by Alan Caruba
My Picks of the Month
I love reading history and for anyone trying to figure out the trends occurring worldwide there is no better way of understanding what is occurring now. Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty by Daron Acemoglu and James A. Robinson ($30.00, Crown) addresses and answers questions that have stumped the experts for centuries. Acemoglu is the Killian Professor of Economics at MIT and Robinson is a political scientists and economist, an expert on Latin America and Africa, teaches at Harvard. The book is a hefty tome, but reads smoothly as the authors explore why some nations are wealthy and others are poor. One example is the border between the U.S. and Mexico. Some nations have had several revolutions without any real change in the way they are governed. Egypt is such an example. The authors address the question of whether America’s best days are behind it and whether China authoritarian growth machine is sustainable. Without giving away any secrets, the answer to the question of growth and failure is freedom. Put this book on your reading list this year. Charles Goyette has written Red and Blue and Broke All Over: Restoring America’s Free Economy ($25.95, Sentinel, an imprint of the Penguin Group) takes a look at our present crisis from a libertarian point of view and, not surprisingly concludes that the increasing size of government, crony capitalism, and too much spending has brought us to the brink of a financial crisis even greater than what occurred in 2008. It is a thought-provoking book and very timely. Sometimes you cannot improve on an author’s own description of what he has written. I am a fan of James D. Best’s novels based on the old West and the early days of the American Republic, so I was not surprised that he turned his hand to non-fiction to write Principled Action: Lessons from the Origins of the American Republic ($13.95, Wheatmark, Tucson, AZ, softcover). “Prior to 1776, world history was primarily written about kings and emperors. The American experiment shook the world. Not only did the colonies break away from the biggest and most powerful empire in history, they took the musings of the brightest thinkers of the Enlightenment and implemented them. The Founding of the United States was simultaneously an armed rebellion against tyranny and a revolution of ideas-ideas that changed the course of world history. Principled Action shows how the Founders built this great nation with sacrifice, courage, and steadfast principles.” There is no more important time in our present times to learn the how and why of the founding of our great republic. This highly readable book is a very good place to start.
Animal lovers, particularly of horses, will love The Rescue of Belle & Sundance: One Town’s Incredible Race to Save Two Abandoned Horses by Birgit Stutz and Lawrence Scanlan ($22.00,Da Capo Press.) The horses had been abandoned on Mount Renshaw in Canada’s British Columbia province. Everything was fine until winter set in at which point a four-person effort to save them turned into a village-wide, week-long mission to dig a path off the mountain through six feet or more of snow to create an 18-mile descent to safety. It is a delightful story that is well worth reading. In December of last year I recommended The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray. It was rather pricey in its hardcover edition, but now for those who love science and learning, it is available in softcover for $19.95 (Black Dog and Leventhal Publishers) offering gorgeous photos of the 118 elements in the periodic table, packed with information about the building blocks of the universe. This is the kind of book that, in the hands of a young or old exploring mind, opens entire new vistas to our world, stimulating one’s sense of wonder.
Like everyone else, I like to dress fashionably and, frankly, have not given it much thought. Jessica Wolfendale and Jeanette Kennett have and the result is an interesting book, Fashion—Philosophy for Everyone ($19.95, Wiley-Blackwell, softcover). This is not one of your usual fashion books on what’s hot and what’s not. It is a serious look at the subject by two scholars, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at West Virginia University and a Professor of Moral Psychology at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia. Together they explore the strong connection between fashion and the aesthetic of an era, the difference between the servile and sensible fashionista, the politics of individual style and fashion choices, and much more. It is a book for the intellectual fashionista and, believe it or not, a lot of fun to read. What I know about woman’s fashion you could put in a bug’s ear, but fortunately Dr. Jennifer Baumgartner, a practicing clinical psychologist and wardrobe consultant has written a book to help the fashion-challenged in time for the new spring line. You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You ($16.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) provides insights into the way your choices reflect inner struggles, fears, desires and dream. Her book’s nine chapters diagnose nine distinct shopping complaints and wardrobe mistakes from failing to dress one’s age to being a slave to labels. For anyone who approaches the purchase of new clothes either buying and spending too much or with a certain sense of dread, this is definitely the book to read!
Memoirs, Biographies, Lives
Reading about other people’s lives, whether they are famous or just sharing their experiences, is one of the best ways to understand your own life. A number of books fit that description this month.
Aretha Franklin: The Queen of Soul by Mark Bego ($16.95, Skyhorse publishing, softcover) will surely please her fans. She celebrated her 70th birthday in March and the author, one of the best popular culture biographers around, has provided a no-holds-barred look at this extraordinary talent. I was surprised to learn she recorded her first album at age 14 and found stardom in her twenties. It has not been an easy life. She had two teen pregnancies and an abusive marriage, plus drinking problems, and battles with her weight. Then there was the murder of her father, so fabled as her singing career has been, she has had her share of troubles. In the end, it will be her career that people will remember her for, but for those who want to know about the rest, this book will fill in the gaps. Another singer/song writer who left his mark on American culture was Woody Guthrie and Robert Santelli, executive director of the Grammy Museum, has written a homage to him in This Land is Your Land ($24.00, Running Press). This large format book is a definitive Guthrie biography, filled with the kind of information that often comes as a surprise. Among his numerous friendships, for example, were John Steinbeck, Pete Seeger, and Bob Dylan. Guthrie is remembered for his advocacy for the working man and it was a part of all his music. His travels throughout the nation inspired much of it. Any fan of folk music will want to add this book to their library.
The story of four remarkable sisters is told in Sisters of Fortune: America’s Caton Sisters at Home and Abroad by Jane Wake ($16.99, Touchstone, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, softcover) reads like a Jane Austen novel, but they were real life women, daughters born to wealth in nineteenth century America, arguably the first American heiress. There was Marianne, a soul-mate to the Duke of Wellington; Bess who was a wizard at the stock market and successful speculator; Louisa who became the first American duchess and was a friend of the Queen; and Emily who stayed home in America, marrying a Scots-Canadian fur trader, remaining her sister’s lifeline to their childhood home and family life.
For lovers of history, Westholme Publishing of Yardley, PA, is a treasure of excellent books. Due out officially in May is The Final Mission by Elizabeth Hoban and Lt. Col. Henry Supchack ($24.95) about a mission in July 1944 that the Colonel was flying in his B-17 when it was hit by antiaircraft fire. As the plane was going down, he realized it was on a collision course with an Austrian village and managed to steer it away before escaping the craft. He would later be liberated by Patton’s Third Army in 1945. Years later, little did he know that a world away, an Austrian entrepreneur was searching for the pilot that had fallen out of the sky and whom he had never forgotten. This is an inspiring story of forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing from the devastation of war. Click on www.westholmepublishing.com to check out a number of interesting books drawn from history that are well worth reading.
The Book of Drugs, a Memoir is Mike Doughty’s account ($16.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) of a life that could have been wasted in addictions to drugs and alcohol, but which he escaped after several close calls with death convinced him he had to get sober. In a music career that included a 90s rock group, Doughty began to make a name for himself, but his addictions stole the joy from the fame that came his way. When Dave Matthews signed him to his label, ATO Records, he realized he had been given a second change to redeem himself and his music. He has stayed sober for more than eleven years and this story will interest those who following the contemporary music scene and who will enjoy a look behind the spotlights and glamour. There may be no more frightening experience than to be falsely accused of a crime and been found guilty in a court of law. That was the experience of Gloria Killian, a law student who spent 16 years in prison for a murder she did not commit. Her story is told in Full Circle: A True Story of Murder, Lies and Vindication by Gloria and journalist Sandra Kobrin ($24.95, New Horizon Press) and just out this month. After ten years in prison, massive exculpatory evidence, hidden evidence, and prosecutorial misconduct and perjury was found and ultimately led to her release. During her years of incarceration, she became an advocate for others who were unjustly convicted and for the humane treatment of women prisoners. What happened to her could happen to anyone and her book is a riveting story of injustice and redemption.
A very different story is told in The Sorcerer’s Apprentices: A Season in the Kitchen at Ferran Adria’s Elbulli ($16.00, Free Press, softcover) by Lisa Abend. Available at last in softcover, the author was given extraordinary access to a famed chef and his restaurant; one elected the best restaurant five times before it made international headlines when it closed in 2011. Here is a look behind the scenes where culinary magic is created and how he trained a new generation of chefs as they struggle to master the long hours, the techniques, and the tensions evoked. For “foodies”, it is a grand read.
To Your Health!
There are so many books that address various aspects of one’s health that there is hardly any condition that does not deal with a problem shared by others.
Paintracking: Your Personal Guide to Living Well with Chronic Pain by Deborah Barrett ($20.00, Prometheus Books, softcover) is a perfect example. Millions of people suffer from debilitating chronic pain from arthritis, fibromyalgia, low back pain, chronic headache syndromes, neuropathies and other painful conditions. This book offers a hands-on approach to improving life with chronic pain, whatever its underlying cause. The author is a psychotherapist and sociologist with firsthand experience. She provides a systematic method to empower individuals with the ability to navigate the often overwhelming array of treatment options in order to incorporate the most effective ones into their lives. The same publisher also offers Choosing Cesarean: A Natural Birth Plan by Dr. Magnus Murphy, MD, and Pauline McDonaugh Hull ($21.00, Prometheus Books, softcover). Cesarean delivery is often portrayed as an emergency procedure when a woman cannot deliver naturally, but the authors argue that these attitudes are misguided. While not promoting planned cesarean delivery as the best or safest option for all women the authors make a case for it as an option. Written in accessible, jargon-free language with a glossary of medical terms, it is a very useful guide for women, their families, and medical professionals as well.
Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: 4 Simple Steps to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want by Tamar Chansky, PhD ($16.00, Da Capo Press, softcover) is one of those titles that says it all. It is written for everyone, not just for those struggling with anxiety disorders or depression. She explores how one can change negative thoughts to achieve a more rational way of seeing oneself and the world, using real life examples of the way fear of criticism, procrastination, perfectionism and other ways people encounter and foster anxiety in their lives. If this problem is one in your own or the life of someone else you know this book will prove a life-changing experience. Harness Your Dark Side: Mastering Jealousy, Rage, Frustration and other Negative Emotions is the subject of Al Graves’ new book ($14.95, New Horizon Press, softcover). The author is a licensed psychologist, a PhD who addresses how we can stop being so hard on ourselves, providing strategies and techniques to confront the negative drives, deep-rooted incorrect beliefs, and troubled feelings that make up our dark sides. He offers therapeutic self-help exercises and strategies to living well by becoming aware of our emotions. Our prisons are filled with people who failed to do so and our lives are often stunted by our own failure to harness our feelings. This is the first step to real self-help for many people. New Horizon Press has many self-help books worth checking out at www.newhorizonpress.com.
Why Is Brian So Fat? We all know examples of some child, often dealing with a dysfunctional family, who turns to eating as a way to avoid dealing with his feelings. Gary Solomon, PhD knows whereof his speaks ($14.95, Central Recovery Press) and that is why he has written a book for youngsters aged 8 to 14, along with families dealing with overeating issues, as well as teachers and other professionals trying to help such youngsters. Due out officially in May, the book focuses on a young boy’s feelings and what changed his life so that he could get in touch with those feelings. There are very few books that address the subject of overeating and the resulting obesity. It includes a list of websites that children and adults can access to learn more about it. Written in a friendly and welcoming tone, young readers will instantly relate to Brian.
My mother taught the fine art of gourmet cuisine for more than three decades, so we had a lot of cookbooks in our home. They ranged from inspired and gorgeous to useful and practical. I tend to look at cookbooks with a practiced eye.
We tend to associate cookbooks with countries like France and Italy, but Poland, that’s unique. Of course, every nation and group has its own particular cuisine and getting to know about it is part of the fun. Rose Petal Jam by Beata Zatorska and Simon Target ($35.00, Tabula Books) is a real treat as Ms. Zatorska shares memories of learning to make rose petal jam, pierogi, and other Polish recipes in the kitchen of her grandmother’s farmhouse in a remote village in the foothills of the Karkonosze Mountains where she grew up in the 1960s and 1970s. Accompanied by her husband, Simon, Beata spent a summer exploring her home country in what became a culinary journey as well. The book is beautifully and lavishly illustrated with hundreds of full color photographs of the recipes, the countryside, and the main cities, Warsaw, Gdansk and Krakow. You will want to try your hands at beetroot-shoot soup, cabbage rolls, beef goulash, apple pancakes, Carpathian vanilla torte and, of course, rose petal jam.
I confess I have never understood why anyone would give up meat, pork, fish or any other animal worth eating to pursue a vegan lifestyle. A lot of people, however, must be doing this because there are three vegan cookbooks on my desk. Chloe’s Kitchen: 125 Easy, Delicious Recipes for Making the Food You love the Vegan Way by Chloe Coscarelli ($18.99, Free Press, softcover) lives up to its title by this TV personality. The book’s foreword by Dr. Neal D. Barnard explains how a vegan diet can help you lose weight, reduce cholesterol, and deal with diseases. The author demonstrates that vegan cooking need not be bland, visually unappetizing and mostly just sprouts. Fact is, the photos will make your mouth water. Da Capo Press is a major publisher of books about the vegan lifestyle and two of its latest titles are Gluten-Free Vegan Comfort Food by Susan O’Brien ($18.00, softcover) and Let Them Eat Vegan! ($20.00, softcover) by Dreena Burton, a hefty book with 200 recipes while the “gluten” book offers 125. Ms. Burton has authored two previous books of vegan recipes while Ms. O’Brien wears a number of hats as a food-management consultant.
Getting Down to Business
Earn What You’re Really Worth by Brian Tracy ($25.99, Vanguard Press) is a practical program for getting to the top for today’s businessperson. Whether you work at an entry level position or aspire to the corner office, this book is about working smarter, gaining respect, and earning more. There’s a lot of pressure on everyone these days of high unemployment to either keep or secure a job. The author offers tested strategies for modern career advancement for employees who are undervalued by their companies, people in job transition situations, students who are entering the workforce, and, of course, those who are unemployed. It is a combination of a motivational book with one that provides insights to today’s workplace. Due out next month, the author of The 3 Power Values: How Commitment, Integrity, and Transparency Clear the Roadblocks to Performance ($32.95, Jossey-Bass) by David Gebler examines how the culture of the workplace can harm any business venture and why it is necessary to spot the signs that it is harming growth. He points to troubling shop talk that suggests workers believe they are just cogs in a machine, are working under a cloud of fear, and simply in a survival mode. This can happen to any company and can lead to costly problems when safety procedures are ignored or internal scandals occur. Removing roadblocks like inconsistent policies and bad managerial attitudes keep employees from applying the right values to their jobs. It is filled with good advice to keep everyone happy, motivated, and on the right track so that everyone enjoys the feeling of success. Snap: Seizing Your Aha! Moments by Katherine Ramsland ($25.00, Prometheus Books) is not just about business, but it surely applies in that area. The author examines how sudden flashes of inspiration have triggered many discoveries and inventions throughout history, offering a fascinating overview of the latest neuroscience thought processes or “snaps.” She explains that snaps are much more than new ideas. They are insights plus momentum, often occurring after ordinary problem solving hits an impasse. When the brain “reboots”, the solution can suddenly pop into our heads. Written in an accessible, jargon-free narrative, it can jump-start your problem solving skills.
If money is the root of all evil, than many of us are rooting for it! David Walman takes us on a journey, The End of Money: Counterfeiters, Preachers, Technies, Dreamers—and the Coming Cashless Society ($25.00, Da Capo Press) in which he explores what the world would be like without cash, giving the reader a crash course on the rise and fall of physical money, beginning with Marco Polo’s fascinating with the paper notes who saw circulating in China, then taking a look at the gold standard and the ascent of national currencies. In our rapidly changing, technologically advanced world, people around the world are embracing new ways of replacing the local bank with a cell phone apt. It is an interesting look at the way the exchange of money has changed over the years and what it is likely to be in the future.
Novels, Novels, Novels
Douglas Wilson likes to write books. He has authored over thirty on a variety of topics. As the pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, he brings his experience and deft wit to bear in a satirical novel called Evangellyfish ($21.00, Canon Press) about the slow-motion collapse of the fictional Chad Lester’s Midwest megachurch. As the head pastor of Camel Creek, Lester is riding high as thousands gather every Sunday to hear him preach, others hear him via the airwaves, and his books are read by millions (often before he reads them himself.) Then Lester is accused of molesting a young male counselee and everything starts to come unglued. This is a gripping novel about sex, scandal, and hypocrisy in contemporary church culture. You will laugh, get angry, and laugh some more, but you will not be bored.
The gospels of the New Testament get a re-write in Kristen Wolf’s audacious novel about Jesus, The Way ($25.00, Crown Publishers) told through the experiences of a tomboy, Anna, who is disguised as a boy and sold to a band of shepherds and then captured by a secret society of women hiding in the desert. Instead of running away she embraces their teachings and healing abilities they call “the Way.” And along the way she crosses paths with Jesus and with a “magician” who uses accomplices to simulate healing and make his living from the money the crowds give him. The actual events portrayed mingle with the fictional ones she creates as she relates life in ancient Israel devoted to an omnipotent male deity and the powerful Roman occupiers. Both the old Testament and New celebrate the role of women and this novel brings a perspective that many will find challenging and fascinating.
If the stacks of novels in my office suggest anything, it is that lots of women are writing them these days insofar as most of those I have received of late are by women. One that stands out is Glow by Jessica Maria Tuccelli ($25.95, Viking) and though it debuted just last month it is already collecting rave reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist to name just two. It involves six generations of a family that evolve through deep-rooted ethnicity, family secrets, and the land they believe is theirs. It begins in 1941 when Amelia McGee, a young woman of Cherokee and Scotch-Irish descent, active in the NAACP, hastily puts her young daughter, Ella, on a bus to Georgia. What follows is a story told in five voices, rich in the history that preceded Ella, reflecting the society and politics of the South. Having lived in Georgia in the 1960s, the novel had a familiar to it and rings true. Also from Viking is a completely different and often quite daffy family story, A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford ($25.95), who assumed the character of a 53-year-old meddling mother, Constance Harding, to blog a satire of the conservative, middle class values of England’s “Home Counties” for the Daily Telegraph. Expanded into a novel, Constance, long oblivious to much of what has been going on around her, including a scandal involving her husband, a daughter who’s become a bit of a strumpet, and a son who will not settle into a proper Surrey lifestyle. You don’t have to be British to get a kick out of how the blinds fall from Constance’s eyes or how she copes.
Among the softcover novels is Gothic Spring by Caroline Miller, her second novel, ($15.95, Koho Pono). Victorine Ellsworth knows something about the death of the vicar’s wife…but what? Is she the killer? Or the next victim? It is a journey into a mind that is unraveling. She is a young woman poised at the edge of sexual awakening and cursed with more talent and imagination than society will tolerate. The conflict between her desire and the restrictions that rule her life lead to tragic circumstances arising out of the death of the vicar’s wife. The Caribbean is famed as a place to vacation, but for those who live there, it can be a challenge. Dr. Alvin G. Edwards has played a role in the popular Caribbean television series “Paradise View” while also a medical practitioner who resides in Antigua. Now he’s an author as well with Once Upon An Island ($14.95, Author House). It is a fictionalized account of events experienced by friends, family and others concerning a family that leaves Jamaica to start a new life on Antigua, but who discover the transition isn’t as easy as they had thought. Life on a new island comes with the same problems as life on the larger one, particularly if the legal systems leave something to be desired. The author’s island is fictional, but for a taste of life in the Caribbean, this novel is probably as close to the truth as you will experience.
That’s it for April! The world of non-fiction and fiction is alive and well, and changing. What you will find here is a selection of traditional hard and softcover books. What you will not find are ebooks even though they are in ascendancy as new way to read books. If you enjoy Bookviews monthly look at new and unique titles, tell your family, friends and coworkers to visit here to get news of books you may not find anywhere else. And come back in May!
Friday, March 30, 2012
Bookviews - April 2012
Posted by Alan Caruba at 9:14 AM 20 comments:
Labels: books, fiction, non-fiction
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