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Walk in My Combat Boots: True Stories from America’s Bravest Warriors

James Patterson and Matt Eversmann, with Chris Mooney. Little, Brown, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-316-42909-2

Bestseller Patterson (Deadly Cross) and retired U.S. Army Ranger Eversmann gather firsthand accounts from veterans, most of whom served in Iraq or Afghanistan, to deliver a vivid and authentic portrait of life in the modern military. Many of the soldiers profiled are children of career military men and were spurred into action by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Their specialties range from helicopter door gunner to dentist (Maj. Gen. Ron Silverman fixed Saddam Hussein’s broken tooth after he was captured in 2003). Recurring themes include the shock of entering a war zone, the experience of losing a friend, and battles with alcohol, drugs, and PTSD. Contributors express mixed feelings about their Afghan and Iraqi allies, doubts about the prospects for long-term stability (“Iraqi culture isn’t wired for democracy”), respect for their foes (“The enemy is smart, coming up with ingenious ways to blow us up”), and pride in their service. Some stories make clear that the technologies allowing for easier communications with the home front than in previous wars also bring immediate access to family dysfunctions. Though the loose structure and lack of transitions from one soldier’s story to the next can be disorienting, the overall effect is powerful. This edifying collection captures the highs and lows of the military experience. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Black Magic: What Black Leaders Learned from Triumph and Trauma

Chad Sanders. Simon & Schuster, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-982104-22-1

Screenwriter Sanders debuts with a series of candid and informative interviews with Black professionals, exploring how they achieved success. A former Google employee, Sanders recalls trying to “emulate whiteness,” before discovering that his job performance improved when he stopped pretending to be someone else. He posits that the “Black experience... provides a set of skills and tactics that can lead to victories in business, art, and science,” a theory borne out in these conversations. Ed Bailey, a sports agent and Silicon Valley executive coach, speaks to the importance of stepping out of one’s comfort zone when it comes to working in unfamiliar environments. Dr. Lynn McKinley-Grant, a Harvard-educated dermatologist, provides insight on maintaining confidence in the face of white privilege, while Jewel Burks Solomon recalls being told she needed a “non-Black person” to join her start-up company before venture capitalists would invest in it. Teacher and civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson explains how educators can make course material more relevant for nonwhite students. Though the tech industry is more heavily represented than other fields, Sanders explores a broad range of issues related to the Black experience. This inspirational account offers useful lessons on how “power can be derived from trauma and suffering.” (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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New York, New York, New York: Four Decades of Success, Excess and Transformation

Thomas Dyja. Simon & Schuster, $30 (544p) ISBN 978-1-9821-4978-9

Modern Gotham has recovered its glitter, but lost its moral compass and its soul, according to this kaleidoscopic history. Novelist and urban historian Dyja (The Third Coast) surveys New York’s 35 years from near bankruptcy in the 1970s through budget cuts and fiscal stabilization under mayor Ed Koch, plummeting crime and rising racial tensions under Rudolph Giuliani, and renewed wealth and visionary swagger under Michael Bloomberg. In each municipal advance, Dyja locates a loss: intensified policing brought harassment of minority communities, big-box stores bankrupted neighborhood shops, Wall Street booms and burgeoning artists’ lofts sparked gentrification that drove out the working class, and Disneyfied redevelopment extinguished Times Square’s squalid glamour. Dyja’s omnivorous curiosity takes in city bureaucracies, investment bankers, neighborhood activists, literati lunching at Elaine’s, hip-hop impresarios, and downtown artists. Dyja shapes it all into a cogent narrative studded with pithy insights and vivid profiles. (“Damp and vampiric, Giuliani was miserable on the stump [during the 1989 mayoral campaign], inexperienced and off-putting with the tentative humanity of a priest in street clothes.”) Dyja’s exhaustive knowledge of the era, dazzling prose, and all-embracing sympathy—and scorn when it’s merited—make for a stimulating study of New York’s never-ending upheaval. Agent: Lisa Bankoff, ICM Partners. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Bronze Seeks Silver: Lessons from a Creative Career in Marketing

Mat Zucker. Cidiot, $14.99 trade paper (178p) ISBN 978-1-64999-726-5

“Every entry on a résumé has a lesson,” writes Zucker in his debut, an upbeat memoir of his career in advertising. In 1992, he turned down his first job offer, from Antiques magazine, because the magazine “wasn’t cool.” He went on to learn the ropes at FCB, an ad agency where his youthful enthusiasm clashed with reality—his work on an egg-replacer ad, he learned from a superior, was “not delicious.” Zucker writes of the years he spent at ad house Ogilvy, where he rose from freelancer to associate creative director before being laid off in 2012. Though he sets out to “punctuate each period of [his] career with at least one solid lesson,” his advice only comes in the last few pages of the book: he encourages readers to innovate and to “learn from others and pass it on.” Still, readers get to see how the sausage is made as Zucker counters glamorous notions of the advertising world (“What you probably don’t immediately think of are twenty-foot Christmas displays at strip mall liquor stores”). Those looking for an insider’s take on the advertising world will find much to appreciate. (Self-published.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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James Baldwin’s Another Country: Bookmarked

Kim McLarin. IG, $14.95 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-1-63246-121-6

Novelist McLarin (Jump at the Sun) reflects on the personal and creative inspiration she has found in Another Country, James Baldwin’s 1962 novel, in this discerning work of criticism. “Another Country is a novel about fear and love and innocence and masculinity and white supremacy and anti-blackness and also about the ways sexuality intersects with all of those things,” McLarin writes. McLarin unveils the complexities of the novel’s central archetypes: Ida, the strong Black woman suffering from “the lack of Black female connection,” and Rufus, who “made the fatal mistake of believing what white people say about him.” McLarin is both generous and critical of Baldwin, acknowledging the undercurrents of misogyny in his writing, and is an astute and sensitive reader. Her introspective study is filled with insight about interracial love (“Of the three interracial couples in Another Country, two are doomed from the start”), “the fantasies” of American masculinity, and the importance of Black sisterhood (as Ida navigates “the treacherous waters of America without sisters at her side). Baldwin fans will be delighted by this fresh take. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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In Search of Mycotopia: Citizen Science, Fungi Fanatics, and the Untapped Potential of Mushrooms

Doug Bierend. Chelsea Green, $24.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-60358-979-6

Journalist Bierend introduces readers to a worldwide community that revolves around fungi in this comprehensive and enthusiastic debut. “If I am any kind of -ist at all,” Bierend writes, “it is a generalist” when it comes to fungi, and here he aims to prove that one does need to be an “expert” to “do beautiful things with and about fungi.” Readers join the author on an eye-opening tromp through the woods in search of mushrooms of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and follow him on trips to mushroom festivals (among them, the Telluride Mushroom Festival, held since 1980). Bierend peers into the dark side of fungi (such as poisonous “death caps”) and explains “microdosing” on psychedelic mushrooms, a practice he suggests is de rigueur in the technology industry. Though at times technical, Bierend’s survey offers glimpses into mushroom-centric communities across the globe: He visits the POC Fungi Community at an event in the Adirondacks and writes of a group in Ecuador attempting to use fungi to treat cancer. Beyond merely being edible, Bierend writes, mushrooms’ “most promising power” is their ability to “bring people together, and to shift perspectives.” This fascinating, informative look into a unique subculture and the fungi at its center is a real treat. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Fans: How Watching Sports Makes Us Happier, Healthier, and More Understanding

Larry Olmsted. Algonquin, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-61620-846-2

Journalist Olmsted (Real Food/Fake Food) dives into the benefits of sports fandom in this ambitious if flat narrative. Drawing on the research of Daniel L. Wann, a psychology professor at Murray State University, Olmsted asserts that false stereotypes—such as “the corpulent lazy guy” sitting on the couch, or “the screaming, face painted, jersey-wearing maniac”—abound, when in reality, he writes, fandom helps to meet basic psychological needs, such as “higher self-esteem, less bouts of depression, less alienation; more friends; and higher levels of trust.” He also discusses how sports can heal communities, citing how fans of the Las Vegas Golden Knights found a kind of solace in the hockey team’s success after the mass shooting at the city’s 2017 Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. As Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman told Olmsted, “The pain was so deep.... Then for the Golden Knights to have that season and start the healing process, the timing was incredible.” Olmsted’s points, individually, are intriguing, but the author hits home over and over again his premise that sports fans are more than just jersey-wearing followers, resulting in a fairly one-note and monotonous narrative. This isn’t one to stand up and cheer for. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Looking to Get Lost: Adventures in Music and Writing

Peter Guralnick. Little, $30 (272p) ISBN 978-0-31641-262-9

Music critic Guralnick (Sam Phillips; Last Train to Memphis) digs into his extensive archives in this revealing collection of musician profiles and personal essays. “Many of the subjects of this book,” he writes, “are people that I’ve known for years—in a number of cases, I’ve simply written new profiles of artists that I have written about before.” In “Living with the Blues,” he and Eric Clapton discuss a shared appreciation for blues legend Robert Johnson, and Clapton’s experience of the blues scene in early 1960s London. In “Meeting Chuck Berry,” Guralnick details his first, starstruck introduction to the musical genius, while “I Will Rock and Roll with You” and “’Til I Can Make It on My Own” chronicle time he spent with Johnny Cash and Tammy Wynette, respectively. In the title essay, Guralnick turns his gaze inward (“how do you avoid repetition, how do you keep from tangling up in the web of your own words and ideas?”). “My Father, My Grandfather, and Ray Charles” is a particularly strong reflection on how his family shaped his interest in writing. Guralnick’s prose remains lyrical throughout, yet never becomes overwrought. These stirring essays will inspire music enthusiasts of all ages. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective

Paul Martineau and Susan Ehrens. Getty, $50 (256p) ISBN 978-1-60606-675-1

Getty Museum photography curator Martineau and historian Ehrens (A Poetic Vision) succeed marvelously in their mission to “update, reevaluate, and celebrate” the groundbreaking work of the early feminist photographer Imogen Cunningham (1883–1976). The lavishly illustrated volume features more than 200 color plates and 186 pages of stunningly reproduced illustrations, with text that draws on Cunningham’s correspondence, journals, and previously unpublished interviews. In a novel turn, the authors shed light on Cunningham’s thoughts on the “stress of being in a male-dominated profession” and the fact that “Cunningham felt disparaged by some of her male colleagues” who “downplayed her talent and influence.” Born in Portland, Ore., Cunningham started taking photographs after seeing Gertrude Kasebier’s work, and later apprenticed with Native American photographer Edward S. Curtis before studying in Germany. She returned to Seattle in 1910, worked as a portrait photographer while raising a family, and in 1920 began selling the nude, botanical, and modernist images for which she became famous. The narrative is strongest when describing how Cunningham kept afloat financially after her 1934 divorce (shooting for Vanity Fair, continuing to make portraits, and teaching) before finally earning international acclaim in the 1960s. This standout offering impresses on every page. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Don: The Story of Toronto’s Infamous Jail

Lorna Poplak. Dundurn, $21.99 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4597-4596-4

Historian Poplak (Drop Dead: A Horrible History of Hanging in Canada) delivers a brisk study of Toronto’s Don Jail from its origins as a progressive-minded reformatory in the late 19th century to its reputation as Ontario’s “Black Hole of Calcutta” in the 20th century and reopening as a rehabilitation hospital in 2013. Poplak contends that the shift from an ethos of reform to one of punishment in the early 1900s helped to remake the prison’s culture for the worse. He profiles inmates, guards, and prison officials, including George Headley Basher, a “very strict disciplinarian” who oversaw the Don from 1919 to 1931 and viewed corporal punishment (he preferred to call it “spanking”) as “the only way to control violent and defiant prisoners.” Poplak also details numerous escape attempts, riots, and executions, and tracks the deterioration of conditions due to overcrowding. Inquests and grand jury investigations into repeated incidents of brutality became de rigueur at the Don, but the original jail remained in use until 1977, when penal reforms across Canada (which included an abolition of the death penalty) led to its closure. (An east wing built in the 1950s continued to house prisoners until 2013). Poplak’s blow-by-blow account drags in places, but she is a dogged researcher with an eye for telling details. Canadian history buffs will savor the arcane criminal lore gathered here. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/11/2020 | Details & Permalink

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