Nonfiction: Divine Comedy, Pop Music, Presidents, Boys, Fight Scenes, Parenting, and Tarantino | Xpress Reviews

Despite the book’s weaknesses, Baxter is clearly a scholar to be valued; crisp writing and broad coverage for music libraries; an enjoyable browse for casual historians; navigating the unique struggles faced by males today; an engaging read for film buffs; solid advice for businesses of all sizes; Marquess’s relaxed voice is refreshing; for anyone interested in either Tarantino or more generally in film over the past 25 years

Week ending March 16, 2018


Baxter, Jason M. A Beginner’s Guide to Dante’s Divine Comedy. Baker Academic. Mar. 2018. 224p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780801098734. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781493413102. LIT

Any new book about Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy (1320) should be met with joyous expectation. However, there can be occasional missteps, especially on such a long journey (from the gates of Hell to the epicenter of Heaven). Baxter’s (fine arts & humanities; Wyoming Catholic Coll.) guide seems as such, albeit a sincere and at times quite laudable effort. Though the author’s insights into the 14th-century poem may prove valuable to scholars, his work fails on at least two basic levels: first, it is not satisfactory as a “beginner’s guide.” The approach is too intensive for most novices and may, in fact, frighten off first-time Danteans. As an alternative, Joseph Gallagher’s A Modern Reader’s Guide to Dante’s The Divine Comedy is much more useful. The other problem with Baxter’s offering is its shifting tone from scholarly to informal that crops up periodically, making the writing feel sloppy. One is left with the sense that this book isn’t quite academic and definitely not for those just getting started. Despite the book’s weaknesses, Baxter is clearly a scholar to be valued and one hopes his next work will be more successful.

Verdict Possibly of relevance to university libraries and serious Dante collections.—Herman Sutter, St. Agnes Acad., Houston


Bloomsbury Encyclopedia of Popular Music of the World. Vol. 11: Genres: Europe. Bloomsbury Academic. 2017. 899p. ed. by David Horn & others. discog. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781501326103. $250; ebk. ISBN 9781501326134. REF

Bloomsbury’s genre-focused series reaches its 11th volume, chronicling popular music in Europe, its origins, influences, instruments, styles, key composers, performers, and much more. Horn (founding editor, Popular Music), John Shepherd (chancellor’s processor of music & sociology, Carleton Univ., Ottawa), and Paolo Prato, along with distinguished music experts, address everything from acid jazz to hip-hop in Italy to Zwiefacher, a type of German folk dance. Articles are signed and include discographies.

Verdict Crisp writing and broad coverage make this useful for music libraries or large public library collections.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX


Brandus, Paul. This Day in Presidential History. Bernan. 2017. 385p. illus. index. ISBN 9781598889437. $40; ebk. ISBN 9781598889444. REF

For each day of the year, Brandus (White House press corps; Under This Roof: A History of the White House and Presidency) comments on a short list of notable events, such as Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation taking effect (January 1, 1863) and Donald Trump’s birthday (June 14, 1946). Dates conclude with a presidential “quote of the day” and many include a photograph or illustration. The index is helpful for accessing entries by topic.

Verdict An enjoyable browse for casual historians and presidential trivia buffs.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX


Cohen, Lorenzo & Alison Jefferies. Anticancer Living: Transform Your Life and Health with the Mix of Six. Viking. May 2018. 432p. notes. index. ISBN 9780735220416. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780735220423. HEALTH

Heavily based on David Servan-Schreiber’s Anticancer: A New Way of Life, this book focuses on lifestyle changes for reducing the likelihood of getting cancer or helping a patient to survive beyond diagnosis. The recommendations are generally solid and harmless but are presented with so many testimonials that the work reads like an infomercial. The personal experiences presented are intended to be inspiring but also present a biased picture of selected individuals who beat the odds. The advice is familiar: exercise, reduce stress, have a network of people who will be supportive, and avoid processed foods. Some of the more specific prescriptions have copious citations that offer little support for the claims made. For example, Cohen recommends eating turmeric despite knowing it would be difficult to eat enough to have any benefit, as is made clear in the cited studies. Cohen received his PhD in medical psychology, works at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas, is an author on a review of energy healing, and was a paid consultant for Applied Biophoton, Inc. The National Cancer Institute has booklets dealing with issues covered by this title that are more succinct and free.

Verdict Recommended for people who want basic health advice mixed with some questionable content.—Susanne Caro, North Dakota State Univ., Fargo


Farrell, Warren & John Gray. The Boy Crisis: Why Our Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It. BenBella. Mar. 2018. 368p. notes. index. ISBN 9781942952718. $25.95. CHILD REARING According to statistics, young men between 25 and 31 are more likely than their female counterparts to still be living with their parents, and amid a culture of Harvey Weinsteins, Bill Cosbys, and other fallen role models, many boys today are feeling shamed by their gender. Other shocking findings include the rapid increase of suicide among males, at a rate of nearly four times that of women, and a 700 percent increase in prison population (93%). Additional challenges include bigorexia (the pressure to build muscle), outsourced jobs in areas such as computer technology and manufacturing, and educational difficulties in the key disciplines of math and reading. After exploring the whys, Farrell (National Organization for Women; Why Men Are the Way They Are) and Gray (Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus) offer strategies to renew our sons’ sense of purpose.

Verdict A must-read for parents and teachers, this comprehensive study presents a helpful guidebook to navigating the unique struggles faced by males today.—Julia M. Reffner, North Chesterfield, VA


Freese, Gene. Classic Movie Fight Scenes: 75 Years of Bare Knuckle Brawls, 1814–1989. McFarland. 2017. 336p. photos. bibliog. index. ISBN 9781476669434. pap. $45; ebk. ISBN 9781476629353. REF/FILM

Before jump cuts and digital enhancement, realistic movie fight scenes still made audiences cringe, as fist (seemingly) met jaw or combatants otherwise engaged in mayhem. Freese (Hollywood Stunt Performers 1910–1970s: A Biographical Dictionary) investigates more than 300 films in fascinating and intricate detail, including review excerpts, tidbits about stuntmen (and stuntwomen), heights and weights of performers, and more. Readers will learn that Marlene Dietrich did a significant amount of fighting in Destry Rides Again and that Elvis Presley was a karate black belt. Ample photographs of key scenes add to the appeal.

Verdict An engaging read for film buffs.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX


Larson, John A. & Bennett E. McClellan. Capturing Loyalty: How To Measure, Generate, and Profit from Highly Satisfied Customers. Praeger: ABC-CLIO. 2017. 196p. notes. index. ISBN 9781440856563. $37; ebk. ISBN 9781440856570. REF Most entrepreneurs are aware that it makes more financial sense to keep a current customer than to attract a new one. But how? Business consultants Larson (senior partner, John Larson & Co.) and McClellan (chief catalytic officer, NBM Research) use surveys, statistics, case studies, and consulting experiences to argue that businesses must always satisfy customers and deliver as promised to ensure loyalty. This requires buy-in at all organizational levels.

Verdict Nothing astonishingly new here, but solid advice for businesses of all sizes. Particularly helpful for entrepreneurs who bypassed traditional business courses and are looking to entice and keep customers.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley Sch., Fort Worth, TX


Marquess, Alissa. Bounceback Parenting: A Field Guide for Creating Connection, Not Perfection. TarcherPerigee: Penguin. Apr. 2018. 192p. ISBN 9780143131779. pap. $16. CHILD REARING

According to Marquess (founder,, the bounceback parent is one who “embraces a mindset of growth and learning” focusing on connection, not perfection. In this lighthearted guide, which builds on the writing prompts, strategies for beating the beast of anger in your household, and conversation starters of her popular website, the author and mother of three shares secret missions and assignments to help readers practically apply her parenting insights. Each chapter starts with a message from “Ops,” followed by the mission, an assignment, and an area for field notes (journaling). Advocating a growth mind-set, Marquess encourages self-reflection with weekly check-in questions and space for taking inventory (librarians should note the many fill-in-the-blank pages).

Verdict For those feeling pressured to perfect their parenting skills, Marquess’s relaxed voice is refreshing. This creative and practical guide will appeal to parents of children of all ages.—Julia M. Reffner, North Chesterfield, VA


Shone, Tom. Tarantino: A Retrospective. Insight. 2017. 256p. photos. filmog. bibliog. ISBN 9781683830986. $45. FILM

Given the amount of discussion his movies generate and his influence on other filmmakers (“Tarantinoesque” having become an adjective), it’s difficult to believe that Quentin Tarantino has directed only ten feature-length films over his 25-year Hollywood career. In this colorful examination of his output, Shone (film history & criticism, New York Univ.; Blockbuster) has given the iconic director an outsize, well-deserved retrospective. After covering Tarantino’s early years through the beginning of his Hollywood education, the author works chronologically through each of the films while also considering one (From Dusk till Dawn) that Tarantino produced but did not direct. There’s no doubt that the excellent, countless images included are comprehensive and that they will draw in many readers, but Shone also does an excellent job of talking about the making of each movie and Tarantino’s development as a filmmaker.

Verdict Excellent both for browsing and as an in-depth look at the films of one of the most important Hollywood personalities of the past quarter-century. For anyone interested in either Tarantino or more generally in film over the past 25 years.—Craig L. Shufelt, Fort Erie P.L., Ont.


Sorkin, Michael. What Goes Up: The Right and Wrongs to the City. Verso. Apr. 2018. 368p. ISBN 9781786635150. $34.95. ARCH

This is the fourth volume of designer and professor (architecture and urban design, CUNY) Sorkin’s Baudelairean “Greenwich Village” observations of New York City over the past 30 years, and he works to prove the global submission to authority inside inequality, as more and more wealth attracts less and less wisdom. Certainly, the development of New York City over the past half century has proven this, and the author has been draining this swamp for three decades. Real research and drama, perhaps produced by the author’s graduate students, are needed to enrich and enlighten the dilettantish reportage of this volume to make it comprehensible to the general public.

Verdict Unfortunately, this book is excessively Talmudic in its perception/ reception/connection/conception/inception of modern urban design of the 1960s. It’s hard to imagine who will read this work and who will understand it because it has no illustrations, no citations, and no footnotes, and many of its words are obscurantic to the point of “Googlicity.”—Peter S. Kaufman, Boston Architectural Ctr.

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