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Those Who Write for Immortality: Romantic Reputations and the Dream of Lasting Fame

H.J. Jackson. Yale Univ., $35 (312p) ISBN 978-0-300-17479-3

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In this revelatory and delightful study, University of Toronto professor emerita Jackson (Romantic Readers: The Evidence of Marginalia) explores why a handful of authors from the Romantic period (Wordsworth, Austen, Keats, and Blake) achieved lasting fame while well-known contemporaries of theirs (including Robert Southey, Mary Brunton, Leigh Hunt, and Robert Bloomfield) did not. To set the stage, Jackson reviews classic texts by Cicero, Horace, Samuel Johnson, and others for the most influential ideas about fame in ancient times and in the generation preceding the Romantics. She also highlights the potentially fleeting nature of popularity; the question of merit and the relatively small role it plays in the process of recognition; and the mechanisms for making a previously unknown author’s reputation, using William Blake, nearly unknown in his own time, as a test case. Jackson persuasively shows that the legacies of even the most gifted authors rest on factors largely extraneous to the actual works, including later advocacy, being suitable for multiple audiences, symbolic value, and being selected for biographies, anthologies, and translations. In this reading, Keats, for instance, ultimately outstripped his rivals in part by dying young. Thoroughly researched, dense, and judicious, Jackson’s study should renew interest in the Romantic period and its writers—the famous and forgotten alike. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Thin Green Line: The Money Secrets of the Super Wealthy

Paul Sullivan. Simon & Schuster, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4516-8724-8

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This book’s message can be summed up in the title of its epilogue: “It’s Better to Be Wealthy than Rich, Even If You’re Poor.” The titular green line is the author’s useful conceit for describing this desirable state of being. A financial journalist, Sullivan consults with experts from the “one percent” to prescribe a set of strategies for achieving financial stability, such as investing in education for one’s children rather than spending time and energy on avoiding taxes. Most important, in his opinion, is understanding how your feelings about earning, saving, and spending motivate financial decisions. Sullivan lays bare a number of his own financial concerns, foibles, and successes. His personal journey, which includes being grilled by the TIGER 21 club (a kind of therapy group for the financial elite) and a visit to Kansas State University’s behavioral finance research lab, proves both entertaining and instructive. Drawing on research in behavioral economics, the book is timely—taking up the topic of income inequality without picking a side—as well as smart. Agent: Erika Storella, Gernert Company. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Syria: A History of the Last Hundred Years

John McHugo. New Press (Perseus, dist.), $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-62097-045-4

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Syria, lacking natural defenses and located at the crossroads of three continents, has always been susceptible to foreign interference. McHugo (A Concise History of the Arabs), an international lawyer and Arabist, untangles the fraying threads of Syria’s fragile polity and tracks the global fault lines that make the current civil war arguably “the last proxy conflict of the Cold War.” Proceeding briskly from the fall of the Ottoman Empire to the present-day chaos, he sketches how Syria’s first, hopeful experiments with democracy inexorably gave way to military dominance and autocracy: “The ideologically based parties took part in democratic politics, but they also recruited army officers who... ultimately came out on top.” McHugo capitalizes on recent interest in the region, warning that “if the Syrian civil war cannot be ended, it seems only a matter of time before it engulfs the rest of greater Syria,” but his attempts to draw connections between ISIS, French colonial efforts to foment sectarian tension, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are rudimentary and insufficient. Useful as a concise overview of independent Syria’s most important movements and personalities, McHugo’s book gives readers the basic background necessary to understand the country, but it will leave those who seek greater comprehension of the current conflict wanting more. Illus. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed

Jon Ronson. Riverhead, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-59448-713-2

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Bestselling author Ronson (The Psychopath Test) ruminates on high-profile shaming in the social-media age in this witty work. He interviews disgraced pop-science author Jonah Lehrer, fresh off a hellish apology tour, and the remorseful journalist who outed Lehrer as a plagiarist. PR executive Justine Sacco reflects on her own life, left in ruins after a single ill-conceived tweet, and elsewhere Ronson recounts how an inappropriate comment at a tech convention devolved into bedlam, with online threats of rape and death. For historical perspective, Ronson goes into 19th-century stockades, public whippings, and the theory of “group madness” popularized by Gustave LeBon, inspiration for the controversial Stanford Prison Experiments, in which ordinary students were transformed into sadistic guards. Ronson’s explorations also take him to an S&M sex club, a ridiculous “shame-eradication workshop,” and a therapy program for incarcerated women run by former New Jersey governor James McGreevey. Ronson is self-reflective and honest about his own complicity in the cultural piling-on he observes, recalling a spite-fueled campaign he orchestrated via Twitter against a journalist. Clever and thought-provoking, this book has the potential to open an important dialogue about faux moral posturing online and its potentially disastrous consequences. Agent: Natasha Fairweather, United Agents. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Path of Blood: The Story of Al Qaeda’s War on the House of Saud

Thomas Small and Jonathan Hacker. Overlook, $32.50 (480p) ISBN 978-1-4683-1060-3

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Small and Hacker offer a book adaptation of their forthcoming documentary film on the war between al-Qaeda on the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) and the government of Saudi Arabia. Based on extensive and unprecedented access to records from the Saudi Ministry of the Interior (MOI), seized AQAP photos and documents, Web posts, and interviews with leaders of the Saudi internal security forces, the authors describe in great detail the MOI’s three-year fight (2002–2005) to destroy AQAP. Both sides waged a media battle that used Islamic tenets to justify their actions and attempts to win over the Saudi population. The authors also describe the evolution and professionalization of the Saudi security forces as a partner to the U.S and U.K., highlighting the central role of deputy interior minister Prince Muhammad bin Nayef as leader of the security of forces. The American-educated prince balanced religion, cultural understanding, professional police work, and political moderation to gain popular support in his campaign against AQAP. The authors do not have any particular expertise in Middle East affairs or counter-terrorism, and therefore the book is a relatively straightforward account of events with only a little analysis, but it’s a solid view of operations that few Americans even know occurred. Agent: Alex Christofi. Photos. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Next Species: The Future of Evolution in the Aftermath of Man

Michael Tennesen. Simon & Schuster, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4516-7751-5

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With a different title, this book could have been a successful, though uninspired, account of the mass species extinction associated with the Anthropocene epoch. Science journalist Tennesen (The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Global Warming) surveys the previous five mass extinctions that have shaped life on earth and examines some of the ways in which humans are destroying habitats and biodiversity today. But despite his title, he never explores what the world might look like if humans were to vanish, or which species might expand to fill some of the ecological roles humans have dominated. Instead, Tennesen briefly delves into a very speculative future of humanity itself, with one superficial chapter focusing on the possibility of humans moving into space and colonizing Mars, and another that lightly touches on the possibility of merging artificial intelligence with humans by uploading minds to machines. Both read as afterthoughts to his central emphasis on how anthropogenic changes have impact on the biosphere. Tennesen is at his best when addressing the urgent environmental problems of today, particularly in his engaging discussion of water usage in New York City and Las Vegas. Overall, though, the book fails to come together satisfactorily. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Next Happy: Let Go of the Life You Planned and Find a New Way Forward

Tracey Cleantis. Hazelden, $14.95 (220p) ISBN 978-1-61649-572-5

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As this book persuasively argues, there’s nothing wrong with giving up on a dream that proves unattainable. In fact, sometimes it’s necessary for wellness. Therapist and La Belette Rouge blogger Cleantis writes from a place of understanding: when fertility treatments completely bankrupted her, both emotionally and financially, and still did not provide her with a child, she decided it was time to quit. Readers should appreciate her well-grounded suggestions, particularly those about getting support from loved ones and professionals. As well as explaining how to accept and work through the loss of a dream, she also shows how to find a new goal by salvaging obtainable elements of the old one. Best of all, Cleantis comes across as funny and real, helping readers see they’re not alone by providing relevant stories, like that of Lance Armstrong, and “prescribing” movies, such as Silver Linings Playbook and The Wrestler. The result is a must-read for anyone who’s had enough of platitudes and is ready for a self-help manual with a dose of reality. Agent: Don Fehr, Trident Media Group. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Manual of Psychomagic: The Practice of Shamanic Psychotherapy

Alejandro Jodorowsky, trans. from the Spanish by Rachael LaValley. Inner Traditions/Bear & Company, $19.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62055-107-3

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Paris-based filmmaker (El Topo), comic book author, and psychotherapist Jodorowsky returns to “psychomagic,” a neo-Freudian technique of his own invention first explored in Psychomagic: The Transformative Power of Shamanic Psychotherapy. It aims to heal the mind from childhood trauma via symbolic acts that satisfy amoral, unconscious urges for incest, cannibalism, matricide, coprophagia, and the like. The resulting compilation of over 200 examples of sympathetic magic that Jodorowsky has used with individual practitioners proves wildly creative and boldly cinematic. The unifying factor is a bizarre sense of whimsy—one particular ritual has a person pursue a promotion by writing “I am worthy! I can do it!” on a piece of paper and then carrying it around inside her vagina. The cure for claustrophobia involves being placed nude in a coffin and buried by “six charitable people,” who later cover the patient with honey and lick it off; achieving “happiness of living” requires covering yourself in excrement and begging for three hours, then showering in your mother’s home. Even the most adventurous veteran of self-help literature will likely demur. But for the armchair student of human psychology, imagining Jodorowsky’s vibrant, visceral, and entirely unapologetic paths to the unconscious should be an absolutely delightful exercise. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Life of William Apess, Pequot

Philip F. Gura. Univ. of North Carolina, $30 (216p) ISBN 978-1-4696-1998-9

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The 1836 delivery of the “Eulogy on King Philip”—a resounding indictment of young America’s prejudice toward Native Americans as well as a memorial that elevated the reputation of New England Wampanoag leader, King Philip, to the ranks of the early republic’s patriots—brought Apess to the attention of contemporary students of American literature. In his engaging, insightful, and thoroughly detailed biography, Gura (Truth’s Ragged Edge), a dean of early American literature, brings Apess more fully to life. Born in 1798 on the Connecticut frontier, young Apess endured hunger, went about clothed in rags, and often had no cover at night against the harsh weather. Apess had a tumultuous childhood with several adopted families and struggled with alcoholism, but he converted to Methodism and began an itinerant ministry after serving as a soldier in the War of 1812. Gura nimbly chronicles Apess’s development as a writer, (his A Son of the Forest in 1829 was the first autobiography published by a Native American author), his growth and struggles as a frontier minister, and his leadership in the Mashpee Revolt, in which he advocated the equality of Native Americans and whites. Gura’s storytelling draws us naturally into this fascinating life of a man who strove to claim a place for himself and his people in this new nation. Illus. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Joe, the Slave Who Became an Alamo Legend

Ron J. Jackson Jr. and Lee Spencer White. Univ. of Oklahoma, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8061-4703-1

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Journalist Jackson (Alamo Legacy) and preservationist White deliver a cradle-to-grave biography that transcends its connection to the Alamo, though that connection may be the main reason most readers will reach for this book. The authors are experts on the March 1836 attack by the Mexican army on the Texan outpost, and the second half of their book is gripping and action packed. The siege at the Alamo has reached almost mythical proportions in its many retellings, but Jackson and White hew closely to documented facts. However, that the lone male survivor of the assault was a slave called Joe, owned by the Alamo’s commander, Lieutenant Colonel William Travis, reveals this book’s importance and the story’s central irony. Joe fought at his master’s side, but victory didn’t go to the white men of the Alamo. Jackson and White have rescued Joe from being regarded solely as a curious footnote to this event, and his life as a slave is the real story here: born in Kentucky in 1815, taken to a fledgling plantation in Missouri, and then on to Texas, none of it by choice. The authors make the most of limited evidence, presenting a vivid picture of the impact slavery had on one man’s life. Illus. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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