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Gotti’s Rules: The Story of John Alite, Junior Gotti, and the Demise of the American Mafia

George Anastasia. Morrow/Dey Street, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-234687-2

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Few readers of true crime who are familiar with La Cosa Nostra will find anything particularly new in the latest from Anastasia (Blood and Honor: Inside the Scarfo Mob, the Mafia’s Most Violent Family). The book is a straightforward and unsurprising account of the Gambino crime family since the mid-1980s, from the perspective of killer-turned-FBI cooperator John Alite. Anastasia accepts Alite’s account at face value, resulting in a simplistic rehashing of events. Anastasia even admits he made no effort to talk to “anyone in the Gotti camp,” which he justifies by stating, implausibly, that doing so would only lead to a meaningless “he said, they said” narrative. This overreliance on Alite dictates the book’s focus on Junior Gotti, rather than his father John, the Teflon Don; this is a drawback, as the story of the younger mobster is significantly less interesting and Alite’s flat perspective hardly compensates. B&w photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security

Laurence J. Kotlikoff, Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman. Simon & Schuster, $19.99 (288) ISBN 978-1-47677229-5

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Social Security is widely mistrusted and little understood by most Americans, and with good reason: the program’s operating manual contains 2,728 core rules, and thousands of additional instructions. This can’t-miss guide to the system comes from Kotlikoff, a Boston University economist; Moller, an expert on aging; and Solman, a PBS NewsHour economics correspondent. After a conversation among all three about their own retirement planning revealed how confusing the system is, they set out to write a book pointing out traps and ways to maximize the reader’s retirement benefits. With a little tough love (reminding readers not to overestimate their own knowledge or objectivity), they explain the ins and outs of lesser-known features, such as survivor and spousal benefits. Readers are also led through the decision of whether to claim early or delay retirement entirely, the intricacies of marital-status changes, and the options for those who are married, divorced, widowed, or single. The writing is detail heavy but clear enough for even the most intimidated reader, with a concluding cheat sheet helpfully summing up the book’s suggestions. The authors’ palpable fervor to help readers get back what they’ve paid will energize readers to claim what is rightfully theirs. Agent: Alice Martell, Martell Agency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Future Arctic: Field Notes from a World on the Edge

Edward Struzik. Island, $27 (192p) ISBN 978-1-61091-440-6

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The Arctic is changing dramatically, and as Struzik (The Big Thaw) shows, it’s changing faster than most scientists predicted. As temperatures rise and sea ice and permafrost melt, megastorms and drastic fluctuations in the populations of many animals and plants have become the new normal, putting entire ecosystems in a state of flux. These changes are also wreaking havoc with the traditional lifestyles of indigenous Arctic peoples. Paradoxically, as Struzik demonstrates, warming is bringing in a huge amount of development capital by those hoping to make use of the ice-free Northwest Passage to extract oil, natural gas, and minerals. However, he argues that environmental controls on this development are woefully lax and development is creating as many (or more) ecological problems as climate change. He makes it clear that these changes are critical for the entire world and calls for more scientific study, reminding readers that if these Arctic problems aren’t properly addressed, “we, in the south, will continue to be surprised and punished by events that originate in the future Arctic.” Struzik blends biology and politics with firsthand experience to present a comprehensive, though repetitive, portrait of the future. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Fighting over the Founders: How We Remember the American Revolution

Andrew M. Schocket. New York Univ, $30 (256p) ISBN -978-0-8147-0816-3

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Schocket, a professor of history and American culture studies at Bowling Green State University (Ohio), looks into how politicians, historians, children’s literature, movies and media, museums, and the Supreme Court make use of the legacy of America’s founders. His central argument is that conservatives view the founding fathers as paragons of virtue against whom the present is judged, while liberals view them from the perspective of the present, with very different sensibilities on gender and race, and society in general. Schocket is an opinionated and sometimes cynical writer who makes his argument—which is that institutions and politicians use the founding fathers for commercial and political purposes—with direct and provocative examples. For example, he reveals his deep concern over American difficulties with race through a critique of the way in which politicians, biographers, and others ignore the founding fathers’ views on slavery (he considers these views the “greatest collective failure” of the founding fathers’ generation). An entertaining feature of Schocket’s writing is the gusto with which he takes on those he feels have misconstrued American history for political gain or profit, all of whom he happily skewers. Schocket covers a lot of ground in an accessible and entertaining style, with many provocative opinions to engage readers. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The End of the Rainbow: How Educating for Happiness (Not Money) Would Transform Our Schools

Susan Engel. New Press, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-59558-954-5

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Engel, (Red Flags or Red Herrings?) the director of the Williams Program in Teaching at Williams College, offers an incisive prescription for America’s sagging educational system. She presents her argument with classroom scenarios that neatly serve to undermine the economic mind-set that currently plagues the K–12 curriculum, arguing that the implicit goal of education should not be to create financially successful adults but to instill an appreciation of the value of an education. The system should offer enthusiastic encouragement so that students will challenge themselves in new ways and become more deeply invested in their communities. Engel demonstrates how the No Child Left Behind Act and the Race to the Top program paradoxically quash students’ underlying desire to broaden their understanding or reach beyond what is required, creating an environment where “the school is more worried about how it is doing than how the children are doing.” Restoring a sense of enjoyment to learning requires drastic changes to the tortured pedagogy of test preparation. Although Engel’s recommendations go against current orthodoxy, she enters this extremely heated public debate with a noncombative tone that is not only refreshing but will illuminate her rationale to even the staunchest supporters of standardized testing. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Attacker’s Advantage: Turning Uncertainty into Breakthrough Opportunities

Ram Charan. PublicAffairs, $23.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-61039-474-1

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How can business leaders weather the consumer market’s constantly changing climate? Charan, business advisor and author of the best-selling Execution, instructs readers on the necessity of going on the offensive, particularly stressing the “perceptual acuity” needed to detect the next radical change before competitors do. Carefully outlined chapters make the case that companies must break free of internal constraints and acquire new expertise as appropriate, even at the cost of severing ties to past money makers. Drawing on 35 years’ worth of experience guiding top executives, Charan provides numerous concrete examples of companies, both within and outside the U.S., that have either succeeded or floundered under pressure. He also has firsthand knowledge, stemming from his business trips to his native India and to “emerging markets” elsewhere, of how quickly the ground can shift beneath a business leader’s feet in an economically developing nation. In light of this, he advocates embracing times of uncertainty, writing that only thus can a company create something “new and immensely valuable.” Each chapter concludes with a checklist of questions that succinctly summarize talking points and invite introspection, making this manual an invaluable resource for anyone navigating the market’s ever-changing but always taxing demands. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mindful Work: How Meditation Is Changing Business from the Inside Out

David Gelles. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-544-22722-4

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When Steve Jobs prefaced his 1981 keynote speech at Applefest with an impromptu meditation session, it was taken as another eccentricity of the celebrated tech savant. But today, as journalist Gelles reports in this spirited but surface-deep survey, the practice of inducing a state of mental clarity and compassion known as mindfulness has gone mainstream. For instance, General Mills now holds meditation sessions for senior management at its corporate headquarters. Gelles also interviews Bill Ford, ex-CEO and Ford family heir, who reveals that his leadership was informed by Buddhist ideas. Gelles, himself a practitioner, hopefully imagines a meditation-informed workplace producing more sustainable products and possibly even transforming capitalism itself. Yet there are disquieting moments, as when he describes a Google presentation titled the “Three Steps to Build Corporate Mindfulness the Google Way” that was crashed by protesters bearing an “Eviction-Free San Francisco” banner and taking issue with the way wealthy tech workers have displaced local residents. One can only dream of how Tom Wolfe would have tackled an opportunity so ripe for satire. Perhaps because Gelles is more disciple than objective observer on this issue, his entertaining account can’t quite determine whether corporate mindfulness is a fad, fraud, or true corporate revolution. Agent: Susanna Einstein, Einstein Thompson Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Dreamers: An Immigrant Generation’s Fight for Their American Dream

Eileen Truax, trans. from the Spanish by Diane Stockwell. Beacon, $15 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8070-3033-2

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“To let the Dreamers speak for themselves” is the goal veteran journalist Truax sets for herself in this account of 10 undocumented young immigrants brought to the U.S. as children. She puts a human face on the debate around the proposed DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act. To this end, Truax recounts both the empowerment of activism and traumatic events, including a precipitous deportation and a suicide. Political figures whose actions or inactions affect the lives of the “Dreamers” appear as well: President Obama, often referred to as “Deporter in Chief”; Sheriff Joseph Arpaio of Maricopa County, Ariz., known for draconian enforcement of immigration laws; Illinois Senator Richard Durbin, who’s introduced several versions of the DREAM Act since 2001; and Mohammad Abdollahi, who leads the DREAM Activist Undocumented Students Action and Resource Network. Truax succeeds in conveying how a shadow status permeates the lives of all the young people profiled here, with education, employment opportunities, and essential social services severely limited or unavailable. At its core, Truax’s book is a severe reproach to U.S. immigration law; the appendix, a précis of the 2011 DREAM Act, illustrates the succor it would bring to some but how problematic the policy is for many others. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

Matthew B. Crawford. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-374-29298-0

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Crawford (Shop Class as Soulcraft) is deeply interested in how one masters one’s own mind, especially in a time of information overload and constant distraction provided by technology. In a manner similar to Malcolm Gladwell, this brilliant work looks at individuals from varied walks of life, including hockey players and short-order cooks, to focus on the theme of how important (and difficult) it is to truly pay attention in our noisy, busy world. Crawford’s sources, ranging from the philosophy of Kant to testimony from gambling addicts, might seem too disparate to ever cohere, yet he synthesizes them with skill. The result will force readers to dig deeply into their own “metacognition” (thinking about thinking). Beyond individual experiences, the book traces Western thought from the Enlightenment to contemporary times, persuasively arguing that much of our thinking about individuality and cognition is, simply put, wrong. Crawford’s arguments can be dense at times, but they are not meant to be digested in pull quotes. Readers will feel rewarded for spending the time with a text this rich in excellent research, argument, and prose. Agent: Tina Bennett, WME. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Smash Cut: A Memoir of Howard & Art & the ’70s & the ’80s

Brad Gooch. Harper, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-235495-2

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In this revealing memoir, Gooch (City Poet) reanimates the wild gay subculture in Manhattan during the 1970s and 1980s, which he calls the “golden age of promiscuity,” when “everything was sex and poetry and La Bohème for suburban American kids arriving to create their identities, and do drugs, and get laid.” The fine book contains many entertaining cameos by Andy Warhol, described as charming and flattering; William Burroughs, whose windowless and soundproofed residence, named the Bunker, was a meeting place for drug-fueled parties and dinners akin to “board meeting[s] out of A Clockwork Orange”; Susan Sontag, who was rumored to have snuck into an all-male sex club disguised as a man to “participate in its democratic voyeurism”; and Madonna, who sent Gooch’s longtime boyfriend, Howard Brookner, an early release of her album Like A Prayer when he was dying of AIDS. Gooch richly recollects his experiences as a model in Italy—describing his time in Milan as “feeling blindfolded and spun about three times”—and Paris, though the bulk of the narrative revolves around Gooch’s decade-long relationship with Brookner, a filmmaker. Citing letters and journals, the writer touchingly reconstructs Gooch’s loving and tumultuous life with Brookner, from their first date in 1978, to the summer they spent in an abandoned cottage on Fire Island, to their struggles with Brookner’s heroin addiction and Gooch’s resistance to monogamy, and finally Brookner’s death at the age of 34. This worthwhile account is a poetic meditation on an exceptional relationship and a stirring moment in New York’s cultural history. Photos. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/12/2014 | Details & Permalink

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