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An Intelligent Career: Taking Ownership of Your Work and Your Life

Michael B. Arthur, Svetlana N. Khapova, and Julia Richardson. Oxford Univ., $27.95 (238p) ISBN 978-0-19-049413-1

This engagingly written but ultimately disappointing guide aims to help readers make sense of their current job situations (whether full-time, self-employed, or unemployed) in order to help them take ownership of their careers. As the authors show, accomplishing this task takes more than simply working toward another degree or polishing up a résumé. The first part of the book guides readers through closely examining their careers as they consider new possibilities, work environments, and approaches to their work; most people, the authors claim, are not really aware of their options. Readers are urged to evaluate the education, relationships, and experiences already in their arsenals, and ask the big questions: What opportunities now exist, and how can we use them? What is the meaning in our work, and how can we best use our skills? These questions may inspire worthwhile thought, but the second section, aimed at helping readers take action, is not sufficiently instructive to justify the space devoted to it. This is a reasonably thought-provoking walk through the process of career introspection, but it comes down to putting a new skin on an old idea; there’s nothing new in the concept of taking control of one’s career through self-examination and looking to the future. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Furry Logic: The Physics of Animal Life

Matin Durrani and Liz Kalaugher. Sigma, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4729-1409-5

Bridging physics and biology in an accessible, informative, and (mostly) humorous manner, science journalists Durrani and Kalaugher take readers on an eclectic tour of the natural world. In individual chapters focusing on the physics of heat, force, fluid dynamics, sound, electricity and magnetism, and light, they explain basic principles and describe how a range of animals make use of those principles, often in surprising ways, to increase their ability to survive and reproduce. The authors demonstrate why mosquitos aren’t killed when hit by raindrops weighing 50 times the mass of the insect, how bees manage to fly when simple equations suggest that they shouldn’t be able to generate enough lift to do so, and how loggerhead turtles use the Earth’s magnetic field to return to the beach upon which they hatched after swimming in the open ocean for five to 10 years. The examples are often fascinating, but Durrani and Kalaugher’s larger message about the need to integrate the sciences is far more important: “Dividing physicists and biologists—making them go to separate classes and learn different subjects—stifles progress.” Durrani and Kalaugher approach their captivating material in a lighthearted fashion, though the wordplay gets a bit stale by the end of the book. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done

Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton. TarcherPerigee, $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-399-18470-3

Tennis, a former Salon columnist, and journalist Morton (coauthor of Not My Boy! A Father, a Son, and One Family’s Journey with Autism) seek to free writers from a near-universal burden—unfinished projects—by meticulously outlining Tennis’s Finishing School writing program. Drawing on their own experiences and those of other writers, they explain how the program evolved out of Tennis’s own difficulties completing a novel. It offers a support system designed to overcome six common emotional pitfalls: doubt, shame, yearning, fear, judgment, and arrogance. Members of Finishing School writing groups, which meet weekly, commit to writing for a certain number of hours and completing specific tasks. They also choose buddies to contact when they hit writing snags. It is this accountability, according to Tennis, that writers find particularly helpful. Unlike in more traditional writers’ groups, Finishing School members do not critique one another’s work; they listen to and learn from one another as equals, establishing “clear goals supported by well-defined tasks.” This book insightfully pinpoints the importance of time budgeting and management, and of setting reasonable expectations for completion. It’s gimmicky at times, but its advice and methodology will be useful for countless writers and would-be writers, and for people wanting to complete unfinished projects of any kind. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Pursuit of Power: Europe 1815–1914

Richard J. Evans. Viking, $40 (928) ISBN 978-0-670-02457-5

Evans, a professor emeritus of history at Cambridge University who is best known for his three-volume history of Nazi Germany, enhances his reputation with this analysis of Europe during the century leading to the Great War. He concentrates on the now-unfashionable issue of power: who had it, who wanted it, and how it was achieved and retained. Evans doesn’t simply focus on war and diplomacy—he defines power broadly to include advances in medicine and technological sources of literal power, from steam to electricity. As the integrated developments of personal freedom, mastery over nature, and the rise of nationalism nurtured one another, Europe became the focus of “a process of globalization” in which capital, goods, people, and ideas flowed “from continent to continent.” This was an “age of emotion” characterized by a passion for knowledge and the pursuit of happiness in an increasingly secularized and gendered environment. Governments and societies responded to the resulting “challenge of democracy” by barreling forward until the catastrophe of 1914, which “was a surprise to almost everyone”—and perhaps should not have been. Evans demonstrates expertise of a broad spectrum of specialized sources and synthesizes his research into a work “designed to be read through from start to finish.” (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars

Dava Sobel. Viking, $30 (315p) ISBN 978-0-670-01695-2

Acclaimed science writer Sobel (A More Perfect Heaven) casts much-needed light on the brilliant and determined women behind two historic revolutions in astronomy: one scientific, one professional. In the mid-18th century, astronomers employed human “computers” to scan glass photographic plates and perform calculations. Only the Harvard College Observatory, directed by professor Edward Pickering, hired both men and women as computers. The women there—including Williamina Fleming, Antonia Maury, Henrietta Leavitt, Annie Jump Cannon, and Cecilia Payne—earned far less than their male counterparts but were eager for the work. As Sobel explains, it was the only way they could do science. Their research led to both the creation of a catalogue of stars still in use today and groundbreaking discoveries in stellar composition, motion, evolution, and a reliable way to calculate interstellar distances. Sobel knows how to tell an engaging story, and this one flows smoothly, with just enough explication of the science. She also reveals the long hours the women worked and their constant search for funding as well as their triumphs of discovery and the eventual acknowledgment of their achievements by their peers and public. With grace, clarity, and a flair for characterization, Sobel places these early women astronomers in the wider historical context of their field for the very first time. Agent: Michael Carlisle, InkWell. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Multiples Illuminated: A Collection of Stories and Advice from Parents of Twins, Triplets, and More

Edited by Megan Woolsey and Alison Lee. Megan Woolsey and Alison Lee, $15.95 trade paper (210p) ISBN 978-0-9968335-0-9

According to Woolsey and Lee's introduction to this helpful guide, when Woolsey was pregnant with triplets, she found herself filled with questions that the usual parenting resources couldn't answer. Woolsey and Lee have compiled what they learned on their own as parents of multiples (in Lee's case, twins) alongside stories from other women in a collection arranged into chronological sections: trying to conceive, pregnancy, labor, post-pregnancy, and the first few years of parenting. Woolsey kicks off the discussion by opening up about her own difficulty with fertility treatments and giving readers practical tips on "surviving fertility." In the pregnancy section, Lee shares important best practices for health and safety. To prepare for labor, Woolsey lists what to pack for the hospital, and readers learn the importance of an "outplan." In the post-pregnancy section, Lee prepares readers for the possibility of ill or premature babies being placed in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), and the parenting section covers breastfeeding and handling stress. Each story is short and sweet, replete with helpful information and examples of the ways in which parents have coped, and will appeal primarily to women, since every story (with one exception) was contributed by a mother. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Born to Run

Bruce Springsteen. Simon & Schuster, $32.50 (528p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4151-5

In his long-awaited memoir, Springsteen takes readers on an entertaining, high-octane journey from the streets of New Jersey to all over the world. A natural storyteller, Springsteen commands our attention, regaling us with his tales of growing up poor with a misanthropic father and a mother who had endless faith in people. The Boss delights us with humorous stories of his first guitar—which he couldn't get his seven-year-old fingers around—and his inspiration to become a musician after seeing Elvis on The Ed Sullivan Show: "I WANTED... I NEEDED... TO ROCK! NOW!" Once he's hooked, he can't give up this insatiable hunger to rock like Chuck Berry, or the Rolling Stones, or the Beatles; soon he's playing in his first band, the Castiles, and eventually with another band, Steel Mill, opening up for Grand Funk Railroad, Ike & Tina Turner, and Iron Butterfly. Springsteen weaves a captivating story, introducing us to the essential people in his life: Patti Scialfa, Clarence Clemons, Steven Van Zandt, and producer/managers Mike Appel and Jon Landau, among many others. He offers absorbing accounts of the making of each album, and he considers Born to Run as the dividing line between musical styles, as well as the mark of the beginning of his success; he also admits that his bands were never democracies and that he makes the decisions. Most insightful, he reveals his ongoing battles with depression—"shortly after my sixtieth I slipped into a depression like I hadn't experienced"—and his eventual ability to live with this condition. Springsteen writes with the same powerful lyrical quality of his music. (Sept. 27)

Reviewed on 09/30/2016 | Details & Permalink

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