Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, February 22, 2013

Week ending February 22, 2013

Cole, Herbert M. Invention and Tradition: The Art of Southeastern Nigeria. Prestel. 2012. 144p. ed. by Dierk Dierking. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9783791346007. $75. FINE ARTS
The creative spirit within the traditional sculptural arts of southeastern Nigeria is evident in this excellent survey presented by author Cole (art history, emeritus, Univ. of California, Santa Barbara) and editor Dierking, a collector. The works showcased are first discussed from an art historical perspective, with a focus on form and style. Cole follows with an explanation of the cultural context of these works, with profiles of the region’s ethnic groups (e.g., Igbo, Isoko, Ogoni) accompanied by field photographs. Cole describes here how the Nigerian artworks balance tradition with personal style and how they are only fully understood in relation to their use in ritual and dance. The text is accompanied by an additional 128 color plates, bringing the book’s essays to life and exposing these collections, which are primarily private, to the wider audience they deserve.
Verdict This is a well-organized presentation of the sculptural arts of Nigeria. Its thorough notes and bibliography provide a scholarly component to a very accessible introduction. Of interest to connoisseurs of both African and Western art.—Nancy B. Turner, Syracuse Univ. Lib., NY

Foerster, Barrett J. Race, Rape, and Injustice: Documenting and Challenging Death Penalty Cases in the Civil Rights Era. Univ. of Tennessee. 2012. 224p. index. ISBN 9781572338623. $39.95. LAW
This book addresses difficult topics in the context of civil rights history. The late Foerster (1942–2010; law, Northeastern Univ.), who was one of 28 interns who participated in an NAACP research project covering 11 states in 1965, died after drafting this book’s manuscript; it was edited by his colleague Michael Meltsner (law, Northeastern Univ.; Cruel and Unusual: The Supreme Court and Capital Punishment). The NAACP project’s staff collected data for a death penalty study done by renowned criminologist Marvin Wolfgang, who found that convictions of black-on-white rape resulted in significantly more death penalty decisions than any other racial configurations. The author argues that this research had a profound influence on Supreme Court death penalty cases and sentencing reform. Early chapters describe the pervasive racism that infected the Southern states at that time. Subsequent chapters discuss legal issues, revealing how Wolfgang’s statistics crept into groundbreaking opinions including Maxwell v. Bishop in 1968 and Furman v. Georgia in 1972.
Verdict This book is ideally suited to students of law and society, but it should also appeal to general readers interested in the history of the 1960s. Recommended as a deftly written intellectual contribution and a worthy tribute to lesser-known warriors in the civil rights struggle.—Antoinette Brinkman, formerly with Southwest Indiana Mental Health Ctr. Lib., Evansville

Heller, Jane. You’d Better Not Die or I’ll Kill You: A Caregiver’s Survival Guide to Keeping You in Good Health and Good Spirits. Chronicle. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781452107530. $18.95. HEALTH
The worst-paid job in health care offers among its benefits the longest hours, the fewest days off, and the most consistent stress. Caregivers include the family members or good friends who are there for those with chronic illness, the disabled, and the dying. Novelist Heller (Female Intelligence), now a caregiver to her husband, explains that she, like many others, didn’t choose the role but slowly adapted to it. Here she discusses practical problems and emotions that caregivers of all types face and offers suggestions for coping. She goes beyond her personal experiences by including comments from other caregivers she’s come to know, calling them the book’s Greek chorus. Candid interviews with professionals whom unpaid caregivers sometimes view as adversaries offer useful perspective. Tips range from the pragmatic, such as how to deal with time in a waiting room, to the profound, as in the chapter “Getting Through the Goodbye.”
Verdict Writing with humor and a relaxed style, Heller has produced a valuable, virtual support group in book form that could be beneficial to any caregiver.—Richard Maxwell, Porter Adventist Hospital Lib., Denver

Kett, Joseph F. Merit: The History of a Founding Ideal from the American Revolution to the 21st Century. Cornell Univ. 2013. 344p. notes. index. ISBN 9780801451225. $29.95. HIST
The young American republic seemed a nation peculiarly conducive to recognizing merit, or a “quality deserving reward” in public life. Here Kett (history, Univ. of Virginia) traces the evolution of this ideal from the revolution forward, pointing out how merit frequently clashed with other ideals such as equality. He shows how “essential merit,” possessed owing to inner qualities, gave way to “institutional merit,” awarded by schools, colleges, and corporate or governmental bureaucracies. In Kett’s story, readers will encounter politicians operating spoils systems, progressives attempting to rationalize the civil service, college students vying for commencement addresses, educators instituting grading systems, university officials bent on professional credentialing, psychologists developing a multitude of testing instruments, and others devising systematic gradations among Americans who lacked the visible record of public achievement characteristic of “Men of Merit” in early America.
Verdict While occasionally readers may wonder if they are actually still reading about merit, as Kett traces one manifestation of it to another, he succeeds in a tightrope performance, tying what seem disparate phenomena together in a frequently delightful narrative that interested academic readers will relish. Kett’s book has opened new historical avenues, as he has done before in books like The Pursuit of Knowledge Under Difficulties, his study of self-education.—Robert Nardini, Niagara Falls, NY

McNutt, Randy. Finding Utopia: Another Journey into Lost Ohio. Kent State Univ. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9781606351314. pap. $21.95. TRAV
McNutt (Lost Ohio: More Travels into Haunted Landscapes, Ghost Towns, and Forgotten Lives) takes another journey into the history of small, vanishing, and unusual towns in Ohio. The introduction frames this undertaking as a way for McNutt to come to terms with leaving his hometown, and the book promises to be a memoir of personal as well as historical discovery. However, in his enthusiasm for the history of regular people in small towns, McNutt seems to forget to weave in his own story. In the few instances when he does—such as the discovery that his own innkeeper ancestors may have committed an infamous murder—the result is compelling. An addendum of town names with curious origins may be interesting for Ohio residents.
Verdict Overall, the omission of McNutt’s personal story makes the book less powerful and sometimes dry. However, Ohio residents, Americana history buffs, and small-town enthusiasts will find at least a few chapters to enjoy. After all, Utopia (and Tranquility, Equity, and Harmony) really can be found in Ohio.—Audrey Barbakoff, Kitsap Regional Lib., Bainbridge Island, WA

starred review starTalbot, Margaret. The Entertainer: Movies, Magic, and My Father’s Twentieth Century. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). 2012. 432p. photogs. ISBN 9781594487064. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101597057. FILM
It would be easy to say that New Yorker staff writer Talbot’s book is a journey that travels from the wind-swept plains of Nebraska, through the world of stage hypnotists and magicians of the early 1920s, and into legendary Hollywood of the 1930s. But Talbot’s book is more a tapestry than a journey, and its language weaves a vibrant portrait of a life that has passed, a world that has vanished, and a simplicity that is rarely reclaimed. Talbot’s father, minor movie star Lyle Talbot, never reached the epoch of stardom, yet remained a working actor all his adult life. Somehow, though, that isn’t very important. What is important about this book is the gift of storytelling that was passed from father to daughter.
Verdict This is simply one of the best books ever written about this era of show business and the people who populated that world. It is essential for anyone interested in film and theater history, in the social history of the 20th century, or simply in a fascinating story remarkably told.—Teri Shiel, Westfield State Univ. Lib., MA

Uglow, Jenny. The Pinecone: The Story of Sarah Losh, Forgotten Romantic Heroine—Antiquarian, Architect, and Visionary. Farrar. 2013. 352p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780374232870. $28. BIOG
This is as much a biography of an era, a coming-of-age story about an England on the cusp of the Industrial Revolution, when romanticism and industrial fervor coexisted, as it is about an exceptional 19th-century woman—whose writings have not in fact survived. Uglow (The Lunar Men) portrays the innovation and intellect of the privileged Miss Sarah Losh (1786–1853), a writer and poet as well as an architect. The title refers to the emblem she used extensively in the eccentric Lake District church she designed. In many ways this is an interpretive biography, with Uglow understanding Sarah as well as her sister through the writings of their male family members and associates. The approach results in Uglow’s simultaneously broad yet detailed perspective. Endowed with a liberal education from her father, his compatriots (including William Wordsworth) and her uncle James Losh, and with the resolve to benefit from it, Losh and her sister, rather than their sickly younger brother, inherited their father’s wealthy estate. Uglow focuses on the whimsical church designed by Sarah Losh and how she was able to pursue such an undertaking that reflected both the Industrial Age and the romantic appeal of nature.
Verdict This study will appeal to avid readers of 19th-century British studies. Readers seeking a uniquely female perspective and story will be disappointed as the scant record includes no such personal details.—Kelsey Berry Philpot, Holderness Sch., NH

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"