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Venice: A Travel Guide to Murano Glass, Carnival Masks, Gondolas, Lace, Paper, and More

Laura Morelli. The Scriptorium, $16.99 trade paper (104p) ISBN 978-0-9893671-6-5

Morelli (The Gondola Maker) takes the reader on a tour of traditional artisan crafts in Venice. Her goal is to help the traveler discern real Venetian-made crafts, such as masks, glass, and paper, from the myriad fakes and knock-offs that crowd Venice’s main thoroughfares. She advises readers to visit places such as the island of Murano, which for centuries has been at the heart of Venetian glassworks. Her methodology is simple: visit museums that contain the crafts in order to train your eye, visit studios where you can see the works being produced, and buy directly from the artisans. Readers may not end up making many purchases (many of the crafts are quite expensive), but they’ll certainly get a richer experience of Venice. Even for those not planning a trip to Venice, the book is a treat: fluidly written, interspersed with stunning photographs, and filled with fascinating historical tidbits about the city and its crafts. Color photos. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Calabria: The Other Italy

Karen Haid. Mill City, $14.95 trade paper (280p) ISBN 978-1-63413-230-5

After numerous visits to Italy, Haid found herself increasingly enamored with the country, so she decided to move to Locri, Calabria, to teach English and fully immerse herself in Italian culture. Haid’s book recounts her four-year stint in Calabria with an intoxicating blend of humor, joy, and reverence for this area in Italy’s deep south. The book reads like a travelogue, with long descriptions of train rides and encounters, but it also serves as a travel guide, with many facts and figures integrated into the narrative. Haid does not shy away from mentioning the negatives of Calabrian culture. Much of these are approached with humor, with the exception of the more disturbing aspects of the local community, such as the power of omertà (the code or conspiracy silence that protects outlaws) and the influence of the Calabrian mafia over local politics and other community affairs (there’s a disturbing story of a 13-year-old girl who was repeatedly raped by several men over the course of three years). The chapters about criminal activity are broken up into two sections and separated by other chapters, and this deft organization preserves the predominantly upbeat and inspiring mood of tour into a lesser-known part of Italy. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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International Business Expansion: A Step-by-Step Guide to Launch Your Company into Other Countries

Anthony Gioeli. Over and Above, $21.95 trade paper (244p) ISBN 978-0-9890-9174-9

Gioeli, an entrepreneur who has plenty of experience with multinational corporations, shares his vast knowledge on how and why to take a company global. Citing predictions that the U.S. share of the global economy will decline over the next two decades, he argues that international trade is the key to remaining competitive and viable. More importantly, Gioeli states that a company of any size can become a multinational. This step-by-step guide starts with analyzing potential markets and ends with planning to maintain growth. The author covers assessing a market’s size and the importance of understanding a different country’s economy, infrastructure, regulations, and employment and taxation policies. He also advises readers to create a graph or “competitive matrix” of the “competitive landscape” into which their company will have to fit. In addition, Gioeli covers managing cash flow, customizing products and services according to local demands, and networking in an unfamiliar country. Each chapter closes with a short but useful list of “Key Lessons.” To those hoping to not only stay competitive but grow, Gioeli makes it clear that international expansion is not a luxury but a mandate, and doable with the right guidance. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Size of Others’ Burdens: Barack Obama, Jane Addams, and the Politics of Helping Others

Eric Schneiderhan. Stanford Univ., $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-80478-917-2

Sociologist Schneiderhan provides a striking but ultimately unsatisfying exploration of the parallels between the lives of Barack Obama and pioneering social worker Jane Addams (1860–1935). He begins with a checklist of their shared traits, including “Chicago activist,” “University of Chicago lecturer,” “winner of the Nobel Peace Prize,” and, of course, “community organizer.” Schneiderhan clarifies that his interest is in how these two figures addressed what he calls “the American’s dilemma”: figuring out how to help others while also achieving happiness for yourself. Obama’s abandonment of the law for community organizing, and then of community organizing for politics, provides one fascinating example. Did he sell out the communities he intended to help, or gain power for the greater good? Was Addams’s lack of political ambition a missed opportunity to do more, or a purist adherence to her original ideals? Schneiderhan touches deftly on these questions, but his parting thoughts are uninspiringly lightweight: “Don’t get comfortable.” “Connect with your neighbors.” “Watch out for selfish reciprocity.” This book does succeed in highlighting, however inconclusively, common themes from the lives of our current president and his predecessor by a century. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Goddess Pose: The Audacious Life of Indra Devi, the Woman Who Helped Bring Yoga to the West

Michelle Goldberg. Knopf, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-307-59351-1

Curious about the roots of yoga, journalist/author Goldberg (Kingdom Coming) began digging for clues to the connections between the yoga of India and its Americanized version. She came across the obituary of 102-year-old Indra Devi (née Eugenia Peterson), often called the First Lady of Yoga. This fascinating biography delves deeply into Devi’s life (she was born in Latvia in l899 to a family of Russian aristocrats) while chronicling a wider history: Devi, a Zelig-like figure who was a student of the legendary sage Krishnamacharya, seemed to show up wherever the action was. Her life story, which touches three centuries (she died in 2002), goes from the Russian Revolution, Weimar Berlin, the Indian independence movement, and Japanese-occupied Shanghai to Hollywood, Vietnam, Mexico, Argentina, and Panama, where she was spiritual advisor to Noriega’s second-in-command. Goldberg painstakingly renders the details of Devi’s kaleidoscopic journey and also explores the underpinnings of her outlook, including a yogic disavowal of attachment, a yearning for freedom, and an unflagging (but not saccharine) sense of trust and positivity. Devi taught yoga well into her 90s. Though the text will be of particular interest to practitioners and teachers of yoga, this sparkling tale of a remarkable trailblazer should enlighten and inspire every reader. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I Greet You at the Beginning of a Great Career: The Selected Correspondence of Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg, 1955–1997

Edited by Bill Morgan. City Lights, $17.95 trade paper (292p) ISBN 978-0-87286-678-2

Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti will forever be linked as the respective writer and publisher of Howl, and this irresistible collection of their correspondence shows the depth of their friendship and working relationship. The letters, many previously unpublished, cover such matters as the deletion of Lucien Carr’s name from the dedication of Howl and William Burroughs’s censorship issues, which prompt Ferlinghetti to write that publishing Naked Lunch would be “indulging in... premeditated legal lunacy.” Ginsberg discusses his self-doubt, financial difficulties, and efforts to help his friends get published, not to mention such entertaining escapades as trying laughing gas. Ferlinghetti discusses editing anthologies, making a stab at writing plays, and running City Lights Bookstore, including an instance when poet Gregory Corso broke into the store and stole money. These details should interest even casual readers, but devotees will find most rewarding the book’s central revelation: that while Ginsberg was Beat Poetry’s face, Ferlinghetti was its hero, the key to so many great writers’ success. Their affectionate correspondence becomes spottier as they make the switch to telephone calls, but the later letters are as striking and stirring as their very first exchanges. Morgan has assembled an impressive volume that is a must for every Beat aficionado. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Functional Inefficiency: The Unexpected Benefits of Wasting Time and Money

Peter S. Wenz. Prometheus Books, $26 (415p) ISBN 978-1-63388-040-5

The solution to reducing unemployment? Inefficiency, according to philosophy professor Wenz’s (Take Back the Center) bold manifesto, which poses seemingly paradoxical solutions to America’s economic ills. While labor inefficiency would appear to doom the U.S. economy by making American workers even more expensive than they already are, Wenz points out that European countries have strong labor unions and reduced work weeks, and they still enjoy favorable trade balances. True, the European approach requires more socialistic practices than American voters would likely support: government-provided daycare, medical care, and leisure, paid for by significantly higher taxes. But Wenz contends that we already tolerate rampant inefficiency. Americans pay significantly more for health care than people in other countries do, with inferior outcomes. Americans drive private automobiles rather than developing efficient systems of public transportation. And Americans promulgate a consumerist culture that, if fully embraced by the developing world, threatens the whole planet. Wenz throws out ideas almost faster than the reader can absorb them—a paragraph seldom passes without at least one footnote—yet some sensible notions arise from this bustling compendium. Wenz wisely suggests expanding employment in education, energy production, and infrastructure improvement—all areas, he says, that are ripe for infinite expansion and can improve both GNP and quality of life. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The State of the American Mind

Edited by Mark Bauerlein and Adam Bellow. Templeton, $27.95 (264p) ISBN 978-1-59947-458-8

The current state of the American Mind is one of “disarray,” suggest Bauerlein (The Dumbest Generation) and Bellow (New Threats to Freedom). Along with 15 other political and social thinkers, they devote this right-of-center essay collection to criticizing the selfish values and intellectual laziness that, according to this book, permeate today’s society. The authors tackle such eclectic topics as the prevalence of psychiatric drugs, the inability of young people to write well even upon graduating college, and the online prevalence of conspiracy theories. The central theme, however, is the loss of moral and intellectual rigor in American life. R.R. Reno dubs the modern-day United States an “Empire of Desire,” while Dennis Prager deems our era the “Age of Feelings.” In K-12 schools, the contributors complain, youths are taught abstract thinking at the expense of learning American history; in college, they are taught that they possess the “right not to be offended” by contrary (i.e., right-leaning) viewpoints. “The American Mind was an extraordinary creation, and it has to be remembered,” argue Bauerlein and Bellow. This anthology will be a distressing but worthwhile read for those who believe traditional American values are endangered and must be preserved. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Vol. VI, 1969–1973

W.H. Auden, edited by Edward Mendelson. Princeton Univ., $65 (856p) ISBN 978-0-691-16458-8

As this sumptuous miscellany shows, Auden (1907–1973) was, in the final years of his life, a prolific writer of essays, book reviews, introductions, and forewords. Nearly half of the volume is taken up by “A Certain World,” a commonplace book that Auden calls “a map of my planet.” Ordered alphabetically by theme, from “Accidie” to “Writing,” “A Certain World” is both a testament to its author’s far-flung interests and valuable source of touchstones for the essays and book reviews that follow it. Auden was remarkably well-read and as comfortable writing about contemporaries (Ashberry and Isherwood) as classics (Pope and Dryden). His writings on others sometimes serve as platforms for his own critical theories—in a foreword to Joseph Brodsky’s Selected Poems, he observes that “what the poet says has never been said before, but, once he has said it, his readers recognize its validity for themselves”—but he is always generous to his subjects, as when stating that, were Orwell still alive to comment on contemporary events, Auden is “certain that he would be worth listening to.” Auden’s erudition is never off-putting and his enthusiasms will surely inspire readers to seek out the writers about whom he writes. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Full Catastrophe: Travels Among the New Greek Ruins

James Angelos. Crown, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-34648-1

Journalist Angelos delivers a fast-paced, gripping survey of the problems leading to and resulting from Greece’s debt crisis. Through lively interviews and plentiful, vivid detail, Angelos draws out the contradictions in national character that make a virtue of outwitting a bloated, corrupt government apparatus through strikes, tax evasion, disability frauds, and blocking necessary reforms (such as taking jailed public employees off payroll). With an able grasp of the country’s turbulent past and “wonderfully complex amalgamation of cultures and traditions,” Angelos empathetically links Greek resistance to the severe bailout terms with long-held resentment of “foreign occupation” by foes like the Ottoman Turks and the Nazis. He also brings a tone of moral clarity, explaining how blame-shifting and lack of accountability have exacerbated Greece’s problems. Angelos takes a particularly close look at the rise of far-left groups like Syriza and the far-right Golden Dawn, and the increase in violence toward the immigrant population. As he explains, Greece’s “sacred ideological pillars” of its ancient Hellenic culture and status as the “fountainhead of Europe’s common heritage” are both necessary to its recovery and impediments to solving its current woes. Angelos’s often amusing, occasionally dismaying stories form a necessary and compelling read for anyone interested in the current crisis and its possible remedies. Agent: David Patterson, Foundry Literary + Media. (June)

Reviewed on 04/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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