Social Sciences Reviews, September 15, 2012

starred review starMcMurtry, Larry. Custer. S & S. Nov. 2012. c.256p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781451626209. $35. BIOG

Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist McMurtry (Lonesome Dove) assesses the short life of Gen. George Armstrong Custer and Custer’s ongoing role in shaping concepts of the American West. As a seasoned Western literary icon, McMurtry cuts through the immense body of Custer literature to write an engaging, often irreverent, biography for a 21st-century audience more familiar with pop culture than detailed academic accounts of the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Contemporary documentary photographs and artwork (more than 150 color images) are used to great effect for providing historic context. McMurtry produces a balanced account of Custer’s controversial life and death, keeping his comments relevant, succinct, and compelling. ­VERDICT Strongly recommended for public and school libraries as a masterful and insightful biography, as well as a guide to the key historical sources about Custer. This text will be appreciated by both scholars and Custer enthusiasts, even though theories about whether the general’s nature was inherently heroic, psychotic, or cowardly are not discussed here at any length.—Nathan E. Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., Laramie, WY

Reiss, Tom. The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo. Crown: Random House. Sept. 2012. c.432p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307382467. $27. BIOG

Confronted with the surname Dumas, most readers are likely to think of Alexandre Dumas, author of such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers. But in The Black Count, Reiss (The Orientalist) explores the life of the writer’s father, a man of mixed racial and cultural heritage, born in Saint-Domingue to a slave mother (her last name was Dumas) and a French aristocrat. His father brought him to France, where, because of his tremendous courage and physical gifts, he rose through the ranks of the French military under Napoleon to become a general. He was taken prisoner of war when his ship returning to France from Cairo was captured near Sicily, and he died five years later, when his son was not yet four. Reiss seeks to demonstrate the great effect of the elder Dumas on his son’s fiction, inspiring many of the characters and situations in those works. VERDICT While Reiss occasionally strays from the central narrative with an abundance of tangential detail regarding the French Revolution, this accessible read is recommended for fans of popular narrative nonfiction as well as for both casual and serious students of French history, and of the younger Dumas’s work.—Ben Neal, Sullivan Cty. P.L., Bristol, TN.

starred review starProvine, Robert R. Curious Behavior: Yawning, Laughing, Hiccupping, and Beyond. Belknap: Harvard Univ. Sept. 2012. c.271p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780674048515. $24.95. SOC SCI

More than ten years after his Laughter: A Scientific Investigation , Provine (psychology & neuroscience, Univ. of Maryland, Baltimore Cnty.) revisits the human phenomenon of laughing and explores 12 other curiosities of human life, including yawning, vocal crying, emotional tearing, the whites of our eyes—did you ever stop to note that only we humans have that sclera?—coughing, sneezing, hiccupping, nausea, tickling, itching/scratching, farting and belching, and, at the end, prenatal behavior, one of the trickiest of subjects to study: regrettably we cannot “consult embryos for guidance” about their behavior. Do you think that each of the behaviors covered here is merely a randomly eccentric human quirk? Think again. For each of these odd functions, Provine dexterously combines wit, a fine way with words, and precise scientific context, to show us the evolutionary reason behind it. For example, emotional tears are not simply a signal of sadness. Evolutionarily, they must have served a purpose: they add “nuance and range” to our facial expressions, promoting the powers of “Homo sapiens as a social species.” VERDICT This is a delectable presentation for all who love the territory between pop and hardcore science writing. Highly recommended .—Margaret Heilbrun, Library Journal

The following titles are reviewed in the September 15 print issue. Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.


Benemann, William. Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade. Bison: Univ. of Nebraska. Oct. 2012. c.384p. illus. index. ISBN 9780803237780. pap. $29.95. BIOG

Gillespie, Michele. Katharine and R.J. Reynolds: Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South. Univ. of Georgia. Oct. 2012. c.448p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780820332260. $32.95. BIOG

Hutchinson, Robert. Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. c.284p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781250012616. $27.99. BIOG

Wallach, Janet. The Richest Woman in America: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age. Doubleday/Nan A. Talese: Random. Sept. 2012. c.304p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780385531979. $27.95. BIOG


Kaplan, Bruce. Editing Made Easy: Simple Rules for Effective Writing. Upper Access. 2012. c.112p. index. ISBN 9780942679366. pap. $9.95. COMM


Hawthorne, Lowell & Michael A. Grant. The Baker’s Son: My Life in Business: The Story of How the Golden Krust Empire Was Built, from a Village Shop in Jamaica to the Heights of American Enterprise.
Sept. 2012. c.224p. photogs. ISBN 9781617751257. $24.95. BUS

Johnson, Tory. Spark & Hustle: Launch and Grow Your Small Business Now. Berkley: Penguin Group (USA). 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780425247464. pap. $15. BUS


Kester, Eric. That Book About Harvard: Surviving the World’s Most (In)famous University One Embarassment at a Time. Sourcebooks. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781402267505. pap. $14.99. ED

Spencer, John P.

In the Crossfire: Marcus Foster and the Troubled History of American School Reform. Univ. of Pennsylvania. Sept. 2012. c.352p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780812244359. $34.95. ED


Anderson, Jennifer L. Mahogany: The Costs of Luxury in Early America. Harvard Univ. Sept. 2012. c.404p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780674048713. $35. HIST

The Axial Age and Its Consequences. Belknap: Harvard Univ. Oct. 2012. c.554p. ed. by Robert N. Bellah & Hans Joas. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780674066496. $39.95. HIST

Dolin, Eric Jay. When America First Met China: An Exotic History of Tea, Drugs, and Money in the Age of Sail. Liveright: Norton. Sept. 2012. c.384p. illus. bibliog. index.
ISBN 9780871404336. $27.95. HIST

Heefner, Gretchen. The Missile Next Door: The Minuteman in the American Heartland. Harvard Univ. Sept. 2012. c.296p. illus. index. ISBN 9780674059115. $35. HIST

House, Karen Elliot. On Saudi Arabia: Its People, Past, Religion, Fault Lines—and Future. Knopf. Sept. 2012. c.320p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307272164. $28.95. HIST

Price, T. Douglas. Europe Before Rome: A Site-by-Site Tour of the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. Oxford Univ. Dec. 2012. c.464p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780199914708. $45. ARCHAEOL

Rosenfeld, Seth. Subversives: The FBI’s War on Student Radicals, and Reagan’s Rise to Power. Farrar. 2012. c.720p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780374257002. $40. HIST

Westad, Odd Arne. Restless Empire: China and the World Since 1750. Basic Bks: Perseus. Sept. 2012. c.502p. maps. index. ISBN 9780465019335. $32. HIST


Barylick, John. Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America’s Deadliest Rock Concert. Univ. Pr. of New England. 2012. c.320p. illus. bibliog. index.
ISBN 9781611682656. $27.95. CRIME

Lawson, Guy. Octopus: Sam Israel, The Secret Market, and Wall Street’s Wildest Con. Crown. 2012. c.368p. index. ISBN 9780307716071. $26. CRIME

Rother, Caitlin. Lost Girls. Pinnacle: Kensington. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780786022182. pap. $6.99. CRIME

Stuart, Archibald. Putting Universal Human Rights to Work: Policy Actions in the Struggle for Social Justice. Gordian Knot, dist. by Univ. Pr. of New England. Nov. 2012. c.239p. ISBN 9781884092831. pap. $20. LAW


Self, Robert O. All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s. Hill & Wang: Farrar. Sept. 2012. c.512p. illus. index. ISBN 9780809095025. $30. POL SCI

Tyler, Patrick. Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run Israel—And Why They Can’t Make Peace. Farrar. Sept. 2012. c.546p. illus. index. ISBN 9780374281045. $32. INT AFFAIRS


Homayounpour, Gohar. Doing Psychoanalysis in Tehran. MIT. Sept. 2012. c.160p. ISBN 9780262017923. $19.95. PSYCH

Johnston, Nancy L. My Life as a Border Collie: Freedom from Codependency. Central Recovery. Sept. 2012. c.300p. ISBN 9781936290925. pap. $16.95. PSYCH


Bates, Milton J. The Bark River Chronicles: Stories from a Wisconsin Watershed. Wisconsin Historical Society. Sept. 2012. c.304p. illus. maps. ISBN 9780870204944. pap. $18.95. TRAV

McCarthy, Andrew. The Longest Way Home. Free Pr: S. & S. Sept. 2012. c.288p. ISBN 9781451667486. $26. TRAV

starred review starTaseer, Aatish. Stranger to History: A Son’s Journey Through Islamic Lands. Graywolf. Nov. 2012. c.352p. ISBN 9781555976286. pap. $16. TRAV