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Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World

Richard C. Francis. Norton, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-393-06460-5

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With encyclopedic detail, Francis (Epigenetics) investigates the nature of domestication, focusing mostly on the biological rather than anthropological factors responsible for a wide array of human/animal partnerships. He ranges widely across species, including house pets, livestock, and pack animals, discussing the types of genetic changes that commonly occur during the process of domestication and the developmental implications such changes have. Francis describes how tameness, tolerance of human contact, and increased in-group sociality are frequent precursors to domestication and are often allied with the retention of juvenile traits in adults. Offering an effective primer on molecular genetics and the field of evolutionary development, he also demonstrates how conservative evolution can be, even while documenting some of the amazing changes species have undergone in relatively short periods of time due to strong selection imposed by humans. In his exploration of human evolution, he asks whether our species has experienced, via “self-domestication,” some of the same physical and cultural changes as have our domesticated companions; he concludes that the available data are not yet robust enough to form a firm conclusion about the self-domestication hypothesis, but suggests that our success as a species could be largely due to our enhanced sociality. Though the details can be overwhelming, Francis’s ability to weave in interesting asides keeps the text thought provoking. Illus. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Dissent: The History of an American Idea

Ralph Young. New York Univ, $39.95 (640p) ISBN 978-1-4798-0665-2

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Temple University historian Young (Dissent in America) delivers a doorstopper that few readers will ever want to misuse in such a manner; his clear and elegant style and a keen eye for good stories make it a page-turner. He takes an elastic view of the concept of dissent, presenting it as anything “going against the grain,” and by not focusing on ideas alone, is able to cover a lot of territory. The result is a work that establishes the “centrality of dissent in American history.” The Puritans had barely arrived in the New World—for their own dissenting religious purposes—when Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson began their agitation against civil and religious authority. Over time, dissent became so widespread and so deeply ingrained in American society that people who shared a cause—for instance, 19th-century advocates for women’s suffrage—disagreed among themselves about the nature and expression of their dissent. Progressive thinkers didn’t have a monopoly on dissent; the Ku Klux Klan arose “to preserve white supremacy,” and, in the 1970s, conservative Christians mobilized to counter 1960s liberalism. Young convincingly demonstrates that the history of the United States is inextricably linked to dissent and shows how “protest is one of the consummate expressions of ‘Americanness.’ ” Illus. (May)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Rainman's Third Cure: An Irregular Education

Peter Coyote. Counterpoint , $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61902-496-0

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Writer, actor, and political activist Coyote picks up from his previous book, Sleeping Where I Fall, about his experiences in the 1970s, and details the rest of his life. Most important to Coyote's narrative is his Buddhist practice; a Zen sense of impermanence and placid acceptance permeates every page of this memoir, from Coyote's birth and immediately rocky upbringing in 1941 to his contemporary life at San Francisco Zen Center. Those unfamiliar with Coyote's life and wishing to know more about his time with the anarchist improv group Diggers will be disappointed; Coyote frequently refers readers to his previous book, making this one difficult to appreciate in its own right. But it's interesting to follow Coyote's careful, step-by-step unraveling of his own psyche and emotional constructs, and fellow students of Zen will especially appreciate Coyote's breakdown of meditative retreats and flashes of enlightenment. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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One of Us: The Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway

%C3%85sne Seierstad, trans. from the Norwegian by Sarah Death. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (544p) ISBN 978-0-374-27789-5

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Journalist Seierstad (The Bookseller of Kabul) delivers a vivid, thoroughly researched, and suspenseful account of the 2011 massacre that killed 77 people in her native Norway. On July 22, Anders Behring Breivik disguised himself as a policeman and set off a bomb in Oslo's government quarter, killing eight. He then made his way to the island of Utøya, where he murdered an additional 69 people, most of them teenagers attending a camp sponsored by Norway's Labour Party. Seierstad's comprehensive investigation examines that fateful day, the events that led up to it, and the trial that followed. She also chronicles the troubled life and radicalization of the convicted killer, the mismanaged police response, and the government's reaction. The book features evocative portraits of some of the victims and brims with vivid descriptions of the villages, city squares, buildings, and fjords of Norway, touching on the country's politics, changing demographics, and cultural shifts. With a reporter's passion for details and a novelist's sense of story, Seierstad's book is at once an unforgettable account of a national tragedy and a lively portrait of contemporary Norway. 8 pages of b&w photos. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I'm Not a Terrorist, But I've Played One on TV: Memoirs of a Middle Eastern Funny Man

Maz Jobrani. Simon & Schuster, $24 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4767-4998-3

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Iranian-American comedian Jobrani is a man of many stages: he's acted alongside Chuck Norris (regrettably), entertained the king of Jordan (nerve-wrackingly), and even played his own worst enemy: an ethnic cliché. Jobrani's immigrant story confronts pre- and post-9/11 prejudices unflinchingly, with writing that mimics the comedian's signature accents, though they play better onstage than on the page. Jobrani explores his Iranian family with stories that bridge the invisible wall between cultures as he describes escaping the Iranian revolution and establishing himself in comedy. Hidden amid tales of strip-club performances (don't do them, is Jobrani's advice) and elderly Persian hecklers is a valuable study in American race relations centered around Jobrani's own relationship with his family and friends. Jobrani's personal touch lends weight to his often but not always joking observations, and the result is a memoir about race that's accessible to people who don't like to talk about race. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Irritable Hearts: A PTSD Love Story

Mac McClelland. Flatiron, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-05289-6

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This raw look at life with PTSD begins in Haiti in September 2010, where an earthquake has just shaken the very fabric of society. McClelland (A Twisted Trail) is one of the journalists who comes to Port-au-Prince to cover femicide and hate crimes, and she witnesses "something." She does not provide details, only writing that it has to do with rape, and that watching the "something" is the closest she's ever been to someone else's terror. Immediately afterward, she feels "a disembodied version of myself hovering somewhere behind me and to the left." This dissociation and a psychological numbness—so severe that she felt no emotion when her boyfriend, Nico, placed a rose on her chest and fed her strawberries in bed one day—are symptoms that strain her ability to function. McClelland pulls herself away from drinking binges with the help of Nico's steadiness, a somatic therapist's expertise, and the affirmation she receives from PTSD survivors who thank her for reporting on the illness. McClelland is writing this memoir for those survivors. She asks readers who haven't experienced dissociation and numbness to empathize with psychological conditions that they won't fully understand, and makes it easy to grant that request. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Living Years: The First Genesis Memoir

Mike Rutherford. St. Martin's/Dunne, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-06068-6

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Rutherford, bassist and guitarist for the renowned progressive-rock band Genesis, gives thisautobiography the same title as his emotional number-one hit song with Mike + the Mechanics; the song is about Rutherford's recently deceased father, whose unpublished memoir inspired his book. Rutherford recounts the origin of Genesis at Charterhouse, a boarding school in the English county of Surrey, where he, guitarist Anthony Phillips, keyboardist Tony Banks, and vocalist Peter Gabriel met and formed a band that pioneered the mix of theatrical elements with odd lyrics and complex song structures. After Gabriel's departure in 1975 for a wildly diverse solo career, drummer Phil Collins took over lead vocals and brought Genesis to even greater commercial heights amid his own solo success. Refusing to dwell too much on particulars—the band's final two albums receive surprisingly short shrift, as do stories about rock-and-roll excess—Rutherford writes with British wit, charm, and honesty. His depiction of the rigid Banks is less than favorable, for example, and there's little emotion in his description of the departure of guitarist Steve Hackett. This book is being heavily promoted as the first memoir by a member of Genesis and is already a bestseller in Britain. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Missing Persons: A Life of Unexpected Influences

Bruce Piasecki. Square One, $17.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7570-0412-4

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Piasecki (Doing More with Less), head of a management consulting firm, looks back at his eventful life in a fragmented, energetic memoir occasionally resembling the cut-up techniques of Burroughs and the stylistic methods of the New Journalism of the 1960s and 1970s. Piasecki started this book 17 years ago when his daughter, Colette, was born, recalling his hardscrabble childhood on Long Island and his journey to becoming a promising three-letter high school athlete, a Cornell University scholar, and a successful businessman. The key influences of his life include his rebellious Uncle Ziggy; his foster children, Edwin Torres and Suie Ying Chang; artist Frida Kahlo; writer Jay Parini; and his confidante Darlene, whom he loves as much as his mother, wife, and daughter. Piasecki's compulsively addictive memoir, combining rich cinematic touches and psychological elements of memory and dreams with dispassionate third-person narration, celebrates family life, marriage, reading, writing, and business achievement. B&w photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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First Jobs: True Tales of Bad Bosses, Quirky Coworkers, Big Breaks, and Small Paychecks

Edited by Merritt Watts. Picador, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-06125-6

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In this slender, innocuous volume, Watts pulls together 50 short first-person narratives about first jobs, edited from interviews she conducted. Her own first gig was telemarketing, hoping "no one would answer [the phone], saving us both the pained exchange that was to follow." A school counselor recalls that as a teenager in Florida, he would tag along to work with his father, a pet cemetery caretaker. A graduate student working behind the counter in an Aspen, Colo., shop served former president Bill Clinton and California's then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger on her first day. A 16-year-old boy in a small town in Illinois was tapped to be the local newspaper's sports editor during WWII. Watts balances these everyday anecdotes with others from more famous people. Former Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, for example, recalls shining shoes downtown when he was six years old, and designer Jonathan Adler worked the fax and photocopy machines at a talent agency in New York City before hitting on his true passion. What this collection offers in breadth, however, it lacks in depth, with the brief, episodic format not allowing for much background information or truly significant insight. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Concussion Inc.: The End of Football as We Know It

Irvin Muchnick. ECW Press. (Legato Publishers Group, U.S. dist.; Jaguar Book Group, Canadian dist.), $19.99 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-77041-138-8

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Investigative sports journalist Muchnick (Wrestling Babylon), who has written extensively about the tragic effects of traumatic brain injury among wrestlers, turns his attention to the same issue in football. In this compilation of blog entries written between 2009 and 2013, Muchnick unflinchingly documents National Football League veteran Dave Duerson's time on the league's disability claims review board, which he spent frequently denying benefits to other retired players and "downplaying known evidence of the connection between football traumatic brain injuries and long-term mental-health problems." When Duerson committed suicide in 2011, he left a note indicating that he himself suffered from brain damage. Another target of close scrutiny is Dr. Joseph Maroon, longtime neurosurgeon of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who was on the NFL's concussion policy committee while simultaneously promoting concussion management software and nutritional supplements that purportedly protect against concussions. Muchnick argues that the NFL's violent culture has a dangerous effect on teenage athletes and that tackle football must be banned in public high schools. It's not easy reading. The author's tone is sometimes polemical or pompous, but his arguments will resonate, not only with football aficionados but also with fans of hockey, boxing, and other contact sports. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/27/2015 | Details & Permalink

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