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Nimble: Make Yourself and Your Company Resilient in the Age of Constant Change

Baba Prasad. TarcherPerigee, $26 (272p) ISBN 978-0-14-313145-8

Prasad, a management consultant, delivers a solid if familiar guide to managing change in the swiftly shifting world of business. According to the introduction, it’s a “no-brainer” that today’s executives need agility in order to succeed, and Prasad sets out to help readers get comfortable with a nimble mind-set at work and at home. He begins by describing how his consultancy work has focused on finding “the equivalent of human intelligence in organizations” and making corporate operations and strategy more responsive to evolving challenges. As a key part of his management philosophy, he introduces five types of agility (operational, analytical, visionary, inventive, and communicative)and his MAST (map, assess, strategize, test) method for using them. The book’s strength lies not in its classification categories and acronyms but in its real-world illustrations—including NASA’s crisis management during the Apollo 13 mission and the rebuilding of an Indian dam—and emphasis on strict, honest self-evaluation. However, the topic of agility has been so thoroughly covered in other business books that it would take a truly revolutionary idea to change the conversation, and this effort comes across as merely another earnest discussion about how change is the only constant in the 21st century. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Operation Chaos: The Vietnam Deserters Who Fought the CIA, the Brainwashers, and Themselves

Matthew Sweet. Holt, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-62779-463-3

British journalist and BBC personality Sweet (The West End Front) details the strange and chaotic story of the “thousand-strong community of deserters and draft resisters” who went into exile in neutral Sweden during the Vietnam War, along with Operation Chaos, the CIA operation set up to spy on them. Sweet evocatively sketches his quest to uncover these resisters’ lives. Some of the exiles seemed to be upright and idealistic, some were criminals, others were prone to bizarre and outlandish conspiracy theories, and more than a few lived life through “a psychedelic filter.” Sweet tries to unravel their stories, but admits that of the dozens of former exiles he interviewed, only some “are telling the truth.” He injects himself into the narrative from the beginning, diligently recording how he tracked down and interviewed many of his subjects. In the book’s second half, Sweet turns his attentions to the “apocalyptic” cult joined by several of the deserters. It was (and continues to be) led by the conspiracist Lyndon LaRouche, whom Sweet calls “the longest-running gag in U.S. fringe politics.” Though rather fascinating, the highly detailed LaRouche narrative may exhaust some readers. Still, Sweet uncloaks a relatively little-known aspect of the Vietnam War–era counterculture. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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One Goal: A Coach, a Team, and the Game That Brought a Divided Town Together

Amy Bass. Hachette, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-316-39654-7

One of the whitest states in the U.S. also boasts one of the country’s most ethnically diverse high school soccer programs, explains Bass (Those About Him Remained Silent) in this relevant and rewarding narrative. Bass followed the Lewiston High School Blue Devils and the team’s tireless coach, Mike McGraw, during its 2015 pursuit of a state title. In the early 2000s, Lewiston, Maine, emerged as a popular destination for Somali refugee families due to the city’s low crime rate, cheap housing, and solid schools. The Somalis had an impact on life in Lewiston (sambusa, a savory Somali puff pastry, is served by snack bars at games alongside hot dogs), but, as Bass reports, the wider community was slow to accept the Somali population. Bass immersed herself in the town’s culture and got to know players and families both black and white—as well as the prejudiced Lewiston residents who told Somali families to “go back to Africa.” McGraw emerges as the book’s true hero, a man able to put aside his own preconceptions about Muslims for the good of his players. He, along with the Lewiston High School boys’ soccer team, eventually bridged a divided community on their way to winning the finals. Bass’s effective portrayal of Lewiston as a microcosm of America’s changing culture should be required reading for coaches, teachers, and those working with diverse populations. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The King’s City: A History of London During the Restoration: The City That Transformed a Nation

Don Jordan. Pegasus, $29.95 (544p) ISBN 978-1-68177-638-5

Post-Cromwellian London bursts to life with the Stuart dynasty’s restoration in this effortless account from Jordan (The King’s Bed, with Michael Walsh) that covers the years 1660–1685. He aptly dubs it an “age of transformation.” London under Charles II gained a glamorous court, a revitalized theater scene, and long-sought status as a leading city of trade. Jordan’s fast-paced and enjoyable narrative shows how London both benefited from and suffered under the central government’s perennial economic mismanagement, in light of which the city’s successes in trade and science were even more impressive. The discoveries and achievements of Robert Hooke, Samuel Pepys, Christopher Wren, and other notable intellectuals provide moments of excitement and passion as they changed London into a modern city untethered from medieval architecture and earlier restrictions on scientific innovation. Jordan also steadfastly examines Londoners’ increasing involvement in the slave trade over this period and the blatant corruption permeating their city. London shined during the Enlightenment but suffered nearly simultaneous catastrophes in the form of plague and a massive fire before sinking into a temporary decline. Through it all Jordan stays on task, offering a fresh perspective and enthusiasm for the era’s events and London’s adaptable residents. Illus. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Halfway: A Memoir

Tom Macher. Scribner, $26 (320p) ISBN 978-1-5011-1260-7

First-time author Macher delivers a powerful memoir about his years in a series of boys’ homes and halfway houses, from his teens through his 20s, as he dealt with a chemical dependency that made him “the worst kind of kid—fearless and empty.” Although Macher details a youth defined by his parents’ broken marriage followed by his mother’s unemployed life and an often homeless existence for him and his brother, he is never self-pitying. Of his descent into alcoholism, he writes, “As much as I liked being drunk, being blacked out was much, much better.” Macher was kicked out of high school and was sent to a boys’ home in Montana and then to a half-way house in Louisiana, where he struggled with various recovery programs and lived among a motley crew of “delinquents, petty thieves, dropouts, strong-arm men, trafficker, pimps”—many of whom became his surrogate family. As he overcame his addictions, Macher began to realize that he and his friends all had a thing inside them “at once horrible and beautiful... each one of us lucky, unlucky, blessed, bewitched, and doomed.” Macher’s carefully crafted, unsparing look at his troubled life is reminiscent of Jim Carroll’s The Basketball Diaries. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Finest Building in America: The New York Crystal Palace, 1853 1858

Edwin G. Burrows. Oxford Univ., $19.95 (248p) ISBN 978-0-19-068121-0

Burrows, professor of history at Brooklyn College and coauthor of the Pulitzer Prize–winning Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (with Mike Wallace), assembles the definitive history of the New York Crystal Palace, yet falls short of making the building more than a curiosity. He opens his account with the end of the story—the 1858 fire of unknown origin that destroyed the magnificent structure built on what is now Bryant Park. It’s a captivating narrative hook that shadows the venture’s commercial rise and fall, which Burrows traces from Horace Greeley’s vision of an exhibition that would showcase American ingenuity. Burrows colorfully details the logistical and financial problems caused by the elaborate building, inspired by the Crystal Palace built in London for the Great Exhibition of 1851, and he makes the period come to life by effectively employing memorable details, such as how President Franklin Pierce got caught in a downpour prior to his appearance at the opening ceremony. The building’s “greatest achievement,” Burrows concludes, “may have been to show Americans that they, too, could put up a modern building every bit as beautiful” as the original. Unfortunately, Burrows abruptly ends there, leaving readers to their own speculations as to why this edifice and its history matter. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Earth Gazers: On Seeing Ourselves

Christopher Potter. Pegasus, $27.95 (464p) ISBN 978-1-68177-636-1

In this sweeping chronology of human flight, British writer Potter (How to Make a Human Being) traces aviation and rocketry from the WWI era into the space age. It’s a distracted narrative, and amid the vast cast of characters three influential pillars emerge: Robert Goddard (1882–1945), a pioneering rocketeer and a smart but often paranoid eccentric; Charles Lindbergh (1902–1974), who devoted his life to realizing “a new era of flight” but who came to believe that “neither aeronautics nor astronautics had been a boon to the human race”; and Wernher von Braun (1912–1977), Hitler’s rocket engineer and later “America’s chief advocate for space travel.” Potter’s parallel play-by-play accounts of the American and Soviet space programs offer an energetic supercut of crewed missions and astronaut life during the Cold War. He shows the ingenuity and daring needed to go from The Spirit of Saint Louis’s transatlantic crossing to Apollo 8’s lunar orbit. This grand scope ably highlights the interconnected nature of progress: “We could see men on the moon only because getting them to the moon had brought about a worldwide telecommunications system.” Throughout, readers receive brief technical explanations, rich primary-source research, and intimate biographical details of many recognizable figures. Potter’s story is one of individuals as much as of advancement, but the sum is less than its constituent parts. Agent: Georgina Capel Associates. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Bachelor Nation: Inside the World of America’s Favorite Guilty Pleasure

Amy Kaufman. Dutton, $25 (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-98590-8

Los Angeles Times entertainment journalist Kaufman’s eye-opening exposé of the reality TV show The Bachelor offers criticism as well as praise as it explores the reasons why the show has been watched by millions since its 2002 premier. A Bachelor aficionado, Kaufman unpacks the keys to the show’s success, even while being barred from ABC press calls and numerous interviews because her coverage of the show in the Times was deemed too negative. Kaufman unveils plenty of unpalatable practices, such as an overabundance of alcohol on the set (though drinking is not mandated), editing/manipulating footage to create a story line that wasn’t present during the filming, and sequestering contestants in a mansion “bubble” in which communication with the outside world is banned. Many viewers watch The Bachelor, Kaufman posits, because they are mesmerized by the romantic, chivalrous stories of “brave” singles baring their hearts and souls in search of a perfect mate. Kaufman intersperses her narrative with commentary from various celebrity fans, such as Amy Schumer, who says: “It’s kind of awful to watch the show. And it’s the thing I most look forward to every week. It’s fucked up.” Kaufman shares little-known details about the show (hair and makeup styling are offered on the first night only; contestants must apply their own fake eyelashes) that will no doubt fascinate Bachelor fans. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust

Laura Smith. Viking, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-0-399-56358-4

Smith’s seductive memoir interweaves her search for personal freedom with an account of a woman who abandoned her marriage and disappeared without a trace in the early 20th century. Smith feared that married life would be predictable and dull. In her mid-20s, Smith was told a story about Barbara Follett, who deserted her own marriage in 1939 and was never seen again. Intrigued, Smith began researching Follett’s life. As a child of 12, Follett published a novel, The House Without Windows, that became a bestseller. Follett embarked on a life of travel and adventure, got married at 19, and then disappeared when she was 25. While digging deeper into Follett’s life, Smith “began to feel an uncomfortable sensation: recognition.” Smith then found herself testing the boundaries of her marriage. While at a writing retreat in Banff, Canada, she had an affair with another man. When she was about to sleep with yet another man at the same conference she stopped herself, realizing that she was “a monogamous adulteress.” After this revelation, she began to reconsider her marriage and the course of her life. Smith’s narrative is a riveting journey mapping the route of two restless women and their search for fulfillment. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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F-Bomb: Dispatches from the War on Feminism

Lauren McKeon. Goose Lane (UTP, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-0-86492-994-5

In a disappointing debut, McKeon, a journalist who has won a Canadian National Magazine Award, sets out to discover why so many women in the 21st century are uncomfortable with calling themselves feminists or reject the movement entirely. Written with a wry sense of humor, the book begins with a history of feminism, then features interviews with notable antifeminists, including blogger Janet Bloomfield; Diana Davison, who runs the Youtube channel Feminism LOL; and University of Ottawa professor Janice Fiamengo. McKeon argues that the future of feminism has to be rooted in intersectional antioppression work, which acknowledges the interplay between systems of discrimination and oppression. But she focuses mostly on middle-class white women who have rejected feminism rather than on women of color. The book touches on the role of women in corporate culture, McKeon’s own rape, the high-profile charges of sexual assault against former CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, rape culture, and even the “pro-life feminist” movement. The book is a good primer for those who haven’t been paying attention to the internet wars between men’s-rights activists and feminists, but centering white cis women’s struggles as the feminist battleground is a troubling choice for someone who lays claim to the title “intersectional feminist.” Agent: Hilary McMahon, Westwood Creative Artists. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 11/24/2017 | Details & Permalink

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