Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, May 18, 2012

Week ending May 18, 2012

Abbott, Jim & Tim Brown. Imperfect: An Improbable Life. Ballantine. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780345523259. $26. SPORTS
Abbott was an excellent major league baseball pitcher for the Angels, Yankees, White Sox, and Brewers, and he was known, at first, for the wrong thing: that he was born without a right hand. He was continually reminded of his disability by looks and remarks that were often very hurtful. In this memoir, Abbott, with Brown (Yahoo! Sports), writes of his focus as a dedicated pitcher who threw and caught with the same hand, who starred at the University of Michigan, and won an Olympic gold medal as a collegian. His greatest achievement was in the majors in 1993 when he pitched a no hitter for the Yankees. But his story here is mainly a family story: the son of unwed teenagers who learned the true meaning of love by raising Abbott to believe that anything was attainable. Unlike many ballplayers, Abbott took his status as a role model seriously and took the time to respond and provide hope to young people facing equal and greater challenges, even as his years as a major league pitcher grew tougher.
This book, with its powerful story, makes for a good summer read for all baseball fans and lovers of sports memoirs.‚ Paul Kaplan, Lake Villa Dist. Lib., IL

Bentley, Peter J. Digitized: The Science of Computers and How It Shapes Our World. Oxford Univ. May 2012. c.256p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199693795. $29.95. TECH
In this engaging introduction to the development of computer science, Bentley (Why Sh*t Happens: The Science of a Really Bad Day) brings the personalities of the field’s major players into the historical record. Each subdiscipline gets its own chapter that are then organized chronologically; theoretical computing, hardware, software and programming, networking and encryption, interfaces, and artificial intelligence are all explained in clear, accessible language. A final chapter details many new applications for computer science, such as its use in psychotherapy or its role in computer-generated art, which are not yet commonplace.
Computer science has become so pervasive in modern life that it can seem invisible or be taken for granted; Bentley succeeds in bringing this hidden world to light. Unlike most other computer books for popular audiences, this book is neither a textbook nor a how-to manual. While Darrel Ince’s The Computer: A Very Short Introduction covers similar ground, this book’s focus is on historical development. Great for anyone studying computer science and readers who want the story behind the electronics they use every day.‚ Wade Lee, Univ. of Toledo Libs.

The Complete Classical Music Guide. DK. 2012. 352p. ed. by John Burrows with Charles Wiffen. illus. index. ISBN 9780756692568. $25. MUSIC
Edited by concert promoter Burrows, this beautiful book is handsomely slipcased and printed on heavy stock and features hundreds of full-color pictures and illustrations, as well as numerous charts. The book’s first section, Introducing Classical Music, includes chapters on the elements, instruments, and performance aspects of classical music. The following chapters focus on the history of classical music arranged in large topical and chronological sections, such as Early Music, The Baroque Era, etc. Though an informative book for classical music neophytes and containing many beautiful images, the composer entries are very brief‚ more in the nature of short encyclopedia entries.
General introductions to classical music are hardly new. In recent years, works such as Fred Plotkin’s Classical Music 101, Ted Libbey’s The NPR Listener’s Encyclopedia of Classical Music, and Julius H. Jacobson’s The Classical Music Experience have ploughed this field. In addition, the material here itself was previously published in 2005 as Classical Music: Eyewitness Companions. This title can only be recommended for readers who own no recent introductions to classical music, or those in need of a particularly handsome visual presentation of the material.‚ Bruce R. Schueneman, Texas A&M Univ. Lib., Kingsville

Darling, David & Dirk Schulze-Makuch. Megacatastrophes! Nine Strange Ways the World Could End. Oneworld. 2012. c.224p. illus. index. ISBN 9781851689057. pap. $15. SCI
Astronomer and freelance writer Darling (Gravity’s Arc: The Story of Gravity from Aristotle to Einstein and Beyond) and Schulze-Makuch (astrobiology, Washington State Univ.; Voids of Eternity: Alien Encounter) serve up a hearty dose of knowledge seasoned with humor. Readers have nine chapters to delve into, each covering its own megacatastrophe, e.g., nanotechnology, earthquakes, near-earth objects, and disease. Each chapter concludes with the authors’ catastrophometer rating, a number between one and ten, measuring that particular event’s likelihood of occurring within the next 100 years. Darling and Schulze-Makuch provide the most current scientific data available on each potential catastrophe and explain why they are unlikely to occur.
Readers will enjoy taking a look into the science behind the disasters so often in the news. Clear and informative, this book is recommended for all readers of popular science.‚ Michael D. Cramer, Schwarz BioSciences, Research Triangle Park, NC

Huckvale, David. Ancient Egypt in the Popular Imagination: Building a Fantasy in Film, Literature, Music and Art. McFarland. Jun. 2012. c.250p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780786465774. pap. $45. FILM
Film scholar and writer Huckvale (Touchstones of Gothic Horror: A Film Genealogy of Eleven Motifs and Images) explores the way that Egyptology has influenced art, jewelry, architecture, literature, film, and many other facets of pop culture. Huckvale discusses how movies capitalized on the world’s curiosity about mummies from the first Boris Karloff film to the recent Brendan Fraser entries. While the emphasis is on mummy films, epics such as Cleopatra, Land of the Pharaohs, and other Egypt-themed productions are included. Noteworthy chapters include Myth and Magic, as well one on the history of Egyptology.
Huckvale’s research is extensive and engrossing to anyone interested in the subject. However, the author’s annoying habit of referring to a work, i.e., the novel The Life of Sethos or movie Stargate, but not discussing it in full until later in the book interrupts the flow of an otherwise well-written text. An excellent resource for adult students and general readers intrigued by ancient Egypt.‚ Rosalind Dayen, South Regional Lib., Broward Cty., FL

Scriver, Mark & others. Camp Cooking in the Wild: The Black Feather Guide to Eating Well in the Great Outdoors. Fox Chapel. 2012. 216p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781565237155. pap. $19.95. COOKING
Bechamel? Paella? Cranberry Almond Muffins? Moroccan Stew? Sushi? This book, produced by guides from Canadian wilderness adventure company Black Feather, prove that the hard parts of roughing it, i.e., cooking outdoors, result from a lack of planning, not intrinsic difficulty. While the book’s recipes are excellent, the preceding guide (which takes up nearly half the book)‚ detailing equipment, skills, menu planning, and packing‚ sets a new standard for overviews of how to cook in the wild. The book takes on myriad topics and scenarios, and it walks readers through everything from preparing the mise-en-place with pots and pans, stoves, ovens, and different heat sources to food handling and sanitation, managing waste, determining quantities, and waterproofing supplies.
While excellent recipes are broken down by method, effort level, ingredients, and tips, the extra care taken to explain the why behind each process and technique means that even after these dishes are cooked through, hikers need never go hungry (or unwillingly slum it). Indexed and effectively illustrated. Highly recommended.‚ Benjamin Malczewski, Ypsilanti Dist. Lib., MI

Weimer, Dian. The Paddling Chef: A Cookbook for Canoeists, Kayakers, and Rafters. 2d ed. Fox Chapel. 2012. 184p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781565237148. pap. $16.95. COOKING
Though directed toward those venturing our into the great, aquatic outdoors, the mathematics of meal prep (ingredients x nutrition ‚àï weight x space = efficient menu planning) are conceptually convertible to any adventurer seeking to maximize caloric density‚ or even, when applied principally, to streamline home cupboards. A passionate kayaker and canoeist, Weimer has put together over 100 recipes that taste great without travel (e.g., Dijon Mustard Potatoes, Parathas, Salmon Frittata, and Chocolate Fondue) but, more importantly, will amaze trippers with what is possible and open their minds beyond the PowerBar. Interspersed with stories of Weimer’s travels are lessons in practical organization and resourcefulness, such as foraging along the way and how to dry foods.
Worthwhile for great recipe ideas, this book is most valuable as a way to empower palates and guide readers in planning, packing, ergonomics, and efficiency. Pork Tenderloin with Cinnamon Cran-Apple Sauce and Oysters on the Half-Shell with Ginger and Garlic seem like genuinely possible camp fare after reading this book.‚ Ben Malczewski, Ypsilanti District Lib., MI

Zak, Paul J. The Moral Molecule: The Source of Love and Prosperity. Dutton. 2012. c.256p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780525952817. $26.95. SCI
Zak (economic psychology & management, Claremont Graduate Univ.; Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy) shares his experience researching the reproductive hormone oxytocin and how surges in oxytocin can change behavior, fostering empathy, trust, bonding, generosity, and cooperation. Zak, moving beyond individual relationships, also explains how oxytocin influences communities by providing hormonal motivation for morality, religion, and economic systems like free markets. Basic to all this is how oxytocin creates a behavioral feedback between serotonin and dopamine that produces empathy, morality, and trust. Zak goes on to explain how testosterone blocks the binding of oxytocin, leading to a behavioral feedback that plays an important role in different kinds of relational disconnects like autism and psychopathy. Other chapters examine the hormone’s relationship to the evolution of religion and to how altruistic impulses can generate economic success.
Verdict Zak, who writes the Psychology Today blog The Moral Molecule, provides an accessible introduction to the subject of oxytocin and how the hormone influences human behavior and culture at large. Recommended for readers interested in the chemistry behind psychology. [See Prepub Alert, 11/21/11.]‚ Scott Vieira, Sam Houston State Univ. Lib., Huntsville, TX

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"


  1. Robyn says:

    Thanks for the review! I’m going to have to pick up a few of those books! I am reading a really great book right now. It is called, “Being You: How To Live Authentically” by author Gerard M. Doyle. This is a non-fiction self help book to show readers how to be confident and live life without fear or anxiety. I picked it up because lately things have been crazy and out of control in my life. I feel like I have been living in fear every day. I am gaining a lot of insight into changing my confidence. http://www.adaptivefreedom.com/