Nonfiction: Frank Little & Labor, Forces of Nature, Gershom Scholem, Native American Women | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 7, 2017

Botkin, Jane Little. Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family. Univ. of Oklahoma. May 2017. 512p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780806155005. $34.95. BIOG
Botkin explores the life of Frank Little (1879–1917), a prominent member of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) during its radical effort to organize laborers in the early 20th century. This first book-length biography covers his life from the early hardscrabble years in Oklahoma to his peripatetic efforts with unskilled laborers throughout the West to, ultimately, his violent death. Little combined his belief in the IWW’s “One Big Union” concept with agitation on behalf of free speech for labor organizers and supporters, who often encountered fierce corporate and legal resistance. His frenetic organizing took him from the farm fields of California to Minnesota’s Iron Range and the copper mines of the Southwest. Little championed workers and became a target of union-busting businessmen. He endured brutal opposition and grave injuries, including his eventual lynching outside of Butte, MT. Botkin’s considerable research is documented through notes, a bibliography, and photos. Although the early chapters have a tedious family-history feel (Botkin is a distant relative of her subject), the narrative becomes compelling and informative, even for those unfamiliar with the IWW and labor struggles of the time.
Verdict Especially appealing for those interested in the history of the American West and labor history.—Charles K. Piehl, Minnesota State Univ., Mankato

starred review starKrauss, Lawrence M. The Greatest Story Ever Told—So Far: Why Are We Here? Atria. Mar. 2017. 336p. illus. index. ISBN 9781476777610. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781476777634. SCI
greateststory040717The story of reality—or at least as we understand it—this book is a testament to perseverance, a riveting account of dogged scientific effort to comprehend the fundamental forces of nature. Krauss (director, Origins Project, Arizona State Univ.; Fear of Physics) has a knack for making complex concepts accessible to lay readers who are willing to put in time and energy. Covering everything from Plato’s allegory of the cave to the discovery of the Higgs boson and beyond, he describes the process by which scientists made sense of the universe, a long, arduous, and collaborative journey filled with false starts, red herrings, twists and turns, and creative thinking. While many consider the Bible to be the greatest story ever told, Krauss believes that this tale is the better one, a look at how science explains the mysteries of the origins and smallest building blocks of life.
Verdict A must-read for anyone who enjoyed Krauss’s previous titles, especially A Universe from Nothing, and those interested in delving into the history of science.—Holly Boyer, Reston, VA

Prochnik, George. Stranger in a Strange Land: Searching for Gershom Scholem and Jerusalem. Other. Mar. 2017. 544p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781590517765. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781590517772. REL
On this spiritual journey, writer Prochnik (The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World) traces the intellectual and mystical arc of Gershom Scholem, the German-born Israeli philosopher who advanced theories of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. In this complex and intricate narrative, the author attempts to sort through the contradictions and paradoxes of Scholem’s (1897–1982) philosophy while also explicating Scholem’s journey and relationship with Israel and mystical Judaism. Prochnik’s own sojourn to Israeli in the 1990s resulted in his coming to terms with the increasing consumerism and tense politics that informed that decade. Ultimately, he returned to the United States, disillusioned with a society that he perceived as increasingly right-wing.
Verdict Recommended for specialized readers drawn to Jewish mysticism and Jewish messianism and those interested in Prochnik’s peregrinations in the footsteps of Scholem, Sabbatai Zevi, and Theodore Herzl.—Herbert E. Shapiro, Lifelong Learning Soc., Florida Atlantic Univ., Boca Raton

Wellman, Candace. Peace Weavers: Uniting the Salish Coast Through Cross-Cultural Marriages. Washington State Univ. May 2017. 290p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780874223460. pap. $27.95. HIST
Observing that Native American women were largely absent in the histories of the Pacific Northwest, Wellman addresses what she views as an intentional and unacceptable oversight. Her focus is on the environs of Whatcom County, WA, in the mid-1800s and its population of Indian women married to Euroamerican men. From that group, she chose to detail the lives of four extraordinary women to show how they navigated the intersection of native and Euroamerican cultures and how that impacted their respective families and communities. Wellman concluded that these women served as cultural brokers, ensuring peaceful coexistence between natives and citizens of the United States, hence the moniker “Peace Weavers.” The weakness of her argument is that violence erupted in other counties along the Puget Sound with similar demographics. Peace Weavers had to have been in those communities as well, yet peaceful coexistence proved elusive. Why? Unfortunately, that difficult question is not considered.
Verdict Recommended for readers interested in the history of western Washington. Those seeking comprehensive studies of the key roles undertaken by Native American women in the Euroamerican settlement of the West should consider Susan Sleeper-Smith’s Indian Women and French Men: Rethinking Cultural Encounter in the Western Great Lakes and James F. Brooks’s Captives and Cousins.—John R. Burch, Campbellsville Univ. Lib., KY

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