Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, March 15, 2013

Week ending March 15, 2013

Bogdan, Robert. Picturing Disability: Beggar, Freak, Citizen, and Other Photographic Rhetoric. Syracuse Univ. (Critical Perspectives on Disability). 2012. 203p. photogs. index. ISBN 9780815633020. $55. PHOTOG
The history of disability is a complicated one, fraught with oppression and exploitation. Disabled people were used in freak shows, as poster children for charities, and even monsters in cinema. Bogdan (social science, Syracuse Univ.; Freak Show: Presenting Human Oddities for Amusement and Profit) assembled various photographs and images of people with disabilities from the late 1800s to the 1970s and attempts to dissect the historical context of these images. He not only examines the subjects of the photographs, but he also focuses on the creators and their motives for circulating these images. Bogdan is relentless in his ability to provide the background information and detail behind the majority of the images, which is truly impressive. This photographic essay is an important examination not only of what it meant to be a disabled person between the 1860s and the 1970s but also of the exploitative and manipulative methods to which they were, and still are, subjected.
Verdict Those with an interest in disability studies and the history of oppressed populations will find this an intriguing resource of study.—Caitlin Kenney, Niagara Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Sanborn, NY

starred review starChagnon, Napoleon A. Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists. S. & S. 2013. 544p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780684855103. $32.50; ebk. ISBN 9781451611472. ANTHRO
Anthropologist Chagnon’s memoir begins as a riveting account of the years he spent doing fieldwork among the Yanomamö, in 1964 a largely uncontacted group of South American Indians of the upper Orinoco River watershed jungles in southern Venezuela. Chagnon (adjunct research scientist, Univ. of Michigan; The Yanomamö) clearly explains the scientific and biological approach to cultural anthropology that he applied to his studies of Yanomamö violence, ideas that put him at odds with cultural anthropologists. Chagnon details the serious conflicts that he had with other cultural anthropologists who disagreed with his interpretations and with the Salesian Society of the Roman Catholic Church, which had begun to establish mission outposts among the Yanomamö. Patrick Tierney’s Darkness in El Dorado (2000) damaged Chagnon’s reputation with its attacks on him. However, Chagnon unflinchingly defends himself on all of the ethical charges and points out that many of Tierney’s accusations against him are now considered to have been based upon inaccurate information. Chagnon is a consummate storyteller and has successfully created an engaging and richly descriptive chronology of his professional life while not shying from the anthropological controversies that have dogged him for many years.
Verdict The book is geared toward informed lay readers, but some knowledge of current anthropological theory is necessary for a complete understanding. This memoir is bound to be popular—and deservedly so.—Elizabeth Salt, Otterbein Univ. Lib., Westerville, OH

DeRose, Chris. Congressman Lincoln: The Making of America’s Greatest President. Threshold Editions. 2013. 318p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781451695144. $26. BIOG
Which U.S. president had argued before the Supreme Court long before he was elected to the White House, got a patent, and took unpopular stands on a popular war? Not everyone would automatically think of Abraham Lincoln. Though he has been the focus of thousands of books, only two before (Donald Wayne Riddle’s Congressman Abraham Lincoln and Paul Findley’s A. Lincoln, the Crucible of Congress) have dealt specifically and only with his time as a member of the 30th U.S. Congress, in session from late 1847 to mid-1849, the period in which Lincoln did all of the above. In this work, DeRose (Founding Rivals: Madison vs. Monroe, the Bill of Rights, and the Election That Saved a Nation), an attorney and political strategist, draws heavily upon quotations from Lincoln’s vast personal and public papers and those of his contemporaries to bring the story to life, presenting a gripping portrait of the young Lincoln and the polarized Congress in which he served, a body that, the author suggests, is not unlike the Congress of today.
Verdict This will be of interest to Lincoln enthusiasts and those looking at past eras of the U.S. Congress in action.—Theresa McDevitt, Indiana Univ. Lib., PA

Ehrlich, Gretel. Facing the Wave: A Journey in the Wake of the Tsunami. Pantheon. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780307907318. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780307907325. AUTOBIOG
Ehrlich (The Future of Ice: A Journey into Cold) has done the mildly unthinkable: she traveled to tsunami-devastated Japan just months after the March 2011 deluge. The waters may have mostly returned to the sea, but the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant was still churning waste into the air and water. Bodies were still being uncovered; once tight-knit villages stood as ghost towns; sorrow hung in the air along with the summer heat. There she interviewed fishermen, farmers, teachers, monks, nuns, and even a retired geisha. All of these brave souls are survivors in one way or another—the loss of their parents, children, friends, homes, and/or lands is staggering, one horrific story followed by another.
Verdict Readers will certainly not find this type of journey recommended by Conde Nast or Travel & Leisure. The descriptions of the stench of the dead and the grief of the living are alternately numbing and horrifying. Nothing and no one was left unharmed: schoolchildren, elderly pensioners, cats, dogs, horses, cows, fish, crops. A well-written, important book to read—if you can take it. [See Prepub Alert, 8/3/12.]—Lee Arnold, Historical Soc. of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

50 Cent, with Jeff O’Connell. Formula 50: A 6-Week Workout and Nutrition Plan That Will Transform Your Life. Avery: Penguin Group (USA). 2013. 230p. photogs. index. ISBN 9781583335024. $30. HEALTH
A fair amount of celebrity-inspired exercise books are published each year, and here rapper, entrepreneur, and actor 50 Cent collaborates with fitness writer O’Connell (Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way To Beat It) to develop a six-week, structurally sound workout program and nutritional resource for his fans and readers. Motivating people to work out is an exceptionally hard thing to do and creating a workout protocol that propels readers to this goal is even harder. No workout book will satisfy everyone’s needs, but this one provides a good array of inspiring and achievable routines for individuals that have some experience with the recommended exercises (not to mention access to some of the equipment seen in photos) and appropriate fitness level to perform the interval training tempos. Beginners might risk injury to themselves. This resource is suitable for people that want to move beyond a simple start-up workout and nutritional regimen.
Verdict A well-arranged resource that motivates intermediate fitness enthusiasts to exercise and coordinate their nutritional plans; appropriate for all fitness-oriented collections.—John N. Jax, Univ. of Wisconsin Lib., La Crosse

Hatch, Thom. The Last Outlaws: The Lives and Legends of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. NAL: Penguin Group (USA). 2013. 352p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780451239198. $26.95. BIOG
Hatch, author of popular histories of the American West (e.g., Black Kettle: The Cheyenne Chief Who Sought Peace but Found War), turns his attention to the Western outlaw trail in this double biography of Robert Leroy Parker (aka Butch Cassidy) and Harry Longabaugh (aka the Sundance Kid). He compares the outlaws from various perspectives including their childhoods, as members of the Wild Bunch in the Rocky Mountains, their reported deaths in South America, and later stories of their reappearance in America. Hatch reviews and comments on information from recent publications and archival records, with some of his text on the Longabaugh family history being closely based on Donna B. Ernst’s The Sundance Kid: The Life of Harry Alonzo Longabaugh. Hatch’s final chapter is his most original, as he critically questions the evidence that Cassidy and Sundance survived their South American adventures.
Verdict Hatch’s work brings the story of the two outlaws to a broad popular audience. However, historians should also note Mark T. Smokov’s He Rode with Butch and Sundance: The Story of Harvey “Kid Curry” Logan and Bill Betenson’s Butch Cassidy, My Uncle, both published last year.—Nathan Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., Laramie, WY

Hunter, John. World Peace and Other 4th-Grade Achievements. Houghton Harcourt. Apr. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780547905594. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780547905624. ED
Fourth-grade teacher and educational consultant Hunter developed the World Peace Game, a program that teaches students new ways to find solutions to the world’s greatest political and ecological challenges. Hunter, who achieved global recognition and snowballing popularity after a documentary about his work led to a TEDTalk, engages both kids and adults in finding solutions to global problems, starting in the classroom. Although Hunter’s work is innovative and often inspiring, his ideas about education presented in this book are not particularly novel.
Verdict Readers will not find here practical assistance for implementing Hunter’s program themselves or defending its quiet outcomes in a results-oriented education system. Nor will they find new stories about the World Peace Game, as Hunter’s writing here is another record of the results he has previously shared elsewhere. The project itself is worthy of looking into but recommended in other formats.—Anna Berger, Piper City, IL

starred review starKatznelson, Ira. Fear Itself: The New Deal and the Origins of Our Time. Norton. Mar. 2013. 512p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780871404503. $29.95. HIST
Katznelson (political science & history, Columbia Univ.; When Affirmative Action Was White) offers perhaps the most far-reaching and provocative treatment of the New Deal to date, carrying his impressively documented work well into the Truman presidency. He argues that faced with dire financial, political, and popular emergencies, which contributed to a national psychosis of fear, the New Deal’s architects were forced to navigate dangerous legislative and judicial shoals where personal freedoms and state control clashed. Katznelson reveals not just the New Deal’s reform achievements but the paradoxical costs (e.g., nonsupport of an antilynching bill) of preserving a broader-based liberal democracy and protecting its values. He persuasively connects FDR’s agenda to the Jim Crow South and a coterie of Dixie politicians who vigorously defended racial discrimination all the while bolstering Roosevelt’s efforts in rebuilding America’s economic vitality and extending her global influence. Through the author’s insightful domestic and international perspectives the reader grows to appreciate the two decades–long trials of a divided society, the intermittent dangers inherent in its laissez-faire capitalism, and the threats from competitive totalitarian regimes.
Verdict A significant contribution to New Deal historiography and, more important, a useful guide to a better understanding of our present-day societal and political discordance. Highly recommended.—John Carver Edwards, Univ. of Georgia Libs., Cleveland

O’Connell, John. For the Love of Letters: The Joy of Slow Communication. Atria: S. & S. 2013. 192p. ISBN 9781476718804. $20. LIT
Well read in the epistolary form, British journalist O’Connell has written a delightful celebration of the hand-written letter. This is not a how-to (although he does offer the occasional tip). In three sections, he discusses the evolution and tools of letter delivery, the different uses for which letters have been written, and the value letters have had for us. The middle section covers areas as diverse as love letters and letters home from war. While O’Connell’s tone is light and breezy—and he quotes from some awful examples as well as wonderful epistles—he pays attention to the serious and lasting nature of letters. Clearly, he does not wish for the form to die out in a blaze of email and text messages. This guided journey, with quotes from many famous letter writers (e.g., Jonathan Swift, Anton Chekhov, Evelyn Waugh) across time, will be much enjoyed by readers; they may even be inspired to write some letters again. On paper.
Verdict O’Connell makes a charming case for the evident value of letters written back and forth between thinking men and women, even as so much has changed since the postal system was devised. The focus will most appeal to those familiar with British history and literature.—Linda White, Maplewood, MN

Robinson, Mary. Everybody Matters: My Life Giving Voice. Walker. Mar. 2013. 336p. photogs. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780802779649. $26. AUTOBIOG
Robinson has a powerful curriculum vitae; she was elected to the Irish Senate at age 25, became the first female president of Ireland in 1990, has been the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights, and now runs the Mary Robinson Foundation—Climate Justice, which seeks to help those most affected by global climate change. Yet she describes growing up in a small town in west Ireland as the “only girl wedged between four brothers.” Her autobiography is written in humble fashion, sometimes intimate and occasionally peppered with wit. In three parts, she straightforwardly covers the span of her life: prepresidency (including time in the United States at Harvard Law School), during the presidency, and—the longest portion—her subsequent work on human rights issues worldwide. This is a book that looks optimistically at the world, aimed at giving readers the inspiration to find their own voices and to act bravely for human rights.
Verdict This book will appeal to many kinds of readers, from memoir buffs generally to those interested in engagement with human rights issues, recent Irish history, or eloquent stateswomen of the world.—Catherine McMullen, Canby P.L., OR

Tamaki, Saito. Hikikomori: Adolescence Without End. Univ. of Minnesota. 2013. 216p. tr. from Japanese by Jeffrey Angles. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780816654598. pap. $19.95. PSYCH
Readers fascinated by the social phenomenon of hikikomori (youths retreating into their homes for months or years to escape from society) will find Tamaki’s (psychiatrist & director of medical services, Sōfūkai Sasaki Hosp., Funabashi, Japan; Beautiful Fighting Girl) book entertaining and the case studies engaging. However, characterizing hikikomori from a psychiatric perspective proves difficult ,and Tamaki describes the problem vaguely; aside from their youth, it is unclear how hikikomori differ from other socially anxious recluses. Originally intended for a Japanese audience, this volume pays understandably little attention to the cultural differences between Americans and Japanese. Similarly, the proposed treatments discussed in the latter half of the book are written with Japanese families in mind. Translator Angles’s notes minimally assist English readers, but describing more of the traditional Japanese family structure and education system would have put the social problem in greater context.
Verdict Though geared toward Japanese readers, this study should inspire further research in the area of social withdrawal; psychologists will enjoy learning about a phenomenon largely unknown in the United States. Fans and students of Japanese culture will appreciate this insight into Japan’s hidden youth.—Chrissy Spallone, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting Lib.

Touré. I Would Die 4 U: Why Prince Became an Icon. Atria: S. & S. Mar. 2013. 176p. index. ISBN 9781476705491. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476705545. MUSIC
Prince embodies plurality. Presenting himself as androgynous, queer, biracial, and messianic, he has transgressed traditional boundaries of gender, sexuality, race, and religion for decades. Here Touré (Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?) attempts to tease out the disparate lines that make up Prince’s persona, to demystify a man who is definitively, purposefully mysterious. The book draws from three lectures Touré delivered at Harvard last March, but what might have been clear and concise when spoken now reads as leaden, oversimplified, and repetitive. He ranges from pseudopsychology—Does Prince play with gender as a way to replace his absent mother?—to unnecessary lyric paraphrase—“Prince puts the girl in the colorful chapeau on the back of his motorcycle”—to (reductively) searching for the biographical source of his music—Did the incestuous relationship described in “Sister” happen? The book is at its best when describing a basketball match between the author and Prince, when Touré drops the scalpel and allows Prince to just be.
Verdict One wishes that Questlove, who is quoted extensively, wrote his own book. Too focused on arguing his thesis, Touré seems to have missed the essence of Prince altogether. Much more satisfying is Hilton Als’s recent Harper’s essay “I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love,” a personal look at the icon’s ascent into the mainstream. Worthwhile for only the most dedicated of Prince fans.—Molly McArdle, Library Journal

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"