Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, March 1, 2013

Week ending March 1, 2013

Brodsky, Judith K. & Ferris Olin. The Fertile Crescent: Gender, Art, and Society. Rutgers Univ. 2012. 256p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780979049798. $45. FINE ARTS
While the Middle East undergoes fundamental political and social change, young Arab women artists are creating their own revolution. This catalog, produced in concert with an exhibition of the same name, provides an overview of the contemporary art produced by women from Egypt, Syria, Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Kuwait, Nigeria, and Pakistan, among others. It addresses the mix of cultures present not only in the contemporary Middle East but the Muslim diaspora in West Africa and South Asia. Bodsky and Olin (codirectors, Inst. of Women and Art, Rutgers Univ.) gathered several essays introducing artistic trends led by women artists, followed by the work of 24 featured artists, which makes up the major portion of the book. Each artist is depicted, her background and training described, and the nature of her artwork analyzed together with several examples of her works. Throughout, color reproductions of the artwork demonstrate the remarkable diversity of media, imagery, style, and expression.
Verdict Anyone with an interest in contemporary art, women’s issues, or Islamic studies should find this catalog fascinating.—Eugene C. Burt, Seattle

starred review starCarroll, Rory. Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2013. 292p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781594204579. $27.95. HIST
Loved and admired, hated and despised, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez is the century’s most polemical figure. From a failed coup in 1992 to his first election as president in 1998 and his years in power since then, Chávez has been the face of his oil-rich nation. In nationalizing the oil industry, the leader of the so-called Bolivarian Revolution ensured that he would be a target of American interests. Chávez survived strikes, a CIA-backed coup, and an overwhelming constitutional rejection in 2007. Carroll (former chief, Latin American bureau, Guardian) gained access to those within and outside of the comandante’s inner circle; his portrait of both Chávez and Venezuela is remarkable, adding dimension to the president’s routine portrayal in the U.S. press. The view from the Miraflores Palace, Chávez’s government headquarters, contrasts sharply with the hovels of poverty-stricken Venezuelans, most of whom still support Chávez and his reforms—he was reelected in October 2012. Carroll predicts a Venezuelan future possessed of a dim economy from oil dependency, price controls, and corruption.
Verdict A most welcome and valuable addition to the body of work on Hugo Chávez.—Boyd Childress, formerly with Auburn Univ. Libs., AL

Koch, Jared, with Jill Silverman Hough. The Clean Plates Cookbook: Sustainable, Delicious, and Healthier Eating for Every Body. Running Pr: Perseus. 2013. 299p. index. ISBN 9780762446476. pap. $20. COOKING
Health coach and nutritional consultant Koch’s “clean eating” philosophy seems to expand on Michael Pollan’s adage, “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants.” With cookbook author Hough, he distills 100 pages of coherent diet and lifestyle advice into “Five Precepts,” which direct readers to choose quality comestibles and plants over animal products and artificial foods. His simple recipes include U.S. and metric measurements, and icons denote vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, and other options. Includes resources, recommendations (websites, books, and films), and sample menus but no photographs.
Verdict Readers who find prescriptive fad diets too difficult to follow will enjoy Koch’s practical and positive approach to healthy eating.—Lisa Campbell, Univ. of Michigan Lib., Ann Arbor

Kuhns, Matt. Brilliant Deduction: The Story of Real-Life Great Detectives. Lyons. 2012. 332p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780988250505. $36.95. CRIME
True crime and detective shows are always hot on television, the most popular mysteries tend to focus on fictional detectives. Anyone can name Sherlock Holmes, but it’s not necessarily elementary to know such real-life, historical detectives as Eugène François Vidocq, Jonathan Whicher, the Pinkertons, “Paddington” Pollaky, Isaiah Lees, William Burns, or Ellis Parker. Here graphic designer Kuhns brings to life the stories of these men, many of whom have faded into obscurity, all of whom led very interesting careers pursuing all types of criminals. Beginning with 18th-century Frenchman Vidocq (whom the author credits with creating the private detective agency), Kuhns takes his readers through time and across several countries in a Who’s Who of real detectives, concluding with Parker, who died in 1940. The book devotes a chapter to each man’s life.
Verdict Readers may wonder why these real-life detectives have faded from memory while the Hercule Poirots of fiction remain well known. Here Kuhns tackles a topic that has not had extensive coverage, and this book will appeal to true crime aficionados, as well as the vast realm of mystery lovers.—Krista Bush, Shelton, CT

Luhrssen, David. Mamoulian: Life on Stage and Screen. Univ. of Kentucky. (Screen Classics). 2012. 192p. ISBN 9780813136769. $40. THEATER
Director Rouben Mamoulian doesn’t have wide name recognition, but his influence lives on in classics such as stage versions of Porgy and Bess and Oklahoma! and the 1931 film Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, starring Fredric March. Mamoulian, born in Armenia and raised in relative privilege in Russia, came to America via London and eventually became a naturalized citizen. His fledgling directorial efforts were strongly influenced by Stanislavsky, and from the 1920s to the late 1950s he applied his innovative ideas on Broadway and in Hollywood to both critical acclaim and disdain. Educated and urbane, Mamoulian was in most cases more interested in artistry than stardom. Luhrssen (film critic, Shepherd Express, Milwaukee; Hammer of the Gods: The Thule Society and the Birth of Nazism) hedges some of his conclusions with words like possible, might, claimed, thought, perhaps, and “by some accounts”—a pattern than can become tiring. However, as Mamoulian generally stayed out of the press, it may be that ironclad statements are difficult to substantiate.
Verdict For readers interested in knowing more about neglected filmmakers, this chronological analysis of Mamoulian’s cinematic and stage contributions will be a good fit.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX

starred review starNew Deal Photographs of West Virginia, 1934–1943. West Virginia Univ. 2012. 240p. ed. by Betty Rivard. photogs. bibliog. ISBN 9781933202884. $29.99. PHOTOG
In 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression, a handful of talented and hard-working photographers began to document the poverty and hardships of common people in West Virginia. Over the next eight years, under the auspices of three federal agencies, including the legendary Farm Security Administration (FSA), these photographers captured a sweeping panorama of the strength, dignity, and goodness of mountain people struggling to get by. Many collections of FSA photographs—by photographer or state—have since been published, and this particular title is one of the very best. Landscape photographer Rivard has carefully selected and arranged 150 touching photographs (out of 1,600 taken in the state). These images are magnificent both as historical documents and as great photographic art. Carl Fleischhauer (digital preservation specialist, Library of Congress) provides key background on the efforts to preserve these priceless images and Jerry B. Thomas (history, emeritus, Shepherd Univ.; An Appalachian New Deal: West Virginia in the Great Depression) contributes a superb introduction, placing the photographs in a larger historical context.
Verdict Anyone interested in photography and American history, especially the social and cultural history of the 1930s, will appreciate this excellent book. Highly recommended.—Raymond Bial, Urbana, IL

Picasso Black and White. Prestel. 2012. 224p. ed. by Carmen Giménez. illus. ISBN 9783791352206. $60. FINE ARTS
This unique exploration of Pablo Picasso’s use of black and white is a catalog accompanying a traveling show originally organized by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. Edited by Giménez (Stephen & Nan Swid Curator of 20th-Century Art, Guggenheim), the book opens with a poignant preface that discusses Spain’s politics during the 20th century. Four erudite essays by noted specialists place the monochromatic works in historic, aesthetic, and social context, detailing their personal meanings for Picasso and within the tradition of Spanish painting. Picasso’s richly productive output is evident in the illustrations that follow.
Verdict From the realistic, early portraits to the shaded, angular cubist works, all of the art contained here come from the same pallet. This well-constructed book’s singular theme will benefit scholars, students, and the museum-going public by presenting a new perspective on an artist who has been studied exhaustively. Recommended.—Ellen Bates, New York

Vaugeois, Denis. The First Jews in North America: The Extraordinary Story of the Hart Family, 1760–1860. Baraka, dist. by IPG. 2012. 368p. tr. from French by Käthe Roth. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781926824093. pap. $34.95. HIST
This is a fine translation of Vaugeois’s (Champlain: The Birth of French America) account of the Hart family in Quebec, from the arrival of British merchant Aaron Hart in 1760 through his family’s early struggles and their ultimate success. Vaugeois presents a rich historical tapestry, ably illustrated with both religious and secular images. He succeeds in describing the ascent of the patriarch and his progeny so as to make the narrative accessible to general readers, while offering the specialist more detailed explanations of the social, political, and religious context. Of particular interest is the author’s review of the failed machinations resorted to in an effort to prevent a Jew from being elected to the provincial parliament (Vaugeois himself has sat in the legislature).
Verdict A significant contribution to our understanding of this period from the perspective of a family espousing a minority faith. Non-French-reading students of Canadian, Jewish, and North American social history will be rewarded in choosing this book.—Gilles Renaud, Cornwall, Ont.

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"


  1. Matt Kuhns says:

    Thank you for considering my book! I greatly appreciate your notice, and the kind comments of Ms. Bush.