Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, November 9, 2012

Week ending November 9, 2012

Halloran, Fiona Deans. Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons. Univ. of North Carolina. 2012. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780807835876. $35. BIOG
In the 1860s, Nast was a familiar name to literate Americans who saw his cartoons in Harper’s, but people today know little of his legacy, even that he popularized the use of the donkey and elephant to represent Democrats and Republicans. In this biography, Halloran (history, Rowland Hall-St. Mark’s Sch.) examines Nast’s work in the context of Gilded Age politics, documenting Nast’s significance as founding father of political cartooning. Nast began his career illustrating the news, transitioning into political caricaturing in the 1860s when he famously took on the machine politics of Tammany Hall. In Nast’s later years, Harper’s began exerting more control over the political content of his work, and his influence waned. Halloran argues persuasively that scholars need to pay more attention to political cartoons as a form of primary historical evidence.
Verdict This detailed biography will appeal to historians of the Gilded Age and to scholars interested in the development of the political cartoon. While aspects of Nast’s personal life are interwoven, it is not a juicy biography and will be of limited interest to general readers. The book is beautifully illustrated with Nast’s work.—Judy Solberg, Seattle Univ. Lib.

Hirsch, Paddy. Man vs. Markets: Economics Explained (Plain and Simple). Harper Business: HarperCollins. 2012. 224p. illus. index. ISBN 9780062196651. pap. $17.99.ECON
This brisk introduction seeks to elucidate economics using everyday terms and many humorous illustrations by cartoonist Dan Archer. Hirsch (sr. producer, Marketplace) is no stranger to explaining personal finance, and he succeeds in gently elucidating selected basic concepts. That said, his goal appears not to explain all of economics in layperson’s terms but merely the 2008 financial crisis, so Hirsch concentrates on defining only those concepts necessary for this purpose. (All he can probably do, as this format necessarily limits his scope and depth.) Readers will not come away well versed in any of the concepts he defines, but they will find as nonthreatening an introduction to certain financial ideas and jargon as can be found in so light and short a work.
Verdict This book is best for readers who either only got halfway through Economics for Dummies because they thought it was too confusing or want the CliffsNotes version of a high school economics class, or who already understand the workings of the financial markets but want some light reading for a plane ride.—Ricardo Laskaris, York Univ. Lib., Toronto

Jones, Carolyn. The American Nurse. Welcome, dist. by Random. 2012. 180p. photogs. ISBN 9781599621210. $60. HEALTH
Photographer Jones (Living Proof: Courage in the Face of AIDS) collects 75 profiles of nurses practicing the diverse specialties of the profession—from pediatrics to hospice care—and delves into the lives of the people who assist patients in times of crisis or when prolonged palliative care is necessary. She explains that she chose to explore hospitals and care facilities in parts of the country that deal with such specific issues as poverty, incarceration, respiratory illness, and outreach to at-risk populations. Readers come away with a deeper understanding of both sides (patients and caregivers) of the American health-care system, as well as the underlying social issues that affect the distribution of care. The book pairs photographs of each of the nurses with an essay about their workplace, memorable patients, and life-changing personal or professional events.
Verdict The personal accounts of why these nurses chose their profession make this book suitable for a high school library or a guidance counselor’s office. Don’t pigeonhole it, though—with its intimate portraits of frontline caregivers, it has much to interest everyone, particularly readers who have been under a nurse’s care.—Rachael Dreyer, American Heritage Ctr., Laramie, WY

Marshall, Penny. My Mother Was Nuts: A Memoir. New Harvest: Houghton Harcourt. 2012. 325p. ISBN 9780547892627. $26. TV
Yes, she’s Laverne, but Marshall is also the first woman to direct a movie that grossed more than $100 million (Big), a skilled dancer, and something of an expert when it comes to summer camps. In this fast-paced survey of her life, Marshall details her dysfunctional Bronx, NY, upbringing that led—via her mother’s dance school—to appearances on The Jackie Gleason Show and ultimately to Hollywood and stardom. Along the way, she talks Jack Klugman into doing her brother Gerry’s television version of The Odd Couple, parties with John Belushi and Carrie Fisher, motorcycles across Europe with Art Garfunkel, and shrugs off a robbery by ninjas. And, as the title promises, her mother is nuts: how else to describe a woman who skimmed pills from family members’ prescriptions for her “suicide jar.”
Verdict Marshall offers everything readers want in a celebrity memoir: an honest account of a life, filled with hilarious anecdotes and poignant reflections. She has the remarkable skill of being able to drop names like Calvin Klein in a down-to-earth way, reflecting their friendship’s origins in junior high school. Recommended.—Terry Bosky, Palm Beach Cty. Lib. Syst., FL

Schwarzenegger, Arnold. Total Recall: My Unbelievably True Life Story. S. & S. 2012. 646p. ISBN 9781451662436. $35. FILM/BIOG
Schwarzenegger devotes the first 200 pages of his autobiography to his austere beginnings in Austria and his single-minded pursuit of a bodybuilding career, which culminated in his winning the Mr. Universe title five times and being Mr. Olympia four times, foreshadowing his drive for bigger and better things. Readers seeking gory details of his affair and subsequent fathering of a son with his housekeeper or his separation from Maria Shriver will be disappointed. He devotes only six pages to it, saying that “people…make stupid choices involving sex.” Then he dusts himself off and ends the book with “Arnold’s Rules,” including, “Turn your liabilities into assets,” “Don’t follow the crowd,” etc. If readers haven’t figured it out by now, Schwarzenegger has an ego as massive as this 600-plus-page book. But, then, a person who came from nothing to become a huge movie star, the governor of the United States’ most populous state, and the owner of a huge fortune isn’t likely to be a shrinking violet. That is largely the lesson in this book.
Verdict Though often self-serving, this rags-to-riches tale is surprisingly engaging.—Rosellen Brewer, Sno-Isle Libs., Marysville, WA

Stille, Alexander. The Force of Things: A Marriage in War and Peace. Farrar. Feb. 2013. c.432p. ISBN 9780374157425. $28. AUTOBIOG
In his memoir, journalist Stille (Excellent Cadavers: The Mafia and the Death of the First Italian Republic) ponders the influences of culture and history upon family, personality, and identity. Stille traces the lives of his parents—Italian journalist Ugo Stille and Ugo’s Midwestern wife, Elizabeth—from the 1930s through the 1990s. He shows the contrasts in their cultural upbringing and disparate personalities, noting historical and political influences and providing analysis of what creates a family and how these influences shape one’s personality. Stille addresses the potential of the literary memoir to become exaggerative, where characters are dramatized and the story’s authenticity is essentially eliminated. Stille’s book raises questions about self, identity, and motivation, using creative and engaging anecdotes taken from the lives of his parents. Coming from two such different backgrounds, they created a life that was both wholly American and ultimately unique.
Verdict Readers interested in the effects that culture, history, and family dynamics have on the creation of self will find this book intriguing.—Elizabeth Zeitz, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH

Townshend, Pete. Who I Am: A Memoir. Harper: HarperCollins. 2012. 544p. ISBN 9780062127242. $32.50. MUSIC
Townshend—principal songwriter and guitarist for boundary-pushing, hard-living British rock band The Who—lays his life bare in this candid and entertaining autobiography, reflecting on both his personal life and his career as the brains behind one of rock’s most successful and influential groups. Townshend details the band’s early years as a trendy 1960s Mod outfit, the creative and commercial peaks of the 1970s, and the changes forced by the sudden deaths of drummer Keith Moon (in 1978) and bassist John Entwistle (in 2002). But he also gets personal, tracing his troubled youth, a difficult and affair-ridden marriage, relationships with family members and bandmates, various scandals and legal troubles, and decades-long struggles with alcohol and overwork. Townshend covers a lot of ground and is admirably forthcoming in addressing controversies and personal mistakes, but there is frustratingly little insight into his creative process or songwriting and recording methods.
Verdict The lack of perspective into the influential musician’s blending of experimental artistry and raw rock ’n’ roll power will frustrate some readers, but Townshend’s long-awaited memoir is easily recommended to anyone interested in this true rock icon’s amazing journey.—Douglas King, Univ. of South Carolina Lib., Columbia

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"