Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, August 2, 2013

Week ending August 2, 2013

Booker, Simeon with Carol McCabe Booker. Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement. Univ. of Mississippi. 2013. 352p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781617037894. $30; ebk. ISBN 9781617037900. AUTOBIOG
Booker spent more than 50 years at Jet magazine as national correspondent and Washington bureau chief, after having been hired (in 1951) as the first black reporter at the Washington Post. Here, with his wife, an attorney and former journalist herself, he writes of his experiences along the way, as he covered the terms of ten U.S. presidents and met and interviewed a vast array of politicians and influential figures. Booker is best known for his reporting on the civil rights movement. He was one of the first journalists to report on the brutal 1955 murder of Emmett Till; the gruesome photograph of Till’s battered face appeared in Booker’s Jet story. He covered the desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957. He also writes of his time as one of only two reporters who traveled with the Freedom Riders in 1961. Booker interviewed Robert F. Kennedy about the Civil Rights Act of 1964. His memoir not only reports on these and other events but adds his personal stories connected to each.
Verdict Both those who lived through the last 50-plus years and those who want to understand it more will be grateful that Booker tells his stories here. Recommended for anyone with an interest in the civil rights movement, 20th-century U.S. history, or journalism.—Jason Martin, Stetson Univ. Lib., DeLand, FL

Goldman, Eric A. The American Jewish Story Through Cinema. Univ. of Texas. (Jewish History, Life, & Culture). 2013. 264p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780292744301. $55. FILM
Goldman (Visions, Images and Dreams: Yiddish Film Past and Present) offers readers a superb, thought-provoking analysis tracing the metamorphosis of the image of the Jew as portrayed through 80 years of American cinema. He reminds us that filmmakers “reflect the world in which we live” and are influenced by prevailing attitudes of the time when a movie is produced. He explains the unique contributions made by the Yiddish theater and films of the early 20th century, which were purely for a Jewish audience, and discusses the slow process of assimilation by Jews into mainstream America. Goldman paints a powerful portrait of the Jewish image by focusing his study on nine films that had a profound influence on the American public. With special recognition to the important contributions made by Daryl F. Zanuck, Barbra Streisand, and Barry Levinson, the author considers how some of these films almost didn’t make it to fruition because of Hollywood politics or fear of retribution by the Jewish community.
Verdict A well-referenced, well-researched contribution to any film studies collection. It belongs on the same shelf as Lawrence J. Epstein’s American Jewish Films: The Search for Identity, Nathan Abram’s The New Jew in Film: Exploring Jewishness and Judaism in Contemporary Cinema, and Kathryn Bernheim’s The 50 Greatest Jewish Movies: A Critic’s Ranking of the Very Best.—Richard Dickey, Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC

Griffin, Emma. Liberty’s Dawn: A People’s History of the Industrial Revolution. Yale Univ. 2013. 320p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300151800. $45. HIST
Griffin (history, Univ. of East Anglia; A Short History of the British Industrial Revolution) shows the effects of Britain’s industrialization on the work, emotions, and culture of a diverse group of British working-class men (and some women) based on more than 300 autobiographies and memoirs (some unpublished) written between 1760 and 1900. Unlike the harsh conditions portrayed by Arnold Toynbee, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, Friedrich Engels, et al., Griffin, with contextual commentary, allows the firsthand accounts from factory operatives, miners, tradesmen, and laborers to speak for themselves, underlining the increased opportunities for freedom of expression and of religion, romance, and politics. These evocative, earnest pieces, retrieved from record offices and libraries, are the output of a remarkably literate class that acquired rudimentary learning through dame, night, or Sunday school classes, mutual improvement societies, or self-education. Griffin shows that workers were able to establish autonomy in the face of trying and evolving circumstances. Few regretted leaving their preindustrial occupations; almost none returned, dismissing the uncertainty of seasonal rural work.
Verdict Griffin balances the era’s hardships with its improvements while recognizing the formidable changes that industrialization wrought upon British society. Readers will be surprised by the observations made by those directly affected. In conjunction with more traditional studies, this engaging collection of personal accounts will appeal to consumers of social history among both general readers and specialists.—Frederick J. Augustyn Jr., Lib. of Congress, Washington, DC

Hardin, Debbie K. 500+ All-American Family Adventures. Countryman. 2013. 520p. photos. index. ISBN 9780881509892. pap. $24.95. TRAV
From coast to coast, contiguous and noncontiguous states alike, the United States features wonderful attractions of interest to travelers of all ages. Unlike Schultz’s 1,000 Places in the U.S. and Canada To See Before You Die, which served as more of a bucket list for adult travelers, Hardin’s work is geared toward families traveling with children. Alphabetically arranged, the book covers all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. Typical entries include contact information, price range (from free to “$$$$”), best time of year to visit, age ranges that the specific attraction would appeal to, and a well-written description of the site’s highlights. The work hits the major attractions, both well- and lesser-known sites that will appeal to children and adults. The work is illustrated throughout with color photographs. Other useful features include a brief “Road Trip Survival Kit,” advice about visiting college campuses, tips for hiking with children, a camping checklist, and other practical information. Appendix A organizes the content by broad themes of interest to children and families (archaeology, beaches, dinosaurs and fossils, space travel, sports, treasure hunting, etc.). Appendix B includes information about motel, hotel, and other accommodations in various price ranges.
Verdict This handy and readable guide is recommended for larger travel collections.—Elizabeth Connor, Daniel Lib., The Citadel, Military Coll. of South Carolina

starred review starIn Pursuit of Alaska: An Anthology of Travelers’ Tales, 1879–1909. Univ. of Washington. 2013. 328p. ed. by Jean Morgan Meaux. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780295992884. pap. $26.95. TRAV
This anthology of Alaska travel writing is edited by Meaux, who began assembling the collection when she was living in the state about 30 years ago. Divided into three sections, this anthology covers everything from journal writings to ethnographies made during the period 1879–1909. Some entries are from explorers, some from gold prospectors, and some from wealthy travelers like Mary Hitchcock, who brought with her a 2,800 square foot tent. Because these entries are first-person accounts, they are at once undiluted, frequently unusual, and always captivating. One of the most fascinating pieces is a description of an Alaska Barnum’s Dancers performance in Juneau in 1890. The author of that selection, one Septima M. Collins, describes her wonderment at the “picturesque, barbarous, unexplainable, and unique” performance of this indigenous troupe in various elaborate costumes.
Verdict This delightfully assembled adventure chronicle captures the wild and strange beauty of Alaskan life around the turn of the 20th century. Those interested in pioneer living, historical travelogs, or ethnography will find this collection intensely satisfying.—Carolyn Schwartz, Westfield State Coll. Lib., MA

Jensen, Dean. Queen of the Air: A True Story of Love and Tragedy at the Circus. Crown. 2013. 336p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780307986566. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780307986580. PERFORMING ARTS
The story of aerialist Lillian Leitzel, known as “Leitzel, Queen of the Air,” and Alfredo Codona, a member of the Flying Codonas, is a true account of the biggest stars ever to appear with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. They were household names during the early part of the 20th century—the Brad and Angelina of the circus world. Born poor, Leitzel became “Queen of the Circus” and acted like one throughout her life. She had many loves but the greatest was Alfredo, a trapeze flyer, the only one who could perform the Triple: three somersaults in midair. Jensen follows their lives in parallel until their fateful meeting, their eventual marriage, and tragic ends. Though a dramatic story that would interest readers who liked Water for Elephants, it is hindered by the florid prose (e.g., “showgirls of ripened figures” and “he clamped his furry mouth over her lips”) and the unfortunate habit of putting words and thoughts in the mouths and heads of people long dead.
Verdict More like a novel than a well-researched work of nonfiction, this engaging book will appeal to readers who like books with circus themes.—Rosellen Brewer, Sno-Isle Libs., Marysville, WA

Johnson, Becky & Rachel Randolph. We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook: A Mom and Daughter Dish About the Food That Delights Them and the Love That Binds Them. Zondervan. Aug. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9780310330837. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780310330844. COOKING
Part memoir and part cookbook, this work by Johnson and daughter Randolph builds on their blog, We Laugh, We Cry, We Cook (welaughwecrywecook.com) and adopts the same breezy, folksy, back-and-forth dialog. Revolving around their loving Odd Couple–style family dynamic, this title describes how a messy omnivore mother and a neat vegan daughter found a middle way that works for everyone. While the authors occasionally rely too heavily on the charms of pairing opposites or veering over into wacky humor, many will enjoy the honesty, genuine affection, and strong foundation of Christian faith that are conveyed in this narrative of a mother and daughter and the life changes that they encounter, mostly driven by the daughter’s new baby and transition to veganism. Chapters switch between perspectives and conclude with recipes that are clearly explained and accessible even to beginning cooks.
Verdict Homey and easygoing, though perhaps a bit twee for some, this book invites readers to sit down at the kitchen table for a chat about cooking, love, life, and faith.—Courtney Greene, Indiana Univ. Libs., Bloomington

Naam, Ramez. The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet. Univ. Pr. of New England. 2013. 364p. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9781611682557. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781611683769. PHIL
Egypt-born and Seattle-based Naam (winner of the H.G. Wells Award for More Than Human: Embracing the Promise of Biological Enhancement) is confident that the world’s most abundant resource—human innovation—is capable of overcoming poverty, inequality, climate change, and other challenges facing a world dependent on a number of resources such as oil, farmed food, fresh water, and clean air, to name a few. Even as resources are depleting, Naam is optimistic that they are only temporarily limited and may become abundant and their lack may be addressed by taking advantage of innovation. He illustrates the historical evidence for his positive outlook: scientists have increased global life expectancy by 20 years in the past century; food production has risen at a rate greater than population growth since the 1960s; more than twice as many people have electricity in their homes than did in the 1970s. For Naam, progress is a result of applying the innovative power of the human mind, and the problems that seem great and insurmountable may be solved if people live up to their potential.
Verdict Recommended for readers of popular science and popular history and environmentalists.—Robert C. Robinson, CUNY

starred review starPriestland, David. Merchant, Soldier, Sage: A History of the World in Three Castes. Penguin Pr. 2013. 328p. notes. index. ISBN 9781594203107. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101605820. HIST
Oxford’s Priestland (The Red Flag: Communism and the Making of the Modern World), an expert on the Soviet Union and scholar of 20th-century comparative history, provides a nuanced, culturally aware, Marxist-influenced reading of the shifting ascendancies, rivalries, and collaborations of three elite groups (the “castes” of merchant, soldier, and sage). These groups are fluid; for instance, one of Priestland’s subjects, Robert McNamara, worked for years in corporate America (“merchant”), eventually heading Ford Motor Co. He was then recruited by President John F. Kennedy to serve in his administration (“sage”) as secretary of defense, whereupon his stewardship of the Vietnam War, first under Kennedy, then under Lyndon B. Johnson, enshrined his legacy as an exemplar of the “warrior caste.” Priestland begins his study with Genghis Kahn and Beowulf and with uncommon erudition pays equal attention to Asia and the developing world and Western Europe and the United States while managing to sustain narrative momentum. He is not sanguine about the future; his story ends with the warrior’s disastrous demise in Iraq, the Wall Street merchant’s destruction of investment as a driver of economic growth, and the dubious rise of “Davos Man,” a closed elite of extraordinarily wealthy sages—many with business and military credentials—who annually attempt to contain the world’s problems at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland.
Verdict Readers of serious intellectual history and contemporary policy will appreciate this relatively left-oriented yet nondoctrinaire assessment of the history of global power politics.—Scott H. Silverman, Dresden, ME

Rosenshield, Gary. Challenging the Bard: Dostoevsky and Pushkin, a Study of Literary Relationship. Univ. of Wisconsin. (Ctr. for Pushkin Studies). 2013. 314p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780299293543. pap. $34.95; ebk. ISBN 9780299293536. LIT
This new title from Rosenshield (Slavic languages and literature, Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison; Pushkin and the Genres of Madness) revolves around Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–81) and poet Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837) and is concentrated primarily on Dostoyevsky’s major works, starting with his first novel, Poor Folks, through The Brothers Karamazov. In an attempt to show the artistic influence of Pushkin’s genius on Dostoyevsky, Rosenshield states in the book’s introduction that he is not examining “all the important themes and ideas” but “areas of confrontation.” Yet, the connections feel forced. For example, Crime and Punishment’s Rodion Raskolnikov is linked to Pushkin’s modest civil servant Evegeny from The Bronze Horsemen because both are denizens of St. Petersburg. Rosenshield claims that Dostoyevsky’s confrontation with Pushkin’s genius can be seen by the reader in his descriptions of the city and the actions of his character. While this correlation is interesting, the evidence for his argument is too broad.
Verdict With its difficult subject, this title’s value may be narrowed to students of Russian literature and recommended only for the most devoted Slavophile. Readers may find Mikhail Bakhtin’s Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics and Harold Bloom’s Anxiety of Influence more accessible.—Herman Sutter, Saint Agnes Academy, Houston

starred review starSelingo, Jeffrey J. College (Un)Bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students. New Harvest: Houghton Harcourt. 2013. 256p. notes. index. ISBN 9780544027077. $26. ED
Selingo (editor in chief, Chronicle of Higher Education) knows a lot about the strengths and weaknesses of higher education. He is especially concerned with the high costs and experience of loss by students who drop out as a result of misguided information, poor motivation, or weak programs. He shares in the widespread concern that colleges need to meet individual student needs better, use technology more effectively, and provide more accessible information. Unlike some critics, he asserts that traditional undergraduate education will adapt to meet the needs of 18- to 22-year-old students, and flexibility in community colleges and other institutions will supply vocational skills for older workers. He urges students to stay informed about college costs and the next steps to expected careers and not to rely solely on institutional guidance yet not to ignore the value in a broad liberal arts education for individuals and society in general. In a style lively and clear, Selingo provides examples of poor choices and better ones, emphasizes questions students should ask before they “fall in love with a college” that may not be a good fit, and describes programs that successfully enrich the lives of their students.
Verdict Essential for students and parents and for other readers concerned about the tangled criticism of higher education today.—Elizabeth Hayford, formerly with Associated Coll. of the Midwest, Chicago

starred review starThompson, Ahmir & Ben Greenman. Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove. Grand Central. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781455501359. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781455501366. MUSIC
Thompson, better known as Questlove, is the drummer and cofounder of the Roots, familiar to millions through their music and, more recently, as the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Questlove, who has over 2.6 million Twitter followers, busts out of the 140 character limitations with an autobiography that is insightful, provocative, and impossible to put down. It’s fascinating to hear Questlove’s story as well as his take on the music that has driven him and inspired countless listeners for the last 40 years. This is much more than the standard Behind the Music–style biography, and Questlove does his best to break down the barrier between writer and reader. Along the way he addresses the all-important question, “How do you take what you hear and translate it into something that can be heard?”
Verdict Anyone interested in the mechanics of creation and collaboration will find much to savor here. Questlove’s first book is not to be missed. You won’t be able to put it down until you finish—and you’ll want more when you do.—Bill Baars, Lake Oswego P.L., OR

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. Aurther says:

    Thank you Bette-Lee Fox.