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Epiphany: A Christian's Change of Heart & Mind Over Same-Sex Marriage

Michael Coren. McClelland & Stewart/Signal, $29.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7710-2411-5

For many years, Coren (Hatred: Islam's War on Christianity), a conservative Catholic media commentator, was perhaps Canada's most vociferous opponent of marriage equality. This book is his mea culpa. It articulately explains why and how he became a staunch supporter of same-sex marriage and equal rights for LGBTQ people and why this process strengthened his faith. "My interest as a Christian, and particularly one who got things so wrong for so long, is truth, love, compassion, and justice," Coren writes, a position he now sees as incompatible with inequality for LGBTQ people. His change of stance was incremental and involved much soul-searching over how to reconcile being a proponent of Jesus's love while singling out a whole group of people for social and spiritual marginalization. He recounts how the Ugandan government's criminalization of homosexuality opened his eyes to the real hatred that fuels so much opposition to LGBTQ rights. In addition to chronicling his own journey, Coren, who left the Roman Catholic Church in 2013 and became an Anglican, also discusses the scriptural reasons for supporting marriage equality. Anyone with even a passing interest in LGBTQ rights and Christianity should read this book. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Boy Erased

Garrard Conley. Riverhead, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59463-301-0

In this exceptionally well-written memoir, Conley recounts his brief but harrowing time attending Love in Action, an ex-gay ministry. After the man who raped him in college outs him to his Missionary Baptist parents, Conley enters a tailspin that results in seeking conversion therapy to both placate his parents and find his own peace. He nicely weaves the account of his two weeks at Love in Action with stories from his earlier life to present a moving picture of the struggle to be gay—or stop being gay—in a conservative, southern Christian community. Particularly effective is the representation of his parents, who sincerely believe this is best for their son, and his recounting of this world slowly losing its grip on him. Other memoirs of ex-gay therapy survivors recount longer and more involved encounters with the process, but Conley offers enough for readers to understand the main concepts and methods of such groups. This timely addition to the debate on conversion therapy will build sympathy for both children and parents who avail themselves of it while still showing how damaging it can be. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Peter Arno: The Mad, Mad World of the New Yorker's Greatest Cartoonist

Michael Maslin. Regan Arts (S&S, dist.), $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-942872-61-0

New Yorker cartoonist Maslin pays homage to artist Peter Arno (1904–1968) whose witty drawings created a style that's been synonymous with the New Yorker since its launch in 1925. Maslin's riveting biography is—surprisingly—the first on the rakish genius, who arguably shaped the look of the weekly magazine. Beginning with Arno's posh education at Hotchkiss and Yale, Maslin depicts the young, defiant artist (born Curtis Arnoux Peters) determined to become a cartoonist despite the strong objections of his father, a New York state supreme court judge from whom he became estranged. His first piece appeared in the 18th issue of the magazine under his pseudonym, possibly in an effort to sever ties with his father, suggests Maslin. Readers of the New Yorker in the 1920s embraced Arno's work, especially after the debut of the Whoops Sisters series, featuring two feisty old ladies who used language laced in double entendre. From 1925 to his death in 1968, with a short hiatus during WWII, the New Yorker published hundreds of Arno's drawings, many of which are reproduced in the book. Maslin fills the book with insights into the cartoonist's life and art, noting that the world he depicted on paper as well as in his messy private life reflected "the implication that something unsavory was about to take place." (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Walker Evans: Labor Anonymous

Edited by Thomas Zander. D.A.P./Koenig, $50 (170p) ISBN 978-1-938922-94-7

This short book comprises three essays (which appear side by side in German and English) about American photographer Walker Evans (1903–1975), illustrated by the subject's photographs, most of which were taken for a 1946 Fortune article about laborers in the city of Detroit. Evans shot the assignment from a single downtown street corner, with boarded-up storefronts serving as the background of the resulting 150 portraits of unsuspecting people on the go. The book begins with an essay by photographer Jerry Thompson, a student of Walker's, who provides a detailed account of this work, including notes and memorabilia from the archives, as well as other facts about the photographer, who played a vital role in determining the course of photography in the 20th century. The second essay, by Heinz Liesbrock (Walker Evans: Depth of Field), focuses on Evans as an artist working to produce what Evans himself described as "a visual study of American civilization." The final essay, by photographer and curator David Campany (Walker Evans: The Magazine Work), discusses photographers who influenced Evan's work and those he later influenced. The photos themselves pale in comparison to Walker's other work; the real interest lies in the artistic moment in which they were created, which all three essays thoughtfully convey. Illus. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Rivals of the Ripper: Unsolved Murders of Women in Late Victorian London

Jan Bondeson. History (U.K.) (IPG, dist.), $35 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7509-6425-8

Bondeson (Murder Houses of South London) does a workmanlike job of chronicling a dozen unsolved cases of murder in London from 1861 to 1897 that have been greatly overshadowed by the Whitechapel murderer. Not all of the individual cases—which include some prostitute killings, two where shopkeepers were probably killed by robbers, and cases where the elderly victims were targeted by burglars—are compelling, but even the more prosaic ones offer insights into the state of policing at the time. The most unsettling chapter deals with a series of tragedies that few readers will have even heard of: the West Ham Disappearances of the 1880s and 1890s, which culminated in the sexual assault and murder of a 15-year-old girl. Bondeson, whose 2000 book, The London Monster, rescued from obscurity an 18th-century criminal who slashed women, has again done true crime devotees a service by providing a look at cases that were local sensations at the time but have largely faded from memory. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Missing Man: The American Spy Who Vanished in Iran

Barry Meier. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-0-374-21045-8

New York Times reporter Meier crafts a gripping account of the life and disappearance of Bob Levinson, a DEA and FBI agent turned PI, who vanished in Iran in 2007. Levinson's work for the Feds gave him a wealth of experience with complex investigations, including cases against the Mafia, Colombian drug cartels, and Russian organized crime, through which he made important connections in the world of intelligence gathering. That background came in handy when he entered the private sector in 2004. Before long, he was retained by the CIA to assist a new unit focusing on illicit international finance, a group that found his comprehensive reports educational and invaluable. By 2006, the Illicit Finance Group had been tasked to gather intel that could be used against the leaders of Iran, and when that responsibility was passed on to Levinson, he made the risky journey to meet an American-born terrorist, an assignment from which he never returned. Meier presents a moving account of Levinson's family, who struggle to come to terms with his still unresolved fate and are desperately trying to get the U.S. government to help find him, while shining a much-needed light on the murky world of private intelligence contractors. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Jane Jacobs: The Last Interview and Other Conversations

Jane Jacobs. Melville House (PRH, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-61219-534-6

This collection of four lively exchanges with Jacobs (1916–2006), the doyenne of urban planning, encompasses the boon of sharpened reflections on those topics that were her focus and novel thoughts on those that were not. In an interview for the October 1962 issue of Mademoiselle, conducted shortly after the publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jacobs extols "informed, intelligent improvisation" as the formula for great urban development: "All plans—business, your children's education, whatever—are made like this, playing it by ear all along the way." Later interviews offer rarer insights. Speaking to Roberta Brandes Gratz about Manhattan's 1976 Westway project, she points similar efforts of proponents of Lower Manhattan Expressway in the 1960s to present the project as a housing scheme: "The grandiose land-development scheme is a red herring to sell the project." She argues that development would happen without a new highway, and time has vindicated her view. A lengthy interview with James Howard Kunstler features a retelling of her sole encounter with Robert Moses and musings on the planning fever that gripped the architecture world at mid-century: "Intelligent people, to a great extent, are captives of their time and place." Her last interview, conducted in 2005 by Robin Philpot, offers some more unexpected thoughts: sympathy for the Quebec independence movement, hostility to the Euro, and other proof of her taste for decentralization far beyond urban plans. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Genius of Birds

Jennifer Ackerman. Penguin Press, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59420-521-7

Popular science writer Ackerman (Ah-Choo!: The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold) puts paid to the notion of being birdbrained with this survey of the observational and experimental evidence for impressive bird cognition. She explores birds' capacities for tool use, socialization, navigation, mimicry, discrimination, and possibly even theory of mind. Ackerman interviews specialists without overindulging in research travelogue, keeping centered on her feathered subjects rather than on the human interactions, and urges against anthropomorphizing bird behavior, correlating specific behaviors to generalized intelligence, or benchmarking the value of avian mental skills to that of humans. But her most interesting bits of trivia play to that urge: undergraduates who fail at mental simulations at which some birds succeed, bowerbirds trained to distinguish good human art from bad, Thomas Jefferson's mockingbird singing "popular songs of the day," and pigeons learning to open automatic cafeteria doors. Though Ackerman's focus is mainly ethological, she also speculates on the possible relationships between complex task completion and evolutionary fitness. This light popular science read doesn't present much new framing or insight; Ackerman seeks out current research to discover a few surprises, such as a possible role for olfactory cues in navigation, but doesn't point to or create any big conceptual shifts. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Consequence: A Memoir

Eric Fair. Henry Holt, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-1-62779-513-5

In this harrowing memoir, Fair, an interrogator at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, expands on his 2007 Washington Post editorial, in which he countered the claim that detainee abuse was a rare, isolated phenomenon. Fair, U.S. Army veteran trained as an Arab linguist, yearned to rejoin the armed forces after the 9/11 terrorist attacks but was derailed by a severe heart condition. Fortunately, private contractors were not as picky, so with no physical exam he was hired at $120,000 per year and sent to Abu Ghraib. Fair details the way he conducted interrogations, emphasizing that he followed accepted procedures approved by superiors. Official guidelines do not mention torture but interrogators, mostly untrained, were urged to "get things done." Fair observed prisoners being left naked in freezing rooms, beaten, and tied in excruciating positions. He committed some of the same acts, but his conscience began to gnaw at him. Some colleagues tortured enthusiastically; others shared his discomfort. Fair began having nightmares and drinking heavily. He came home, but his drinking, nightmares, and erratic behavior worsened. His heart failed, requiring a transplant, but he gradually pulled himself together through the help of his wife and his faith. Fair is a gifted writer, and his capacity for self-examination makes this work both deeply insightful and moving. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Short Order Dad: One Guy's Guide to Making Food Fun and Hassle-Free

Robert Rosenthal. Skyhorse, $17.99 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-63450-980-0

This debut cookbook from Rosenthal, an ad executive, comedian, and food writer, contains tips that virtually all novice cooks (of any gender) can put to use. After boldly calling out men on their fears of cooking—they might worry about being seen as incompetent, failing, or having to make a commitment—Rosenthal gets down to brass tacks, offering advice on building a pantry, selecting the right ingredients and cookware, and learning a handful of techniques before continuing to his recipes. He begins with the painfully simple avocado toast—which, like others of his dishes, can barely be called a recipe. Breakfast pizza (flour tortilla, tomato sauce, and cheese) and pigs in blankets set the bar low, making much more complicated recipes such as the crispy lacquered chicken and ancho chili shrimp feel like anomalies. Though the book is fine for readers who have been hesitant to enter the kitchen, let alone prepare a meal, those with even a modicum of confidence will likely find it too elementary. There are many better ways for beginners to learn cooking techniques and recipes than this scattered effort. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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