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Sing for Your Life: A Story of Race, Music, and Family

Daniel Bergner. LB/Boudreaux, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-30067-4

In 2011, Ryan Speedo Green won a national competition sponsored by the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Yet, as journalist Bergner (God of the Rodeo) points out in this gripping and inspiring mix of biography and cultural history, Green’s journey to international acclaim as an opera star was not an easy one. Raised in a home marred by domestic violence and his father’s abandonment of the family, Green grows up being shuttled from a trailer park to a shack in a neighborhood riddled with drugs and violence. He has difficulties in school and grows more and more unruly, until the moment he threatens his mother with a knife. Transported to a juvenile psychiatric detention center so he won’t be a threat to others or himself, Green discovers music as the force that calms his anger. When he returns to high school, he enrolls in the music program, meeting up with a teacher who takes him under his wing and helps Green develop his vocal talents. On a class visit to the Met, Green declares to his teacher that he’s going to sing there one day. Bergner chronicles the auditions and vocal contests as well as the struggles Green faces as a black man entering a musical world that is mostly white, delivering a moving portrait of a young man who succeeds, along with the help of encouraging teachers. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Daring and Disruptive: Unleashing the Entrepreneur

Lisa Messenger. North Star Way, $16 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-5011-3586-6

Messenger, CEO of the Messenger Group, a media company, and founder of Collective Hub, an entrepreneur lifestyle magazine, celebrates disruption in the business world in this engaging and invigorating book. A self-confessed “serial entrepreneur,” Messenger extols the key qualities that successful entrepreneurs should embrace, such as trusting one’s gut and intuition, possessing steadfast self-belief, and dreaming big and often. She shares stories of her own successes and failures, as well as her personal approach to combating fear and setting goals. Stressing the importance of setbacks and failure, she celebrates the process of embarking on journeys of discovery and surrendering to moments of truth. In addition, she provides a short but useful list of practical branding tips, which include securing all domain names as quickly as possible, connecting and networking across platforms, and mixing with the right people. Throughout the book, eye-catching full-page pull quotes highlight Messenger’s key thoughts. She closes with a moving chapter on doing good in the world, providing some soul-searching questions about the reasons people seek success. Full of stirring wisdom that’s particularly relevant to entrepreneurs but also to anyone chasing success, this enjoyable read should inspire a new generation of businesspeople. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

Robert Cialdini. Simon & Schuster, $28 (432p) ISBN 978-1-5011-0979-9

The first solo book in over three decades by psychologist and New York Times bestselling author Cialdini (Influence) is sure to be an important contribution to the fields of social psychology and behavioral economics. According to the author, the most successful persuaders prime their audiences for their message. One of his central points is that “what we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.” This book “identifies what savvy communicators do” and explains how general readers can do the same. Based on Cialdini’s research, decisions tend to be made based not on the factor “that counsels most wisely” but “the one that has been elevated in attention.” Topics include the best sales techniques, the problem of false confessions, the role of embedded journalists in the Iraq war, and how Warren Buffet establishes trustworthiness in his annual Berkshire Hathaway newsletter. Dense, detailed, readable, and fascinating, this book may cause the reader to wonder whether unbiased decisions are possible. Voluminous and entertaining endnotes, as well as an initial annotated summary of each chapter, increase accessibility. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right

Arlie Russell Hochschild. New Press, $27.95 (368p) ISBN 978-1-62097-225-0

Hochschild (The Outsourced Self), a sociologist and UC–Berkeley professor emerita, brings her expertise to American politics, addressing today’s conservative movement and the ever-widening gap between right and left. Hochschild contends that current thinking neglects the importance of emotion in politics. Though touching lightly on objective causes, she goes searching primarily for what she names the “deep story”—emotional truth. She focuses on a single group (the Tea Party), state (Louisiana), and issue (environmental pollution), opening her mind—and, crucially, her heart—to the way avowed conservatives tell their stories. Her deeply humble approach is refreshing and strengthens her research. Hochschild discovers attitudes and behaviors around key concepts such as work, honor, religion, welfare, and the environment that may surprise those with left-leaning politics. She intrigues, for example, by showing that what the left regards as prejudice, the right sees as release from imposed “feeling rules,” and the “sympathy fatigue” that results. She skillfully invites liberal readers into the lives of Americans whose views they may have never seriously considered. After evaluating her conclusions and meeting her informants in these pages, it’s hard to disagree that empathy is the best solution to stymied political and social discourse. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt Inc. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Poem Is You: 60 Contemporary American Poems and How to Read Them

Stephen Burt. Belknap, $27.95 (410p) ISBN 978-0-674-73787-7

Poet and critic Burt’s (Belmont) ambitious anthology of recent poems by American authors, from 1981 to 2015, creates a coherent body of work out of the vast landscape of recent American poetry. Burt’s 60 selections are eclectic, mingling instantly recognizable names (John Ashbery, Adrienne Rich) with newer talents (Lucia Perillo, Claudia Rankine.) His short reflections don’t offer close reading so much as thorough contextual grounding, lingering more on biography, traditions, influences, criticism, and social critique than on form, scansion, and imagery. Burt’s many ways of looking at a poem will inspire new students and accomplished poets, especially as many of his meditations circle the question of what poetry does, or should do: making readers pay attention, ask questions, and experience new things. Burt’s formidable breadth of knowledge about the practice of poetry, from Virgil up to 2015, allows him to make nimble connections among authors and establish an ars poetica for current American lyric poetry, an impressive feat given the diverse selection just within this book, in which “the recondite and the demotic, the accessible and the challenging, mingle.” (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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American Treasures: The Secret Efforts to Save the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Gettysburg Address

Stephen Puleo. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (432p) ISBN 978-1-250-06574-2

Puleo (The Caning: The Assault That Drove America to Civil War), a historian and former reporter, sets out to trace the creation of America’s founding documents and the later efforts to protect and preserve them. But counter to the book’s subtitle, he spends much of the time on the creation and significance of these historical documents, rather than on steps the government took to care for them as objects. The sections on the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address offer nothing new for readers versed in American history and do little to add to the self-evident case that these foundational writings of American democracy merit extraordinary protective measures. Most of the sections devoted to those efforts center on the 1941 decision, in the wake of Pearl Harbor, to evacuate select national treasures from the Library of Congress to a secure location away from Washington, D.C. Despite the high stakes and complex logistics, Puleo keeps sight of human fallibility, recounting, for example, the time that a journalist in Lexington, Va., nearly exposed the highly guarded efforts to transport the documents. More such details, and fewer about the Founding Fathers’ debates, would have added up to a better book. Agent: Joy Tutela, David Black Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Hero of the Empire: The Boer War, a Daring Escape, and the Making of Winston Churchill

Candice Millard. Doubleday, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-385-53573-1

Millard (Destiny of the Republic) takes a relatively minor episode in the life of Winston Churchill—his escape from prison during the Boer War—and makes hay with it, painting young Churchill as a brilliant soldier, talented raconteur, and politician in waiting. Churchill’s escape from a jail cell in Pretoria and subsequent trek through enemy territory are presented as the first signs of the grit and determination he would later show as prime minister. Apart from some enjoyable biographical detail (Millard has a weakness for hair “shining like a dark jewel” and interiors of “rich yellow silk”), the book contains little of interest for readers who are not already die-hard Churchill buffs. Churchill’s racism is consistently underplayed, the politics of the Boer War are ignored, and figures such as Leo Amery are reduced to drawing-room caricatures. By dwelling on Churchill’s privileged upbringing, Millard effectively extinguishes any sympathy the reader might feel for a pompous young man who once wrote, in typically overblown fashion, that if his plans for political office fell through, “It will break my heart for I have nothing else but ambition to cling to.” Not even some late attention to the wider world beyond Churchill can save the book from its hagiographic bent. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Double Ace: The Life of Robert Lee Scott Jr., Pilot, Hero, and Teller of Tall Tales

Robert Coram. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-04018-3

Military historian Coram (Brute: The Life of Victor Krulak, U.S. Marine) delves deeply into the life of Scott (1908–2006), a famous WWII flying ace who was once known for his bestselling 1943 book, God Is My Co-pilot, but is now largely forgotten. Coram concludes that the Georgia-born Scott was an avid storyteller and egotistical self-promoter convinced of his own destiny. Last in his 1932 West Point class but obsessed with flying, Scott joined the minuscule Army Air Corps. Yearning for action after Pearl Harbor, he obtained an assignment to the Air Transport Command, flying from India to China, where he quickly obtained a fighter and joined the Flying Tiger missions. Scott’s flamboyance was catnip to journalists who were desperate for heroes during the war’s early months, and it made him a media darling. After returning to the U.S. in 1943, he dictated his book, which was turned into a popular movie that Coram finds hackneyed and inaccurate. Scott’s tactlessness and love of publicity derailed his career, but he made news after retiring by walking the length of China’s Great Wall and helping establish the Museum of Aviation in Warner Robins, Ga. Coram’s mixed feelings about Scott are convincing, and the bad behavior makes for entertaining reading. Agent: Brian DeFiore, DeFiore and Company. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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My First Life

Hugo Chávez, with Ignacio Ramonet, trans. from the Spanish by Ann Wright. Verso, $45 (640p) ISBN 978-1-78478-383-9

The late Chávez, president of Venezuela from 1999 until his death in 2013, emerged as a powerful and eloquent opponent of imperialism and neoliberalism, particularly of the variety he associated with the U.S., and aligned his government with those of Marxist and socialist states throughout the Americas. In so doing, he earned the admiration of many and the enmity of others, both at home and abroad. This volume, based on a series of interviews with sociologist Ramonet, conducted between 2008 and 2011, immerses the reader in the most mundane details of Chávez’s fascinating life, including Chávez’s year as an altar boy, his favorite baseball team in his youth, and the daily routine of the tank unit in which he served during the 1970s. Frustratingly, the narrative ends at the moment that Chávez took office as president. In addition to the dreariness of the minutiae, Ramonet’s admiration of Chávez verges on the comical, as he praises not only his intelligence, idealism, and determination but his “beautiful calm baritone voice,” his abilities as a “natural pedagogue” and “exceptional orator,” and even his knack for cooking and housecleaning. The result is a sort of hagiography that offers readers a welter of often trivial details without allowing them a clearer understanding of Chávez’s significant contributions to Venezuela and beyond. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Life Everlasting: The Extraordinary Gift of Thomas Ethan Gray

Sarah Gray. HarperOne, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-243822-5

Gray, director of communications for the American Association of Tissue Banks, personally recounts how her six-day-old son’s death helped save countless lives, detailing the dogged purpose and exuberant hope that fueled her daunting journey into the world of medical research. Gray and her husband, Ross, knew months before she gave birth to identical twin sons that one of them, Thomas, had a lethal neural tube defect, and they quickly recognized its “higher purpose”: that his death would allow organ and tissue donations. Knowing only that Thomas’s liver was recovered for a study on liver cell preparation, that his umbilical cord blood would be used for genetic studies, and that his eyes would go to “a very special education research project,” Gray methodically tracks down the places that received the donations and the researchers who studied them. “In his short but treasured life,” she proudly writes, Thomas accomplished nothing less than a contribution “to the advancement of modern medicine.” Gray writes movingly of the loss of her son, the research it aided, and the career to which it led her at the AATB as an advocate for organ and tissue donation. With this remarkable account, Thomas’s legacy will continue to inspire. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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