Log In

Subscriber-Only Content; You must be a PW subscriber to access the Table-of-Contents Database.

Get a digital subscription to Publishers Weekly for only $19.95/month.

Your subscription gives you instant access exclusive feature articles on notable figures in the publishing industry, he latest industry news, interviews of up and coming authors and bestselling authors, and access over 200,000 book reviews.

PW "All Access" site license members have access to PW's subscriber-only website content. To find out more about PW's site license subscription options please email: pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time.

The Role of the Scroll: An Illustrated Introduction to Scrolls in the Middle Ages

Thomas Forrest Kelly. Norton, $29.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-393-28503-1

The fundamental question “Why make a scroll when you have the technology to make a book?”, asked by Kelly (Capturing Music), a Harvard music professor, is only partially answered in his puzzling, unsatisfying, though visually rich, introduction to the subject of Western European scrolls in the Middle Ages. Rarer than their codex (book) counterparts, scrolls nevertheless formed an important part of medieval written culture, Kelly argues. Whether tracing genealogies or mapping pilgrimage routes, serving as the interior of amulets or providing cheat sheets for actors, scrolls, with their adaptability, portability, and unbroken line of text, proved useful for certain tasks. But that is about all that can be gleaned from the simplistic narrative that accompanies the illustrations of different scrolls. Kelly leaps from topic to topic with little sense of cohesion and even less in the way of probing, providing little context for the subject and leaving seemingly crucial issues unaddressed. (Were scrolls more or less expensive than books, for example?) Moreover, the writing is too basic for academics, yet the subject is too niche for a general audience. One arrives at the conclusion feeling unsure of exactly whom Kelly intended to reach with his haphazard study. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
What It Takes: How I Built a $100 Million Business Against the Odds

Raegan Moya-Jones. Portfolio, $28 (272p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1464-4

Moya-Jones, founder of baby swaddle empire Aden + Anais, delivers a feisty but slim primer on entrepreneurship. The majority of the book is devoted to her story, organized into chapters illustrating her advice—which unfortunately proves far from revelatory. A onetime sales executive, Moya-Jones found herself unfulfilled and unchallenged at work, so she began designing colorful muslin swaddling blankets that were a staple in her native Australia, but were unfindable in the U.S. She left her day job after Aden + Anais surpassed $1 million in revenue, and has since seen the company take in over $100 million. Taking a more general view, Moya-Jones observes that increasing numbers of women want to start businesses due to the obstacles they’ve encountered in the corporate world, namely few opportunities for advancement, limited flexibility, and outright bias. For all her abundant success, readers may find Moya-Jones modest to a fault; she writes that, while there’s no magic formula for success, if she can do it, anyone can. However, her tips—variously concerned with conquering doubt, managing risk, balancing family and work obligations, leading a team, and trusting one’s intuition—aren’t anything new. The resulting book is an easy pass for fans of business guides. (May)

Reviewed on 02/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
Ten Caesars: Roman Emperors from Augustus to Constantine

Barry Strauss. Simon & Schuster, $28 (416p) ISBN 978-1-4516-6883-4

History professor Strauss (The Death of Caesar: The Story of History’s Most Famous Assassination) explores the reigns of Rome’s ten most influential emperors in his captivating modern take on Suetonius’s 121 CE history, The Twelve Caesars. He covers most of the emperors who ruled during the empire’s first 300 years of existence, a crowded timeline that begins with the bloody end of the republic under Augustus and ends with the reforms of Diocletian and the startling religious conversion of his successor Constantine. Strauss persuasively argues that each man brought his own personality and peccadilloes to his rule, and that each was successful and revolutionary in his own way: Vespasian and Severus won the throne via civil wars and stabilized a broken empire; Trajan expanded the empire to its greatest extent; and Hadrian and Tiberius both retreated from wars of expansion to focus on domestic projects. Even Nero transformed Rome with his building projects and exhibitionism. The women surrounding these emperors are also given their share of the credit and vividly portrayed. Citing numerous primary and secondary sources and providing modern analogies to convey complex relationships and ruling styles, this captivating narrative breathes new life into a host of transformative figures. Agent: Cathy Hemming, Cathy Hemming Literary Agency. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
Prisoners of Politics: Breaking the Cycle of Mass Incarceration

Rachel Elise Barkow. Belknap, $35 (295p) ISBN 978-0-674-91923-5

Barkow, a professor of regulatory law and policy at New York University, argues in this excellent analysis that “one of the great tragedies of American domestic policy [is] that many of our strategies for combating crime ruin lives but are not necessary to improve public safety, and in many cases... increase the risk of crime.” She elaborates that “political forces and emotional responses have taken charge, leaving concern with rational evaluation on the side”: racial bias and inaccurate media reporting on violent crime foment an obsession among voters with “toughness on crime,” which leads elected officials to pursue excessive sentencing to win votes. Because sentencing minimums and prisons focus more on retribution than rehabilitation, she writes, long sentences (which don’t reduce crime) are typical and incarcerated people are not properly prepared for reentry, making them more likely to commit additional crimes. Barkow argues for a multifaceted approach to reform: reconceive the roles of prosecutors and mandatory minimum sentencing; use experts for data-backed criminal justice policymaking and resource allocation; and offer education, mental health, and employment programs to incarcerated people to facilitate their reentry. Barkow’s work is well researched and supported by data and specific examples. Readers interested in criminal justice reform will find much to appreciate here. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to ‘Hillbilly Elegy’

Edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll. West Virginia Univ, $28.99 trade paper (432p) ISBN 978-1-946684-79-0

This impassioned collection of Appalachian regional art, essays, and poetry responds directly to J.D. Vance’s bestselling memoir about an impoverished family awash in crassness, violence, and drug abuse. Each writer or photographer seeks to provide either a counterpoint to Vance’s story or to demonstrate that not all Appalachians are uneducated hillbillies. Appalachian intellectuals such as T.R.C. Hutton, William H. Turner, and Lisa R. Pruitt delve into intricate stories about race, education, and post-coal migration, exploring both the identity of the white “hillbilly” and the black Appalachians virtually ignored in Elegy. Some essays combine statistics with personal stories of hardship, compassion, and perseverance; others hew to a conversational account of the author’s family. Lou Murrey’s photograph of diverse people protesting a federal prison in Kentucky and Roger May’s stunning portrait of his aunt serve as a striking counterpoint to Elegy’s depiction of an apathetic people. Vance’s belief that Appalachians committed themselves to failure loses traction when faced with these accounts of historical context, company towns, and current positive developments. As the editors Harkins and McCarroll note, while Vance offers one bleak “window” into the extensive multistate region, this valuable collection shows resilience, hope, and belonging are in Appalachia, too. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
Era of Ignition: Coming of Age in a Time of Rage and Revolution

Amber Tamblyn. Crown Archetype, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-984822-98-7

Actress Tamblyn (Any Man) addresses the #MeToo movement in this part-memoir, part-call-to-action collection. Across essays, anecdotes, and lists, Tamblyn discusses her abusive relationships, her struggles with “getting a seat at the table” in a patriarchal Hollywood, and her work as an activist for women’s rights. Opening with an emotional account of her decision to terminate her first pregnancy with her husband, David, Tamblyn establishes a fiercely unapologetic stance on feminism. Along the way, she argues that “‘innocent until proven guilty’ is often used as a weapon of mass destruction for aggressors,” and urges men to take accountability for their own actions. Tamblyn frequently name-drops and has a tendency to stereotype (she calls out all “two of her cis male readers” who “took time away from playing Destiny on Xbox” to read her book), though women looking to commiserate will find a lot to like here, including a Male Ally Manifesto, which encourages men to “be proactive peers and help create a more balanced world.” While Tamblyn’s tone may alienate some readers, her message is certainly thought-provoking and energizing. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
La Passione: How Italy Seduced the World

Dianne Hales. Crown Archetype, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-0-451-49916-5

In this inquisitive celebration of the Italian spirit, Hales (Mona Lisa: A Life Discovered) traverses the country, exploring its history and culture. Her journey begins in Sicily where she traces the island’s role in Greek mythology and Etruscan history (“Among pre-Roman civilizations, only the Greeks compared in wealth, power, and influence”). In the next vignette, her gaze turns to Rome and a succession of emperors with a focus on romantic intrigue, from Mark Anthony and Caesar’s affairs with Cleopatra to the polygamy of Octavian. While in Florence, Hales discusses the works of 15th-century poet Dante; in a chapter on music, she gives a history of Italian opera, from the earliest “castratos” (singers castrated to retain a boyish high pitch) to the life of Luciano Pavarotti. The chapters on food will delight readers with descriptions of artisan foods: in Parma, for example, she tries the local specialty of prosciutto; in Modena, a balsamic vinegar maker says, “This is my passion—the emotion, the tradition coming together to give people a true flavor of Italy, something that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.” Sure to inspire many vacations, this volume shows Italy’s many contributions to the world and captures the essence of the very things that make it such a wondrous place. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
The Way Home: Tales from a Life Without Technology

Mark Boyle. OneWorld, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-78607-600-7

A man forsakes modern gadgetry for labor and the land in this knotty saga of radical sustainability. Pivoting from the project of surviving without monetary exchanges that he recounted in his previous book The Moneyless Man, Boyle built a cabin on an Irish farm and vowed to live without computers, electricity, phones, plumbing, fossil-fueled heating, clocks, or any other “industrial-scale, complex technology” that “showed no respect for life.” He duly spends the book hewing wood, drawing water, growing vegetables, collecting manure, fishing for dinner, and writing diaristic vignettes by pencil and candlelight. Boyle’s haphazard technophobia and critique of “the mechanizing, homogenizing, industrializing, killing culture” of high-tech society are vehement but incoherent: he forbids himself matches but allows himself bicycles, steel tools, and hitchhiked rides, and never explains why a lower-tech world would be environmentally benign. More convincing is his Thoreauvian homage—“I wanted to put my finger on the pulse of life,” he writes, “feel cold and hunger and fear” and “lick the bare bones of existence clean”—to rustic authenticity; he writes vividly of Ireland’s village culture, with its neighborly sharing and cozy pubs, and of the satisfactions of hard work with tangible results. Boyle’s case against technology is thin, but his elegy for rural life is lovely. (June)

Reviewed on 02/08/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
Cities: The First 6,000 Years

Monica L. Smith. Viking, $30 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7352-2367-7

Archaeologist and anthropologist Smith traces the cultural phenomenon of cities through time in this enjoyable, humorous combination of archeological findings, historical documents, and present-day experiences. She argues that city life has been remarkably consistent across millennia—proximity to strangers, big public squares and winding residential streets, housing shortages, landfills, markets, and graffiti were as much a part of ancient city life as of modern. (This leads to an odd dismissiveness about problems such as subpar housing conditions and environmental damage caused by urban living, which may put off some readers.) She also compares cities to that other ubiquitous, complex structure that sprang into existence and quickly became essential: the internet. She outlines the cultural precursors to the conception of cities (language, a history of migration, dependence on objects, and a drive to build architecture); explains the excavation of ancient cities; describes how the efficiencies of city life led to the development of a proto–middle class; notes the development cities pushed in water, waste, and land management; and argues that, despite worries about collapse, cities are here to stay. Smith writes conversationally and supplies charming details, such as the ancient Mesopotamian belief in Shulak, a disease-spreading toilet demon. For readers who don’t mind a detached view of urban problems, this is a thoroughly enjoyable excavation. Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
Beeline: What Spelling Bees Reveal about Generation Z’s New Path to Success

Shalini Shankar. Basic, $30 (336p) ISBN 978-0-465-09452-3

In this compassionate ethnography, Shankar, a professor of anthropology and Asian-American studies, argues that the poised, proficient young spellers who participate in the National Spelling Bee should be seen as a bellwether for their “camera-ready, organized, driven, and goal-oriented” generation, members of which understand the importance of developing “human capital” early in life. She gives plenty of space to the culture of the bee, detailing its development from a traditional schoolroom competition into a televised media phenomenon in which “spellebrities” dazzle viewers with their personalities and skills. She also focuses on the Indian-American communities that have produced many recent Bee champions, noting the impact of non-U.S. cultural influences and immigrant experience on American culture at large—a much-needed corrective, she argues, to generation models that present white, middle-class norms as universal. But her generational depictions tend toward broad archetypes (hedonistic, helicopter-parent baby boomers; Generation X parents skeptical of the “American dream”) and she does not provide rigorous, explicit support for her claims that the culture of intense preparation surrounding the bee is merely one example of an endemic “professionalization of childhood.” This account is more successful as a deep dive into bee culture and immigrant experience than as an argument about what constitutes a typical Gen Z experience or child, but it makes for engaging reading nonetheless. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/01/2019 | Details & Permalink

show more
X
Stay ahead with
Tip Sheet!
Free newsletter: the hottest new books, features and more
X
X
Email Address

Password

Log In Lost Password

Parts of this site are only available to paying PW subscribers. Subscribers: to set up your digital access click here.

To subscribe, click here.

PW “All Access” site license members have access to PW’s subscriber-only website content. Simply close and relaunch your preferred browser to log-in. To find out more about PW’s site license subscription options please email: pw@pubservice.com.

If you have questions or need assistance setting up your account please email pw@pubservice.com or call 1-800-278-2991 (U.S.) or 1-818-487-2069 (all other countries), Monday-Friday between 5am and 5pm Pacific time for assistance.

Not Registered? Click here.