Xpress Reviews: Nonfiction | First Look at New Books, January 17, 2014

Week ending January 17, 2014

Brier, Bob. Egyptomania: Our Three Thousand Year Obsession with the Land of the Pharaohs. Palgrave Macmillan. 2013. 256p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781137278609. $27. HIST
Brier (senior research fellow, Long Island Univ.–C.W. Post Campus; The Murder of Tutankhamen) presents an enthusiastic and succinct history of the lure of Ancient Egypt. After relating the birth of his own interest, he goes back to Herodotus’s visit in 450 BCE when Egypt was already considered “ancient,” then leaps to 1798 when Napoleon arrived in Egypt, the Rosetta Stone was discovered, and Europe generally rediscovered Ancient Egypt as Egyptian imagery populated the decorative arts (the book is well illustrated). In following the literal shifting of Egyptian obelisks to Rome, London, and New York, Brier tracks the spread of Egyptomania. He covers technical engineering details and, more accessibly, the many ways that Egypt has been commercialized, with Egyptian motifs used on everything from soap to sewing needles to movie theaters. Brier clearly describes the rise of the cult of Egypt in films themselves, such as the many movies involving mummies. He speculates only briefly on the reasons why Egypt is so popular as a cultural archetype; perhaps he could have explored the question more. Brier focuses less on high art and the Egyptian Revival among elite tastemakers and more on popular culture.
Verdict Likely to have a built-in readership among fans of its subject and to draw in new enthusiasts as well.—Linda White, Maplewood, MN

Haeg, Larry. Harriman vs. Hill: Wall Street’s Great Railroad War. Univ. of Minnesota. 2013. 384p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780816683642. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781452939902. BUS
Haeg, a former journalist and Wells Fargo executive, in this business history chronicles the 1901 battle over several Western rail lines. He says that on one side was James J. Hill of the Great Northern Railway, supported by the financial power broker J.P. Morgan. On the other side was Edward H. Harriman of the Union Pacific and Southern Pacific, backed by Kuhn, Loeb investment banker Jacob H. Schiff. At the center of the conflict was access to Chicago via the Chicago, Burlington, and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q). Haeg explains that when the Hill group used its minority ownership of the Northern Pacific (NP) to buy the CB&Q, it gave Harriman the opening to buy the NP out from under the conglomerate. The ensuing financial struggle to control the NP and ultimately to limit competition, Haeg says, panicked Wall Street and contributed to over a half century of stifling government regulation of the railroads.
Verdict Haeg focuses more on the financial and regulatory aspects of the railroads than on their operation, but his rapid-fire retelling of events together with colorful descriptions of the principals and the time period will hold the interest of railroad enthusiasts as well as students of business history.—Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA

starred review starLombardi, John V. How Universities Work. Johns Hopkins. 2013. 240p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781421411224. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781421411231. ED
Few educators have the depth of experience, insight, and candor of Lombardi, whose past roles as chancellor (Univ. of Massachusetts Amherst), president of a state university system (Louisiana State Univ.), president of a flagship university (Univ. of Florida), and provost (Johns Hopkins) serve him well as he explains the inner workings of the research institution. This well-organized and expertly written work delves into important aspects of the academic enterprise such as teaching, research, faculty, finance, budget, measurement, quality, regulation and governance, and other areas. For example, his description of faculty promotion processes as a means of recognizing the quality and quantity of academic accomplishment and tenure as investing in future productivity is simply and elegantly stated. These insightful sections are based on a graduate course series that Lombardi developed and taught in Florida, Massachusetts, and Louisiana, using research by colleagues associated with the Center for Measuring University Performance. The resulting work is a highly readable and informative treatise on many aspects of academe, including the use of disruptive ideas to drive change. In this context, change agents include technology, demographics, international competition, financial structure, and separation of context from content because of online learning and vocationalization trends.
Verdict Highly recommended for academics and laypersons alike.—Elizabeth Connor, Daniel Lib., The Citadel, Military Coll. of South Carolina, Charleston

starred review starRidley, Jane. The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince. Random. 2013. 752p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781400062553. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780812994759. BIOG
heirapparent011714“In his sixtieth year, he had a full-time job for the first time in his life.” England’s King Edward VII (1841–1910) has often been dismissed as a not-too-bright womanizer and wastrel, an opinion his parents, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, shared. In this well-researched and very entertaining biography, Ridley (history, Buckingham Univ.; Young Disraeli: 1804–1846) offers a nuanced portrait of a man who was more than a glutton, gambler, and unfaithful husband. Ridley makes a convincing case that the prince did accomplish much when he finally became king in 1901. Granted full access to the Royal Archives, she describes coming across a collection of over a thousand letters among the papers of George V that reveal the great efforts certain politicians (Arthur Balfour, H.H. Asquith, and Lord Lansdowne) made to “write Edward VII out of history and to suppress his achievements by giving deliberately misleading accounts of his reign.” It is greatly to Ridley’s credit that she never glosses over the great hurt and even harm that Edward caused many of the women in his life (one of his mistresses wound up incarcerated in an asylum) even as she convinces readers that “Bertie,” the playboy Prince of Wales, finally did grow up to become a hardworking and conscientious monarch.
Verdict Readers who enjoy British history and biographies, royal and otherwise, will enjoy this brilliant biography, as informative as it is absorbing. [See Prepub Alert, 6/10/13.]—Elizabeth Mellett, Brookline P.L., MA