Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, December 2, 2011

Week ending December 2, 2011

Battaglio, Stephen. From Yesterday to Today: Six Decades of America’s Favorite Morning Show. Running Pr. Nov. 2011. c.272p. photogs. ISBN 9780762444625. $30. TV
This lovely and picturesque scrapbook takes a 60-year walk down NBC’s memory lane to honor the Today Show. Battaglio (business editor, TV Guide; David Susskind: A Televised Life) wends his way chronologically through the show’s history, allowing the stars to tell a good portion of the story via extensive interviews with Barbara Walters, Bryant Gumbel, Katie Couric, Jane Pauley, Hugh Downs, Willard Scott, Tom Brokaw, and Joe Garagiola. Among the fetching and seemingly endless anecdotes are such revelatory tidbits as inaugural host Dave Garroway’s Dexedrine/vitamin concoction known as The Doctor, Hugh Downs’s color blindness and his system for selecting matching clothes, and a comical exchange between Robert Kennedy and a parrot.
Verdict With its bountiful photographs and interviews, this valentine to the Today Show celebrates a program that has been woven into our collective historical narrative by virtue of its ongoing presence and coverage of national and international events for the past 60 years. The best kind of memory book‚ beautiful, informative, and evocative.‚ Barry X. Miller, Austin P.L., TX

Farris, Scott. Almost President: The Men Who Lost the Race but Changed the Nation. Lyons: Globe Pequot. Jan. 2012. 352p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780762763788. $24.95. HIST
Farris (former bureau chief, United Press International) bases this book on the premise that the losers of our country’s presidential elections can be as influential‚ and as interesting to read about‚ as the winners. From Henry Clay, the greatest legislator in American history, to Al Gore, who went on to devote his efforts to fighting global warming, to John Kerry to John McCain, Farris effectively demonstrates that many party nominees in presidential races were able to accomplish more in defeat than they ever could have achieved through victory. He profiles 12 losing candidates, e.g., Al Smith, who lost to Herbert Hoover in 1928, who fought bias and bigotry simply in being the first Roman Catholic presidential nominee and helped change the landscape for Catholics in politics. Ross Perot’s surprisingly successful campaign challenged the political status quo and set the stage for future outsider candidates.
Verdict Based on published sources, this book does a great job supporting the thesis that the profiled figures had greater ability to promote their agendas precisely because they did not win the presidency. A terrific resource for general presidential history buffs and high school and undergraduate libraries.‚ Michele Martin, Sonoma Acad. Lib., Santa Rosa, CA

Great Discoveries in Medicine. Thames & Hudson, dist. by Norton. 2011. 304p. ed. by William Bynum & Helen Bynum. illus. index. ISBN 9780500251805. $45. MED
Coeditors of the Dictionary of Medical Biography, husband-and-wife team William (history of medicine, emeritus, Univ. Coll. London) and Helen Bynum (history of medicine, former lecturer, Univ. of Liverpool), along with an international team of 49 experts, guide readers through the history and heroes of modern medicine. This beautifully designed, quarto-sized volume features 382 illustrations from classical art to medieval engravings to early photographs to the latest examples of medical imaging and electronic microscopes. Egyptian, Chinese, Indian, Islamic, and Greek medical traditions are covered both in the text and in the images, which enriches the dominant narrative of Western medical progress. Seven topical sections include chapters on medical devices, historically important diseases, drugs, surgery, and life-saving innovations such as vaccines, insulin, and dialysis. Complementary medicine is treated respectfully, although nutrition is omitted. Mental illness and psychoanalysis are also well covered. The book portrays medical progress as gained through incremental steps as well as broad strides, often arriving somewhere new unexpectedly, via outsiders who challenged the medical establishment.
Verdict A striking and informative history, this book should be the go-to gift for many medical professionals this holiday season.‚ Kathy Arsenault, St. Petersburg, FL

Gulevich, Tanya. Christmas from A to Z. Omnigraphics. 2011. 573p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780780812444. pap. $29.95. REF
In this well-researched and clearly written volume, Gulevich (Encyclopedia of Christmas & New Year’s Celebrations) includes more than 200 alphabetically arranged entries that average two to three pages in length and explore the history, observances, legends, customs, and symbols of the holiday from antiquity to modern festivities. Topics include folk customs and beliefs, food and beverages, entertainment, how Christmas was and is celebrated in Bethlehem (West Bank and Pennsylvania) and Colonial Williamsburg, slaves’ Christmases and interfaith holiday gatherings, and modern developments such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday. Religious coverage details the historical background of the day from its origins as a Christian celebration to influences from other ancient or pagan rituals (Saturnalia, Winter Solstice, and Zagmuk), the historical figures involved, midnight mass, and Epiphany. Selections from the accounts of Jesus’s birth in the Gospels of Luke and Matthew are followed by a discussion of the different narratives. The cross-referenced volume is richly illustrated with sketches.
Verdict This terrific resource is highly recommended for large public and parish libraries.‚ Jacquline Parascandola, Columbia Univ. Libs., New York

Hester, Kathy. The Vegan Slow Cooker: Simply Set It and Go with 150 Recipes for Intensely Flavorful, Fuss-Free Fare Everyone (Vegan or Not!) Will Devour. Fair Winds: Quayside. 2011. 224p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781592334643. pap. $19.99. COOKING
Hester, who blogs at healthyslowcooking.com and busyvegan.com, has written a no-nonsense, easy-to-understand guide to vegan slow cooking. The first chapter is a brief introduction to the slow cooker, with an ingredient substitution list. In the next 12 chapters, readers learn how to make soups, stews, curries, casseroles, breads, party dips, and desserts, among other items. Hester draws her inspiration primarily from American (Chick’n Mushroom Casserole; Corn-Tastic Tex-Mex Loaf), Indian (Baigan Bharta; Easy Veggie Chickpea Biryani), and Asian (Ma Po Tofu; Thai Red Curry Tofu and Vegetables) cuisine, but many other culinary traditions are represented. Soy- and gluten-free dishes are clearly labeled, but a list of these dishes isn’t included in a separate index. Dishes are indexed by the main ingredient, so Tofu Bouillabaise and the Smoked Tofu and Stars soup recipe are both found under tofu. In a larger cookbook, this would be detrimental; here, it is merely annoying.
Verdict This is a great slow-cooker cookbook with scrumptious dishes featuring ingredients that are easy to find in any major grocery store.‚ Mary Schons, Hammond P.L., Munster, IN

Learning To Live Out Loud cover imageLaurie, Piper. Learning To Live Out Loud. Crown Archetype. Nov. 2011. c.368p. photogs. ISBN 9780823026685. $24.99. FILM
In her memoir, Laurie intimately describes her fascinating life. Born Rosetta Jacobs in Detroit, she moved to California in her late teens and quickly became one of Hollywood’s most sought after young actresses. She worked with Ronald Reagan (whom she also dated) in Louisa, Rock Hudson in Has Anybody Seen My Gal?, and Tony Curtis in Son of Ali Baba and other movies. Laurie soon grew disenchanted with the work she was being offered and wanted to have more substantive roles as an actress. She turned the perceptions of her around and was eventually nominated for three Oscars (for The Hustler, Carrie, and Children of a Lesser God). She also found fulfillment in her role as a mother and in her other artistic endeavors.
Verdict Laurie’s narrative is compelling as she portrays her decades of changing creative direction as she strived to better herself. An enjoyable entertainment-world autobiography. [See Prepub Alert, 12/6/10.]‚ Sally Bryant, Pepperdine Univ. Lib., Malibu, CA

Murphy, Brian D. See Mix Drink: A Refreshingly Simple Guide to Crafting the World’s Most Popular Cocktails. Little, Brown. 2011. c.232p. illus. index. ISBN 9780316176712. $14.99. BEVERAGES
Cocktail enthusiast Murphy takes a simple, visual approach to classic and popular cocktails with 100 brand-agnostic, easy-to-follow recipes, organized by base spirit. His book stands out from other titles with its fun and retro info graphics. Each recipe spans two pages and includes illustrations of the ingredients, a description or history of the recipe, visual instructions, calories, proportions, and information on the best occasion for serving it. The calories listed are approximations, as Murphy equates one ounce of lemon juice with one ounce of a spirit. The index is organized by drink name and color-coded by spirit.
Verdict This is a great entry-level book for the cocktail lover looking to learn a few recipes and build confidence. It is also one of few guides with caloric information. Recommended for cocktail novices and calorie-conscious imbibers.‚ Maura Deedy, Weymouth P.L., MA

Szpiro, George G. Pricing the Future: Finance, Physics, and the 300-Year Journey to the Black-Scholes Equation; A Story of Genius and Discovery. Basic Bks: Perseus. Dec. 2011. c.336p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9780465022489. $28. ECON
Mathematician, financial economist, and journalist Szpiro (Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present) brings all his expertise to bear when explaining how the mathematical blocks fell into place to build the 1973 Black-Scholes equation for pricing financial options. Along the way, Szpiro fleshes out the personalities, backgrounds, and accomplishments of dozens of mathematicians and other contributors. He starts with 1600s Dutch tulip options and works his way through French mathematician Louis Bachelier’s pioneering 1900 dissertation on financial markets and the increased use of mathematics in economics during the 20th century, all laying the groundwork for Black-Scholes. Szpiro recounts how the equation launched its creators and other academics into Wall Street prominence and how the continued quantification of securities both made markets more efficient and created the tools underlying the debacles of the Long Term Capital Management hedge fund and, later, the 2008 financial crisis.
Verdict By substituting plain-language explanations for equations and including interesting anecdotes, Szpiro makes his tale of how an idea evolves over time and of the inner workings of academia interesting and accessible for most readers. Recommended to those interested in the history of mathematics or finance.‚ Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA

Truman, Sarah E. Searching for Guan Yin. White Pine, dist. by Consortium. 2011. 220p. ISBN 9781935210283. pap. $16. TRAV
One of the pleasures of travel writing is to read about chance encounters that broaden horizons. In this regard, Truman’s first book appeals as she introduces her readers to colorful characters who offer different perspectives on Chinese culture and politics. Readers’ interest will soon wane, however, because of Truman’s indecisive voice. In this series of essays on China, Tibet, and Laos recalling her journeys in search of all things associated with the bodhisattva Guan Yin, the tone swings wildly among amusement, irritation, indifference, and utter despondency, making it difficult to grasp Truman’s true feelings.
Verdict Though a self-proclaimed Guan Yin disciple, Truman lacks the compassion and mercy of the bodhisattva, as evidenced by her fickle opinions of the Chinese. While she comes to believe that our world is mutable, it doesn’t excuse her continual failure to reach a conclusion or make a decision, which causes this work to read like an undeveloped record of impressions of China.‚ Victor Or, Vancouver & Surrey P.L., B.C.

Wharton, Glenn. The Painted King: Art, Activism, and Authenticity in Hawai’i. Univ. of Hawaii. 2011. c.232p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780824834951. $42; pap. ISBN 9780824836122. $19. FINE ARTS
This is a story of a famous king, a sculpture, a community’s unique relationship to a public monument, and one man’s attempt to negotiate his way around a controversial art restoration. In the late 19th century, two larger-than-life portrait sculptures of the first king of Hawaii, Kamehameha I, were cast. One ended up in a small community near his hometown. Over the years the people in the town made the monument a central feature in their community by repeatedly painting it, decorating it with flowers and food, and performing annual rituals around it. Wharton, hired to restore the sculpture by the government, found himself at the center of controversy: there was a diversity of opinions about how any changes to the sculpture should take place. Wharton’s entertaining personal narrative easily draws the reader into what he had to face as he tried to balance his professional standards, a community’s feelings, and the best interests of a beloved work of art.
Verdict Highly recommended for anyone interested in the nature of art and the history of Hawaii.‚ Eugene C. Burt, Seattle

Young, Paul A. Adventures with Chocolate: 80 Sensational Recipes. Kyle: Kyle Cathie, dist. by National Bk. Network. Nov. 2011. 144p. illus. index. ISBN 9781906868055. $24.95. COOKING
Ranked among the world’s top ten chocolatiers, London-based Young is revolutionizing chocolate making in Britain with his decadent, contemporary flavor combinations. His first cookbook, originally published in the UK in 2009, showcases his passion for creating distinctive chocolate dishes and flavor pairings. The book exudes a quirky British slant in the form of less-familiar ingredients (Marmite appears in a truffle recipe) and most notably via Young’s spirit and wit. An unpretentious and generous teacher, he happily admits that many of his flavor combinations are outlandish, hinting that this just adds to the fun. Detailed step-by-step tutorials on making truffles and ganache serve as a foundation for the recipes that follow. Though some recipes require specialized ingredients, the suggested techniques and equipment are suitable for both beginners and experienced cooks. Young provides valuable guidance on choosing the best chocolate varietal and type for each recipe. The final chapter focuses on using chocolate in unexpected ways, such as in savory dishes and sauces.
Verdict Even die-hard chocoholics will find plenty of new ideas in this beautifully designed book; highly recommended.‚ Kelsy Peterson, Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS