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The Nurses: A Year with the Heroes Behind the Hospital Curtain

Alexandra Robbins. Workman, $24.95 (369p) ISBN 978-0-7611-7171-3

Journalist Robbins (Pledged: The Secret Life of Sororities) trains her sights on the adrenaline-infused world of emergency nursing, offering a disturbing snapshot of the barriers imposed on healthcare providers by colleagues, myopic bosses, and a changing healthcare system. She follows four ER nurses at four hospitals where patients range from the wealthy and privileged to the down and out, aiming to represent the varied perspectives of America’s 3.5 million nurses. During the book’s year-long time line, Molly quits her full-time hospital job to become an agency nurse while also beginning fertility treatments; Lara battles a crumbling marriage and a history of drug abuse; Sam, a novice, grows into a confident practitioner; and unpopular Juliette, despite a lack of encouragement from fellow nurses, saves lives while advancing her career. To illustrate the realities of nursing, Robbins addresses government surveys that “steer focus away from patient health,” a nursing “code of silence” that helps cover up addiction in their ranks, bullying, and the mix of factors that leads to medication errors. The “nurse confessions” section also dishes eye-opening material to the uninitiated. Robbins uses these four women’s trials and triumphs to show how the nursing profession itself remains as overwhelming as a busy ER. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Mercy of the Sky: The Story of a Tornado

Holly Bailey. Viking, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-42749-0

Journalist Bailey grew up in central Oklahoma’s “tornado alley” and was accustomed to storms, but the tornado that struck Moore, Okla., the city where she’d spent much of her childhood, on May 20th, 2013, was one of truly epic and horrifying proportions. She revisits that terrifying day in this remarkable account, putting readers on the ground as the storm grows. Interviews with residents—including the charismatic Gary England, then chief meteorologist for Oklahoma City’s KWTV-9; Amy Simpson, head principal of one of Moore’s hardest-hit elementary schools; and Steve Eddy, Moore’s relentlessly determined city manager—highlight the tornado’s personal toll and make for an almost unbearable page-turning experience. The storm began as “nothing more than a wispy little funnel” but metastasized into a monstrous tornado “more than a mile wide” with winds “well in excess of 210 miles per hour.” It also hit during the worst possible time: late afternoon, when children were still in school. Bailey ramps up the tension with a skilled hand, following the tornado’s path through town until residents emerge from the wreckage to a landscape they “no longer recognized.” Bailey’s artistry will leave more than a few readers gasping for breath. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Measures of Astonishment: Poets on Poetry

League of Canadian Poets. Univ. of Regina (Univ. of Toronto, North American dist.), $21.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-0-88977-371-4

The annual Anne Szumigalski Lecture Series, presented by the League of Canadian Poets, invites audiences into the minds of prominent Canadian poets as they discuss both the art and craft of poetry. This book collects the 11 lectures presented between 2002 and 2013 by notables including Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, and Marilyn Bowering. The topics include personal encounters with poetry and poets (including a recollection by Mark Abley on Szumigalski), as well as discussions of form, genre, and the purpose of poetry in the modern world. Atwood defends the importance of poetry in “Why Poetry?” Elliott Clarke challenges the ethnocentrism apparent in attributing “value” to some poets over others in “Frederick Ward: Writing as Jazz.” Don McKay introduces readers to ideas of geopoetry, and A.F. Moritz writes of poetry as beauty and desire. Fans of Canadian poetry will find much to love, and the book will also appeal to those interested in concepts of Canadian identity, literature, and creativity. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story

Martin Edwards. Harper, $25.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-00-810596-9

Crime novelist Edwards (Frozen Shroud), the archivist for the legendary Detection Club of crime authors, reveals the hidden lives of its members in a comprehensive and well-written narrative that combines biography with literary criticism. He focuses on the Club’s three leading lights—Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and the lesser-known Anthony Berkeley—and how their output between the world wars helped define the detective novel as we know it. Along the way, he dispels numerous myths about Golden Age detective fiction: for example, that it was “an essentially British form of escapism... an effete counterpart to the tough and realistic crime fiction produced in the United States.” He documents his thesis that the Detection Club facilitated its members’ creativity through mutual support and “challenging [them] to take the genre to a higher level.” The trenchant analysis is coupled with revelations about the private lives of these very public authors, offering new information for casual fans and students of the genre alike, including details of Christie’s mysterious disappearance and Sayers’s secret child. Agent: James Willis, Watson Little. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Globalization of Inequality

François Bourguignon, trans. from the French by Thomas Scott-Railton. Princeton Univ., $27.95 (200p) ISBN 978-0-691-16052-8

Former World Bank senior v-p Bourguignon has news for the 99%. Internationally, income inequality is declining, not increasing, due to the economic rise of previously underdeveloped countries. Nevertheless, the gap between rich and poor remains a dangerously destabilizing political force. Bourguignon addresses the issue calmly and sensibly. He explains the methods economists use to measure income inequality and provides charts showing how it varies throughout the world. This dispassionate view neither demonizes the rich nor sanctifies the poor. Because there is an abundant global supply of labor, returns to labor (wages) are low. Because capital is scarcer than labor, returns to capital are high. As wealthy people are more likely to have income from capital and poorer people are more likely to depend on wages, the rich are, in fact, growing richer while the poor grow poorer. Bourguignon does not lack for solutions, including equal access to jobs and education, redistribution of wealth in developing countries through taxation and income transfers, and regulation of the flow of capital to international tax havens. This timely and excellent primer on income inequality both within and among nations deserves to be read by both occupiers and occupants of Wall Street. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Gettysburg Address: Perspectives on Lincoln’s Greatest Speech

Edited by Sean Conant. Oxford Univ, $19.95 (360p) ISBN 978-0-190227-45-6

To coincide with his eponymous documentary film set for release this year, Conant has amassed an impressive roster of talent to analyze the Gettysburg Address through a number of different lenses. He divides this anthology into two sections: the first eight essays examine what influenced Lincoln’s words, including his 1852 eulogy for Henry Clay, while the last seven look at how the address played a part in issues including immigration, women’s rights, the Civil Rights movement, and even the founding of the People’s Republic of China. There are intriguing discussions as to whether Lincoln’s remarks presaged a second American revolution or just represented a return to the values and ideals of the Founding Fathers, as well as the effect the address had on America’s traditions for memorializing the dead. Readers who have not read the text in a while should start with the Appendix, which provides transcriptions of the five existing copies of the Address; they will find some surprises, including its avoidance of the topics of slavery and saving the Union. Conant shows that, for such a brief set of remarks (it’s only 272 words long), the Gettysburg Address deserves its outsized reputation. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Every Gift Matters: How Your Passion Can Change the World

Carrie Morgridge, with John Perry. Greenleaf, $19.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-62634-182-1

Morgridge, v-p of the Morgridge Family Foundation, offers an informative road-map to making every donation count. She helps readers push past the seeming futility of small donations and shows that even a small amount of money, invested wisely, can have a big impact on both recipient and giver. Morgridge dispels the myth that corporate donations outweigh the amount given by individuals, stating that individuals give five dollars for every one dollar of corporate giving. In addition, she offers sage advice on making your gift count, including investing in a cause you feel passionate about, researching potential nonprofit recipients, and investing in leaders. She shares inspiring stories, including the grade-schooler who started his philanthropic efforts with a lemonade stand; Denver’s Road Home, which works to end homelessness; and Dream Catcher, a nonprofit that takes in abandoned horses to aid in therapy. Morgridge explains how to identify strong and forward-looking leaders and how savvy organizations can stretch donations and multiply the value of contributions. While Morgridge’s philanthropy far exceeds what most individuals can afford, she persuasively argues that donating wisely at any level can bring about big change. Readers will find her astute guidance a valuable tool in choosing where to give. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Daemon Knows: Literary Greatness and the American Sublime

Harold Bloom. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $35 (544p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9782-8

Literary critic and Yale professor Bloom (The Anxiety of Influence), a distinctive, contentious voice in American letters for decades, offers a massive, discursive survey of six pairs of eminent American authors: Walt Whitman and Herman Melville, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Emily Dickinson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry James, Mark Twain and Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens and T.S. Eliot, and William Faulkner and Hart Crane. Bloom defines “the daemonic impulse” as transcending the human world “in feeling and in speech,” and, except in Eliot’s writing, achieving the sublime in the absence of God and Christianity. In this personal book, which is in many ways a memoir, Bloom at 84 still relishes settling scores and dropping names. Most of the book reads like a lovefest with old canonical friends. Bloom is on a first-name basis with “Walt.” Eliot “brings out the worst in me,” Bloom admits, judging him a “virulent” anti-Semite. He concludes his panoramic study with a long, adoring, and obscure tribute to Crane. What Bloom’s instructive, entertaining abracadabra adds up to is uncertain. Many serious readers will thrill to his energetic take on post-Christian transcendence, American-style. Others will find his themes so broad and protean as to be baffling. Agent: Glen Hartley and Lyn Chu, Writers’ Representatives. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Bill of Rights: The Fight to Secure America’s Future

Carol Berkin. Simon & Schuster, $27.50 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4379-0

Berkin (Wondrous Beauty), a professor of history at Baruch College and the CUNY Graduate Center, provides a narrative history of two critical constitutional moments in American history: the introduction and adoption by the first federal Congress of the Bill of Rights and the Bill’s rapid ratification by the states. She tells the story briskly, working from comprehensive sources, and she omits nothing of importance. The problem is that Berkin leaves it at that, assuming that a story reveals its significance simply by being told. Readers won’t gather from her account that there are any concerns or controversies over decisions made in that initial Congress—principally by James Madison, then leader of the House of Representatives, but also by his colleagues. Did those men err in some of their choices? Americans have endlessly debated parts of the Bill, especially the Second Amendment of late, while venerating others, such as the First; Berkin briefly alludes to such matters but makes no connection between them and the Bill’s framers. This is narrative, celebratory history at its purest. What it lacks is a point of view in addition to the story. (May)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Nobody Grew but the Business: On the Life and Work of William Gaddis

Joseph Tabbi. Northwestern Univ., $35 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8101-3142-2

William Gaddis’s famed media shyness may not have rivaled J.D. Salinger’s or Thomas Pynchon’s, but the much-lauded “difficult” novelist managed to avoid the public eye almost entirely throughout his lengthy career. In this long-awaited biography, Tabbi (Cognitive Fictions) shows that a significant amount of Gaddis’s writing was autobiographical, and that Gaddis mined his own family history for characters, themes, and stories. Tabbi relies on Gaddis’s many letters to his mother—from boarding school through penning The Recognitions—and others to show that Gaddis’s aristocratic sensibility and style developed early. He carefully takes apart Gaddis’s massive novels to show where the artist’s life and work overlapped. The emphasis on literary exegesis does not make for the most revealing biography, but Tabbi has accomplished important work in untying the nearly inseparable strands of Gaddis’s life and art. Between the publication of his first two novels, Gaddis worked for 20 years in corporate America, claiming it was just to “pay the bills.” Yet Tabbi shows that Gaddis used this time to listen to the way Americans spoke—a skill that corresponds directly to the dialogue-heavy core of his second novel, JR. Tabbi’s valuable and worthy scholarly contribution shines a bright light on a great, enigmatic American novelist. (June)

Reviewed on 03/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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