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Good Dog: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Loyalty

David DiBenedetto and the editors of Garden & Gun. HarperWave, $25.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-224235-8

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Editor in chief of Garden & Gun DiBenedetto shepherds this heartwarming collection of over 50 essays culled from the magazine column that celebrates canines in all their glory. Given the Garden & Gun's editorial focus, it's expected that there are so many outdoorsmen extolling the virtues of their hunting dogs. The collection is mostly light and reverential but the selection verges on redundancy. Luckily, essays such as Roy Blount's charming piece on why he shouldn't have a dog, Bronwen Dickey's impassioned defense of the much-maligned pit bull, and Beth Macy's account of kidnapping her neighbor's dog, Scooter, provide much-needed variety. Best consumed in small doses, this lighthearted read will even please the diehard cat-lovers among us. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Yes Please

Amy Poehler. Dey Street Books, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-0-06-226834-1

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Poehler, the sharp and self-deprecating Emmy-winning star of TV's Parks and Recreation, takes a stab here at autobiography mixed with advice on sex, babies, and even divorce. She mines her 20s, back in the 1990s, when she cut her teeth in theater at ImprovOlympic in Chicago, and with the Upright Citizens Brigade in New York. Poehler struggled for many years in part-time gigs—including doing bits on Late Night with Conan O'Brien—and her humility and good work ethic shine through: for example, in the chapter "Don't Forget to Tip Your Waitress" (which was excerpted last year in the New Yorker), she recounts rather poignantly her various early jobs, such as working as a junior secretary in a podiatrist's office at age 16 and doing waitressing stints in Chicago and New York. Poehler gives ample credit to current and former colleagues, such as Matt Besser of UCB, Seth Meyers at SNL, and the cast of Parks and Recreation; elsewhere she offers some wonderful advice on apologies—both receiving and giving. Her memoir is as bewitching and chameleonlike as Poehler herself is when she appears onstage and on-screen. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Billy Joel: The Definitive Biography

Fred Schruers. Crown Archetype, $29 (387p) ISBN 978-0804140195

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Journalist Schruers draws from many hours of interviews with Joel and his family and friends to create a generous portrait of the determined, talented musician. Joel was born in the Bronx in 1949, and his family moved to Hicksville, N.Y., the following year, where they were one of the few Jewish families. With his father largely absent, Joel took up boxing to deal with the bullies who beat him up on his way to his piano lessons. Enamored by pop music on the radio (Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, the Kingsmen, the Ronettes, the Beatles), though not graced with "matinee idol" looks, Joel found that belting out crowd-pleasers at the piano attracted notice, especially from girls. Instead of finishing high school, Schruers explains, Joel put together a series of bands and soon attracted the attention of record producers—first, Paramount's Artie Ripp, who "discovered" Joel, yet whose contract would prove onerous for some years; then Clive Davis at Columbia, which Joel wanted to be signed to because it was also Bob Dylan's label. Schruers writes that with his platinum album The Stranger, in 1977, Joel had "moved to a different place in the music business." Joel's first wife, Elizabeth, became his manager, liberating him from the "larcenous" record business for a time. Soon, Joel began writing his most memorable love songs for the women in his. His three-decade run of hit songwriting came to an end after 1993's River of Dreams. This book was originally to have been published as a memoir in 2011, with Schruers as cowriter; and here, Schruers uses interviews to great effect, allowing to emerge the everyman persona that resonates with Joel's fans. A writer and fan evidently sympathetic to and admiring of his subject, Schruers offers a fair, thorough assessment of Joel's celebrity. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/31/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Untold: The New Orleans 9th Ward You Never Knew

Lynette Norris Wilkinson. Write Creations, $13.99 trade paper (118p) ISBN 978-0-9706292-1-0

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New Orleans native Wilkinson, who after Hurricane Katrina welcomed 16 storm survivors into her Dallas home, offers readers an engrossing and important book that provides a fresh glimpse of the Lower Ninth Ward and its “hardworking, family-oriented people, who owned their homes, had a sense of community, and were contributing members of society.” Giving voice to the voiceless, Wilkinson helps these survivors tell their stories: they describe the devastation of the storm and coping with personal losses, as well as forging new beginnings. For 83-year-old Geraldine, Katrina meant leaving “the only place I ever lived,” while for Betty it meant living “in four different cities before we came back to New Orleans.” Wilkinson’s succinct narratives prove that there’s more to the residents of the Lower Ninth Ward than was shown in the media’s coverage of Katrina, and they constitute a splendid oral history as well. This is an unpretentious, readable, informative, and extraordinary account that shouldn’t slip through the cracks. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Field Guide to Procuring and Profiting in Fine Art

Brett K. Maly. Bear N Desert, $16.95 trade paper (118p) ISBN 978-0-9915380-0-3

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Maly, best known as the art appraiser on the reality TV show Pawn Stars, helps readers navigate the murky waters of art collecting and selling in this introductory guide, which aims to keep newbies to the trade from spending or expecting too much. Maly begins at the most basic level, explaining how watercolors differ from oil paintings and the importance of a piece’s provenance, as well as debunking the debatable value of “limited editions,” lest customers get fleeced. Maly’s advice ranges from the obvious (preview an estate sale online before jumping in your car) to the specific (how to identify the plate mark on etchings and engravings), with practical tips for identifying flaws that can affect even the most valuable artwork’s value. Maly does his best to keep expectations low—the chances of finding a lost Picasso at a garage sale or on Craigslist are minuscule, he notes. While the advice is practical and well-suited for a novice readership, much of the information could be easily gleaned in an afternoon of searching on the web or at the local library. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Experiencing Rush: A Listener’s Companion

Durrell Bowman. Rowman & Littlefield, $45 (178p) ISBN 978-1-4422-3130-6

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From Rush’s self-titled debut album in 1974 to 2012’s Clockwork Angels, this work covers the recording career, music, and, less extensively, the personal lives of the progressive rock band. After a time line outlining key points in the band’s existence, Bowman’s introduction notes that Rush deserves such extensive focus because of the musicianship, professionalism, and willingness to experiment that have garnered the band a cultlike fan base from its native Canada and the U.S. to many other countries. While there is some biography in this band history, for the most part Bowman focuses on the band’s music as he analyzes each album, including lyrics, time signatures, key and chord choices, themes, and cover art. Though music notation may help readers understand Bowman’s explanations, those without musical backgrounds might find his analysis too intricate. But true Rush fans will revel in the author’s complex descriptions; for instance, he notes that from 1980’s Permanent Waves to Roll the Bones in 1991, the band’s lyrics evolved “from vaguely Randian atheistic individualism to vaguely left-wing agnostic liberalism.” It’s fitting that Bowman finishes with how Rush, after years of being ignored, was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame thanks to its fans. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Every Army Man Is with You: The Cadets Who Won the 1964 Army-Navy Game, Fought in Vietnam, and Came Home Forever Changed

Nicolaus Mills. Rowman & Littlefield, $37 (262p) ISBN 978-1-4422-3985-2

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Historian Mills, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College, traces the heroics of the Army players who triumphed in the 1964 game against Navy (piloted by future Hall of Fame NFL quarterback Roger Staubach) to the jungles of Vietnam with exceptional insight. The title of the book comes from a gung-ho telegram sent by former president Dwight Eisenhower to the Army football stars before their classic showdown with Navy, but their upset victory, their first in five years, pales in contrast to their exploits in their battles with the Vietcong. Although Mills writes with much respect and authority of the importance of the Army brass to the young athletes, he reserves some of his highest praise for the Army head coach Paul Dietzel and his fearless squad, including quarterback Rollie Stichweh, linebacker Sonny Stowers, tailback John Seymour, guard Peter Braun, wingback John Johnson, and tackle Bill Zadel, all of whom faced foreign conflict and postwar life with grit and determination. Mills includes insightful interviews of these Army athletes on the battlefield and on the gridiron, honoring honor, courage, and determination. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Year with Peter Drucker: 52 Weeks of Coaching for Leadership Effectiveness

Joseph A. Maciariello. Harper Business, $29.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-231567-0

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Any book with the late management guru Peter Drucker’s name on it is likely to draw a crowd. However, this one, compiled by Maciariello, Drucker’s onetime student and longtime colleague, may leave readers feeling that, although Drucker’s insight still has merit, its value might be waning in today’s changing landscape. The book, as the title indicates, is meant to be savored one week at a time; each chapter features reading material that supports that week’s theme and ends with “practicum prompts” featuring thought-provoking questions. Although most of the lessons are still current—“defining purpose and mission,” “succession decision”—some seem timeworn or odd. Occasional references are dated. E-commerce receives only a minor mention. And today, when so many individuals and companies are finding ways to build successful businesses and “do good,” Drucker’s chapter on how to “Move from Success to Significance” feels redundant. Drucker’s views on religion’s place in American culture, particularly, will leave many readers cold. Still, the book (especially its latter half) may prove the perfect holiday gift for an older and accomplished business professional, one in the waning years of his or her career and with the time and inclination to reflect. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Strategize to Win: The New Way to Start Out, Step Up, or Start Over in Your Career

Carla A. Harris. Penguin/Hudson Street, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5946-3305-8

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Harris (Expect to Win), Morgan Stanley’s managing director, offers hope in this career manual both to people just starting out and to those seeking professional redirection or revitalization. She divides the book into three major sections, respectively entitled “Starting Out,” “Stepping Up,” and “Starting Over.” The first section provides solid guidance, including on choosing a career, identifying necessary skill sets, and examining company entry points, to beginners who want to be deliberate in their career choices. For mid-levels who want to move up, she emphasizes that responsibility for this task rests on the individual, providing practical help on communication strategies, bouncing back after a misstep, and building up “relationship currency.” Advice to those in the “Starting Over” phase covers knowing when it’s time to jump ship and recognizing what factors motivate one, whether it’s increased compensation, improved chances for advancement, or escaping current unfair treatment. She also provides an informative chapter on repositioning oneself, which many will find especially insightful. Most professionals should be able to find something of value, whether they’re just starting out, ready to move on, or somewhere in between. Agent: Barbara Lowenstein, Lowenstein Associates. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Only One Thing Can Save Us: Why Our Country Needs a New Kind of Labor Movement

Thomas Geohegan. New Press (Perseus, dist.), $25.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59558-865-4

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This unsettling cri de coeur from a veteran labor lawyer laments the extent to which unions have vanished from the American workforce and political consciousness. Geohegan, who explored modern Germany’s social democracy in Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?, spotlights that country’s principle of “co-determination,” in which blue-collar workers share power with executives, as an alternative to the U.S. economy’s low-skill, low-wage blueprint. But his prescriptions for finding our way back to a union-backed middle class are tough to see as feasible: bolstering unions to raise wages, and backing away from four-year college education as a panacea in lieu of more high-skills vocational education and mentorship opportunities. Similarly, creating a constitutional right to union membership sounds good, but Geohegan’s own experience makes it clear how much of an uphill fight such an amendment would require. Even for those who agree on the need to create a new labor movement in principle, his closing exhortation that “unless we do so, you and I are done” will seem less inspiring than intended. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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