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Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire

Lori Brotto. Greystone (PGW, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-77164-235-4

University of British Columbia researcher and clinical psychologist Brotto’s first book written for a non-academic audience provides a career’s worth of advice on how the “15 to 31 percent of women experiencing lasting and distressing sexual complaints”—including low desire, satisfaction, and genital pain—can “explore [how] to make sex fabulous and fulfilling again.” She begins with a brief history of the diagnosis and treatment of sexual dysfunction in women, including an overview of the different therapies typically used to treat sexual dysfunction (such as cognitive behavioral therapy and medical interventions). Case histories illustrate the mindfulness-based interventions employed by Brotto’s team to help women overcome sexual dysfunction related to factors such as depression, stress, and the negative effects of habitual multitasking. Based on the premise that a satisfying sexual response is not a reflex and that two-way communication between brain and body is essential for sexual response, this guide provides several mindfulness exercises that “have been tested, critiqued, revised, tweaked, and tested again in hundreds of women,” as well as a list of resources. Although the book starts slowly, it is a practical and useful reference for readers interested in testing out Brotto’s approach of cultivating mindfulness as a therapy for sexual dysfunction. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Tears of the Black Man

Alain Mabanckou, trans. from the French by Dominic Thomas. Indiana Univ, $16 trade paper (86p) ISBN 978-0-253-03583-7

In this slender but intellectually dense collection of 12 essays, Franco-Congolese novelist Mabanckou (Black Moses) reveals and reshapes notions of black identity, arguing that in today’s global community, “identity goes far beyond notions of territory or blood.” In “The Identity Card,” which echoes the title of a novel by Ivory Coast poet Jean-Marc Adiaffi, Mabanckou explores the role of place and displacement in the creative process: “Only when the place in which you find yourself is so completely different to your ‘natural milieu’ will childhood memories come surging to the surface,” he observes. In “Bound to Violence,” Mabanckou revisits the controversies spurred by Yambo Ouloguem’s 1968 novel Le devoir de violence, which addressed the enslavement of Africans by Arabs and “African notables” before the arrival of the Europeans. Aspects of memoir figure into the essays here and there, such as in “A Negro in Paris,” which recounts a conversation with a black fitness instructor in Paris about black people in America. Mabanckou’s challenging perspective on African identity today is as enlightening as it is provocative. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago

Max Allan Collins and Brad A. Schwartz. Morrow, $27.99 (704p) ISBN 978-0-06-244194-2

Mystery writer Collins (The Bloody Spur) and historian Schwartz (Broadcast Hysteria) dutifully trace the lives of Al Capone (1899–1947) and his lawman nemesis, Eliot Ness (1903–1957), in Prohibition-era Chicago. Drawing on a trove of sources, including Ness’s scrapbooks, the authors look at the parallel arcs of these men in the 1920s and 1930s as Capone gained notoriety and status as Chicago’s greatest public enemy while Ness climbed the ranks of law enforcement to head a squad devoted to bringing Capone to justice. The general contours of this real-life drama are familiar, including the irony that Capone was eventually convicted of tax evasion, rather than the hundreds of murders he orchestrated; the authors add depth to their depiction of both men with colorful details such as the fact that, prior to becoming adversaries, Capone and Ness both lived on South Prairie Street for a period in 1923. Collins and Schwartz present a balanced view of the role of Ness in capturing Capone, which accounts such as Jonathan Eig’s Get Capone (2010) and Ken Burns and Lynn Novick’s documentary Prohibition (2011) have largely dismissed. The result is an informed and valuable addition to the numerous books about Capone and Ness. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Chernobyl: The History of a Nuclear Catastrophe

Serhii Plokhy. Basic, $30 (432p) ISBN 978-1-541-61709-4

An artful storyteller, Plokhy (Lost Kingdom), director of Harvard’s Ukrainian Research Institute, melds Kremlin politics, nuclear physics, and human frailty into this spellbinding account of the 1986 explosion and fire at Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station in Ukraine, which Soviet officials tried to deny and then attempted to downplay the extent of. Plokhy expertly guides readers through the Soviet military-industrial complex, exposing the rivalries and clashes among Communist Party bosses, government ministries, the KGB, and central planners whose “unrealistic demands” and “impossible deadlines” precipitated the disaster. The meltdown occurred during a holiday connected to Lenin’s birthday; Plokhy, with a Gogolian sense of irony, captures the air of celebration as radiation levels climb to hundreds of times above normal and the threat of a second explosion looms. Officials denied what was happening, the KGB cut telephone lines to keep news of the disaster from spreading, and the deaths of firefighters exposed to lethal doses of radiation in the months following the explosion were kept secret. Plokhy, who shares the opinion of many historians that Chernobyl’s meltdown was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union, documents the catastrophe and its effects on reemerging Ukrainian and Russian nationalism in this probing and sensitive investigative history. (May)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Molecule of More: How a Single Chemical in Your Brain Drives Love, Sex, and Creativity—and Will Determine the Fate of the Human Race

Daniel Z. Lieberman and Michael E. Long. BenBella, $26.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-946885-11-1

Love, sex, drugs, and artistic impulse are the subjects of this quirky book about “feel-good” dopamine by Lieberman, a professor at George Washington University, and Long, a speechwriter and lecturer at Georgetown University. Analyzing what “revs” desires, “illuminates our imagination,” and controls many neurotransmissions in the brain, the authors attribute many of the more intense human emotions—passion, self-confidence, and creative inspiration—to a cocktail of chemicals, dopamine being the most important; even political conviction gets linked to this molecule. The authors propose that people who are “dopaminergic,” or possess elevated levels of dopamine, in addition to being prone to divorce and mental illness, also tend to be creative and abstract thinkers, risk takers, and liberals. They go as far as to say that dopamine could have been responsible for ancestral migration across the Bering Strait, and caution that modern humans are in dopamine-induced overdrive, and perhaps headed toward destruction, thanks to humans’ vastly increased capacity for “gratifying our dopaminergic desires.” “In our minds, we are dopamine,” Lieberman and Long opine, and though the book does not really prove this, they do make an interesting case for how much of human behavior could be attributed to this one chemical. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Borrowed Time: Two Centuries of Booms, Busts, and Bailouts at Citi

James Freeman and Vern McKinley. Harper Business, $35 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-266987-2

There’s a lot more to the story of the bank that was “too big to fail” than the 2008 crisis—and it doesn’t look good, insist Freeman, assistant editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and McKinley, an attorney. Citigroup, the beneficiary of a “bailout culture” formed by an unhealthy relationship between Wall Street and Washington, secured aid by portraying itself as a helpless victim. The company’s long history, however, tells a different story: of a giant that has frequently floundered, yet has not just survived but, thanks to government intervention, profited off financial panics. The authors relate the long, fraught history of Citigroup since its early-19th-century origins, describing its incompetent early management, its pre-Depression CEO “Sunshine Charlie” Mitchell (who blithely found “no cause for alarm” regarding the stock market in 1928), and bailout-era CEO Vikram Pandit, who pleaded with federal officials, “Don’t give up on us.” Citi received $45 billion from the U.S. government, the most of any bank, but, Freeman and McKinley assert, its claim of being subject to circumstances beyond its control should have been received far more skeptically. This is the first book to focus on Citigroup’s handling of the 2008 financial crisis, and readers looking for new insight on the Great Recession will find much here. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Imagining Shakespeare’s Wife: The Afterlife of Anne Hathaway

Katherine West Scheil. Cambridge Univ., $24.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-108-40406-8

Scheil (She Hath Been Reading), an associate professor of English at the University of Minnesota, has not written a book about Shakespeare’s wife, but about the various myths surrounding Anne Hathaway and her relation to the Bard. Hathaway’s mark on the historical record is small, consisting of little more than her epitaph, her marriage license, a minor bequest in her husband’s last will, and her family cottage, preserved as a Shakespearean pilgrimage site up to the present day. This thin legacy, Scheil observes, has allowed anyone with an interest in Shakespeare’s life to interpret Hathaway according to an agenda, whether that means depicting her as a jealous and scheming shrew, a loyal and beloved partner, or the secret genius behind her husband’s fame. These fantasies are laid out in exacting detail, collected like pinned butterflies for the reader to peruse, with the inescapable conclusion that the only thing that can be said for sure about Hathaway and her relationship to Shakespeare is that their personal history is and will always be unknowable. Those with an academic interest will find this an excellent resource, but casual readers will find the lack of definitive conclusions frustrating. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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13 Days in Ferguson: A Memoir

Ronald Johnson, with Alan Eisenstock. Tyndale Momentum, $25.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-4964-1657-5

In this sonorous but narrowly focused memoir, the 2014 riots in Ferguson, Mo., following the police killing of Michael Brown rage while a black police official struggles to restore peace. Johnson, a Missouri Highway Patrol captain who grew up in Ferguson, was appointed commander of police units in Ferguson several days into the riot and tried to de-escalate the situation by cutting demonstrators slack, eschewing tear gas, and getting police to talk to protesters. By day he walked the streets listening to residents and urging calm, by night he coped with looting, arson, gunfire, and Molotov cocktails; his dovish approach earned plaudits from the media and activists, but resentment—and racial epithets—from cops who accused him of siding with rioters. Johnson foregrounds his own tribulations: he weeps and prays, holds fatherly heart-to-hearts with troubled youth, and makes pronouncements about people coming together. (“I feel a shift—an emotional, spiritual shift.... This shift comes from God,” he reports after speaking at a church.) His narrative of the rioting, taken largely from his press briefings, however, glosses over both the aggressive tactics used by local police and the property damage wrought by protesters. The result is more about the author’s soul-searching than the upheaval. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism, and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement

Matthew Horace and Ron Harris. Hachette, $27 (256p) ISBN 978-0-316-44008-0

The hidden dysfunctions in American policing are laid bare in this searching exposé. Horace, a former agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives and a CNN analyst, explores the “implicit bias” and overt racism that makes black people the targets of profiling, harassment, beatings, and unjustified gunfire from cops. He surveys a horrific litany of recent police killings of unarmed, unthreatening African-Americans, revisiting notorious cases like the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Mo. (he doesn’t opine about the killing, but probes the abusive ticketing of black citizens to drum up city revenue that preceded it and the leaving of Brown’s body in the street following it), and the Laquan McDonald shooting in Chicago, after which public outcry forced officials to release damning video evidence that revealed a police cover-up and led to an officer being indicted for murder. Horace adds his own fraught experiences: as an officer for 28 years, trying to defuse violent situations and almost getting shot by a white cop who assumed that he was a perp; as a civilian, getting mauled by a police dog and stopped, while driving, for spurious reasons that his white friends never experienced. Horace and coauthor Harris write sympathetically of the dilemmas of policing, but are uncompromising in their indictment of abuses. Horace’s street cred and hard-won insights make this one of the best treatments yet of police misconduct. Agent: Carol Mann, the Carol Mann Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Wisdom of No Escape

Pema Chödrön. Shambhala, $16.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-61180-605-2

Chödrön packs a wide range of explanations and practice suggestions into this accessible guide to Buddhist thought. Composed of 18 short lectures originally given in 1989 at a monastery in Nova Scotia, the book circles around the idea of accepting the process of enlightenment with gentleness. Rather than fighting against or constantly being discouraged by failures, Chödrön argues that one should lean into weaknesses and adjust practices based on individual needs. She articulates the middle way by urging students to not forgo all joy, and to balance the striving for nirvana with being fully present in samsara. Moments of humor and her own humanity provide comforting color to her teachings. Some sections, such as the rapid exposition on the four noble truths or the chapter on tonglen, presuppose an audience familiar with the basics, but even beginners will find useful tips on meditation and parables involving hiking up mountains, baking bread, making tea, and many other experiences simplify complicated ideas. This deceptively straightforward book is an excellent introduction to the thinking of a major Western Buddhist leader who gracefully bridges contemporary life with traditional practices. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/22/2018 | Details & Permalink

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