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The Dream of Zion: The Story of the First Zionist Congress

Lawrence J. Epstein. Rowman & Littlefield, $36 (176p) ISBN 978-1-4422-5466-4

In this interesting, if flawed, book, Judaica scholar Epstein (Converts to Judaism) traces the political and ideological paths Theodor Herzl and others took in convening the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. Epstein offers some background on Herzl and introduces readers to some of Herzl's ideological precursors. He quotes extensively from what he considers the best speech of the Congress, by the largely forgotten novelist Max Nordau, and highlights Herzl's decision to invite as guests a number of Christian Zionists, such as the Rev. William Hechler, chaplain of the British embassy in Vienna. However, Epstein's work contains contentious critiques, particularly in regards to " policy recommendations for the Arabs" then living in what became Israel. He also claims too much regarding the movement's significance ("The Zionist plan to redeem humanity was to provide for the world a model state"). While the book is clearly written and well-organized, Epstein's prose style lacks color and is less engaging than it might otherwise be. Nevertheless, his work makes for an informative introduction to an event that inaugurated modern Jewish political action. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War

Lukasz Kamienski. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (408p) ISBN 978-0-19-026347-8

"The use of drugs—more or less powerful, more or less organic—has been intrinsic to warfare," writes Kamienski, a political scientist at Poland's Jagiellonian University, in this fascinating examination of how warfare and intoxicants are inexorably intertwined. Kamienski illustrates the often vital role drugs have played in virtually every conflict since the ancient Greeks used opium prior to going into battle. Drugs and alcohol, he asserts, have real, practical value in terms of warfare. Drinking and drugging rituals help soldiers bond before and after engagements, gain confidence before combat, heal wounds and alleviate pain during and after the fighting, and forget about the horrors of war after combat ceases (and in some cases, medicate themselves long after they came home). Readers may be familiar with some topics, such as morphine's presence in the Civil War, marijuana and heroin in Vietnam, and Hitler's use of a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals, but they might be surprised to learn how some governments (including the U.S.) have incorporated pharmaceuticals into their war efforts by drugging their adversaries. It's an impressive and accessible deep dive into the topic, and though Kamienski doesn't spend much time examining the ramifications of this phenomenon in the post–Vietnam War era , it makes for a bracing and fascinating study. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His--and the Nation's--Prosperity

Edward G. Lengel. Da Capo, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-3068-2347-3

Lengel, director of the Washington Papers project at the University of Virginia, views a familiar subject through the unfamiliar lens of entrepreneurship, showing how the first American president set the nation on a course of prosperity. The book chronicles Washington's business affairs, from his near-obsessive financial ledgering as a teenager, to the windfall inheritance at age 20 that catapulted him solidly into Virginia's upper gentry, to his drawing up his will in the days preceding his death in 1799. Washington comes across as an ambitious opportunist, quickly seeking out and courting Martha, a wealthy widow, to beat out other potential suitors. Her late husband's substantial fortune, combined with his own inherited holdings, made him one of the most affluent men in Virginia. Washington made astute business decisions, including switching from tobacco to wheat production and grinding neighbors' wheat for a profit, along with missteps, such as a doomed plan to sell flour in the West Indies. Lengel also offers an enlightening examination of Washington's strategies as head of the Continental Army and later as president. While Lengel's argument that Washington was a master entrepreneur is not entirely convincing, he does provide an insightful look at a lesser-known aspect of this iconic figure. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Beast: Werewolves, Serial Killers, and Man-Eaters; The Mystery of the Monsters of the Gevaudan

Gustavo Sanchez Romero and S.R. Schwalb. Skyhorse, $24.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-63220-462-2

Examining of one of France's great unsolved mysteries, Sánchez Romero and Schwalb seek who or what was responsible for attacking more than 200 people, killing 90, between 1764 and 1767. The first victim was savaged while herding sheep, two months after a local had escaped from a creature that was "like a wolf, yet not a wolf." As the killings continued, some regarded them as a punishment from God for sinfulness. Significant bounties were posted, including one from King Louis XV, but whomever or whatever was responsible for the onslaught remained elusive. Following a final spree in 1767, the deaths stopped after a wolf-like beast was gunned down. The authors scrutinize the many theories as to what was actually responsible for the beast's rampage; some people speculated that a human agency was behind the killings—either a man disguised as a wolf who wanted to collect human heads, or someone acting in furtherance of a religious struggle—while the bulk of the latter sections of the book logically analyze animal suspects. This gripping and suspenseful account, which conjures up the intense fear of the period, is fascinating enough without embellishment, which makes the authors' choice to dramatize some of the encounters a puzzling one. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Way of the Gun: A Bloody Journey into the World of Firearms

Iain Overton. Harper, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-234606-3

Overton, a Peabody Award–winning British journalist and director of investigations at Action on Armed Violence, begins this engrossing, multifaceted study with some grim statistics. There are almost one billion guns worldwide, "more than ever before," and each year, about 12 billion bullets are produced and about 500,000 people shot dead. His investigative reporting takes him to more than 20 countries, with stops including Honduras, the world's worst place for gun violence per capita; a trauma unit in South Africa that largely handles gunshot wounds; Las Vegas, for the largest gun show on earth; Odessa, a center of gun smuggling; and Iceland, which has one of the world's lowest homicide rates despite its large number of shooting grounds. Along the way, he interviews an Israeli sniper, El Salvadoran gang members, a former child soldier in Liberia, and an American SWAT sharpshooter, among others. He also examines America's "remarkably unregulated" gun industry and shows how the NRA's lobbying extends even beyond the U.S. Overton's insightful commentary includes the observation that imposing new gun control laws without an accompanying shift in attitudes isn't going to be effective. This illuminating narrative about the life cycle of the gun is comprehensive, revealing, and timely. Antony Topping, Greene and Heaton (U.K.). (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Universe in your Hand: A Journey Through Space, Time, and Beyond

Christophe Galfard. Flatiron, $27.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-06952-8

In this entertaining and comprehensive book, science educator Galfard (George's Secret Key to the Universe, with Stephen and Lucy Hawking) blends physics lessons into a story of scientific discovery. He opens the book with cosmology, looking at signs of the universe's beginning and exploring gravity, general relativity, and special relativity. Galfard then plunges into the quantum world, illuminating the nature of atoms, subatomic particles, and the fields and forces that govern our universe. Having provided an exceptional foundation, Galfard further explores outer space, culminating in a discussion of the mysteries of gravity and quantum mechanics as well as a beautiful description of string theory. He follows an intuitive progression of thoughts and questions, elucidating his material with mindbending thought experiments. The deft and dazzling imagery makes difficult concepts accessible, streamlining the progression through topics and fulfilling Galfard's promise to "not leave any readers behind." The book is amazingly easy to get through, given the sheer number of concepts covered, and there is only one equation used. Galfard was mentored by Stephen Hawking and his familiarity with the material shows, as does the ease with which he conveys it. Readers looking to expand their knowledge of physics and cosmology will find everything they need here. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Threesome

Edited by Matthew Bright. Lethe, $15 trade paper (206p) ISBN 978-1-59021-294-3

Bright (The Myriad Carnival) delivers an erotic collection of all-male threesomes that boasts astonishing breadth and delightful verve. The 12 stories cover a variety of territory. The first of the anthology's three sections opens with N.S. Beranek's touching and gentle "Call for Submission," in which a writer and his partner experiment with inviting a stranger into their bedroom and, in the process, rekindle their passion for each other. Another highlight of the section is Lawrence Jackson's "The Big Match," a hilarious epistolary story of two men using an upcoming soccer match as cover for their illicit hookup. The second section of the anthology is racier and less tender, opening with Dale Chase's "Dr. Dave," in which a longstanding relationship's flaws come to a head in the course of the couple's weekend encounter with their dentist. The final section contains four speculative stories with unambitious but solid fantastical elements; the best of these is Jerry L. Wheeler's surreal and unsettling "Strawberries," the tale of a land developer's doomed encounter with local farmer who won't sell. This powerful anthology unambiguously marks Bright as an editor to watch. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Take It as a Compliment

Maria Stoian. Singing Dragon, $24.95 (100p) ISBN 978-1-84905-697-7

These twenty true stories of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault illustrated in comics form by Stoian are haunting, infuriating, and, while sadly all-too-familiar, powerful testaments of survival. In her graphic novel debut, illustrator Stoian is an art chameleon, adapting her style and use of color to each story. In the tale of a young girl groped on the subway, passengers are in plain black-and-white, while the hands reaching for her are rendered in nauseous greens and oranges. Stark black lines give way to sketchy pencils in a story of betrayal, and garish blocks of color depict a wordless story where the potential for danger looms as frighteningly as in any horror movie. Stories from women and men, submitted anonymously online or told to Stoian in interviews, reveal the many ways predators–strangers, friends, and intimate partners alike–take advantage of others' vulnerabilities. Included at the end is a guide to how to support survivors, get help as a survivor, and spot and intervene in instances of harassment or abuse. Eye-opening and lyrical. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Empty Zone, Vol. 1

Jason Shawn Alexander. Image Comics, $9.99 (136p) ISBN 978-1-63215-548-1

With this series, Alexander makes a major departure—both aesthetically, and in terms of scope—from his previous work on books such as Abe Sapien: The Drowning and Queen & Country. Alexander's comics writing debut, drawing upon an idea he had as a teenager, stars Corinne White, a woman with peculiar technological powers who is haunted by ghosts from her past. When the souls of Corinne's dead friends are enslaved by a deranged billionaire, she's drawn back into the life that scarred her many years ago. Alexander weaves a lively near-future SF tale of industrial espionage and bioengineering, but his art truly places this book ahead of the pack, as he experiments with a style that resembles a mash-up of the most bizarre aspects of Ben Templesmith and Dave McKean's moody expressionist work. One scene in particular, in which a spirit is torn from its cadaver, brings chills to the marrow with its use of sharp contrasting color and eerie lettering. Corinne's character arc is somewhat abridged, but it's clear that she has further lessons to be learned in future volumes. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Yowamushi Pedal, Vol. 1

Wataru Watanabe. Yen, $24 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-30952-3

Watanabe (Train Man) personifies the Japanese flair for taking the most mundane of pursuits—fishing, cooking, etc.—and transforming them into epically melodramatic manga. Here he gives bicycle racing the graphic aggrandizement treatment, and it works to spectacular effect despite being framed in yet another narrative featuring the tropey tribulations of an awkward high schooler. Nebbishy otaku Sakamichi Onoda's daily 90-kilometer rides over steep slopes on a "mommy bike" have unexpectedly rendered him a formidable cyclist, which catches the attention of some highly-skilled cycling enthusiasts. It's the same "loser gains glory in a specific field of endeavor" yarn that readers have seen a million times, but Watanabe's jaw-dropping depictions of high-speed, stamina-testing bike racing set this effort head and shoulders above others. The dynamic imagery and copious speed lines place the reader right in the middle of the action, feeling the strain of muscles and the burn of lactic acid. Unremarkable in every other way, this series is saved by the world-class frisson provided by its racing sequences. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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