Nonfiction on Betty MacDonald, Octavia Butler, Pit Bulls, Foreign Policy, and Attica | Xpress Reviews

Week ending December 16, 2016

Becker, Paula. Looking for Betty MacDonald: The Egg, the Plague, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, and I. Univ. of Washington. Sept. 2016. 304p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780295999364. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9780295999371. LIT
This first biography of Betty MacDonald (1908–58), best known as the author of The Egg and I, the “Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle” children’s books, and creator of the iconic characters of Ma and Pa Kettle, is sure to be a must read for fans. Becker (staff historian,; coauthor, The Future Remembered) was granted access to MacDonald’s archives including family-held materials no one had ever seen before. Becker is a longtime admirer and documents MacDonald’s life with great love and respect. She covers MacDonald’s unconventional family and childhood, her stay in a tuberculosis sanitarium, her marriages, writing career, and death. MacDonald’s madcap and humorous life as written in her memoirs turns out to have a much darker side. With a generous number of photos, a family tree, a list of MacDonald’s houses, Bard family “isms,” extensive notes, an index, and further reading, this volume with send readers away satisfied and eager to reread their favorite MacDonald books.
Verdict Written in an easygoing style for the general reader, this book will appeal to anyone familiar with MacDonald’s books who has found themselves curious about the author.—Stefanie Hollmichel, Univ. of St. Thomas Law Lib., Minneapolis

starred review starCanavan, Gerry. Octavia E. Butler. Univ. of Illinois. (Modern Masters of Science Fiction). Dec. 2016. 224p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780252040665. $95; ISBN 9780252082160. pap. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780252099106. LIT
octaviabutler121616Canavan’s (American literature & pop culture, Marquette Univ.; coeditor, The Cambridge Companion to American Science Fiction) addition to this series is a welcome one indeed. A thorough exploration into Octavia E. Butler’s (1947–2006) entire collection of work, it is a much-needed volume of scholarship in sf. From “Childfinder (1947–1971)” to “Paraclete (1999–2006),” Canavan’s work carefully and thoughtfully delves into all things Butler—manuscripts from the Huntington Library, pronunciation guides, abandoned drafts, false starts, and journal excerpts from the author herself. A must-read for scholars of sf, Canavan’s scholarship is both a work of sharply dedicated research and a loving tribute to one of sf’s most creative geniuses. This approach to Butler is like no other, making it an indispensable addition to any library.
Verdict Highly recommended for university libraries and libraries with sf collections.—Misty Standage, Ivy Tech Community Coll., Evansville, IN

Fine, Cordelia. Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society. Norton. Jan. 2017. 320p. notes. ISBN 9780393082081. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780393253887. SCI
Are differences between men and women the result of evolution or biology, or are they influenced by societal development? Fine (psychology, Univ. of Melbourne; Delusions of Gender) attempts to answer this question as she reviews current research on sexual differences and the role of the brain. By examining how we have historically viewed sexual differences, the author presents findings that refute many antiquated theories. The book raises questions about the impact of testosterone, which many scientists have claimed is the key to this issue. Ultimately, Fine says, there is little compelling evidence suggesting that testosterone is responsible. In her final chapter, she notes that it’s natural to ask about biological reasons for differences between men and women but then argues that we should instead be asking how it is that “men and women can so often behave similarly despite their biological differences.” In the end, Fine states, “it’s time to stop blaming Testosterone Rex because that king is dead.” Written in a lively and accessible manner, this thought-provoking read includes valuable new information on the subject.
Verdict An intriguing option for those interested in the science behind sex.—Rebecca Hill, Zionsville, IN

Franklin, Deirdre & Linda Lombardi. The Pit Bull Life: A Dog Lover’s Companion. Countryman. Nov. 2016. 240p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781581573626. $21.95; ebk. ISBN 9781581575040. PETS
Adding to the growing body of work aimed at educating the public about bully breeds, this title is a wonderful introduction to a much-misrepresented dog. Although less academic than B. Dickey’s new book, this title is an excellent entree to bullies. Divided roughly into two sections, the book first tackles pit bull history and then the science of dog aggression. Importantly, the authors—Franklin is the founder of advocacy group Pinups for Pitbulls; Lombardi is an author and former Associated Press pets columnist—discuss the fallacy that you can tell what breed a dog is by looking. They explain the pit bull isn’t even a breed but that dogs are classified as such based on an arbitrary set of physical characteristics that can appear in any mixed-breed dog. Also included are sections on the benefits of positive training, BSL (breed-specific laws), why you should adopt a dog and what to expect when you do, and how to talk to people about pit bulls.
Verdict This book is an excellent resource on the many issues surrounding the bully breeds and dogs in general. It is appropriate for all libraries and a must-have for canine enthusiasts.—Lisa Ennis, Alabama Coll. of Osteopathic Medicine, Dothan

Goldberg, Edward. The Joint Ventured Nation: Why America Needs a New Foreign Policy. Skyhorse. Oct. 2016. 256p. index. ISBN 9781510712225. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781510712232. POL SCI
In terms of American foreign policy, it can still seem as though we’re adjusting to a post-9/11, post–Cold War, even post–World War II world. There are new alliances, new entanglements, and altogether different relationships with other countries based on myriad factors: human rights, trade, social inequality, and more. Articulating a philosophy behind what at times seems an incoherent or at least inconsistent set of policies is a challenge. According to Goldberg (international political economy, New York Univ. Ctr. for Global Affairs), a policy based in the realities of globalization, rapid communication, and environmental tenets serves our safety and material needs best. In his book, Goldberg uses the titular concept of the “joint ventured nation” as a way to describe the relationships the United States cultivates in our complicated universe. Instead of traditional allies, we create strategic partnerships based on narrower mutual (typically economic) interests to achieve common goals. The residual effect of those limited goals can be further progress in other respects, such as human rights.
Verdict This book is not nearly as dry or policy-wonkish as the title may indicate and is pragmatic and nonpartisan in scope. It would be suitable for the lay reader and for those who study these issues for professional or academic reasons.—Brett Rohlwing, Milwaukee P.L.

Poole, Steven. Rethink: The Surprising History of New Ideas. Scribner. Nov. 2016. 352p. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781501145605. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501145629. PHIL
This book by Poole (columnist, The Guardian; Unspeak) is an intelligent and topical breakdown of how new ideas are often not as new as we think. While it covers an ironically familiar topic, it does so in a clear and direct manner. The examples Poole uses range from technology to theory and philosophy. Each idea is presented fully and encapsulates a different sort of rediscovery, offering further evidence in favor of the thesis—future innovations are often the result of past lessons. Beyond being a convincing argument for studying the lessons of the past, it is also a pleasure to read. Each section is well presented, and the ideas are engaging. Readers will find that many ideas provoke reflection as concepts thought to be new and inspired are laid out more honestly. Some of the examples are so absurd as to be humorous if not for their factual nature. Poole’s writing is playful enough that such a thorough deconstruction still retains enough whimsy to carry the weightiness of the topic.
Verdict For readers interested in technology and/or innovation, this is a must-read. The instruction here may be old, but it is just as relevant today as ever and portrayed in a novel enough form to be both convincing and entertaining.—Matthew Gallagher, Victoria, BC

starred review starThompson, Heather Ann. Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy. Pantheon. Aug. 2016. 752p. photos. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9780375423222. $35; ebk. ISBN 9781101871324. CRIME
bloodinthewater121616Even after 45 years, the uprising at the New York State prison in Attica holds its fascination. In September 1971, the inmates took over the prison for four days until Gov. Nelson Rockefeller sent in troops to quell it. In the course of events, 43 inmates and guards were killed and many personal stories evolved. In contrast to the far shorter version by Tom Wicker (A Time To Die), Thompson’s (history, Univ. of Michigan; Whose Detroit?) full-length account begins with the warning signs that were ignored, a day-to-day chronicle of the uprising, and for most of the book, details of the aftermath of political repercussions. Readers beware: it is a mammoth volume, with no letup of material. For the most part, Thompson is on the side of the inmates, but she does acknowledge that the guards were victims, too. Furthermore, she brings to light the most subtle forms of government corruption within the prison system. All in all, a dramatic retelling of a memorable event in our history and a cry for justice in the face of institutional authority.
Verdict A must for anyone involved in the criminal justice system; also for the general reader interested in prisons with a lot of time on their hands.—Frances O. Sandiford, formerly with Green Haven Correctional Facility Lib., Stormville, NY