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The Edge of the Sky: All You Need to Know About the All-There-Is

Roberto Trotta. Basic, $19.99 (144p) ISBN 978-0-465-04471-9

Explaining complex ideas in accessible language is the goal of every popular science writer, but Trotta, a theoretical cosmologist at Imperial College London, stretches that effort to creative extremes, telling the story of modern cosmology with only the “ten hundred” (aka 1,000) most common English words. At first glance, the deliberately simple language feels childish, more of a distraction than a valuable, creative approach. Airplanes are “flying cars,” planetary rovers like Curiosity are “space-cars,” a large telescope is a Big-Seer, and planets, with their wandering paths across the heavens, are Crazy Stars. But Trotta’s deft word choices quickly draw the reader into a surprisingly vivid alternate reality where student-persons (scientists) strive to pierce the mysteries of the All-There-Is: the universe. From its origin in the Big Flash through Einstein’s marriage of time and space into “space-time” to the invisible power of the Dark Push (dark energy) and dark matter, Trotta explores each topic with clarity as well as charm. There are a few quirks—for example, why are Big-Seers gendered as male?—but, in general, the spare writing is elegant, even poetic. Literary experiments tend either to work or to flail with awkwardness; in Trotta’s hands, this beautifully written book, with its limited vocabulary, soars. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Darling, You Can’t Do Both: And Other Noise to Ignore on Your Way Up

Janet Kestin and Nancy Vonk. HarperCollins, $19.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-55468-581-3

Drawing on their experience as leaders in a “notoriously sexist industry,” Kestin and Vonk, coauthors of Pick Me Up and former cochief creative officers of Ogilvy & Mather Toronto, leap into the debate about women in the workplace. Much of what they say will be familiar; for example, they argue that women must eliminate “self-sabotaging behaviors,” such as not expressing opinions, or cleaning up, literally and metaphorically, while the men get on with networking. Is it news that there’s no perfect way to combine motherhood and career? Some of their advice is bafflingly banal: it’s hard, but important to figure out “how to have the life we want,” the authors write. The conceit of the book—it’s organized around “rules to be broken”—is confusing. However, some insights are bracing: the authors suggest that women are so busy that they fail to take care of themselves, down to neglecting doctors’ appointments. The most urgent sections deal with women’s refusal to support other women and the importance of talking concretely with colleagues about salary (do it, even if it feels clumsy), but, overall, the book is uneven. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Birth of the Pill: How Four Crusaders Reinvented Sex and Launched a Revolution

Jonathan Eig. Norton, $27.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-393-07372-0

Former Wall Street Journal reporter Eig (Luckiest Man) blends the story of the “only product in American history so powerful that it needed no name” with the lives of the four-larger-than-life characters who dreamed, funded, researched, and tested it. Eig recapitulates much of what’s known about the discovery of oral contraceptives and adds a wealth of unfamiliar material. He frames his story around the brilliant Gregory Pincus, who was let go by Harvard after his controversial work on in-vitro fertilization; charismatic Catholic fertility doctor John Rock, who developed a treatment that blocked ovulation and, with Pincus, began human testing (including on nonconsenting asylum patients); and the two fearless women who paid for and supported their work, rebellious women’s rights crusader and Planned Parenthood pioneer Margaret Sanger and her intellectual heiress, Katharine Dexter McCormick. The twists and turns of producing a birth control pill in the mid-20th century mirrored astonishing changes in the cultural landscapes: Eig notes how, in July 1959, the publication of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and G.D. Searle’s request for FDA approval of Enovid presaged a “tidal wave that would sweep away the nation’s culture of restraint.” Eig’s fascinating narrative of medical innovation paired so perfectly with social revolution befits a remarkable chapter of human history. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Possibilities

Herbie Hancock, with Lisa Dickey. Viking, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-670-01471-2

Melodically weaving the notes of his personal life around his exploration of numerous music genres from classical and R&B to funk and hip-hop, renowned pianist Hancock elegantly composes a tuneful sound track of his life in music. While growing up on Chicago’s South Side in the 1940s, Hancock started playing piano when he was seven; four years later, he’d won a music contest and played with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Hancock’s intense focus on the intricacies of music, and his steadfast drive to learn about all aspects of life, especially how things work, led him to take up jazz as a teenager and to study engineering briefly in college. Hancock takes us through the opus of his early days as a pianist with Donald Byrd, the composition of his first song, “Watermelon Man,” and signing with Blue Note to record his first album, Takin’ Off. Just 23, Hancock got a call from Miles Davis asking the young pianist to come play with him in what eventually grew into the Second Great Quintet. Five years later, Hancock left Davis to form his own band, the Herbie Hancock Sextet, launching a successful and widely varied solo career that included writing scores for movies like Round Midnight, Jo Jo Dancer, and Harlem Nights. Hancock’s discovery and embrace of Buddhism opened his heart and mind to the myriad possibilities in life and music, and he reveals eloquently in this candid memoir that he continues to approach life in an improvisational style in which each moment is special and everything is always new. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Wild Truth

Carine McCandless. HarperOne, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-232514-3

Twenty years ago, Jon Krakauer wrote in Into the Wild the stunning story of Chris McCandless, a young man who walked into the Alaska wilderness and starved to death. At the time, Krakauer spoke with Chris’s sister, Carine, who allowed Krakauer to read Chris’s letters, but asked the author not to print them. Two decades later, in this fiercely honest and gripping memoir, Carine shares many of these letters and candidly reveals the harsh and violent family in which the two grew up. The siblings’ father constantly berated and physically abused his young wife, and, as young children, Chris and Carine comforted each other the best they could. “Our parents hurt us constantly, but they were our parents. We wanted to believe the warm moments showed who they genuinely were, not just another part of the show they put on.” Chris eventually found freedom when he took off on his own in the year following high school graduation, and before he entered Emory—his father demanded to know Chris’s plans for the summer, but Chris refused, making the threats fell empty. When Chris headed off on his post-college journey, he left Carine to cope with her parents, and to stake out her own life. In the end, this is Carine’s story. She honestly shares her successes and failures in work and relationships as she comes to the realization that she has tried to find in adult life what was lacking in her childhood: worth, strength, and unconditional love. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Backpack, a Bear, and Eight Crates of Vodka

Lev Golinkin. Doubleday, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-385-53777-3

In late 1989, an 11-year-old Golinkin and his family joined the Jewish diaspora from what would soon be the former Soviet Union. Despite having little connection to their Jewish heritage, the Golinkins had been harassed, bullied, and seen their prospects blocked due to their ethnicity. Their exile brought them first to Austria, where they developed an important friendship with a local baron whose father was an unrepentant Nazi. Soon after, they received asylum in the college town of West Lafayette, Ind. Decades later, Golinkin retraced his journey and interviewed the people who had made his escape possible. Golinkin convincingly portrays the miseries, and rare joys, of his bullied, furtive childhood, and the limits it put on him. As he takes on an American identity, he rejects every aspect of his previous life, from its language to a faith he barely knew, a rejection that includes his choice of colleges (he attended the Roman Catholic Boston College).Trauma and his attempts to deal with it give substance to his book, although Golinkin supplements his memories with interviews and research that add important context. While the narrative grows choppy at the end as it devolves into a series of postscripts, Golinkin has created a deeply moving account of fear and hope. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Masculindians: Conversations About Indigenous Manhood Name

Sam McKegney. Univ. of Manitoba (Michigan State Univ., U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $29.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-0-88755-762-0

Finding out the meaning of modern indigenous manhood is the goal of this intriguing—if occasionally dense—study by McKegney, professor of English at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont. In order to highlight "the constructedness of popular cultural representations of indigenous men," a concept he calls "masculindians," McKegney interviews numerous indigenous subjects who offer empowering visions of masculinity that simultaneously recognize, and move beyond, colonialism's legacy. McKegney argues that defining manhood is an arbitrary process informed by the complex interworking of history, race, and culture. This is especially true for indigenous men, who historically have been defined through the lens of white colonizers as either the "noble savage" or the "bloodthirsty warrior." McKegney interviews male and female educators, artists (including writers such Joseph Boyden, Lee Maracle and Tomson Highway), scholars, social workers, elders, and others who attest to the myriad conceptions of indigenous manhood that range from the affirmingly spiritual to the purposefully vulnerable. The author's preference for opaque academic writing (phrases such as "power-laden interpenetrating discourses") and many intertextual references make this a book primarily for academic specialists. But general readers willing to endure the specialized prose will find many a fascinating discussion about modern indigenous identities. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Well-Heeled: The Smart Girl's Guide to Getting Rich

Lesley-Anne Scorgie. Dundurn, (IPS, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $19.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-4597-2354-2

Scorgie, a financial consultant and author of Rich by Thirty: A Young Adult's Guide to Financial Success and Rich by Forty: A Young Couple's Guide to Building Net Worth, focuses her attention on building financial literacy in young women. In an informal, friendly tone, Scorgie emphasizes the unique financial challenges that women face — from a society that encourages women to become "shopaholics" to the persistent income gap between men and women. This book distinguishes itself among the many personal finance books published in the last decade by addressing a target audience of young women – those just beginning their financial journey into budgeting, home ownership, and relationships. Scattered with cautionary tales based on the financial mishaps of other women, Scorgie encourages young women to educate themselves and take charge of their finances before someone else takes charge for them. Scorgie offers examples aimed at both American and Canadian audiences, quizzes to engage readers and ends with a 30-day financial challenge. This is a practical and approachable book for young female readers to enjoy. (May)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Relief from Hot Flashes: The Natural, Drug-Free Program to Reduce Hot Flashes, Improve Sleep, and Ease Stress

Gary Elkins. Demos Health, $19.95 (262p) ISBN 978-1-936303-56-4

Baylor University psychologist and neuroscientist Elkins presents a drug- and hormone-free program for significantly reducing hot flashes and night sweats. Utilizing simple, effective techniques gleaned from a decade of research in hypnotic relaxation therapy, Elkins's five-week plan begins with a comprehensive primer on hot flashes (what causes them, ties to breast cancer, the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapies, and non-hormonal therapies) before segueing into a concise explanation and history of hypnotic relaxation therapy. Steps to measure and document hot flashes, their possible triggers, and their impact on self-image and day-to-day life are provided; Elkins then earnestly guides readers through a week-by-week practice of mental imagery and self-hypnosis that's aided by questionnaires, diary entries, self-assessments, and access to downloadable audio files. Inspirational testimonials from women who've successfully completed the program round out the book. While readers may question the idea of hypnosis as a valid treatment, Elkins cites encouraging results (participants in relevant studies decreased the occurrence of hot flashes by an average of 70 to 80 percent) that suggest his all-natural plan is one deserves consideration. (July)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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When Paris Went Dark: The City of Light Under German Occupation, 1940%E2%80%931944

Ronald C. Rosbottom. Little, Brown, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-21744-6

When Hitler toured his legendary conquest in 1940, occupied Paris was sinking into a colorless tedium of paranoia and oppression punctuated by grey-clad Germans and miserable Parisians suffering from shortages and overregulation. Rosbottom, professor of French and European Studies at Amherst College, delivers distinctive, humanizing anecdotes that, while occasionally lacking attribution or further identifying context, otherwise illuminate well-documented events of the occupation. After the rise of the weak, disorganized, youth-driven resistance movement and the hunt for increasingly marginalized and imperiled Jews, the bureaucrat-driven 1944 liberation and violent aftermath of the post-occupation period seem almost anti-climactic. Bolstered by a user-friendly chronology and list of personalities, Rosbottom packs his tales with memorable descriptions of both the subtle and overwhelming changes that seeped into daily life, making for a moving portrayal of the awkward coexistence of occupation—from the vantage points of both weary Parisians and confused, low-level German soldiers alike. Rosbottom highlights how leaderless, ordinary people and their formerly glittering city turned as grey as the occupiers' uniforms. Maps & photos. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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