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The Bread and the Knife: A Life in 26 Bites

Dawn Drzal. Arcade, $19.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-62872-923-8

Drzal, freelance writer and one-time cookbook editor, charmingly reflects on her life with food. In chapters arranged by food name from A to Z, Drzal examines her personality, relationships, and professional encounters. She recalls the sound of her grandmother beating an egg or the steam from her father’s sizzling kielbasa on a Sunday morning. Her voice is honest and approachable as she shares the messy side of her work in the food business, such as when she served pheasant and sauerkraut to her idol M.F.K. Fisher, who commented “This has no taste, dear” and then choked after biting into the pheasant’s leg. When working with Josefina Howard, the “force of nature” behind the New York restaurant Rosa Mexicano, Drzal recalls how the restaurateur kicked out a cookbook editor who didn’t know who Noel Coward was. Throughout, she includes a few recipes for such unexpected items as gruel (with amaranth, almond milk, and hemp seed) and urab sayur, a Balinese salad of bean sprouts, coconut and lemongrass. Drzal artfully demonstrates how certain meals, no matter how simple or ornate, can resonate for years. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Grandmaster: Magnus Carlsen and the Match That Made Chess Great Again

Brin-Jonathan Butler. Simon & Schuster, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-50-117260-1

Chess enthusiast Butler (The Domino Diaries) takes readers inside the 2016 World Chess Championship in this exciting, easily digestible biography. Butler watched 26-year-old Norwegian grandmaster Magnus Carlsen’s grueling face-off against the recently repatriated Russian prodigy Sergey Karjakin, chronicling the hours-long matches that ended in draws, Carlsen’s psychological trauma after losing the eighth game, and his historic sudden-death victory. Unraveling the mystique of the highest-rated chess player in history, Butler uses the ample time between moves and matches to explore Carlsen’s biography and smug personality, searching for the key to his greatness. “While Magnus’s talents might have been supernatural,” Butler writes, “his motivations were as human as they come: namely, revenge.” Through conversations with chess luminaries such as Bobby Fischer biographer Frank Brady and Judit Polgár, the greatest female player in history, Butler paints a vivid portrait of an addictive activity that straddles the space among sport, art, and science. Butler portrays a community in awe of the heroics of the young champion, the rare genius who may be appreciated in his own lifetime. This fast-paced, intense narrative gives readers excellent insight into the competitive world of chess. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Handel in London: The Making of a Genius

Jane Glover. Pegasus, $28.95 (448p) ISBN 978-1-68177-881-5

Glover (Mozart’s Women) narrates with rich detail the musical life of George Frideric Handel (1685–1759) in this lively biography. In 1710, when he was 25, the confident young German composer strode into Princess Caroline’s court in Hanover, where he dazzled everyone with his good looks and his musical ability. He was offered a post as Kapellmeister (chief music maker), but Handel was restless and decided instead to travel to London (with its developing music scene), which he then used as a base most of the rest of his life. Glover astutely chronicles many of the works Handel composed, as with his assessment of the 1711 opera Rinaldo, which demonstrated Handel’s flair for the theatrical and his ingenuity in using the different voices of instruments in the orchestra. Glover points out that Handel consistently recognized and used the talents of his singers, librettists, and musicians to produce operas that were inventive and sometimes audacious, such as Radamisto, which launched the Royal Academy of Music in 1720. In 1741, Handel, who had already composed 70 dramatic works while in London, traveled to Dublin, where he wrote the oratorio Messiah, which was performed the following year to critical acclaim. Glover’s stirring and vibrant biography captures Handel’s remarkable output and his breathtaking innovation. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Love Understood: The Science of Who, How & Why We Love

Laura Mucha. Bloomsbury, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4729-6832-6

British poet Mucha offers a fascinating investigation of how and why people fall in (and out of) love. Curious about why some romantic relationships work and others dissolve, he began the project after her grandfather died (his marriage to her grandmother had been “the only committed romantic relationship I had been able to observe”). The book is arranged thematically, beginning with infidelity and moving on to such subjects as attachment, expectations, commitment, and monogamy. Each chapter includes interviews with people Mucha met on a trip that took her to China, Antarctica, and the Scottish Highlands, among other places. While strolling along a beach in Ireland, she met an 80-year-old man and his wife, who had dementia; the man explained, “Younger generations underestimate the amount of work that’s involved in maintaining a long-term relationship.” In time, the author finds, romantic love often turns into companionate love: “Passion, romance, they do go over time—it’s more about friendship in the end.” Woven in are related studies: in “Looking for Love” Mucha discusses sexual attraction and how the menstrual cycles of 18 professional lap dancers affected their tips in a study conducted in Albuquerque, N.M.. Overall, she concludes that “love is a skill that requires knowledge, effort, and learning.” Lively and entertaining, this book will inspire readers to look more deeply at the authenticity of their own relationships. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Pendulum: A Granddaughter’s Search for Her Family’s Forbidden Nazi Past

Julie Lindahl. Rowman & Littlefield, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5381-1193-2

In this powerful and solemn memoir, Lindahl (Rose in the Sand), who was born in Brazil to a German family, recounts seeking the truth about her grandparents’ Nazi past, which her family hid from her. The secretiveness and inaccurate testimony of her only living source, her grandmother, hinders her progress, leading her to travel to Germany, Poland, and Latin America to search through documents and interview an array of people who interacted with her grandfather during his lifetime, including people who suffered under his hand as children, and relatives she thought were dead. She learns that her grandparents were members of the SS (her grandfather worked in its think tank, the Ahnehnerbe) who participated in the “Germanization” (i.e., forced resettlement of the local population, extermination of Jews, and colonization by Germans) of Poland. In prose that is formal, yet poetic and heartfelt (“While truth can be elusive, often staring at us from outside the rain-spattered window of our own perception, the failure to believe that it exists... is the seed of self-destruction”), Lindahl shares what she learned during seven years of research and travel. Many readers will be moved and find meaning in Lindahl’s journey to come to terms with her family’s past and process the guilt of inherited sins. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Real Trump Deal: An Eye-Opening Look at How He Really Negotiates

Martin E. Latz. Life Success, $27.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-944194-47-5

Making deals is “part of [President Trump]’s DNA,” argues Latz, founder of the training company Latz Negotiation, in this well-informed but questionably timed study. Latz, who has studied and taught negotiation skills for over 20 years, begins with Trump’s business deals, from the Apprentice contract to multiple hotel and casino negotiations and purchases. Throughout, Latz includes helpful end-of-chapter assessments of Trump’s success in various cases, which differ widely. Certainly, Latz acknowledges, Trump exudes self-confidence—or is that arrogance? Latz invites readers to be the judge. In addition to the now-famous “alternative” facts, Latz describes how Trump employs “truthful hyperbole,” and how his bluffing impacts his credibility. The book is at its most intriguing when covering the key differences between business and presidential negotiations, offering as two familiar examples of the latter the U.S.-Mexico border negotiations and the Affordable Care Act repeal, and asking whether Trump successfully altered his usual business strategies in these cases. Although Latz has clearly done his homework, his book loses some of its persuasiveness for arriving before the president’s term is over and the lasting effects of his negotiations as chief executive are known. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Writer for Our Time: The Life and Work of John Berger

Joshua Sperling. Verso, $29.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-78663-742-0

Sperling, a visiting assistant professor of cinema studies at Oberlin, cogently argues that Marxist writer John Berger—perhaps best known for the documentary-turned-book, Ways of Seeing (1972), and for, in the same year, winning (for his novel G.) and then immediately excoriating the Booker Prize—merits serious attention for his career as a whole. With sophistication and passion to match his subject, Sperling unfolds a chronological and thematic assessment of Berger (1927–2017) that follows him from his early years as an art student and would-be painter in London, through his tenure as an ambitious art critic and cultural warrior for the New Statesman, to his fruitful and influential life as a self-exiled Continental writer and thinker. Berger’s experiments in form track his political commitments and his engagement with the evolving cultural politics of the left. Sperling does not shy away from his subject’s blind spots or contradictions, including with respect to gender politics, but he shows that Berger’s critical and moral legacy remains vital. This study is a lively and astute contribution to the writing on Berger, as well as to scholarship on the last 50 years of the cultural left in general. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Orchid and the Dandelion: Why Some Children Struggle and How All Can Thrive

W. Thomas Boyce. Knopf, $27.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-101-94656-5

Pediatrician and child psychiatrist Boyce proposes a novel way of understanding children’s sensitivity to their environment—as a spectrum, from dandelion to orchid. Sturdy dandelions are less reactive to childhood stressors and more likely to thrive wherever they are, while orchid children—one in five, by Boyce’s estimate—display a heightened sensitivity that causes them to “founder” in poor environments but thrive in good ones. Drawing on 25 years of medical practice, along with the sad story of his orchid sister’s mental health struggles, Boyce weaves a fascinating story of discovery out of his experiments exploring “how children’s social and emotional experiences might affect their physical bodies,” and more generally, how health “imbalances are the interactive products of environments and genes operating together.” While the parenting advice is familiar and the prose too ornate in parts, the book shines when Boyce explains the results of his and others’ experiments in rich, elegant detail. His impassioned treatise makes a strong case, not just for Boyce’s view of child psychology, but for the policy reforms—family leave, state-supported childcare, early childhood development programs, and measures against income inequality—that would allow all children to flower into their full potential, and lead “satisfying and meaningful adult lives.” (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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To Have and to Hold: Motherhood, Marriage, and the Modern Dilemma

Molly Millwood. Harper Wave, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-0-06-283865-0

Millwood brings her experience as a clinical psychologist and mother to a compassionate book that affirms that emotional difficulties for new mothers are not anomalous but universal and can extend well past the immediate postpartum period, with profound effects on their relationships with their spouses. Millwood draws deeply on attachment theory, not only with regards to parents and children but to couples (the book focuses exclusively on heterosexual relationships, as the author notes at the start), considering how women who fail to find a sense of security and safety from their partners can feel undermined, similar to the way children struggle when they don’t firmly attach to their parents. Despite Millwood’s supportive tone, she still puts most of the onus on women, suggesting that they improve their social networks, let dads take on childcare chores even when they are bad at them, and remain open to criticism from their husbands. Despite this potential hurdle for some readers, Millwood performs a helpful task in giving mothers permission to acknowledge motherhood’s darker side, and in offering them help with their marriages as well as their parenting. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Magic Feather Effect: The Science of Alternative Medicine and the Surprising Power of Belief

Melanie Warner. Scribner, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5011-2149-4

Journalist Warner (Pandora’s Lunchbox) delves into the mysteries of alternative medicine in this fascinating study. As an observer, skeptic, and participant, Warner explores various alternative techniques and what the “surprising number of placebo researchers, neuroscientists, and psychologists” studying the field have said about “scientific reasons that seemingly unscientific practices might work.” In addition to energy medicine, she looks at the history and practice of acupuncture, chiropractic practices, and other techniques. Fair-minded, thorough, and focused on verifiable scientific research, not hearsay or cherry-picked anecdotes, Warner interviews practitioners of these methods as well as those who test their efficacy. In one remarkable case, she interviews a man who claims to have recovered from quadriplegia through techniques learned from qigong monks. She concludes that while alternative medicine cannot “eradicate physical disease or directly repair substantial damage to tissues,” it can have measurable physical impacts, by “relaxing our bodies and reducing stress” and thus affecting “symptoms for which brain activity plays a significant role—pain, panic attacks, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea,” among others. This well-written survey of alternative medicine also leaves readers with a sharp critique of mainstream medicine: that it does not currently prioritize creating “empathic connections” with patients, the major strength of alternative medicine. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/14/2018 | Details & Permalink

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