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Gentrifier

John Joe Schlichtman, Jason Patch, and Marc Lamont Hill. Univ. of Toronto, $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4426-5045-9

Professors Schlichtman (DePaul University, sociology), Patch (Roger Williams University, sociology), and Hill (Temple University, anthropology) team up in this scholarly attempt to reveal the places where the academic theories about gentrification meet the decisions—personal and political—that create the conditions for gentrification. All three authors situate themselves as gentrifiers from the outset and spend the rest of this slight auto-ethnographic treatise interrogating how they, all PhDs interested in the process of gentrification, came to represent the very forces that they professionally advocate against. The investigation ranges across national, municipal, and personal topics: how racist urban planning policies formed disinvested neighborhoods, how transit infrastructure affects the livability of a neighborhood, how decisions about school lead a family to choose one neighborhood over another. Ultimately exonerating individuals, these scholars decide that the epithet gentrifier “is a structural position enacted when particular personal choices coincide with particular structural tendencies.” Concluding with a call to action, emphasizing the importance of listening to and working with existing local communities to ensure that any displacement that happens as a result of gentrification is the result of a choice and not disenfranchisement, the book oddly ignores the fact that this discussion is happening on contested, colonized lands. (May)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Understanding Trump

Newt Gingrich. Center Street, $27 (369p) ISBN 978-1-4789-2308-4

Former House speaker Gingrich (A Nation like No Other) promises an insider’s look at what makes Donald J. Trump tick, but instead, he delivers an implausible portrait of the 45th president as a straight-talking guy from Queens who, unlike the “intellectual yet idiot” elite, can connect naturally with working people. Gingrich’s Trump is an entrepreneur, pragmatist, and family man, a uniquely promising leader capable of achieving what others say is impossible. He “flaunts his wealth both as a measure of personal achievement and as a celebration of the greatness of America.” Those interested in understanding Trump or principled conservative policy reform will not find answers here. Gingrich instead reviews the perils of inflexible bureaucracies, his own health-care reform proposals, and the merits of tax reduction. Gingrich warns that identity politics, media bias, and a permanent opposition threaten to destroy Trump’s presidency, and Trump so threatens the liberal establishment that a coup d’état is a danger. He finishes his hastily assembled profile with an incoherent mix of lists, projects, a diatribe by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, and transcriptions of Trump’s speeches, giving the impression that Gingrich has little new to offer readers. (June)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Violated: Exposing Rape at Baylor University Amid College Football’s Sexual Assault Crisis

Paula Lavigne and Mark Schlabach. Center Street, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4789-7408-6

ESPN reporters Lavigne and Schlabach spare no detail in this shocking account of rampant sexual violence at one of America’s most revered religious universities. Between 2011 and 2015, there were 125 reports of sexual assault at Baylor University in Waco, Tex., according to the school’s legal office, though other school officials suggest the number of assaults was much higher. In that period, 17 women reported allegations of sexual assault or domestic violence involving 19 Baylor University football players. Using extensive research, including interviews with victims, coaches, players, and university officials, Lavigne and Schlabach chronicle the ways the football program fueled a hostile and abusive environment toward women and the school’s epic failure to address it. The damning account is made all the more horrific by graphic descriptions of the abuse—including multiple gang rapes—and the authors show how the school’s administrators, who refused to believe that a school with such deep Christian roots could foster an environment for sexual assault, built a “doesn’t happen here” culture that resulted in both implicit and explicit victim blaming among campus officials. In one instance, a student had to recount her sexual assault to 27 people before she was allowed to switch majors to avoid encountering her alleged attacker. This is a comprehensive and disturbing account of a particularly stark example of an epidemic facing American universities. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Being Here Is Everything: The Life of Paula M. Becker

Marie Darrieussecq, trans. from the French by Penny Hueston. Semiotext(e), $17.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-63590-008-8

Drawing on the letters and journals of her subject, Darrieussecq (Men) affectionately traces the brief life of German painter Paula Modersohn-Becker (1876–1907), who is now recognized as a leading 20th-century expressionist despite selling only three paintings in her lifetime. Trained at the Académie Colarossi and the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris, Modersohn-Becker—always referred to as “Paula” in the text—pursued art single-mindedly, producing over 80 paintings annually at her peak. Though she frequented Paris to immerse herself in its galleries and museums, she lived primarily in Germany and often slept in her Worpswede studio. After a period of fervent and prolific creativity in 1906, her work received generous critical praise at group exhibition at the Bremen Art Museum. She died the following year at age 31. Darrieussecq frames her subject as an independent free spirit, a sort of real-life heroine from Virginia Wolfe or Henrik Ibsen, determinedly making art that flouted centuries-old expectations of the male gaze. In Modersohn-Becker’s many sensitive portraits of women (including a nude self-portrait, the first by a woman in the known history of art), the author finds an unidealized, tender authenticity that is rare among the myriads of Madonnas and Venuses. Darrieussecq’s writing is poetic and stylized; the tableau unfolds sometimes in one-sentence paragraphs and one-word sentences, and always in the present tense. Clearly written for a broad audience, this book will renew appreciation for a deserving artist who’s too often reduced to a mere passing mention in art-history textbooks. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Vietnam War: An Intimate History

Geoffrey C. Ward and Ken Burns. Knopf, $60 (640p) ISBN 978-0-307-70025-4

This lavishly illustrated large-format book from frequent collaborators Ward and Burns (The Roosevelts) serves as the companion volume to the eponymous 18-hour, 10-part PBS documentary from Burns and Lynn Novick. The work follows the usual Ward and Burns formula of mixing solid historical narrative with personal stories of both the famous (in this case, mainly politicians and military leaders from all sides of the conflict) and the ordinary (troops, war journalists, and anti-war activists). Well-written and deeply researched, this history covers virtually every aspect of the French and American wars in Vietnam from 1945 to 1975, focusing mainly on military, diplomatic, and political issues. Individual tales of Army infantrymen, Marine grunts, and other combatants are woven throughout the larger narrative. There is virtually no new history here, however, and a number of the personal stories included here can be readily found in memoirs and other books, including those of Vietnam War veteran writers Philip Caputo, Tobias Wolff, Karl Marlantes, W.D. Ehrhart, Tim O’Brien, Joan Furey, and John Musgrave, and the Vietnamese novelist Bảo Ninh, as well as the work of the former war correspondents Neil Sheehan, John Laurence, and Joe Galloway. Nevertheless, anyone looking for an expansive overview of the Vietnam War will find much to admire here. Maps & photos. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/18/2017 | Details & Permalink

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