Nonfiction on John Stuart Mill, Religious Relics, Gardening, Anne Frank | Xpress Reviews

Week ending March 13, 2015

Doyle, Michael W. The Question of Intervention: John Stuart Mill and the Responsibility To Protect. Yale Univ. 2015. 288p. notes. index. ISBN 9780300172638. $40. PHIL
Doyle (Harold Brown Professor of International Affairs, Law, and Political Science, Columbia Univ.), a former advisor to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has made extensive contributions to the study of international politics. This book analyzes the ethical question of intervention in another country’s affairs from the perspective of political philosopher John Stuart Mill’s famous 1859 essay “A Few Words on Non-Intervention,” included in the appendix. As Doyle points out, Mill’s moral reasons for nonintervention have to be evaluated, as Mill himself did, in light of the justifications for exceptions that override and disregard it, namely humanitarian protection, self-determination, and national security. The chief value of Doyle’s book is in his application of Mill’s ethics to modern circumstances. He traces the ideological origin of the modern “Responsibility To Protect,” as it is understood in international law, to Mill’s essay and elucidates examples from both Mill’s time and our own—this makes the book a valuable supplementary means to understanding the essay for the 21st-century reader. The multifaceted, geopolitical implications of intervention and nonintervention in such cases as Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia, Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and a very timely chapter on the relatively recent events in Muammar al-Qaddafi’s Libya will be of particular interest to students of foreign policy.
Verdict Doyle’s writing is clear and erudite, but this book is recommended mainly for an academic audience, political science majors and graduate students, and scholars. Another work to look specifically at Mill’s ideas on international relations, including nonintervention, is Georgios Varouxakis’s Mill on Nationality.—Jeffrey J. Dickens, Southern Connecticut State Univ. Libs., New Haven

Gibson, David & Michael McKinley. Finding Jesus: Faith. Fact. Forgery; Six Holy Objects That Tell the Remarkable Story of the Gospels. St. Martin’s. 2015. 256p. bibliog. ISBN 9781250069108. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466877900. REL
This work is released simultaneously with a six-part television series of the same name airing on CNN in March and April, which will culminate with an episode on Mary Magdalene on Easter Sunday. Each chapter is devoted to a different relic or set of remains: John the Baptist, the James Ossuary, Mary Magdalene, the Gospel of Judas, the Cross, and the Shroud of Turin. The objects’ authenticity and meaning are the subjects of exploration in this narrative nonfiction. Gibson (The Rule of Benedict) and McKinley (It’s Our Game) rely heavily on quotations from scholars to support their claims. A bibliography is included, but source notes are not provided. A suspenseful narrative is achieved by presenting evidence for the significance of the relics first and then following with rebuttals that often discount everything that had been previously stated. However, the book should find a wide audience since the authors make an effort to appeal to both the faithful and the skeptical.
Verdict Although Gibson and McKinley clearly state that relics cannot scientifically prove or disprove events in the scriptures, readers interested in Christian antiquities may enjoy going along for the ride.—Alison O’Reilly Poage, Seminary of the Southwest Lib., Austin, TX

Hutchison, Hazel. The War That Used Up Words: American Writers and the First World War. Yale Univ. Mar. 2015. 304p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300195026. $45. LIT
Hutchison’s (literature, Univ. of Aberdeen, UK; Brief Lives: Henry James) book explores what it meant to be a writer during World War I through an examination of the techniques and styles of Henry James, Edith Wharton, Grace Fallow Norton, Mary Borden, Ellen La Motte, e.e. cummings, and John Dos Passos. The book is arranged chronologically, with one chapter covering each year from 1914 to 1918. While certainly well researched, with over 40 pages of notes, the book often veers off the path of defining what it meant to be an American writer during the Great War and tends simply to put works written by these writers during this period under a microscope. When the author does address meaning, it also isn’t necessarily specific. For example, while she demonstrates that writers in general had to work and publish differently owing to propaganda machines and censorship, she doesn’t make clear why it was different in World War I than in any other American war. Additionally, the book at times suffers from attempting to juggle so many highlighted authors at once while also trying to add a healthy dose of Ernest Hemingway and other heavyweights of the era.
Verdict Overall, though marketed as a book explaining meaning, this reads more like an informative essay. Not recommended.—Benjamin Brudner, Curry Coll. Lib., Milton, MA

Murphy, Elizabeth. Building Soil: A Down-to-Earth Approach; Natural Solutions for Better Gardens & Yards. Cool Springs: Quarto. Mar. 2015. 200p. photos. index. ISBN 9781591866190. pap. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781627886123. GARDENING
Many gardeners treat their soil like dirt, and then they wonder why they have such trouble growing things. Fortunately, Murphy, a soil scientist and blogger, has written a practical guide that instructs gardeners on how properly to care for their soil as the living, breathing organism it is. After breaking down the various types of soil, the author covers information that both novice and expert gardeners need to understand, including the necessary nutrients soil can require and what types of ground covers (mulch, etc.) are best for developing and maintaining a healthy growing environment. This title is a wonderful, easy-to-use resource for either those planning a new plot or anyone updating an existing landscape. It will especially be appreciated by people whose ultimate goal is an environmentally friendly, sustainable garden that will require less water and maintenance.
Verdict Libraries that don’t already own Keith Reid’s Improving Your Soil or Elizabeth Stell’s Secrets to Great Soil will want to snap up this book for their green-thumb patrons.—John Charles, Scottsdale P.L., AZ

Schnabel, Ernst. The Footsteps of Anne Frank. Southbank. Apr. 2015. 192p. tr. from German by Richard & Clara Winston. ISBN 9781904915386. pap. $18.95. HIST
annefrank031315Anne Frank’s compelling The Diary of a Young Girl and the dramatizations based on it portray approximately ten percent of her brief life. German writer and radio documentarian Schnabel (1913–86), who served as director of Northwest German Broadcasting from 1951 to 1955, traces the entirety of Frank’s life in this book, originally published in German in 1958 as a companion to the Diary, to refute charges that the diary was a forgery. Weaving together interviews with surviving household members and friends, excerpts from Anne’s other writings, and descriptions of artifacts of her life and times, Schnabel succeeds in vividly portraying the young woman’s vitality and spirit. His powerful descriptions evoke extraordinary experiences, among them a filmed snippet of a young Anne unexpectedly caught laughing on a prewar wedding film; Merwedeplein, where Anne played with friends; and the mounds of mass graves at Bergen-Belsen covered with heath grass in the mid-1950s.
Verdict Because charges persist that the diary is a forgery, this narrative—along with Miep Gies’s Anne Frank Remembered—is important testimony. Anyone who has been moved by The Diary of a Young Girl will treasure this riveting, multidimensional portrait of Anne Frank.—Laurie Unger Skinner, Coll. of Lake Cty., Waukegan, IL