Nonfiction: Karl Barth; “Ol’ Man River”; Creative Britain; Gangs; Peter, Paul, & Mary | Xpress Reviews

Week ending November 7, 2014

Bender, Kimlyn J. Confessing Christ for Church and World: Studies in Modern Theology. IVP. Dec. 2014. 432p. index. ISBN 9780830840595. pap. $40; ebk. ISBN 9780830896745. REL
The title of Bender’s (theology, Baylor Univ.) latest work does not fully address the nature of its contents. Generally, the author discusses relevant theological topics related to Christ, church, and scripture in the context of the theology of Karl Barth (1886–1968) and Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768–1834). The ideas of these two theologians, primarily Barth, are shown to be relevant to modern theological issues. The book is comprised of three parts. In the first section, Bender addresses Barth’s doctrine of the church in relation to American evangelicalism. He spends later chapters focusing on the canon as a theological category and mentioning Barth’s popular Gifford Lectures, which are collected in Knowledge of God and the Service of God According to the Teaching of the Reformation. It is readily apparent that the author has a great appreciation for Barth, which may affect the critical analysis he provides regarding the theologian. Overall, however, this is an insightful, well-written book that makes a contribution to Barth studies and to theology in general.
Verdict Those with an interest in Barth or Schleiermacher will find this book to be informative and valuable.—John Jaeger, Dallas Baptist Univ. Lib.

Decker, Todd. Who Should Sing ‘Ol’ Man River’? The Lives of an American Song. Oxford Univ. Nov. 2014. 240p. illus. discog. notes. index. ISBN 9780199389186. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780199389209. MUSIC
oldmanriver110714Since 1926, few years have passed when someone hasn’t recorded (or performed live) a version of “Ol’ Man River,” written by Oscar Hammerstein II, with music by Jerome Kern. Decker (music, Washington Univ., St. Louis; Music Makes Me: Fred Astaire and Jazz; Show Boat: Performing Race in an American Musical) traces the song’s evolution from its birth—inspired by the voice of Paul Robeson—through versions jazzed up, rocked out, and sung for the Clintons at the White House, by performers as diverse as Cab Calloway, the Beach Boys, Cher, and Aretha Franklin. Words like darkies and boss man have come and gone, and the author explores how singers have made small but crucial changes to words, tune, and tempo. Through an accompanying website, readers can hear many of the versions mentioned in the text.
Verdict Decker doesn’t pass judgment on who should sing “Ol’ Man River” but covers who has sung it and in what ways. Though many of the versions can be found on the Internet, password access to a single website adds value to the book. The writing is accessible, though the narrow subject and detailed musical discussion make this most suitable for academic libraries. [See “African American Lives: Books for February, Black History Month,” LJ 11/1/14.]Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX

Dixon-Cooper, Hazel & Bridgett Walther. Harness Astrology’s Bad Boy: A Handbook for Conquering Pluto’s Tumultuous Transit. Atria. Nov. 2014. 256p. illus. ISBN 9781582704555. pap. $16. PARAPSYCH
Dixon-Cooper (Friends on a Rotten Day; Born on a Rotten Day; Love on a Rotten Day) and Walther, the snarky astrologers and power duo behind Harness Astrology’s Bad Boy, serve humorous tips and tricks on how to handle Pluto’s difficult transits. While they cater to a more knowledgeable crowd, they add enough fundamental information about the practice of astrology to set any weary reader at ease. On the side of sometimes dark anecdotes, the authors dish jokes and poke fun at heavy implications and predictions in full demonstration of their astrological self-awareness and expertise. When it comes to Pluto, “size doesn’t matter.” They focus on the heavily debated Pluto with confidence despite its possible lack of recognition by the International Astronomical Union as a planet. The authors organize the book in digestible sections, giving readers control of how much of Pluto’s truth they can handle.
Verdict This would make a nice addition to a budding astrological library but may not be appropriate for first-timers looking for a comprehensive account of the ins and outs of astrology (beyond the meanings and interpretations of the bad boy Pluto).—Kurt Yalcin, Library Journal

Hall, Caroline J. A Thorn in the Flesh: How Gay Sexuality Is Changing the Episcopal Church. Rowman & Littlefield. 2013. 328p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781442219946. $38; ebk. ISBN 9781442219960. REL
Hall (VP, Inter-Anglican Affairs, Integrity), an Episcopal priest with a parish in California, analyzes why homosexuality has become a divisive issue for the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion. Looking back over the last half-century, she reveals loss of church membership, decline in American global prestige, cultural polarization and scapegoating, and the rise of the Moral Majority in response to 1960s upheavals as potent factors escalating the conflict into other provinces of the global Anglican Communion. Not only did churches and entire dioceses leave the Episcopal Church, but entire provinces tried to have other provinces censured or even removed from the communion over attitudes toward local jurisdiction of bishops and primates and the ordination of openly gay bishops.
Verdict An informative, clear, and enlighteningly objective treatment of escalating religious and political dissension over the issue of same-gendered sexual expression; highly recommended for religious, political, and sociological professionals and laity interested in these topics, which resonate in other religions and nations as well.—Carolyn Craft, emerita, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA

Hewison, Robert. Cultural Capital: The Rise and Fall of Creative Britain. Verso. Nov. 2014. 288p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781781685914. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781781685921. FINE ARTS
culturalcapital110714Widely regarded as Britain’s preeminent social critic on the nexus of culture, commercialism, and public policy, Hewison continues his arc of British aesthetic and political exegesis begun in In Anger: Culture in the Cold War, 1945–60 (1981), The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate of Decline (1987), and Culture and Consensus: England, Art, and Politics Since 1940 (1995) with this examination of contemporary England’s creative golden age, a seeming embarrassment of cultural achievements in the New Labour era. The concept of “Cool Britannia”—“cool Britannia, Britannia rules the air waves”—a fevered pro-British period in the 1990s rife with Britpop (Spice Girls!), the Millennium Dome project, the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, and, of course, Tony Blair, a prime minister who assiduously courted and promoted the arts but had little knowledge or appreciation for it, all factor prominently in this cautionary tale of how so much—money, resources, political time and effort—ultimately benefited so few.
Verdict The author looks into the gaping maw of the vast Blair-era British artistic-industrial complex and paints a not-so-pretty picture. This one’s not for the faint of academic heart but would be a boon for graduate-level contemporary British and arts and social policy collections.—Barry X. Miller, Austin P.L., TX

Reynolds, Julia. Blood in the Fields: Ten Years Inside California’s Nuestra Familia Gang. Chicago Review. 2014. 368p. index. ISBN 9781613749692. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781613749722. CRIME
With a focus on a handful of key players, journalist Reynolds has delved deep into the world of the Salinas, CA–based Nuestra Familia (NF) gang. Some stories—such as that of Lil Mando—are heartbreaking. Born into the gang, Mando is now serving 29 years to life for murder, an act he committed on the order of his “boss” and under threat of being killed himself. With unparalleled access to gang leaders, gang members, wives and girlfriends, police detectives, and FBI agents, the author has extensively documented the “NF” universe. The gang leaders run things from prison via an elaborate communication system involving their women. The leaders provide lessons on the history and rules of the NF to younger members when they do meet up in juvenile facilities. Reynolds draws an interesting comparison between Detective Reyes “making his bones” as a corrections officer to the young gang members committing crimes on their way up and how difficult it is for young men to avoid life in the gang. The book would benefit from more charts or photographs to help the reader keep track of all the players. The PBS documentary Nuestra Familia, Our Family, written and coproduced by Reynolds, is a valuable complement.
Verdict Recommended for regional and sociology collections.—Karen Sandlin Silverman, Scarborough H.S. Lib., ME

Tatarella, Francesca. Natural Architecture Now: New Projects from Outside the Boundaries of Design. Princeton Architectural. 2014. 192p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9781616891404. pap. $39.95. ARCH
naturalarchitecture110714Milanese landscape architect and architectural critic Tatarella illustrates and explains the natural work of 50 designers from 25 studios around the world: all small structures built of natural materials such as bamboo, mud, sticks, sand, reeds, willows, and sedges. Only one piece is comprised of plywood. The book continues the missions, visions, and passions of Alessandro Rocca’s Natural Architecture (2007). Almost all of these works are low-key, low-cost, on-site, elementary, and temporary, and include pavilions, platforms, shelters, markers, stages, nests, benches, towers, domes, and sculpture. Anyone and everyone in the world—at any age—could make and use what these marvelous creations entail in terms of construction and admiration: compliance with and sensitivity toward nature. Dozens of books have appeared on the subject of environmental art and architecture since the 1970s, blooming from histories and memories of hundreds of earlier years.
Verdict An excellent textbook for grade school to graduate school art studios and beyond.Peter S. Kaufman, Boston Architectural Ctr.

Webber, Christopher L. Give Me Liberty: Speakers and Speeches That Have Shaped America. Pegasus. Nov. 2014. 429p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781605986333. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781605987125. HIST
Webber (American to the Backbone; The Vestry Handbook) looks to reignite the debate on the meanings of freedom and liberty by telling the stories of speeches throughout American history that address these notions. He places the speeches in the context of their historical setting as well as the speaker’s life in an attempt to provide greater clarity. However, the book suffers from several flaws. The list of speakers is uninspired, featuring the same folks who are often bandied about. The pieces include Patrick Henry’s infamous “Give me liberty or give me death,” as well as Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s popular “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Further, of the 14 speakers featured, only three are women and two are African American. (However, Martin Luther King Jr. gets his own chapter.) Webber claims these orations are part of our “collective consciousness,” but that may be owing to our own bias as a society. Finally, the author does not state why he chose these speeches. A more diverse collection of words and speakers might have provided a different insight into liberty and freedom.
Verdict Despite these flaws, this book will interest those seeking an introduction to American oratorical history or the changing meaning of liberty in American history.—Jason Martin, Stetson Univ. Lib., DeLand, FL

Yarrow, Peter & others. Peter Paul and Mary: Fifty Years in Music and Life. Imagine: Charlesbridge. Nov. 2014. 144p. photos. index. ISBN 9781936140329. $29.95. MUSIC
Musicians Yarrow and Noel Paul Stookey gather here their thoughts and memories with the words and interviews of the late Mary Travers (1936–2009). The story of this prolific musical trio is told through photographs capturing moments of solitude as well as those shared with audiences in their many activist causes, including well-known performances for President John F. Kennedy, Queen Elizabeth II, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and many others. Written as a personal reflection, this title shows the love and respect the trio shared for one another. The group’s role as advocates for peace and justice is well represented by the chosen images, documents, and corresponding personal insights.
Verdict This well-executed book covers the history of folk musicians Peter, Paul, and Mary from the group’s inception more than 50 years ago. The musicians successfully present the reflections and perspectives of the moments they have shared with their characteristic approach, through one powerful voice.—Elizabeth Berndt-Morris, Central Michigan Univ. Lib., Mount Pleasant