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Finding Feminism: Millennial Activists and the Unfinished Gender Revolution

Alison Dahl Crossley. New York Univ, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4798-8409-4

Gender researcher Crossley shares research conducted at three different U.S. institutions of higher learning—Smith College, the University of Minnesota, and the University of California at Santa Barbara—to establish that young feminists are quite different from the way they’re often pictured. They are indeed aware of persistent inequalities but mobilize in different ways from their foremothers; they are savvy about online activism, their feminism is an everyday practice rather than a special event, and their cause intersects with larger goals of social justice, gender equality, and human rights. The voices of her interview subjects add much lively description about life as a young feminist at these schools, but the book spends more time theorizing for academic posterity than assembling a series of practical tools and strategies that can be adapted to other campuses. Crossley’s findings about campus feminism may seem self-evident to those working in this population, and the academic language, research, and theory are unlikely to engage those outside of the scholarly community. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Finding Fibonacci: The Quest to Rediscover the Forgotten Mathematical Genius Who Changed the World

Keith Devlin. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-691-17486-0

Stanford mathematician Devlin (The Unfinished Game) leads a cheerful pursuit to rediscover the hero of 13th-century European mathematics, taking readers across centuries and through the back streets of medieval and modern Italy in this entertaining and surprising history. Devlin’s target is Leonardo of Pisa (later known as Leonardo Fibonacci), a mathematician whose book Liber abbaci played a key role in the making of the modern world. Leonardo was the son of a prosperous merchant in Pisa, a major trade hub between Europe and the Arab world, and he would have had plenty of hands-on experience with practical math and algebra in the marketplace. His book, filled with “recreational” math problems, was well known in its time, Devlin says, and it spawned an entire popular genre of abbacus books, only to be forgotten until the 1960s, some 800 years later. From the busy streets of Pisa’s Piazza dei Miracoli and Leaning Tower to the ornate buildings of the University of Siena and the mysterious chambers of the Biblioteca Riccardiana, Devlin relates Leonardo’s adventures with brio and charm. Readers will enjoy this deft and engaging mix of history, mathematics, and personal travelogue. Agent: Ted Weinstein Literary Management. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Financial Diaries: How American Families Cope in a World of Uncertainty

Jonathan Morduch and Rachel Schneider. Princeton Univ., $27.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-691-17298-9

This sharp-eyed, sympathetic study from Morduch, a public policy and economics professor, and Schneider, a financial services company vice president, has a compelling new angle on the effects of long-term financial instability on working-class families. The authors’ focus is on cash flow and how it can reveal instability that’s not otherwise obvious from simple income information. They designed the titular financial diaries by recording a total financial picture for each of 235 households in five states: dollars earned, spent, and received in government entitlements. The study shows how cash-flow uncertainty prevents people from sticking with long- or even short-term financial plans. Using the narratives of a handful of survey respondents—including a casino card dealer and a performing arts teacher—the authors discuss various coping methods: saving, borrowing, and drawing on communities and networks. They also examine how pervasive financial uncertainty drains people’s time and energy, citing a 2014 survey in which 92% of respondents said they would prefer economic stability to extra income. This is a must-read for anyone interested in causes of—and potential solutions to—American poverty. Agent: Ted Weinstein, Ted Weinstein Literary Management. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Falstaff: Give Me Life

Harold Bloom. Scribner, $22 (176p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6413-2

Famed literary critic and Yale professor Bloom (The Daemon Knows) showcases his favorite Shakespearian character in this poignant work. Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s most complex tragicomic characters, appears in Henry IV Part One and Part Two and The Merry Wives of Windsor, and is referred to in Henry V. Bloom covers the many facets of a “disreputable and joyous” character, a knight, highwayman, jovial wit, and enthusiastic imbiber of sack (fortified wine) at the Boar’s Head Tavern in London. The book also attends to Falstaff’s motley crew, including Doll Tearsheet, a prostitute; Ancient Pistol, “a street hoodlum”; and Mistress Quickly, the tavern’s malapropism-prone proprietor. Notably, Falstaff is also a nonjudgmental companion to Prince Hal, the son of Henry IV, and Bloom traces their relationship up to Prince Hal’s ultimate rejection and betrayal of Falstaff upon being crowned King Henry V. The author notes that the Henry plays’ historical aspects interest him less than the changing characters of Falstaff and, to a lesser extent, Hal. Bloom, who says he fell in love with Falstaff because “he exposes what is counterfeit in me and in all others,” has created a larger-than-life portrait of a flawed character who is “at his best a giant image of human freedom.” Agent: Glen Hartley, Writers’ Representatives. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Colorful Way of Living: How to Be More, Create More, Do More the Vera Bradley Way

Barbara Bradley Baekgaard. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-12191-2

This empowering offering is replete with practical strategies for leading a fulfilled life. In a breezy and friendly tone, Baekgaard, cofounder of the apparel and accessories line that bears her mother’s name, Vera Bradley, doles out sage advice. Her advice includes being unafraid to take chances (without that, the company wouldn’t exist, she insists), giving back (as she does with the Vera Bradley Foundation, a breast cancer charity), being ready to make friends anywhere, knowing your audience, and taking breaks. She calls her business strategy “ready, fire, aim”—meaning that if one always waited for the perfect market research and business plan, few companies would be created. Her business (and personal) style is inclusive, although she does note that on issues she’s passionate about, like having all departments of her company under one roof, she will stand firm. Baekgaard’s optimistic take on life and values-based leadership style will inspire readers, particularly those already smitten with her company’s colorful goods. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Body Horror: Capitalism, Fear, Misogyny, Jokes

Anne Elizabeth Moore. Curbside Splendor, $16.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-940430-88-1

Sharp, shocking, and darkly funny, the essays in this sapient collection by cultural critic and performance artist Moore (Threadbare) expose the twisted logic at the core of Western capitalism and our stunted understanding of both its violence and the illnesses it breeds. Through such diverse avenues as the garment industry in Cambodia, modeling in New York, the history of the sanitary napkin disposal bag, the development of standard time, and the evolution of intellectual property law, Moore’s precise language, organized facts, and intuitive turns of thought uncover the casual and unremitting violence inflicted on the bodies of women by labor, marketing, and compulsive consumption. The book’s main topic, though, is illness, especially the rising incidence of autoimmune illnesses, of which Moore has personal and painful experience. In essays that look at drugs and treatment, her ability to diagnose the blind spots of Western medicine and the ableism of our very vocabulary for disease is as incisive and unsettling as the raw misogyny of the horror films she analyzes. Brainy and historically informed, this collection is less a rallying cry or a bitter diatribe than a series of irreverent and ruthlessly accurate jabs at a culture that is slowly devouring us. Agent: Dawn Frederick, Red Sofa Literary. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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America’s Needless Wars: Cautionary Tales of U.S. Involvement in the Philippines, Vietnam, and Iraq

David R. Contosta. Prometheus Books, $24 (210p) ISBN 978-1-63388-289-8

Contosta (Rebel Giants), professor of history at Pennsylvania’s Chestnut Hill College, simply and clearly argues that the U.S. has unnecessarily fought three wars over the past 105 years. Drawing from a just-war theory that stretches back to St. Augustine, Contosta labels these wars unjust as well as unnecessary because at no time did the Philippines, Vietnam, or Iraq threaten America’s national security. In economic and crystalline prose, Contosta introduces the Philippine conflict by contextualizing the declared war between the U.S. and Spain over the latter’s colonial possessions of Cuba and the Philippines. Fighting between Americans and Filipinos commenced when the U.S. decided to annex the Philippines instead of supporting its independence. Contosta precedes the Vietnam War chapter with one on the Cold War that sidesteps the question of why he doesn’t label the Korean War “unnecessary.” Iraq, perhaps because the conflict there is so recent, gets covered in only one chapter. Since there were no clear-cut cases of aggression against the U.S. at the start of any of these conflicts, what provoked the country to go to war was “ignorance, arrogance, and fear,” Contosta writes. This compact, if slightly reductive, analysis serves as a warning lest that “intertwined and self-reinforcing triad” rear its ugly head again. Agent: Scott Mendel, Mendel Media. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Strong in the Broken Places: A Memoir of Redemption Through Wellness

Quentin Vennie, with Jon Sternfeld. Rodale, , $24.99 ISBN 978-1-62336-822-7

Vennie, a freelance writer and wellness speaker, writes of the ups and downs of inner city life in Baltimore in this potentially inspiring but ultimatelyuneven memoir. As a young child, he felt abandoned because of his father’s drug addiction and his mother’s struggle to provide a better life for him. The author witnessed violence in the neighborhood, and himself turned to petty crime, feeling unheard, angry, and lost. When he welcomed a child of his own into the world, Vennie tried to improve his life, but the child’s mother left and Vennie succumbed to a deep wave of the depression that he’d battled since the age of 14. As time passes, a new love enters his life and another child; things seem to be going well until he finds himself suddenly coping with debilitating anxiety. Pill abuse, addiction, and depression drive Vennie to deal with his past and finally move forward. He finds healing in juicing, yoga and meditation, though unfortunately, the latter two are discussed only briefly and and at the end of the book. He adequately describes his tenacity in dealing with his addiction and overcoming life’sobstacles but falls short in capturing his own path to wellness. (May)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Outer Beach: A Thousand-Mile Walk on Cape Cod’s Atlantic Shore

Robert Finch. Norton, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-393-08130-5

One of the world’s most fragile and evanescent landscapes furnishes enduring life lessons in this collection of atmospheric ecological meditations. Naturalist Finch (The Iambics of Newfoundland: Notes from an Unknown Shore) reckons that during his 40-odd years living on Cape Cod he took some 1,000 miles worth of strolls up and down its sweep of ocean-facing beach, and recounts many of those strolls in these essays. In rich and subtle detail, his portraits of the beach capture its ever-shifting elements: the myriad tempos of wind and surf, sudden incursions of fog, intricate tidal currents, swarms of shore birds, detritus thrown up briefly and then swallowed up again by the waves, even the tiny flows of sand trickling down the seaside bluffs. It must be said that after very many such sketches of surf, fog, birds, flotsam, and sand, this palette of effects starts to exhaust its expressive potential, and the reader is relieved by the appearance of more dramatic and singular figures and events, including shipwrecks, beached whales, the destruction of cottages and other buildings by storm-tossed seas. As the ocean ceaselessy gnaws away the Outer Beach, Finch draws lessons on the impermanence of life from this settlement built on sand, lessons that resonate with his evocative panorama of restive natural forces in an iconic setting. (May)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Potlikker Papers: A Food History of the Modern South

John T. Edge. Penguin Press, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-59420-655-9

James Beard Award–winning writer and food historian Edge evokes potlikker—the rich, savory juices left after collard greens are boiled—in this excellent history Southern foodways and the people who’ve traveled them. In the South, Edge notes, food and eating intertwine inextricably with politics and social history, and he deftly traces these connections from the civil rights movement to today’s Southern eclectic cultural cuisine. He introduces major figures such as Georgia Gilmore, who fed farmhand cooking to African-Americans in her house restaurant in the 1960s; the great civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, who started Freedom Farm in Mississippi to encourage African-Americans to stay home and farm the land rather than migrating to Northern cities; and Stephen Gaskin, the leader of a Tennessee commune, who in many ways anticipated the organic and farm-to-table movements of today. Edge takes us from lunch counters (the “streamlined predecessors of fast food”) to the rise of fast food and the attempts of various chains (Kentucky Fried Chicken, Hardee’s, Bojangles) to preserve the comfort foods that many Southerners associated with growing up, such as biscuits and fried chicken. In this excellent culinary history, Edge also profiles some of the South’s greatest cooks—Edna Lewis, Craig Claiborne, Paula Deen—who represent the sometimes tortured relationship between the South and its foodways. (May)

Reviewed on 02/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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