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Innovating Women: The Changing Face of Technology

Vivek Wadhwa and Farai Chideya. Diversion (diversionbooks.com), $9.99 e-book (250p) ISBN 978-1-62681-422-6

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According to the essays and first-person narratives in this capable overview of women in the technology world, tech companies are not just failing to hire women into the C-suite—their culture prevents female employees at all levels from reaching their full potential. But female tech pioneers succeed against the odds. For example, Kim Polese, chairwoman of ClearStreet and the founding product manager for Java during its launch in 1995, contributes a personal essay on persistence. A chapter on education highlights the stigma facing women in STEM fields through the experiences of several women who persevered and now hold jobs in tech-related fields. The book hits especially hard on two modes of exclusion: lack of funding for female entrepreneurs, and lack of support for women's roles in the family and household. The book is a solid contribution to the growing popular literature on the subject. Although it covers a lot of the same ground as Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In, it brings together more voices from the community of women working in tech. Wadhwa, a Stanford researcher who has been blogging on the topic for TechCrunch, argues that his natural next step was a book. He crowdsourced many of the contributions because "what right did I—a male—have to tell women how to solve their problems?" (Sept.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Reef Libre: Cuba--The Last, Best Reefs in the World

Robert Wintner. Rowman & Littlefield/Taylor, $45 (265p) ISBN 978-1-63076-073-1

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Wintner (Some Fishes I Have Known), founder of the Snorkel Bob shop in Hawaii, takes readers on a tour of Cuba's thriving coral reefs through gorgeous photos and an accompanying mini-documentary DVD. The stunning photos depict wildlife among the reefs including moray eels, puffers, the "endearing" spotted drumfish, and indispensable sharks. These are intermixed with images of Cuban architecture, folk art, and ubiquitous vintage cars. A trip to rural Jucaro features propaganda billboards alongside horse-and-buggies. Wintner weaves in the narrative of his visit to Cuba while outlining reef conservation efforts, including the banning of spearguns and nets for fishing, protection of the shark population, and emphasis on organic farming. In contrast, he discusses the decline of reefs in his home state of Hawaii, brought on by the aquarium trade, corrupt politicians, and a destructive "shark eradication program." There are plenty of tips on cuisine, hotels and scuba locations to hit, though he insists the book is "not meant to be a tourist guide," but the vibrant photography is the star of this show. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Haight: Love, Rock, and Revolution

Photographs by Jim Marshall, text by Joel Selvin. Insight, $50 (304p) ISBN 978-1-60887-363-0

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This gorgeous collection of photographs (most of them black and white), by one of the pioneers of rock photography, documents the epicenter of the countercultural revolution: San Francisco's Haight District in the mid to late 1960s. Images of protesters and everyday residents of the Haight mingle with candid shots of cultural icons such as Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan conversing in the alley behind the City Lights bookstore, or the Grateful Dead performing at Trips Festival. The photos are, for the most part, arranged in chronological order, enabling readers to witness the optimism that was embodied by the rise of the hippie movement, as well as its grim decline. Selvin (Summer of Love), an author and longtime pop music reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle, accompanies Marshall's remarkable photographs with a narrative that provides even greater insight into the era. This is a truly remarkable effort sure to resonate among culture hounds and music fans alike. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Terms of Service: Social Media and the Price of Constant Connection

Jacob Silverman. Harper, $26.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-228246-0

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As social media platforms and other technologies diffuse into our everyday lives, Silverman acts as a much-needed digital skeptic, drawing out the resulting ideological shifts and questioning what these changes mean for society. The book presents a state of affairs that simultaneously provokes outrage, incredulity, and despair: notions of authenticity and selfhood as affected by Facebook, the economic and social effects of the so-called "sharing economy," digital serfdom, and what Silverman terms "the informational appetite" for raw dataSilverman is an optimist, though, and he provides numerous policy changes for readers to advocate, such as a digital bill of rights, a universal basic income, and regulation of data brokers. But the book also makes clear that with continued citizen inaction and apathy, tech companies led by cyber-libertarians and techno-utopians will continue to build a world with interests that don't match our own. Silverman proves himself an astute cultural critic as he addresses the complexity of the current moment in technology. Agent: Lauren Smythe, Inkwell Management. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Triumph of Genius: Edwin Land, Polaroid, and the Kodak Patent War

Ronald K. Fierstein. Ankerwycke (NBN, dist.), $35 (644p) ISBN 978-1-62722-769-8

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Edwin Land (1909–1991), founder of Polaroid Corp. and inventor of instant photography, was at the center of one of the most important technology-related legal battles in U.S. history. According to this dense book about Land's life, which was punctuated by Polaroid's patent war with Kodak, the idea for a camera capable of producing pictures within seconds of being taken came to Land in 1943 when his young daughter expressed disappointment at waiting for images to be developed. During a period of significant experimentation, Polaroid partnered with Eastman Kodak Company to produce film for its cameras. The friendly rivalry continued for years but slowly eroded as Polaroid's instant photography cameras gained greater commercial success. When Kodak entered the instant photography market in 1976, Polaroid sued for patent infringement in a case that lasted 15 years. Fierstein, whose work on Polaroid's legal team throws his objectivity into question, provides a blow-by-blow account of the case, as well as its extensive backstory. American law enthusiasts will admire Fierstein's meticulous research and analytical prose; the relentless barrage of details, however, is sure to overwhelm lay readers. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Samurai and the Culture of Japan's Great Peace

Fabian Drixler, William D. Fleming, and Robert George Wheeler. Yale Univ., $27.50 (128p) ISBN 978-1-933789-03-3

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This ambitious book sets out to chronicle the Takugawa period in Japanese history, a 250-year era of uninterrupted peace, using 150 objects housed in the Japan Collection of the Peabody Museum. Encompassing a variety of artifacts—arms and armor, musical instruments, religious iconography, and printed works—the book offers a well rounded, easy-to-understand primer on Japanese art and aesthetics. While dealing primarily with the material culture of the samurai, the authors step outside the bounds of that exclusive group and also present the ways that the samurai, who by this time were largely administrators, retained the air of a warrior class during an enduring era of peace. The book deals with a great many subjects, some of which lack depth. Buddhism, for example, gets a scant two pages. While some of the more obscure objects (a sea urchin helmet or illustrated texts prohibiting infanticide) will mostly satisfy more studied readers, this book is best suited for an audience new to the material culture of pre-modern Japan. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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In God's Hands: The Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent Book, 2015

Desmond Tutu. Bloomsbury, $23 (160p) ISBN 978-1-62040-976-3

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The book is small, the print large, and the white space plentiful, but the message is not negligible. The alternately gritty and soothing content nourishes the reader. Tutu (Made for Goodness) weaves the vicious years of South Africa's apartheid throughout this meditation. He deftly balances past with present, drawing from history and the Bible, lacing his message with characteristic humor at human folly and righteous indignation at injustice. In the first part of the book, Tutu addresses the subversiveness of the Bible, the "complementarity" of family, and a God eternally biased toward love, love itself, and grace; he titles the last chapter, "In the Beginning, God; at the End, God." Each chapter ends with discussion questions. Attentive readers will find playful language and rich metaphor that links common language and biblical imagery. For example, he suggests that if humans, God's stewards, do not care for the planet, "it will be curtains for us," but, later, he recalls the biblical "curtain in the temple." Part two is a 2014 interview with Tutu. The archbishop's thoughts are, as ever, simply rendered but profound.(Jan.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Catch the Jew!

Tuvia Tenenbom. Gefen, $24.95 trade paper (484p) ISBN 978-965-229-798-3

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Those interested in the Middle East conflict gain an entirely new, surprising, and often disturbing insider's perspective of just how unlikely peace really is, in Tenenbom's remarkable six-month account of his journey to all corners of the Holy Land. Born in Israel to an ultra-orthodox family, Tenenbom (I Sleep in Hitler's Room) left to pursue a career in journalism and theater, living in Germany and the United States. Posing mostly as a German, he returns to Israel after 33 years with a plan to observe and experience the people, the culture, and the prospects for peace. Presenting himself as a German or an Israeli journalist, depending on the situation, he interacts with Haredim, Knesset members, Israeli media, Jews living in disputed areas, right and left-wing Israelis, Arab leaders, PLO leaders, Bedouins, European "peace researchers," and prostitutes. Tenenbom's conclusions, many of which he arrives at while playing his dangerous charade, are bone-chilling and disheartening. His riveting tale, chock full of unbelievable and hilarious encounters, is highly engaging and emotional, eminently readable, brutally honest, and likely the most uncensored and eye-opening report readers will see. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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All the Places You'll Go.... Except When You Don't

John Ortberg. Tyndale, $22.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4143-7900-5

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God provides many doors of opportunity, but how do we know which ones to walk through and which to leave shut? Instead of waiting for instructions, the answer might be as simple as choosing a door and walking through, according to Ortberg (The Life You've Always Wanted). The book's title is inspired by career advice gleaned from Dr. Seuss, and Ortberg weaves humor through his presentation. He details how people approach the doors God places in front of them (illustrations depict different styles of doors at the start of each chapter), giving tips on how to recognize them and walk through them or not. Ortberg insightfully challenges myths about what open doors mean and advises readers to be thankful for closed doors. What's behind a closed door might not be good for someone, or might require more personal or spiritual growth. Welcoming God across the threshold of the heart and asking for wisdom in making choices are the master keys to opening the door to life's blessings, Ortberg writes. Agency: Yates & Yates. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Gift of Shamanism: Visionary Power, Ayahuasca Dreams, and Journeys to Other Realms

Itzhak Beery. Inner Traditions/Destiny, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-62055-372-5

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Can dreams reveal future events? Can we prove that we have had past lives? Are spirit animals hovering to help us? Beery tells stories from his own shamanic experiences to invite readers into the mysterious world where spirit realms intersect with everyday life. As a self-described "atheist Jew who grew up in a communist kibbutz," he seems continually astounded by his own visionary and healing abilities. His questioning attitude make spirit helpers and flying through the air seem possible and maybe even likely. The book features cheerful, straightforward prose; a demeanor alternately awestruck and humorous; and simple, almost childlike vision paintings. A former ad man, Beery in his shamanic role rubs shoulders with businesspeople and celebrities as well as New Agers, and his open invitation to "unleash your inner modern-day shamanic powers, to ignite your natural intuition, and to become a shamanic warrior, one that learns to face your innermost fears and to act decisively to achieve your goals and dreams despite them" may appeal to a wider audience than more esoteric books in this genre. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 03/06/2015 | Details & Permalink

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