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Blood in the Water: The Attica Prison Uprising of 1971 and Its Legacy

Heather Ann Thompson. Pantheon, $35 (752p) ISBN 978-0-375-42322-2

Thompson (Whose Detroit?), a University of Michigan historian with expertise in mass incarceration, brilliantly exposes the realities of the Attica prison uprising, in which 43 prisoners and guards were killed. Writing with cinematic clarity from meticulously sourced material, Thompson describes the uprising and its causes as well as the violent retaking of the prison grounds by police and correction officers. These events form the backdrop for the decades-long tale of New York State's cynical, politically driven prosecutions of inmates caught in the uprising, and the state's parallel effort to suppress attempts to expose the criminal conduct of law enforcement during and after the suppression of the rebellion. Thompson unmasks the government misconduct that delayed reparations for both inmates and correction officer hostages who were killed or wounded by law enforcement during the chaotic events. The excruciating detail underscores the dangers of governmental abuse of power. As the long drama unfolds many heroes arise, including members of the truth-seeking press and the lawyers who doggedly helped the unpopular inmates to secure a $12 million settlement. The villains include venal prosecutors and politicians who engaged in a classic cover-up. Thompson's superb and thorough study serves as a powerful tale of the search for justice in the face of the abuses of institutional power. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/26/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life

Henri J. M. Nouwen, edited by Gabrielle Earnshaw. Convergent, $24 (384p) ISBN 978-1-101-90635-4

This invaluable collection of over 200 letters by the late Nouwen (The Wounded Healer), a beloved author, pastor, and priest, provides insight into his personal struggles, insecurities, and faith and offers the heartfelt guidance Nouwen shared so generously with individuals to a wide audience. After the introduction by inspirational speaker Brené Brown, Earnshaw, Nouwen's archivist, divides the letters into three sections: 1973–1985, when Nouwen taught at Yale and Harvard's divinity schools; 1986–1989, when he served as pastor at L'Arche Daybreak, a community north of Toronto that's home to disabled people and their assistants; and 1990–1996, during which he published 11 new books, lectured, and traveled extensively until his death. Brief introductions to each letter give context and inform the reader of Nouwen's relationship with his many correspondents, who include personal friends, colleagues, students, clergy, scholars, critics, readers of his books, grieving parents, and politicians. The courage and kindness with which Nouwen shares his vulnerabilities and honest feelings, combined with his willingness to provide direction, advice, companionship, and affection, ensure that Nouwen's legacy as inspired spiritual guide will continue, enhanced by this testimony to his sincere desire to live with gratitude, faith, and love. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Because of Bethlehem: Love Is Born, Hope Is Here

Max Lucado. Thomas Nelson, $19.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-8499-4759-9

Inspirational storyteller and bestselling author Lucado puts a fresh spin on the birth of Jesus. Focused on God's undiscriminating love for all, Lucado blends present-day holiday traditions with the biblical account of Christ's birth. He describes the many ways he personally loves and appreciates the Christmas tradition and then details the stresses that accompany this season. In 12 emotionally charged chapters, readers will hear of the hope and joy found Lucado finds in the Christmas message. Lucado, never one to shy away from the brutal aspects of human lives, offers readers a resounding affirmation of joy that seeks to help readers overcome difficult events such as divorce and grief. Readers will also enjoy a week-by-week Advent study provided at the end of the text for deeper personal reflection. Included here are scripture readings, questions for reflections, Advent prayer, Advent practice, an Advent hymn, and related quotations from prominent historical figures. According to Lucado, there is solid reason for hope, and the birth of Jesus proves it. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Street Philosopher & The Holy Fool: A Syrian Journey

Marius Kociejowski. Eland, $35 (308p) ISBN 978-1-78060-072-7

This reprinted 2004 travelogue is an intriguing narrative of the author's adventures in and around Syria in the early 2000s, including sojourns in Antioch, Aleppo, and Damascus. Kociejowski centers his story on two friends in Damascus, Abed and Sulayman, and his conversations with them over the course of multiple trips to the city. Kociejowski also narrates a number of side trips, including to the monastery of Deir Mar Musa, the house of a stigmatic in Damascus, and the purported site of Abel's murder. The main thrust of the book concerns Kociejowski's interest in mystic spirituality within modern Islam, particularly the titular roles of holy fool and street philosopher. Sulayman and Abed, presented respectively as representatives of these types, introduce Kociejowski to others. The story of the three men's friendship could very easily come across as exploitative, but it's saved by Kociejowski's self-consciousness and evident interest in doing more listening than talking (or writing). It is difficult at times to say what the point of the book is—a tourist diary? The story of a tripartite friendship?—and Kociejowski is not immune to couching the occasional description in rather Orientalist terms. However, his interest in the people and things around him comes through as genuine and unpretentious, and, as the book continues, the clichés drop away. Kociejowski has since written a sequel, The Pigeon Wars of Damascus, for those who wish to pursue the story further. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sacred Bliss: A Spiritual History of Cannabis

Mark Ferrara. Rowman & Littlefield, $34 (200p) ISBN 978-1-4422-7191-3

Ferrara examines how cannabis has informed the history of religions, tracing this history geographically to show the ways that Indians, Middle Easterners, Chinese, Africans, and Native Americans have variously incorporated cannabis as a psychoactive, medicinal, or textile plant throughout most of human history. In addition to Rastafarians, religious users include Zoroastrian mystics, Muslim Sufis, and Native American shamans, who relied on the drug to achieve experiences that blurred distinctions between self and other. Casting such experiences as central to religious expression, Ferrara suggests that cannabis can provide mystical experiences for many who cannot achieve them otherwise. He provides significant context to understanding the religious traditions he discusses, a helpful move to ensure that cannabis appears as an ancillary rather than central component. His final chapter on the Euro-American literary connection to cannabis feels slightly out of place, but shows that experimentation with the substance has a long history in the West. The work remains mostly analytic, but his afterword moves slightly toward arguing for increased legalization of cannabis. After laying out the history of potential spiritual benefits, this convincing conclusion provides a quiet rationale for more openness and a return to cannabis use as a spiritual practice. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Nine of Us: Growing Up Kennedy

Jean Kennedy Smith. HarperCollins, $29.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-244422-6

Smith is the last remaining child of Joseph and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, and her tender memoir recounts the family's early home life. Smith is the former U.S. ambassador to Ireland and a founder of VSA, an international organization providing arts and education opportunities for people with disabilities. Her narrative takes readers back in time to the 1930s–1950s, when the now nearly mythic Kennedy family consisted of two devoted parents and their nine children. Smith includes a chapter on the prejudice against the Irish that Smith's great-grandparents experienced, and their subsequent rise within Boston society. She concludes her narrative as her brother Jack becomes the president of the United States. In between, Smith divulges domestic routines and rules; chronicles the family's love of the ocean and sports, especially touch football, sailing, and tennis; and explores her mother's insistence upon "cultivation of the mind" and learning about the world. Conversations during family dinners focused on current events or history. Smith sprinkles numerous family photos and quotes throughout the narrative, providing additional dimension. This is a sweet and loving look back at the Kennedy family, written from the perspective of a daughter as well as a sister. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Chasing Portraits: A Great-Granddaughter's Quest for Her Lost Art Legacy

Elizabeth Rynecki. NAL, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-1-101-98766-7

The author's earnest description of her search for her ancestor's lost art lacks the depth to make it speak to a larger audience. In the fall of 1939, with the Luftwaffe bombarding Warsaw, painter Moshe Rynecki (the author's great-grandfather) packed his life's work—around 800 images of Jewish life in Poland—into a half-dozen bundles to be left with friends, "until things settle down." Six years later, Moshe, the friends, and most of the pictures had disappeared. His widow managed to find one cache in a basement; after many ups and downs, it ended up in Northern California, where it inspired the author's quest. The first quarter of the book is based largely on autobiographical vignettes by Rynecki's grandfather George, previously published in 2005 as Surviving Hitler in Poland. The rest of the book follows her stumbling decades-long pursuit of Moshe's lost works. This is not a story of looted art; Moshe's work was not stolen but deserted, in a city that was almost entirely destroyed. She tries to "bring [the story] to life" through the awkward device of recreated dialogue. She clearly feels her loss, weeping at each reminder, but had she dug deeper into Warsaw's language, history, and culture, she could have brought Moshe's world to life and made the destruction of it much more affecting for the reader. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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15 Years of War: How the Longest War in U.S. History Affected a Military Family in Love, Loss, and the Cost of Service

Kristine Schellhaas. Life Publishing, $16.95 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-0-9970908-0-2

First-time author Schellhaas presents a moving memoir of her life with her husband, Ross, whom she met while he was in the Marine Reserves; they married after he became an active-duty Marine in 2001. This detailed "glimpse into military family life" starts after Ross is deployed to Iraq after the events of 9/11. She not only captures the struggles of a military spouse—"I had to get used to eating alone, sleeping alone, and managing pretty much everything without him"—but also the shared troubles of her extended military family: "There was nothing worse for us than seeing on television the hardships our husbands were dealing with, knowing we couldn't do a single thing about any of it." The couple experience the joy of childbirth as well as the accidental death of one of their young sons, about which Schellhaas is brutally honest: "Going forward, I would have to choose either forgiveness or resentment and anger. It would be a decision I'd need to make every single day." The success of their marriage over time—as well as her founding of the USMC Life website to "inspire, connect, and educate" other military families—gives this heartfelt memoir a happy ending. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Stat Shot

Rob Vollman, with Tom Awad and Iain Fyffe. ECW (Perseus/Legato, U.S. dist.; Jaguar Book Group, Canadian dist.), $17.95 trade paper (360p) ISBN 978-1-77041-309-2

Hockey analysts and sportswriters Vollman, Awad, and Fyffe compile an informative but dense guide to hockey analytics for fans looking to enhance their predictive skills. The authors explain statistics such as shot-based and possession metrics, expected save percentage, goals versus salary, goals versus threshold, and shot-quality neutral save percentage. The book offers various models intended as tools to predict hockey success in a wide range of areas and to help settle perennial hockey questions such as who is the best draft pick or best goalie. It includes some provocative takes on the best way to build a team and predicting the future success of junior players. Readers will need to absorb an extensive array of statistical notions, formulas, and figures probably more suited to hockey executives and coaches than the average fan. This is a passionate account of the merits of hockey analytics, but fans are more likely to use it as a reference guide to particular statistics than to read and digest it cover to cover. Agent: Brian J. Wood. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Color and Vision: The Evolution of Eyes and Perception

Steve Parker. Firefly, $24.95 (127p) ISBN 978-1-77085-829-9

In this richly illustrated book, veteran science author Parker (Evolution: The Whole Story) details the evolution of vision over billions of years via the development of multiple types of eyes. Light is essential to vision, as it allows eyes to detect colors, shapes, and patterns—signals that the brain receives and makes into conscious awareness via the "mind's eye." Parker provides a guided tour of animal eyes in five concise chapters. "An eye should be capable of receiving, responding to, and comparing light rays coming from different directions to form an image," he writes, distinguishing the organ from other light-sensing organs. The evolution of image-forming eyes accelerated some 541 to 485 million years ago, during the evolutionary bonanza called the Cambrian explosion. Parker discusses the ways that eyes have used light over time, covering the multitude of eyes found in the animal kingdom with references that include stingrays, mammals, arachnids, and mollusks. Light and vision helped species develop fantastic natural colors and traits such as mimicry, depth perception, and camouflage. Beautiful, full-color photographs accompany this accessible book, which is recommended for anyone interested in science and evolution. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/19/2016 | Details & Permalink

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