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Mergers and Acquisitions: Or, Everything I Know About Love I Learned on the Wedding Pages

Cate Doty. Putnam, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-19044-9

Journalist Doty’s boisterous debut combines memoir with a behind-the-scenes look at the New York Times style section and a survey of modern marriage trends. Soon after graduating from UNC in 2002, Doty, who “loved nothing more... than playing dress-up in my mom’s homemade wedding dress” as a girl, landed a job writing wedding announcements for the Times. Doty tracks the evolution of the paper’s society pages from the appearance of the first wedding announcement in 1851 to the first inclusion of a same-sex couple in 2012, shares details of the selection process (announcements typically chosen for publication are “chronicle[s] of power”), and describes the awkwardness of fact-checking the backgrounds of marquee couples whose announcements were set to appear “above the fold.” Throughout, she interweaves biographical details about her childhood in the South, reflects on how the institution of marriage has changed as a result of women’s empowerment, and offers an intimate look at the ups and downs of her love life in New York City and her own marriage (which was announced by the Times in 2010). Laced with frank reflection and entertaining anecdotes, this is a winning portrait of love and ambition in the 21st century. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Gun, The Ship and the Pen: Warfare, Constitutions and the Making of the Modern World

Linda Colley. Liveright, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-0-87140-316-2

Constitutions were not just records of political change and consolidation but historical objects and agents in their own right, according to this probing study. Princeton historian Colley (The Ordeal of Elizabeth Marsh) surveys dozens of constitutions from the 18th through the 20th centuries, including the 1755 constitution written by Corsican independence leader Pasquale Paoli, the 1889 Japanese constitution, and the 1838 constitution of Pitcairn Island (settled in 1790 by nine HMS Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian companions), one of the first charters to grant women the vote. Colley attributes the spread of constitutions to the rising scale and cost of trans-oceanic warfare, which led to crises that required governments to concede rights and political participation to their subjects. Print culture then spread the “new constitutional technology” around the world to inspire reformers—the 1790s, the author notes, saw a craze for amateur constitution-writing—and serve as sacred texts dissidents could rally around in their battles against oppressive states. Copiously researched and elegantly written, Colley’s treatise goes beyond the usual Anglo-American focus of constitutional history to show the global impact of the constitutionalist movement. The result is a fresh and illuminating take on these still-living documents. Photos. Agent: Michael Carlisle, InkWell Management. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Let the Record Show: A Political History of ACT UP New York, 1987-1993

Sarah Schulman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $40 (736p) ISBN 978-0-374-18513-8

Novelist and AIDS activist Schulman (Maggie Terry) recounts the successes and failures of the New York chapter of the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) in this fine-grained history. Drawing on interviews with 188 members of ACT UP New York, Schulman showcases the diverse array of people who worked to raise awareness about AIDS, and notes their simultaneous involvement in related issues including homelessness, gender inequity in medicine, and needle exchange programs. She also explains how ACT UP New York leveraged an “inside/outside” strategy in which some members worked collaboratively with politicians and health officials while others created dramatic acts of protest, such as the 1989 infiltration of the New York Stock Exchange, when seven activists handcuffed themselves to a banister in a VIP balcony and threw fake hundred-dollar bills onto the trading room floor to pressure a pharmaceutical company to lower the $10,000-per-year price tag of the AIDS medication AZT. Readers less familiar with ACT UP may wish for a clearer explanation of its organizational structure and more narrative cohesion than Schulman provides. Still, her firsthand perspective and copious details provide a valuable testament to the courage and dedication of many unheralded activists. (May)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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First Steps: How Upright Walking Made Us Human

Jeremy DeSilva. Harper, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-293849-7

Paleanthropologist DeSilva (A Most Interesting Problem) takes readers on a brisk jaunt through the history of bipedalism. Humans are the only living mammals to walk upright, the author notes, and in exploring how and why, he reveals what the fossil record says about the history of human evolution, migration, and social organization. “Homo erectus almost certainly moved in and out of Africa in pulses” rather than in one big wave, for example, and he describes various primate fossils that led to new discoveries in bipedalism, including those of Lucy, a 3.2-million-year-old skeleton whose bones confirmed “bipedalism appeared early in our evolutionary history.” DeSilva argues bipedalism is a “prerequisite for changes that define our species” as it freed up hands for tool-making, and investigates its implications on modern human life, including the creative benefits of walking and the complications it introduces into giving birth. DeSilva’s love of fossil discovery and of collaborating with colleagues comes through in the wonder he experiences in examining bones firsthand: “Light reflected from it as if it were a geode, not an ancient human fossil. I hadn’t expected Taung to be so beautiful.” DeSilva’s ability to turn anatomical evidence into a focused tale of human evolution and his enthusiasm for research will leave readers both informed and uplifted. Agent: Esmond Harmsworth, Aevitas Creative Management. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Holding Back the River: The Struggle Against Nature on America’s Waterways

Tyler J. Kelley. Avid Reader, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-8704-9

Journalist Kelley debuts with an illuminating look at the people and policies working to tame America’s rivers. Kelley’s focus is on the Ohio, Missouri, and Mississippi Rivers, and the challenges facing the Army Corps of Engineers as the rivers change and as the dams, dikes, and levees designed to keep them in place become obsolete. “A long line of American leaders from both parties have lacked the will, power, or imagination to build what the country needs,” Kelley writes, and traces policies from an 1824 bill that expanded the Corps’ authority to Trump’s unrealized promise to spend billions on infrastructure. Kelley introduces such players as Luther Helland, the master of the “most decrepit” lock and dam in the U.S., built on the Ohio River in 1929; Lester Goodin, a fifth-generation farmer who made use of a breached levee to grow trees along the Mississippi; and Mitch Jurisich, an oysterman in Louisiana who worries he’ll lose his business if the Mississippi is diverted to prevent coastal erosion. Along with the meticulous reporting and insightful analysis, Kelley considers a series of remedies, including some drawn from successful flood control programs in the Netherlands. Anyone concerned with the myriad issues surrounding the manipulation of waterways will want to take a look. Renee Zuckerbrot, Massie & McQuilkin. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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The Introvert’s Edge to Networking: Work the Room, Leverage Social Media, Develop Powerful Connections

Matthew Pollard with Derek Lewis. HarperCollins Leadership, $27.99 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4002-1668-0

Introverts can succesfully network and create authentic connections by embracing their strengths, advises business consultant Pollard (The Introvert’s Edge: How the Quiet and Shy Can Outsell Anyone) in this refreshing guide. Too much of standard networking is “transactional” he notes, and can feel “inauthentic and even sleezy.” As a remedy, he recommends introverts focus on “strategic networking,” a tightly scripted process of planning, listening, and reframing conversations. Pollard urges readers to “channel your superpower” and make connections in ways suited to their personality, namely “harnessing [the] introverted strength of preparation.” He walks readers through picking their targets, telling stories rather than hard-selling, using their passions to determine a niche, and creating their “Unified Message” (a two-to-three-word phrase to set off a conversation, as with a personal trainer who chooses to be called a “Strength Architect”). Planning and scripting are key, he stresses; it’s important to do 90% of the work before getting in the room, which will land as welcome advice for those who feel lost for words after a handshake. Pollard’s energetic, encouraging advice will give introverts the boost they need to make connections. Agent: Cynthia Zigmund, Second City Publishing. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Stampede: Gold Fever and Disaster in the Klondike

Brian Castner. Doubleday, $28.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-54450-4

Journalist Castner (Disappointment River) paints a dramatic and frequently gruesome portrait of the Klondike gold rush. In July 1896, prospector George Carmack discovered in a Yukon River tributary “so much gold layered in the slabs of bedrock, he thought they looked like cheese sandwiches.” He staked two claims for himself and his brother-in-law, and rushed to the settlement of Fortymile to file legal paperwork, setting off the largest gold stampede in U.S. history. In 1897, more than 100,000 people set out for the Klondike, most of them woefully ill-prepared for the harsh conditions. According to Castner, 75% of the would-be prospectors “were shipwrecked, shot, suffocated, frozen, starved, drowned, or gave up and went home.” Castner brings the survivors to vivid life, including Arthur Arnold Dietz, who set out with 18 men across the Malaspina Glacier in Alaska to reach the gold strike. Only four survived; the rest fell in crevices, died of scurvy, suffocated in avalanches, or starved to death during their two-year ordeal. Castner also profiles Jack London, who came down with scurvy in the Klondike, and hotelier Belinda Mulrooney, who lost her fortune when Dawson City was destroyed by fire in 1899. Packed with evocative details and colorful personalities, this immersive history captures the tragic consequences of “gold fever.” (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Bring Back Our Girls: The Untold Story of the Global Search for Nigeria’s Missing Schoolgirls

Joe Parkinson and Drew Hinshaw. Harper, $28.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06293-392-8

Wall Street Journal correspondents Parkinson and Hinshaw debut with a riveting chronicle of the 2014 kidnapping of a group of Nigerian schoolgirls by the terrorist group Boko Haram. Drawing on extensive interviews with several of the girls, the authors describe how the Islamic jihadists descended on the girls’ school in northeastern Nigeria in order to steal a brick-making machine, and ended up taking 276 of them as hostages and holding most of them for more than three years. Over 100 are still missing, and the ones who escaped or were released tell harrowing stories of starvation, beatings, and forced marriages. Parkinson and Hinshaw sketch the history of Boko Haram and its leader, Abubakar Shekau, a former child beggar; detail the complex diplomatic maneuvers to secure the release of some of the girls; and describe how the 2014 #BringBackOurGirls Twitter campaign, which was amplified by Mary J. Blige and Michelle Obama, brought the girls’ plight to the world’s attention and led to a large ransom being paid to the terrorist group. Written with compassion and insight, this deeply investigated account brings renewed attention to an ongoing tragedy. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Overheated: How Capitalism Broke the Planet—and How We Can Fight Back

Kate Aronoff. Bold Type, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-1-56858-947-3

Aronoff (co-editor, We Own the Future), a staff writer at the New Republic, delivers an urgent and persuasive study of the links between neoliberal economics and climate change. According to Aronoff, every presidential administration since Ronald Reagan’s has prioritized market-based solutions to environmental issues, and has sought the fossil fuel industry’s input on its own regulation. The result, Aronoff argues, has been little to no progress on an existential threat to humankind. She critiques the notion that carbon taxes alone can curb greenhouse gas emissions to the degree necessary, and details how Waxman-Markey, a 2009 bill that would have established a cap-and-trade program in the U.S., was undermined by poor messaging from the Obama administration and handouts to fossil fuel companies and Wall Street. Aronoff also sketches the history of the New Deal to argue that the Green New Deal can restore the economy after the Covid-19 pandemic and help Democrats build an electoral coalition to “bat off challenges from the right,” and examines grassroots campaigns to “reassert democratic control” over publicly owned energy utilities. Though Aronoff covers familiar ground, she does so from a fresh angle, and offers brisk yet detailed analysis of why the U.S. approach to climate change has fallen short. Policy makers and environmental activists will find much food for thought. Agent: Ian Bonaparte, Janklow & Nesbit. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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Pipe Dreams: The Urgent Global Quest to Transform the Toilet

Chelsea Wald. Avid Reader, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-9821-1621-7

Science journalist Wald debuts with a thoughtful and funny survey of “today’s toilet revolutionaries.” The “Great Stink” of 1858, she writes, when putrid smells permeated London, necessitated the creation of a new sewer system; since then, the flush toilet and indoor plumbing have been the standard of civility. Wald argues a growing world population and an increasing need for clean water has made the modern toilet (and the “flush and forget” culture it created) “anachronistic” and unsustainable. Along the way, Wald interviews toilet innovators and sanitation engineers in the Netherlands who are working on “vacuum toilets,” and workers at a nonprofit in Haiti who struggle to provide sanitary living conditions in low-income communities (in 2017, Wald notes, 700 million people worldwide relied on “hanging latrines” or “bucket toilets,” which are emptied into streams or open sewers). Wald covers toilet concepts and decentralized wastewater treatment models that conserve water and provide useful by-products, like grass that can be harvested and fed to livestock and sludge that can be baked into bricks. At home with an awkward topic, the author lucidly discusses “pee-cycling” (including the extraction of phosphorous from urine to be used as agricultural fertilizer) and myriad designs for water-conserving toilets. The green-minded will find this insightful and entertaining study to be a fresh angle on a perhaps underappreciated environmental concern. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2021 | Details & Permalink

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