Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, December 20, 2013

Week ending December 20, 2013

The Modern Explorers. Thames & Hudson. 2013. 304p. ed. by Robin Hanbury-Tenison & Robert Twigger. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9780500516843. $44.95. RECREATION
modernexplorers122013Hanbury-Tenison (president, Survival International; The Seventy Great Journeys in History) and Twigger (The Extinction Club), two active explorers themselves, have edited a beautifully produced volume about their peers. The editors define explorers as those who make “difficult, and often dangerous, unique journeys to bring back news (scientific, topographic, cultural, psychological) from distant lands” and state that “adventure is to exploration what story is to the novel.” The book is divided into eight sections: polar, desert, rainforest, mountain, ocean, river, under sea/under land, and lost worlds. The majority of entries are first-person accounts by the explorers themselves about career highlights, major expeditions, or pivotal adventures. Every piece is a highlight, from Rannulph Fiennes’s “Frostbitten Fingers” and Mikael Strandberg’s year crossing Siberia to Paralympic athlete Karen Darke’s 4,000-plus pull-ups on one of El Capitan’s climbing routes and Johan Reinhard’s famous discoveries and photographs of Inca mummies in the Andes. The only drawback? Each entry is relatively brief, leaving the reader wanting more—they can get ideas from the selected bibliography.
Verdict Readers of adventure books will love this title and discover new explorers and adventures along the way. An addictive read.—Margaret Atwater-Singer, Univ. of Evansville Lib., IN

National Geographic Dawn to Dark Photographs: The Magic of Light. National Geographic. 2013. 400p. photos. ISBN 9781426211799. $40. PHOTOG
Conceptually, this latest offering from National Geographic attempts to follow the cycle of a day, with photographs arranged under eight simple headings: “Dawn,” “Sunrise,” “Morning,” “Midday,” “Afternoon,” “Sunset,” “Twilight,” and “Night.” However, there is little meaningful text, and the subjects of the photographs are so varied that one is left without much sense of theme. The book is also curiously subtitled “The Magic of Light,” although the emphasis throughout is on colorful and dramatic images, like those typically published in the magazine. The title nonetheless includes an array of impressive photographs, drawn largely from National Geographic stock and collections. And these fine shots are the strength of the book. Both amateur and professional photographers and anyone who enjoys the stunning and often exotic images of this popular and legendary magazine will appreciate this work.
Verdict This book is most suitable for popular photography collections in public libraries.—Raymond Bial, First Light Photography, Urbana, IL

Orfalea, Gregory. Journey to the Sun: Junipero Serra’s Dream and the Founding of California. Scribner. Jan. 2014. 384p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781451642728. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781451642759. BIOG
To coincide with the 300th anniversary of Junipero Serra’s birth, California native Orfalea (director, Ctr. for Writing, Pitzer Coll.; The Man Who Guarded the Bomb: Stories) turns his attention to Serra (1713–84) and the Spanish settlement of California. While Steven W. Hackel’s recent Junipero Serra: California’s Founding Father could be described as about “becoming Father Serra,” with a significant portion on the Spanish friar before he ventured to Alta California, Orfalea focuses on the Franciscan’s subsequent life in California and his work there establishing Catholic missions that sought to guide Catholic settlers in the region as well as to convert Native Americans. Orfalea sets this coverage up with an excellent chapter about precontact California, the various Indian groups then extant, and their beliefs and cultures. While he notes the large decline in California Indian populations, he also writes that “studies done as late as 1980…have shown the vast majority of the California Indians are still Catholic.” Orfalea’s final chapter considers the question of Serra’s canonization.
Verdict Hackel’s and this Catholic-centered biography are complementary, together offering a fuller treatment of Serra’s life. Hackel provides a more objective, evenhanded narrative. Those especially interested in California or New World history and biography from a Catholic perspective may find Orfalea’s work a worthy choice.—Crystal Goldman, San José State Univ. Lib., CA

starred review starRothman, Robert. Fewer, Clearer, Higher: How the Common Core State Standards Can Change Classroom Practice. Harvard Education. 2013. 155p. notes. index. ISBN 9781612506203. $44.95; pap. ISBN 9781612506197. $24.95. ED
fewerclearer122013Rothman (senior fellow, Alliance for Excellent Education) outlines the instructional shifts that will make the Common Core State Standards a major development in the landscape of education. He begins with a summary of the development of the standards culled from his previous work, Something in Common. The remaining chapters discuss the nine ideas from both the mathematics and English language arts standards that fundamentally change how teachers and students will approach instruction and learning. Drawing on a deep research base, the veteran education writer clearly shows how the theories have been implemented in the classroom and in the assessments being developed. The clear emphasis on how the standards will change approaches to pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment makes Rothman’s work stand out from the wide range of texts currently being published about the core. The book’s straightforward and practical tone gives it wide applicability for a broad audience.
Verdict Particularly useful for those who wish for a readable overview of the core, the data here will also provide fundamental knowledge for educators of all levels who are working with the standards. A concise and approachable work that will prove insightful for anyone interested in current education policy.—Rachel Wadham, Brigham Young Univ. Libs., Provo, UT

Smith, Eric. The Geek’s Guide to Dating. Quirk. Dec. 2013. 208p. illus. ISBN 9781594746437. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781594746611. SELF-HELP
Smith (cofounder, Geekadelphia blog) has penned a pocket-size primer on courtship for those who fly their geek flag proudly. This portable little volume is attractively designed, with eight-bit video game–style illustrations throughout. The pop culture–savvy author crams in tons of film and video game references and addresses current tropes such as the Friend Zone (the challenge of being viewed as a mere friend by a romantic prospect). However, strip away the nods to Star Trek, and this guide is basically Dating 101: obvious and commonsense advice on relationships for those with little to no experience. Despite a few clumsy efforts to indicate that female geeks, too, can benefit from this book, this manual is clearly aimed at heterosexual males with fairly traditional expectations (for example, taking the lead on asking a woman out or on planning a date). Though a few suggestions fall flat, overall the information is well intentioned; the author is keenly aware that his average reader may need a few gentle reminders when it comes to social skills, and he emphasizes respect for women.
Verdict While not for everyone, this title will appeal to men looking for a quirky slant on basic dating tips.—Mahnaz Dar, Library Journal

Unger, Harlow Giles. “Mr. President”: George Washington and the Making of the Nation’s Highest Office. Da Capo. 2013. 273p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780306819612. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780306822414. BIOG
Focusing on George Washington’s presidency, Unger (formerly, Distinguished Visiting Fellow in American History, George Washington’s Mount Vernon; John Quincy Adams) looks less at the man and more at his work in defining America’s highest political office. The author elaborates on Washington’s political savvy as his position, initially contemplated to be more ceremonial, evolved to one embodying executive power. Forced to confront problems that threatened a young nation (such as the Whiskey Rebellion and attempts to draw America into the French Revolution), Washington, per Unger, was compelled to create powers within his office effectively to keep the United States on course. But Unger has a further point (his book is not entirely a neutral history), arguing that the current overextension of presidential powers (in his opinion) owes its origin to President Washington’s defining of the office. The book sporadically strays from its focus, for example to events in prerevolutionary France, but Unger skillfully weaves these threads back into his subject.
Verdict Written with spirit and some subtlety, this work demonstrates that George Washington’s contributions to the character of federal executive powers have been nearly as influential as his military leadership. Recommended to readers in early American and presidential history and U.S. political science.—Benjamin Brudner, Curry Coll. Lib., Milton, MA

Wasser, Laura A. It Doesn’t Have To Be That Way: How To Divorce Without Destroying Your Family or Bankrupting Yourself. St. Martin’s. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250029782. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250029775. PSYCH
Author Wasser is a divorce lawyer for celebrity clients such as Maria Shriver and Britney Spears. Here, she explains the process of a breakup for the layperson in both a humorous and an easy-to-understand manner. In addition, she highlights many of the complications involved in ending the domestic partnership of same-sex couples and relationships that don’t last and include children outside of marriage. The purpose of the book is to clarify the financial and emotional issues requiring familiarity for those going through or considering divorce. Although Wasser concedes that handling these issues varies from state to state, she describes the commonalities that are important for anyone going through this experience. Illustrations and straightforward explanations of legal documents that one may see during the divorce proceedings are also provided. Each chapter contains a one-page “in brief” section summing up items to consider (e.g., “seek counseling—together if you can, on your own if that doesn’t work.”)
Verdict Suggested for anyone going through or considering divorce or separation, or for general readers interested in understanding the divorce process better.—Rachael Elrod, The Citadel, Charleston, SC