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Biohack Your Brain: How to Boost Cognitive Health, Performance & Power

Kristen Willeumier with Sarah Toland. Morrow, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-299432-5

Neurobiologist Willeumier debuts with a collection of proactive, accessible strategies for preserving and promoting cognitive health. Willeumeier has worked with NFL players whose brains have been damaged by concussions and with patients with Parkinson’s and here shares methods for recovery she successfully road-tested with patients. Willeumier suggests easily achievable activities—including writing with one’s nondominant hand to force the brain outside its comfort zone and visualizing positive outcomes—as well as long-term lifestyle changes, such as eating a diet heavy on omega-3s, managing stress through exercise and mindfulness, journaling, and sleeping at least seven hours per night. One of the biggest brain drains, Willeumier explains, is prolonged stress, which can slow cerebral circulation by causing plaque buildup and increase one’s cortisol levels, which often leads to weight gain, sleep disruptions, and memory problems. This smart take will help those seeking ideas on how to sharpen their mental performance. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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The Lonely Century: How to Restore Human Connection in a World That’s Pulling Apart

Noreena Hertz. Currency, $28 (304p) ISBN 978-0-593-13583-9

Economist Hertz (Generation K) explores how to solve “today’s loneliness crisis” in this thought-provoking yet scattershot account. Modern-day loneliness, according to Hertz, “incorporates how disconnected we feel from politicians and politics, how cut off we feel from our work and our workplace, how excluded many of us feel from society’s gains, and how powerless, invisible and voiceless so many of us feel ourselves to be.” She notes that 20% of U.S. millennials “say they have no friends at all,” and shares evidence that Japanese senior citizens are committing crimes in order to find companionship, care, and support in prison. Blaming digital technology, urbanization, and neoliberal economic policies that widened the wealth gap and weakened government protections, Hertz examines the links between loneliness and physical illness, right-wing politics, and the rise of workplace surveillance technologies. Her solutions include stabilizing rental costs so people can establish roots in their communities, investing in public spaces, and “reinstituting a formal lunch break” so workers can “break bread together.” Hertz touches on many important issues, but explores few of them in-depth, and doesn’t fully address how cultural and geographic differences might impact perceptions of loneliness around the world. This intermittently intriguing analysis needs a sharper focus. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Men Who Hate Women: From Incels to Pickup Artists; The Truth About Extreme Misogyny and How It Affects Us All

Laura Bates. Sourcebooks, $28.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-7282-3624-7

Bates (The Burning), founder of the Everyday Sexism Project, examines “women-hating” online communities and their impact on real-world sexism and sexual violence in this distressing yet familiar exposé. According to Bates, the “manosphere” includes “incels” (members of online “involuntary celibate” communities), pickup artists, men who avoid women in order to prevent themselves from being manipulated by them, and men’s rights activists who believe that men are the truly oppressed gender. Their ideologies are linked, she contends, by the belief that “all women are the same.” Bates infiltrates misogynistic forums to reveal how they foster a sense of belonging in order to indoctrinate alienated young men, and discusses recent examples of how the manosphere manifests itself in the real world, including the Gamergate controversy, which “introduced the idea of troll armies to the mainstream”; Elliot Rodger’s 2014 killing spree at the University of California, Santa Barbara, which has inspired other acts of incel violence; and characterizations of the #MeToo movement as a witch hunt. Though Bates offers little new information about who these groups are and how they operate, her argument that extreme misogynistic ideas are entering the mainstream is well-documented and persuasive. Readers will come away from this viewing the manosphere as a more serious threat. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Göring’s Man in Paris: The Story of a Nazi Art Plunderer and His World

Jonathan Petropoulos. Yale Univ, $37.50 (456p) ISBN 978-0-300-25192-0

Petropoulos (Artists Under Hitler), a professor of European History at Claremont McKenna College, delivers a nuanced and comprehensive biography of Nazi art plunderer Bruno Lohse (1911–2007). As deputy director of the Paris branch of the Nazi task force created to appropriate European cultural objects for Germany, Lohse helped Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring “commandeer” more than 700 artworks. Petropoulos draws on interviews with Lohse and eyewitness testimony to document how the Nazis stole an estimated one-third of the privately owned art in France. After the war, Lohse escaped justice and even continued to sell pieces “with complicated wartime pasts,” according to Petropoulos. While acknowledging that Lohse lied to him repeatedly and worked hard to shroud his professional life in secrecy, Petropoulos unearths intriguing details about Lohse’s family life (his musician father was an anti-Nazi), university education, relationship with Göring, and rumored involvement in the murders of Jews during the war. What emerges is a well-rounded portrait of a complex figure: “the art historian who had no confidence in his own eye; the brutal Nazi operative who could also laugh and who had a warm manner about him.” Readers of art history and WWII biographies will appreciate this engrossing deep dive into one of the world’s most prolific art looters. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Side Hustle to Main Hustle: The Owner’s Manual to Full-Time Entrepreneurship

Angel N. Livas. Morgan James, $14.95 trade paper (136p) ISBN 978-1-63195-107-7

It’s possible to “leave the financial security of a guaranteed paycheck for the uncertainty of not knowing how much money you may or may not make,” argues Livas (Her Therapy), the CEO of a communications company, in this encouraging but thin guide on turning a part-time passion project into a career. She organizes the steps of such a transition into her BEAST plan: “Believe you’re enough,” “Execute and plan” sustainably, “Account for your business,” “Support and grow your village,” and “Transparently walk your truth.” Livas challenges readers to break through the fear that may come with leaving a corporate career, and includes a motivational declaration for those looking to “soar as an entrepreneur” to sign. While she successfully lays out her plan, she glosses over a few points that merit longer discussion, such as establishing roles and a mission for a project. Still, readers looking for a push to focus more on their side gig will find much of value here. Agent: David Hancock. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Floating in a Most Peculiar Way

Louis Chude-Sokei. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-1-32884-158-2

In this intricate memoir, Boston University English professor Chude-Sokei (The Sound of Culture: Diaspora and Black Technopoetics) chronicles a peripatetic youth that took him from the Jamaican halfway house where his mother, traumatized by her marriage to a murdered Biafran revolutionary, left him, to reuniting with her in Washington, D.C., as a preteen, and later striking out on his own as a young teenager in a rough Los Angeles neighborhood. Chude-Sokei writes of feeling like a stranger in his own land, whether it’s for his accent, his background, or his love of learning. Adding to this sense of unrest is an extended network of aunts, uncles, and cousins who come from different places and countries, leading Chude-Sokei to wonder how he fits into America as a Black person who is not culturally African American. Chude-Sokei’s understated, lyrical prose propels the memoir through action (his stay in a chaotic Kingston hospital after he is attacked during a visit) and the insights of a young man finding his identity when he’s too free-thinking for his traditionally minded African family and out of place in a post–Rodney King L.A. What emerges is a beautiful, plainspoken work in which Chude-Sokei concludes that the cacophonous diaspora he comes from is his actual culture. This hard-to-put-down memoir both enlightens and inspires. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Breakup Bootcamp: The Science of Rewiring Your Heart

Amy Chan. Dey Street, $18.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-291474-3

Chan, founder of the Renew Breakup Bootcamp retreats, debuts with the inspiring account of how a devastating breakup became a catalyst for her to help others heal. Chan establishes an immediate connection to anyone who has been unlucky in love: “It’s never about the ex. It’s always about the recycled pain.” In addition to stories of breakups—hers and those of the women who attend her boot camps—Chan offers advice on how to “live better, learn more,” and practice self-love so readers can thrive in future relationships. She covers the reasons breakups hurt (usually because one is caught in “linear model” of “date, move in, get married, have kids, stay together forever”), shame, self-compassion, and the stages of grief and separation. To move on from romantic difficulties, she recommends readers figure out their personality category—the career-oriented “overachiever,” perfectionist “superhuman,” relationships-oriented “pleaser,” the romantically pessimistic “jaded,” or the validation-craving “addict”—and consciously steer away from destructive triggers and behaviors. Chan also challenges the idea of soul mates and places some of the blame of unrealistic expectations in dating on fairy tales and romanticism. Those seeking comfort and proactive ways to overcome heartbreak will relish Chan’s upbeat advice. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Extreme Killers: Tales of the World’s Most Prolific Serial Killers

Michael Newton. Sterling, $17.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-4549-3940-5

Spanning the centuries, Newton (Doctor Death) focuses on 15 serial killers in this harrowing survey. True crime fans will be familiar with the likes of Gilles De Rais (aka Bluebeard), who raped and murdered 140 boys in France in the 1400s, and the modern-day Henry Lee Lucas, who confessed to more than 500 murders. But Newton also covers lesser known but no less vicious killers, such as Pakistan’s Javed Iqbal, who murdered 100 children over six months in 1999 and dissolved their bodies in vats of acid. And then there are the women: Erzsébet Báthory, the so-called Blood Countess of Hungary, who tortured to death an estimated 80 girls in 1610, and Madame Fazekas, who led a widow cult in rural Hungary that poisoned more than 100 soldiers returning from WWI to wives who didn’t want them back. Other killers used their professions to further their crimes, such as Britain’s Harold Shipman, a doctor who in the 1970s murdered as many as 250 patients, though he was convicted of murdering only 15, and Russian policeman Mikhail Popkov, who lured dozens of women into his police car and then murdered them and raped their corpses. Straightforward prose reveals the depths of human depravity. This isn’t a book for the faint of heart. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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Pretty Evil New England: True Stories of Violent Vixens and Murderous Matriarchs

Sue Coletta. Globe Pequot, $18.95 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-4930-5233-2

Nurse Jane Toppan, one of five 19th-century New England women poisoners surveyed in this chilling if middling account from Coletta (Crime Writers Research), began murdering patients in nursing school, administering overdoses of morphine and other drugs to the elderly and those seriously sick. During her 20-year killing spree, she admitted to have poisoned 31 people. Arrested in 1901, Toppan was declared insane and spent the rest of her life in an asylum. Lydia Sherman poisoned three husbands and her own children. Sentenced to life in prison, she died there of cancer in 1878. Nellie Webb wiped out two families in rural New Hampshire with arsenic, but a grand jury failed to indict her in 1881, and she disappeared soon afterward. Harriet Nason, who was arrested for poisoning her son-in-law for insurance money and suspected of poisoning three others, also walked free, in 1885, and was never heard of again. Sarah Jane Robinson, who poisoned her son, was sentenced to death in 1888, but that was commuted to life in prison. Coletta draws on a wide range of original sources to bring her subjects to life, but her prose is only serviceable. This is not a must for true crime fans. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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We Thought We Knew You

M. William Phelps. Kensington, $26 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4967-2881-4

In this well-researched if uneven account, Phelps (The Killing Kind) delves into the murder of 60-year-old Mary Yoder. On July 20, 2015, Mary returned home from the chiropractic clinic she shared with her husband in Utica, N.Y., complaining of severe stomach pain. She died two days later of suspected poisoning, though it would take time before the authorities could identify the particular toxin. At first, the police suspected her son, Adam, but evidence emerged that 24-year-old Kaitlyn Conley, Adam’s ex-girlfriend and a receptionist at the clinic, was the culprit. Her desire to get back at Adam after their breakup was the apparent motive. Kaitlyn’s first trial ended in a mistrial; in her second trial, she was convicted of first-degree manslaughter and sentenced to 23 years in prison. The descriptions of the principal players aren’t particularly vivid, and pedestrian, repetitive prose slows the initial background about the Yoder family. The pace picks up in the chapters covering the trials, which are enlivened by quotes from the lawyers, and Phelps does a good job exposing the way reality TV coverage can influence and indeed corrupt perceptions of guilt and innocence. True crime and popular culture fans will be fascinated. Agent: Matthew Valentinas, Kneerim & Williams. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 11/13/2020 | Details & Permalink

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