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No Heavy Lifting: Globetrotting Adventures of a Sports Media Guy

Rob Simpson. ECW (PGW, U.S. dist.; Jaguar, Canadian dist.), $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-77041-434-1

This memoir from Simpson, cohost of Stellick & Simmer on NHL Network radio, lurches from story to story with nothing really holding it together other than the author’s ability to spin a good yarn. It’s as if Simpson invited readers to join him for a beer and then began telling his best stories, including how he broke into a baseball stadium to steal a sign, climbed Mount Kilimanjaro wearing someone else’s clothes, and survived the New York marathon. The book begins with a moving tribute to the late NHL tough guy Steve Montador, with whom Simpson bonded on a 2007 trip to Tanzania with the international children’s charity Right to Play, an experience “as unique, consciousness altering, and inspirational as any in our lives.” The next story goes back to 1994, when Simpson jumped from a plane in a publicity stunt for the television show he worked on in Hawaii. The stories bounce among baseball, basketball, hockey, and his experiences as a reporter in Hawaii, including accounts of a tense hostage situation and the roller-coaster ride of covering a political scandal. There are brief glimpses into Simpson’s personal life, but he says, “I’m not famous, so I do not warrant a biography.” Readers who don’t mind the scattershot approach will get an entertaining trip through Simpson’s world. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Undocumented Lives: The Untold Story of Mexican Immigration

Ana Raquel Minian. Harvard Univ, $29.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-674-73703-7

In this compassionate study, Stanford University history professor Minian provides an elaborate account of Mexican immigration to the United States, particularly from the mid-1960s to the 1980s. Using a wide range of sources—migrants’ private correspondence, organizational records, personal collections, secondary sources, and more than 200 interviews—Minian plumbs “the intimate world of migrants” and the role of gender, sexual, and cultural norms in Mexican migration to the U.S. (for example, women and gay men tended to face less pressure at home to emigrate, and consequently the migrants were mostly straight men). Minian notes that Mexicans’ “circular migration” has been a longstanding feature of the two societies and that U.S. border fortification, more than migrants’ desires, encouraged permanent settlement in the U.S. The book sympathetically analyzes the exclusion these migrants have experienced—from the United States, from Mexico, and from their local communities within Mexico—and highlights the various forms of community-building and activism that migrants and others have engaged in, such as “hometown clubs” in which migrants send money home to fund public works. Though primarily a work of scholarship, this history provides a rare window into “the messy complexity of [the] lived experience” of Mexican migrants and contributes much-needed nuance to contemporary debates on immigration. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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“I’m Not Gonna Die in This Damn Place”: Manliness, Identity, and Survival of the Mexican American Vietnam Prisoners of War

Juan David Coronado. Michigan State Univ., $29.95 trade paper (214p) ISBN 978-1-61186-272-0

Coronado (co-author of Mexican American Baseball in South Texas) offers a concise look at a comparatively little-known group of Vietnam War veterans: the 10 Mexican-American servicemen who were captured and held prisoner by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese. All 10 subjects grew up working class, but they held different political views about the war. They ranged from gung-ho officers like Navy Pilot Everett Alvarez, who “expressed blind loyalty to the United States’ war effort,” to iconoclastic enlisted personnel such as former Marine Sgt. Alfonso Riate, who spoke out against the war after he was captured. Featuring in-depth interviews with the former POWs, the book also looks at the larger picture of social discrimination and racial inequality the men (and other Mexican-Americans) faced in the military and in civilian U.S. society. Despite its academe-tinged subtitle, this is a readable, illuminating account of a group of men who faced the same horrors that all Vietnam War POWs did, but also had to deal with racial discrimination growing up in 1950s in the Southwest, and similar “social and racial barriers” in the military. The chapter on manliness elucidates the impact of the tough-guy ethic on Mexican-Americans’ decisions to serve in the military and how Chicano troops acted in uniform, during captivity, and after coming home from the war. This informative account is sure to appeal to those interested in Vietnam War POWs and Chicanos’ experiences in that war. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Dinner in Camelot: The Night America’s Greatest Scientists, Writers, and Scholars Partied at the Kennedy White House

Joseph A. Esposito. ForeEdge, $29.95 (256p) ISBN 978-1-5126-0012-4

The April 1962 dinner hosted by President John and Jackie Kennedy for 49 Nobel laureates and other intellectuals was, in the president’s oft-quoted words, “the most extraordinary collection of talent that has ever been gathered at the White House, with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone.” Esposito, who served in various roles in three presidential administrations, sets the contextual scene: the Kennedys’ youthful vigor and glamour, the remnants of McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, and a far more unified media landscape than today’s (80 million Americans had watched Jackie’s tour of the White House a few months earlier). Then he narrates the dinner’s importance to several figures. For physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb,” the dinner represented a “release... from political purgatory.” For writer James Baldwin, the evening ultimately led to his arranging a meeting between Robert Kennedy and African-American leaders that sensitized Kennedy to black concerns. There’s no shortage of A-list glamour, but repetition (it is mentioned three times that White House social secretary Letitia Baldrige referred to the evening as the “brains’ dinner”) and somewhat limp prose make parts of the book a slog. Still, this is a fascinating look back at a time when intellect and culture were respected in the inner sancta of American power. Photos. Agent: Roger Williams, the Roger Williams Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Nation Unmade by War: A ‘TomDispatch’ Book

Tom Engelhardt. Haymarket, $15.95 trade paper (250p) ISBN 978-1-60846-901-7

Engelhardt (Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single Superpower World) compiles edited 2016 and 2017 posts from his website, TomDispatch, in a cynical and pessimistic analysis of the U.S. government that’s convincing and peppered with interesting insights, but repetitive. His main thesis, on a topic that has largely been left out of recent popular political discourse given the all-powerful vortex of the Trump media vacuum, is that the nonstop wars America has waged since 9/11 have “crippled not just other nations but ourselves.” All the chapters are variations on that theme: one is a meditation on the decline of America since 9/11, another reviews the 2016 presidential election, and a third explores the preponderance of generals in the Trump Administration. The repetition of ideas makes sense in periodic posts but works less well in a book, and his failure to anticipate potential rebuttals to his arguments saps the work of complexity and persuasiveness. Engelhardt has some interesting and important points to make—such as his observation “that even with a significant set of anti-Trump groups taking to the streets in protest, none are focused on America’s wars”—but those points risk getting lost in the monotonous anger of his prose. Those seeking nuanced analysis will want to look elsewhere. (May)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Life Studies, 1966–1976

June Jordan, edited by Conor Tomás Reed and Talia Shalev. CUNY/Lost & Found, $8 trade paper (76p) ISBN 978-0-9976796-4-9

This brief, stimulating selection of education-focused writings from poet and activist Jordan (1936–2002) demonstrates her brilliance, compassion, and ceaseless engagement with the world. Culled from Jordan’s papers at the Radcliffe Institute, these eight pieces collectively delineate structural inequities that constrain the life choices of young people of color while also persuasively arguing, in the words of the editors, “that poetry can provide a route to a radical reconfiguration of consciousness.” The editors also note how, over this decade-long span, Jordan shifts from the deterministic outlook of her 1966 essay on slum housing (“Where you live inevitably determines how you live there”) to a more optimistic position on possibilities for individual and communitarian change. This movement occurred in large part due to Jordan’s work with children and can be seen in her own documentation of that work; she describes one workshop in which the group “tried to obliterate the usual distinctions between creative writing, or art, and life.” In a 1970 speech to Brooklyn middle schoolers, she decries how the “earnest, real needs” of black and Puerto Rican children are met “with nothing more than irrelevant and contemptuous instruction.” Jordan composed these pieces as a radical grassroots activist who fought racism and austerity measures; what’s remarkable is how relevant her work is today. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Think Small: The Tiniest Art in the World

Eva Katz. Chronicle, $14.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-4521-5696-5

This spectacular book showcases the art of 24 miniaturists whose work is defined not by medium or subject but by size. There are embroidered portraits no larger than a quarter, intricate landscapes painted on lockets, and exquisite sculptures carved into the tips of pencils. The book displays a wonderful and surprising variety of media: test tubes serve as tiny terrariums with moss forests, a sesame seed becomes the perfect canvas for a painting of a panda, and wax crayons transform into sculptures of Star Wars characters. Q&As with each artist explore the inspirations behind these masterpieces. Shinji Nakaba, a Japanese artist who specializes in jewelry-making, describes his inclination toward miniature art in sentimental terms: “When I was little, I loved playing with tiny furniture and cars... I still carry those childhood memories, and perhaps that has inspired me.” Giulia Bernardelli, who creates food art, credits coincidence with bringing her into the beguiling world of miniatures: “I accidentally knocked over a cup of coffee and suddenly a new world appeared... as if the coffee created a story by toppling.” This is a fun, accessible, and compact book that both casual and enthusiastic art fans will enjoy. Color photos. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Andreas Gursky

Katharina Fritsch, Ralph Rugoff, Gerald Schröder, and Brian Sholis. Steidl and Hayward Gallery, $60 (168p) ISBN 978-3-95829-392-2

This splendid art book explores the work of German photographer Andreas Gursky (born 1955), whose large-scale photographs chronicle what Hayward Gallery director Rugoff accurately terms “epic subjects—vast architectural structures or teeming crowds of people or things.” In the introduction, Rugoff emphasizes Gursky’s ability to cultivate “complex levels of resonance within a single photograph,” as in Paris, Montparnasse (1993), a photograph of the city’s largest post-war housing block that captures both intense details and abstraction. Curator Sholis’s essay explores the relationship between whole and part in Gursky’s work, noting the way his images often blur the boundaries between representation and abstraction and between photography and cartography to reveal the complicated entanglements of space and society. For example, Untitled XIII (2002), a photograph of a garbage dump on the outskirts of Mexico City, depicts an endless sea of trash under a grey horizon. Upon closer examination tiny figures emerge, revealing a small commune of squatters. A rare and revelatory conversation between Gursky and artist Jeff Wall and a short personal account of Gursky by sculptor Fritsch round out the monograph. The photos are unfortunately limited by the size of the book, but the written contributions make up for that lack, giving a well-rounded overview of the ever-evolving work of a notable 20th-century photographer. 100 photos. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Fra Angelico: Heaven on Earth

Edited by Nathaniel Silver. Paul Holberton, $45 (250p) ISBN 978-1-911300-39-7

Accompanying an exhibition at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, this catalog combines illuminating essays on the life and art of Italian Renaissance painter Fra Angelico with gorgeous reproductions of his works. The book pays special attention to four reliquaries devoted to the life of the Virgin Mary, one of which was acquired by the museum’s namesake in 1899 and became the first Fra Angelico painting in America. The selection of essays successfully contextualize the artwork in 15th-century Tuscany and describe how Angelico’s involvement in the Dominican Order and his exposure to Sienese art influenced his work. Contributors highlight the artist’s connections to his famous contemporaries, such as the painter Gentile da Fabriano, whose colorful work motivated Angelico to replace his “somber palette” with vibrant colors, and the art theorist Leon Battista Alberti, who drew inspiration from Angelico’s work to craft his important treatise on painting. The detailed exhibition catalog compels readers to scrutinize the featured paintings, observing intriguing details that may be overlooked at a first glance, such as the attributes associated with a group of saints whom Fra Angelico depicts in the predella of one of the reliquaries. This is a wonderful book for Italian Renaissance art enthusiasts. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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The Sex Issue: Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Sexuality, Seduction, and Desire

The Editors of Goop. Grand Central, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-5387-2944-1

From tantric sex to the joys of masturbation, there’s no topic off limits in this fun and informative compilation of sex advice from the editors of Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle blog, Goop. The book makes strides towards inclusivity, with advice for people in same-sex and heterosexual relationships, as well as information on polyamorous relationships. The essays come from a diverse array of contributors: a social psychologist explores the varying boundaries of open relationships, an adult filmmaker discusses how to integrate porn into one’s sex life, and a nutritionist gives plenty of suggestions for aphrodisiacs (“ashwagandha­—and really anything that reduces stress—often have results between the sheets”). The expected offbeat Goop-style spirituality tidbits are here, including a chapter on how to cultivate sexual energy using a jade egg and the enthusiastic recommendation to participate in a sacred snake ceremony. Goop staffers share their personal experiences throughout, lending the book the feeling of a non-judgmental group of friends offering advice over a bottle of wine. Enjoyable to browse as well as to refer back to for more serious contemplation, this is a kinkier version of Our Bodies, Ourselves for wellness seekers. (May)

Reviewed on 04/20/2018 | Details & Permalink

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