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Touching Ground: Devotion and Demons Along the Path of Enlightenment

Tim Testu. Wisdom, $17.95 trade paper (216p) ISBN 978-1-61429-333-0

In this posthumously published memoir, Buddhist monk Testu recounts misguided adventures through his youth and his eventual spiritual development through his experiences with Chan Buddhism. Growing up in California, Testu repeatedly got in trouble, eventually being kicked out of Catholic school, entering and leaving the Navy, and then becoming an alcoholic. But after a chance meeting with monk Hsuan Hua of the Chan Buddhism lineage, he decided to change his life and became ordained as a monk at the Gold Mountain Monastery in California. Testu underwent his 10-month bowing pilgrimage through California, Oregon, and Washington, walking for world peace during his Chan practice with Hsuan Hua. Testu’s faithful, honest depiction of his struggles with desire, disappointments, and dissatisfaction during his monkhood years make this memoir stand out from similar offerings. Testu does not shy away from revealing his greedy side, which sought to occasionally break his vows or to make his practice spiritually materialistic. Though Testu was changed by his bowing pilgrimage, he eventually left the monastery and returned to lay life, where he gave in once again to his addictions. Tetsu’s affecting book is a down-to-earth depiction of the joys and sufferings of practice. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Let Her Fly: A Father’s Journey

Ziauddin Yousafzai, with Louise Carpenter. Little, Brown, $25 (176p) ISBN 978-0-316-45050-8

Yousafzai, father of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, movingly tells his life story, focusing primarily on his journey from the Swat Mountains of Northwest Pakistan to Birmingham, England to protect his daughter. Rather than tell his own life story from childhood to fatherhood and beyond, Yousafzai divides it into sections focused on relationships: father, sons, wife and best friend, and daughter. This could be somewhat disorienting for readers less familiar with the history of the Taliban or his family’s story (particularly the Taliban’s attempted murder of Malala and his subsequent activism). The memoir also operates as a letter of fatherly pride to Malala, as well as a description of how she and his wife, Toor Pekai, formed Yousafzai’s strong advocacy for women’s empowerment and feminism.“I only came to know the word feminist after living in the U.K.,” he writes. “For more than forty years, I was living that word but not hearing it.” Those interested in learning more about Malala’s incredible life will be enriched by her father’s deeply personal account of courage and perseverance during a life of activism. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Seeing Jesus in East Harlem: What Happens When Churches Show Up and Stay Put

José Humphreys. IVP, $16 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-0-8308-4149-3

Humphreys, pastor of the evangelical Metro Hope Covenant Church in New York City, advises pastors to embrace activism and reach out to their local communities in this framework for church planting. Sharing lessons learned from ministering to his diverse congregation, Humphreys divides good practice for lead pastors into three commandments: show up, stay put, and see. For Humphreys, showing up means being wholly responsible and responsive—being reliable, checking on others, and being proactive about bringing in congregants to the church. In the staying put section, he goes further into ideas for “crowdsourcing God,” such as setting up pop-up locations for the church. In the final section, Humphreys vociferously condemns of racism and holds up diversity as the most important aspect of a healthy church. His thoughtful, textured questions for reflection will also provide much for readers to ponder after each chapter. With many contemporary references, lively retellings of Bible stories, and quotes taken directly from sermons Humphreys has delivered on the street (“How can we become God’s crowdsource in our barrio?”) Humphreys’ book will be a fine guide for church organizers that will also appeal to general readers. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Not Your White Jesus: Following a Radical, Refugee Messiah

Sheri Faye Rosendahl. Westminster John Knox, $16 trade paper (204p) ISBN 978-0-664-26416-1

In her persuasive debut, Rosendahl, codirector of the Nations, a humanitarian organization, challenges the image and ideals of the Americanized, blond-haired, and blue-eyed Jesus. For Rosendahl, establishing a portrait of the historical Jesus is crucial for understanding Christianity’s original teachings. Establishing Jesus as both a Jew and a Palestinian, she starts with a quick overview of Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem, his life of meager means, and his spiritual revelations that attracted a modest following during his own life. She describes Jesus foremost as a refugee, a man who famously kept company with the marginalized of society—widows, prostitutes, the poor, foreigners—and lived a life of love in action. Part portrait of Jesus and part memoir, the book also covers how Rosendahl became interested in recreating the true Jesus after she moved from Texas to Iowa to help refugees from the Middle East integrate into American society. She details the pushback she received from Christian groups and the realization that the perception most Americans had of Jesus’s life was deeply flawed. Addressing the recent election of Donald Trump, she writes directly to a Christian audience that, she believes, has forgotten Jesus’s original message. Well-researched and sometimes tinged with sarcasm and disbelief, Rosendahl’s forceful book will appeal to progressive Christians. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Akira Kurosawa: A Viewer’s Guide

Eric San Juan. Rowman & Littlefield, $36 (264p) ISBN 978-1-5381-1089-8

Akira Kurosawa’s films are examined in detail in this enjoyable overview of the renowned director’s career from San Juan (Hitchcock’s Villains). Focusing on Kurosawa’s themes rather than his techniques, San Juan readily succeeds in his goal of creating an accessible appreciation of Kurosawa’s work. Each film receives its own entry, beginning with Kurosawa’s 1943 directorial debut, Sanshiro Sugata, about a reckless young man intent on becoming a judo master, through to Kurosawa’s 1993 swan song, Madadayo, about an elderly man not yet ready to die. Biographical snippets threaded into the entries trace Kurosawa’s working life, from his start in WWII-era Japan to his continuing career in devastated postwar Japan to his rise to fame in and outside Japan in the 1950s, ending with his late ’60s fall from grace and early ’80s comeback. Many of the tales from Kurosawa’s life, particularly regarding his relationships with his actors—including his master-pupil relationship with star Toshiro Mifune and long marriage to actress Yoko Yaguchi—are so intriguing that readers will wish this were a full biography. San Juan takes care to note Kurosawa’s influences upon other directors, including George Lucas, Sam Peckinpah, and Martin Scorsese, observing, for example, how the plot of Lucas’s 1977 film Star Wars echoes Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. This guide to a master filmmaker’s work has appeal for cinephiles and casual movie viewers alike. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A World on Edge: The End of the Great War and the Dawn of a New Age

Daniel Schönpflug, trans. from the German by Jefferson Chase. Metropolitan, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62779-762-7

In this engrossing account, German historian Schönpflug examines the last days and aftermath of WWI from a cultural and social perspective, primarily by following the lives and careers of military heroes, future world leaders, artists, and more. They all cope with postwar life in different ways. Harry Truman retired from the military to open a haberdashery whose eventual failure spurred him to the political career that landed him in the White House in 1945. Harlem-born soldier Henry Johnson, whose combat exploits earned him the nickname “The Black Death,” enjoyed a period of fame and fortune as America’s first black war hero, but his candor regarding his experiences quickly rendered him unmarketable, leading to a lonely, impoverished death in 1929. Schönpflug presents, almost lyrically, a complicated mixture of jubilation, exhaustion, anticipation, trauma, and recovery, giving an intimate, humanizing look at a world still reeling from war. In addition to inner experience, this history touches briefly on larger-scale matters: the fledgling Weimar Republic’s growing pains, the development of new schools of music, art, and architecture (jazz, dada, Bauhaus), and the restructuring of the world in general. Schönpflug achieves his goal of portraying a world still traumatized and shell-shocked by war, optimistic about the future, and disturbed by the changes taking place, striking a good balance between a broad topic and in-depth exploration. Agent: Barbara Wenner, Fritz Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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Them: Why We Hate Each Other—and How to Heal

Ben Sasse. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-19368-1

Republican senator Sasse (The Vanishing American Adult) provides here a common-sense, politically moderate interpretation of America’s social and political ills. Drawing from his experience growing up in rural America, Sasse ruminates on the deterioration of community bonds, growing social isolation, and the effects of these trends on American life and political culture. He opines that the collapse of traditional social bonds and community structures in recent decades has created a vacuum that has been filled by “anti-tribes”—associations and groupthinks characterized by being “against” ideas, political movements, or groups of people. Sasse also draws from his political career and select social science research (particularly Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone, about the decline of American civic life) to hypothesize that Americans have become politically discouraged and that growing political antagonism and “partisan tribalism” have poisoned our political scene, partly because of the relatively new phenomenon of “polititainment”—political news that values entertainment over facts. Sasse doesn’t hesitate to criticize his fellow conservative Republicans. The solutions he proposes—pulling oneself away from screens to form connections with one’s family and neighbors, for instance—are overwhelmingly social and personal, rather than political. Sasse’s philosophical musings are unlikely to convert many skeptics. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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In My Father’s House: A New View of How Crime Runs in the Family

Fox Butterfield. Knopf, $26.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4102-2

Butterfield (All God’s Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence), a Pulitzer Prize winner, uses one family, the Bogles, to explore American criminality. Butterfield identified 60 Bogles, starting in the 1920s, “who have been sentenced to either prison, jail, or a juvenile reformatory, or placed on probation or parole.” His numerous interviews over a decade with members of the family put an all-too-human face on criminological studies that conclude that “as little as 5 percent of families account for half of all crime, and that 10 percent of families account for two-thirds of all crime” in the U.S. The influences of genetics and family have not been central for most recent criminologists, and Butterfield seeks to reintroduce them, purposely choosing a Caucasian family to “remov[e] race as a factor in the discussion.” Without sugarcoating or excusing their crimes, Butterfield writes empathically about his subjects, as in his depiction of Tracey Bogle, convicted of kidnapping, sodomy, and assault, who fondly recalls growing up copying the behavior of his father, Rooster, who “took his children out to commit crimes with him.” Butterfield convincingly argues that mass incarceration becomes a vicious cycle in this insightful and moving group biography. Agent: Carol Mann, Carol Mann Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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When Women Ruled the World: Six Queens of Egypt

Kara Cooney. National Geographic, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4262-1977-1

Cooney, an Egyptologist at UCLA, profiles six women who rose to power in ancient Egypt. The women most closely connected to the king played a central role and could, when circumstances demanded, become kings themselves. Some of the names (Nefertiti, Cleopatra) are familiar, but this book breaks from trends in studies of ancient Egypt by not focusing exclusively on death rites and funerary architecture. Cooney discusses the women’s leadership (“Merneith and Neferusobek selflessly took up authority only to mitigate disaster,” but the power-hungry Hatshepsut was the only one who “managed to transcend the crisis [she] had inherited and leave Egypt in better shape”) and speculates about what they must have experienced, including the habits and perspectives of the elite (Nefertiti was early in life “exposed to ancient Egyptian submission to authoritarian rule. She knew when to keep her mouth shut”). Attempting to draw parallels between the pharaohs and contemporary rock stars and politicians, Cooney occasionally asks too much of her narrative. But her stories of these remarkable women, who in flashes displayed “true, successful female power that tapped into the emotions of [their] people, that embraced multiple perspectives, that reached out in a spirit of reconciliation to those who had been expelled or cast out,” will enchant those wishing to imagine what ancient Egyptian court life was like. Illus. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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A Savage Order: How the World’s Deadliest Countries Can Forge a Path to Security

Rachel Kleinfeld. Pantheon, $27.95 (496p) ISBN 978-1-101-87199-7

While wars and terrorist acts grab most of the headlines, homicides claim about three times as many victims globally. Kleinfeld, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and founding CEO of the Truman National Security Project, examines the causes and solutions of murder, focusing particularly on Colombia, Sicily, and the Bihar province of India, as well as Georgia, El Salvador, and Tajikistan. She notes the prevalence of “privilege violence... in which political and economic leaders... consciously enable violent groups to proliferate in order to protect their perks and maintain control” or even engage directly in violence and corruption. In 2015, for example, two-thirds of state legislative candidates in Bihar faced criminal charges, 38% of which were for such serious charges as murder, kidnapping, and extortion. She also analyzes “dirty deals” between governments and guerilla groups and gangs; one economist found that such deals, which often involve allowing powerful perpetrators of crimes to go unpunished, yield, on average, eight years of significant reductions in violence. Kleinfeld devotes the last third of her book to efforts to combat these situations, offering proposals such as training anti-crime leaders, establishing provisions that significantly reduce the assets of entrenched criminal groups, and providing governmental warnings to tourists considering booking hotels owned by those with “blood on their hands.” Kleinfeld does an excellent job of balancing the anecdotal and the analytic in this well-researched, clearly written study. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 11/09/2018 | Details & Permalink

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