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Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment

Denis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes. Norton, $27.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-393-23994-2

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Those already ambivalent about beef won’t be surprised by the revelations in this exposé. Much of what the authors say regarding the cattle industry and its negative effects on health, the economy, and the environment will sound familiar. They echo sentiments expressed by Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet (1971), Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (2001), and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006). In this substantial volume, the Hayeses, longtime sustainability advocates, rail against the treatment of livestock in feedlots across the country. They provide substantiated figures: feedlot beef, for example, “produces five times more global warming per calorie” than pork or poultry, takes 11 times as much water, and uses 28 times as much land. The conditions in which cows are often raised are frightening to consider. A place “that is hell for cows is paradise for germs”; pollutants in feedlots and lagoons, where farmers store animal sewage, can “rise into the air and travel long distances on the wind,” and also sink into groundwater. Discussions on processed beef filled with “nitrates and nitrites (and sometimes nitrosamines)” and bull castration make meat consumption less than appetizing as well. The authors present a strong case against feedlot beef, giving readers significant and serious food for thought. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Nearly Orthodox: On Being a Modern Woman in an Ancient Tradition

Angela Doll Carlson. Ancient Faith, $18.95 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-9362-7096-5

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Carlson’s meandering memoir—based on her blog, Mrs. Metaphor—takes readers on a long journey exploring what it means to convert to a new religion, and to try to adhere to a spiritual tradition in modern times. Within this text are many shorter essays about her multiyear process of converting to the Eastern Orthodox faith, what implications it has for her as someone raised Catholic, and the impact it has (or doesn’t have) on her family. Carlson touches on her youthful flirtation with the punk scene, while painting the portrait of a young woman very sensitive to the world around her and desperately afraid of doing the wrong thing. Thematic sections make it easy for readers to discern the path of her thoughts and are structurally appealing; her writing is deliberate, but some word choices come up so often that readers will get frustrated (e.g., calling her children “chaos-makers”). For all the ambivalence demonstrated about moving forward in this spiritual path, she doesn’t tell readers what drew her to Orthodoxy until the very end of the book, which definitely leads to some reader confusion. That said, she is skillful with her imagery and deliberate in her language. Readers looking for a quiet retrospective on faith in the modern world may find something useful here, but they will also be intensely frustrated by the author’s lack of forward momentum. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Panic: One Man’s Struggle with Anxiety

Harry Floyd. Belle Isle, $14.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-939930-23-1

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As a lifelong sufferer of anxiety, Floyd is all too familiar with panic, whether on the first day of school, in the days before a cross-country race, or simply during everyday tasks. He shares a journey of battling anxiety and panic from youth to adulthood, offering reflections that will appeal to anyone who has ever experienced even the smallest tinges of worry. After opening, in media res, with one of Floyd’s many memories of anxiety, the book’s first part proceeds chronologically through his life. “Fifth Grade” recounts how panic plagued Floyd as a young child, and how he slowly came to understand his body’s reactions; “Time to Perform” tells how, as a growing child, Floyd learned to recognize his cues and triggers, and specific manifestations such as trichotillomania, the compulsive desire to pull out one’s hair. Eventually realizing he needed professional help, Floyd started taking fluoxetine (aka Prozac). The book’s second half charts the author’s progress through counseling, behavioral therapy, and self-assessment, closing with the crucial tools and goals that equipped him to overcome and manage his anxiety. In the book’s last sentence, Floyd tells the reader, “Get to know yourself,” which, as his own story amply demonstrates, is sage advice. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Street Craft: Yarnbombing, Guerrilla Gardening, Light Tagging, Lace Graffiti and More

Riikka Kuittinen. Thames & Hudson, $29.95 (224p) ISBN 978-0-500-51784-0

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Positioning itself in relation to graffiti and street art, this collection highlights 28 artists working in “street craft,” uncommissioned works that are installed in urban environments and typically make use of three-dimensional techniques such as crochet, gardening, and sculpture. Individual artists and collectives are presented to the reader through a brief introduction by the editor, a longer artist statement, and documentation of the work, all organized by artist. U.K. artist Paul Harfleet plants pansies at sites where homophobic harassment and abuse occurred, while Spanish sculptor Isaac Cordal places tiny cement businessmen throughout cities. The selected artists come almost entirely from the U.S. and Western Europe, and a good number build off movements such as yarnbombing, the 21st-century practice of covering public objects with crocheted or knitted fabric. Despite the claim that these artists, in relation to graffiti, offer “the next chapter in this story: the growth of street art into a multidisciplinary pick-and-mix of arts and crafts,” the actual evolution of street art is far more multivalent and multinational than this book implies. These artists do represent a worthy phenomenon, and Kuittinen smartly gives most of the collection’s space over to images and artist statements, providing a number of insights into their practices. The book is a serviceable guide for those interested in the intersection of craft and street installation. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial

Helen Garner. Text (Consortium, dist.), $16.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-922079-20-6

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In this emotionally overwrought and dramatic account, Australian author Garner (The Spare Room) recounts her time following the trial of Robert Farquharson, a single father accused of killing his three sons by driving off the road and into a dam on Sept. 4, 2005 (Father’s Day in Australia). As Farquharson stands by his innocence, claiming a blackout due to a rare coughing condition, the state mounts a damning case against him, leading to an initial guilty verdict and a subsequent retrial. Garner is there for every step, coloring the proceedings with her own opinions and experiences. But it’s never entirely clear why Garner is so obsessed with this case, and why she feels the need to filter the information through her perceptions. “When I said I wanted to write about the trial, people looked at me in silence, with an expression I could not read,” she states. Upon visiting the graves of the dead children, “Often, in the seven years to come, I would regret that I had not simply blessed them that day and walked away.” Though the information is solid, and Garner provides a strong picture of the trial and murder case, the impact is lessened by her own internal musings. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Swansong 1945: A Collective Diary of the Last Days of the Third Reich

Walter Kempowski, trans. from the German
by Shaun Whiteside. Norton, $35 (512p) ISBN 978-0-393-24815-9

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Kempowski (1929–2007), a German novelist and historian, presents a riveting history of the final days of WWII from a predominantly German perspective. Formally, the work is a collage of personal experiences extracted primarily from diaries (of which 10 volumes exist, this being the fourth and the first in English translation), and it’s organized by date: four days in late April and May 1945. Hundreds of short diary excerpts relate a variety of experiences on each date, and Kempowski’s careful selection and sequencing convey the horror, misery, irony, and intensity of living through the last month of war in Germany. The work is noteworthy not just for its unique first-person perspective, but also for its breadth and depth: Hitler’s last moments in his bunker, Stalin’s daughter celebrating victory, the rape of German women by Russian soldiers and others, and the brutal conditions in the concentration camps. A general knowledge of European geography and the history of the fall of Germany in 1945 is assumed. Kempowski evenhandedly presents the Germans as both perpetrators and victims in this essential volume on the ravages of WWII. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly: A Physician’s First Year

Matt McCarthy. Crown, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-8041-3865-9

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McCarthy follows his controversial tell-all about his brief baseball career, Odd Man Out, with an account of his grueling first-year internship at one of New York’s premier hospitals. Here, the New York-Presbyterian Hospital attending doctor is hardest on himself: he expresses guilt over a missed diagnosis with his first patient, coldly brought to his attention by the patient’s angry primary doctor, and learns a sobering lesson about the doctor-patient relationship from a patient awaiting a heart transplant. Along the way, he is guided by others, such as the second-year resident who gives him the tough love and experience required to make it through a rotation in the Cardiac Care Unit, the “real doctor” at the hospital’s clinic who helps him make independent—though not always perfect—decisions, and the physician who teaches him that through medicine “it is possible to reach the unreachable.” McCarthy’s story is one of transformation. “I felt different now because I was different,” he writes. “I was looking out for my patients, not myself.” McCarthy’s growth will seem familiar to everyone traveling a path of self-discovery. Agent: Scott Waxman, Waxman Leavell Literary Agency (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Paying with Their Bodies: American War and the Problem of the Disabled Veteran

John M. Kinder. Univ. of Chicago, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-0-226-21009-4

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Kinder, an American Studies professor at Oklahoma State University, offers a cultural history of America’s disabled veterans from the Civil War to today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Concentrating on 20th-century wars above all—with particular attention paid to WWI—Kinder zeroes on what he calls the “Problem of the Disabled Veteran”: that is, how the nation deals with its war wounded and what political lessons are to be drawn from the social effects of the vast numbers of disabled veterans. Kinder identifies two main political “fantasies” involved in the problem: the generally pro-war view that the U.S. can remain a global military power “without incurring the social, economic, and physical consequences associated with veterans’ disabilities,” and the anti-war belief “that Americans will permanently reject war because of the risks to soldiers’ bodies and minds.” Both fantasies are false, Kinder says, and he mixes in sketches of well-known disabled veterans—including Harold Russell (WWII), Ron Kovic (the Vietnam War), and Tammy Duckworth (the Iraq War)—with bigger-picture issues involving the social and political impacts of veterans’ disabilities. It’s a well-written, though academically tinged, tome that illuminates the long-lasting human legacy of America’s wars. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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King John: And the Road to Magna Carta

Stephen Church. Basic, $29.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-465-09299-4

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Medieval historian Church (The Household Knights of King John), a noted scholar of the reign of King John, traces the steps and missteps that led to the defeat of the king and the creation of the Magna Carta. Church begins in John’s childhood, looking for potential roots of the failures in judgment that caused his downfall. John’s role during the reign of his brother, Richard the Lionheart, receives meticulous treatment, and Church vividly describes the machinations, intrigue, and duplicity of court life surrounding the young count. In Church’s view, John’s worst fault was that he was “a man all too willing to play at brinkmanship, but who ultimately lacked the fine judgment to know when he had gone too far.” This trait revealed itself many times, especially in John’s demand for uncustomary tithes and his alienation of his English subjects, who refused to support his foreign wars. John was also unfortunate in that his opponents were strong, especially King Phillip II of France, who took over much of John’s French territory, and Pope Innocent III, the most powerful of the medieval popes, with whom John refused to compromise. Church dramatically relates the tragic twists of the king’s fall in this story of power gone awry, with echoes that resonate in the present. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Go Figure! New Perspectives on Guston

Edited by Peter Benson Miller. New York Review Books, $60 (156p) ISBN 978-1-59017-878-2

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This handsome new volume reinvigorates the debate around Philip Guston (1913–1980), a painter who shifted from abstract expressionism to representational art in the 1960s. Guston spent several formative years at the American Academy in Rome, and this book, copublished by the American Academy, examines Guston’s fascination with Italian art and his continuing influence on Italian aesthetics. Most of the 12 essays are serious academic arguments about the meanings behind Guston’s artistic choices. Guston’s transition from a painter of abstract work to more cartoonish, representational work is described in detail, with special focus given to his metamorphic 1970 exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery. Guston’s own explanation of the switch is, “I got sick of all that purity! I wanted to tell stories.” One of the book’s highlights is the transcript of a 2011 conversation among Miller, artist Chuck Close (a former student of Guston’s), and art historians Robert Storr and Sue Behrends Frank, on Guston’s late work. They reflect on the historical context in which Guston converted to a representational working style, and discuss several particular paintings in detail. The book is weighted more toward the essays, and readers may wish the pages included more images of Guston’s rich work. A serious consideration of an often paradoxical painter, this collection contributes significantly to Guston’s enduring legacy. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/20/2015 | Details & Permalink

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