Nonfiction: Reagan in Moscow, Fruits & Veggies, the Poor, New Space Race, Dollywood, & More | Xpress Reviews

Fans of Ronald Reagan and Fox News will relish this book; another solid choice for gardening collections; for readers interested in public health policy; comfortable spiritual nourishment for readers of all types; a compelling narrative that should be of special interest to many with the very recent launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket; fans of Parton and those with interests in Appalachia, Tennessee, and Southern culture will enjoy this book; for fans of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and John McEuen in particular

Week ending March 9, 2018


Baier, Bret with Catherine Whitney. Three Days in Moscow: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of the Soviet Empire. HarperCollins. May 2018. 368p. notes. index. ISBN 9780062748362. $28.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062748492. HIST

Conservatives lionize former U.S. president Ronald Reagan. Baier (chief political anchor, Fox News) and cowriter Whitney conform to this convention while skirting the thickest of the lacquer with which Reaganites coat their hero. As in 2017’s Three Days in January, their superior biography of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Baier and Whitney take a single crucial event in their subject’s life—in this case, Reagan’s visit to Moscow in 1988—and use it to illuminate the character of an American president. The authors are happily pro-Reagan, downplaying the administration’s less-than-stellar situations, such as the Iran-Contra scandal. They spout hyperbole, titling one section “Reagan’s destiny” and describing 1980s U.S.-Soviet relations as the “endgame of a decades-long battle for the future of civilization.” They indulge in glittering generalities and weasel words, including phrases such as “many judged that....” On the other hand, they capture Reagan’s fraught but mutually warm relationship with Soviet reformist premier Mikhail Gorbachev, and they convey a good sense of Reagan’s sunny yet aloof personality and leadership style.

Verdict Fans of Ronald Reagan and Fox News will relish this book; other readers will prefer H.W. Brands’s Reagan: The Life for a more grounded portrait.—Michael Rodriguez, Univ. of Connecticut, Storrs


Biggs, Matthew. Grow Something Different To Eat: Weird and Wonderful Heirloom Fruits and Vegetables for Your Garden. DK. Mar. 2018. 224p. photos. index. ISBN 9781465464293. pap. $21.95. GARDENING

Biggs (The Complete Book of Vegetables) continues along the path of unusual food gardening recently trod by Nikki Jabbour in her Veggie Garden Remix. This book is jam-packed with information, but its organization ensures intelligibility. It starts with advice on which crops to grow, then continues with discussion of 58 plants spread across seven categories: fruiting vegetables, salad vegetables, leafy greens, roots-bulbs-shoots, grains and seeds, herbs and spices, and fruits. Each plant is discussed generally in terms of its history, physical characteristics, and growing needs, and then Biggs slices and dices to offer more detailed knowledge with planting and harvesting schedules, step-by-step growing instructions, cook’s tips, and even growing “difficulty” scales. Interesting factoids are sprinkled throughout. Many of Biggs’s selections will be new to readers, and his repurposing of crops for the eye (e.g., dahlia)—now for the table—could surprise. If the gorgeous color photography doesn’t entice, the verbal descriptions will—taste, for example, the fuchsia berry: “intensely sweet to slightly bitter, with notes of fig, kiwi, pomegranate, and spice.”

Verdict Most trend-spotters agree that people’s desire for “incredible edibles” will continue strong in 2018, making this another solid choice for gardening collections.—Robert Eagan, Windsor P.L., Ont.


Bohan, Suzanne. Twenty Years of Life: Why the Poor Die Earlier and How To Challenge Inequity. Island. Apr. 2018. 272p. notes. index. ISBN 9781610918015. $30. SOC SCI

Journalist Bohan begins with the observation that there can be up to a two-decade gap in life expectancy in the United States based on where a person lives. She profiles the California Endowment (CE), a nonprofit foundation that is investing at the local level to address societal problems that lead to poor health. An opening chapter details the ways stress affects the human body. Subsequent chapters profile communities in California that have sought to alter these stressors with financial help from CE. These efforts include lowering high suspension rates in public schools; building new parks in distressed neighborhoods; an innovative way for police to handle violence by paying potential offenders to enroll in a preventative program that offers them other life choices; making access to alcohol more difficult for youth in rural communities; better access to grocery stores in low-income urban areas, along with community gardens to provide local produce; and making some schools healing places for kids who experience trauma in their daily lives. A final chapter discusses the differing ways democrats and republicans view the causes of health disparities and how to arrive at consensus for solutions.

Verdict Recommended for readers interested in public health policy.—Caren Nichter, Paul Meek Lib., Univ. of Tennessee at Martin


Carter, Jimmy. Faith: A Journey for All. S. & S. Mar. 2018. 192p. ISBN 9781501184413. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781501184420. REL

Jimmy Carter (b. 1924) served as 39th president of the United States and has always been a person of deep faith. In his postpresidential life, Carter has become a prolific author. In this latest work after A Full Life: Reflections at Ninety, the politician includes several personal anecdotes from a life in politics mingled with broad ruminations on the nature of faith, broadly conceived. The result is what can be described as a cozy faith read, which is not intended to challenge any of the reader’s beliefs. Though light on theology, Carter’s work offers a healthy dose of advice for political leaders of all stripes during this time of widespread discontent.

Verdict Comfortable spiritual nourishment for readers of all types.—Denis Frias, Mississauga Lib. Syst., Ont.


Fernholz, Tim. Rocket Billionaires: Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and the New Space Race. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2018. 304p. photos. notes. index. ISBN 9781328662231. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781328663061. SCI

Fernholz is a reporter, not usually on science issues, though he has been reporting on SpaceX for some time. That knowledge, plus some in-depth interviews he has had with Elon Musk (Tesla) and Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and their colleagues, informs this work on the current space race, which is becoming dominated by Internet billionaires. The book is typical of popular treatments of science and technology in at least two ways: the author skips around in time in his narrative and a fair amount of government, in this case mostly NASA, criticism is woven throughout. Fernholz does seem to have some hero worship for his main subjects. On the other hand, their accomplishments and dreams, particularly Musk’s, are spectacular. The author gets a few facts wrong; for example, Mosaic was the first web browser, not Netscape. However, his coverage of the personalities involved in the space race is engaging.

Verdict This book, though not strictly scientific, is a compelling narrative that should be of special interest to many with the very recent launch of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket. Accessible to both young adult and adult readers.—Sara R. Tompson, Jet Propulsion Laboratory Lib., Archives & Records Section, Pasadena, CA


Hoppe, Graham. Gone Dollywood: Dolly Parton’s Mountain Dream. Ohio Univ. (New Approaches to Appalachian Studies). Mar. 2018. 160p. ed. by Marie Tedesco. illus. notes. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780821423233. $26.95. TRAV

Just after Dolly Parton makes the headlines for giving out the 100 millionth book through her nonprofit Imagination Library comes this title by debut writer Hoppe. With a degree in folklore and a love for all things Dolly, Hoppe explores what makes Dollywood work and why it is not just a kitschy tourist trap but a successful theme park worthy of serious consideration. Different from other works on Dollywood, Hoppe’s volume is neither a tour guide nor a Parton biography—readers looking for such will be disappointed. Instead, he deftly examines the culture of Appalachia, specifically in East Tennessee, how it fits in with the greater Southern story (or not), and how all of this together with Parton’s genuineness overflow into Dollywood, creating an attraction that makes thousands of people a year feel at home whether they are from the South or not. The author further explores how gender, race, and class play into the mix, sometimes clashing but somehow managing to succeed.

Verdict Fans of Parton and those with interests in Appalachia, Tennessee, and Southern culture will enjoy this book.—Holly Hebert, Middle Tennessee State Univ., Murfreesboro


McEuen, John. The Life I’ve Picked: A Banjo Player’s Nitty Gritty Journey. Chicago Review. Apr. 2018. 336p. photos. ISBN 9781613738955. pap. $18.99. MUSIC

The author was one of the founding members of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band (NGDB), primarily known as a major influence on contemporary country and roots music but, as he details, with tendrils extending into other genres and settings. A combination of hustle and perfect timing brought the band to prominence shortly after its beginnings in 1966; though McEuen has gone and come and gone again from the band’s lineup, NGDB itself still exists, an impressive feat of longevity. This book charts a wandering course through McEuen’s personal and musical history both in and out of the band, including a solo career studded with his own albums, guest appearances with other artists, and film and television compositions. The book feels more like sitting down with McEuen—after a show, possibly—and listening to stories rather than reading a memoir, and there are a few frustrating narrative gaps that suggest he would have benefited from an interviewer or cowriter to dig out the details and guide his reflections. Fans of McEuen’s work will enjoy his stories, though; his long friendship with Steve Martin and his adventures behind the Iron Curtain are particular standouts.

Verdict Entertaining, if rather nonlinear and laconic. For fans of NGDB and McEuen in particular.—Genevieve Williams, Pacific Lutheran Univ. Lib., Tacoma

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