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From the Tundra to the Trenches

Eddy Weetaltuk. Univ. of Manitoba (Michigan State Univ., U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $27.95 trade paper (344p) ISBN 978-0-88755-822-1

This memoir is a revealing account of 20th-century history as viewed through the lens of the life of one man from the Canadian North. Weetaltuk, believed to be the first Inuit man to serve in the Canadian armed forces, assumed a false identity, using the name Eddy Vital, to enlist, because at the time Inuit people were not allowed to leave the North. The book opens during Weetaltuk’s childhood, focusing on his time at a Indian Residential School in Fort George, Quebec. The bulk of the narrative recounts his 15 years in the army: training, serving in the Korean War, and later being stationed in Germany. He reflects on both the benefits (which included travel and being seen as his fellow soldiers’ equal) and disadvantages (feeling disloyal to his people, not being able to marry the woman he loved) of his assumed identity. Weetaltuk writes that he hopes his story will inspire Inuit youth to succeed in the wider world while preserving and celebrating their own culture. Several decades elapsed between the writing of this book and its publication, and the author’s struggle to publish is an interesting story in itself. Readers will wish that Weetaltuk, who died in 2005, had had time to write second volume about his return to the North. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Blood, Sweat, and Fear: The Story of Inspector Vance, Vancouver’s First Forensic Investigator

Eve Lazarus. Arsenal Pulp (Consortium, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $21.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-55152-685-0

Lazarus (Cold Case Vancouver) shines a spotlight on a remarkable but forgotten historical figure once known as the Sherlock Holmes of Canada for his pioneering work in forensic investigation. The book is not a biography of Inspector John F.C.B. Vance but instead focuses on some of the criminal investigations in which he participated. His work repeatedly made front-page news during his career from 1907 to 1948. Lazarus paints a vivid picture of Vance as a man of great loyalty, dedication, and integrity whose expertise led him to be respected by colleagues and feared by criminals. He worked six or seven days a week for the police and other municipal departments, received numerous death threats, survived several attempts on his life, and returned to the Attorney General a check for $250 because he was prohibited from accepting gifts for his services. Lazarus acknowledges that histories tend to spotlight sensational criminals more frequently than the work of their stalwart investigators and is forced to do some of the former in the course of accomplishing the latter. This is an enjoyable, brisk read for those interested in forensic science, true crime stories, or local Canadian history. (May)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Unstable Ground: Climate Change, Conflict, and Genocide

Alex Alvarez. Rowman & Littlefield, $34 (222p) ISBN 978-1-4422-6568-4

Alvarez (Native America and the Question of Genocide), professor of criminology and criminal justice at Northern Arizona University, examines climate change and its effect on conflicts in this thoughtful academic volume. He argues that the pressing issue regarding climate change is the role it plays in “helping create certain kinds of conflict,” particularly “communal and ethnic violence, war, and genocide.” Alvarez lays out a few ways in which environmental shifts can affect populations and occasionally lead to famine and war. He cites as an example the record heat waves that struck India and Pakistan in the summer of 2016, which melted pavement and killed over 1,000 people. Alvarez also discusses access to natural resources such as wood, oil, and gas, explaining that they “allow a state to meet the basic survival needs of its citizens.” Water, Alvarez notes, is often taken for granted in industrialized nations “where cheap and apparently endless supplies of fresh water are readily available.” He writes of the massive drought that ravaged Syria from 2006–2011 and bears some responsibility for the subsequent conflict there. On the flip side, populations are equally threatened by flooding rivers and rising sea levels. Alvarez’s thoughtful and precise work highlights some deeply troubling but underdiscussed aspects of climate change. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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The Story of the Jews: Belonging: 1492–1900

Simon Schama. Ecco, $39.99 (800p) ISBN 978-0-06-233957-7

The second volume of Schama’s accessible epic history survey follows the successful model of the first, Finding the Words, 1000 BC–1492. While well-known figures, such as Baruch Spinoza, Alfred Dreyfus, and Theodor Herzl, appear in the narrative, much of the story is recounted through the experiences of more obscure people, such as David Ha-Reuveni, a self-proclaimed warrior prince of the 16th century, and 18th-century British boxer Daniel Mendoza. Despite the book’s ambitious scope, Schama keeps the reader rooted in the lives of the individuals whose choices brought Jewry from the trauma of their expulsion from Spain to the dawn of Zionism. He does so by adopting a novelist’s storytelling approach. “It was when the rabbi carried the Torah scrolls into the women’s section of the Frankfurt shul that the congregation knew something dramatic was in the offing,” Schama writes. He also presents unique details to bolster the narrative, for instance noting the crucial role of Antwerp New Christians—who were suspected of still practicing Judaism—in the burgeoning 16th-century spice trade. Similarly, New Christians financially buttressed the Portuguese maritime empire, exemplifying how “the misfortune of dispersion was turned into a trading opportunity.” Schama closes by focusing on the Dreyfus Affair and the origins of Zionism, dramatically setting the stage for 20th-century developments. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Russia in Flames: War, Revolution, Civil War, 1914–1921

Laura Engelstein. Oxford Univ., $39.95 (840p) ISBN 978-0-19-979421-8

Engelstein (Slavophile Empire), professor emerita of Russian history at Yale, chronicles the violence that preempted the “unprecedented and monumental” Russian Revolution and did not cease at the conclusion of the ensuing civil war, which ushered in a state that “substituted the forced mobilization of popular participation for the formal institutions of political democracy.” Social unrest in the Russian Empire predated the country’s entry into WWI. An unsuccessful war with Japan, pogroms against Jews, domestic terrorism, and the widening gulf between monarchists and the social, cultural, and economic groups “trying to lead Russia into the future” all contributed to an atmosphere of increasing instability, Engelstein writes. By the time “the old regime effectively crumbled” in February of 1917, mutinous soldiers, sailors, and workers had taken to the streets of Petrograd. The efforts of new legislative bodies, including the Duma Committee and the Soviet Executive Committee, to regain control, proved insufficient and were undermined by the Bolsheviks, who “were busy calculating the best strategy for knocking out the political center.” Engelstein delivers a clear-eyed, if dry, account of the difficulties confronting the population, now citizens of a country where “the dream of democracy had been abandoned,” and everyone was subject to the “arbitrary swing of the sword.” (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Red Famine: Stalin’s War on Ukraine

Anne Applebaum. Doubleday, $35 (496p) ISBN 978-0-385-53885-5

In this monograph, which is sure to be controversial, Applebaum (Iron Curtain), a professor of practice at the London School of Economics who lives in Poland, argues that Stalin’s 1929 plan for agricultural collectivization was more sinister than socialist and that he sought to systematically rid the burgeoning Soviet Union of Ukrainian peasants. Her eyebrow-raising thesis is that Stalin ruthlessly used famine as a weapon to kill off Ukrainian peasants, intending to replace them with more compliant Russians to secure both a bread basket and a military front. Applebaum attempts to show how collectivization resulted in genocide and outlines Stalin’s prolonged death plan for Ukraine, beginning with the Ukrainian peasant uprising of 1919 and including both its bureaucratic underpinnings and horrifying consequences. Reframing the history of this sad period in terms of hatred and nationalism, Applebaum states that in 1932, amid drought and crop failure, “the Kremlin could have offered food aid to Ukraine,” but Stalin instead stepped up the famine campaign. It is an inflammatory accusation based on circumstantial evidence, and even Applebaum admits that “no written instructions governing the behavior of activists have ever been found.” The Nazis also had a “Hunger Plan” for Ukraine, which according to her was Stalin’s “multiplied many times,” but they never implemented it. Applebaum’s revisionist historiography may serve her concluding claims against Vladimir Putin’s aggressions today, but it doesn’t stand up to deep scrutiny. Maps & illus. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Be Fierce: Stop Harassment and Take Your Power Back

Gretchen Carlson. Center Street, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4789-9217-2

Former Fox News anchor Carlson (Getting Real) draws from her own experience of being sexually harassed to illuminate an epidemic of inappropriate behavior in the workplace, and to educate women on their rights. Carlson does not elaborate on the events that incited her lawsuit against Fox, but she shares stories of other incidents in her career, such as when a camera man told her how much he enjoyed putting the microphone on her because he got to touch her breasts, along with a slew of examples from other women who contacted her after she came forward. These women include a park ranger who was assaulted by a fellow ranger at a conference and then denied a promotion a week later as a result; a soldier who was asked to pole dance for four others and later had her complaint about the encounter dismissed by her superior officer; and a journalist whom Donald Trump pinned up against the wall and kissed while she was interviewing him over a decade ago. Carlson talks to a civil rights attorney about what people who have been harassed can expect after reporting incidents to human resources, provides data from sociological studies on sexist patterns in the workplace, and explores the complicated machinations of forced arbitration clauses often buried in job contracts. She includes a 12-point plan for handling harassment, outlining how to document incidents and whom to tell and when. Carlson further advises on the need to keep young women safe on college campuses, teach children respectful behavior, and recruit men as allies in the workplace. Though the phrase “When I was Miss America” appears a few too many times, Carlson’s inclusion of her own stories is courageous, and her commitment to making sexual harassment a nonpartisan issue is admirable. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Reset: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change

Ellen K. Pao. Spiegel & Grau, $28 (288p) ISBN 978-0-399-59101-3

When Pao, a former chief of staff and junior partner at the tech venture capital firm for Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, sued her company for gender discrimination in 2012, her lawsuit galvanized women working in tech; journalists even started to use the term “Pao effect” to describe the uptick in women speaking out against discrimination in the workplace. Here, Pao tells her full story, detailing her experiences in the workplace leading up to the lawsuit as well as stories that did not make it into the high profile trial. She discusses the range of sexism she encountered on the job, from being asked to lower her voice and perpetually being seated at the back of the room during meetings to being asked to babysit her colleague’s children or denied promotions despite having more seniority and experience than the person promoted in her stead. Writing in relatable terms, with little jargon, Pao draws on statistics to demonstrate the industry’s lack of inclusivity and weaves in amusing analogies, as with her comparison of tech executives’ fascination with private jets to high school students’ obsession with owning a car. Though Pao lost the lawsuit, she went on to serve as interim CEO of Reddit and founded Project Include, a nonprofit dedicated to promoting diversity in tech. Her story is a grave reminder of how far the tech industry has to go in fighting discrimination. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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Big Chicken: The Incredible Story of How Antibiotics Created Modern Agriculture and Changed the Way the World Eats

Maryn McKenna. National Geographic, $27 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4262-1766-1

In this well-written exposé, McKenna (Superbug) dissects the controversy of the routine use of antibiotics to fatten chicken, which has lead to the rise of drug-resistant bacteria. She chronicles the history of how poultry became a product of research labs, and lays out a history of antibiotics and poultry. The practice of adding growth promoters began in the 1940s; a well-financed chicken lobby first fended off a 1969 British health committee report decrying growth promoter and then, in 1977, opposed U.S. FDA regulations despite many national disease outbreaks. The author surveys some of the leading progressive chicken breeders and their supporters, examining the campaign to push large enterprises such as Purdue, Tyson, and McDonald’s to forgo growth-enhancing drugs following recent World Health Organization and FDA reports. Throughout, McKenna offers spot-on commentary on the dangerous additives in chickens and concludes on a relatively hopeful note. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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I’m the One That Got Away: A Memoir

Andrea Jarrell. She Writes, $16.95 (176p) ISBN 978-1-63152-260-4

In this riveting and disturbing memoir, freelance writer Jarrell chronicles living in the shadow of domestic abuse. Jarrell grew up in Los Angeles in the 1970s witnessing her mother’s ongoing abuse at the hands of her father; she and her mother moved out, but to her confusion, her parents reconciled shortly thereafter. Following an intense opening chapter detailing a neighbor’s murder by a boyfriend, Jarrell is forced to reflect into her own story, beginning with her childhood. She does an admirable job of dissecting her family history and the long-lasting emotional wreckage created by domestic abuse. As an adult, she worried about losing the safe life she’d built for herself, and she struggled with anxiety and self-pity. Once Jarrell established a family of her own, she began processing the toll her parent’s violent relationship took on her emotional maturity. While raising her own daughter, Jarrell had a revelation: “Rather than being the child waiting for love and approval, it was time for me to be the mother generously offering such love and understanding to her children even when they rejected her.” Jarrell’s story is simultaneously unassuming and painful to read. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/22/2017 | Details & Permalink

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