Nonfiction: Economics, WWII Resistance, iPhone, Netanyahu, Ukrainian Revolt, Meriwether Lewis | Xpress Reviews

An illuminating primer on critical U.S. economic issues; a memoir that captures nostalgia’s twinge; insights New York’s bohemian world of the 1970s; anyone looking for a drink mixing guide; of primary interest to students of World War II and the Holocaust; granular insight into Manson and the dynamics of the Family; understanding how the iPhone came to be; understanding the current situation in Ukraine; an important addition for all American history collections

Week ending March 23, 2018

 

Blinder, Alan S. Advice and Dissent: Why America Suffers When Economics and Politics Collide. Basic: Perseus. Mar. 2018. 368p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780465094172. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780465094189. ECON

Blinder (Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial Professor of Economics and Public Affairs, Princeton Univ.; After the Music Stopped) draws on his experience as a former economic adviser to President Bill Clinton and former vice chair of the Federal Reserve to appraise how economic policy is shaped by politics that has become increasingly polarized, from the Reagan through Trump administrations. Policy choices, says the author, are influenced by ignorance, ideology, and interest groups. Politics more than economic theory, he explains, determines laws on health care, income inequality, tax reform, and international trade. Blinder advocates economic literacy for everyone and recommends that politicians take bipartisan approaches, consider compromise, implement difficult policies gradually over time, and delegate technical policymaking to economic experts. He advises economists to use simpler language, consider the effects of the economy on ordinary citizens, seek fairness as well as efficiency, and try to understand the constraints under which politicians must operate.

Verdict Full of examples, anecdotes, and wry humor, Blinder’s work will appeal as an illuminating primer on critical U.S. economic issues and how they intersect with politics. His book hits many of the same points as Robert Reich’s recent The Common Good.—Lawrence Maxted, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA

 

starred review starErnaux, Annie. The Years. Seven Stories. 2017. 240p. tr. from French by Alison L. Strayer. ISBN 9781609807870. pap. $19.95; ebk. ISBN 9781609807887. LIT

When this work appeared in 2008, it was an immediate best seller. This translation by Strayer allows this mesmeric work to be appreciated by a larger reading audience who may not be aware of Ernaux’s writings. Born in Normandy to working-class parents, Ernaux often uses her background as subjects for her books such as A Woman’s Story and A Man’s Place. This personal narrative spans 66 years (1940–2006), from the author’s infancy to late middle age. Ernaux demarcates specific moments in time by describing a photo or particular family meals that change composition based on births, deaths, and marriages. Current events (Algerian War, May 1968; François Mitterrand’s election; 9/11) and cultural phenomena (Beatlemania, milk in cartons, Rubik’s Cubes, mobile phones) are juxtaposed with the author’s own experiences (motherhood, divorce, retirement) during those moments. Although presenting a firsthand account, the author avoids using the word “I”—a technique the translator succeeds in conserving. Strayer also includes footnotes and preserves the distinctive spacing of the original work.

Verdict A memoir that captures nostalgia’s twinge while also documenting the many societal changes that shaped postwar France. Of appeal to readers interested in contemporary French studies.Erica Swenson Danowitz, Delaware Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Media, PA

 

Hannah, Duncan. Twentieth-Century Boy: Notebooks of the Seventies. Knopf. Mar. 2018. 480p. photos. ISBN 9781524733391. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9781524733407. ART/MEMOIR

These journals are as distinctive as their author, artist Hannah (Metropolitan Museum of Art; Minneapolis Art Inst.), who here shares his youthful writings from 1970 through 1981. After leaving his native Minneapolis and subsequently becoming immersed in New York’s iconic arts scene, Hannah chronicled his array of experiences ranging from painting, music, and parties to alcohol, sex, and drugs. Along the way, he became acquainted with many notable figures (Patti Smith, Andy Warhol, Debbie Harry, David Hockney, etc.), acted in underground films, and frequented clubs and downtown sites now remaining in memory only. The individual journal entries describing this world exhibit a youthful yet observant perception—richly detailed and often bizarre. Interspersed throughout are lists of choice books, movies, and music, additional mirrors of the era. During this time, Hannah cared about and worked at his art, despite the chaotic flow of his days. As these journals unfold, it becomes clear that he was striving to define himself on his own genuine terms as an artist and as an individual. His narrative is absorbing, reflecting the essence of a glittering, decadent, and singular vanished culture.

Verdict Art enthusiasts and social historians seeking insights both into Hannah’s early life and art as well as New York’s bohemian world of the 1970s will definitely find this appealing. Certain explicit material, however, may not be for some readers. Photos nicely enhance the text.—Carol J. Binkowski, Bloomfield, NJ

 

Hoffman, Maggie. The One-Bottle Cocktail: More Than 80 Recipes with Fresh Ingredients and a Single Spirit. Ten Speed: Crown. Mar. 2018. 192p. photos. index. ISBN 9780399580048. $22; ebk. ISBN 9780399580055. COOKING

Modern-day cocktails with a laundry list of ingredients and complicated directions can discourage many home bartenders. Hoffman, drinks writer for Serious Eats, has created a guide for novices and those looking to improve their technique. Her drink recipes use only one bottle of spirits and rely on spices, vinegars, fruit, and other common ingredients to build flavor. The author culls the recipes from professional mixologists around the United States. The recipes are simple; only a few have additional subrecipes for unusual syrups (such as thyme or bitter tea) and premade combinations (such as strawberry gastrique or cranberry cinnamon shrub). Hoffman divides the recipes by spirit (e.g., vodka, gin, rum) and provides suggestions for alternatives when needed. She also gives a guideline on tools to have handy. Technically, these drinks are not cocktails, but the colorful pictures illustrate that these elegant libations will not be refused for just using only one bottle.

Verdict Although this is not an essential guide, anyone looking for a drink mixing guide will find a lot to appreciate.—Ginny Wolter, Toledo Lucas Cty. P.L.

 

Hughes, Chris. Fair Shot: Rethinking Inequality and How We Earn. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2018. 224p. notes. bibliog. ISBN 9781250196590. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250196613. ECON

While a student at Harvard, Hughes cofounded Facebook and is presently the cofounder of the Economic Security Project. He warns that technological advances have led to the “destruction of full-time jobs and the rise of contract labor,” which has led to an increase in economic inequality. Hughes proposes that working people making under $50,000 be given a guaranteed income of $500 per month to be funded by increasing taxes on Americans who make more than $250,000. Economists may want to examine the numbers related to impact and cost, such as the statement that “a guaranteed income…would lift 20 million people out of poverty overnight” and that the entire program can be funded by a tax on the richest Americans. A guaranteed income does not address the economic problems of the poor who are not able to work, child-care issues of the working poor, policies that create income inequality, etc. Federal programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Medicaid currently exist to address the circumstances of the working poor.

Verdict Recommended with reservations for academic libraries with graduate programs in economics and sociology.—Karen Venturella Malnati, Union Cty. Coll. Libs., Cranford, NJ

 

Koreman, Megan. The Escape Line: How the Ordinary Heroes of Dutch-Paris Resisted the Nazi Occupation of Western Europe. Oxford Univ. May 2018. 424p. illus. maps. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780190662271. $29.95. HIST

Between 1942 and 1945, 300 French and Dutch residents maintained a clandestine “Dutch-Paris” network to hide, supply, and move people—Jews, downed airmen, resisters—across occupied and Vichy France to Switzerland and Spain. In all, 82 network members were eventually arrested, while 16 were tortured and 49 were deported to camps; 27 died, including the young sister of the network’s organizer, Jean Weidner. But as a result of their efforts, 1,500 people escaped and another 1,500 were supported in hiding. The participants didn’t see themselves as exceptional; they did what they did because they believed it was the right thing to do despite constantly putting their lives at risk. A virtue of this well-researched study is its lack of hyperbole: the narrative is flat, factual. Yet people actually died for what they did here, and the cumulative effect of the narrative is overwhelming. This is a different book from Raul Hilberg’s monumental The Destruction of the European Jews, but the approach to truth-telling is similar. Independent scholar Koreman (formerly, history, Texas Tech Univ; The Expectation of Justice) simply documents what happened, providing details and allowing readers to make the connections.

Verdict This fine study will be primarily of interest to students of World War II and the Holocaust.—David Keymer, Cleveland

 

Lake, Dianne & Deborah Herman. Member of the Family: My Story of Charles Manson, Life Inside His Cult, and the Darkness That Ended the Sixties. Morrow. 2017. 384p. ISBN 9780062695574. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062695604. CRIME

When she was 14, Lake’s hippie parents gave her a note to carry in her pocket. It granted her full authority over her own choices—an emancipation, of sorts—that allowed her to arbitrarily wander from commune to commune while her parents, devoted to their own 1960s communal lifestyle, turned a blind eye. By then, Lake—who still had the unformed maturity and worldview of a troubled teenager—was already invested in the world of free love and drugs. This made her perfect prey for Charles Manson, who quickly wooed her into the “Family,” where she remained until she was 17 and the arrests came down. Lake eventually served as a witness for the prosecution and was adopted by the police officer who first arrested her.

Verdict This is an honest, courageous, and intriguing portrait of an extraordinary adolescence. It offers some granular insight into Manson and the dynamics of the Family, but those nuggets may not be enough for this to stand out in a market already saturated with Manson material.Erin Entrada Kelly, Philadelphia

 

Merchant, Brian. The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone. Little, Brown. 2017. 416p. index. ISBN 9780316546164. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780316546119. BUS

The iPhone is the best-selling computing device of all time, says author Merchant, senior editor of Motherboard at Vice Media and founder/editor of its future fiction outlet Terraform. He travels from the tin mines of Bolivia and the lithium pools of Chile to the factories and black markets of China and the e-waste dumps of Nairobi. Merchant deconstructs the iPhone to see where each part comes from and goes. He follows the history of the device’s technologies, sometimes back a hundred years, to inventors seldom acknowledged. This detail is interspersed with information on the development of the phone at Apple. While Apple’s famous secrecy makes piecing this information together difficult, Merchant leaves no stone unturned to present the full story. Steve Jobs’s paranoia may be legendary, but the results and impact of his personality and vision are made clear. Merchant more than fulfills his stated goals for the book of tracing the origins and impacts of the iPhone through time and around the globe, of busting the lone inventor myth, and of helping all to understand how the iPhone came to be.

Verdict Readers don’t even need to own an iPhone to enjoy this well-written history.Bonnie A. Tollefson, Rogue Valley Manor Lib., Medford, OR

 

Miller, Christian B. The Character Gap: How Good Are We? Oxford Univ. (Philosophy in Action). 2017. 296p. illus. bibliog. ISBN 9780190264222. $21.95; ebk. ISBN 9780190264246. PHIL

Empirical studies demonstrate that people sometimes behave in admirable ways and at other times act abominably. Miller (A.C. Reid Professor of Philosophy, Wake Forest Univ.), director of the Templeton Foundation–funded Character Project, identifies some psychologically tested strategies that do, and don’t, work to close the “character gap” between who people are and who they ought to be. However, while ostensibly making the religion sections optional for nonbelievers, Miller places most of his hope in conventional Christian character development tools: ritual and spiritual practices, a supportive religious community and role models, and the divine agency of the Holy Spirit. His focus is on Christianity (i.e., contemporary American biblical evangelicalism—he offers readers no awareness of the variety of practices that characterize the diverse forms Christianity takes much less of other religions). Unfortunately, crucial questions of philosophy (What is the self that has character apart from behavior?) and theology (Does the Holy Spirit act as something in addition to the various causes that shape character, or is it the significance behind those causes?) never get addressed.

Verdict The empirical studies may be informative for readers who share Miller’s religious assumptions, but those not already convinced will find his Christian apologetics off-putting.—Steve Young, McHenry Cty. Coll., Crystal Lake, IL

 

Pfeffer, Anshel. Bibi: The Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu. Basic: Perseus. May 2018. 432p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9780465097821. $32; ebk. ISBN 9780465097838. BIOG

In this debut, journalist Pfeffer profiles enigmatic Israeli leader Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu (b. 1949). Netanyahu is a stern believer that to “be the prime minister of Israel…one needs a grasp of history, a vision for the future, and the fortitude to withstand unbearable pressure.” The author explains how the leader gained his “fortitude” from service in the military intelligence unit Sayeret Matkal; he enlisted during Israel’s defining moments of the Six-Day War of 1967. As a soldier, Netanyahu also witnessed the 1972 hijacking of a Tel Aviv flight by Palestinian terrorist group Black September. Although known for opposition to the Obama administration, Netanyahu enjoys a long acquaintance with President Trump and a history of political endorsements from him. Pfeffer strives for comprehensive familial coverage in his work, starting with Bibi’s grandfather and father. But this part of the history consumes the first third of the book, limiting the coverage of Netanyahu himself. Although timely with Israel’s 70th anniversary of independence and ongoing corruption charges keeping Netanyahu in the news, the pacing and dry material will only appeal to informed readers or researchers. Verdict A middling profile, topical in nature, but with limited interest for a broad readership.—Jessica Bushore, Xenia, OH

 

Shore, Marci. The Ukrainian Night: An Intimate History of Revolution. Yale Univ. Jan. 2018. 320p. illus. notes. ISBN 9780300218688. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780300231533. POL SCI

Intimately personal accounts of the experiences, choices, and thoughts of those who took action during the EuroMaidan protests, revolution, and ensuing war in Ukraine are woven together by Shore (history, Yale Univ.) to create a page-turner similar to a fiction thriller though one that’s terrifyingly all too real. With a focus on the author’s network of well-educated subjects and not reflective of everyday Ukrainians, the work explores the current revolution within the context of the failures of the 2004 Orange Revolution, broader Ukrainian and Soviet history, hopes for the future, and languages. Surzhyk, a mix of Ukrainian and Russian, which would further emphasize how nothing is clear-cut, is noticeably absent given how Shore intertwines throughout the complexity of languages in Ukraine. Other recent publications, such as Tim Judah’s In Wartime: Stories from Ukraine or sections of Sophie Pinkham’s Black Square, will provide a comprehensive overview of present-day Ukraine when available along with this title.

Verdict Interspersed with expert historical context, this fast-paced, personal history lays bare the hopes and fears of those present for Ukraine’s EuroMaidan revolt and aftermath and will appeal to anyone trying to gain a better understanding of the past, present, and future of the current situation in Ukraine.—Zebulin Evelhoch, Central Washington Univ. Lib., Ellensburg

 

Stroud, Patricia Tyson. Bitterroot: The Life and Death of Meriwether Lewis. Univ. of Pennsylvania. Apr. 2018. 392p. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780812249842. $39.95; ebk. ISBN 9780812294712. BIOG

Some of the most memorable words describing Meriwether Lewis (1774–1809) come from the pen of Thomas Jefferson. In support of Lewis’s selection to lead an exploration of the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson wrote that Lewis was “of courage undaunted” and that he possessed “firmness of mind and body.” Yet four years after Lewis’s untimely death, Jefferson wrote that Lewis’s mind was clouded and that he suffered from depression and was heavily dependent upon alcohol; consequently, Jefferson supported the conclusion that Lewis had committed suicide. Independent scholar Stroud (Thomas Say: New World Naturalist) suggests that Jefferson’s words were the “bitter root” of Lewis’s legacy: suicide not murder. This volume, compactly written and filled with quotations, suggests that Lewis did not commit suicide and that his ill-fated tenure as governor of Louisiana entangled him in a web of political intrigue that involved James Wilkinson, Aaron Burr, and a president who did not defend his longtime friend. Stroud presents biographical details of Lewis’s life, with several chapters concisely retelling the Lewis and Clark Expedition.

Verdict This book will appeal to general readers as well as those well versed in the history of the Corps of Discovery. An important addition for all American history collections.—Patricia Ann Owens, formerly with Illinois Eastern Community Coll., Mt. Carmel

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