Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, September 21, 2012

Week ending September 21, 2012

The Art of Painting in Colonial Quito/El Arte de la Pintura en Quito Colonial. St. Joseph’s Univ. (Early Modern Catholicism & the Visual Arts, Vol. 6). 2012. 336p. ed. by Suzanne L. Stratton-Pruitt. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780916101695. $75. FINE ARTS
Though Spanish colonial art was produced throughout the Americas, the few English-language books on this topic focus only on Mexico. (Michael J. Schreffler’s The Art of Allegiance: Visual Culture and Imperial Power in Baroque New Spain and Donna Pierce’s Painting a New World: Mexican Art and Life, 1521–1821 are two recent examples.) This volume, edited by Stratton-Pruitt (editor, The Virgin, Saints, and Angels: South American Paintings 1600–1825 from the Thoma Collection), is therefore a welcome addition to the study of Spanish colonial art. The book’s six contributors are art historians from the United States, Ecuador, and Spain. It begins with an introduction to painting in colonial Quito, then continues with a catalog of over 90 works produced there in the 17th and 18th centuries, all illustrated in color. Rounding out the book are a concordance of artworks, a bibliography, and a bilingual index. The text throughout is bilingual (in both English and Spanish), ensuring a wider readership.
Verdict The book’s specialized focus will appeal to scholars in art history, Latin American studies, and religious studies.—Martha Smith, Elmira Coll., NY

The Condé Nast Traveler Book of Unforgettable Journeys: Great Writers on Great Places. Vol. 2. Penguin Group (USA). Sept. 2012. 434p. ed. by Klara Glowczwska. illus. ISBN 9780143121473. pap. $16. TRAV
Collected here by Glowczwska (editor in chief, Condé Nast Traveler) and originally published in Condé Nast Traveler over the last three decades, these 30 essays take readers on an engrossing trip around the world guided by some of today’s best writers. Russell Banks challenges his middle-aged body by climbing mountains in Ecuador; Cristina Nehring looks at love, child-rearing, and Molière in Paris; E.L. Doctorow pursues Bengal tigers in India; William Dalrymple follows in the footsteps of Alexander the Great in Pakistan’s Swat Valley; and Joan Juliet Buck explores the past and present of Rome. The essays are arranged alphabetically by country, except for the three U.S. destinations (the Florida Keys, the Hudson River, and New Orleans), and their short length allows readers to dip into the book at their leisure. Other writers and places include Jay McInerney (in Amsterdam), Robert Hughes (in Sydney and Leningrad), and Amy Wilentz (Senegal).
Fans of these writers as well as armchair travelers not yet familiar with them will find much to enjoy in these elegantly written essays.—Linda M. Kaufmann, Massachusetts Coll. of Liberal Arts Lib., North Adams

Homans, John. What’s a Dog For? The Surprising History, Science, Philosophy, and Politics of Man’s Best Friend. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Nov. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9781594205156. $25.95. PETS
With deep intelligence, a little humor, and compelling reasoning, Homans (executive editor, New York magazine) thoughtfully examines the complex world of dogs and how their bonds with people have evolved in modern times. Even in the past 40 years, dogs are treated more like family members than livestock, with careful attention given to their comfort, diet, exercise, and emotional and intellectual stimulation. Quoting Charles Darwin, James Thurber, and John Updike and drawing from books such as Alexandra Horowitz’s Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, Homans pulls together a cohesive exploration of what science has learned about the culture (both human and canine) of dogs, from their ancestral beginnings to their diverse physical and cognitive status today. He also draws on international scientific studies to bolster his discussion of the rapid paradigm shift in human attitudes toward dogs and how this influences the politics of puppy mills, kill shelters, dog shows, property rights, dog fighting, and even dog food.
Verdict A thoughtful and engaging exploration of the evolution of the human-canine connection, with a personal but intellectual bent.—Susan Riley, Mamaroneck P.L., NY

Simpson, Bland. Two Captains from Carolina: Moses Grandy, John Newland Maffitt, and the Coming of the Civil War. Univ. of North Carolina. 2012. c.208p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780807835852. $28. BIOG
Simpson (Ghost Ship of Diamond Shoals), author of both novels and histories on the antebellum and Civil War South and a member of North Carolina’s Red Clay Ramblers band, awkwardly melds fiction and fact in his third “nonfiction novel,” telling the stories of two actual North Carolina men who spent their very different lives traveling the Southern seas before and during the Civil War. Simpson writes in a florid, imaginative style, incongruous with the grim, gruesome narratives. Former slave Grandy buys his freedom and joins the abolitionist movement while traveling the North Carolina rivers and coastline trying to reunite with his family. Simpson speculates on how and when the accomplished seaman’s life may have ended. With more source material available, the book’s study of Confederate naval hero Maffitt is more detailed and complete, focusing on his Civil War activities as a commerce raider and blockade runner who gained fame by leading a daring escape in Mobile Bay. Simpson juxtaposes these lives, frequently switching between the two narratives, using brief chapters to maintain a brisk pace and hold the casual reader’s interest.
Verdict Unfortunately, the blending of fiction into a historical study will leave both general and academic readers disappointed. An optional purchase.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Libs., Columbia

Sterne, Jonathan. MP3: The Meaning of a Format. Duke Univ. 2012. 376p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780822352877. $24.95.TECH
Sterne (communication studies, McGill Univ.; The Audible Past: The Cultural Origins of Sound Reproduction) presents a comprehensive history of recorded sound that led up to the creation of the MP3 file format that is so ubiquitous today. He reaches back to the beginning of the 20th century to show how psychoacoustic research, the telephone industry, and perceptual coding, as well as various economic, cultural, and corporate influences shaped the MP3’s destiny. Sterne’s research is extremely thorough, and, while there are interesting anecdotes along the way, he is so inclusive that readers won’t get to the MP3 itself until later chapters. He covers some similar ground to books like Music, Sound, and Technology in America: A Documentary History of Early Phonograph, Cinema, and Radio or Mark Coleman’s Playback: From the Victrola to MP3, 100 Years of Music, Machines and Money.
Verdict This is best for audiophiles, sound professionals, musicians, or those with an interest in sound research. Much of it could go over the head of the general reader, but the wide variety of perhaps unexpected influences that went into the MP3 may intrigue some.—Rachel Hoover, Thomas Ford Memorial Lib., Western Springs, IL

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"