Social Sciences Reviews | March 1, 2014

redstarBird, Kai. The Good Spy: The Life and Death of Robert Ames. Crown. May 2014. 432p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780307889751. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780307889775. BIOG

thegoodspy031814Pulitzer Prize–winning author Bird (coauthor, American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer) pre­sents CIA intelligence officer Robert Ames (1934–83) as a serious intellectual, a devoted family man, and a hardworking, idealistic professional. After preparing readers for Ames’s death in the massive 1983 bombing of the American embassy in Beirut, Bird takes us back through Ames’s development as an expert in Arabic languages, history, and politics who increasingly ­focused on the Arab-Israeli conflict. By 1980, he was a recognized policy advisor within the CIA, state department, and White House. Bird interweaves his subject’s commitment to finding a solution to the Palestine dilemma with tracking the mounting unrest in Lebanon and increasing terrorism by Palestinians, Israelis, and militant Shiites. Readers are drawn to Ames and his effort to be a “good spy,” building solutions, even as the U.S. government, buffeted by partisan pressures, adhered to no one constructive policy. VERDICT This is a moving biography within a balanced presentation of the complex diplomacy over the Palestinian quest for statehood and the Israeli need for security, complicated by a disintegrating Lebanon and a revolutionary Iran. Bird’s view of a CIA committed to analysis and policy development contrasts with the agency depicted in Hugh Wilford’s recent America’s Great Game. A worthy addition to collections. [See Prepub Alert, 11/22/13.]—­Elizabeth ­Hayford, ­formerly with ­Associated Coll. of the Midwest, ­Evanston, IL

redstarOakes, James. The Scorpion’s Sting: Antislavery and the Coming of the Civil War. Norton. May 2014. 160p. notes. index. ISBN 9780393239935. $23.95. HIST

thescorpionssting031814In this readable and indeed riveting book, Oakes (Distinguished Professor, history, CUNY Graduate Ctr.) encapsulates but also extends arguments from his Lincoln Prize–winning Freedom National: The Destruction of Slavery in the United States, 1861–1865 to show the contested meanings of “freedom” that developed from the Revolutionary era through the Civil War. He emphasizes that antislavery advocates believed that freedom was national, the birthright of the republic and the promise of the revolution, and that, although they acknowledged that the Constitution protected slavery as a local institution, government could and should surround it with a cordon of freedom so that slavery would die because it could not grow. Like a trapped scorpion, the institution would then sting itself to death. But such a hoped-for peaceful abolition did not occur, which led to military emancipation. The idea of liberation through war was long established and practiced in American history. What was new, Oakes argues, was universal emancipation through military means. The Civil War caused that to happen, with radical implications for governmental power and the nature of freedom. Oakes’s book also is a troubling account of slavery’s resilience, which required violence to end it, a reality that has implications for freedom today as much as it explains civil war a century and a half ago. VERDICT ­ Essential for anyone wanting to know how and why emancipation came about as it did. [See Prepub Alert, 11/18/13.]—Randall M. Miller, St. Joseph’s Univ., Philadelphia

redstarStark, Peter. Astoria: Astor and Jefferson’s Lost Pacific Empire; A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival. Ecco: HarperCollins. Mar. 2014. 256p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780062218292. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062218315. HIST

astoria031814Stark (The Last Empty Places) vividly writes of fur trader John Jacob Astor’s ­capitalist quest, put forth in 1810, to establish an American colony on the northern Pacific coast at the mouth of the mighty Columbia River. His grand plans to connect an Atlantic-based America to the trade routes of the Pacific were encouraged by President Jefferson; both men wanted an American presence firmly established in the continental Northwest in competition with the British fur explorations of David Thompson. Stark’s strong familiarity with the terrain of the Rocky Mountain states and the use of the explorers’ journals serve him well in his reconstruction of the expedition’s overland journeys along the Snake River of Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon. His fascinating account of the journey’s fast sailing ship, the Tonquin, headed to Oregon by sea, provides a dramatic narrative of power struggles with the coastal Native Americans. ­VERDICT Stark’s book complements Larry Morris’s The Perilous West, which concentrates on the establishment of the Oregon Trail. Lay and undergraduate readers will appreciate this title that never loses its focus on the founding of Astoria as the prime objective within Astor’s push west. [See ­Prepub Alert, 9/9/13]—Nathan Bender, Albany Cty. P.L., Laramie, WY

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.


Guha, Ramachandra. Gandhi Before India. Knopf. Apr. 2014. 672p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9780385532297. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385532303. BIOG

Moran, Mollie. Minding the Manor: The Memoir of a 1930s English Kitchen Maid. Lyons: Globe Pequot. 2014. 360p. photos. ISBN 9780762796830. pap. $18.95. AUTOBIOG


Easterly, William. The Tyranny of Experts: Economists, Dictators, and the Forgotten Rights of the Poor. Basic Bks: Perseus. Mar. 2014. 368p. notes. ISBN 9780465031252. $29.99. BUS

French, Howard W. China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa. Knopf. May 2014. 320p. notes. index. ISBN 9780307956989. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351683. BUS


Lewis, Benny. Fluent in 3 Months: How Anyone at Any Age Can Learn To Speak Any Language from Anywhere in the World. HarperOne. Mar. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780062282699. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062282705. ED


Cline, Eric H. 1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed. Princeton Univ. (Turning Points in Ancient History). Apr. 2014. 280p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780691140896. $29.95. HIST

Diouf, Sylviane A. Slavery’s Exiles: The Story of the American Maroons. New York Univ. 2014. 384p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780814724378. $29.95. HIST

Fenn, Elizabeth A. Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People. Hill & Wang: Farrar. Mar. 2014. 480p. illus. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9780809042395. $30. HIST

Foster, Thomas A. Sex and the Founding Fathers: The American Quest for a Relatable Past. Temple. (Sexuality Studies). 2014. 228p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781439911020. $28.50; ebk. ISBN 9781439911044. HIST

Grove, Noel & others. Inside the White House: Stories from the World’s Most Famous Residence. National Geographic. 2013. 351p. illus. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781426211775. $40. HIST

Johnson, Michael G. Iroquois: People of the Longhouse. Firefly. 2013. 160p. illus. maps. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781770852181. $35. HIST

Law & Crime

Fahs, Breanne. Valerie Solanas: The Defiant Life of the Woman Who Wrote SCUM (and Shot Andy Warhol). Feminist. Apr. 2014. 360p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781558618480. pap. $22.95;

ebk. ISBN 9781558618497. CRIME

Rother, Caitlin. I’ll Take Care of You. Pinnacle: Kensington. 2014. 432p. illus. ISBN 9780786032556. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780786032563. CRIME


Good, Timothy. Earth: An Alien Enterprise; The Shocking Truth Behind the Greatest Cover-Up in Human History. Pegasus. 2013. 528p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781605984865. $25.95. PARAPSYCH

Political Science

Kamarck, Elaine C. How Change Happens—or Doesn’t: The Politics of US Public Policy. Lynne Rienner. 2013. 135p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781588269393. pap. $18.95. POL SCI

Kengor, Paul. 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative. Beaufort. 2014. 162p. notes. ISBN 9780825306990. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9780825306587. POL SCI


Kaufman, Raun K. Autism Breakthrough: The Groundbreaking Method That Has Helped Families All Over the World. St. Martin’s. Apr. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9781250041111. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466837263. PSYCH

Social Science

N., José Ángel. Illegal: Reflections of an Undocumented Immigrant. Univ. of Illinois. (Latinos in Chicago & the Midwest). Mar. 2014. 128p. ISBN 9780252038310. $80; pap. ISBN 9780252079863. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9780252096181. SOC SCI

travel & geography

Winn, Christopher. I Never Knew That About New York. Plume: Penguin. Mar. 2014. 288p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9780142180631. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101634851. TRAV

Paris: Past and Present

Baxter, John. The Golden Moments of Paris: A Guide to the Paris of the 1920s. Museyon. Mar. 2014. 272p. illus. maps. index. ISBN 9780984633470. pap. $19.95. TRAV

Few locales and epochs sound more intriguing than Paris, France, in the sizzling 1920s. Baxter (We’ll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light; The Most Beautiful Walk in the World: A Pedestrian in Paris; Chronicles of Old Paris) crafted 25 compelling stories that evoke les annes folles, or “crazy years” when American expatriates flocked to the City of Light to partake in romance, recreational drugs, and gender-bending fashions, while rubbing elbows with luminaries from the art world. Larger-than-life and unconventional characters include author and art connoisseur Gertrude Stein, artist Pablo Picasso, ballet dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, photographer Man Ray, writers F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, jazz singer Ada “Bricktop” Smith, poet Ezra Pound, and many others. This richly illustrated and beautifully formatted work also includes four walking tours of the Seine Left Bank, the path of Ernest Hemingway from the Latin Quarter and beyond, Montparnasse, and Trocadero. Francophiles and libertines alike will savor this book as they explore Paris and walk in the footsteps of so many notable and talented individuals. The index and detailed table of contents assist with finding specific information. VERDICT For larger travel collections and readers who enjoy lesser-known details of a particular travel destination.—Elizabeth Connor, Daniel Lib., The Citadel, Military Coll. of South Carolina, Charleston

Levingston, Steven. Little Demon in the City of Light: A True Story of Murder and Mesmerism in Belle Époque Paris. Doubleday. 2014. 352p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780385536035. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385536042. CRIME

Journalist Levingston’s (The Kennedy Baby; Historic littledemon031814Ships of San Francisco) latest title is a fascinating and easy-to-read true crime story about a sensational murder connected with hypnotism in late 19th-century Paris.He weaves historical details of the grisly murder of a court official by a con man and his mistress, the discovery of the body, the worldwide search for the suspects, and the subsequent trial with background information about the rise of hypnotism in the scientific world. In the style of books such as Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City, Levingston’s writing is entertaining yet informative, and clearly produced from years of research into Gabrielle Bompard, the woman called “The Little Demon” by the French press, and her lover/hypnotist, Michel Eyraud. This title also explores the sensational reaction by the public and the press to not only the missing victim, but to the unique defense claimed in court by Bompard. VERDICT Recommended for historic true crime fans, readers interested in 19th-century history, media historians, and general readers.—Amelia Osterud, Carroll Univ. Lib., Waukesha, WI

MacLeod, Janice. Paris Letters. Sourcebooks. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781402288791. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402288807. TRAV

In a similar vein to Under the Tuscan Sun or Eat, Pray, Love, this book follows a woman as she travels abroad and finds both herself and love. MacLeod (The Dating Repair Kit) hated her advertising job and decided to determine how much money she needed to quit. Obeying her sage internal voice (dubbed “Mr. Miyagi” after The Karate Kid’s teacher), she gets rid of her excess belongings, stays in more frequently, saves money, and dreams of Paris. After finally quitting her job she sets off on her big adventure. Once in Paris, friendships, adventures, and even love emerge, as it always seems to when memoirists quit their jobs and move to Europe. A relationship develops, despite the language barrier she and her “butcher amore face. The engaging addition of the author’s letters, complete with lovely drawings, is a nice touch. This aspect ties in to the Etsy business that enables her to remain in Paris longer with Christophe, penning personalized illustrated letters to online subscribers. MacLeod now paints and writes full time. VERDICT An entertaining, if not quite original, tale of the joys that come from risking everything to change your life. Recommended for those who enjoy similar travel memoirs and the romance of Paris.—Katie Lawrence, Chicago

Executive Advice

redstarBryant, Adam. Quick and Nimble: Lessons from Leading CEOs on How To Create a Culture of Innovation. Times Bks: Holt. 2014. 288p. index. ISBN 9780805097016. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780805097023. BUS

Featuring interviews with more than 200 CEOs from a variety of backgrounds and companies, this book seeks to delve into how to create a culture of innovation in any workplace by listening to what seasoned professionals have learned over the years. Bryant (senior editor, New York Times “The Corner Office”) organizes the title into two parts: the essential elements involved in workplace culture and leadership strategies for fostering innovation. Each chapter is dedicated to a particular topic and set of issues leaders commonly grapple with in ­office culture and is filled with many excerpts from Bryant’s conversations. This approach allows for patterns to emerge, and the author’s natural, conversational tone is compulsively readable. Unlike business expert and consultant Jim Collins (Good to Great; Built To Last), Bryant does little analyzing or interpreting of data. The emphasis is on the CEOs who communicate their philosophies and advice by relating their experiences and anecdotes. While some may fall prey to buzzwords and jargon that offers little help, the majority of the content presented is illuminating. VERDICT A valuable text for those seeking aspiring and current leadership in any business model. [See Prepub Alert, 7/15/13.]—Laurel Tacoma, Strayer Univ. Lib., Washington, DC

redstarMcGowan, Bill & Alisa Bowman. Pitch Perfect: How To Say It Right the First Time, Every Time. Harper Business. Apr. 2014. 288p. illus. ISBN 9780062273222. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062273239. BUS

pitchperfect031814Have you ever said something you wish you could take back or rephrase? These slips of the tongue may be insignificant—but sometimes they have devastating consequences, especially in the business world. Here communications coach and Emmy Award–­winning news correspondent ­McGowan (founder, CEO, Clarity Media Group) seeks to eliminate lost chances of perfect communication with “Seven Principles of Persuasion.” In this engaging, enlightening, and full-of-practical-advice text, McGowan calls out poor public speaking doctrine and replaces it with examples of better ways to persuade and communicate. The author breaks down clichés, targets meaningless industry jargon, and highlights simplicity and clarity. He describes how to sit or stand when addressing an audience and how to phrase your message in a way that instantly hooks listeners. His principles aren’t limited to addressing crowds but are applicable to small presentations, group meetings, moderating panels, and more. Indeed, the advice extends beyond the workplace. McGowan’s methodology is accessible—simply reading the book reduces the ubiquitous fear of public speaking to a tolerable level and makes the prospect seem enjoyable. VERDICT While this title is beneficial for anyone looking to improve their communication skills and advance professionally, it is essential for executives or professionals in environments where public speaking or pitching ideas is routine. [See Prepub Alert, 10/20/13.]—Laurel Tacoma, Strayer Univ. Lib., Washington, DC

Civil Rights at 50

redstarPurdum, Todd S. An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Two Presidents, Two Parties, and the Battle for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Holt. Apr. 2014. 400p. illus. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9780805096729. HIST

anideawhosetimehascome031814Purdum (senior writer, Politico; coauthor, A Time of Our Choosing: America’s War in Iraq) hails both the 1964 Civil Rights Act (officially H.R. 7152) and the 1965 Voting Rights Act together as the 20th century’s most important legislation. Here he shows how the former transformed the United States. The author skillfully retraces the act through a legislative minefield of conservative-proposed Jim Crow amendments, an unsuccessful filibuster led by Senator Richard Russell of Georgia, and proffered liberal revisions that were unacceptable to Southern conservatives. Along the way, Purdum composes portraits of civil rights icons including Martin Luther King Jr., Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, and the NAACP’s chief lobbyist, Clarence Mitchell. But his most important contribution is reintroducing readers to largely forgotten heroes—Rep. Bill McCullough (R-Ohio), Rep. Charles Halleck (R-Indiana), and Senator ­Everett Dirksen (R-Illinois)—all dedicated to ­racial equality and bipartisanship and who together marshaled the votes to ensure that the Civil Rights Act became the law of the land. ­VERDICT Political junkies and readers who enjoy modern American historical narratives will be gripped by this title that is an excellent companion to Gary May’s Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the Transformation of American Democracy.—Karl Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA

Risen, Clay. The Bill of the Century: The Epic Battle for the Civil Rights Act. Bloomsbury. Apr. 2014. 320p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781608198245. $28. HIST

Unlike Purdum (see above review), Risen (staff editor, New York Times; A Nation on Fire: America in the Wake of the King Assassination) claims the Civil Rights Act (1964) alone as the most important piece of legislation of the last century. Both Risen and Purdum present excellent, nuanced accounts, agreeing that Presidents Kennedy and Johnson played lesser roles than did several legislators and the accelerating Civil Rights movement itself. Arguably, Risen’s most important contribution is revealing that J. Irwin Miller and the National Council of Churches—tireless lay and ministerial advocates—served as the act’s moral conscience, and that it likely would not have passed without the resulting groundswell of public support. Risen adds deputy U.S. ­Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach to the roster of unsung heroes. He views Richard Russell and his bloc of Southern Democratic senators as the “true masters of the Senate.” Interestingly, the author concludes that the act did not create the Republican South but rather catalyzed a long-term conservative trend begun in the 1950s. VERDICT The story of the Civil Rights Act is well served by both of these books, but Purdum’s portrayals of those who supported or opposed it tend to be more detailed.—Karl ­Helicher, Upper Merion Twp. Lib., King of Prussia, PA

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