Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, August 10, 2012

Week ending August 10, 2012

Grass, Günter. From Germany to Germany: Journal of the Year 1990. Houghton Harcourt. Nov. 2012. c.272p. tr. from German by Krishna Winston. illus. ISBN 9780547364605. $24. LIT
Grass (b. 1927) was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1999, and his novel The Tin Drum (1962) is considered a contemporary classic. His prodigious output includes plays, poetry, journalism, speeches, and collections of drawings. This journal, published in Germany in 2006, begins several months after the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 and covers the year coincident with the unification of East and West Germany. Grass describes his debates on unification with fellow writers, journalists, and politicians, his encounters and disillusionment with politicians of every stripe, and his meetings with friends and family. Traveling to book launchings, readings, and conferences, he intermittently works on a political fable (The Call of the Toad, 1992) and a book of drawings depicting forest decay and destruction. The journal text is punctuated by small sketches of fish and fauna.
After 22 years, the political landscapes of Germany and Europe have rendered much of this journal’s content uninteresting and irrelevant. North American readers will find little of literary or historical significance. Necessary for libraries collecting Grass and of marginal interest to Grass addicts.—Lonnie Weatherby, McGill Univ. Lib., Montreal

Pettit, Becky. Invisible Men: Mass Incarceration and the Myth of Black Progress. Russell Sage. 2012. c.128p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780871546678. pap. $29.95. LAW
Pettit (sociology, Univ. of Washington) looks at national social, cultural, and population statistics and concludes their data skews the reality of continued racial inequality for African Americans in the United States. Focusing on incarceration data, Pettit explains that most current studies underestimate or ignore prison inmate statistics, resulting in widespread distorted perceptions of the political, economic, and social status of African Americans today.
Pettit’s professorial analysis of the demographics used in compiling important data sources (e.g., employment rates, voter turnout, etc.) reveals that mass incarceration of African Americans is usually not accurately included or appropriately reflected, resulting in a extensive ignorance of a continuing pattern of racial inequality. Similar works include Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow.—Reba Kennedy Esq., San Antonio

Raw, Laurence. Character Actors in Horror and Science Fiction Films 1930–1960. McFarland. 2012. c.230p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9780786444748. $45. THEATER
Ever watch a movie and wonder at the identity of a particular actor? For horror and sf fans, this book, devoted to the underrated character actors who starred in multiple films of the 1930s though the 1960s, will answer those questions. Raw’s (English, Baskent Univ., Turkey; Ridley Scott Encyclopedia) concise, well-written entries offer an informative and entertaining blend of biographical information, filmography, photographs, and analysis of the personal attributes that shaped roles in numerous movies. The entries, one to two pages in length, are arranged alphabetically and include an impressive number of actors, from John Agar to George Zucco. While similar books are available, this one is genre- and time period–specific, making it a one-of-a-kind film history.
Sf and horror fans will love this book; it will also appeal to a wide range of readers, from young adults to senior citizens, who have enjoyed the many films in which these character actors appeared. Highly recommended.—Rosalind Dayen, South Regional–Broward Cty. Lib., Pembroke Pines, FL

Roosevelt, Theodore. A Passion To Lead: Theodore Roosevelt in His Own Words. Sterling Signature: Sterling. 2012. 372p. ed. by Laura Ross. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781402787355. $29.95. HIST
Handsomely packaged, making it a pleasure to handle, this compilation of excerpts from President Roosevelt’s articles, books, correspondence, and speeches is interspersed with black-and-white and tinted photographs, as well as political cartoons and ephemera, some of which are published for the first time. Clearly composed, judicious introductions to both illustrations and primary source texts guide the reader. This is a nuanced presentation of the prevailing view of our 26th President rather than a reinterpreted one. It shows how he largely succeeded by virtue of his competence, concern, and basic self-confidence. Roosevelt’s impeccable prose is almost quaint in its strict attention to grammar.
Scholars might prefer to have footnote references to the texts, although even they will benefit by learning little-known facts they can then check against other sources. The book gives a sense of the breadth and depth of this accomplished and reflective activist’s interests in history, travel, conservation, science, and ranching, making it suitable for purposeful and serendipitous browsing by political junkies and history enthusiasts. With a very selective one-page bibliography of works by and about its subject.—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC

Thompson, Naomi. Style Me Vintage: Clothes; A Guide to Sourcing and Creating Retro Looks. Pavilion, dist. by Trafalgar Square. 2012. 112p. photogs. ISBN 9781862059368. $15.95. PERSONAL GROOMING
A stylist, personal shopper, and frequent contributor to the BBC’s Homes and Antiques magazine, Thompson is a well-recognized vintage clothing expert in the UK. With her first book, she joins the “Style Me Vintage” series (Belinda Hay’s Hair: Easy Step-by-Step Techniques for Creating Classic Hairstyles), introducing readers to shopping for vintage clothing, with especially valuable information about identifying features. Differences in fasteners (e.g., metal versus plastic zippers), for example, can distinguish garments made in the first and second halves of the 20th century. Chapters cover fashions from the 1920s to the 1980s, providing day and night shopping lists, with photographs of models showing typical day, evening, formal, and informal “looks.” There are brief overviews of primary shapes and influences for each decade, and some chapters contain a “What was new?” section to define further the fashion mood and innovations of the period. Separate chapters cover shapewear and swimwear as well as caring for vintage clothing.
Thompson deftly communicates her knowledge and passion in this introductory text, which should appeal to fashion and popular culture enthusiasts. While the sources and references are UK-based, the shopping and styling advice are universal.—Meagan Storey, Virginia Beach, VA

Weintraub, Stanley. Final Victory: FDR’s Extraordinary World War II Campaign for President. Da Capo. 2012. c.256p. illus. index. ISBN 9780306821134. $26. HIST
Scholars rank FDR as the greatest 20th-century U.S. President, which helps explain why there are more and more books written on him. The 1944 election is the least covered of his four presidential campaigns. The prolific Weintraub (11 Days in December) attempts to address this gap. FDR’s health and the conclusion of World War II were the overriding campaign topics. Secondary issues were the Republican choice to run against him and the vice presidential candidates on both tickets. Unfortunately for the Republicans, they chose a cardboard personality, Thomas E. Dewey, to run against a natural-born political personality who thrived while campaigning despite polio and age. Weintraub makes clear that Dewey disliked campaigning. He was the only presidential opponent whom FDR came personally to dislike. The November results reflected that FDR had delivered fewer campaign speeches than during his previous campaigns: he received the fewest electoral votes and the smallest percentage of popular votes of his four campaigns.
Though the author fails to break new ground and scholars will object to the absence of footnotes (a useful chapter-by-chapter list of sources is provided), the book is enjoyable and readable. Weintraub knows the literature and how to hold a reader’s attention. Political junkies will especially enjoy it during this electoral season.—William D. Pederson, Louisiana State Univ., Shreveport

Wheeler, Thom. One Steppe Beyond: Across Russia in a VW Camper. Summersdale, dist. by Seven Hills. 2012. c.320p. illus. ISBN 9781849531566. pap. $13.95. TRAV
When chronically underemployed Brit Wheeler got a job lead from his Uncle Tony, the prospect sent him traveling across the continent to Russia, a land of intrigue and more-than-interesting characters. Wheeler here divides his journey into cities and villages, recounting each dot on Russia’s expansive map in a narrative that is equal parts humor and history. From the timber yards of Estonia to the onion-domed cathedrals of Western Russia and on to oddball beach resorts and Siberian yurts, Wheeler and his buddy Jo travel to places with tragic Soviet pasts and fascinating presents—and they see it all through the windshield of their VW camper. More lighthearted than Susan Richards’s Lost and Found in Russia, this book is equally successful in presenting “Mother Rossiya” as a beautiful land of contradictions that is, beyond anything, worth investigating. Readers who enjoyed John Mole’s I Was a Potato Oligarch will love Wheeler’s tale.
Hold on to your babushkas! This is a book for would-be road warriors and seasoned globetrotters alike. Wheeler’s Russian travelog is informative, accessible, and more fun than a banya full of vodka-swilling Dmitrys.—Melissa Culbertson, Homewood, IL

Zingales, Luigi. A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity. Basic Bks: Perseus. 2012. c.336p. index. ISBN 9780465029471. $27.99. ECON
In the interest of full disclosure, Zingales (coauthor, Saving Capitalism from the Capitalists), tenured professor of entrepreneurship and finance at the University of Chicago, reveals that he—an Italian with big business ties, living in the United States by choice—is in the upper one percent of “income distribution.” In his view, the United States started out with a special kind of meritocratic capitalism but is slowly moving the way of other countries, toward a capitalism based on cronyism, where whom one knows is more important than how good one is. In order to stop this slide, evidenced by several of the recent financial crises, he proposes a number of solutions, some quite radical. These solutions include firing the bottom ten percent of teachers, doing away with upper education accreditation, banning any form of subsidy, and severely restricting lobbying. Zingales hopes to make the reader angry, and in that he has succeeded. It is interesting how “experts” from other countries seem to know how best to “fix” America.
Those on the fringe looking for a kindred spirit should read this book; otherwise, don’t bother.—Bonnie A. Tollefson, Cleveland Bradley Cty. P.L., TN

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"