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The Innovators: How a Group of Inventors, Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution

Walter Isaacson. Simon & Schuster, $35 (544p) ISBN 978-1-4767-0869-0

The history of the computer as told through this fascinating book is not the story of great leaps forward but rather one of halting progress. Journalist and Aspen Institute CEO Isaacson (Steve Jobs) presents an episodic survey of advances in computing and the people who made them, from 19th-century digital prophet Ada Lovelace to Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. His entertaining biographical sketches cover headline personalities (such as a manic Bill Gates in his salad days) and unsung toilers, like WWII’s pioneering female programmers, and outright failures whose breakthroughs fizzled unnoticed, such as John Atanasoff, who was close to completing a full-scale model computer in 1942 when he was drafted into the Navy. Isaacson examines these figures in lucid, detailed narratives, recreating marathon sessions of lab research, garage tinkering, and all-night coding in which they struggled to translate concepts into working machinery. His account is an antidote to his 2011 Great Man hagiography of Steve Jobs; for every visionary—or three (vicious fights over who invented what are ubiquitous)—there is a dogged engineer; a meticulous project manager; an indulgent funder; an institutional hothouse like ARPA, Stanford, and Bell Labs; and hordes of technical experts. Isaacson’s absorbing study shows that technological progress is a team sport, and that there’s no I in computer. Photos. Agent: Amanda Urban, ICM. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Farming the Woods: An Integrated Permaculture Approach to Growing Food and Medicinals in Temperate Forests

Ken Mudge and Steve Gabriel. Chelsea Green, $39.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-60358-507-1

In this latest of the publisher’s serious, readable, and eminently useful books on cutting-edge permaculture practices, Cornell University professor Mudge and Fingerlakes forest farmer and horticulturalist Gabriel take a step outside the permaculture trend toward forest gardening—gardening that emulates forest patterns—and focus on farming in the woods by maintaining a healthy forest “while growing a wide range of food, medicinal, and other non-timber products.” Beginning with a nuanced cultural history of forest farming, Mudge and Gabriel share their expertise on an abundance of woodland products: pollination techniques for paw-paws; the comparative economics of shiitakes and ginseng; maple, birch, and walnut sugaring methods; hazelnut breeding; and the safe use of a chain saw, to name but a few. A thoughtfully speculative but practical section on the possible effects of climate change reflects the authors’ humble and hopeful perspective that “much of the trouble in the world today is due to disconnection from... larger cycles. Forest farming invites us to change these cycles and to offer a gift for generations to come.” (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Air Plants: The Curious World of Tillandsias

Zenaida Sengo. Timber, $19.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-60469-489-5

Sengo offers fresh possibilities to people who love plants in their homes but have little time, limited space, and a general disinclination toward plant care. Tillandsias, also known as air plants, meet those conditions, and this helpful volume outlines ways to cultivate and decorate with this odd genus, a member of the bromeliad family. Flourishing (almost) on neglect, tillandsias add an exotic note to window sills, on table tops, or suspended in air. The plants draw nourishment through their leaves, defying the horticultural logic that requires good soil with appropriate pH levels. They possess roots, which attach themselves to host as a means of finding optimal light and serviceable moisture. Tillandsias do need moisture regularly, whether acquired through a spray bottle, a faucet, or a good soak; otherwise they will dry out. Sengo’s informative book offers creative ways to enjoy these quirky plants, which require minimal care and enhance living space with a hint of exotic flare. 195 color photos. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Origami Ikebana: Create Lifelike Paper Flower Arrangements

Benjamin John Coleman. Tuttle, $19.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-4-8053-1242-1

Coleman, who was initially inspired in papercraft by an origami book his father brought home at Christmas in 1974, got serious in 1996 when he quit his teaching job and made origami ikebana a new way of life and of making a living. He combines the techniques and disciplines of ikebana (Japanese flower arranging), makigami (paper rolling), and origami (paper folding). The materials he uses are simple and cheap (plain photocopy paper, for example, serves as material for petals). Realistic-looking boulder bases for his minimalist creations belie their composition of wadded-up newspaper sheets. (These bases, once coated in a glue-like solution, must be cooked in a hot car, by the way.) Even beginners should benefit from the eight different leaves and 30 different flowers represented. Should the multiple illustrations for ivy leaf veins or primrose petals leave the crafter ready to crush an unfinished creation and aim it at the nearest waste receptacle, a patience-restoring DVD, in which the author walks the listener through every step described in the book, is included. The author strives for realism, and lush photo illustrations bear this out. But the not-entirely-natural outcomes are better described as art than as realism. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unconventional & Unexpected: American Quilts Below the Radar 1950–2000

Roderick Kiracofe. STC Craft/Melanie Falick, $50 (224p) ISBN 978-1-61769-123-2

Kiracofe, quilt collecter and cofounder of The Quilt Digest, makes a strong case that scrap quilts are not merely utilitarian and consequently unimportant. They stand, he declares, as artistic offerings that are “unconventional and unexpected.” To prove his point in this gorgeous coffee-table book, he offers 150 illustrations of quilts from his collection, which are enhanced by his cutlines of information and opinion. His quilts range from messes to masterpieces, from the simple (red cross on blue field; Socony Oil’s Pegasus banner) to the intricate “Grids with Prairie Points.” He often shows backs, including one made from Sears catalogue pages. To support his thesis, Kiracofe includes insightful essays by quilt historians (including Denyse Schmidt on “The Beauty of Making Do”). They often compare scrap quilts to canvases by such modern artists as Picasso and Rothko, but only male artists; would a comparison between women quilters to women artists not elevate their quilts? Kiracofe proves scrap quilts worthy of moving from bed to wall. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Love, Lashes, and Lipstick: My Secrets for a Gorgeous, Happy Life

Mally Roncal. Ballantine, $23 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8041-7823-5

Celebrity makeup artist Roncal—known for her work with Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez, and others—offers a hybrid memoir and lifestyle guide that sprinkles makeup tutorials throughout her effusive narration. As the daughter of a successful OB/GYN who “wore designer clothes under her white doctor’s coat and the highest heels to the office,” Roncal learned early on about the importance of beauty along with the need for a strong work ethic. The book begins with the launch of Roncal’s makeup line, Mally Beauty (first sold on QVC), followed by loosely chronological chapters that touch on subjects including: lessons from childhood, Roncal’s college years, the rise of her career, and her marriage. The make-up how-tos in the first half seem to be inserted haphazardly, though the tutorials and text are more effectively juxtaposed in later chapters. For example, “Beyoncé’s Ten-Minute Face” follows Roncal’s discussion of her first time meeting and working with Beyoncé. Though these tutorials are easy to understand, they are accompanied by illustrations rather than photos, which makes it difficult to see the true impact of each “look.” While Roncal’s celebrity stories and details of her glamorous career (jetting off to Tanzania for a photo shoot) have dishy appeal, the book will be best appreciated by Roncal’s fans. Color photos and illus. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Parenting 2.0: Think in the Future, Act in the Now

Tricia Ferrara. Greenleaf, $15.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-62634-110-4

Counselor and parenting strategist Ferrara hopes to provide a framework in which parents can “design, create, and direct” the functioning of their family, but these short essays on a diverse selection of topics—loosely organized into 18 brief chapters—unfortunately skimp on specific, fact-based advice. The author assures readers that parents have not become obsolete, and that parenting is the “next big killer app,” which must compete with other factors in children’s lives. Ferrara suggests that a family unit should be like a collaborative database—a wiki—where parents will “influence, not dominate” their children. The message here is that old-fashioned parenting techniques are failing children, so moms and dads need to embrace fast-shifting social dynamics. If they realize, for example, that punishment is a method, but discipline is an outcome, they can upgrade their kids’ “time-outs” to parental “time-ins.” Despite Ferrara’s call for parental competence, it’s only in the last chapter that readers will encounter a helpful tool, the “Nine Evolutionary Principles for Parenting with Possibility,” a list of fundamental parenting concepts that would benefit from additional discussion. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Radiance Sutras: 112 Gateways to the Yoga of Wonder & Delight

Lorin Roche. Sounds True, $21.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-60407-659-2

Meditation teacher Roche (Meditation Made Easy) gives a contemporary interpretation of an ancient text: the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra. The book includes an incisive foreword by yoga luminary Shiva Rea, who observes that following even one of the titular sutra is “enough to change a life.” Roche explains that he calls the text “The Radiance Sutras” because the writings are so luminous: the compendium is set as conversation between two lovers, Shiva and Shakti, and covers breathing, tasting, sleeping, making love, and sensory vehicles for “realizing your nature.” With each entry presented in Part One, Roche includes the Sanskrit script, transliteration, and pronunciation. Part Two, “Invitations and Illuminations,” offers 112 meditation practices (yuktis) that guide readers toward falling in love with their own existence. Readers with advanced meditation experience will appreciate the intensity of Roche’s knowledge of and experience with this ancient text, and newcomers will be drawn to the beauty and radiance of the verses, as well as the accessibility and creativity of the practices. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Empty Medicine Cabinet: The Pharmacist’s Guide to the Hidden Dangers of Drugs and the Healing Powers of Food

Dustin Rudolph. Pursue a Healthy You (pursueahealthyyou.com), $16.95 trade paper (282p) ISBN 978-0-9915490-1-6

Pharmacist Rudolph cautions that while more than four billion prescriptions were filled in the U.S. in 2011, and nearly three-quarters of doctor visits involved drug therapy, Americans are “growing fatter and sicker by the day.” His solution to the the “pill trap” is healing via food. In part one, he examines heart health, Type 2 diabetes, cancer, and autoimmune and other diseases, citing research that shows how food can be used as medicine to prevent or reverse these health problems, without damaging side effects. Rudolph offers some convincing arguments as to why drugs don’t measure up; for example, he debunks the benefits from bisphosphonates as well as the use of statins for treating cardiovascular disease. In part two, Rudolph presents his Food for Health Program, which focusing on vegetables, fruit, legumes, grains, and seeds and nuts (with recipes provided in Part III) and is based on two simple principles: foods to include and foods to avoid. Meat and dairy (as well as eggs) and processed foods are among the latter. Readers concerned about pharmaceuticals may appreciate Rudolph’s critiques of Big Pharma and Big Agriculture, as well as his call to take control of health and spend grocery dollars proactively. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Yoga and Body Image: 25 Personal Stories About Beauty, Bravery & Loving Your Body

Melanie Klein and Anna Guest-Jelley. Llewellyn, $17.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-7387-3982-3

Klein and Guest-Jelley gather an array of yoga practitioners—including musician Alanis Morissette and Dr. Sara Gottfried—for whom yoga has transformed the way they think about their bodies. The “major gap in the conversation” around yoga and body image, according to Klein, is the harmful culture surrounding yoga that has formed in the last decade, thanks to an image-obsessed fitness industry eager to capitalize on the latest craze. In telling their stories, many contributors decry this culture, arguing that there’s no such thing as a “yoga body.” A hard-driving marathon runner finds her passion for yoga while recovering from an injury. A man with cerebral palsy learns to adapt the practice to his unique needs. Yoga helps a transgendered man reconnect with his body after years of self-hatred and abuse. But for all the diversity represented by the book’s subjects, their stories tend to follow similar trajectories, and lessons can feel repetitive. Yoga is a “tool to move inward,” an “opportunity to connect more fully,” and the “unity of being a whole person.” In other words, whatever the question, yoga is the answer. Despite this boilerplate wisdom, the book’s message of self-love is urgent and essential. Agent: Frank Weimann, Folio Literary Management. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/01/2014 | Details & Permalink

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