Nonfiction: Best-sellerdom, Science, Women Workers, Middle East Peace, Nature, Némirovsky | Xpress Reviews

For serious book lovers and wordsmiths; Dean’s effort to combat scientific illiteracy; American women’s contribution to the success of WWI; for those hoping for peace in the Middle East; an engaging portrait of the Catskill wilderness; an important book on Némirovsky; a concluding history of World War II
Week ending February 24, 2017 Archer, Jodie & Matthew L. Jockers. The Bestseller Code: Anatomy of the Blockbuster Novel. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2016. 256p. illus. notes. ISBN 9781250088277. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250088284. LIT In this quest to answer the million-dollar question of what makes a book a best seller, writer Archer and educator Jockers (Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English, Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln) explore a computerized approach and have developed an algorithm that can predict the likelihood of a book becoming a New York Times hit. This may seem like a technical treatise at first glance, but it actually contains helpful hints and an interesting dissection of items that authors might want to pay attention to, such as plot, pacing, characterization, and theme. The goal is not to give writers a road map to writing a best seller but rather to give them tools to use and things to consider when writing. The authors offer this as a mathematical exercise, and for anyone involved in publishing or writing, it is an entertaining one. While there are other titles that cover this topic, none can claim the data-mining and sheer detail of what Archer and Jockers have done. This title belongs in the space between your favorite writing books and titles on brain science such as Lisa Cron’s Story Genius. Verdict An accessible though technical read on a topic that will appeal to serious book lovers and wordsmiths of all types.—Linda White, Maplewood, MN Dean, Cornelia. Making Sense of Science: Separating Substance from Spin. Harvard Univ. Mar. 2017. 284p. notes. index. ISBN 9780674059696. $19.95. SCI makingsense022417Lacking background to assess critically the work of clinical, scientific, and technical researchers, many accept oversimplified or distorted interpretations by politicians and journalists. Yet if we settle for misinformation, we risk facing a future in which government or industry implements unregulated dangerous technologies without consideration of their impact while suppressing useful but inconvenient scientific findings. New York Times science journalist Dean (Am I Making Myself Clear? A Scientist’s Guide to Talking to the Public) hopes to remedy our deficits and improve public policymaking with this research primer and evaluation toolkit. She succeeds in part, describing scientists’ mind-sets and the funding-investigation-publication cycle, presenting research assessment checklists, and listing action points for concerned citizens. Unfortunately, Dean dilutes her message through digression and needless repetition. Verdict Unequivocally supportive of mainstream science and more politicized than Moti Ben-Ari’s Just a Theory: Exploring the Nature of Science, this title might be ignored by those most in need of it. However, current and future scientists and journalists, as well as advocates for science, will appreciate Dean’s effort to combat scientific illiteracy.—Nancy R. Curtis, Univ. of Maine Lib., Orono Dumenil, Lynn. The Second Line of Defense: American Women and World War I. Univ. of North Carolina. Mar. 2017. 360p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781469631219. $39.95. HIST In 1914, World War I was declared. Four years later, the Allies emerged victorious, and the economic and political landscape of the world changed forever. A major force that contributed to the success of wartime efforts and rapid social change in America was the advent of female laborers. Dumenil tells the story of the “new” women who arose during the Great War, both exploring the contributions of women working at home and overseas. Through her analysis, she defines the American woman’s contribution to the success of that war, illustrating the effects on women’s lives and roles in America. The author focuses on the diversity of women workers and analyzes the parts played by women of various racial backgrounds and economic status. The epilog expands these analyses, summarizing the social unrest caused by the undefined position of women postwar while also investigating the misconception that the war drastically increased social equality for American women. Verdict This unique and previously unexplored view into a rarely examined history will be an excellent complement to Lettie Gavin’s American Women in World War I: They Also Served. Recommended for public and academic libraries.—Marian Mays, Washington Talking Book & Braille Lib., Seattle Le Zotte, Jennifer. From Goodwill to Grunge: A History of Secondhand Styles and Alternative Economies. Univ. of North Carolina. Mar. 2017. 344p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781469631899. $85; pap. ISBN 9781469631905. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9781469631912. SOC SCI Le Zotte’s (history, Univ. of Nevada) patchy, overly ambitious title attempts to tell how secondhand markets and style changed American culture. Starting at the turn of the 20th century, when organizations such as the Salvation Army and Goodwill Industries began to transform the public’s disdainful view of used goods, her mostly chronological account ends with hippies, Beats, punks, drag performers, and Kurt Cobain donning previously worn threads and defying (or defining) societal norms. The author also discusses the garage sale phenomenon, Dada and surrealist artists’ odd raiments, the invention of “vintage” clothing by upper-class oddballs, and the “Christianization” of secondhand vendors (as opposed to the Jewish pushcart sellers of yore).The author is better at telling the histories and herstories of outliers such as avant-garde filmmaker Jack Smith, comedian Fanny Brice, and “Dada baroness” Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven than when she dons the sociohistorical hat and lectures her audience using complicated academic jargon. Verdict This heavily annotated title is a tough one to place on the Goodwill racks: not quite textbook and not quite history, it would be a good syllabus for a semester-long course on the secondhand phenom. As a stand-alone, it’s repetitive and verbose, but it contains some intelligent observations amid the jumbled goods.—Liz French, Library Journal Mitchell, George J. & Alon Sachar. A Path to Peace: A Brief History of Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations and a Way Forward in the Middle East. S. & S. Nov. 2016. 272p. notes. index. ISBN 9781501153914. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501153938. POL SCI Former U.S. Senate majority leader, architect of the Northern Ireland peace agreement, and U.S. special envoy for Middle East peace Mitchell and former adviser to the U.S. ambassador to Israel and special envoys for Middle East peace Sachar should be ideally suited to evaluate the prospects of peace between Israelis and Palestinians. Yet 95 percent of their book is a detailed insiders’ history of five decades of U.S. failures to mediate a solution to the conflict. Much of this history was covered in previous books, most recently in Doomed To Succeed by the nearly equally qualified Dennis Ross, but the final five percent suggests a statement of principles essential to an Israeli-Palestinian agreement and “for our next president” (the authors expected that to be Hillary Clinton) “to create incentives to reach agreement and then, when the parties are ready, to find a path into negotiations.” The history is as good as any on the subject, the suggested principles are a useful summary of the long-standing positions of the United States, but the likelihood of the new president creating the incentives necessary to reach agreement are extremely remote. Verdict Of interest to those who are hoping for peaceful solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. [See Prepub Alert, 5/16/16.]—Joel Neuberg, Santa Rosa Jr. Coll. Lib., CA starred review starSharpe, Leslie T. The Quarry Fox: And Other Critters of the Wild Catskills. Overlook. Mar. 2017. 256p. illus. notes. index. ISBN 9781468312478. $25. NAT HIST quarryfox022417The best nature writers enrich their personal wildlife encounters with elements of natural history, biology, and ecology as well as bits of folk wisdom to offer a philosophical perspective on the wonders of the natural world. Writer, editor, and lifelong naturalist Sharpe (Editing Fact and Fiction) accomplishes this feat beautifully in her lyrical celebration of the fauna living near her cabin in the western Catskills. She reveals something fresh and extraordinary about common Catskill critters such as the white-footed mouse, crayfish, woodcock, bobcat, fox, and black bear, noting particularly how each has adapted to its natural environment. Sharpe is equally insightful when discussing the exploited resources of the Catskills, such as the once heavily quarried mountain bluestone and the plentiful streams, rivers, and reservoirs that provide New York City with drinking water. Perhaps nothing conveys the author’s reverence for nature more than her love for tree frogs or spring peepers: “Even just one peeper peeping is transcendent.” Verdict This engaging portrait of the Catskill wilderness will appeal to nature enthusiasts of all stripes.—Cynthia Lee Knight, Hunterdon Cty. Historical Soc., Flemington, NJ starred review starSuleiman, Susan Rubin. The Némirovsky Question: The Life, Death, and Legacy of a Jewish Writer in 20th-Century France. Yale Univ. Nov. 2016. 376p. photos. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780300171969. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780300224542. LIT Readers probably know Irène Némirovsky from her best-selling novel Suite Française, published just over 60 years after her death in Auschwitz. She was also a best-selling author in 1930s France, rivaling Colette in popularity. A Jewish Russian immigrant to France when she was 15, Némirovsky lived a precarious life as a Jewish French writer who never became a French citizen. She was often criticized as a self-hating Jew and her fiction as anti-Semitic. Suleiman (C. Douglas Dillon Professor of the Civilization of France, Harvard Univ.; Crises of Memory and the Second World War) sets out to investigate with care and compassion the “Jewish Question” in Némirovsky’s life and work. Broken into three sections focusing on Némirovsky’s life, work, and two surviving daughters, Suleiman’s work employs historical, cultural, political, and psychological context to examine Némirovsky’s Jewish identity, the choices she made, and the fiction she wrote. Suleiman’s writing is smart and without jargon—this is no dry academic text. Verdict An important and useful book for anyone interested in Némirovsky or early 20th-century Jewish writers.—Stefanie Hollmichel, Univ. of St. Thomas Law Lib., Minneapolis starred review starU.S. Military Academy & Timothy Strabbing. West Point History of World War II. Vol. 2. S. & S. Nov. 2016. 384p. illus. maps. notes. index. ISBN 9781476782775. $55; ebk. ISBN 9781476782782. HIST Concluding its history of World War II, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point has published a second volume that picks up where Volume 1 ended—immediately after the Battle of Midway in 1942. Similar to the first book, here the war is covered chronologically across the European and Pacific theaters. After a foreword by Henry Kissinger, the history moves immediately to the three major conflicts that shifted the tide of war in 1942: the second and ultimately unsuccessful German offensive into the Soviet Union (Operation Blue); the Second Battle of El Alamein in Egypt; and the American conquest of the Japanese at Guadalcanal. These events occurred at the height of Axis power and began the methodical breakdown to eventual defeat. Not only does the tome cover the action of the war itself, it also describes the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe, the Nuremburg Trials, the denazification of Germany, the discovery of the concentration camps, and an overall “why the Allies won” conclusion. Much like the first volume, this book contains more than 200 pictures, many charts, graphs, and maps. Verdict Paired with the first title, this set is an essential purchase for all libraries.—Jason L. Steagall, Gateway Technical Coll. Lib., Elkhorn, WI

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