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Serving the Reich: The Struggle for the Soul of Physics Under Hitler

Philip Ball. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-226-20457-4

German science led the world until Hitler ruined it, as British science writer Ball (Curiosity: How Science Became Interested in Everything) claims in this fine account of how it happened. Ball builds his story around three Nobel laureates: Max Planck, Peter Debye, and Werner Heisenberg. Under anti-Jewish Nazi laws, a quarter of German physicists were dismissed. Planck (1858–1947), one of Germany’s most respected scientists, appealed to authorities on behalf of Jewish colleagues, but refused to repudiate the law. A loyal patriot, he believed the legality of the dismissals did not make them right, but it made them incontestable. Heisenberg (1901–1976) endured attacks for advocating “Jewish” science (i.e., relativity and quantum physics), but participated in Germany’s effort to develop an atomic bomb. Debye (1884–1966) directed the prestigious Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, following Nazi policies while also helping Jewish scientists obtain jobs in other nations. He emigrated in 1939 only after the institute was ordered to concentrate on war research. Almost all non-Jewish German scientists fretted, compromised, and looked after their own interests. Others have vilified them as collaborators, but Ball, no polemicist, thinks this was a moral failure, common and not confined to Germans. This is an important, disturbing addition to the history of science. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Seasons of Trouble: Life amid the Ruins of Sri Lanka’s Civil War

Rohini Mohan. Verso (Random, dist.), $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-78168-600-3

The Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009 with the government’s decisive defeat of the Tamil Tigers, but the wounds of the decades-long conflict are still fresh. In this harrowing and haunting work, Mohan, an investigative journalist with extensive experience in the subcontinent, follows three individuals from the island’s Tamil community as they try to pick up the pieces. She personalizes the regime’s policy of “diluting the Tamil population in the Vanni [the northern mainland] and preventing any future claims to a separate Tamil homeland.” As the army gained the upper hand against the militants, soldiers adopted scorched-earth tactics and took to abducting and torturing Tamil civilians. The rebels, in turn, kidnapped children from their own villages to send to the frontlines as cannon fodder. Of one of her subjects, who signed up for the Tigers while in high school, Mohan says, “in her seven years in the fighting force, she never held her breath again while pulling the trigger. But new faces did not replace the face of the first soldier.... She would never feel remorse for the killing of anyone, except him.” As Mohan shows, the survivors are deeply traumatized, and their stories offer no neat lessons or easy resolutions. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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No Man’s Land: Preparing for War and Peace in Post-9/11 America

Elizabeth D. Samet. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-3742-2277-2

Using her knowledge of the American military tradition, Samet (Soldier’s Heart), a professor of English at West Point, examines the significance of the nation’s ambivalent response to its soldiers returning home from the battlefronts in Iraq and Afghanistan. She notes that after the triumph of the Greatest Generation in WWII, America has been less kind to those who serve in combat, naming “the forgotten war” in Korea and “the lost war” in Vietnam. Impressed by a visit with valiant wounded veterans at Walter Reed hospital and her interaction with former students, Samet comprehends how war and violence can transform a soldier trying to grapple with the future, noting one Marine’s comments: “I had to deal with the fact that everything wasn’t the same, that it never would be, and that that’s okay.” Occasionally straying off-message in a narrative that includes classical myths and pop references, Samet still ably details the concept of a “no man’s land,” the gray zone between war and peace, and the soldiers’ bittersweet homecoming to a war-weary America. Vivid, insightful, and timely, Samet sums up what this country must do for its returning troops. Agent: David Kuhn, Kuhn Projects. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rebellion: The History of England from James I to the Glorious Revolution

Peter Ackroyd. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $29.99 (528p) ISBN 978-1-250-00363-8

Agitation was in the air throughout 17th-century England, and Ackroyd skillfully captures the feelings and events of the time in this third volume of his history of England (following Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I). The narrative opens with the merging of England and Scotland under one monarch, James I, whose massive gluttony Ackroyd contrasts with the dire finances of the country as a whole. There existed a “gulf between king and country,” as the author describes it, which only widened during the reign of James I’s successor, Charles I, due to wars with Spain and France. Following great financial distress and a civil war that pitted royalists against parliamentarians, Charles I was executed. While Scotland declared Charles II king, England’s parliament steered the country into what became the “Commonwealth of England,” with Oliver Cromwell as “Lord Protector.” In 1660, the monarchy was restored with Charles II on the throne. Ackroyd ends at the Glorious Revolution—when William III (William of Orange) overthrew James II after yet more religious upheaval—having left no stone unturned. Addressing politics, religion, court life, scandal, science, literature, and art, the depth and scope of Ackroyd’s account is impressive, and it is as accessible as it is rich. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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At the End of the Road: Jack Kerouac in Mexico

Jorge García-Robles, trans. from the Spanish by Daniel C. Schechter. Univ. of Minnesota, $17.95 trade paper (152p) ISBN 978-0-8166-8065-8

Building on his previous work about the Beats’ time south of the border, García-Robles (The Stray Bullet: William S. Burroughs in Mexico) delivers a fast-paced, highly editorialized version of Kerouac’s handful of trips to Mexico. The narrative, scraped together out of the many literary snippets the writer (and his friends) left behind, follows the time line of Kerouac’s intermittent visits, made between 1950 and 1961. With such a wealth of literature concerning Kerouac already in existence, García-Robles doesn’t concentrate on revisiting the facts. Instead, he uses quotes from Kerouac’s fiction to trace his subject’s inner life and place Mexico within the larger context of the famed novelist’s artistic evolution. At times, he even seems to take up the voice of Mexico itself, speaking to the uninformed American traveler. In the end, the book complicates the vision Kerouac presented in On the Road and other books. “[Kerouac] experienced yet another Mexican epiphany: It ‘was one of the great mystic rippling moments of my life—I saw right then that Enrique was great and that the Indian, the Mexican is great, straight, simple and perfect.’ Dream on, Jackie.” (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Imagine This: Creating the Work You Love

Maxine Clair. Agate, $16 trade paper (150p) ISBN 978-1-932841-83-1

Life coach and poet Clair (Rattlebone) advocates the New Age mission of self-realization with this succinct, easy-to-follow workbook. A survivor of domestic abuse, Clair earned two advanced degrees; after a long career as a medical technologist, she became an English professor at George Washington University and an award-winning writer. Setting the example for how self-realization improved her life, she outlines the journey to empowerment that worked for her in nine steps: for example, the first step toward “pursuing a greater sense of wakefulness” is simply to keep a journal. Each chapter opens with Clair’s personal problems and how she overcame them, ending with a series of exercises that require some measure of introspection as well as a time commitment. For those who may be floundering, she advises looking for inspiration in “places that hold your idea of beauty” or simply chilling by watching “wall paper dry.” While followers of Shakti Gawain and Louise Hay may be familiar with the technique of using affirmations to implement positive change, for the uninitiated, Clair brings a fresh point of view to the pursuit of self-fulfillment. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Harry Harrison! Harry Harrison!: It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time

Harry Harrison. Tor, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4299-6728-0

The late Harry Harrison (The Stainless Steel Rat), a Science Fiction Hall of Fame inductee, blends his personal adventures with literary history in this entertaining, posthumously published memoir. Harrison gives readers an inside look at the pivotal role he played in the growth of the SF community—among other things, he was the first to bring authors and fans from the Soviet Union into Western Europe, as part of the First World Science Fiction Writers Conference in 1976. At times, the book reads almost like a travelogue, following Harrison and his wife and two children during their continual moves throughout the world, first to Mexico, and later to Italy, Denmark, and Ireland. These migrations, motivated by Harrison’s search for freedom from the distractions and high costs of American life, were the source of many difficulties for him and his family, yet his vivid descriptions should still kindle the reader’s wanderlust. Since Harrison’s brisk pace can make individual episodes feel rushed and incomplete, readers might find the stand-alone essays at the book’s end easier to follow. Each of these pieces, which Harrison was unable to incorporate into the memoir before his death in 2012, focus on a single topic, such as the transformation of Harrison’s novel Make Room! Make Room! into the film Soylent Green. Despite the book’s ramshackle construction, it succeeds in capturing Harrison’s warmth, humor, and philosophy for all SF fans to appreciate. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy: The Many Faces of Anonymous

Gabrielle Coleman. Verso (Random, dist.), $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-78168-583-9

In this eye-opening ethnography, cultural anthropologist Coleman (Coding Freedom) constructs a fascinating picture of the many facets of the Internet collective known as Anonymous, from tricksters and trolls to social crusaders and information warriors. She pulls back the curtain to reveal feuding factions, evolving purposes, scatological humor, and a healthy dose of bizarre in-jokes. In particular, she looks at how they’ve taken on corporations, governments, even Scientology, and come out on top almost every time. Her writing style is as irreverent and occasionally as profane as her subjects, drawing the reader in with a casual amiability, as if sharing the wild stories of impossible and unreliable acquaintances. Interviews, chat logs, leaked documents, and personal recollections help construct one of the most accessible and most illuminating profiles possible of a group that, by its very creed, can’t easily be defined or categorized. This all-access pass into the dark and wild corners of the Internet is timely, informative, and also frightening. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Founding Fathers: The Fight for Freedom and the Birth of American Liberty

K.M. Kostyal. National Geographic, $40 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4262-1175-1

National Geographic senior writer Kostyal (Great Migrations) traces the earliest days of the United States, from before the revolution through the adoption of the Constitution, in this basic, inclusive, and traditional telling of the political, military, and intellectual conditions that led to America’s independence. She takes readers through the events at Lexington and Concord, George Washington’s many difficulties, the important battles of the war, the pivotal courting of France as an ally, and the writing of the Constitution after the Revolution’s success. Inserted at appropriate places amid the chronological accounts are informative biographies of the major players—King George III, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, and, of course, Washington—which humanize the revolution and offer insightful contextualization. Kostyal successfully ties together the disparate pieces of the revolution while clarifying the its causes, course, and outcome. Supporting Kostyal’s text are wonderful reproductions of colored pictures, maps, and famous letters and documents that bring to life the events of the revolution. The graphics are delightful and Kostyal’s work is perfect for families to study and read together. Color Illus. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Extrastatecraft: The Power of Infrastructure Space

Keller Easterling. Verso, $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-78168-587-7

Easterling (Organization Space and Enduring Innocence), an architect and Yale professor, offers an intelligent, even revelatory examination of the invisible “rules governing the space of everyday life,” the “operating system” of the built environment that she has coined the “infrastructure space.” Analyzing the development and effects of free trade zones, broadband distribution, and quality control standards, she draws on Marshall McLuhan’s maxim “the medium is the message” to consider what an infrastructural matrix is “doing rather than what it is saying.” The book aims to uncover how corporations bypass governments and exert power through urban architecture’s hidden “software” in insidious ways that often contradict its benign and banal public face. Easterling challenges architects and urban planners to reconsider their modus operandi and follow the example of James Oglethorpe, who founded Savannah, Ga., in the 18th century not with a master plan, but rather by establishing a flexible protocol that “modulated the relative proportions of public, private, open, and agricultural space.” Controversially and entertainingly, she also urges social justice and environmental activists to increase their effectiveness by manipulating infrastructure space. This task can be accomplished using “techniques that are less heroic, less automatically oppositional, more effective and sneakier,” such as gossip, compliance, comedy, misdirection, and distraction. Easterling’s fresh, lucid thoughts on the true function of public space have resulted in a scholarly but surprisingly accessible book. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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