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The Age of Sustainable Development

Jeffrey D. Sachs. Columbia Univ, $35 trade paper (544p) ISBN 978-0-231-17315-5

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Sachs (The End of Poverty), an economist and director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, argues that it’s time for humankind to reconcile its needs with those of the planet, in this sprawling manifesto. He surveys the great dilemma facing civilization: how to ensure broadly inclusive economic growth, especially in the poorest countries, without destroying the natural environment and deranging the climate on which survival depends. Deploying clear, straightforward prose and a wealth of statistics—the book’s countless tables and graphs are an eye-opening education in themselves—he follows the threads of this knotty problem from their scientific and economic roots to their potential solutions in new technologies and a mix of market dynamics and vigorous government action. Sachs balances alarming forecasts with signs of progress, giving brief, even-handed rundowns of policy prescriptions such as carbon taxes, foreign aid to help Africa escape its “poverty trap,” and reforms of America’s hideously expensive private health-care system. The overstuffed book suffers from a scope that precludes detailed analysis of the many contentious debates over sustainability policies and technologies, particularly in its inadequate assessments of the pros and cons of wind, solar, and nuclear power. Still, Sachs’s overview demonstrates the seriousness of the sustainability crisis while illuminating workable paths to resolving it. Maps and photos. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Young Eliot: A Biography

Robert Crawford. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (480p) ISBN 978-0-374-27944-8

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Drawing extensively on new interviews, original research, and previously undisclosed memoirs, biographer Crawford (Scotland’s Books) offers the first book devoted to T.S. Eliot’s youth, painting a vividly colorful portrait of the artist as a young man. In exhaustive, and often exhausting, detail, Crawford chronicles, year-by-year, the young Eliot: his childhood, divided between St. Louis and Massachusetts; his painful shyness and love of dancing; his years at Harvard, his post-Harvard experiences in Europe and first, though unrequited, love ; his marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood; and his early publications of poetry, leading up to The Waste Land’s release in 1922. Eliot’s affinity for the sacred is traced to his upbringing in an “idealistic, bookish household,” to his keen ear for St. Louis’s rich confluence of music—both opera and jazz—and to his love of birdsong. Readers also learn about Eliot’s difficult marriage to Haigh-Wood, which brought neither of them happiness, though Eliot wrote to Ezra Pound that “it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land.” Crawford’s masterly biography, with its great depth, attention to detail, and close reading of the youthful Eliot’s writings, is likely to become the definitive account of the great poet’s early years. Agent: David Godwin, David Godwin Associates. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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If the Oceans Were Ink: An Unlikely Friendship and a Journey to the Heart of the Qur’an

Carla Power. Holt, $18 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-8050-9819-8

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In this engaging memoir, Power, who was a foreign correspondent for Newsweek, recounts the year she devoted to studying the Qur’an with Sheikh Akram, a friend and former colleague from Oxford. Recently, the Sheikh’s scholarship, which “challenges bigots of all types,” has found a much wider audience. His work of 10 years, compiled in a 40-volume treatise, details the historical contributions of thousands of women scholars to Islamic literature, back to the time of the Prophet. Power attended both public lessons and one-on-one discussions with the Sheikh. She spent time with his family in Britain and traveled to the village in India where he grew up, in an effort to understand how his family implemented the Qur’an’s teachings into their daily lives. Power and the Sheikh touch on historical and contemporary topics, especially in respect to women’s rights. Together they explore homosexuality, Muhammad’s wife who operated a caravan business in Mecca, the significance of veiling and unveiling, the struggle against unjust rulers and jihad, and contemporary wars. Power’s narrative offers an accessible and enlightening route into a topic fraught with misunderstanding. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Hockey Game

Bruce Mcdougall. Goose Lane Editions (UTP, North American dist.), $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-86492-378-3

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The decisive sixth game of the 1967 Stanley Cup final between the victorious Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens provides the focal point for this vivid, well-researched analysis of the then-impending cultural and commercial transformation of the National Hockey League. Longtime Canadian business writer McDougall (Ted Rogers) implies nostalgia with his title but is unflinching in his depiction of the rigors of old-time hockey, embodied in Leafs goalie Terry Sawchuk’s habit of keeping and displaying his lost teeth and bone chips. Skillfully juxtaposed anecdotes illustrate the differences between the personalities of the Montreal and Toronto organizations, the standard-bearers for French Canada and English Canada respectively: pre-game, Montreal coach Toe Blake told his players to give their best, while Toronto coach Punch Imlach threw $1,000 on the dressing room floor and said, “This is what you’re playing for.” The league’s subsequent expansion from six teams to 12 and the creation of the NHL Players Association would make money more of a focus than ever. Primarily catering to hardcore hockey fans, McDougall occasionally goes overboard with details, like offering mathematical proof that the ‘67 Leafs had greater experience than the Canadiens. Yet he succeeds in showing how players loved the game in an era when it was all they had. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Last Warrior: Andrew Marshall and the Shaping of Modern American Defense Strategy

Andrew Krepinevich and Barry Watts. Basic, $29.98 (368 p) ISBN 978-0-465-03000-2

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For four decades Andrew Marshall has been a central figure of the U.S. security establishment, particularly in his role as director of the Office of Net Assessment where he has mentored the intellectual dimension of a historically-pragmatic military system. Krepinevich and Watts, major contributors to contemporary security studies, have produced an objective and perceptive intellectual history of Marshall and his work. Marshall joined the embryonic Rand Corporation in 1949, formulating the concept of “net assessment” in a Cold War context. This process systematically compares the U.S. military position to its rivals and friends with the aim of enabling long-range planning as opposed to immediate problem-solving. Now standard procedure, its controversial introduction challenged and cultivated both Marshall’s political skill and his analytic power. Marshall made crucial contributions to the Reagan administration’s policies and later applied the methods of net assessment to the wider issue of responding to fundamental changes in the nature of war—the resultant controversies of which continue to inform the thinking of armed forces and defense intellectuals. The authors demonstrate how Marshall’s ability to ask the right questions and see clearly into uncertain futures has been vital to America’s ability to keep pace with war’s fundamentally protean nature. Agent: Eric Lupfer, William Morris Endeavor. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Gut Gastronomy: Revolutionise Your Eating to Create Great Health

Vicki Edgson and Adam Palmer. Quarto, $45 (240p) ISBN 978-1-9093-4283-5

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Based on the findings of Grayshott Spa in Surrey, England, this book showcases a new way of eating healthy that builds on the idea that the gut is the key to restorative health. Edgson (Eating the Alkaline Way), a nutritional therapist and cofounder of the Food Doctor, a nutritional program, and Palmer, the spa’s executive chef, take a naturopathic approach to gut cleansing and rebalancing the digestive system. They don’t put forth a diet so much as a way of eating, which combines a broad range of healthy foods with intermittent fasting in order to give the digestive system time to heal and repair itself. This is achieved by allocating two nonconsecutive days per week on which food intake is limited, allowing energy to be redirected from digestion to other parts of the body. The authors identify 10 principles that constitute their plan, such as creating healthy gut flora, omitting dairy, and consuming high-quality protein at every meal. They provide a detailed examination of the food groups, such as animal-based proteins, carbohydrates, root vegetables, and fats. While the details of the plan may imply deprivation, the opposite is actually true. Dishes are satisfying and occasionally border on indulgent, such as confit of duck, porchetta with plum and fig chutney, and roasted tamarind, chilli, ginger, and coriander chicken. The authors include wonderful full-color photos, which make these meals even more appealing. For those seeking better health, there is much here to consider and entice. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Eat, Drink, & Be Wary: How Unsafe Is Our Food?

Charles M Duncan. Rowman & Littlefield, $32 (244p) ISBN 978-1-4422-3839-8

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Veteran journalist Duncan demonstrates that fears about food safety in the U.S. are not unfounded. Bit by bit, he examines “our enormous food safety problems,” the reasons why the government has failed to protect consumers, and the consequences of such lax oversight. Contamination can affect every “phase of our food chain, from the wheat and corn fields, grazing cattle, slaughterhouses, egg farms, and dairies to our oceans and bays.” Meanwhile, global imports generally do not receive proper or sufficient inspection, either. The FDA, for example, inspects less than two percent of foods shipped from China (and more than half of Chinese food processing and packaging firms fail that country’s own safety inspections). Chapters on items such as produce, poultry, and eggs highlight similar themes. According to Duncan, the American government drags its feet and has kept secret public information about enforcement, closures, and seizures of food processors, protecting big businesses at the public’s expense. Subsequent discussions on milk, seafood, and processed meats strike cautionary tones as well. Though not the most optimistic—or appetizing—volume on modern-day food production, Duncan’s work is comprehensive and readers concerned with the safety and reliability of their foods will appreciate his efforts. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Crucible of Command: Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee%E2%80%94The War They Fought, The Peace They Forged

William C. Davis. Da Capo, $32.50 (656p) ISBN 978-0-306-82245-2

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The two great opposing generals of the Civil War, who had both served in the Mexican War 15 years earlier, were largely active on different fronts and met only at Appomattox (and briefly at the White House four years later). Davis, a specialist in Civil War and Southern history, focuses on their respective military styles, largely by examining particular campaigns, though he also looks at their personalities and early achievements or failures. In the process, he draws a multi-dimensional portrait of each man, succinctly capturing their particular skills, and uncovers some little-known facts: at the Battle of Gettysburg, “Lee maintained only moderate control of his army,” and “in more than a dozen instances... his orders were not obeyed,” while in May 1865, the magnanimous Grant intervened with President Andrew Johnson to save Lee from civil prosecution. Davis also examines some of the larger issues with which each man struggled, such as the growing problem of desertion near the war’s end, which hastened the demise of the Confederate Army. This meticulously researched, well-written book greatly enriches our understanding of each of these extraordinary figures and of the terrible war in which they fought. Agent: Jim Donovan, Jim Donovan Literary. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Black Cat 2-1: The True Story of a Vietnam Helicopter Pilot and His Crew

Bob Ford. Brown (Ingram, dist.), $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61254-208-9

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Ford offers a by-the-numbers look at his own action-heavy 1967-68 tour of duty as an Army helicopter pilot in Vietnam. Ford grew up in Oklahoma, where today he lives and runs his family’s milling business. He took Army ROTC in college, graduating in 1966, excelled in helicopter training (“I had a knack for flying”), married his girlfriend right after finishing flight school (“I couldn’t have been happier”), and volunteered to fight in Vietnam. He arrived in country in July of 1967 and flew Huey helicopters for the 282nd Assault Helicopter Company stationed at Da Nang. During his eventful year in the war zone, Ford took part in two of the Vietnam War’s biggest and deadliest engagements: the 1968 Tet Offensive and the siege at Khe Sanh. This capably-written book offers often good descriptions of Ford’s Vietnam War duties, albeit replete with lots of reconstructed dialogue. For Ford, the war was a positive experience that allowed him opportunities for flight “at its most satisfying and thrilling,” and serving “with honor and dedication to our country as an army helicopter pilot with America’s best.” Photos. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Our Only World: Ten Essays

Wendell Berry. Counterpoint (PGW, dist.), $24 (196p) ISBN 978-1-61902-488-5

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“Valid criticism,” poet, conservationist, and national treasure Berry (The Unsettling of America) declares in his latest collection’s opening essay, “attempts a just description of our condition.” The book goes on to vivisect, with uncommon lucidity and common sense, the accruing damages of the “industrial economy and its so-called free market,” as well as our “commerce of violence” that profits from the “destruction of land and people” as shown in the essay “Our Deserted Country,” about the wastelands created by industrial agriculture. Berry’s crusade is not for conservation but repair, and in another selection, “Local Economies,” he offers a “reasonable permanence of dwelling place and vocation” as one remedy. Adhering to an uncompromising ethic that combines stern humility with compassion, Berry rallies a sense of hope (though “the task of hope becomes harder”) and responsibility for confronting growing physical and political problems, represented here by the tortured political rhetoric he unpacks in “Caught in the Middle.” Moreover, he offers a range of practical, “small solutions”—changes of principle, not policy—that both chasten the reader and inspire him or her to continue “our long, necessary, difficult, happy effort” to protect “our only world.” These essays are classic Berry, balancing the fiery conservationist prophet with the lucid and thoughtful poet; the reflective farmer with the visionary writer. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 01/23/2015 | Details & Permalink

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