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Brain Injury

Alan Cooper. Exile Editions (IPG, U.S. dist.; Canadian Manda Group, Canadian dist.), $22.95 trade paper (456p) ISBN 978-1-55096-482-0

This memoir recounts the personal, painful story of a survivor of a traumatic closed brain injury. Prior to a 1981 car accident, Cooper held top management positions, was a gifted musician, and was a talented orator in demand for speaking engagements. Tragically, his injuries were incorrectly diagnosed and treated, which made a terrible situation far worse. Personality changes contributed to broken relationships with his family and co-workers and created obstacles to getting help from health care and legal professionals. More than 30 years later, as a new chapter at the end of this updated edition of his 2006 book outlines, he is still fighting for justice. Despite his impairments, Cooper has abilities to communicate that many people who suffer brain injuries lack, and he hopes the book will help brain-injured persons and those close to them better understand the range of faculties that can be affected. It's a difficult read. The book bears marks of the author's injuries stylistically and in its structure, which shifts back and forth from past to present with a narrator who seems at times unreliable, but that is part of what makes it a valuable book for anyone who lives or works with a brain-injured person. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Science of TV's 'The Big Bang Theory'

Dave Zobel. ECW (Legato Publishers Group, U.S. dist.; Jaguar Book Group, Canadian dist.), $17.95 trade paper (424p) ISBN 978-1-77041-217-0

This is an ideal book for fans of The Big Bang Theory who want to understand what the science-minded characters are talking about. Zobel, who wrote for the syndicated radio show The Loh Down on Science for seven years, breaks down the complicated science discussed on the show into simple explanations for the average person. Characters Leonard, Howard, Raj, and Sheldon work in physics and engineering, but Zobel does not focus on explaining the work they do. Instead, he discusses the offhand references in the characters' conversations and uses quotes from their dialogue as introductions to each chapter. The diverse topics include phosphorescence (from Sheldon's declaration that he wants a glow-in-the-dark ant farm because their best work occurs at night), how a potato can power a clock (arising out of a visit with Professor Proton), and gravity (sparked by Sheldon's observation that Penny's hulking ex-boyfriend is disrupting the local gravity field). Zobel's humor and references to the show make this an entertaining and informative read for anyone interested in science. (July)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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More than Honey: The Survival of Bees and the Future of Our World

Markus Imhoof and Claus-Peter Lieckfeld. Greystone (PGW, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $22.95 trade paper (161p) ISBN 978-1-77164-099-2

In light of disastrous declines in bee populations in the early 21st century, this book uses the bee and its relationship with humans to ask whether humans are a part of nature or only seek mastery of it. The authors consider the bee, the production of honey, and the ways people around the world partake in this process. The book, based on Imhoof's 2013 documentary of the same name, does discuss how bees fly and the secret of their amazing navigational skills, but the main focus is on interactions between humans and bees. The authors interview large-scale operators, beekeepers, breeders, and scientists. Readers meet John Miller, who owns 15,000 bee colonies, which he transports across much of the U.S. from North Dakota to California .depending on the season, to pollinate crops for profit. In China, Zhang Zhao Su works as a human pollinator because there are no bees left in northern China to pollinate fruit trees due to the use of pesticides. Enhanced by beautiful color photographs of bees, this examination of the troubled relationship between humans and bees is a fascinating and educational read for anyone interested in the fate of both species. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World Full of Scammers, Phishers, and Identity Thieves

Adam Levin. PublicAffairs, $24.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61039-587-8

In this alarming book, Levin, a consumer advocate and founder of the consulting agency Identity Theft 911, warns about the prominent dangers of identity fraud in the increasingly digital world. Levin details the numerous ways in which individuals can "get got," citing several real-world examples, such as the ramifications of a seemingly harmless photo of a Target employee that went viral after a customer tweeted it. He explains how information is ripe for the swiping by criminals who make stealing identities their full-time job. Levin's proactive and (mostly) practical approach to combating what he considers the inevitable includes the "Three Ms": minimize your exposure, monitor your accounts, and manage the damage. He breaks down common types of identity theft sources—credit card scams, data breaches, social media posts, healthcare fraud, and even so-called "smart TVs"—and concludes that "when it comes to the security of our data, we are all in the same state of emergency." Appendices make up nearly one-fourth of the book with true stories of fraud and a glossary of scams. If Levin's objective was to convince readers they will become victims of identity theft, mission accomplished. This isn't as much a solution-based handbook as it is a primer on the potential dangers and what's at stake. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Charles Williams: The Third Inkling

Grevel Lindop. Oxford Univ., $34.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-19-928415-3

Williams was overshadowed in the years following his death in 1945 by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien—fellow members of the Oxford-based literary group the Inklings—but he gets his due in this exhaustively researched biography from Lindop (Travels on the Dance Floor). Williams's formal education ended at 17, but he read omnivorously and rose rapidly at Oxford University Press from proofreader to editor. A tireless workaholic, Williams also wrote novels, plays, essays, tracts, and reams of verse in his spare time, much of it steeped in Christian theology and concerned with the relationship between the spiritual and the sexual—what he referred to as "the Church system and the love system." Williams's complex, original vision brought him to the attention of Lewis in 1936 and made him a perfect fit with Lewis's circle of fellow academics and writers. Lindop does a masterful job of relating Williams's expansive bibliography to his intellectual passions and his messy personal life, which was frequently complicated by platonic love affairs with the young female coworkers he mentored. Readers interested in learning more about a writer whose work was highly regarded by T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden, among others, will find Lindop's book an informative and accessible introduction. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Splendid Savage: The Restless Life of Frederick Russell Burnham

Steve Kemper. Norton, $29.95 (448p) ISBN 978-0-393-23927-0

Journalist Kemper (A Labyrinth of Kingdoms) admirably resurrects the larger-than-life figure of Frederick Russell Burnham (1861–1947) in an account chockfull of adventures that feel ripped from dime-store novels. Burnham was perhaps the greatest scout of his age—one whose courage, discipline, and strength of character were celebrated in newspapers and inspired the founding principles of the Boy Scouts—but has been all but forgotten today. He came of age during the last days of the American frontier and trained in the ways of the Apache scout. Burnham ventured from the Klondike to Mexico to Southern Africa in a constant cycle of boom and bust, seeking a great fortune or, failing that, a great escapade. The most remarkable thing about Kemper's account seems to be Burnham's uncanny ability to be in the right place at the right time, consistently serving as a minor player in history's unfolding: he served in the Boer War, prospected in two separate gold rushes, and turned down an invitation to join Roosevelt's Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. Kemper is well aware of his subject's racist and imperialist tendencies—attitudes he finds common for the time—but in Burnham he also sees an essential American spirit and a paragon of a bygone model of manhood. Illus. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Dream of Zion: The Story of the First Zionist Congress

Lawrence J. Epstein. Rowman & Littlefield, $36 (176p) ISBN 978-1-4422-5466-4

In this interesting, if flawed, book, Judaica scholar Epstein (Converts to Judaism) traces the political and ideological paths Theodor Herzl and others took in convening the First Zionist Congress in Basel, Switzerland, in 1897. Epstein offers some background on Herzl and introduces readers to some of Herzl's ideological precursors. He quotes extensively from what he considers the best speech of the Congress, by the largely forgotten novelist Max Nordau, and highlights Herzl's decision to invite as guests a number of Christian Zionists, such as the Rev. William Hechler, chaplain of the British embassy in Vienna. However, Epstein's work contains contentious critiques, particularly in regards to " policy recommendations for the Arabs" then living in what became Israel. He also claims too much regarding the movement's significance ("The Zionist plan to redeem humanity was to provide for the world a model state"). While the book is clearly written and well-organized, Epstein's prose style lacks color and is less engaging than it might otherwise be. Nevertheless, his work makes for an informative introduction to an event that inaugurated modern Jewish political action. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War

Lukasz Kamienski. Oxford Univ., $29.95 (408p) ISBN 978-0-19-026347-8

"The use of drugs—more or less powerful, more or less organic—has been intrinsic to warfare," writes Kamienski, a political scientist at Poland's Jagiellonian University, in this fascinating examination of how warfare and intoxicants are inexorably intertwined. Kamienski illustrates the often vital role drugs have played in virtually every conflict since the ancient Greeks used opium prior to going into battle. Drugs and alcohol, he asserts, have real, practical value in terms of warfare. Drinking and drugging rituals help soldiers bond before and after engagements, gain confidence before combat, heal wounds and alleviate pain during and after the fighting, and forget about the horrors of war after combat ceases (and in some cases, medicate themselves long after they came home). Readers may be familiar with some topics, such as morphine's presence in the Civil War, marijuana and heroin in Vietnam, and Hitler's use of a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals, but they might be surprised to learn how some governments (including the U.S.) have incorporated pharmaceuticals into their war efforts by drugging their adversaries. It's an impressive and accessible deep dive into the topic, and though Kamienski doesn't spend much time examining the ramifications of this phenomenon in the post–Vietnam War era , it makes for a bracing and fascinating study. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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First Entrepreneur: How George Washington Built His--and the Nation's--Prosperity

Edward G. Lengel. Da Capo, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-3068-2347-3

Lengel, director of the Washington Papers project at the University of Virginia, views a familiar subject through the unfamiliar lens of entrepreneurship, showing how the first American president set the nation on a course of prosperity. The book chronicles Washington's business affairs, from his near-obsessive financial ledgering as a teenager, to the windfall inheritance at age 20 that catapulted him solidly into Virginia's upper gentry, to his drawing up his will in the days preceding his death in 1799. Washington comes across as an ambitious opportunist, quickly seeking out and courting Martha, a wealthy widow, to beat out other potential suitors. Her late husband's substantial fortune, combined with his own inherited holdings, made him one of the most affluent men in Virginia. Washington made astute business decisions, including switching from tobacco to wheat production and grinding neighbors' wheat for a profit, along with missteps, such as a doomed plan to sell flour in the West Indies. Lengel also offers an enlightening examination of Washington's strategies as head of the Continental Army and later as president. While Lengel's argument that Washington was a master entrepreneur is not entirely convincing, he does provide an insightful look at a lesser-known aspect of this iconic figure. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Beast: Werewolves, Serial Killers, and Man-Eaters; The Mystery of the Monsters of the Gevaudan

Gustavo S%C3%A1nchez Romero and S.R. Schwalb. Skyhorse, $24.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-63220-462-2

Examining of one of France's great unsolved mysteries, Sánchez Romero and Schwalb seek who or what was responsible for attacking more than 200 people, killing 90, between 1764 and 1767. The first victim was savaged while herding sheep, two months after a local had escaped from a creature that was "like a wolf, yet not a wolf." As the killings continued, some regarded them as a punishment from God for sinfulness. Significant bounties were posted, including one from King Louis XV, but whomever or whatever was responsible for the onslaught remained elusive. Following a final spree in 1767, the deaths stopped after a wolf-like beast was gunned down. The authors scrutinize the many theories as to what was actually responsible for the beast's rampage; some people speculated that a human agency was behind the killings—either a man disguised as a wolf who wanted to collect human heads, or someone acting in furtherance of a religious struggle—while the bulk of the latter sections of the book logically analyze animal suspects. This gripping and suspenseful account, which conjures up the intense fear of the period, is fascinating enough without embellishment, which makes the authors' choice to dramatize some of the encounters a puzzling one. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/05/2016 | Details & Permalink

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