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Losing Isn’t Everything: The Untold Stories and Hidden Lessons Behind the Toughest Losses in Sports History

Curt Menefee, with Michael Arkush. Dey Street, $29.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-244007-5

Winning is often considered all that matters in sports, but the aftermath of defeat can be equally important according to Menefee, host of Fox’s NFL Sunday, and sportswriter Arkush. Menefee stresses the various aspects of losing and examines the moment when a life or a career unravels, often played out on a big stage with the unfortunate loser unable to recover from the event. He expertly interviews a group of former players and coaches on the critical outcomes of competition, including the 1986 World Series, in which the Boston Red Sox lifted the Bambino curse; the defenseless Cleveland Cavaliers’ Craig Ehlo facing Chicago Bulls icon Michael Jordan in the 1989 NBA finals; Colts kicker Lou Michaels’s missed kicks against Namath’s Jets in the 1969 Super Bowl; the cocaine scandal faced by Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington in 2009; and track favorite Mary Decker taking a spill at the 1984 Olympics. Richly illustrated, Menefee’s thoughtful account of loss in sports mirrors the real world. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Jo Malone: My Story

Jo Malone. Simon & Schuster, $27 (416p) ISBN 978-1-5011-1059-7

Malone, creator of the Jo Malone London and Jo Loves fragrances, takes readers on the journey from her modest childhood in England in the 1960s to her global success. At a young age, Malone struggled academically and doubted herself because of dyslexia, but soon she found her passion: working alongside her mother to concoct lotions and facial creams. After coping with her father’s charming but feckless career choices, and emotionally losing her mother to a stroke and nervous breakdown, Malone never gave up as she dove head first into starting her own business, a skin care clinic, with the help and support of her husband, Gary. Soon they moved the clinic from their front room to a storefront in London, where she eventually created her signature fragrances. She describes with intimate detail how she succeeded in creating a global brand as an ambitious and tireless entrepreneur. With a humble tone, she offers wisdom and important lessons on starting a business and achieving international success. She candidly explores all facets of her life, including postpartum depression, surviving breast cancer, and enduring a dual mastectomy and months of chemotherapy. Her story is full of tender moments and hope. This book will excite aspiring entrepreneurs seeking inspiration. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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An Extraordinary Time: The End of the Postwar Boom and the Return of the Ordinary Economy

Marc Levinson. Basic, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-465-06198-3

In the 1970s the global economy went to hell and stayed there because of overt shocks and deep transformations, argues former Economist editor Levinson (The Box) in this probing history. He pinpoints 1973 as the turning point when the Arab oil embargo, the collapse of the Bretton Woods exchange-rate mechanism, and stagflation ushered in slow growth, instability, economic insecurity, and debt crises after the strong economic growth and soaring living standards of the preceding post-war years. He tours three decades of responses to the permanent slump, including Keynesian stimulus and price controls on the liberal side as well as the conservative agenda of free markets, deregulation, privatization, and government austerity. He argues that neither program succeeded because of a permanent and intractable slowing of productivity growth, grimly concluding that economic torpor is the new normal and that the dynamic post-war prosperity will never return. Levinson’s account of this vexed era is lucid, well-paced, and entwined with vivid sketches of economists, central bankers, and politicians who failed to restore the pre-1973 good times. He also succeeds at translating complex economic issues into understandable terms for lay readers. Levinson’s admirably evenhanded treatment of recent economic history steers clear of dogmas on both left and right to explore knottier truths. Agent: Ted Weinstein, Ted Weinstein Literary. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Elephants in My Backyard: A Memoir

Rajiv Surendra. Regan Arts, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-68245-050-5

In this honest but uneven memoir, actor Surendra chronicles his pursuit to become cast in the lead role of the 2012 film Life of Pi. Surendra discovers the novel that the film is based on during his time on the set of Mean Girls. Surendra is convinced by cultural, physical, and biographical similarities that he is destined to portray Pi, the Tamil teenager at the center of the book, and sets out on a series of adventures to test his ability to embody his beloved character. In an early escapade, Surendra abandons his college life in Toronto to visit Pondicherry, India, the hometown of Pi. Here, the genuinely curious narrator grapples with the pressure of researching for a coveted role while rediscovering his own identity: “My first name was the part I thought was authentic, but in that classroom in Pondicherry, I discovered that I had lived my whole life pronouncing my own name incorrectly, like a big dumb-dumb.” These reflective moments add breadth to a voice that is otherwise naive to a fault, stumbling awkwardly as he creates insensitive caricatures of some of the minor characters who cross his path. By the end of the journey, casual readers get to experience beekeeping, au-pairing in Munich, and the life of a museum reenactor, but most will likely be left wondering what the book’s bigger point is. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Calculating the Cosmos: How Mathematics Unveils the Universe

Ian Stewart. Basic, $27.99 (360p) ISBN 978-0-465-09610-7

Stewart (Professor Stewart’s Incredible Numbers), emeritus professor of mathematics at the University of Warwick (U.K.), demonstrates how scientific inquiry and math go hand in hand in this accessible mathematical history of science. Each chapter revolves around a vexing cosmic concept—Earth’s unusually large Moon, Saturn’s “ears,” time stopping near a black hole, and fallibility in the Big Bang theory—and the math that explains or disproves it. Telling the story of how scientists and mathematicians harness abstract mathematical relationships to figure out the real world, Stewart deftly highlights the interdependent nature of ideas. Readers see how many people taking small steps forward keep science advancing. It is easy to see why “one of the common delights of mathematical physics is that equations often seem to know more than their creators do.” Stewart is sure to please math lovers, history buffs, and science enthusiasts alike by covering an array of eras, innovators, and disciplines. With virtually no equations, readers learn about complicated mathematical theory in a friendly, conversational tone; whether he’s discussing “white holes,” why “relativity and quantum mechanics are uneasy bedfellows,” or the shape of space itself, Stewart’s pages flip of their own accord. Illus. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell Management. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Beyond Earth: Our Path to a New Home in the Planets

Charles Wohlforth and Amanda R. Hendrix. Pantheon, $27.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8041-9797-7

Planetary scientist Hendrix and writer Wohlforth weave scientific research with fascinating speculation to paint a picture of how and why humankind might spread to other planets. They take into account technology, psychology, politics , and more, concluding that humans’ first colony will most likely be on Saturn’s moon Titan. Their arguments for Titan are simple: it offers radiation protection, lakes of hydrocarbons for fuel, and an atmosphere that eliminates the need for pressurized suits. In addition to basic survival requirements, the authors tackle the problems unique to prolonged human spaceflight and reasons for planetary colonization. They predict that something drastic would have to happen on Earth to motivate humans to seek another home. To that end, the book’s fictional sections become an account of global conflict, a fresh start on Titan, and eventual habitation among the stars. These future speculations read like a decades-spanning, dystopian sci-fi adventure. The authors’ unsophisticated takes on global conflict are somewhat disappointing, but they do raise important questions about support for biotech-based eugenics and how it may be employed in space colonization. On the whole, the fictional chapters are entertaining, chilling, and put the science in a more human context. The two halves work together to create a striking, reality-based possible future that’s seen through the lens of current knowledge. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Beethoven’s Skull

Tim Rayborn. Skyhorse, $21.99 (304) ISBN 978-1-5107-1271-3

The 19th-century Austrian composer Anton Bruckner was obsessed with his music idols: there are accounts of him cradling and kissing Beethoven’s skull after it was exhumed from a Vienna cemetery. This bizarre anecdote provides the title for Rayborn’s unusual and diverting tour through musical history, from ancient Greece to the modern era. At his best, Rayborn, himself a musician, combines historical anecdotes and factoids into meaningful vignettes, as when he observes the consequences of Russian composer Sergey Prokofiev dying on the same day as Josef Stalin. The Communist leader’s state funeral swamped the composer’s memorial and commandeered all available fresh flowers in Moscow, leaving organizers with only paper flowers and potted plants for Prokofiev’s farewell. Rayborn has a lighthearted tone that many readers will enjoy. However, when there are few facts around an historical event he’s intent on developing, Rayborn’s own speculation feels thin. For example, he suggests with little evidence that the tale of the pied piper of Hamelin is based on a nobleman, Count Nicholas von Spiegelberg, who took a band of youngsters to colonize lands east of Germany. The target readership for this volume includes both trivia buffs and classical music fans, for whom this book will be an enjoyable source of well-researched material and quirky anecdotes. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Way of the Writer: Reflections on the Art and Craft of Storytelling

Charles Johnson. Scribner, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4722-7

National Book Award–winner Johnson (Taming the Ox) here collects enlightening but somewhat snobby essays about his process and his ideas about literature and writing. Johnson starts off by proclaiming, “One must begin with a genuine love of art.” Though he says “rigid formulas and rules” aren’t helpful, this doesn’t stop him from making more than a few uncharitable comments about the value of genre fiction. Additionally, his description of his desired reader—“intelligent, learned, and sophisticated”—might alienate readers who suspect he isn’t referring to them. Johnson’s writing style here is unvarnished. As he explains, he views essays primarily as ways of answering questions, and his interest in reaching those answers animates his nonfiction more than the prose does. Johnson’s process, from morning exercises to writing for several hours a day, is fascinating to read about up to a point, but is detailed ad nauseam. Perhaps the most deeply felt passages are those dealing with Johnson’s mentor, novelist John Gardner (Grendel), whose lessons and friendship Johnson clearly cherished. Johnson’s absolute statements will turn off some readers, and there are a handful of essays that feel like afterthoughts. Still, there are valuable insights to be gleaned about writing and reading and the work that goes into both. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Waveform: Twenty-First-Century Essays by Women

Edited by Marcia Aldrich. Univ. of Georgia, $29.95 (277p) ISBN 978-0-8203-5021-9

Aldrich (Girl Rearing: Memoir of a Girlhood Gone Astray) compiles this collection of 30 essays by women, with highlights from Cheryl Strayed, Leslie Jamison, Roxane Gay, and Eula Biss. The works largely explore an evocative, corporeal landscape (break-ups, eating disorders, sex, racism, self-mutilation, drug addiction, domestic violence, rape, foster care, and childbirth) with occasional forays into academic territory (there are pieces on the work of Joan Didion, Vladimir Nabokov, William Shakespeare, and Susan Sontag, among others). In her preface, Aldrich praises “the diversity of women’s approaches to the structure of the essay.” Not all of the markedly inventive approaches are successful—overcommitment to theme or experiment causes some of the essays to stumble—but Strayed’s ability to unleash witty compassion is unflagging, as is the quality of Biss’s prose, which is so intelligent and generous that it both nettles and soothes. A few contributors struggle with their discussions of identity politics, writing with overeager verbosity. Half of the essays are original to the collection. The writing varies wildly from piece to piece, but there is plenty that stands out as wise, beautiful, and unforgettable. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less

Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. Perseus, $27.40 (320p) ISBN 978-0-465-07487-7

Americans live in a strung-out, always-on, overstimulated culture—but this isn’t the way to get good work done, says business consultant Pang (The Distraction Addiction). He recommends seeing work and rest as partners, not polar opposites, and allowing for more rest and downtime. “Over the course of a life,” he coaches, “deliberate rest restores your energy, gives you more time, helps you do more, and helps you focus on doing the things that matter most while avoiding those that don’t.” Sound familiar? To most business and leadership readers, it probably will; Pang’s earnest take on the essential function of rest in a hyper-connected society doesn’t break much new ground. He presents lessons from a sabbatical he took with his wife, and backs up his prescriptions (structured days, walks, naps, sleep, and “deep play”) with tales of how the great minds of history approached the work-rest balance. It’s undeniable that modern office workers are overworked and overstimulated, doing more commuting and housework than ever before while checking email until midnight, but this is a problem whose solution has been sought in dozens of books before this one, and Pang’s approach is far from novel. Agent: Zoë Pagnamenta, Zoë Pagnamenta Agency. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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