Social Sciences Reviews, March 15, 2012

starred review starGoldsmith, Elizabeth C. The Kings’ Mistresses: The Liberated Lives of Marie Mancini, Princess Colonna, and Her Sister Hortense, Duchess Mazarin. PublicAffairs: Perseus. Apr. 2012. c.272p. index. ISBN 9781586488895. $26.99. BIOG

This dual biography relates the interesting but little-known saga of the Mancini sisters, nieces of Cardinal Mazarin, giant of French statecraft. Born in Italy but summoned to the French court as children, Marie and Hortense defied the strictures that bound women’s lives then. Goldsmith (French, Boston Univ.) uses letters, memoirs, family papers, and other archival sources to share the story of two women who were feminists long before the word existed. Trapped in loveless marriages arranged for political purposes, they became celebrities but also targets of scorn and ridicule because of their public legal battles with their husbands as well as their travels and love affairs. In her youth, Marie had a fairy-tale romance with the young Louis XIV, while Hortense became mistress to England’s Charles II (hence the book’s title). Goldsmith presents the sisters as pioneers who embraced notoriety by publishing accounts of their unconventional lives. Their prominence during the emergence of print journalism prompted debates on women’s rights, marriage, and property laws. Goldsmith interweaves their stories with those of other women of the period. VERDICT General readers of historical biography and scholars of women’s history will enjoy this spirited account that humanizes the experiences of 17th-century women.‚ Marie Marmo Mullaney, Caldwell Coll., NJ

starred review starFrench, Paul. Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China. Penguin. Apr. 2012. c.272p. ISBN 9780143121008. $26. CRIME

In January 1937, the mutilated body of Pamela Werner was found on the outskirts of old Peking (Beijing). After an unsuccessful investigation into the slaughter of this 19-year-old English expatriate, the case was eventually closed and forgotten as World War II escalated in China. Now Shanghai-based business analyst and historian French (Through the Looking Glass: China’s Foreign Journalists from Opium Wars to Mao) reopens the cold case and attempts to bring some justice to Pamela’s memory in this skillfully told true-crime thriller. French writes a remarkably coherent narrative by stringing together details from official police reports, newspaper articles, interviews, and, perhaps most helpful, E.T.C. Werner’s report from his personal investigation into his daughter’s horrific murder. VERDICT Treating his subjects with expertise and compassion, French creates a riveting portrait of the complicated tensions that existed during wartime in a city on the brink of destruction. As he slowly unravels the clues, he reveals a crime more shocking than anyone had ever imagined. This is a difficult book to put down! Recommended for readers interested in detective novels, Chinese history, and everything in between.‚ Rebekah Wallin, Paris, France

starred review starLatell, Brian. Castro’s Secrets: The CIA and Cuba’s Intelligence Machine. Palgrave Macmillan. Apr. 2012. c.288p. index. ISBN 9780230621237. $27. INT AFFAIRS

Former CIA national intelligence officer for Latin America and Cuba specialist Latell follows his successful After Fidel with a riveting look inside Cuban intelligence and at the spymaster himself, Fidel Castro. Using declassified government documents and interviews with intelligence operatives on both sides, Latell weaves a story of espionage and double agents worthy of the pages of Tom Clancy or John Le Carré. Much of his story comes from defector Florentino Aspillaga Lombard, who turned in 1987. Lombard’s insights alone make for a fascinating tale, but Latell backs his narrative with other sources just as useful. The author’s conclusions reveal a Cuban intelligence community that outsmarted their American counterparts time and again. He asserts two debatable points yet supports them with credible sources‚ that Castro knew of Oswald’s plot to assassinate John F. Kennedy and that the Cuban leader pushed for Soviet premier Khrushchev to engage in a nuclear war during the Cuban Missile Crisis. VERDICT An outstanding read for Cuba watchers and those who follow Castro’s continued machinations against America.‚ Boyd Childress, formerly Auburn Univ. Lib., AL

starred review starWalsh, Mikey. Gypsy Boy: My Life in the Secret World of the Romany Gypsies. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9780312622084. $24.99. AUTOBIOG

A best seller in the U.K., this stunning childhood memoir takes readers into the insular culture of Romany Gypsies. The pseudonymous Walsh was born in Britain to a third-generation champion of bare-knuckle fighting and a supportive but undemonstrative mother. His family moved frequently between camps, along with others in their tight-knit community. Forced to box from age four, Walsh lacked both the will and the talent to inherit his father’s title. Disappointed and ashamed, Walsh’s father, who had a hair-trigger temper, beat him severely throughout his childhood. At seven, Walsh was raped by an uncle, whose sexual abuse of his nephew soon became as routine as the father’s physical abuse. As a teenager, gay and closeted, Walsh turned his attention to navigating (and escaping) his intolerant society, but his intriguing adolescence reads almost as an afterthought to his fascinating, appalling childhood. VERDICT It is astounding that Walsh survived such brutality, without emotional support or formal education, to pen this unflinching but oddly generous memoir, demonstrating a respectful attitude toward Romany culture and affection toward his family. A sure bet for fans of dysfunction memoir and for armchair anthropologists; the hopeful coming-out story also recommends this for readers of LGBTQ themes.‚ Janet Ingraham Dwyer, State Lib. of Ohio, Columbus

starred review starMaddow, Rachel. Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power. Crown. Apr. 2012. c.288p. index. ISBN 9780307460981. $25. POL SCI

On her MSNBC show, Maddow delights in reminding viewers that she’s an infrastructure geek. Now, regarding two manifestations of U.S. infrastructure‚ the Constitution and our underlying methods, post-JFK, of supporting U.S. military incursions‚ she shows how we have drifted away from established templates outlining how this country goes to war. She begins with LBJ in Vietnam (he used only active duty servicemen‚ thus the draft‚ to avoid Guards and Reserves bringing the war home around the country). From President Carter she segues to President Reagan, studying aspects of his military (mis)deeds in four core chapters. After an analysis of George H.W. Bush and Desert Shield comes her look at Doing More with Less (Hassle), a particularly horrifying study of what our outsourcing of military quality of life services has wrought. Maddow wears her expertise lightly, counterbalancing hard details with phrases (e.g., the lemons-into-lemonade-moment or the sliding-off-the-aircraft-carrier-thing) that keep her narrative invigorating even as she offers the occasional periodic sentence that would make Gibbon proud. VERDICT Maddow can be sassy, but she’s deadly serious. Having noted our executive branch’s growing disregard for the disincentives to war deliberately built into our American system of government, she ends with a to-do list for finding our way back to a reasonable national security state. Highly recommended to all readers engaged in the world today and with how we got here.‚ Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal

The following titles are reviewed in the March 15 print issue. Visit our Reviews Center (Beta) for the full reviews.


Women Writing on Family: Tips on Writing, Teaching, and Publishing. Key Publishing House. 2012. c.343p. ed. by Carol Smallwood & Suzann Holland. index. ISBN 9781926780139. $27.99. COMM


Olivas, Michael A. No Undocumented Child Left Behind: Plyler v. Doe and the Education of Undocumented Schoolchildren. New York Univ. 2012. c.208p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780814762448. $35. ED

Rhodes, Jesse H. An Education in Politics: The Origins and Evolution of No Child Left Behind. Cornell Univ. May 2012. c.256p. index. ISBN 9780801449710. $29.95. ED


Dawson, Greg. Judgment Before Nuremberg: The Holocaust in the Ukraine and the First Nazi War Crimes Trial. Pegasus. Mar. 2012. c.336p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781605982908. $26.95. HIST

Dirck, Brian R. Abraham Lincoln and White America. Univ. of Kansas. Apr. 2012. c.240p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780700618279. $29.95. HIST

Jones, Gregg. Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream. NAL. 2012. c.448p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780451229045. $26.95. HIST

Kanigel, Robert. On an Irish Island. Knopf. 2012. c.336p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307269591. $26.95. HIST

Stagg, J.C.A. The War of 1812: Conflict for a Continent. Cambridge Univ. (Cambridge Essential Histories). Apr. 2012. c.240p. illus. maps. ISBN 9780521898201. $85; pap. ISBN 9780521726863. $24.99. HIST

White, Philip. Our Supreme Task: How Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain Speech Defined the Cold War Alliance. PublicAffairs: Perseus. Mar. 2012. c.304p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781610390590. $26.99. HIST


Carpenter, Dale. Flagrant Conduct: The Story of Lawrence v. Texas; How a Bedroom Arrest Decriminalized Gay Americans. Norton. Mar. 2012. c.384p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780393062083. $29.95. LAW


It Started in Wisconsin: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Labor Protest. Verso, dist. by Norton. 2012. c.192p. ed. by Mari Jo Buhle & Paul Buhle. illus. ISBN 9781844678884. pap. $14.95. POL SCI

Stout, Lee. A Matter of Simple Justice: The Untold Story of Barbara Hackman Franklin and a Few Good Women. Pennsylvania State Univ. Mar. 2012. c.222p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780983947806. $24.95. POL SCI


Clegg, Bill. Ninety Days: A Memoir of Recovery. Little, Brown. Apr. 2012. c.208p. ISBN 9780316122528. $24.99. PSYCH

Lockman, Darcy. Brooklyn Zoo: The Education of a Psychotherapist. Doubleday. Jul. 2012. c.320p. ISBN 9780385534284. $26.95. PSYCH


Campbell, Charlie. Scapegoat: A History of Blaming Other People. Overlook Duckworth. 2012. c.208p. bibliog. ISBN 9781590207161. $19.95. SOC SCI

Ingrassia, Paul. Engines of Change:
A History of the American Dream in Fifteen Cars.
S. & S. May 2012. c.416p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781451640632. $30. SOC SCI


Tapon, Francis. The Hidden Europe: What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us. WanderLearn. Apr. 2012. c.736p. ISBN 9780976581222. $25.99. TRAV