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A Really Good Day: How Microdosing Made a Mega Difference in My Mood, My Marriage, and My Life

Ayelet Waldman. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-451-49409-2

Novelist and essayist Waldman (Bad Mother)—mother of four, married to another high-profile writer (Michael Chabon)—worked as a federal public defender and taught at prestigious law schools. After struggling with mood swings and bouts of depression, Waldman becomes a “self-study psychedelic researcher,” taking small doses of LSD on repeating three-day cycles and discovers plenty to exonerate the illicit substance. It’s a major departure for the author of novels and a mystery series, and though the book’s subtitle broadcasts the happy ending, the hows and whys of her journey are the great payoffs. Waldman structures the book as a diary of her microdosing protocol, but each entry is a launchpad for topics on which she speaks frankly and knowledgeably. Her journal tackles drug policy, her days as an attorney, parenting, writing, and marriage maintenance. It’s a highly engaging combination of research and self-discovery, laced with some endearingly honest comic moments. She is exactly the sort of sensible, middle-aged, switched-on, spontaneous woman whom any reader would enjoy taking a trip with. Waldman, by her own account, is firmly in control when it comes to controlled substances: she doesn’t want to feel out of it; she just wants to get on with it. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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L’Art de la Simplicité: How to Live More with Less

Dominique Loreau, trans. from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie. St. Martin’s Griffin, $19.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-250-12030-4

Loreau (L’Art del’Essential) combines Zen with utter practicality in this empowering book of advice, a bestseller in France. After explaining that “more and more people are seeking the joys and benefits of a simpler, more natural existence,” Loreau arranges her writings into three general sections: “Materialism and Minimalism,” “Body,” and “Mind.” Covering practical topics such as money (“your servant, not your master”) and self-directed fitness, as well as philosophical ones such as mindfulness and the art of change, she advocates simple but sometimes difficult emotional habits, including learning to say no (“When you compromise your dreams or values for another person, you lose a little of yourself and your strength”), avoiding negativity, having self-faith, and dealing with anxiety. Sensible rituals and affirmations help readers follow the author’s sage advice to accept life as it is. Loreau credits her emphasis on minimalism to Japan, where she has lived for many years, and describes Japanese culture as placing great importance in simplicity and serenity. Despite the occasional odd suggestion (not many people will limit their wardrobes to black, beige, gray, and white), this is a thought-provoking tome, elegantly translated by Lalaurie, with a powerful message. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Generation Revolution: On the Front Line Between Tradition and Change in the Middle East

Rachel Aspden. Other Press, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-59051-855-7

British journalist Aspden, who lived in Cairo from 2003 to 2004 and from 2011 until 2015, shows Egypt’s recent revolution through the eyes of the young people who demanded it, fought for it, and suffered most from its eventual failure. Weaving in dramatic moments of Egypt’s recent past with vivid depictions of its contemporary culture, Aspden uses her subjects’ candid narratives to reveal how the pressures of a corrupt state, a stagnating economy, a restless and disenfranchised youth, the repression of women, and the infiltration of Western innovations such as the Internet led Egyptians to erupt into revolt. Using the same gritty narrative technique, she draws a horrifying picture of the consequences of the 2011 revolution, notably the military coup of 2013 that led to tragic loss of life and plunged the country into worse crime, repression, discontent, and fear. Her insights into trends such as the groundswell of religious conservatism are sound yet concise. Despite the hopelessness and demoralization that prevail in her conclusion, she holds out hope that Egypt’s young people will again see a path to freedom. The book offers a sobering but necessary education in “the intractable suffering in the region” that Western countries can no longer afford to ignore. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack

Steve Twomey. Simon & Schuster, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7646-0

Pulitzer–winning journalist Twomey teases readers with his subtitle before delivering a fine account of the players and events in the years leading up to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Twomey churns up plenty of minor characters and little-known incidents over the course of 16 unchronological chapters, but he emphasizes the major figures on both sides, including such star-crossed commanders in Hawaii as Adm. Husband Kimmel and Gen. Walter Short; their superiors in Washington, Adm. Harold Stark, Gen. George C. Marshall, and Pres. Roosevelt; and Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto and ambassador Kichisaburo Nomura. These are lively, astute portraits that rock no boats. No longer considered scapegoats, Kimmel and Short come across as intelligent commanders, aware that war was imminent—if only because of repeated warnings from Washington—but hampered by the widespread feeling that a Japanese attack would be suicidal and stupid. Twomey’s admiring portrait of Adm. Yamamoto is outdated: plenty of colleagues shared his reluctance to provoke the U.S., attacking Pearl Harbor did turn out to be foolhardy, and Yamamoto’s subsequent career was unimpressive. The story of Pearl Harbor has been done to death, but Twomey’s vivid work rates high nonetheless. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Matter of Honor: Pearl Harbor; Betrayal, Blame, and a Family’s Quest for Justice

Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan. Harper, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-240551-7

The married investigative team of Summers and Swann (The Eleventh Day) make an airtight case that Adm. Husband Kimmel, “the man with overall responsibility for America’s Pacific fleet” at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor, should not have been blamed for the catastrophe. Through the extensive use of primary sources, including some previously unavailable materials from the National Archives, the authors delineate who in the U.S. government and military knew about Japan’s intentions in 1941. Tragically, there were dots that American intelligence did not properly connect that would have informed Kimmel of what was to come. But even had he gotten such an alert, the limited resources available to him—despite frequent requests, he lacked tools of defense such as a radar warning net—would have been insufficient. In the wake of the disaster, Kimmel was scapegoated and slandered without basis by people as eminent as then-senator Harry Truman. Eventually, a naval commission of inquiry found that Kimmel had not been derelict, but that exoneration came too late for his reputation. Even today, his grandchildren are fighting to have his rank posthumously restored to four-star admiral. This sad story reads like a thriller, thanks to the authors’ evocative prose and careful use of detail. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rasputin: Faith, Power, and the Twilight of the Romanovs

Douglas Smith. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (832p) ISBN 978-0-374-24084-4

In this monumental and soul-shaking biography, historian and translator Smith (Former People) demystifies the figure of Grigory Rasputin a century after his gruesome murder in 1916 at age 47. He portrays the Siberian peasant and Romanov family confidante as earthy, complex, and innocent of the worst claims against him: that he was a German spy, royal seducer, and de facto head of state. Smith relies on diaries, letters, police files, and memoirs to dispel long-held rumors about Rasputin’s relationship with Czar Nicholas II and his wife, Alexandra. With a Dostoyevskian flair for noir and obsession, Smith exposes the base motivations behind Rasputin’s enemies—including Duma members, church fathers, noble families, government ministers, and heads of secret police—while being frank about his subject’s love of Madeira and women. Smith expertly handles the intricacies of the salacious scandals that enveloped the empire in anti-Rasputin hysteria and that eerily presaged the fall of the Romanovs in 1917. Displaying commendable detective work and a firm understanding of the Russian silver age and the synod, Smith articulates even the most obscure cultural nuances with fluidity, sometimes slowing the pace but never losing his focus on his worthy and mesmerizing subject. Smith’s depravity-laden history of turn-of-the-20th-century Russia hinges on his insightful readings of myth and motive, and their tragic consequences. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Orson Welles, Vol. 3: One-Man Band

Simon Callow. . Viking, $40 (496p) ISBN 978-0-670-02491-9

In the riveting and wonderfully wrought third volume of Callow's ambitious four-part biography of Orson Welles (after Orson Welles, Vol. 2: Hello Americans), the biographer and actor examines the forces that led to Welles's self-imposed exile from America. Beginning in 1947 as Welles prepares to film Othello and ending in 1965 following the release of another Shakespeare adaptation, Chimes at Midnight, this entry pursues Hollywood's enfant terrible through the difficult period that nonetheless spawned some of his greatest films, including Touch of Evil. Published 101 years after Welles's birth, Callow's book is a genuine gift to film buffs and historians. Drawing on previously published materials, extensive interviews, and diary excerpts, Callow provides new insight into Welles's character and a deeper appreciation of his broad talent. Despite the author's evident admiration for his subject, this isn't a fawning homage but a warts-and-all look at Welles's life and at the creative processes that allowed him to flourish in film, theater, radio, and television. Callow's acting background and flair for drama transform his research into an immersive, engaging, and immensely readable portrait of Welles, revealing a complicated man and innovative artist whose own life mirrored the Shakespearian tragedies of which he was so fond. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 09/23/2016 | Details & Permalink

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