as the X Games and his pursuit of speed records for completing the Nose route on El Capitan. While Florine’s prowess is rightfully recognized in the climbing world, this bland and somewhat superficial narrative unfortunately provides little insight into his deeper motivations and quickly becomes as repetitive as his ascents. The reasons behind Florine’s particular interest in speed climbing remain strangely opaque, and he neglects to explain to nonclimber readers why such importance is placed on speed records. The author also keeps readers at arm’s length with only limited discussion of his emotions or personal life. Florine tends toward one-dimensional step-by-step accounts of his activities, so this work mostly lacks the thoughtful reflection or perceptive self-revelation that characterizes better climbing memoirs.
Verdict Best suited to dedicated rock climbing fans or readers interested in the scene at Yosemite. Readers may also consider any of the compelling works by experienced climber-authors Joe Simpson and David Roberts.—Ingrid Levin, Salve Regina Univ. Lib., Newport, RI
Jarvis, Claire. Exquisite Masochism: Marriage, Sex, and the Novel Form. Johns Hopkins. Jun. 2016. 224p. notes. index. ISBN 9781421419930. $49.95; ebk. ISBN 9781421419947. LIT
How did respectable Victorian writers describe sex without being pornographic? This is the question that begins Jarvis’s (English, Stanford Univ.) readings of Emily Brontë, Anthony Trollope, Thomas Hardy, and modernist “outlier” D.H. Lawrence. Analysis focuses on the “exquisitely masochistic” scene, a descriptively erotic episode of sexual refusal. Often featuring an unmarried couple of a dominant woman and submissive man, exquisitely masochistic scenes develop sexual relationships through constant negotiation of the couple’s sexual and romantic connections. Jarvis reveals how these scenes complicate the ideals of conventional Victorian marriage and offer insight into social debates surrounding marriage, illicit sex, and feminism. Highly academic yet extremely readable without an overload of critical jargon and impenetrable prose, Jarvis’s argument is clearly and carefully laid out, her terms defined, and the areas where she agrees and disagrees with other critics and why are highlighted. She ensures the reader does not get lost in her close and detailed reading. Extensive notes offer further clarity and direction for additional reading; an index provides easy reference.
Verdict Jarvis’s analysis of exquisite masochism is a fascinating perspective that will leave a reader unable ever again to view particular scenes as simple description.—Stefanie Hollmichel, Univ. of St. Thomas Law Lib., Minneapolis
Love and Ruin: Stories of Obsession, Danger, and Heartbreak from The Atavist Magazine. Norton. Jul. 2016. 352p. ed. by Evan Ratliff. ISBN 9780393352719. pap. $16.95. LIT
The essays featured in this anthology are collected from the five-year-old online magazine and digital publishing platform Atavist (magazine.atavist.com), devoted to long-form nonfiction. A consistent element here is the generous space provided to the writers that allows them to expand their prose, to open their arms and stretch. This elbow room—at a premium in a print-first world—highlights the opportunities that innovative publishers can offer in the brave new digital world. However, there is some irony in returning to old-fashioned print. With this volume, the accounts lose their rich photos, interactive graphics, sound, and video, which are typical features of the site. Among the standouts selected by Atavist editor Ratliff are Leslie Jamison’s “52 Blue,” about the wanderings of a blue whale who calls with a song of unusually high frequency and becomes a proxy for the loneliness of its fans and followers; Jon Mooallem’s “American Hippopotamus,” which tells of the intertwined desire of two adventurous men to import hippos to America for meat; and David Dobbs’s “My Mother’s Lover,” in which a search for a man adrift during World War II reveals the details of lost love.
Verdict Fans of well-researched true stories will enjoy these idiosyncratic and sometimes weird pieces and will likely be drawn to the website looking for more.—Doug Diesenhaus, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill
McNeil, Donald G., Jr. Zika: The Emerging Epidemic. Norton. Jun. 2016. 208p. maps. notes. ISBN 9780393609141. $24.95; pap. ISBN 9780393353969. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393609172. SCI
Zika virus: Where did it come from? How worried do we have to be? McNeil, science and health reporter for the New York Times, lays out the facts and deftly presents readers with an opportune wake-up call to the potentially devastating consequences of this mosquito-borne virus, which was first identified in 1947 in Uganda. McNeil follows Zika’s path of infection up through the current situation in Brazil, which has garnered global attention owing to heart-wrenching images of microcephalic babies born to women infected with the virus. In addition to debunking rumors that blame the rise of microcephalic babies on other causes, McNeil has harsh words for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has been reluctant to advise women in Zika-ridden areas to delay pregnancy. The final chapter, in question-and-answer format, succinctly covers pertinent information such as symptoms, risk to unborn babies, methods of protection, sexual transmission of the disease, likelihood of a vaccine, and even the potential risk of attending the Olympics.
Verdict Zika is on the move, and transmission is increasing in Central America and the Caribbean. McNeil provides enlightening and riveting reading about this still-emerging epidemic. For general readers and those with an interest in science and health.—Ragan O’Malley, Saint Ann’s Sch., Brooklyn
Martinez, Raoul. Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future. Pantheon. Sept. 2016. 496p. notes. index. ISBN 9780307911643. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307911650. PHIL
This work is an ambitious but incomplete project divided into three sections, each worthy of its own volume. First, artist and writer Martinez presents an argument for hard determinism—determinism exists and free will is incompatible with it. Part 2 extends this argument to political consent. The final segment is an attempt at applied ethics in the face of the impossibility of free will and political consent. Martinez asserts that the foundational freedoms of our society are merely illusions, a claim he says derives from luck. Responsibility requires control, and we lack authority over whether we’re born, what circumstances we face, and what we do. While the first two statements are self-evident, his support for the last rests upon scientific data that assumes the truth of determinism, yet most of us believe that our free choices are undetermined. Even if we don’t possess common sense, undetermined free will, this argument does not undermine compatibilist conceptions of freedom and many of the freedoms that underwrite society—free markets, etc.—are compatible with determinism.
Verdict Although Martinez’s free will skepticism relies upon an unresolved metaphysical theory, his overall work here falters because it is without a metaethical theory of the good compatible with hard determinism. Not recommended.—William Simkulet, Cleveland State Univ.
Nagler, JoAnneh. How To Be an Artist Without Losing Your Mind, Your Shirt, or Your Creative Compass: A Practical Guide. Countryman. May 2016. 208p. index. ISBN 9781581573671. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781581575118. CAREERS
Written for every musician, painter, writer, photographer, or designer who wants to find the space, time, and will to do their art, Nagler’s (The Debt-Free Spending Plan) book provides the practical steps to creating a life that prioritizes the making of art. This is not a book focused on managing an artistic career; it is about managing a life that has an intentional space for creating art. Nagler’s successful experience in crafting such a life (www.anartistrylife.com) provides the impetus for this best practices manual and addresses the call of an artist, the dreaded but altogether important day job, pragmatic issues of time and money management, the artist’s work ethic and self-motivation skills, and putting it all together in an art-life map. Nagler’s practical, disciplined, no-nonsense words are those of the experienced artist and life coach providing motivational inspiration and astute counsel.
Verdict This highly recommended title will appeal to newly graduated artists in need of a guidebook as well as creative types trying to make the time to pursue their art.—Jane Scott, Clark Lib., Univ. of Portland, OR
Satter, David. The Less You Know, the Better You Sleep: Russia’s Road to Terror and Dictatorship Under Yeltsin and Putin. Yale Univ. May 2016. 240p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300211429. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780300221145. POL SCI
Satter (Darkness at Dawn), the first American journalist to be expelled from Russia since the end of the Cold War, recaps the two-plus decades of Russian leadership under Boris Yeltsin and Vladimir Putin. He intends to show that Russia is a universe based on a completely different set of values and that the West dealt with and continues to deal with the country as a normal state. Satter uses copious citations from contemporaneous Russian and non-Russian journals and newspaper articles to prove that his own memories of events are accurate. He employs qualifying phrases such as “almost certainly responsible” and “could be” and sources to paste events together and make an accurate picture where there’s no court adjudication. Since Russian courts rarely convict government officials, the truth is never quite known for sure. Satter goes into great detail about the 1999 apartment house bombings that killed hundreds of people as provocation to start the Chechen war. He likewise gets specific about hostage-taking in Dubrovka and Beslan, showing the likelihood that the Russian authorities staged the attacks, again to demonstrate provocation.
Verdict This book provides a great retrospective of Russian post–Cold War events—novice historians will love it. Satter does prove that Russian officials have little regard for the country’s citizens; the less you know, the better you sleep, indeed.—Harry Willems, Great Bend P.L., KS
White, Maurice with Herb Powell. My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire. Amistad: HarperCollins. Sept. 2016. 400p. illus. index. ISBN 9780062329158. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062329172. MUSIC
The influence of Earth, Wind and Fire (EWF), one of the all-time best-selling musical groups, was mighty. Called out by Miles Davis as his “all-time favorite band” and covered by a diverse roster of artists that includes Patti LaBelle, Chaka Khan, Wynonna Judd, Donny Osmond, and the Vienna Boys’ Choir, EWF (still touring in 2016) have spent decades entertaining listeners and impressing their peers. White founded the band in 1971 and remained a force in their music until his death from Parkinson’s disease earlier this year. From his childhood in Memphis to the Chicago Conservatory of Music, a mid-1960s stint as a session drummer for Chess Records, touring with Ramsey Lewis, and a key move to Los Angeles, the book follows the vision and journey of a talented, driven, clever, and grateful musical director and collaborator. There’s a lot of success in this story, but White doesn’t shy away from detailing the struggles and frustrations. Throughout, he remains philosophical and upbeat; this is, ultimately, a tale of triumph from a musical insider who shaped popular music.
Verdict This first-person account of the making of some of the most radio-friendly music of the 1970s and 1980s will appeal to fans of the many genres encompassed under the EWF umbrella.—Bill Baars, Lake Oswego P.L., OR