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Nonfiction Reviews: Week of 7/23/2007

-- Publishers Weekly, 7/23/2007

Dark Victory: The Life of Bette Davis
Ed Sikov. Holt, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7548-9

The biggest surprise of Sikov's perceptive and superbly written new Bette Davis biography is that there are still fascinating details to be discovered after more than a dozen full-length biographies have been devoted to her since her 1989 death. Sikov (On Sunset Boulevard) follows the volatile actress's long career, specifying how her insecurities and craving for love “propelled her into the dueling self-medications of liquor and acting.” Even she didn't seem to understand the anger that drove her to “battle everything she encountered, from Hollywood producers to the tarnished brass doorknobs in her many houses.” Her personal life was littered with broken marriages, affairs, abortions, feuds and neglected family members, but professionally she created dozens of unforgettable performances. Both sides of her life make for compelling reading. Sikov spends two-thirds of the book documenting the grueling production of most of the 52 films Davis made under her 18-year contract at Warner Bros. These illuminating tales mix familiar lore with newly excavated material. Sikov loses some steam when Davis's film career sputtered in the late 1960s. The last 20 years (when she was “too ornery to die, too driven to sit still, too proud to recede into muted seclusion”) is dismissed too quickly in 60 pages. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.)

Mr. Basketball: George Mikan, the Minneapolis Lakers, and the Birth of the NBA
Michael Schumacher. Bloomsbury, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-59691-213-7

Schumacher (Family Business) explores the on-court life and legacy of George Mikan, the big man who revolutionized both college and professional basketball as a dominant center in the '40s and '50s and as the American Basketball Association's first commissioner in the 1960s. Several rules in the modern game were enacted to offset 6'10” Mikan's uncommon height advantage at the time: his shot-blocking ability for DePaul University led to the goaltending rule in college basketball in 1943, and his rebounding and scoring for the Minneapolis Lakers prompted the nascent NBA to widen the free-throw lane from six feet to 12 feet in 1951. Wilt Chamberlain described Mikan as the “first true superstar of the league,” and Shaquille O'Neal, who paid for Mikan's funeral when he died in 2005 in dire financial straits due to the expenses of his health problems, said, “Without George Mikan, there is no me.” A native of Joliet, Ill., Mikan was from a Croatian family and remained a true Midwesterner to the end, Schumacher writes. Schumacher's narrative sometimes gets bogged down with tedious, almost box score–like itemizing of the numerous games from Mikan's college and pro careers. Recounting these games in such specifics will be of interest to hardcore fans of the early pro game, but it does little to shed light on the man off the basketball court. (Nov.)

Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism
John Updike. Knopf, $40 (736p) ISBN 978-0-307-26640-8

Updike's latest is an endlessly welcoming series of essays—every nonfiction piece he has published in the past eight years—offering Updike's characteristically reasoned perspective on a familiar range of subjects, including Old Masters artwork, literary biography and the history of the New Yorker. The heart of the book is Updike's literary criticism, characterized by a wide lens that summarizes a good portion of an author's output: this collection is invaluable for Updike's generous assessments of contemporaries such as Gabriel García Márquez, Orhan Pamuk and Alan Hollinghurst. Updike is still at his most vibrant when sexual politics are close at hand, and his summary undressing of David Allyn's history of the sexual revolution, Make Love, Not War, is brilliant in its mingling of personal and social history. As a collection, this is also notable for its high volume of occasional writing: book introductions, short speeches and responses to magazine requests, no matter how ephemeral, are all gathered to overwhelming effect. It is hard to complain about too much of a good thing in this addition to the formidable Updike collection. 25 illus. (Oct. 29)

How Life Imitates Chess: Making the Right Moves—from the Board to the Boardroom
Garry Kasparov with
Mig Greengard. Bloomsbury, $25.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-59691-387-5

With millions of serious chess players and Kasparov a regular in international news headlines, a business manual by the champion-turned-activist seems a no-brainer. Kasparov discusses each element of chess and strains to find parallels in “life” and “the boardroom.” Yet the book is surprisingly serious and readable, even if those who persevere won't necessarily be convinced that chess is “an ideal laboratory for the decision-making process.” While offering real insight into the game, Kasparov offers somewhat less into general decision making, urging readers to be “aware of your routines, then break them” and emphasizing both “precise calculation” and “intuition and optimism.” The author's attempts at chess metaphor are often a stretch: after all, chess matches are one-on-one and win-lose-draw, resembling war far more closely than anything in the boardroom. In fact, Kasparov's examples more often come from the battlefield than from business. Without a more direct business connection, his advice reverts to platitudes (“To achieve success, our strategy must be implemented with accurate tactics”). More engaging are the author's autobiographical anecdotes about his face-off against IBM's Deep Blue computer and his 2005 transition to becoming “a full-time member of the Russian political opposition movement.” Kasparov fans will find much to enjoy, but serious business readers should look elsewhere. (Oct.)

Getting a Grip: Clarity, Creativity, and Courage in a World Gone Mad
Frances Moore Lappé. Small Planet (Chelsea Green, dist.), $14.95 paper (205p) ISBN 978-0-9794142-4-4

This determinedly optimistic manifesto-cum-workbook by the author of Diet for a Small Planet begins with the question, “Why are we as societies creating a world that we as individuals abhor?” Lappé posits that U.S. culture is grounded in a worldview of scarcity, creating a society of “competitive materialists” who practice a “Thin Democracy” of electoral politics in a “one rule” market economy that returns wealth to wealth and leads to an ever-increasing concentration of power.” Yet she believes there is “no reason we can't” create a values-guided, empowering democracy based on the premise of “plenty,” where individuals and communities take charge of public life and engage in active listening, conflict mediation, dialogue and judgment. Full of charts comparing “Thin Democracy” constructs with “Living Democracy” alternatives, and ending with a study guide for community “Group Talk,” the book includes numerous examples of people practicing “Living Democracy,” from Nobel Prize–winner Muhammad Yunus, instigator of the international microcredit movement, to School Mediation Associates, which teaches conflict resolution and peer mediations skills. Unfortunately, Lappé's coverage of many of these inspiring stories is unintelligibly thin, too often referring readers to her Web site for backup. (Oct. 31)

The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia
Orlando Figes. Holt, $35 (784p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7461-1

One in eight people in the Soviet Union were victims of Stalin's terror—virtually no family was untouched by purges, the gulag, forced collectivization and resettlement, says Figes in this nuanced, highly textured look at personal life under Soviet rule. Relying heavily on oral history, Figes, winner of an L.A. Times Book Prize for A People's Tragedy: The Russian Revolution, 1891–1924, highlights how individuals attempted to maintain a sense of self even in the worst years of the Stalinist purges. More often than not, they learned to stay silent and conform, even after Khrushchev's thaw lifted the veil on some of Stalin's crimes. Figes shows how, beginning with the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the Soviet experience radically changed personal and family life. People denied their experiences, roots and their condemned relatives in order to survive and, in some cases, thrive. At the same time, Soviet residents achieved great things, including the defeat of the Nazis in WWII, that Russians remember with pride. By seamlessly integrating the political, cultural and social with the stories of particular people and families, Figes retells all of Soviet history and enlarges our understanding of it. Photos. (Oct. 2)

Dead Man in Paradise: Unraveling a Murder from a Time of Revolution
J.B. MacKinnon. New Press, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59558-181-5

In the Dominican Republic, in the summer of 1965, when a popular rebellion triggered civil war and intervention by American troops, the author's uncle Arthur, a Canadian priest, was killed along with two policemen under suspicious circumstances. In this engrossing investigation, journalist MacKinnon (coauthor of Plenty), winner of three National Magazine Awards, searches for the truth behind his uncle's death and the dark legacy of dictatorship and poverty that it symbolizes. The story is something of a picaresque through the modern Dominican Republic. The author encounters a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, tight-lipped generals brooding over past crimes, and a populace fearful of the police and of outsiders asking questions; as he wanders about looking for witnesses, he gets lost in a maze of rural hamlets that are all named Los Jobillos. The official line that Father Art was accidentally shot while speeding through a checkpoint becomes increasingly dubious, and other possibilities arise: that he was collateral damage in a fight over a woman or, more probably, assassinated for speaking out against repression and poverty. Through MacKinnon's novelistic treatment, this intriguing mystery unfolds into a haunting portrait of a rich land marked by grotesque squalor, brutal inequality and an abiding thirst for social justice. (Oct.)

Vermeer
Albert Blankert,
John Michael Montias and
Gilles Aillaud. Overlook, $65 (240p) ISBN 978-1-58567-979-9

Vermeer could not have anticipated that The Girl with a Pearl Earring would make him a pop culture icon. This oversized art book paints a wide-ranging critical and historical portrait. Vermeer completed only 30-some paintings, which are beautifully reproduced in plates that celebrate every facet of these marvelous works. Other illustrations develop a rich context for the paintings, complementing three notable essays (following a brief introduction by the late French artist Aillaud). Blankert, a Vermeer expert at Utrecht University in the Netherlands, serves as eloquent docent in two essays, plus a catalogue that documents provenance to the present day. Montias, an expert in 17th-century Dutch politics and economics who died in 2005, combs the scarce records of 16th- and 17th-century Delft to conjure Vermeer's environment, drawing on primary documents—from marriage certificates to house inventories listing objects that often appear in paintings (also listed in a full appendix). Unlike many, neither Blankert nor Montias see Vermeer as a “neglected genius”: he did well enough in his lifetime—or would have, if he hadn't had so many children and nefarious relatives. But as they do show, the artist's star rose through the 18th century, and the scholars, updating their 1978 British edition of this work, bring the story up to the present. 164 color and 35 b&w illus. (Oct.)

Schulz and Peanuts: A Biography
David Michaelis. Harper, $34.95 (688p) ISBN 978-0-06-621393-4

For all the joy Charlie Brown and the gang gave readers over half a century, their creator, Charles Schulz, was a profoundly unhappy man. It's widely known that he hated the name Peanuts, which was foisted on the strip by his syndicate. But Michaelis (N.C. Wyeth: A Biography), given access to family, friends and personal papers, reveals the full extent of Schulz's depression, tracing its origins in his Minnesota childhood, with parents reluctant to encourage his artistic dreams and yearbook editors who scrapped his illustrations without explanation. Nearly 250 Peanuts strips are woven into the biography, demonstrating just how much of his life story Schulz poured into the cartoon. In one sequence, Snoopy's crush on a girl dog is revealed as a barely disguised retelling of the artist's extramarital affair. Michaelis is especially strong in recounting Schulz's artistic development, teasing out the influences on his unique characterization of children. And Michaelis makes plain the full impact of Peanuts' first decades and how much it puzzled and unnerved other cartoonists. This is a fascinating account of an artist who devoted his life to his work in the painful belief that it was all he had. 16 pages of b&w photos; 240 b&w comic strips throughout. (Oct. 16)

Oology and Ralph's Talking Eggs: Bird Conservation Comes Out of Its Shell
Carrol L. Henderson. Univ. of Texas, $29.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-292-71451-9

When Iowa farmer Ralph Handsaker died in 1969, he left thousands of wild birds' eggs that he had gathered himself or obtained from oologists (egg collectors) around the world. In 2003, the author of this delightful little book went to see this remarkable collection, intact in Ralph's abandoned farmhouse, and he was inspired to tell the stories behind the eggs. First, he gives an account of how Ralph and other oologists gathered, preserved and labeled their finds, using illustrated bird cards and books to aid in identification and price lists to facilitate trading. Henderson then describes 60 of the bird species whose eggs are in Ralph's collection, from the ubiquitous house sparrow to the exotic scarlet ibis, noting especially the factors, such as chemicals, oil spills and loss of habitat, that have caused many species to decline. Henderson, who is an official with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, is devoted to the preservation of bird populations, and an important part of his book is a time line of the history of bird conservation in North America. An epilogue provides a satisfying conclusion: Ralph Handsaker's descendants have donated his egg collection to Yale's Peabody Museum. Color and b&w photos. (Oct.)

Kill the Princess: Why Women Still Aren't Free from the Quest for a Fairytale Life
Stephanie Vermeulen. Seal, $15.95 paper (325p) ISBN 978-1-58005-223-8

Emotional intelligence expert and motivational speaker Vermeulen (EQ: Emotional Intelligence for Everyone) won't help revitalize feminism with this stereotyping polemic against what she sees as women's terminal self-sacrifice. Touching on issues like body image, mother-daughter relationships and societal constraints, Vermeulen offers not a self-help seminar for unhappy women, but a one-sided lecture telling them why they're depressed (men have suppressed them) and how to gain power over their lives (find their life work and their inner bitch). Vermeulen uses feminist fairy tales to make her point. In “Jane and the Brainstalk,” for instance, Jack pumps iron while sister Jane draws water, harvests the fields and caters to her lazy, conniving brother. The message? Men are exploitative, violent pigs, and women should rightfully take power. Vermeulen seems to be living in her own fairy tale world ruled by good (women) and evil (men). While tearing apart female stereotypes, she typecasts men. Although the author touches on important truths about persisting gender inequality, she doesn't add to our understanding of them. If Vermeulen is going to connect with a postfeminist generation, she's going to have to find a more balanced approach. (Oct.)

My Brother's Madness: A Memoir
Paul Pines. Curbstone, $15.95 (316p) ISBN 978-1-931896-34-4

In this gracefully written memoir, poet and novelist (and practicing psychotherapist) Pines narrates his and his younger brother's lives through the matrix of his brother's mental illness. A bright and sensitive child, Claude Pines was damaged by his parents' divorce, an unstable mother and relentless persecution at the hands of his father's monstrous second wife. The story alternates between scenes from the Pines brothers' childhood and Claude's descent into paranoid schizophrenia, an illness that began to assert itself when Claude was a promising medical student and which inexorably drove him into a marginal life. The author deftly handles the complex structure, and the writing compels with rich characters, black humor and clear evocations of locales ranging from an upper-class Brooklyn neighborhood in the 1950s to the drug-blighted Alphabet City of Manhattan's Lower East Side of the 1960s. Paul Pines resists making easy diagnoses and illustrates the complicated relationship between environmental and hereditary causes for a disease like Claude's. While the narrative loses some of its intensity over its last third as Claude slowly remakes himself as spokesperson for his fellow sufferers and Paul settles into a solid middle-class life, it remains engaging throughout. Never descending into easy sentimentality, Pines portrays the family tragedy of mental illness and the bare possibility of redemption we have in this life. (Oct.)

The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century
Alex Ross. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $30 (624p) ISBN 978-0-374-24939-7

Ross, the classical music critic for the New Yorker, leads a whirlwind tour from the Viennese premiere of Richard Strauss's Salome in 1906 to minimalist Steve Reich's downtown Manhattan apartment. The wide-ranging historical material is organized in thematic essays grounded in personalities and places, in a disarmingly comprehensive style reminiscent of historian Otto Friedrich. Thus, composers who led dramatic lives—such as Shostakovich's struggles under the Soviet regime—make for gripping reading, but Ross treats each composer with equal gravitas. The real strength of this study, however, lies in his detailed musical analysis, teasing out—in precise but readily accessible language—the notes that link Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story to Arnold Schoenberg's avant-garde compositions or hint at a connection between Sibelius and John Coltrane. Among the many notable passages, a close reading of Benjamin Britten's opera Peter Grimes stands out for its masterful blend of artistic and biographical insight. Readers new to classical music will quickly seek out the recordings Ross recommends, especially the works by less prominent composers, and even avid fans will find themselves hearing familiar favorites with new ears. (Oct.)

My Colombian War: A Journey Through the Country I Left Behind
Silvana Paternostro. Holt, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7605-9

In this disjointed memoir, Paternostro describes her return to war-torn Colombia, which she left in the 1970s as a teenager. A member of a wealthy, landholding family, Paternostro attended American schools and universities and made a career in the U.S. as a journalist, while giving little thought to the country she left behind. Yet the crises of cocaine and civil war draw her professional attention and an assignment from the New York Times allows her to return to her coastal hometown of Barranquilla. Once there, she discovers how much her conservative family's life of privilege is at odds with her own romantic left leanings, and how the danger of being kidnapped is only matched by her countrymen's refusal to acknowledge the civil war around them. All the elements are in place for a fascinating story and yet the memoir lacks essential clarity. Although Paternostro addresses various aspects of Colombian history, she doesn't illuminate them to any great depth, and the lack of a narrative through-line leaves the book adrift. Revealingly, Paternostro writes: “I go around without contact lenses; that way I cannot see too much. I think otherwise I would not be able to smile, to talk, to sleep, to stay here.” Ultimately, the author's decision not to see clearly leaves the reader as confused as she is. (Sept.)

I Walked the Line: My Life with Johnny
Vivian Cash with
Ann Sharpsteen. Scribner, $25 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4165-3292-7

A little-known prequel to the late great Man in Black's famous life is adoringly revealed by his first wife and mother of his four daughters. Before there was June, there was Vivian, the 17-year-old girl from San Antonio, Tex., who met Cash in the summer of 1951 as he was headed overseas in the army. Three years of ardent letter writing sustained them—indeed, a good part of this book consists of Johnny's aching letters from 1951 to 1954, revealing his attempts to keep himself away from drinking and loose women, while begging her to wait for him and pray together. Finally wedded, the couple set out for Memphis, where Cash worked as a door-to-door salesman. After Johnny Cash and the Tennessee Two began to travel, Vivian, pregnant from year to year, moved with him constantly, sewed his performance clothes and scribbled lyrics for “I Walk the Line” as he drove in the car. By 1961, as Vivian Cash tells it, when Johnny was drinking and popping pills heavily, June Carter joined Johnny's tour and tenaciously pursued him. Johnny and Vivian divorced in 1966. Vivian, who died in 2005, has told her story candidly to TV producer Sharpsteen, disclosing myriad tender details and an affecting ability to forgive. (Sept.)

Brand NFL: Making and Selling America's Favorite Sport
Michael Oriard. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8078-3142-7

The National Football League is more than a collection of well-sculpted athletes; it is a business colossus that has mastered marketing and features media- savvy players, and owners who have taken full advantage of corporate sponsorship. Oriard, a former NFL offensive lineman in the 1970s and now a university professor, examines how the NFL became a business titan, examining the effects of such landmark events as the 1960 hiring of NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle and how the 1993 labor agreement between the players and owners made the league's economic structure more stable and thus much more lucrative. Oriard sometimes gets off track in detailing the league's rise to iconic status, but even his diversions on the players' struggles with owners and how racial stereotyping (even when black quarterbacks are no longer an anomaly) still colors the game are enlightening and well researched. With his casual humor and refreshing lack of academic-speak, Oriard has fashioned a riveting examination of how a violent sport has become a staggering mainstream American success. (Sept.)

A Game of Brawl: The Orioles, the Beaneaters & the Battle for the 1897 Pennant
Bill Felber, foreword by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy. Univ. of Nebraska. $24.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8032-1136-0

Labor disputes, prolonged contract holdouts and widespread suggestions of cheating—Felber's account of the national pastime isn't a telling of current events but of the 1897 pennant race between the Boston Beaneaters and Baltimore Orioles. Stark contrasts in philosophy and team makeup create the best rivalries, and Felber, executive editor of the Manhattan Mercury in Kansas, excels at demonstrating the dissimilarities between these two evenly matched opponents. As Felber points out, Boston's team had ruled the early part of the decade with clean play that “mirrored the city's puritanical approach to life,” while the Orioles, representing less genteel Baltimore, had won the last three league championships thanks in part to their “ungentlemanly methods” and “roughhouse tactics.” As the two teams battle for the pennant up until the last week of the season, Felber gives a spirited retelling of the season, giving life to greedy owners, rabid fans, drunken ballplayers and terrorized umpires, all the while bringing to life an era of baseball when home runs were a rarity, players fielded with no gloves and starting pitchers threw almost 400 innings a season. (Sept.)

The Emergency Teacher: The Inspirational Story of a New Teacher in an Inner City School
Christina Asquith foreword by Mark Bowden. Skyhorse (Sterling, dist.), $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-60239-193-2

Answering the challenge to “change a life,” freelance reporter Asquith—armed with youth, enthusiasm and idealism—enters the halls of Philadelphia's Julia de Burgos Middle School to do just that. By the end of the year, while she outlasts 25% of the other “emergency teachers” hired to meet the shortfall of teachers in Philadelphia, the fights, arsons and battles with the administration have taken their toll. Although the events of the book took place eight years ago and most of the source references are similarly dated, Asquith gives a valuable account of the challenges teachers face in the nation's inner-city schools—and the kids are the least of her worries. With little support and no curriculum, she learns to teach from her failures, recognizing the injustice to the students who need and deserve a qualified instructor. But her sense of frustration and powerlessness are most tangible when she describes the ineffectiveness of available disciplinary actions, the herd mentality of students roaming the halls and the gaping administrative holes (not cracks) through which students with special needs slip. Despite it all, the kids make Asquith's endeavor bearable if challenging. (Sept.)

Dough: A Memoir
Mort Zachter. Univ. of Georgia, $24.95 (182p) ISBN 978-0-8203-2934-5

After losing his job as an accountant, enrolling in night law school and taking out a second mortgage to support his family, Zachter answered the phone in 1994 and was asked by a banker if he would like to take control of his uncle Harry's seven-figure money market account. What he at first assumed was a practical joke turned out to be true—Harry had been living like a pauper in a housing project while running a “day-old bread store” on New York's Lower East Side for 60 years. Zachter's memoir alternates between his imaginings of daily life at the bakery from the 1940s through the '60s and his unearthing of his family's financial secrets in the 1990s. Upon stumbling on a stockpile of crumbling two-dollar bills stashed away in Harry's fruitcake boxes, a relative jokes that Zachter really is from old money. In seeking to reconcile decades of financial stress with his sudden inheritance, Zachter notes, “Multiple lifetimes of nothing but hard work and deprivation had amassed this fortune. But what good had it done?” The answer, he decides after realizing that he will never have to worry about paying the bills, is in “the gift of time” to write this book. This rich story pays off with honest but lighthearted discoveries about loyalty and wealth. (Sept.)

Ambition and Survival: Becoming a Poet
Christian Wiman. Copper Canyon (Consortium, dist.), $18 paper (252p) ISBN 978-1-55659-260-7

Before assuming command of a revamped Poetry magazine in 2002, Wiman already wielded a reputation as a serious, outspoken poet-critic. This weighty first prose collection should inspire wide attention, partly because of Wiman's current job, partly because of his astute insights and partly because he mixes poetry criticism with sometimes shocking memoir. The first few essays describe Wiman's early life in a tough West Texas town, full of “nameless angers and solitudes” and “idealized, sometimes inexplicable violence.” Later pieces examine his rough international travels, struggles with major illness and Christian belief. In between come pronouncements and propositions about poetry: it must consider lived experience and reflect both the tradition from which it comes and the poet's times. Hardy, Eliot, Heaney and Walcott merit high praise, as does the Scottish poet George Mackay Brown; Millay, Crane and Bunting get fascinatingly ambivalent appraisals. The collection's greatest strengths come in general ruminations on the writing, reading and judging of poetry, such as “[T]here is a direct correlation between the quality of the poem and the poet's capacity for suffering.” Or “Most lasting art is made by people who believe with everything in them that art is for the sake of life, but who live otherwise.” (Sept.)

The Archimedes Codex: How a Medieval Prayer Book Is Revealing the True Genius of Antiquity's Greatest Scientist
Reviel Netz and
William Noel. Da Capo, $27.50 (320p) ISBN 978-0-306-81580-5

In 1998, the auction house Christie's sold a medieval prayer book for more than $2 million. The price owed to a startling discovery: the prayers had been written over the earliest surviving manuscript of Archimedes (287–212 B.C.), the ancient world's greatest mathematician. In a delightful and fast-paced archeological and scientific detective story, Netz, a Stanford classicist, and Noel, director of the Archimedes Palimpsest Project, make palpable the excitement this discovery evoked. After the auction, they were given access to study the palimpsest; after frustrating days of trying to read the writings beneath the prayer manuscript, Netz, Noel and a team of scientists and conservators turned to a variety of imaging techniques to reconstruct the hidden Archimedes manuscript, which turned out to be heretofore undiscovered works, Balancing Planes, On Floating Bodies, The Method of Mechanical Theorems and the Stomachion, in which Archimedes wrote about topics ranging from gravity to infinity. The manuscript also revealed some lost speeches by Hyperides, one of the 10 canonical orators of antiquity. Netz and Noel's book chronicles the often difficult and demanding work surrounding the preservation of antiquities as they uncover one of the most exciting documents of ancient history. 16 pages of color photos. (Sept.)

“Live from Cape Canaveral”: Covering the Space Race, from Sputnik to Today
Jay Barbree. Collins/Smithsonian, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-123392-0

NBC TV reporter Barbree will be a familiar figure to many readers for his frequent appearances on the Today show and his decadeslong coverage of the space program. As a cub radio announcer in Georgia in the late 1950s, Barbree (coauthor of Moon Shot) realized the next big story was taking place on the rocket launch pad in Florida. He began a string of scoops early on when, hiding in a men's room stall, he heard that a satellite launch would carry the first broadcast from space, a recorded message from President Eisenhower. Barbree's inside access allows him to give pungent details: in 1961, “[t]he astronauts' crew quarters... were smelly, military, uncomfortable and too damn close to the chimpanzees' colony” (a chimp having preceded man into space). While recounting the exploits of the early cowboy astronauts, he gives equal time to the tragedies of Apollo 1 and Challenger (he broke the story on the cause of the shuttle's disaster) and the near-tragedy of Apollo 13. Barbree writes with infectious enthusiasm about the glory days of space exploration, and his book will be an enjoyable introduction for a new generation and a fond remembrance for boomers. (Sept.)

Von Braun: Dreamer of Space, Engineer of War
Michael J. Neufeld. Knopf, $35 (624p) ISBN 978-0-307-26292-9

Neufeld, chair of the Space History Division at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum, offers what is likely to be the definitive biography of Wernher von Braun (1912–1977), the man behind both Nazi Germany's V-1 and V-2 rockets and America's postwar rocket program. Spearheading America's first satellite launch in 1958, which brought the U.S. up to par with the Soviet Union in space, von Braun was celebrated on the covers of Time and Life. Neufeld has a deep understanding of the technical and human challenges von Braun faced in leading the U.S. space program and lucidly explains his role in navigating the personal and public politics, management challenges and engineering problems that had to be solved before landing men on the moon. Neufield doesn't discount von Braun's past as an SS member and Nazi scientist (which was downplayed by NASA), but concludes nonjudgmentally that von Braun's lifelong obsession with becoming the Columbus of space, not Nazi sympathies, led him to his Faustian bargain to accept resources to build rockets regardless of their source or purpose. A wide range of readers (not only science and space buffs) will find this illuminating and rewarding. 16 pages of photos. (Sept. 26)

The Science of Stephen King: From Carrie to Cell, the Terrifying Truth Behind the Horror Master's Fiction
Lois H. Gresh and
Robert Weinberg. Wiley, $15.95 paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-471-78247-6

Human characters, not science, are the heart of King's fiction, but Gresh and Weinberg (The Science of James Bond) use these tales as a jumping-off point in their latest pop-sci tie-in. In Carrie, Firestarter and The Dead Zone, mayhem arises from the use of psychic abilities, so the authors explore not only the history of such powers in fiction, but also human consciousness and modern neuroscience. The killer vehicles of King's story “Trucks” are compared to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, rounded out with a short discussion of artificial intelligence. Dreamcatcher and The Tommyknockers lead to a look at the possibility of intelligent life elsewhere, from flying-saucer paranoia to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Discussion of The Stand includes a look at fictional and real plagues, while the parallel worlds and alternate histories at the heart of The Dark Tower bring up theoretical physics from relativity to wormholes. The truths revealed are hardly terrifying, but the book is an excellent introduction to both popular science and science fiction themes. (Sept.)

Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer
Shannon Brownlee. Bloomsbury, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-58234-580-2

Contrary to Americans' common belief that in health care more is more—that more spending, drugs and technology means better care—this lucid report posits that less is actually better. Medical journalist Brownlee acknowledges that state-of-the-art medicine can improve care and save lives. But technology and drugs are misused and overused, she argues, citing a 2003 study of one million Medicare recipients, published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which showed that patients in hospitals that spent the most “were 2% to 6% more likely to die than patients in hospitals that spent the least.” Additionally, she says, billions per year are spent on unnecessary tests and drugs and on specialists who are rewarded more for some procedures than for more appropriate ones. The solution, Brownlee writes, already exists: the Veterans Health Administration outperforms the rest of the American health care system on multiple measures of quality. The main obstacle to replicating this model nationwide, according to the author, is a powerful cartel of organizations, from hospitals to drug companies, that stand to lose in such a system. Many of Brownlee's points have been much covered, but her incisiveness and proposed solution can add to the health care debate heated up by the release of Michael Moore's Sicko. (Sept.)

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story
Diane Ackerman. Norton, $23.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-393-06172-7

Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses) tells the remarkable WWII story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife, Antonina, who, with courage and coolheaded ingenuity, sheltered 300 Jews as well as Polish resisters in their villa and in animal cages and sheds. Using Antonina's diaries, other contemporary sources and her own research in Poland, Ackerman takes us into the Warsaw ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Poles' revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944. She introduces us to such varied figures as Lutz Heck, the duplicitous head of the Berlin zoo; Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, spiritual head of the ghetto; and the leaders of Zegota, the Polish organization that rescued Jews. Ackerman reveals other rescuers, like Dr. Mada Walter, who helped many Jews “pass,” giving “lessons on how to appear Aryan and not attract notice.” Ackerman's writing is viscerally evocative, as in her description of the effects of the German bombing of the zoo area: “...the sky broke open and whistling fire hurtled down, cages exploded, moats rained upward, iron bars squealed as they wrenched apart.” This suspenseful beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership. 8 pages of illus. (Sept.)

A Romanov Fantasy: Life at the Court of Anna Anderson
Frances Welch. Norton, $24.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-393-06577-0

The rumors that one of Nicholas II's daughters survived the Russian imperial family's savage murder led to a slew of claimants to the Russian throne. The most famous was Anna Anderson (1896–1984), whose legal battle for recognition as the youngest daughter, Anastasia, spawned the longest-running German court case of the 20th century, as well as books, a Broadway play and a memorable film with Ingrid Bergman playing Anna. A decade after her death, DNA tests proved that Anderson was not Anastasia but a Polish peasant; an aspiring actress, she had been in and out of German mental sanitariums until, after a 1920 suicide attempt, her claim to be Anastasia brought her to the world's attention. Anderson's bizarre clutch of supporters, comically but sympathetically portrayed by Welch, included social-climbing White Russians and an eccentric American millionaire who married Anderson when she was 72 (he was 23 years her junior). Chief among her true believers were Gleb Botkin, whose father, the Romanov physician, had been murdered alongside the czar. Anderson's denouncers included the czar's sister Xenia and Prince Felix Yussoupov, Rasputin's murderer. Welch (The Romanovs and Mr. Gibbes) has researched a complex and compelling history, a testament to the power of self-delusion and the desperate human need to believe in something bigger than ourselves. 54 illus. (Sept.)

The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism
Naomi Klein. Metropolitan, $27.50 (672p) ISBN 978-0-8050-7983-8

The neo-liberal economic policies—privatization, free trade, slashed social spending—that the “Chicago School” and the economist Milton Friedman have foisted on the world are catastrophic in two senses, argues this vigorous polemic. Because their results are disastrous—depressions, mass poverty, private corporations looting public wealth, by the author's accounting—their means must be cataclysmic, dependent on political upheavals and natural disasters as coercive pretexts for free-market “reforms” the public would normally reject. Journalist Klein (No Logo) chronicles decades of such disasters, including the Chicago School makeovers launched by South American coups; the corrupt sale of Russia's state economy to oligarchs following the collapse of the Soviet Union; the privatization of New Orleans's public schools after Katrina; and the seizure of wrecked fishing villages by resort developers after the Asian tsunami. Klein's economic and political analyses are not always meticulous. Likening free-market “shock therapies” to electroshock torture, she conflates every misdeed of right-wing dictatorships with their economic programs and paints a too simplistic picture of the Iraq conflict as a struggle over American-imposed neo-liberalism. Still, much of her critique hits home, as she demonstrates how free-market ideologues welcome, and provoke, the collapse of other people's economies. The result is a powerful populist indictment of economic orthodoxy. (Sept.)

World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism
Norman Podhoretz. Doubleday, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-385-52221-2

One of the few proud neoconservatives remaining, Podhoretz offers an impassioned defense of President Bush's foreign policy, gleefully attacking those on the left and the right who harbor suspicions that Bush fils is less than infallible. Convinced that we are in the middle of the fourth world war (the Cold War was the third), he attempts to steel us for the years of conflict to come. But Podhoretz's argument falls flat because of his refusal to face difficult realities in Iraq. He insists that the media has “resolutely tried to ignore any and all signs of progress” and repeatedly asserts that those with whom he disagrees are committed to seeing the U.S. fail in Iraq in order to enhance their professional reputations. Even in describing how the events of September 11 drew America together, Podhoretz cannot resist partisan sniping: “[E]ven on the old flag-burning Left, a few prominent personalities were painfully wrenching their unaccustomed arms into something vaguely resembling a salute.” Podhoretz's take-no-prisoners writing style will delight his partisans while infuriating his ideological opponents, whom he brands as members of a “domestic insurgency against the Bush Doctrine.” (Sept.)

Takeover: The Return of the Imperial Presidency and the Subversion of American Democracy
Charlie Savage. Little, Brown, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-316-11804-0

Savage, who won a Pulitzer for his Boston Globe articles about the signing statements George W. Bush used to negate legislation limiting presidential authority, gives that issue a key part in this account of the Bush administration's efforts to increase executive power. Covering constitutional issues as well as the political backgrounds of former White House attorneys like Alberto Gonzales and John Yoo, this detailed report traces their concerted effort, from the moment Bush took office in 2001, to “[leave] the presidency in better shape than he [Bush] found it.” The authorization to use force against Iraq is only the tip of the iceberg. Bush has already gone so far as to declare himself able to negate treaties with other nations at will, Savage reports. He also demonstrates how many of the administration's most controversial acts have their roots in Dick Cheney's experiences in the Nixon and Ford administrations. This incisive analysis of congressional and judicial efforts to check the administration's power grabs adds up to a searing indictment. (Sept. 5)

Winning the Right War: The Path to Security for America and the World
Philip Gordon. Times, $24 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8050-8657-7

Foreign policy scholar Gordon offers an eminently reasonable new strategy for fighting the war on terror that can be added to the growing pile of substantially similar denunciations of President Bush's strategy. Precise and persuasive yet oddly unimpassioned, he calls for more attention to global jihadist networks and less on Iraq, aggressively pursuing a negotiated settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and constructively engaging with Iran while attempting to contain its ambitions as a regional hegemon. This is the stuff of countless op-eds over the previous few years; one gets little sense that Gordon has brought much of his substantial experience and expertise to bear on this slim volume. By drawing parallels between the current struggle, the war in Vietnam and the Cold War, he highlights the need for creatively rethinking policy in the face of setbacks. Yet the lessons he draws from history are mostly platitudes: “The United States cannot extricate itself from the Iraq quagmire without damage or risk.... Whatever the damage may be to U.S. credibility and in the war on terror, the reality is that staying in Iraq is already damaging America's prospects, and to a greater degree and at a higher cost. The same was true in Vietnam.” (Sept.)

The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics
Jonathan Chait. Houghton Mifflin, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-0-618-68540-0

The author, a senior editor at the New Republic, is best known for declaring “I hate President George W. Bush” in 2003. This book traces the roots of his dislike back 30 years, when supply-side economics took over the Republican Party and made cutting taxes the GOP answer to all political and economic questions. “American politics has been hijacked by a tiny coterie of right-wing economic extremists,” Chait declares, “some of them ideological zealots, others merely greedy, a few of them possibly insane.” To which he adds, “the Republicans' success at defeating the democratic process explains why it has been able to enact its agenda despite a lack of popular support.” The rhetoric is inflammatory, but the case is laid out with clarity. Chait claims that traditional Republicans, religious people and social, fiscal and foreign policy conservatives have been cheated as much as liberals, and that unparalleled corruption and ruthless cynicism in Washington and the timidity of nonpartisan media allow the minority to rule. His analysis should appeal to anyone interested in politics, though many may find the style too irritating to endure. (Sept. 12)

Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America into a Nation of Children
David Harsanyi. Broadway, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7679-2432-0

Denver Post columnist Harsanyi's libertarian opus makes the case that government meddling in private lives demands our full attention. Whether bureaucrats are banning trans fats, trying to reduce drinking or legislating where citizens can smoke, Harsanyi objects. Such regulation, he believes, insults a freeborn citizenry. As he puts it: “the five most frightening words in the English language: something needs to be done.” Aiming at predictable targets like New York's Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he finds no meddler too insignificant to escape his contempt, including a Dublin, Calif., councilwoman who tried to further tighten the city's antismoking law. Harsanyi also trashes the religious right for trying to legislate morality. But the book would have benefited from more anecdotes and original reporting, instead of incessantly naming overzealous do-gooders. Moreover, Harsanyi barely considers business's role, as these dangerous do-gooders fight fast food and tobacco companies armed with hundreds of millions of marketing dollars. There's not much new, but fellow libertarians may enjoy getting carried away by the flood of Harsanyi's outrage. (Sept.)

Our Own Worst Enemy: Asking the Right Questions About Security to Protect You, Your Family, and America
Col. Randall J. Larsen (Ret.). Grand Central, $25.99 (278p) ISBN 978-0-446-58043-4

As founding director of the Institute for Homeland Security, adviser to the Center for Biosecurity at the University of Pittsburgh and author of previous books about terrorist threats, Larsen might be seen as profiting from fear of terrorist attacks. Refreshingly, he blows the whistle on fearmongers, while for the most part maintaining an understated tone. Larsen criticizes government officials at all levels—Republicans, Democrats and those without political party labels—for spending billions of dollars without a logical rationale. He explains why questions such as “What can we do to ensure that al Qaeda does not smuggle a nuclear weapon into the United States through one of our ports?” are not only uninformed but lead to wasteful spending. Larsen argues persuasively that the priorities should be preventing terrorists from acquiring weapons-grade nuclear material, detecting biological weapon attacks, improving homeland security education and designing information systems that tie together data from a variety of credible sources. The author delivers on his promise for a commonsense guide. (Sept. 7)

The Volunteer: The Incredible True Story of an Israeli Spy on the Trail of International Terrorists
Michael Ross. Skyhorse (Sterling, dist.), $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-60239-132-1

It's not surprising for an ex-spy to have an uncomplicated, us-them worldview. Accordingly, Ross, former member of the Israeli spy agency, Mossad, allows for little nuance in this memoir, which maintains a nearly colonialist view of the Muslim world, positing Israel as “a microcosm of the civilized world's struggle against a murderous ideology” and drawing unsupported parallels between Palestinian nationalist Islamism and al-Qaeda's world-spanning nihilism. Canadian-born Ross is clearly proud of his service to his adopted homeland and accepts Israel's view of its place in the Middle East. He discusses Arab torture without mention of its Israeli (or Western) counterpart and claims Israel has “given” the Palestinians a state, though Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands remains intact. When describing his operations, Ross's tone is engaging, and details of spycraft remind readers that real spies don't live in movies—“everyone,” for instance, “talks when tortured.” Readers looking for such tales will be better served than those looking for a cogent analysis of the region. (Sept.)

Reaching Past the Wire: A Nurse at Abu Ghraib
Lt. Col. Deanna Germain with
Connie Lounsbury. Minnesota Historical Society/Borealis, $24.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-87351-606-8

I realized that the military can make a good soldier out of a mother,” writes this Minnesota grandmother and lieutenant colonel in the army reserves, “but it can't take the good mother out of the soldier.” In this hardship-weary but generally positive account of her 18 months of service as nurse and soldier at Abu Ghraib, the notorious site of prisoner abuse by American military personnel, Germain seeks to redress the stigma of that enormous scandal. Detailing the daily challenges, sacrifices and service of those at Abu Ghraib, she tells of her contact with Iraqi citizens, detainee patients and foreign workers. Arriving after-the-fact and to another part of the compound, her account contains no insights into the abuse scandal itself (indeed, her take on the misdeeds of a “few” echoes the official “bad-apple” line of military and government spokespersons). The nebulous hierarchy of command at Abu Ghraib, the ambivalence of hospital staff toward wounded prisoners and first-hand glimpses of the exploitative subcontracting of Third World labor by American corporations like KBR do not shake Germain's faith in the rightness of her mission or turn her prosaic narrative—interspersed with texts of e-mails home and journal entries—from the unexamined constant of “duty to country.” (Sept. 1)

House to House: An Epic Memoir of War
David Bellavia with
John R. Bruning. Free Press, $26 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4165-7471-2

Staff sergeant Bellavia's account of the fierce 2004 fighting in Fallujah will satisfy readers who like their testosterone undiluted. Portraying himself as a hard-bitten, foul-mouthed, superbly trained warrior, deeply in love with America and the men in his unit, contemptuous of liberals and a U.S. media that fails to support soldiers fighting in the front lines of the global war on terror, Bellavia begins with a nasty urban shootout against Shiite insurgent militias. Six months later, his unit prepares to assault the massively fortified city of Fallujah in a ferocious battle that takes up the rest of the book. Anyone expecting an overview of strategy or political background to the war has picked the wrong book. Bellavia writes a precise, hour-by-hour account of the fighting, featuring repeated heroic feats and brave sacrifice from Americans but none from the enemy, contemptuously dismissed as drug-addled, suicidal maniacs. Readers will encounter a nuts-and-bolts description of weapons, house-to-house tactics, gallantry and tragic mistakes, culminating with a glorious victory that, in Bellavia's view, will go down in history with the invasion of Normandy. Like a pitch-by-pitch record of a baseball game, this detailed battle description will fascinate enthusiasts and bore everyone else. (Sept.)

Your Money and Your Brain: How the New Science of Neuroeconomics Can Help Make You Rich
Jason Zweig. S&S, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7432-7668-9

It's tempting to blame your upbringing or your stingy boss, but the real culprit in your flawed relationship with money is your very own brain, argues finance writer Zweig. Combining concepts in neuroscience, economics and psychology, he explains how our biology drives us toward good or bad investment decision. Our brains are pretty self-deceptive, it turns out: we have difficulty admitting our lack of knowledge about finances; we overestimate our own wisdom and performance; and our preference for mistakes of action rather than inaction often leads us to irrational investment decisions. Most tellingly, “humans believe we're smart enough to forecast the future even when we have been explicitly told that it is unpredictable.” Among the book's fun facts: the MRI brain scan of a cocaine addict is virtually identical to that of someone who thinks he is about to make money. Backed by stellar research and written in an entertaining, informal style that makes a complex subject accessible to the layperson, Zweig makes clear how we can understand what our brains are doing and how to use that knowledge to get out of our own way and invest wisely. (Sept.)

Doing What Matters
James M. Kilts with
John F. Manfredi and
Robert L. Lorber. Crown Business, $27.50 (288p) ISBN 978-0-307-35166-1

In a business book that reads like a case study, turnaround artist and brand-builder Kilts walks managers and CEOs through the lessons he learned while resuscitating shaving-company Gillette. Having revived Nabisco, Kilts was planning to retire until famed investor Warren Buffett persuaded him to upgrade Gillette. With an analytical tone, Kilts describes how he moved the company off the ledge and paved the way for a bidding war. The book is likely to resonate with CEOs accustomed to dense discussions of corporate successes, businessy acronyms (like ZOG, or “zero overhead growth”) and sorting through heaps of advice. On rare occasions, Kilts gets folksy, as when describing the loss of perspective that comes with immersion in an organization's culture: “If you put a frog into boiling water, it jumps out,” Kilts writes. “If you put a frog into cool water and slowly raise the temperature, the frog gets cooked before it knows what's happening.” The slow boil is bad for business, he reasons. But overall, it works as an approach for this book. (Sept.)

Rules for Renegades: How to Make More Money, Rock Your Career and Revel in Your Individuality
Christine Comaford-Lynch. McGraw-Hill, $24.95 (239p) ISBN 978-0-07-148975-1

High school dropout turned self-made multimillionaire and five-time CEO, Comaford-Lynch presents an upbeat, irreverent business book for entrepreneurs, free spirits and eponymous renegades. Focusing on passionate young people who have grit and vision but limited experience and/or resources, the author presents practical, step-by-step advice for starting a company, making it in a cutthroat environment and reaching life goals in record time, while recounting her entertaining, often hilarious life story. “To some extent, all first-time CEOs are making it up as they go along,” she says. Sure enough, she's found herself brazening her way through plenty of bizarre and touching situations: hiring employees before she actually has a firm; posing as a man to score a programming job in the macho world of '80s Microsoft; dating Bill Gates to learn confidence; making (and losing) millions of dollars through guts, sales know-how and force of personality. Emphasizing visualization and self-confidence, she tackles the spiritual issues of prosperity as well as the down-and-dirty details of payroll and writing a killer business plan. Entrepreneurs and leaders at all levels of their careers will find this inspiring, rags-to-riches story as pleasurable to read as it is thought provoking. (Sept.)

Peak: How Great Companies Get Their Mojo from Maslow
Chip Conley. Jossey-Bass, $27.95 (280p) ISBN 978-0-7879-8861-6

Despite using the word “mojo” in the subtitle and citing inspiration he received from 1960s counterculture icon Timothy Leary, this guide to better management isn't for hippies. Yes, Conley started the California boutique hotel chain Joie de Vivre Hospitality with the Phoenix Hotel, once a haven for faded rock stars. And yes, he quotes liberally from “rebel” CEOs who surf. But Conley's book is packed with thoughtful, instructional stories and advice for entrepreneurs as well as Fortune 500 managers, gleaned from his own experience as well as other business books. At the center of this confessional how-to is psychologist Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs, a pyramid that ranks human needs from base to self-actualizing. Used as the basis for employee, customer and stakeholder satisfaction, Conley contends, it can transform a business and its people. Though Stephen Covey and Peter Drucker have looked to Maslow before, Conley describes how using the pyramid saved his company from bankruptcy when the dot-com bubble burst. Conley is most successful when he expresses his ideas in numbered lists rather than the wordy passages that slow down the beginning. On the whole, though, his advice is inspiring and accessible. (Sept.)

The Age of Speed: A New Perspective for Thriving in a More-Faster-Now World
Vince Poscente. Bard (NBN, dist.), $22 (240p) ISBN 978-1-885167-67-5

Business consultant Poscente employs velocity as a catchall term for explaining how to thrive in our hyperstimulated society. A former Olympic speed skier, he explains how people and organizations can best equip themselves to surf the endless assault of tasks and data familiar to any office worker. To him, speed both causes and solves the ambiguity surrounding high technology and the competing demands of career and personal life. But even if speed is the answer, this book doesn't uncover any insight that hasn't occurred to anyone who's ever stayed late tapping out e-mails. For case studies, the book wheels out long-suffering Eastman Kodak as an example of a “Zeppelin” that couldn't keep pace with new technology. Google, meanwhile, is a “Jet” that upped the ante. But readers who want to learn from that savvy company would be better served by other studies than this brief sketch. Poscente dallies on the “Aligned Organization” and the notion that “work is no longer a place—it's a state of mind,” but the result is a string of business clichés. With almost every other page left blank, Poscente's kind enough not to demand too much of his readers' time. But the lack of substance ensures that they'll forget it even faster. (Sept.)

Religion

How Strong Women Pray
Bonnie St. John. FaithWords, $16.99 (286p) ISBN 978-0-446-57926-1

Part celebrity memoir, part how-to guide to prayer, this collection features the personal stories of many famous women who openly discuss their spiritual lives. There are some mature and wise words from singer Amy Grant, who confesses that prayer for her is often loose and unscheduled, and from actress/singer Della Reese, who has a regular morning devotional routine. Some of the stories are gripping: syndicated radio host Janet Parshall shares the story of her son's recovery from a gunshot wound to the head; Sopranos star Edie Falco reveals how prayer was the key to overcoming alcoholism; and gymnast Nadia Comaneci discusses how her family remained pious even when prayer and churchgoing were punishable offenses in Romania. The book is roughly organized into themes such as childhood, motherhood, career, marriage, dark times and maintaining a prayer life amid worldly success. Some of the most touching revelations in the book are St. John's own disclosures about fissures in her marriage, recovery from sexual abuse, and problems with perfectionism and self-esteem. At other times, though, St. John's chapters feel like excuses for name-dropping and establishing her career bona fides, which are certainly impressive (Harvard and Oxford degrees; Paralympics silver medal; working on Wall Street and in the White House), but not always obviously relevant. (Nov. 2)

Jezebel: The Untold Story of the Bible's Harlot Queen
Lesley Hazleton. Doubleday, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-385-51614-3

Like other villains of the Bible, Jezebel, it turns out, may have been gravely mischaracterized throughout history. Unlike Judas, of whom there are alternative, rehabilitative stories, the only historical account of Jezebel's life exists in the Books of Kings. What Hazleton argues, however, is that this account is self-subverting and has been misconstrued throughout history. Interlacing fictional narrative with engaging commentary, Hazleton points out that Jezebel was never sexually promiscuous or even accused of being so; the word “harlot” only ever referred to her unfaithfulness to Yahweh. And while Elijah is a universally loved biblical figure (Hazleton gives examples of Jewish, Christian and Muslim reverence for him), her reading of Kings reveals him to be the worst sort of fundamentalist—the kind who thinks that all who oppose the true faith should be killed. Hazleton draws from a deep, impressive well of scholarship and includes a fascinating travelogue of her journeys to the places described in Kings. In addition, she provides her own rich, nuanced translation and uses it to highlight the wordplay in which the biblical authors frequently engage. Replete with apt comparisons to modern Middle Eastern conflicts, this revisionist portrait is equal parts fun and sobering—a colorful history lesson that's sorely needed. (Oct. 16)

The Best Buddhist Writing 2007 Edited by
Melvin McLeod and the
editors of the Shambhala Sun .Shambhala, $16.95 paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-59030-497-6

The fourth annual collection of best Buddhist writings, as in previous years, reflects breadth and diversity among English-speaking Western Buddhists. This collection is notable for the number of reflections on love—true love, mother love, a culture based on love—that offer refreshing change from more cerebral teachings on no-self. Even as he ages, venerable Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh continues to pour forth teaching in his distinctive lyrical way, embodying what is meant by “bodhisattva,” a Buddhist saint. Dying mothers, cancer, crazy siblings, violent men in a prison yard—such concrete situations all provide food for Buddhist reflection and response. Not every piece is equally accessible, which is not a problem but a caution for some readers. Two essays of Tibetan textual commentary require patience and advanced knowledge. Anthologies are not always well served by including A-list writers; Alice Walker's essay is beautiful in parts but contains undisciplined rambling in other sections. It's interesting to hear less well-known voices, alongside those of the Dalai Lama or the American nun Pema Chödrön, who also contribute pieces. This series does a great service by highlighting views and themes as they modulate with each passing year. (Oct. 9)

One Hundred Great Catholic Books: From the Early Centuries to the Present
Don Brophy. BlueBridge, $16 (240p) ISBN 978-1-933346-08-3

Brophy, who assembles short, 300-word reviews of the best books ever written by Catholics, asserts that “people are Catholic, books are not.” As a longtime editor at the Catholic book publisher Paulist Press and author of The Story of Catholics in America, he is eminently qualified for the job and carries it out beautifully. In the introduction, Brophy spells out what qualifies a book for his list. First, it must have “nourished Catholic Christians and many other seekers over the centuries.” Second, the book must be of interest to general readers, meaning that professional theologians like Karl Rahner were disqualified. Reviews are arranged chronologically, beginning with the Sayings and Stories of the Desert Fathers and ending with Paul Elie's contemporary classic, The Life You Save May Be Your Own. Brophy acknowledges the arbitrariness of his endeavor, but it's a judicious collection. Some choices will be familiar to readers while others will be unexpected; for example, some readers may not know that Black Elk (the Sioux spiritual leader) was a Catholic convert. Brophy approaches his reviews as a believer, so that in the end any person of faith who is passionate about books will find a kind of spiritual catechism. (Oct.)

The History of Last Night's Dream: Discovering the Hidden Path to the Soul
Rodger Kamenetz. HarperOne, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-057583-0

Kamenetz's newest work continues his exploration of the Jewish tradition down yet another path: that of dreams. Like Jacob, who wrestles with God in the famous biblical dream, a leitmotif in the book, the author of the bestselling The Jew in the Lotus wrestles with personal, religious and cultural history in an ambitious quest to revivify the language of dreams. Kamenetz offers a psychological-cum-mystical version of Susan Sontag's watershed Against Interpretation. Don't “interpret” dreams, he cautions, as he lays out another way to meet and greet the nightly messages of human brains. Kamenetz offers a post-Jungian, semiarchetypal, image-centered view of dream meaning. He does so in the context of a historical overview of dream interpretation that also locates dreams in the realm of Jewish mysticism. Narratives of encounters with spiritual teachers are also part of this amalgam of a book that seems to have changed shape over time and through personal discovery. This is a disarming, hard-to-summarize, well-written and idiosyncratic book that will find a distinct audience that appreciates its reflective quirkiness. Readers who have enjoyed Kamenetz's other journeys through Judaism will follow with surprise and pleasure his next steps along a winding spiritual path. (Oct.)

Prescribing Faith: Medicine, Media, and Religion in American Culture
Claire Hoertz Badaracco. Baylor Univ., $29.95 (298p) ISBN 978-1-932792-89-8

The medical quackery of yore is commonly thought to be over. Sure, doctors may have prescribed mercury, arsenic and bloodletting in the 19th century, and they may not have washed their hands between examinations of cadavers and deliveries of babies, but aren't we more advanced now? Badaracco, professor of communications at Marquette, thinks not. The current symbiosis between medicine and media is the rival of any sort of Victorian-era medical malpractice. Big Pharm is the most profitable sector of the stock market, and pharmaceutical companies spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research and development. Badaracco shows that media, religion and medicine have been intertwined throughout American history, often producing spectacular innovations in marketing, a mess of broken bodies in medicine and frequent religious reactions against mainstream medicine, like Christian Science and the rise of popularity for Eastern religions. She writes with panache and passion enough to ask unsettling questions: if prayer works, should it be required in hospitals by insurers? And if it works, might it also carry risk? And why is the media so keen to serve as the mouthpiece for every scare tactic and miracle drug that comes down the pike? (Oct.)

Digital Dharma: A User's Guide to Expanding Consciousness in the Infosphere
Steven Vedro. Quest, $16.95 paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-8356-0859-6

In his first book, Vedro, a telecommunications consultant, explores the intersection of Eastern philosophy and the digital age. “I am not a guru or enlightened master,” he writes. “While this book is richly footnoted... it is not an intellectual treatise but rather a statement of personal wonderment at the connectedness of the inner and outer worlds.” In succeeding chapters, Vedro follows the seven chakras of energy yoga, linking each to landmarks in the development of communications technology. For example, he connects the throat chakra to the Internet and in doing so advances interesting theories about both, including the idea that the Internet challenges us to “tell the truth—and confront lies—compassionately.” In each chapter he details the effects technology has had on human development, from both a personal and global perspective, all while providing fascinating insight into its technical workings. He accompanies his narrative with an impressive array of quotations from media gurus like Marshall McLuhan and spiritual teachers such as Ken Wilber. Vedro is optimistic about the fast-expanding world of digital technology, some may say simplistically so. Yet his optimism is based on a healthy understanding of technology's pitfalls, and his absorbing book sheds much light on two normally disparate subjects. (Oct.)

Searching for the Original Bible
Randall Price. Harvest House, $12.99 paper (275p) ISBN 978-0-7369-1054-5

Price, president of World of the Bible Ministries and author of such works as Secrets of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Unholy War, has declared war on critics of the Bible. Writing from a conservative evangelical Christian perspective, he defends the integrity of the Scriptures against popular writers like Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code) as well as serious scholars like Bart Ehrman (Misquoting Jesus). To many students, the issue of biblical inerrancy—generally understood to mean that the original manuscripts of the Bible are without error—is something of a red herring. We don't have those manuscripts; how can we know that they are free from error? Price admits that we likely would not profit much by having these manuscripts and claims the copies we have are reliable. Instead, he gives the reader a scholarly, though very readable, defense of existing translations. He goes beyond the question “Can we trust the Bible?” and takes a serious look at the canonization process, the abundance of translated resources available to Bible students, the impact of extra-biblical resources and the consistency of Bible translations over thousands of years. Many charts and graphs aid the reader in putting all the information together. This is a fine book for lay and professional readers alike. (Oct.)

Shaking the System: What I Learned from the Great American Reform Movements
Tim Stafford. InterVarsity, $17 (192p) ISBN 978-0-8308-3436-5

Stafford, author of Never Mind the Joneses, presents another book of great clarity and insight—this time for the socially conscious Christian. With easy-to-follow analysis, Stafford explores four great social reform movements of American history (abolition, prohibition, women's suffrage and civil rights) and extracts lessons for contemporary activists. He points out that all these historic movements had deep roots in faith-based communities and that the most successful factions drew strength from a simple core truth (e.g., “slavery is sin,” or “women are equal to men”). Every movement also had its fractures and conflicts, its failures and burnouts. Stafford pulls out intriguing details that readers won't have learned in civics class to illustrate the pros and cons of pressure tactics, the inevitable temptation to violence and the dangers of political compromise. Stafford is nuanced and therefore persuasive—he does not entirely rule out violence and politics, but uses compelling stories to warn about their limitations. Perhaps the central message is that the world—and the Kingdom of God—need “passionate yet durable” activists: people who are rooted in community life and able to follow the rush of early idealism with the dogged lifelong stamina needed to cement change. This is required reading for every evangelical Christian with a social conscience. (Oct.)

Slightly Bad Girls of the Bible: Flawed Women Loved by a Flawless God
Liz Curtis Higgs. WaterBrook, $13.99 paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-4000-7212-5

Higgs revisits the well of biblical women for this continuation of her hugely successful Bad Girls of the Bible series. Whereas Bad Girls of the Bible and Really Bad Girls of the Bible tackled the Jezebels and Salomes, often demonstrating that these women were not as nefarious as later traditions would suggest, this one takes a different tack, looking at five “good girls” of the Bible and finding them seriously flawed. Focusing on Genesis, Higgs looks at Sarah (a control freak), Hagar (who was filled with bitterness), Rebekah (a conniving schemer who played favorites with her sons), Leah (another schemer) and Rachel (who was consumed by jealousy). One theme that emerges clearly is how fertility, or the lack of it, dominated these women's lives in a patriarchal culture. As always, Higgs's tone is chatty and girlfriendish, addressing the reader in the second person as she emphasizes the lesson—and the humor—in each woman's tale. And as always, this one capably blends fictional vignettes of contemporary “bad girls” with in-depth exegesis of their biblical counterparts' stories. Higgs also reveals her own foibles as she weaves personal anecdotes into each chapter, underscoring the book's overall theme: even faithful women can sometimes be hurtful and selfish. (Sept. 16)

A Call for Heresy: Why Dissent Is Vital to Islam and America
Anouar Majid. Univ. of Minnesota, $24.95 paper (280p) ISBN 978-0-8166-5127-6

Majid, a professor of English at the University of New England, argues that the practice of discussion and dissent, which he broadly dubs “heresy,” has died in Islamic cultures and in America, resulting in a dangerous stagnation of thought in both groups—a trait the two groups have in common despite their opposition to each other. Majid is tough on Muslims for reacting to the challenge of modernity by desperately clutching to their faith, even where he believes it's unwarranted as with the use of hijab (the veil). He says that Muslims, and some Americans, are incapable of engaging in critical self-examination, afraid to suspend their beliefs even briefly for analysis. He laments that his own native, once cosmopolitan Morocco is currently being overtaken by Wahhabism. Heresy, he believes, will revitalize both societies and rescue them from their current suffocation by right-wing conservatives on both sides. His assertion that the Qur'an is of mixed and possibly nondivine origin will certainly not win any Muslim readers to his view, and his assessment of American culture as too religious is not particularly surprising. Majid mainly and excessively quotes other scholars' works, whereas Majid's own original arguments are preferable but too infrequent. (Sept.)

Shopping for God: How Christianity Went from in Your Heart to in Your Face
James B. Twitchell. Simon & Schuster, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7432-9287-0

Twitchell (Branded Nation) offers a provocative but uneven analysis of the nexus of consumerism and Christianity. Arguing that Americans live in a religious marketplace, where “religious sensation is... manufactured, branded, packaged, shipped out, and consumed,” he examines the cultural significance of marquee signs, the appeal and limitations of megachurches and the choreography of Franklin Graham's crusades. The most fascinating sections analyze the strengths and weaknesses of mainline denominations' print and television advertising campaigns. Twitchell helpfully contextualizes the marketing of religion in the larger story of American consumerism, and he intriguingly points out that some of our most important advertising gurus were the children of clergy. Although often incisive and insightful, Twitchell's analysis is marred by an annoyingly colloquial tone and an occasional ahistoricism. Although Twitchell is clearly familiar with other historical moments in which Christianity was marketed, he seems to imagine that in some bygone era, American religion was “private.” The claim that “The old-style celeb kept his religion to himself” overlooks the fact that many old-time celebs, such as Henry Ward Beecher, were preachers. Although he rehearses the history of the Great Awakening—when newspapers puffed revivalists—he suggests that religion's status as “big news” for journalists is a new development. (Sept.)

Goth Craft: The Magickal Side of Dark Culture
Raven Digitalis. Llewellyn, $16.95 paper (316p) ISBN 978-0-7387-1104-1

Many people associate Goth with either the Columbine massacre or Marilyn Manson. But Digitalis, a neo-pagan priest, provides readers an opportunity to expand their horizons about Goth culture by starting with the basics: “What is a Goth?” Digitalis not only provides a history of Goth culture, but also includes a cheeky, fun catalogue of Goth “types” (complete with corresponding photographs) that span the spectrum—from CorporateGoths and Fetishists to MopeyGoths and PerkyGoths. Goths are “dark witches,” Digitalis explains, who practice “the magick of the Middle Path, the balanced path between light and dark” that includes “intense, sometimes unpleasant magickal workings,” but should not be confused with “black” magic. The remainder of this handbook is devoted to witchcraft—from rituals to a glossary of tools—Goth-style. Digitalis also spends a good deal of time advising readers how to handle sadness, suicidal thoughts and frequent crying, even suggesting traditional therapy as a way through “Dark Emotionalism.” Perhaps most fun for the uninitiated is Digitalis's thorough guide to obtaining Goth style with advice on clothing, the all-important makeup and piercings, among other things. Primarily, Digitalis wants readers to understand that “Contrary to popular belief, doom and gloom does not penetrate every aspect of Goth culture.” (Sept.)

Crossing the Threshold of Eternity: What the Dying Can Teach the Living
Robert L. Wise. Regal, $17.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8307-4370-4

In this unassuming but engrossing volume on what the dying can teach the living, Wise accomplishes something rather unusual: making a case for the validity of “near-death” experiences from a traditional Christian perspective. The prolific nonfiction author and novelist, an archbishop in the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches, has conservative Christian bona fides twinned with a gentle, folksy manner that invites readers to take his collection of “snapshots” from the deathbed seriously—and to confront their own fear of death. Drawing from a very wide-ranging array of Scriptural, spiritual and literary narratives, Wise hopes to inspire readers to listen to those who are dying, ask questions that help them articulate what they are experiencing and even pray for their healing as they make the passage from this world to the one Wise is convinced is just in front of them. For almost every argument that scientists have posed attempting to debunk “near-death” experiences, Wise has a countervailing anecdote, presented with winsome humility. Will his eclectic array of stories convince the skeptics? Probably not—but neither can his volume be dismissed as syncretistic psychobabble. In most respects a common-sense manual of pastoral care for the dying, this book should be popular with Christians and non-Christians alike. (Sept.)

The Case for the Real Jesus: A Journalist Investigates Current Attacks on the Identity of Christ
Lee Strobel. Zondervan, $21.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-310-24210-9

Atheist-turned-Christian Strobel, with four Gold Medallions and other awards, focuses on rediscovering the “real” Jesus, whose identity and message have come under attack in recent years. He addresses six major challenges and claims: that a “different Jesus” is seen in ancient documents that seem as credible as the four canonical gospels; that tampering by the church has damaged the Bible's portrayal of Jesus; that new explanations refute Jesus' resurrection; that Christianity copied pagan religions regarding Jesus; that Jesus didn't fulfill messianic prophecies; and that contemporary people should be able to choose what to believe about Jesus. As with his previous books, Strobel attacks the issues as an investigative journalist, though one with a clear agenda. He searches out experts (including Craig A. Evans and Michael Licona) to refute each objection, offering readers top evangelical scholarship revealed in everyday language while challenging the claims of liberal writers like John Shelby Spong, Bart Ehrman and others. “In the end,” he says, “none of these seemingly daunting challenges turned out to be close calls... they were systematically dismantled by scholars... with facts, logic and evidence.” Evangelical readers will come away with deeper understanding of the various arguments about Jesus. (Sept.)

The Great Upheaval: America and the Birth of the Modern World, 1788–1800
Jay Winik. HarperCollins, $29.95 (688p) ISBN 978-0-06-008313-7

The years 1788 to 1800 must be numbered among the most tumultuous in history, as bestselling author Winik (April 1865) magnificently demonstrates in this aptly titled book. The nascent United States, tormented by three rebellions of its own, tottered as France descended into bloody terror and imperial Russia fought the Ottomans. Republicanism, liberalism, democracy, nationalism, as well as authoritarianism: all these potent ideologies, whose effects remain with us, sprouted from this fertile soil.

The emphasis on Russian and French affairs marks Winik as being in the forefront of a growing campaign to globalize America's national history: to view “the larger age” and frame the story as “one continuous, interlocking narrative” rather than to focus myopically on events in the United States. “The world then was far more interconnected than we realize,” Winik writes. “[G]reat nations and leaders were acutely conscious of one another.”

In this version, Washington, Jefferson and Adams no longer receive exclusive star billing, but instead share the stage with such greats as the Empress Catherine, the doomed Louis XVI, Robespierre, Napoleon and Kosciuszko. If there is a criticism to be made of this approach, it is that Winik has greatly underplayed the importance of Britain in the struggle for global mastery and the quest for international order.

Buttressed by impeccable research, vividly narrated and deftly organized, this is popular history of the highest order and is sure to create a stir in the fall market. 16 pages of b&w photos, 3 maps. (Sept. 11)

The Coldest Winter
David Halberstam. Hyperion, $35 (736p) ISBN 978-1-4013-0052-4

Reviewed by James Brady

At the heart of David Halberstam's massive and powerful new history of the Korean War is a bloody, losing battle fought in November 1950 in the snow-covered mountains of North Korea by outnumbered American GIs and Marines against the Chinese Communist Army.

Halberstam's villain is not North Korea's Kim Il Sung or China's Chairman Mao or even the Soviet Union's Josef Stalin, who pulled the strings. It's the legendary general Douglas MacArthur, the aging, arrogant, politically ambitious architect of what the author calls “the single greatest American military miscalculation of the war,” MacArthur's decision “to go all the way to the Yalu [River] because he was sure the Chinese would not come in.”

Much of the story is familiar. What distinguishes this version by Halberstam (who died this year in a California auto crash) is his reportorial skill, honed in Vietnam in Pulitzer-winning dispatches to the New York Times. His pounding narrative, in which GIs and generals describe their coldest winter, whisks the reader along, even though we know the ending.

Most Korean War scholars agree that MacArthur's sprint to the border of great China with a Siberian winter coming on resulted in a lethal nightmare. Though focused on that mountain battle, Halberstam's book covers the entire war, from the sudden dawn attack by Kim Il Sung's Soviet-backed North Koreans against the U.S.-trained South, on June 25, 1950, to its uneasy truce in 1953. It was a smallish war but a big Cold War story: Harry Truman, Stalin and Mao, Joe McCarthy and Eisenhower, George C. Marshall and Omar Bradley, among others, stride through it. A few quibbles: there were no B-17 bombers destroyed on Wake Island the day after Pearl Harbor, as Halberstam asserts, and Halberstam gives his minor characters too much attention.

At first MacArthur did well, toughing out those early months when the first GIs sent in from cushy billets in occupied Japan were overwhelmed by Kim's rugged little peasant army. MacArthur's greatest gamble led to a marvelous turning point: the invasion at Inchon in September, when he outflanked the stunned Reds.

After Inchon, the general headed north and his luck ran out. His sycophants, intelligence chief Willoughby and field commander Ned Almond, refused to believe battlefield evidence indicating the Chinese Communists had quietly infiltrated North Korea and were lying in wait. The Marines fought their way out as other units disintegrated. In the end, far too late, Truman sacked MacArthur.

Alive with the voices of the men who fought, Halberstam's telling is a virtuoso work of history. (Sept.)

James Brady, columnist at Parade and Forbes.com, is author of several books about Korea. His latest book is Why Marines Fight (St. Martin's, Nov.).

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