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The Way of the Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of Firearms

Iain Overton. Harper, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-234606-3

Overton, a Peabody Award–winning British journalist and director of investigations at Action on Armed Violence, begins this engrossing, multifaceted study with some grim statistics. There are almost one billion guns worldwide, "more than ever before," and each year, about 12 billion bullets are produced and about 500,000 people shot dead. His investigative reporting takes him to more than 20 countries, with stops including Honduras, the world's worst place for gun violence per capita; a trauma unit in South Africa that largely handles gunshot wounds; Las Vegas, for the largest gun show on earth; Odessa, a center of gun smuggling; and Iceland, which has one of the world's lowest homicide rates despite its large number of shooting grounds. Along the way, he interviews an Israeli sniper, El Salvadoran gang members, a former child soldier in Liberia, and an American SWAT sharpshooter, among others. He also examines America's "remarkably unregulated" gun industry and shows how the NRA's lobbying extends even beyond the U.S. Overton's insightful commentary includes the observation that imposing new gun control laws without an accompanying shift in attitudes isn't going to be effective. This illuminating narrative about the life cycle of the gun is comprehensive, revealing, and timely. Antony Topping, Greene and Heaton (U.K.). (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Universe in your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond

Christophe Galfard. Flatiron, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-06952-8

In this entertaining and comprehensive book, science educator Galfard (George's Secret Key to the Universe, with Stephen and Lucy Hawking) blends physics lessons into a story of scientific discovery. He opens the book with cosmology, looking at signs of the universe's beginning and exploring gravity, general relativity, and special relativity. Galfard then plunges into the quantum world, illuminating the nature of atoms, subatomic particles, and the fields and forces that govern our universe. Having provided an exceptional foundation, Galfard further explores outer space, culminating in a discussion of the mysteries of gravity and quantum mechanics as well as a beautiful description of string theory. He follows an intuitive progression of thoughts and questions, elucidating his material with mindbending thought experiments. The deft and dazzling imagery makes difficult concepts accessible, streamlining the progression through topics and fulfilling Galfard's promise to "not leave any readers behind." The book is amazingly easy to get through, given the sheer number of concepts covered, and there is only one equation used. Galfard was mentored by Stephen Hawking and his familiarity with the material shows, as does the ease with which he conveys it. Readers looking to expand their knowledge of physics and cosmology will find everything they need here. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Citizen Kane: A Filmmaker’s Journey

Harlan Lebo. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-07753-0

Lebo (The Godfather Legacy) deftly pays tribute to Orson Welles’s masterpiece Citizen Kane, in this history of the film’s production and release, written just in time for its 75th anniversary. The book certainly honors Welles’s filmmaking genius, but it also goes notably in-depth on Welles’s principal collaborators. With memorable sections on, among others, cinematographer Gregg Toland; Welles’s cowriter, Herman J. Mankiewicz; and art director Perry Ferguson, Lebo illustrates just how much thought and hard work went into the film from a whole team of artists, though Welles was writer, producer, director, and star. Again and again, the emphasis is on the unprecedented level of artistic freedom given to Welles by George Schaefer, the head of RKO Radio Pictures, a move that was seen as highly risky by the Hollywood establishment. The second part of the book is dedicated to Kane’s tortured release. The author recounts the battle between RKO and publisher William Randolph Hearst, who tried to prevent the film from coming out when he saw too much of himself in the morally shaky title character. Lebo’s book is highly readable; it’s dense, lucid, and page-turning. Fans of Welles and classic Hollywood will be delighted by this comprehensive, intelligent work. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Orson Welles, Vol. 3: One-Man Band

Simon Callow. Viking, $40 (496p) ISBN SBN 978-0-670-02491-9

In the riveting and wonderfully wrought third volume of Callow’s ambitious four-part biography of Orson Welles (after Orson Welles, Vol. 2: Hello Americans), the biographer and actor examines the forces that led to Welles’s self-imposed exile from America. Beginning in 1947 as Welles prepares to film Othello and ending in 1965 following the release of another Shakespeare adaptation, Chimes at Midnight, this entry pursues Hollywood’s enfant terrible through the difficult period that nonetheless spawned some of his greatest films, including Touch of Evil. Published 101 years after Welles’s birth, Callow’s book is a genuine gift to film buffs and historians. Drawing on previously published materials, extensive interviews, and diary excerpts, Callow provides new insight into Welles’s character and a deeper appreciation of his broad talent. Despite the author’s evident admiration for his subject, this isn’t a fawning homage but a warts-and-all look at Welles’s life and at the creative processes that allowed him to flourish in film, theater, radio, and television. Callow’s acting background and flair for drama transform his research into an immersive, engaging, and immensely readable portrait of Welles, revealing a complicated man and innovative artist whose own life mirrored the Shakespearian tragedies of which he was so fond. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Midlife and Beyond

Julia Cameron, with Emma Lively. Penguin/Tarcher, $17 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-0-399-17421-6

With her usual enthusiastic, motivational tone, Cameron (The Artist’s Way) encourages individuals who are closing major chapters of their lives and moving into retirement to embrace the adventures that these years bring. With helpful sections on topics such as reinvigorating a sense of wonder, adventure, and purpose, Cameron offers a 12-week course, providing four basic tools for each week. She recommends writing three pages of longhand every morning in a private journal, letting the mind wander. Cameron also suggests making an “artist date” once a week, attending an event alone and exploring what delights your inner artist. As part of this course, she also recommends working on a memoir—a weekly process that allows readers to revisit different periods in their lives—as well as a twice-weekly solo walk to open space in the mind. During each week, Cameron provides questions and reflections that help guide the process. While Cameron’s repetitious and simplistic method may put some people off, her sincere spiritual cheerleading will likely motivate many individuals to find the creative sparks to light up the next phase of their lives. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Running on Red Dog Road: And Other Perils of an Appalachian Childhood

Drema Hall Berkheimer. Zondervan, $15.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-310-34496-4

In this charming, lyrical memoir of growing up in Appalachia, Berkheimer melds anecdotes and religious explorations to explain her rustic upbringing, which was heavily influenced by a radical Pentecostalism. Berkheimer’s voice is captivating, bringing a vast array of strange but thoughtful characters to life: vagabonds, faith healers, farmers, and miners. When young Berkheimer visits a carnival, she discovers a strange world that’s foreign to her West Virginia childhood. The flow of life becomes clearer when her grandparents die; only then does this innocent girl understand that there is a reality beyond the coal mines and the little Pentecostal church where her grandfather preached every other week. Weaving together recollections from relatives, musings on religious knowledge, and personal stories of enlightenment, Berkheimer candidly brings her personality to the page in this incredible journey from naïveté to wide-eyed maturity. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Frequency: Tune In. Hear God.

Robert Morris. W Publishing, $22.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7180-1111-6

Morris (Truly Free), senior minister of the 36,000-member Gateway Church in Dallas, Tex., urges readers to rethink how they hear the words of Jesus, both in church and in their everyday lives. Writing in clear and concise bullet points, he offers anecdotes as well as practical advice: “If you’re in the habit of meeting with the Lord daily, then it becomes easier and easier for you to hear God.” For Morris, hearing God more clearly is like any other skill one wishes to improve: success corresponds directly to the frequency of prayer and to remaining open to seeing the holy being in the world at large. Morris is a Christian writer speaking primarily to a devout audience, but the book is written with a largely secular, empirical tone. Anecdotes throughout provide more stirring insight than the moments of scriptural reference. Morris’s welcoming appeal to hear God more intently is perfect for Christian seekers looking for a simple and heartfelt way to reinvigorate their religion. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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History and Presence

Robert Orsi. Harvard/Belknap, $29.95 (384p) ISBN 978-0-674-04789-1

Orsi (Between Heaven and Earth) argues that God’s presence in the world—seen insistently in Catholicism’s emphasis on the real presence of Christ in Communion—has been devalued since the Enlightenment. Enlightenment thinking routinely privileged the symbolic over the real, linking the corporality that characterized Catholicism to “savage” religions practiced by indigenous peoples. Since then, Christian thinking has relegated presence—Virgin Mary sightings, for example—to phenomena that must be explained away. To counter this, Orsi recaptures God’s breaking into the world through stories that range from tales of saints, such as Bernadette, to common people who directly experienced divine intervention. In one particularly compelling chapter, Orsi describes the shattering effects of priest abuse on survivors, for whom holy presence has collided with evil. Overall, the book does an excellent job of explaining both the difficulties and values inherent in recognizing God in the world. Though Orsi does not need every example he uses, he builds a dense and compelling case for embracing a God walking beside humans, and deftly weaves story with theory to support his points. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Agnostic: A Spirited Manifesto

Lesley Hazleton. Riverhead, $25.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-59463-413-0

Though Hazleton’s subtitle boasts a manifesto to follow, she advises readers early that this manifesto is “strange” in that it “makes no claims to truth, offers no certainties, eschews brashly confident answers to grand existential questions... because to be agnostic is to cherish both paradox and conundrum.” Hazleton immediately sets herself in relation (and in opposition) to the conversation among the four most prominent “new atheists” (she calls them H2D2)—Harris, Hitchens, Dawkins, and Dennett. Their “contemptuous” tone toward the religious is problematic, in her opinion, and they often substitute “wittily phrased generalizations for clarity of thought.” Hazleton flies through the history of various thinkers in concise and fluid prose, treating the reader to a quick yet thorough journey through theology and philosophy. To be agnostic is not to sidestep the question of belief, for Hazleton, or to commit to a wishy-washy moral framework. It is instead to have enough backbone to stand firm in the liminality of uncertainty. She wants readers to give agnosticism a fair shake, and many will be convinced by her appealing voice and accessible prose. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Big Dreams: The Science of Dreaming and the Origins of Religion

Kelly Bulkeley. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-19-935153-4

Bulkeley (Dreaming the World’s Religions) brings his expertise in dream research to this serious inquiry about the content and process of dreaming. Bulkeley ambitiously seeks to relate findings in brain and mind research to the cognitive science of religion. He draws on evolutionary biology and neuroscience to understand the purpose of four kinds of “big dreams”: aggressive, sexual, gravitational, and mystical. Before explaining his schema, he unpacks the nature of sleep and dreaming (including why things can be both odd and familiar in dreams). These sections lend scientific credibility to his project and are helpful, but take up a lot of explanatory space before he launches into his original analysis of the relationship between dreaming and religion. He argues well and offers persuasive empirical support for oneiric study. Yet his understanding of religion is a little thin and anthropological in comparison to his more detailed appreciation of the neuroscience of dreaming. Bulkeley’s book begins an intriguing interdisciplinary conversation about two modalities that humans commonly experience and are paradoxically neglected by science. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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