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Anthem: Rush in the 1970s

Martin Popoff. ECW, $34.95 (376p) ISBN 978-1-77041-520-1

Music critic Popoff (Rush: Album by Album) delivers the exciting first volume in a projected three-part history of the band Rush, from its formation in 1968 through the 1970s. Popoff provides a comprehensive appreciation of Rush’s music, focusing on its first seven LPs, including a detailed look at its breakthrough 1976 work 2112. Based on interviews with bassist Geddy Lee, guitarist Alex Lifeson, and drummer and lyricist Neil Peart (who died in January of brain cancer), as well as their managers, record producers, and fellow musicians, Popoff recounts the band’s formative years (from being “three kids from Toronto trying to figure out what they were and become what they wanted to be”), their gigs in Toronto as they were gaining popularity (they opened for the New York Dolls at the Victory Theater in 1973), as well as their drive “to be the world’s most complicated three-piece band”—or, in Lee’s words, “to combine the feeling and emotional rock potential of The Who and even Zeppelin and bring the complexity of a band like Genesis and Yes.” By book’s end, Rush has emerged from “the action-packed and at times desperate 1970s” to become a major headlining band. Popoff is given to sharing extensive quotes, which can slow the narrative but nevertheless provide great detail and depth. This will thrill Rush’s huge fan base. (May)

Reviewed on 02/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Austen Years: A Memoir in Five Novels

Rachel Cohen. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-374-10703-1

In this erudite if uneven exploration of connection and loss, essayist Cohen (A Chance Meeting) draws parallels between her own life and Jane Austen’s life and literary legacy. After Cohen’s aging father died, she fell into a depression as “the rhythm of days altered... [and] the world careened”; seeking comfort, she turned to Austen’s novels and wondered, “Was this a retreat, a seclusion?” To cope with the death of her father, raising her two children, and her own uncertainty regarding her marriage and relationships, Cohen assigned specific titles to major events: Persuasion to the pregnancy and birth of her daughter, Sense and Sensibility to the aftermath of her father’s death, Pride and Prejudice to her pregnancy with her son, Mansfield Park to a move from New York to Chicago, and Emma to when she experienced the tug of parenthood and career. The works of Austen also soothe Cohen as she scatters her father’s ashes in his beloved city of Venice. Cohen’s writing at its best is lush and lyrical, though it can become dense with anecdotal biography, academic literary criticism, and passages of self-analysis. And readers not well versed in Austen will have a hard time finding their way in, despite the synopses Cohen provides. Despite its clever premise, this memoir adds little to the canon of Austen appreciations. (May)

Reviewed on 02/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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This Is All I Got: A New Mother’s Search for Home

Lauren Sandler. Random House, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-58995-9

Journalist Sandler (Righteous: Dispatches from the Evangelical Youth Movement) delivers a vivid, heartbreaking account of a homeless woman’s efforts to secure housing and a future for herself and her infant son in New York City. Tracking 22-year-old Camila (not her real name) over the course of 2015, as she gives birth, struggles to complete her college degree, and searches for affordable housing while living in shelters, Sandler contends that “among developed countries, no nation fails its single mothers as gravely as does the United States.” She details how Camila, raised by a single mother who relied on Section 8 housing vouchers to pay rent, became a ward of the state and entered a group foster home at age 15, yet made the college honor roll before her pregnancy temporarily derailed her education. Sandler scrupulously documents Camila’s efforts to navigate underresourced, byzantine, and dehumanizing public assistance programs, and examines her own conflicted feelings about bearing witness to a less-privileged woman’s pain. (Sandler’s eight-year-old daughter is “furious” that her mother refuses to offer Camila a place to stay.) Through Camila’s story, Sandler reveals the devastating consequences of America’s weakening social safety net and widening wealth gap. Readers will be moved by this harrowing and impassioned call for change. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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How the South Won the Civil War: Oligarchy, Democracy, and the Continuing Fight for the Soul of America

Heather Cox Richardson. Oxford Univ, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-19-090090-8

In this incisive, politically minded history, Boston College professor Richardson (West from Appomattox) argues that Barry Goldwater’s “movement conservatism”—which she claims has overtaken the Republican Party during the past 50 years—“embrace[s] the same ideas” that undergirded slavery and sparked the Civil War. Tracing the origins of those beliefs to the “great paradox” of America’s founding documents (”the concept that ‘all men are created equal’ depended on the idea that the ringing phrase ‘all men’ did not actually include everyone”), Richardson contends that throughout U.S. history, wealthy white men have enhanced and enshrined their power by stoking the fears of poor and working-class white men that women and minorities are poised to become their equals. She documents how post-Reconstruction settlement shaped the West, building an economy based on resource extraction (just like the antebellum South); tracks the formation of political alliances between Western and Southern conservatives; and concludes that Donald Trump’s cultivation of white supremacist support has “stripped off whatever genteel veneer remained on Republican ideology.” Though Richardson underemphasizes the prevalence of racism, sexism, and inequality in other parts of the country during and following the Civil War, she marshals a wealth of evidence to support the book’s provocative title. Conservatives will cry foul, but liberal readers will be persuaded by this lucid jeremiad. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s

Maggie Doherty. Knopf, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3305-6

Harvard University lecturer Doherty debuts with an elegant, novelistic history of the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study and its influence on the lives and careers of five female artists and the women’s movement at large. Founded by the president of Radcliffe College in 1960, the institute accepted women with PhDs or “the equivalent,” providing them with a stipend, library access, a private office, and “a community of the like-minded.” Doherty centers her account on a group of friends and collaborators who attended the institute from 1961 to 1963: poets Anne Sexton and Maxine Kumin, writer and communist organizer Tillie Olsen, painter Barbara Swan, and sculptor Marianna Pineda. Though the complex yet creatively fruitful relationship between Sexton and Kumin takes center stage, Olsen emerges as “the most politically conscious” member of the group, a forceful critic of the institute’s premise that motherhood and intellectual work were mutually sustaining, who anticipated emerging fault lines within the women’s movement at the intersections of race, class, and gender. Doherty’s prose dazzles, and she skillfully integrates her copious research into the narrative while toggling between biographical, creative, and political matters. This empathetic, wide-angled portrait will resonate with fans of the individual artists as well as feminists and readers of women’s history. (May)

Reviewed on 02/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Lights Out: Pride, Delusion, and the Fall of General Electric

Thomas Gryta and Ted Mann. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-358-25041-8

A venerable American company struggles for survival and eventually crashes, in this exciting offering from Wall Street Journal reporters Gryta and Mann. Formed in the late 19th century, General Electric enjoyed a long, genteel reign as America’s dominant producer of electrical goods. The book centers on the company’s dramatic decline, starting with longtime CEO Jack Welch’s exit in September 2001, and his replacement by his handpicked successor, Jeff Immelt. Inheriting a company typified by rigid procedures and a boys’ club culture, Gryta and Mann note, Immelt was determined to drag GE into the modern day. The authors track these attempts at reinvention, such as by adopting a “lean manufacturing” model antithetical to GE’s traditionally meticulous product-development approach. They also cover the hard-fought battles with the Environmental Protection Agency, ill-conceived business dealings, and falling stock prices that marred Immelt’s reign. After Immelt retired in 2017, GE veteran John Flannery took over, only to discover a chaotic, money-losing mess, with “reported profits [that] were aspirational, if not fraudulent.” Possessing all the suspense of a true-crime account, Gryta and Mann’s riveting look at GE’s previous two decades underlines the harsh facts of survival in 21st-century business. Agent: Eric Lupfer, Fletcher & Co. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Healing Power of Girlfriends: How to Create Your Best Life Through Female Connection

Deborah A. Olson. Galleria, $12.95 trade paper (170p) ISBN 978-1-73370-100-6

Olson, a registered nurse and professional counselor, empathetically explores how female friendships can positively influence one’s life in her engaging debut. She defines friendship as “a close association between two people marked by feelings of care, respect, admiration, concern, love, or like.” To Olson, finding someone with similar interests and expectations for a potential friendship is crucial for a positive experience. She provides discussion questions to encourage readers to dig into their own psyches and comforting examples from her own life to help readers make sense of what they value and seek out in friendships. She then explores how strong friendships promote health, happiness, and longevity (“being connected to others is key when we face illness because it helps us manage our stress responses”) and provides tips on making new friends by getting out of one’s comfort zone, such as by joining a club or volunteering. Savvy and thoughtful, Olson’s thorough work offers a blueprint for readers concerned with finding and maintaining friendships. (Self-published)

Reviewed on 02/14/2020 | Details & Permalink

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I Don’t Want to Die Poor: Essays

Michael Arceneaux. Atria, $17 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-9821-2930-9

In an often funny, and sometimes moving, collection of essays, Arceneaux (I Can’t Date Jesus) explores a defining decision in his life: financing his Howard University communications degree through private student loans. While writing with humor and outrage about an education system that saddles students with debilitating levels of debt, he also discusses his brief time as a cast member of a reality TV show, his interest in the intricacies of health insurance, his romantic woes, and his search for gay porn he finds palatable. Those born before the Reagan administration might find themselves turning to Urban Dictionary to decipher some of his vocabulary, but readers across generational lines will appreciate the sensitivity with which Arceneaux examines his relationships to potential partners, or to his mother. In discussing her harsh disciplinary methods, he writes “I wouldn’t have wanted to touch you in any way that didn’t convey love and adoration, but I would never have stood there and let you strike me.” That quality—the love of a family that instills both gratitude and opposition—informs much of this book. By turns angry, hilarious, and introspective, this should strike a chord with millennials. Agent: Jim McCarthy, Dystel, Goderich, & Bourret. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Becoming Wild: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace

Carl Safina. Holt, $30 (384p) ISBN 978-1-25017-333-1

Safina (Beyond Words), a science writer, proposes in his eloquent treatise that numerous species throughout the animal kingdom form complex societies in their interactions with each other. He focuses on three: sperm whales in the Caribbean, scarlet macaws in the Peruvian Amazon, and chimpanzees in Uganda. Having spent weeks in the field with researchers studying each species, he has plenty of examples of how culture, as well as biology, shape behavior. Sperm whales worldwide, for example, are “basically one genetic ‘stock,’ ” yet individual groups each manifest their own distinctive sonar clicks to communicate. He constantly demonstrates nonhuman animals’ capacity for activities often assumed to be solely the domain of Homo sapiens. While it’s well-known that many animals learn by observation, Safina points out examples of those that can actually teach complicated tasks—for instance, female chimps correcting their offspring’s nut-opening technique. The text, written in an accessible style, is rich in similarly fascinating zoological tidbits. This revelatory work sheds as much light on what it means to be human as it does on the nature of other species. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Why Fish Don’t Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life

Lulu Miller. Simon & Schuster, $23 (226p) ISBN 978-1-5011-6027-1

NPR science reporter Miller, in her scattered debut, relates the life of influential taxonomist David Starr Jordan (1851–1931) to struggles in her own life. During early adulthood, as “I made a wreck of my own life,” she became fascinated with Jordan’s “stand against Chaos,” in a career which saw him collect and name many thousands of species of fish. Her account of Jordan’s boyhood passion for science conveys gentle naïveté: “In the privacy of his room he’d sit... discerning which flower was which, unbuttoning its genus, its species.” As Miller discusses her teenage depression, which culminated in a suicide attempt, the writing turns raw: “I woke to bright lights... the humiliation of a nurse, paper sheets beneath my ass.” The narrative then—rather jarringly—turns back to Jordan, as he scours the Pacific Coast for new fauna and becomes president of Stanford. Covering the darker chapters of Jordan’s life, Miller discusses his murky involvement in a possible cover-up around the death of the university’s “founding mother,” Jane Stanford, and, following his dismissal from Stanford, his key role in popularizing the racist pseudoscience of eugenics. Jordan is a fascinating figure, but Miller’s rapid shifts in subject and perspective result in a frustratingly disjointed work. Agent: Jin Auh, Wylie. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/07/2020 | Details & Permalink

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