Short Takes | August 2013

Chacón, Fredrico Muñoz & Richard Dennis Johnston. Amphibians and Reptiles of Costa Rica: A Pocket Guide. Comstock. Zona Tropical Pubns. 2013. 186p. photos. maps. index. ISBN 9780801478697. pap. $14.95. REF

Snake-fearing Indiana Jones would have welcomed this ready reference on the 418 amphibian and reptile species, a significant number of them highly venomous and/or toxic, found in Costa Rica. Entries include scientific and English common names, details on size (including fang lengths), and range maps. Color photographs showcase the biodiverse beauty of these species and allow for quick recognition. While the index is comprehensive, the deadly fer-de-lance snake discussed in the introduction is better found by going straight to the “pitvipers” section.VERDICT A colorful and critical species guide.

Cybriwsky, Roman Adrian. Capital Cities Around the World: An Encyclopedia of Geography, History, and Culture.ABC-CLIO. 2013. 367p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781610692472. $89; ebk. ISBN 9781610692489. REF

Many Americans struggle to name the capital cities of our own states, much less those of other nations. This new reference work helps with the latter problem, with Cybriwsky (geography and urban studies, Temple Univ.) providing profiles of the capital cities of 200 countries around the globe. Entries are organized alphabetically by country, with each profile combining social studies, geography, anthropology, world history, and political science within its discussion. An appendix of selected historical capital cities (Babylon, Constantinople, etc.) and suggestions for further reading within entries are included.VERDICT A fascinating lens by which to view and understand world cultures.

Derks, Scott. This Is Who We Were: In the 1950s.Grey House. 2013. 600p. illus. ISBN 9781619251793. $150; ebk. ISBN 9781619251809. REF

An offspring of the 13-volume “Working Americans” series, which assessed Americans by class, occupation, and social cause, this title examines a single decade. Profiles of 34 families across the socioeconomic spectrum take up half the book, with descriptions of their lives at home and work and in their community. Shorter middle sections provide context and include a listing of historic milestones, an economic overview, and a collection of representative media. A substantial demographic analysis, drawing on U.S. census data, concludes the work. VERDICT An engaging snapshot for nostalgia buffs and serious researchers alike.

Flower, John. Historical Dictionary of French Literature.Scarecrow. (Historical Dictionaries of Literature & the Arts). 2013. 626p. bibliog. ISBN 9780810867789. $130; ebk. ISBN 9780810879454. REF

A reader’s note acknowledges that this dictionary, in which entries cover major authors and their works; literary movements; and relevant social, historic, and philosophical developments, can’t provide the kind of “contextualization” found in such narrative works as David Coward’s A History of French Literature (LJ 2/1/2004). Still, the introductory chronology and an overview essay by Flowers (professor emeritus, French, Univ. of Kent, UK), sufficiently set the framework for the entries that follow, which serve to demonstrate that France, as Flowers notes, “can justifiably lay claim to the richest literary history of any country in western Europe.” VERDICTA delicious amuse-bouche for French literature fans.

Harvey, Wayne. Raising Cain: How the Bible Shapes the Things You Say.Holman Reference. 2013. 506p. ISBN 9780805495928. pap. $9.99. REF

“Because the Bible tells me so” takes on new meaning in this alphabetical listing of some 900 common expressions drawn from the King James version. Entries including, “Can a leopard change its spots?” and “in the twinkling of an eye” are defined as to general meaning, followed by discussion of the exact Biblical text and an example of modern use, including some surprising media articles. Harvey, a director of missions and former pastor, doesn’t claim strict science in his approach, noting there’s also some “semantic distance” in his commentary and connections. VERDICT A fun reference for Bible study groups and overall word nerds.

Krouk-Gordon, Dafna & Barbara D. Jackins. Moving Out: A Family Guide to Residential Planning for Adults with Disabilities. Woodbine. 2013. 225p. ISBN 9781606130216. pap. $24.95. REF

In this reader-friendly guide, Krouk-Gordon, founder and president of Toward Independent Living and Learning (TILL), a not-for-profit human service agency, and Jackins, a lawyer and mother of a young adult who lives in a TILL residence, provide a series of helpful tips to assess, establish, and sustain a successful independent-living arrangement for an adult with disabilities. While the material is sometimes more conversational than comprehensive, there is useful and practical advice here on such things as setting up trusts and how to apply for Section 8 and other public service benefits, plus handy worksheets and checklists.VERDICT An accessible primer for parents of special-needs adults.

Stout, William. Legends of the Blues. Abrams. 2013. 224p. illus. ISBN 9781419706868. $19.95. REF

How can it be that R. Crumb didn’t include Robert Johnson in his iconic trading cards set of blues artists in 1980? That devilish omission is here remedied by Stout, a writer and artist in the style of Crumb, in his coverage of 100 blues legends who were not part of that earlier acclaimed collection. Each alphabetically arranged artist profile includes a full-color portrait plus witty facing-page biographical and playlist commentary framed by a fan’s introduction by Leimbacher, a former Rolling Stone writer who owns the Seattle-area bookshop MisterEBooks. A bonus CD of 14 classic blues tracks from Shout! Factory artists is included. VERDICT A fine new companion to R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country (Abrams, 2006).

Yemen. ABC-CLIO. (Middle East in Focus). 2013. 371p. ed. by Steven C. Caton. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781598849271. $89; ebk. ISBN 9781598849288. REF

There’s more to Yemen than current “overheated generalizations,” claims Caton (contemporary Arab studies, Harvard) as he offers expert essays on geography, history, politics and government, economy, society, culture, and contemporary issues are followed by an annotated bibliography and subject and thematic indexes. As Caton notes, Yemen abuts the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, thus is linked simultaneously to Africa, Europe, and Asia, a location “profoundly important for its history.” VERDICT An admirably nuanced narrative for Middle East reference collections. —Judy Quinn, formerly with Library Journal