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Web Exclusive Reviews: Week of 11/24/2008

-- Publishers Weekly, 11/24/2008



Web Pick of the Week

The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up, and the Exposé
David Ray Griffin. Interlink/Olive Branch, $20 (386p) ISBN 9781566567299
Author and professor Griffin (9/11 Contradictions: An Open Letter to Congress and the Press) knows his work is referred to by officials and the media as conspiracy theory, and he has a rebuttal: “the official theory is itself a conspiracy theory.” In this companion volume to 2004's The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11, Griffin provides corrections, raises new issues and discusses “the two most important official reports about 9/11,” the 9/11 Commission Report and the National Institute of Standards and Technology report on the Twin Towers, both “prepared by people highly responsive to the wishes of the White House” and riddled with “omission and distortion from beginning to end.” Griffin addresses many points in exhaustive detail, from the physical impossibility of the official explanation of the towers’ collapse to the Commission's failure to scrutinize the administration to the NIST’s contradiction of its own scientists to the scads of eyewitness and scientific testimony in direct opposition to official claims. Citing hundreds, if not thousands, of sources, Griffin's detailed analysis is far from reactionary or delusional, building a case that, though not conclusive, raises enough valid and disturbing questions to make his call for a new investigation more convincing than ever. (Oct.)

NONFICTION

The Best Food Writing 2008
Edited by Holly Hughes. Da Capo Lifelong, $15.95 paper (400p) ISBN 9780738212517
A culinary cross-section of the latest news and trends in food, the latest collection from series editor Hughes covers all corners of the kitchen. Jason Sheehan masterfully recounts the painful trials and tribulations of molecular gastronomy; John Kessler’s all-too-relatable essay on the moral dilemma of cheap grocery store tenderloin will have foodies nodding along; and rhapsodic accounts of the quest for the perfect fried clams, biscuit, and patty melt will get readers salivating. Not all is sweetbreads and light, as contributors pull back the curtain on cloned meat, detail a lauded salumeria’s lengthy and expensive battles with the health department, and respectfully convey the kaleidoscope of emotions a restaurateur feels when closing a restaurant. The most important essay in the book, which deserves reading by any American who eats out, is “Guess Who’s Making Your Dinner,” from veteran food writer Robb Walsh (Legends of Texas Barbecue), an exploration of the Mexican-American contribution to dining in America. An exceptional collection worth revisiting, this will be a surefire hit with epicureans and cooks. (Nov.)

Brothers in Arms: The Kennedys, the Castros, and the Politics of Murder
Gus Russo and Stephen Molton. Bloomsbury, $30 (544p) ISBN 9781596915329
A follow up to the 2006 German TV documentary Rendezvous with Death, which authors Russo (Supermob) and Molton (Brave Talk) helped produce, this misleadingly-titled look into the JFK assassination puts Lee Harvey Oswald’s life under a microscope, from his time in the Marines to his life in the Soviet Union to his infamous crime. Oswald became known as a Castro supporter, traveling to Mexico City where he met with Cuban agents and was caught on an FBI surveillance tape shouting that he wanted to kill “that bastard” Kennedy. The authors cite newly released Soviet archives and interviews with Cuban and U.S. intelligence sources to buttress their claim that Oswald was a “Cuban-style Communist” and “the sole trigger man,” acting for “the aid and comfort of Fidel and Raul Castro” (they charge that conspiracy theories involving the CIA and the mafia are based on Soviet and Cuban disinformation). Russo and Molton also unravel some of the backstory of the Kennedy brothers, JFK and Jackie, and the Castros, but the focus is on Lee. Though an absorbing account, the authors’ presumption to have written “the last chapter” in the Oswald story reflects a pervasive hubris that weakens their story. (Nov.)

Jewish Pirates of the Caribbean: How a Generation of Swashbuckling Jews Carved Out an Empire in the New World in Their Quest for Treasure, Religious Freedom—and Revenge
Edward Kritzler. Doubleday, $26 (324p) ISBN 9780385513982
Historian and journalist Kritzler brings the political and religious ramifications of Caribbean pirating into a whole new context while explaining how the Jewish diaspora funded piracy to advance their religious (and financial) freedom in the New World. Through a deft combination of factual overview and anecdotes involving some of the more colorful figures of the time, Kritzler paints a unique picture of this perhaps over-exposed period of history. For centuries in Europe, Jews were shunted from country to country, exploited by penurious rulers for their financial acumen and promptly persecuted after the country became solvent (most egregiously in Spain). By financing piracy, the Jews ensured their own survival, as well as monopolizing the most lucrative income sources Europe had seen in centuries. While figures like Henry Morgan and Barbarossa will leap out at readers familiar with pirate lore, the little-known “pirate rabbi” Samuel Palache will excite just as much interest. Though Kritzler tends to leap from topic to topic, he covers an impressive interdisciplinary range—combining politics, economics and religion—that should satisfy fans of religious history and swashbuckling true stories. (Nov.)

Legacy of Secrecy: The Long Shadow of the JFK Assassination
Lamar Waldron with Thom Hartmann. Counterpoint, $33 (848p) ISBN 9781582434223
In the three years since their acclaimed expose Ultimate Sacrifice: John and Robert Kennedy, the Plan for a Coup in Cuba, and the Murder of JFK, historian Waldron and author/radio host Hartmann have accumulated new evidence with the help of “more than two dozen associates of John and Robert Kennedy” and access to “thousands of recently released documents at the National Archives,” strengthening and extend their case that the Kennedy assassination was a contract killing organized by top mob leaders working with the CIA and Cuban exile groups in response to Kennedy's crackdown on the mob and his secret 1963 plan to support a military-led coup in Cuba that promised to assassinate Castro. Waldron and Hartmann offer convincing evidence to substantiate that the killings of Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy five years later were also mob organized; in each case, the mafia was protected by their knowledge of Kennedy’s Cuba plan and the subsequent cover up. A riveting take on the assassination itself and the devastating results of government secrets, this account proves the continuing relevancy and importance of seeking the truth behind one of the U.S.’s most personal tragedies. (Nov.)

The Long Thaw: How Humans Are Changing the Next 100,000 Years of Earth’s Climate
David Archer. Princeton Univ., $22.95 (192p) ISBN 9780691136547
With so much dust and noise thrown up by those economic forces opposed to reducing carbon emissions, average readers may be hard-pressed to understand what all the fuss is about. Univ. of Chicago geophysicist Archer has perfectly pitched answers to the most basic questions about global warming while providing a sound basis for understanding the complex issues frequently misrepresented by global warming skeptics. Revisiting his technical treatment of the same subject (2006's Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast), Archer presents detailed science in layman’s language. With a breezy, conversational style, he breaks complex concepts into everyday analogies, comparing for example the oxidation and reduction of carbon dioxide in seawater with an upset stomach. Divided into three parts—the Present, the Past and the Future—Archer provides a complete picture of climate change now, in the past, and what we can expect in years and centuries to come. His models, though conservative, imply that humans won't survive the environmental consequences of severe warming over the next thousand years. While Archer is neither grim nor pessimistic, he is forthright about what's at stake, and what must do to avert catastrophe. (Nov.)

Otreo Mesa: Preserving America’s Wildest Grassland
Gregory McNamee, photos by Stephen Strom and Stephen Capra, foreword by Bill Richardson. Univ. of New Mexico, $24.95 paper (92p) ISBN 9780826343970
The Otero Mesa, in the heart of New Mexico, is one of the few pristine native grasslands remaining in the U.S. Unfortunately, this accidentally-preserved part of the Trans-Pecos is bisected from north to south by the New Mexico Rift, a series of sedimentary basins which are now the object of oil and gas development. Otero Mesa has already been designated as a Global 2000 Ecoregion by the World Wildlife Fund because of its remarkable species diversity, and Gov. Bill Richardson (who wrote the foreword) attempted in 2004 to designate it a National Conservation Area, a matter now being disputed in the courts. McNamee’s lyrical text tells the story of the region, introduces the ecosystem's plants and animals, and recounts the efforts of old ranching families to fight industry development. The area's beauty and boundless skies are captured in brilliant photos by Strom and Capra, including dramatic images of mountains, storm clouds, open horizon and leaking storage tanks. Nature writing and photography that's both artistic and evocative, this is a rare armchair journey and a compelling appeal to action. (Nov.)

Our Magnificent Bastard Tongue: The Untold History of English
John McWhorter. Gotham, $22.50 (256p) ISBN 9781592403950
This evolutionary history of the English language from author and editor McWhorter (The Power of Babel: A Natural History of Language) isn't an easy read, but those fascinated by words and grammar will find it informative, provocative and even invigorating. McWhorter's history takes on some old mysteries and widely-believed theories, mounting a solid argument for the Celtic influence on English language that literary research has for years dismissed; he also patiently explains such drastic changes as the shift from Old English to Middle English (the differences between written and spoken language explain a lot). Those who have learned English as a second language will recognize McWhorter's assertion that “English really is easy(-ish) at first and hard later”; for that, he says, we can “blame... the Danish and Scandinavian” influence. McWhorter further proves his bona fides with deft analogies, like a comparison between the evolution of English and popping a wheelie on a bicycle; he also debunks, handily, the popular notion that “a language’s grammar and the way its words pattern reflect aspects of its speakers’ culture and the way they think.” McWhorter’s iconoclastic impulses and refreshing enthusiasm makes this worth a look for anyone with a love for the language. (Nov.)

Three Steps to the Universe: From the Sun to Black Holes to the Mystery of Dark Matter
David Garfinkle and Richard Garfinkle. Univ. of Chicago, $25 (256p) ISBN 9780226283463
Meshing their complementary skill sets, physicist David (of Oakland University) and his brother, science fiction writer Richard (Celestial Matter, All of an Instant), explore some of the knottiest problems facing modern cosmologists in this tough but informative primer to modern cosmology. Aside from revealing the science behind the sun, black holes and dark matter, the Garfinkles' demonstrate how science develops, encouraging readers always to ask, “‘How do they know that?’ as a way of understanding science.” The “three steps” of the title begin in the 19th century, when scientists realized that the Earth was, at minimum, millions of years old; they then asked, “How old is the Sun?”—the first sally in a campaign that would unravel the mystery of nuclear energy, reveal how a star becomes a “white dwarf, a neutron star, or a black hole,” and spark a fierce, ongoing decades-long debate about the possibility of “black hole evaporation.” Arguing that “it is necessary to jump the barrier of user-friendliness and discover the fascinating world beyond that layer of comfort,” the Garfinkles aren't afraid to get technical, but this smart, rewarding read is helped by a welcome voice, a feel for narrative and a useful glossary. (Nov.)

Too Fat to Fish
Artie Lange with Anthony Bozza, foreword by Howard Stern. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $24.95 (320p) ISBN 9780385526562
This debut memoir from the comedian best known as Howard Stern’s radio show sidekick is scrappy, funny, tumultuous and profane, just like its author. Lange, a self-proclaimed fat guy with a heroin problem, is difficult to love, but easy to like, his shaggy-dog life story full of derogatory self-awareness and cheerful vulgarity (often in the form of casual profanity and sexism). Many episodes from this life story will be familiar to Stern listeners, including the infamous “Pig Story,” wherein Lange snorts cocaine while in full pig costume on the set of television’s MADtv. Less familiar to fans will be a sobering account of Lange’s suicide attempt and fond childhood memories of his beloved father. Lange’s outrageous and horrific behavior involves prostitution, jail time and several trips to rehab; perhaps the saddest recurring theme is the frequency with which Lange thanks someone who’s helped him, only to reveal that that person is no longer a part of his life. Glossing over Lange’s penchant for alienating people is just one oversight that keeps this warts-and-all memoir from feeling fully honest. Still, for those with a taste for his aggressive, self-loathing brand of humor will find this volume full of compulsively readable stories. Photos. (Nov.)

Under the Cover of War: The Zionist Expulsion of the Palestinians
Rosemarie M. Esber. Arabicus (Baker & Taylor, dist.), $29.95 (440p) ISBN 9780981513171
In her first effort, researcher and writer Esber takes readers on a dramatic inquest of modern Israel’s beginnings and the Arab conflict over Palestine. Reviewing historical accounts, Esber reveals that after WWII many of Europe's expelled Jews sought to regain their roots in Palestine. This meant the expulsion of the Palestinian Arab community who lived there; with the tacit approval of the United Nations, Palestinians were cruelly evicted from their homes and lives, subject to demonization and, according to Esber, a campaign of ethnic cleansing. Esber’s account abounds with first hand accounts from Arab victims recounting the terror they faced at the hands of Zionist forces. This gripping historical account illuminates the plight of Palestinians following the War, too long overshadowed in the media and historical record by the atrocity of the Holocaust; placing them back to back, Esber demonstrates a tragic domino effect, in which victims become aggressors and survival becomes a matter of fighting back. B&w photos. (Oct.)

LIFESTYLE

The Complete Slow Cooker Cookbook: Essential Recipes for Hearty and Delicious One-Pot Meals
Wendy Louise. Sourcebooks, $12.95 paper (256p) ISBN 9781402214080
In this collection of over 200 recipes for slow cookers, Louise (The Complete Crockery Cookbook) gives cooks and civilians a range of convenient options. Culled from a variety of sources, Louise’s compilation uses a can opener almost as often as a knife, but the variety, ease of preparation and crowd-pleasing flavors will keep diners happy. Standards like pea soup, beef stew, chili, fondue and roasts dominate, but more sophisticated fare such as beef fajitas, risotto, salmon poached with white wine and herbs and Chicken with Champagne and Cream will also satisfy. Imaginative uses for chicken, either whole or in part, will make welcome additions to kitchen canon, as well as appetizers like Olives Steeped in Wine, mulled wine and cider, and desserts. Canned cream of mushroom soup seems omnipresent, (even in a recipe for shredded BBQ beef), and some dishes are clearly phoned in (Caleb’s Brat’s ‘N Beer, Easy Chili Cheese Dip). Still, those seeking new uses for that dusty cooker will appreciate Louise’s variety this winter. (Dec.)

Fitting in is Overrated: The Survival Guide for Anyone Who Has Ever Felt Like an Outsider
Leonard Felder. Sterling, $17.95 (224p) ISBN 9781402748844
Felder, an author (When Difficult Relatives Happen to Good People) and psychologist, culls his years of practice with “outsiders”—including artists, environmentalists, celebrities—to offer a survival guide for the creative individual “cut out of the loop” in any number of situations, especially at work and with family. Felder examines trailblazers like Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, singer Macy Gray, Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, who faced ridicule, loneliness and exclusion ultimately to have thrived. In chapters like “The Biggest Mistakes Most Outsiders Make,” Felder focuses on overcoming self-destructive tendencies (chip on the shoulder, overcompensation), understanding your strengths as an individual, and curbing the desire to please others. Because people tend to remember “vividly... the exact details of slights and criticisms,” a single painful “outsider” experience can cause unwarranted emotional stress in a similar situation. To “get beyond the pain,” Felder offers practical but insightful coping strategies and exercises, questionnaires and meditations to build self-awareness and empowerment, and to accept the reality of toxic coworkers or relatives. Compassionate and practical throughout, Felder also includes chapters on effectively mentoring other outsiders and forming a support network. (Oct.)

Mindfully Green: A Personal and Spiritual Guide to Whole Earth Thinking
Stephanie Kaza. Shambhala, $14 paper (176p) ISBN: 9781590305836
Kaza, a biologist and professor of Environmental Studies at University of Vermont, combines Zen Buddhist practices and teachings with her 40 years as an environmentalist for this guide to enlightened environmentalism, proposing a belief in the interdependence of people and nature as the genuine way to “go green”: "When we come to see ourselves as part of the green web of life... we are naturally drawn to respond with compassion." In three parts, she guides readers through the principles of Buddhism as they apply to taking responsible action toward the earth: reducing harm, understanding suffering, seeing the big picture, letting go of desire and being in the moment. In parts two and three, she advises practical steps for joining in and taking action in everyday life and community. Kaza's measured, focused text and clear command of Buddhism and ecology should shore up convictions and commitment in the newly green, and help secular environmentalists connect with their spiritual side. (Nov.)

How to Have Style
Isaac Mizrahi. Gotham, $30 (224p) ISBN 9781592403929
Clothing designer Mizrahi, current creative director for Liz Claiborne and a semi-regular television personality, presents a complete style guide in 12 case studies, meant to address attitudes and budgets as well as size, shape and age. Looking at twelve women stuck in a fashion rut, Mizrahi tailors his approach to the specific needs of each (“When Traveling on Business,” “Reinvent Yourself,” “Be Funny and Sexy,” “Wake up from a Jeans Coma”) while drawing out universal lessons and inspiration for readers. While some of his bon mots are quite simple ("A girl can do and say anything she wants when she looks like a lady"), the makeovers themselves, captured in numerous photographs and laid out in clear, clutter-free spreads, are the real testament to his wizardry. A process that includes crafting an inspiration board and filling out Mizrahi's questionnaire, making the investment of time and energy (“you have to try on lots and lots of clothes"), and gaining the confidence:. "Know when a particular style doesn't work for you and pass on it. Confidence and knowing what's right for you is 95 percent of style." This chic, easy-to-use guide should make readers more knowing and confident. (Oct.)

ILLUSTRATED

Besa: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II
Norman H. Gershman. Syracuse Univ., $39.95 (160p) ISBN 9780815609346
Long-time fine art photographer Gershman spent five years collecting the stories of Albanian Muslims who harbored Jewish refugees during WWII as part of the Islamic tradition of Besa, or sanctuary, and his record provides a clear and powerful push back against a popular image more recently shaped by violent extremists. Each new page offers a portrait and a brief anecdote on the origins of the family, the people they helped, and the bonds that formed between the Albanian and Jewish families. Gershman's portraits are skillful and expressive, capturing warmth and pride but also the weight of the 60 years that have passed since the War. The subjects' resonant voices—“I did nothing special. All Hebrews are our brothers”—share tales of kindnesses and unexpected lives conceived in the midst of catastrophe and destruction. A haunting look at the power of love, compassion and generosity to unite faiths and deliver genuine salvation, this illustrated oral history will fascinate. 66 b&w photos. (Nov.)

Child Soldiers
Edited by Leora Kahn. PowerHouse, $45 (120p) ISBN 9781576874554
Activist and editor Kahn (Darfur: Twenty Years of War and Genocide in Sudan) has compiled a powerful illustrated volume documenting the lives of child soldiers, who currently number up to 300,000 worldwide—in places including Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Columbia, across Africa and in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Their stories are told through six brief essays and more than 60 unforgettable photographs (from almost three dozen photographers), reproduced in large, high-quality images that record clearly the faces of children standing guard, marching or resting, laden with gear and weapons. Their expressions are haunting, whether fearful, triumphant, proud or dazed. In one of six essays, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, makes it clear what’s at stake: “terrorizing and abducting young children, putting them through brutal rites of initiation, and forcing them to kill community members, sometimes even family members, or be executed.” Jo Becker of Human Rights Watch explains how others “join out of desperation”; after poverty or war drives them from their homes, many children “perceive armed groups as their best chance for survival—or simply a guarantee of at least one meal per day.” Activists and politicians should take note of this devastating volume. 65 color and b&w photos. (Nov.)

FICTION

Nick and the Glimmung
Philip K. Dick. Subterranean (www.subterraneanpress.com), $35 (128p) 9781596061682
Surreal aliens, a magical book and an illegal housecat populate Dick’s awkward, long-out-of-print sole YA novel. Nick’s cat, Horace, has been discovered, and his family has two days to surrender Horace to the anti-pet man. The only alternative they see is to emigrate to the distant Plowman’s Planet and start a new life there. Upon arriving, however, Nick finds the planet in the midst of a war, with the ancient, evil Glimmung leading birdlike werjes and rock-throwing trobes against tiny spiddles, strange printers (yes, they’re creatures) and humans. When an ever-changing book of prophecy falls into Nick’s hands, the Glimmung and its minions target him and his family. Despite the simplified structure and language, the likeliest audience is probably not kids and teens, who will see the story as hokey. But Dick’s adult fan base might forgive the at-times incoherent plot and the deus ex machina ending in light of the author’s early (if fleeting) view of an e-learning system, some wonderfully bizarre aliens and the first glimpses of concepts that would be cannibalized for use in The Galactic Pot-Healer. (Dec.)

Pigeon Post
Dumitru Tsepeneag, trans. from the French by Jane Kuntz. Dalkey Archive, $13.95 paper (166p) ISBN 9781564785169
A Romanian novelist writing in French (here newly translated into English) creates in this fragmentary, meandering work the charmingly sad tale of a solitary writer, Ed, as he attempts to make sense of his memories. From his Parisian apartment, Ed observes the comings and goings of pigeons and neighbors, such as the widow Maryse and her Pekinese, all the while relishing his solitude and sifting through the “raw material” of his sensations and memories. He resolves to write a novel by introducing anecdotes helter-skelter and enlisting the ideas of his three childhood friends named, suspiciously, Edmund, Edgar and Edward. From the responses and criticism of these trusty alter-egos, Ed constructs a kind of journal of spontaneous writing centered on his upbringing in Agen and a present flirtation with an older man who plays chess in a café for a living. Delighting in his gleeful prevarication, the narrator opens himself to witty self-scrutiny and invites the reader to participate in his inventive, surreal literary feast. (Dec.)

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