Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, November 11, 2011

Week ending November 11, 2011

Adler, Bill & Dan Charnas. Def Jam Recordings: The First 25 Years of the Last Great Record Label. Rizzoli, dist. by Random. 2011. 304p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780847833719. $60. MUSIC
As the popularity of hip-hop grew in the early 1980s, the music label Def Jam stepped in and produced stars who crossed over into mainstream music and culture. In 1984, Rick Rubin, a Jewish New York University student from the suburbs, and Russell Simmons, who worked with an artist management company, combined their talents, interests, and tastes (including punk, rap, and rock) with the sounds of New York. Within the first few years, they made what are still considered classic albums (by LL Cool J, the Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, and more). And that’s only part of the story. The label continues today, though under different leadership, showing in part the power of building on a reputation and a brand. Adler (Def Jam’s founding publicist) and Charnas (The Big Payback: The History of the Business of Hip-Hop) use some of the participants’ words to trace the company history through the moves and plays of the executives.
This handsome, oversized publication chronicles an iconic era in the history of popular music. An extremely readable and browsable book, with glorious photos.‚ Lani Smith, Ohone Coll. Lib., Fremont, CA

The Art Museum. Phaidon. 2011. c.992p. illus. maps. ISBN 9780714856520. $200. FINE ARTS
In this oversized (16¬Ω” x 12 5/8″), heavy (almost 18 lbs.), extensively and lavishly illustrated (2700 color reproductions, including details) publication, the Phaidon editors and a global team of 100 archaeologists, art educators, art historians, museum curators, scholars, and other specialists attempt to present an ideal or virtual museum between two book covers. Unrestricted by the constraints of physical space or a budget, they have assembled one of the finest, nearly comprehensive art collections, ten years in the making, featuring close to 1000 double-page spreads of over 2600 masterworks, spanning three millennia and culled from 650 museums, galleries, and private collections in 60 countries. Telling the history of world art, this book is organized into 25 color-coded galleries, which bring together many inaccessible or unpublished artworks along with iconic ones.
Unprecedented, unique, and vast in scope, this visually spectacular survey of world art belongs in large public, academic, and special libraries. Destined to delight, inspire, and educate, as well as become an invaluable, classic, art reference resource, it is very highly recommended.‚ Cheryl Ann Lajos, Free Lib. of Philadelphia

Bowe, Alice. High-Impact, Low-Carbon Gardening: 1001 Ways To Garden Sustainably. Timber. 2011. 264p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780881929980. pap. $24.95. GARDENING
Ecologically sound gardening doesn’t have to compromise on aesthetics or choice, as this beautifully illustrated book shows. Bowe, a British garden designer, brings her artistic training and eye to what it realistically takes to create the high-impact but sustainable garden‚ including what Americans would call a front yard. She covers basic principles of sustainable gardening, understanding the soil and water available on a site; choosing materials for paths, paving, lawns, decks, furniture, and walls; and selecting and caring for appropriate plants and advanced features such as green roofs and swimming pools. Throughout there is an emphasis on opting for locally or sustainably sourced materials and grasping how climate change may affect plant choices. Ultimately, a thoughtful and pragmatic approach, rather than the prescriptive tone sometimes found in this genre, makes this a very appealing source.
North American gardeners will find plenty here, despite the British focus. Appropriate for gardeners looking to understand basic principles of planning a sustainable garden or looking for inspiration regarding specific topics.‚ Margaret Heller, Dominican Univ. Lib., River Forest, IL

Cannon, Steve & others. L.A. Object & David Hammons Body Prints. Tilton, dist. by D.A.P. 2011. 424p. ed. by Connie Rogers Tilton & Lindsay Charlwood. illus. index. ISBN 9781427613745. $65. FINE ARTS
A sprawling and ambitious book, this title examines the work of David Hammons, Noah Purifoy, and other black Los Angeles‚ based artists who worked with found objects in the 1960s and 1970s. Although these artists have been largely written out of received art historical narratives on the basis both of their ethnicity and their geography, this book makes a forceful case for their importance. In her introductory essay, Kellie Jones (art history, Columbia Univ.) argues that by combining avant-garde, performative, and conceptual techniques to engage the political struggles of 1960s Watts, Hammons and others rejected the traditional cultural politics of representation and affirmation and expanded simple ‚Äònotions’ of what ‚Äòblack art’ could be.
Verdict Full of not only scholarly texts but a wealth of engaging primary documents‚ including transcribed oral histories and rarely seen photographs, exhibition flyers, and installation shots‚ this book will appeal to a broad readership. A wide-ranging and informative study that will hopefully stimulate further interest in the largely neglected subfield of West Coast and multicultural contemporary art history.‚ Jonathan Patkowski, CUNY Graduate Ctr.

Garner, James & Jon Winokur. The Garner Files: A Memoir. S. & S. Nov. 2011. c.288p. photogs. ISBN 9781451642605. $25.99. FILM
The best advertisement for Garner’s new memoir is that he relates the stories of his life in the same amiable and gentlemanly voice of his most famous roles. This, of course, leads to the conclusion that his characters Bret Maverick (Maverick), Jim Rockford (The Rockford Files), and Murphy Jones (Murphy’s Romance) are so popular because they closely resemble Garner. A fairly humble person, unafraid of self-criticism and honest appraisals by those around him, Garner covers all the bases one would expect in a Hollywood memoir. Yet he also writes about his difficult childhood and his service in Korea; through all the commentary on films he’s made and performers he’s worked with, his honesty about himself and others is what makes this memoir a little different than the rest. Garner can be critical but not cruel, self-effacing without seeming falsely humble. The book also contains over 30 stories about him written by friends and family; actress Julie Andrews wrote the introduction.
An enjoyable look into the life of one of our most beloved actors. Recommended for all libraries.‚ Peter Thornell, Hingham P.L., MA

Grant, Corinne. Lessons in Letting Go: Confessions of a Hoarder. Allen & Unwin, dist. by Trafalgar Square. Jan. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9781741753424. pap. $19.95. SELF-HELP
When Australian comedian Grant realized that she is a hoarder, she began to reflect on her past to determine how she lost control. She struggles in fits and starts to declutter and organize, calculating at one point that it will take her two sleepless years to accomplish the task. Wallowing in the feelings and memories associated with her things frustrates her attempts to let go of them. A trip to Bali, where she makes friends and experiences the freedom of being unfettered by clutter, helps motivate her. She has an epiphany during a journey to Jordan. Meeting refugees who’ve left their homes behind provides Grant with the perspective she needs to get rid of unnecessary possessions. In the end (and with a new, uncluttered house), Grant discovers the happiness of having her stuff and her life under control. The book also offers 22 commonsense tips for hoarders trying to reform.
Verdict This lighthearted memoir will resonate with those who pick up every decluttering book or readers interested in the story of a hoarder.‚ Janet Clapp, North Clarendon, VT

Henzel, Laurie & Debbie Stoller. The BUST DIY Guide to Life: Making Your Way Through Every Day. STC Craft: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. 2011. 368p. illus. index. ISBN 9781584798965. $29.95. HOME ECON
BUST magazine has been a pioneer in reexamining the domestic skills many feminists left behind; it introduced a craft column as early as 1997 and established craft fairs in 2006. Now, founders and publishers Henzel and Stoller have pulled together a compilation of the magazine’s best DIY material that not only resurrects old-fashioned skills previously dominated by women (like candle-making) but provides strategies for managing the challenges modern, independent people face. This book has something to suit almost any young woman. Two hundred and fifty entries are categorized into five parts covering home and garden, fashion, health and beauty, food, and Moving & Shaking (tackling issues like finance, entrepreneurship, and travel). Filled with the unabashed attitude BUST fans enjoy, this is far edgier than Erin Bried’s delightful How To Sew a Button or Kate Payne’s basic The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking, neither of which tackle sexuality.
Colorful, quirky illustrations and provocative headings grab a browser’s attention, but there is substance and a good index, too. Recommended. [Previewed in Booked Solid, LJ 7/11; see also the LJ 11/1/11 Collection Development article on homemaking (ow.ly/7p8dP).‚ Ed.]‚ Bonnie Poquette, Milwaukee

Hertog, Susan. Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson; New Women in Search of Love and Power. Ballantine. Nov. 2011. c.512p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780345459862. $30. COMM
Journalists Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson stand out as trailblazers, women who struggled to step outside of their prescribed gender roles in the first half of the 20th century to take on issues of international significance. This dual biography traces the parallels between the two women, born in 1890 and friends, as they crafted their voices as writers and public intellectuals. Each fought unsuccessfully to balance personal relationships and family with her career. Hertog (Anne Morrow Lindbergh: Her Life) draws on hundreds of letters and other primary-source materials to bring to life world events, the literary spheres of the women, and their personal lives, including West’s relationship with H.G. Wells and Thompson’s with Sinclair Lewis. A dual biography is challenging, and Hertog’s alternating chapters sometimes disrupt the narrative flow.
Feminist scholars, journalism and literary historians, and readers interested in women’s history will welcome this detailed account of two passionate women who struggled to integrate their intellectual lives with their longing for love and family. [See Prepub Alert, 5/2/11.]‚ Judy Solberg, Seattle Univ. Lib.

Isaacson, Walter. Steve Jobs. S. & S. 2011. c.630p. ISBN 9781451648539. $35. BUS
Isaacson’s (Einstein: His Life and Universe) new biography of Steve Jobs (1955‚ 2011) will satisfy the curiosity of all those looking to delve into the nitty-gritty details of the tech titan’s life. Though it begins with a traditional sketch of his parents (both biological and adopted) and birth, the book quickly gets down to business: readers see the creation of the Apple I within the first 60 pages. Isaacson’s primary focus is on Jobs’s professional life, and chapters are often organized around a single product, e.g., the Mac or the iPod. Jobs emerges a man who cares deeply about the wares he sells and the companies he builds, but one who (famously) is all but unbearable for it. Starting his career smelly and shoeless, the eccentric Jobs even at the end of his life eschewed cancer treatment for nine crucial months on behalf of a strict, carrot-juice-heavy diet.
Isaacson has produced a full, detailed account of an influential man’s life, but the style never rises above that of a well-graded research paper. As for Jobs, readers will newly admire their iPhones but not the near-sadistic management style that produced them. [See Prepub Alert, 8/26/11.]‚ Molly McArdle, Library Journal

Jacobson, Howard. Whatever It Is, I Don’t Like It: The Best of Howard Jacobson. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Mar. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9781608197989. pap. $18. COMM
As a longtime columnist for the UK’s The Independent, Jacobson (No More Mister Nice Guy) has no compunction in telling readers exactly what he thinks about any given subject, whether literature, the arts, or people he knows. Since his tastes tend toward the highbrow world of classical music and literary fiction, Jacobson, whose comic novel The Finkler Question won the Man Booker Prize in 2010, derides most pop culture as inane and trifling. Yet, he makes these observations in this collection of his previously published columns not with self-seriousness but with humor and a wink. He addresses such disparate topics as the disposal of his father-in-law’s ashes, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Leonard Cohen, and Richard Wagner.
For followers of the novelist’s work, students of opinion journalism, and Anglophiles. Familiarity with contemporary British life and culture, while not necessary, enhances readers’ appreciation of Jacobson’s commentary and understanding of his topical references.‚ Donna Marie Smith, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL

O’Neal, Shaquille with Jackie MacMullan. Shaq Uncut: My Story. Grand Central. Nov. 2011. c.304p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781455504411. $27.99. SPORTS
There are many NBA fans, this reviewer included, who consider Shaquille O’Neal among the most charming and downright funny sports superstars of the past 20 years. His second autobiography after Shaq Talks Back, which left off at the end of the 2000 season, this is written with MacMullan (NBA columnist, ESPN.com; coauthor with Larry Bird and Earvin Johnson Jr., When the Game Was Ours)‚ and it captures Shaq’s personality, verve, and honesty. The new book revisits the past and also chronicles O’Neal’s journey to his 2011 retirement with four NBA titles. Shaq talks about his childhood and his relationship with his stepfather, addresses the conflicts he has had on and off the basketball court, and discusses his charities and other interests, including his studying to become a police officer in Los Angeles and Miami Beach. Readers looking for Shaq’s opinions of his famous teammates (Kobe Bryant, Anfernee Hardaway, LeBron James) will not be disappointed. After all, this is Shaq Uncut!
An enjoyable read recommended to all NBA and O’Neal fans.‚ Todd Spires, Bradley Univ. Lib., Peoria, IL

Paisley, Brad & David Wild. Diary of a Player: How My Musical Heroes Made a Guitar Man Out of Me. Howard: S. & S. Nov. 2011. c.256p. illus. ISBN 9781451625523. $25. MUSIC
Country music superstar guitarist and singer-songwriter Paisley has collaborated with Wild (He Is‚ĶI Say: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love Neil Diamond) on this somewhat unusual memoir. Paisley’s focus is not so much on autobiographical detail as on the role that music‚ and specifically the guitar and guitarists‚ have had on his life. From his guitarist grandfather to established West Virginia artists who supported him musically during his prodigious teen years to his contemporaries, Paisley describes the connections that music and the guitar have helped him make to older generations, his heroes, and his friends. Paisley and Wild write in an easygoing, personal style that suggests the experience of actually sitting down with the musician and hearing him describe his life in music and the lessons he’s learned.
Verdict A must-read for any fan of Paisley, this book really tells readers what makes him tick. Highly recommended for all country fans.‚ James E. Perone, Univ. of Mount Union, Alliance, OH

Rhodes, Richard. Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World. Doubleday. Nov. 2011. c.272p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780385534383. $26.95. FILM
Here’s a recipe that might surprise you: take a silver-screen sex goddess (Hedy Lamarr), an avant-garde composer (George Antheil), a Hollywood friendship, and mutual technological curiosity, and mix well. What results is a patent for spread-spectrum radio, which has impacted the development of everything from torpedoes to cell phones and GPS technologies. This surprising and long-forgotten story is brought to life by Pulitzer Prize winner Rhodes (The Making of the Atomic Bomb), who deftly moves between Nazi secrets, scandalous films, engineering breakthroughs, and musical flops to weave a taut story that straddles two very different worlds‚ the entertainment industry and wartime weaponry‚ and yet somehow manages to remain a delectable read.
Hedy Lamarr is experiencing something of a renaissance, and Rhodes’s book adds another layer to the life of a beautiful woman who was so much more than the sum of her parts. It will appeal to a wide array of readers, from film, technology, and patent scholars to those looking for an unusual romp through World War II‚ era Hollywood.‚ Teri Shiel, Westfield State Univ. Lib., MA