Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, September 14, 2012

Week ending September 14, 2012

Blatner, David. Spectrums: Our Mind-Boggling Universe from Infinitesimal to Infinity. Walker. Nov. 2012. c.192p. illus. ISBN 9780802717702. $25. SCI
Popular science writer Blatner (The Joy of Pi) has written a coffee-table book about a hodgepodge subject. Spectrums (or spectra) are anything possessing a range of qualities or numerical values: the colors of the rainbow, musical tones, and even numbers themselves. Though this seems, at first glance, like an overly broad theme, the book is both cohesive and fascinating. Blatner repeatedly makes the point that humans experience the world within a sort of middle register—extremes of sound, size, and color remain largely beyond our perception. When explaining physical extremes, he draws on the most recent science: the weird quantum physical effects of temperatures near absolute zero are as fascinating as those in the upper-limits of hotness, wherein atoms dissolve into a quark-and-gluon soup.
Verdict Even longtime science buffs will likely learn a lot here, given the myriad scientific frontiers that Blatner explores and thorough research he presents throughout. Teachers will be attracted by the photographs of atoms and nebulae, little-known factoids, and poster-worthy charts comparing the gamut of values of a given physical quantity.—J.J.S. Boyce, formerly with Louis Riel and Pembina Trails Sch. Divisions, Winnipeg, Man.

starred review starCianciotto, Jason & Sean Cahill. LGBT Youth in America’s Schools. Univ. of Michigan. 2012. c.280p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780472118229. $80; pap. ISBN 9780472031405. $30. ED
Cianciotto (former research director, National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Inst.) and Cahill (director, health policy research, Fenway Inst.; Same Sex Marriage in the United States: Focus on the Facts) here present studies that indicate young Americans are self-identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender earlier than previous generations did, a phenomenon that places them at greater risk for harassment, bullying, and rejection during middle school and high school years. They use compelling profiles of LGBT young people who experienced isolation, discrimination, and violence during those years as a framework for describing current research, policies and laws, future research areas, and recommendations. Divided into three major sections, the book covers the experiences of LGBT students; a review of school, local, and federal practices; and suggestions for new policy. Each chapter contains endnotes. This work also includes a 24-page bibliography, two-page list of further reading, one-page list of case law citations, and six-page index.
Verdict Essential reading for educators, social services personnel, and youth advocates employed in a variety of settings. Recommended for education and LGBT collections and readers interested in public policies related to LGBT populations.—Elizabeth Connor, The Citadel, Military Coll. of South Carolina, Lib., Charleston

Creation Story: Gee’s Bend Quilts and the Art of Thornton Dial. Vanderbilt Univ. 2012. c.128p. ed. by Mark W. Scala. illus. ISBN 9780826518804. $50; pap. ISBN 9780826518811. $29.95. FINE ARTS
The quilts of Gee’s Bend, a community on the Alabama River famed for its striking, abstract patchwork, and the works of self-taught artist Thornton Dial (b. 1928) forged a new frontier in the realm of black, Southern vernacular art. Edited by Scala (chief curator, Frist Ctr. for the Visual Arts), this delightful exhibition catalog captures the spirit and essence of these notable Alabama artists who created art from recycled objects and discarded material long before it was fashionable. The book’s two essays, “Poetry of Castaway Things” and “Complementary: Mary Lee Bendolph and Thornton Dial, Gee’s Bend and Bessemer” highlight the unique style of their work and put their art in context to their Alabama roots and surroundings. The second portion of the catalog presents the colorful and masterful quilts of Gee’s Bend, also featuring work clothes and patterns, along with commentary, documentation, and historic photos to accompany the items. The works of Dial are featured in the same manner, highlighting his found object, mixed-media, assemblage, sculptural, and yard art.
Verdict This wonderful catalog should be found wherever there are devoted admirers and enthusiasts of these works. Highly recommended.—Stephen Allan Patrick, Jonesborough, TN

Malone, Michael S. The Guardian of All Things: The Epic Story of Human Memory. St. Martin’s. 2012. c.304p. illus. index. ISBN 9780312620318. $25.99. SCI
Technology writer Malone (Bill & Dave: How Hewlett and Packard Built the World’s Greatest Company) lays out this book as a series of steps in the history of memory, reaching broadly beyond its neurological aspects. He frames memory not just as the mechanism by which people store and recall experiences but in terms its relationship to language and society. Malone’s prose is engaging, and he will keep readers interested from humanity’s first words in the distant past to predictions of the singularity—the moment in which our technology surpasses human intelligence—sometime in the future. His references are primarily web pages, which some may find off-putting but do provide easy access to additional reading.
Verdict Fans of Malone’s previous works will probably be most interested in the last third of this book, which focuses more on technology, but general readers will find much to interest them throughout. This volume will especially appeal to readers who enjoy meatier popular science works, especially Penny Le Couteur and Jay Burreson’s Napoleon’s Buttons: How 17 Molecules Changed History. Recommended.—Carla H. Lee, Univ. of Virginia Lib., Charlottesville

Quiroga, Rodrigo Quian. Borges and Memory: Encounters with the Human Brain. MIT. 2012. c.224p. tr. from Spanish by Juan Pablo Fernández. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780262018210. $24.95. PSYCH
Quiroga (director, Bioengineering Research Ctr., Univ. of Leicester) here draws upon Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges’s interest in and insights on the subject of memory. Using the short story “Funes the Memorious,” which is about a teenage boy with an incredible memory, as an example, Quiroga shows how Borges’s insights, although captured in fiction, mirror past and recent observations about memory. Following this, the book discusses the function of memory formation, the physical location of memories in the brain, the role perceptions and abstractions play in memory formation, and more. Case studies include H.M., who, like the character in Memento, couldn’t form new memories, or autistic savants like Kim Peek, who was the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rainman. In the chapter “The Jennifer Aniston Neuron,” Quiroga describes his collaboration on research that examines how one neuron will fire when a human subject is exposed to different images of, say, Jennifer Aniston, demonstrating that the neuron plays a role in recognizing the actress in different photos.
Verdict The book provides an overview of important developments and observation about memory since the 19th century. Borges fans beware. The title teases more discussion of Borges than what the book actually delivers. Even so, the author’s story about using Borges’s personal library will be of interest here. Recommended for readers new to the subject of the brain and memory.—Scott Vieira, Sam Houston State Univ., Huntsville, TX

Wade, Stephen. The Beautiful Music All Around Us: Field Recordings and the American Experience. Univ. of Illinois. Sept. 2012. c.504p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252036880. $24.95 with CD-ROM. MUSIC
Banjo musician and writer Wade tells the story of 13 unheralded local American musicians who were recorded by the Library of Congress’s field team between 1934 and 1942. Like a private eye, the author interviews family members, friends, and acquaintances of these musicians to discover the life stories of long-lost blues players, gospel quartet members, cowboy songsters, and even a singer of school yard ditties. He also uncovers the history of the songs that made these local legends famous and includes them on an accompanying CD.
Verdict As compelling as a good detective story, this investigation of field recordings of a bygone era will be embraced by music fans. This book reminds readers that they don’t need pop icons to experience passionate music.—Dave Szatmary, Univ. of Washington,

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"