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La Belle Sauvage

Philip Pullman. Knopf, $22.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-375-81530-0

For more than 15 years, fans of the His Dark Materials trilogy have longed to return to the world Pullman created. Now, finally, begins a new trilogy, the Book of Dust, that again immerses readers in a thrilling alternate landscape of animal daemons, truth-revealing alethiometers, and the mysterious particle known as Dust. Lyra, the beloved heroine of the original books, is just a baby; 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead is the hero this time, and a worthy one. Malcolm helps out at his family's inn in Oxford and at the priory where Lyra—sought by her mother, Mrs. Coulter (younger but no less chilling than in the His Dark Materials books), and her father, Lord Asriel—is being cared for by nuns. Inquisitive and observant, Malcolm gets involved with scholar-spy Dr. Hannah Relf and meets (and adores) baby Lyra. But free thinkers are at war with the oppressive religious regime, and everyone wants control of Lyra, who is "destined to put an end to destiny." Amid the roaring waters of a historic flood, Malcolm and his daemon, Asta, attempt to keep Lyra safe, braving kidnappers, government enforcers, murderers, and classmates who, chillingly, are being trained to turn in those perceived to be disloyal to the regime. Fortunately, he has a fleet canoe, the Belle Sauvage of the title, and help from Alice, a cranky and courageous 16-year-old. The new characters are as lively and memorable as their predecessors; despite a few heavy-handed moments regarding the oppressiveness of religion, this tense, adventure-packed book will satisfy and delight Pullman's fans and leave them eager to see what's yet to come. Ages 14–up. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/20/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Violence Against Indigenous Women

Allison Hargreaves. Wilfrid Laurier Univ. (IPS, U.S dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $29.99 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-77112-239-9

As the Canadian government begins an inquiry into the country’s shockingly high rates of missing and murdered Indigenous women, this academic analysis of how the crisis has been addressed in literature, the arts, political forums, and the media poses provocative questions about racism, misogyny, and complacency. Hargreaves, a professor of Indigenous literature at the University of British Columbia, examines how stories of individual tragedies have been memorialized in venues such as human rights reports, poems, films, and plays. She convincingly explains that statistics and research projects produced with the best intentions may serve to reinforce the very colonial power dynamics that prevent the emergence of transformative solutions in the struggle to end violence against Indigenous women. In thoroughly canvassing Indigenous activism history, anti-racism theory, and feminist analysis, Hargreaves concludes that Indigenous women artists and writers offer a vital truth-telling platform that subverts and resists a system that tends to narrowly define who is worthy of being mourned. Born as a doctoral thesis, the title relies heavily on academic jargon and repetition that will likely limit its appeal to a general audience. But for those in the field of comparative narrative criticism, it’s a work sure to inspire much discussion, debate, and reflection. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Taste of Paris: A History of the Parisian Love Affair with Food

David Downie. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-08293-0

Downie (A Passion for Paris) blends exhaustive research and personal experience in this delightful history of one of the culinary capitals of the world. The acclaimed food and travel writer packs in 92 breezy essays that cover topics ranging from pre-Christian times up through the nouvelle cuisine of the 1970s and the alleged decline of present-day French cuisine. Downie expands on dozens of topics, including the French fascination with foie gras, the Sweeney Todd legend (which was based on real events in Paris “in which the barber and the meat pie maker next door carry on a gruesome trade”), and the origins of the country’s love for food. He shares primary documents such as the menu at Queen Catarina’s 1549 coronation and the original 1691 crème brûlée recipe, and explores the influences of a wide and entertaining array of historical figures including the gluttonous Louis XIV, the prerevolutionary potato promoter Parmentier, and medieval cookbook author Taillevent. Most impressively, Downie relishes in debunking myths about French culinary exceptionalism (Curnonsky, one of Paris’s best-known gastronomists in the early 20th century, “only got into the gastro-journalism racket after a taste-bud-stimulating voyage to China”) while unabashedly proclaiming his adoration for French culture and history in and out of the kitchen. Readers don’t have to be foodies to get the flavor of the French character in this delightful, thoroughly researched culinary history. Photos. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup

John Feinstein. Doubleday, $28.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-54109-1

Feinstein (A Good Walk Spoiled), a sportswriter best known for his golf coverage, provides a colorful story of the 2016 Ryder Cup—which broke an eight-year losing streak for Americans—that even non-golfers will enjoy. Dating back to 1921, this team competition between both new and established golfers from the U.S. and Europe is now one of the sport’s premier events; it also attracts more raucous fans than other major golf tournament in the world. Tension and drama ran high for the 2016 Ryder Cup, hosted at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minn., just days after golf icon Arnold Palmer’s death. The Americans were in the midst of a losing streak that began in 2008 and desperate to redeem themselves. Rather than provide a hole-by-hole narrative, Feinstein uses his tight connections within pro golf’s inner circle to take readers into the lives and minds of golfers such as Davis Love III, Phil Mickelson, Jordan Spieth, and Rory McIlroy. Context is central to understanding the significance of the Americans’ 2016 Ryder Cup victory, which is why Feinstein digs deep into the event’s illustrious history, peppering his prose with astute observations and witty lines and including an examination of Tiger Woods (“Woods had been raised by his father to believe that anyone with a club in his hand was the enemy”). Feinstein has written more than two dozen books, and this one ranks among his best. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Where the Wild Coffee Grows: The Untold Story of Coffee from the Cloud Forests of Ethiopia to Your Cup

Jeff Koehler. Bloomsbury, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-1-63286-509-0

Koehler (Darjeeling) nicely captures the natural beauty and mystery of the birthplace of Arabica coffee. He begins with a poetic description of Ethiopian province of Kafa and its highland rainforest (“A tartan of paths wove through the weedy expanses... the conical tukuls sat slight askew”) before detailing the history of Ethopia. Foreign explorers found it “nearly impenetrable” for centuries, which kept coffee a local secret. In the 17th century, traders and conquerors took the plant and tried growing it throughout the Arabian Peninsula and Europe. Koehler concludes this section with the downfall of what was once the rich kingdom of Kafa in 1897. In the second half of the book, Koehler focuses on contemporary coffee commerce and cultivation, outlining Starbucks’s rise to market dominance and the new wave of artisanal coffee purveyors. Koehler then explains how coffee could completely disappear off the face of the Earth because of the perfect storm the incurable coffee leaf rust fungus, rampant deforestation of the Ethopia cloud forests, and climate change. This is a wonderfully informative book about a bean on which many people rely. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Abu Dhabi Bar Mitzvah: Fear and Love in the Modern Middle East

Adam Valen Levinson. Norton, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-393-60836-6

In this aimless memoir, freelance writer Valen Levinson chronicles a trek across the Middle East to grasp a part of the world that holds a fascination for him. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, ignited a peculiar curiosity in Valen Levinson, then a middle schooler; he “moved to New York to lock eyes with my bogeyman” and studied at Columbia University. After college he took a job at New York University Abu Dhabi and used that as a base camp travel throughout the Middle East. “Unburdened by guidebooks and online reviews and knowledge, everything was a little discovery,” he writes. “The thrill of novelty comes easy for the ill-informed.” He clumsily refuted the amorous advances of an eager Lebanese soldier, noting that “Lebanese hair gel and friendship are not American hair gel and friendship.” He visited the house where Osama bin Laden was killed, got bar mitzvahed in a quick celebration before work, and, throughout, tried to blend in despite being “a white man entirely outside of caste.” But Valen Levinson’s’s good intentions and open mind get lost within a meandering narrative that dilutes Valen Levinson’s spiritual awakening and the humanity of the countries he visits. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Hippie Food: How Back-to-the-Landers, Longhairs, and Revolutionaries Changed the Way We Eat

Jonathan Kauffman. Morrow, $26.99 (336p) ISBN 978-0-06-243730-3

In this informative, briskly paced first book, James Beard Award–winning food writer Kauffman details how the concept of health food “evolved in the kitchens of young baby boomers” during the late 1960s counterculture and then in the post-Vietnam age. “Counterculture adherents,” he writes, “turned their efforts away from protest and created institutions, businesses, and cookbooks that brought the food movement to a much broader audience.” Kauffman explains that many of the staples of what is considered today to be a healthy diet—whole-grain bread, low-fat yogurt, organic or pesticide-free fruits and vegetables—had once been associated with fringe movements and have always been available to consumers. He interviews dozens of influential people within the healthy food movement, including the owners of the Aware Inn on the Sunset Strip, one of the earliest health food restaurants in the late 1950s; the editors of Zen Macrobiotics, which popularized the use of brown rice; and Frances Moore Lappé, author of Diet for a Small Planet, which introduced soybeans and tofu to American tables. Kauffman is equally thorough in tracing how these early innovators inspired the food co-ops and whole food stores that exist today, as well as how, during the 1980s and 1990s, mainstream supermarkets across the country added natural food sections to sell what was dismissed as “hippie food” in the 1960s. This is an outstanding food and cultural history. Agent: Nicole Tourtelot, DeFiore and Co. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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A Century of Wealth in America

Edward N. Wolff. Belknap, $39.95 (856p) ISBN 978-0-674-49514-2

Wolff (Top Heavy), an economics professor at New York University, will remind many of Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century with this comprehensive and thorough study of the accumulation, distribution, and preservation of wealth in the United States. Wolff confirms the middle class’s increasingly precarious standing and the rise of income inequality. As to who the rich are in America, he shows that they are overwhelmingly white, married, highly educated, older, and self-employed, most likely in finance or business and professional services. And the remaining 99%? Their incomes have stagnated since the 1970s, despite the compensatory addition of many women to the workforce and huge increases in household debt levels—the latter, Wolff writes, just to maintain living standards, not to “binge” on consumption. Furthermore, as Wolff shows, members of the middle class are shut out of their share of the national pie: between 1983 and 2013, the richest 1% received 41% of the total growth in net worth; the richest 20% received 100%. Wolff doesn’t speculate about whether these trends anticipate a dystopian future, but he notes that even a direct tax on household wealth, as Switzerland has, would do little to alter income inequality. Wolff states the central narrative of this work to be the “rise and fall of the middle class” in America, and provides solid evidence to support this trend—and, even more disturbingly, no indication that it will end. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Adults in the Room: My Battle with the European and American Deep Establishment

Yanis Varoufakis. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (560p) ISBN 978-0-374-10100-8

Former Greek finance minister Varoufakis, a highly unorthodox, colorful, and fearless figure, here chronicles his and his country’s battles with the leaders of the troika (the European Commission, the EU’s executive body; the European Central Bank; and the International Monetary Fund) during the 2014–2015 stages in his country’s ongoing debt crisis. He blasts the European powers-that-be for what he calls “Bailoutistan,” whereby several huge loans allegedly for Greece’s benefit largely went to the country’s creditors. Meanwhile, under the troika’s austerity regimen, the country’s net income dropped. Varoufakis extensively documents his clashes and periodic, almost always abortive attempts at cooperation with troika leaders, most interestingly with imperious German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble. His subtitle is misleading, as there’s little here about America’s leaders and nothing about its “deep establishment” (a term Varoufakis leaves unexplained); this is a book about intra-European economic battles. Unfortunately, Varoufakis sometimes doesn’t explain arcane terms—how many readers will know what “EFSF debt” refers to? He is also prone to providing excessive detail, making this otherwise illuminating account far too long for all but those with a passionate interest in EU economic affairs in general and the seemingly interminable Greek debt crisis in particular. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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J.G. Ballard

D. Harlan Wilson. Univ. of Illinois, $22 (208p) ISBN 978-0-252-08295-5

Wilson (Dr. Identity), a novelist, turns to criticism in this study, the first full-length monograph to treat novelist Ballard’s entire career. Arguing that Ballard’s emphasis on “inner space” over outer space was perhaps the most influential development of 1960s and ’70s new wave science fiction, Wilson attempts to shed light on Ballard’s role in the “megatext” of the science fiction genre as a whole. He gives background information on Ballard’s childhood growing up in an internment camp in Shanghai during WWII, and sketches out how his work was conceived and how it was received by the larger science fiction community. Separate chapters deal with Ballard’s short fiction, the first four disaster novels, the “cultural disaster” novels such as The Atrocity Exhibition, autobiographical works such as Empire of the Sun, and the author’s final books. Though Ballard’s later work was often branded literary fiction, Wilson argues that Ballard will always remain “an icon of science fiction against which other authors measure themselves.” For example, he sides with French philosopher Jean Baudrillard (and against Ballard himself) in characterizing the bizarre erotic novel Crash as “a work of ‘unauthorized’ science fiction” about the contemporary relationship between humanity and machines. Scholars and fans of Ballard will find this study comprehensive and stimulating. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 10/13/2017 | Details & Permalink

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