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David Lynch: The Unified Field

Robert Cozzolino. Univ. of California, $39.95 (160p) ISBN 978-0-52028-396-1

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Acclaimed director David Lynch began his artistic career not in film or television but as a student of painting and drawing at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This lavish volume collects the brilliant, and in many cases bizarre, paintings and drawings that Lynch has created over the past 45 years. Featuring 116 plates and an extensive contextualizing essay by Cozzolino, the curator of modern art at PAFA, this handsome book brings Lynch’s fine art work into new focus. Many of the paintings offer visual clues to Lynch’s film projects and others represent dark corners of Lynch’s brain. Cozzolino draws many of the connections between Lynch’s work and life, including the impact of Lynch’s longstanding practice of meditation and the influence of Philadelphia on Lynch’s work. What’s most provocative about Lynch, in both his films and his paintings, is his ability to hint at reality’s underlying contradictions and complexity. He works primarily in black, or black-on-black, and often seems more attuned to body parts than people. Many of Lynch’s paintings can initially be viscerally disturbing or confusing, but with Lynch, there is always the promise of a deeper meaning beyond the surface. This impeccable collection of art confirms Lynch’s position as a gifted polymath—and one of the country’s most important artists working today. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Create Your Perfect Future: Heal Your Past to Create the Life of Your Dreams

Anne Jirsch, with Anthea Courtenay. Piatkus (IPG, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (254p) ISBN 978-0-7499-5965-4

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Psychic Jirsch will divide the believers from the doubters with this self-help guide that promises to heal wounds inflicted in childhood or inherited from ancestors or past lives. Jirsch claims we are tethered to our problems through “etheric cords” that “keep you tied to a pattern lifetime after lifetime.” An exercise called “the Three Passageways” aims to isolate the location of your particular obstacle in time so that these cords can be severed. Jirsch applies the concept to various aspects of life, including health, love, employment, and wealth. More grounded exercises involve guided visualizations for resolving past mistakes, creating a happy outcome to current conflicts, and imagining your life’s purpose. Regardless of how readers feel about Jirsch’s mystical worldview, they should find that Jirsch’s clients have compelling stories to share: a bulimia sufferer carrying guilt from his 17th-century ancestors’ crime; a painfully shy man grappling with a facial deformity from a former life; and—less fantastically—a woman overcoming debilitating attitudes she absorbed from her mother in childhood. Jirsch also has some useful advice about moving on from past traumas, but if you are skeptical of things like psychic predictions of 9/11 or visitations from “future selves,” best seek counsel elsewhere. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Chasing Gold: The Incredible Story of How the Nazis Stole Europe’s Bullion

George M. Taber. Pegasus, $29.95 (528p) ISBN 978-1-60598-655-5

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Former Time magazine staffer Taber (Judgment of Paris) reveals one of WWII’s darkest secrets in this compulsively readable, real-life thriller of how the Nazis funded their war machine. Taber’s meticulous research dates back to a 1966 Time assignment to locate where Belgium’s $204.9 million worth of bank gold ended up during WWII. After opening with a listing of key international players, Taber recounts the surprising 1945 discovery by General Patton’s men of “Room #8,” an underground vault in central Germany crammed with about $9 billion in looted gold and artwork. To achieve self-sufficiency—autarkie—and accomplish Hitler’s objectives of domination required more financing than the Reichsbank could bankroll: after seizing $136 million in bullion from Austria and Czechoslovakia, the Germans had the funds to invade Poland and beyond. Each chapter focuses on a different European country; what emerges is how supposedly “neutral” parties such as Switzerland and Sweden laundered stolen gold. Taber tracks down the pilfered Belgian bullion that originally piqued his interest, yet the trail eventually grows cold, and he acknowledges that some gold remains missing. Those with an interest in war crimes will relish Taber’s masterful reportage and the unearthing of these wartime treasures. Maps and photos. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Best Place to Work: The Art and Science of Creating an Extraordinary Workplace

Ron Friedman. Perigee, $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-399-16559-7

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World-class cafeterias, on-campus dry-cleaning, and on-site massages—these are some of the ways that companies like Google and Facebook attract and retain employees. But do office perks really make for an improved workplace, and is improving a workplace the best way to create an exceptional company? Psychologist Friedman explores this question in his useful guide. He says he became fascinated with the issue of office culture after leaving academe to work as a pollster in the corporate world. Office design, telecommuting, the importance of exercise, making friends with co-workers, resolving tense moments, and hiring and training the right people are among the range of subjects Friedman examines. His takeaways include “psychological needs are at the heart of employee engagement” and “integrating work and family life improves the quality of both.” Stocked with action items for managers and plenty of case studies, this is an energetic, conversational look at what really makes an office environment tick. As for those on-site massages; it turns out that recognition is the most effective perk of all. Agent: Giles Anderson, Anderson Literary. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Van Gogh: A Power Seething

Julian Bell. Amazon/New Harvest, $20 (176p) ISBN 978-0-544-34373-3

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In the sixth installment of New Harvest’s Icons series, painter and author Bell (Mirror of the World) brings his insight as a fellow artist to the life and work of Vincent van Gogh in a condensed, accessible primer on the renowned artist. Bell traces Van Gogh’s shiftless youth from apprenticeship at his uncle’s art emporium, a failed attempt at priesthood, and his move to Paris and discovery of pointillism, to his subsequent mental breakdown, the severing of his ear, the creation of The Starry Night while institutionalized, and his suicide. Providing astute commentary on Van Gogh’s work, Bell declares the early Miners in the Snow “earnestly ambitious,” and the more accomplished painting Quinces, Lemons, Pears and Grapes a “single resounding chord of yellow played out on various vegetal instruments.” He also illuminates the artist’s famously prickly personality, the grumbling and begging of money from his long-suffering brother Theo, as well as excerpts from letters exhibiting a deep and poetic sensibility. For a more exhaustive account, as the author notes, there are plenty of sources. This quick but thorough read provides a fulfilling overview of the artist. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth

Keith Veronese. Prometheus Books, $25 (280p) ISBN 978-1-61614-972-7

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In this work of popular science, journalist Veronese (Plugged In: Comic Book Professionals Working in the Video Game Industry) delivers a scattershot account of the discovery and chemistry of metals, addressing their critical roles in technology and the cutthroat struggles over extraction, trade, and recycling. Despite the absence of an overarching theme, readers won’t be bored. Veronese focuses to some degree on the political and environmental challenges related to meeting global demand for the “rare earths”—17 metals with odd names (yttrium, terbium, dysprosium) essential for the production of high-tech electronics—repeatedly returning to this subject before wandering off on tangents. Topics of interest include thorium, which turns up as a clean source of nuclear power, and polonium, a poison used in political assassinations. A chapter discusses daredevil American hobbyists who extract precious metals from discarded electronics and addresses the massive Third World dumps where thousands make a miserable living doing the same. Veronese also discusses Afghanistan, whose vast untapped mineral resources hold the potential to ease its political problems. Though most of his subject minerals are obscure and relatively unknown even to educated readers, Veronese presents an informative and entertaining, if disorganized, overview of the metallurgy and politics of rare metals. Photo insert. Agent: Laura Wood, FinePoint Literary Management. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Partnership: Brecht, Weill, Three Women, and Germany on the Brink

Pamela Katz. Doubleday/Talese, $30 (480p) ISBN 978-0-385-53491-8

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The culture of Weimar Germany is at its most provocative and profound in this scintillating portrait of its leading theatrical luminaries. Novelist and film maker Katz explores the partnership, starting in 1927, of Marxist playwright and enfant terrible Bertholt Brecht and German-Jewish composer Kurt Weill; their 1928 musical The Threepenny Opera, with its well-known song “Mack the Knife,” gained fame for its tuneful satire of the sharklike soullessness of bourgeois society. She adds vibrant sketches of their female supporting cast: the singer Lotte Lenya, Weill’s perennially unfaithful wife and muse; Brecht’s wife Helene Weigel, an accomplished actress who managed Brecht’s life and tolerated his mistresses; and Brecht’s collaborator Elisabeth Hauptmann, who wrote a good chunk of his oeuvre, mostly without credit or pay, and also shared his bed. Katz gives an uproarious view of the ferment of interwar Berlin’s theatrical avant-garde, with Brecht’s tantrums, power plays, preening demands, and ideological conceits. But she also takes seriously the artistic and political ideas that drove Brecht and Weill to their innovations (and eventually estranged them). The result is a thoughtful, entertaining recreation of a watershed moment in 20th-century theater. Photos. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mental Health in the War on Terror: Culture, Science, and Statecraft

Neil Krishan Aggarwal. Columbia Univ., $40 (224p) ISBN 978-0-231-16664-5

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From shell shock to PTSD, mental health medicine has long concerned itself with the shocks of war. In this debut, psychiatrist Aggarwal examines how the practice of mental health has been deployed as a political weapon, and how the discipline has struggled to understand the unique cultural problems of the “war on terror.” The questions he asks include whether clinicians should work in military facilities that torture, and if a detainee’s symptoms in response to torture might preclude him from his own defense. Aggarwal thoroughly interrogates the available scholarship, charging the mental health profession with creating an account of suicide bombing and other terrorist acts that doesn’t sufficiently consider cultural and historical factors. This book may not be particularly accessible for the lay reader, but the questions it poses are valuable, difficult, and without easy answers—for clinicians, military leaders, or even civilians, all of whom must live with a medical culture deeply marked by the war on terror. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Like Switch: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Influencing, Attracting, and Winning People Over

Jack Schafer, with Marvin Karlins. Touchstone, $19.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4767-5448-2

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Former FBI investigator Schafer applies what he learned in his law-enforcement past to explain how to charm anyone under any circumstances. “When you hear ‘FBI’ you likely don’t think ‘Friendly Bureau of Investigation,’” he writes. But friendship—feigned or true—is the basis of his system for mastering a variety of social situations. The foundation on which Schafer’s theory rests is what he calls “the friendship formula,” involving proximity, frequency, duration, and intensity. First, he explains the value of nonverbal friend cues, including the “big three”: the eyebrow flash, the head tilt, and a genuine—not forced—smile, along with photos depicting these cues, some done sincerely and some of them obviously fake. Next, he tackles body language and what it reveals about a person’s intentions, regardless of what he or she might be saying aloud. He also advocates “speaking the language of friendship,” which involves keeping one’s ego in check, and what he calls the LOVE method—listening, observing, vocalizing, and empathizing. The author’s approach to observing human nature should prove practical and useful in a variety of situations, from romantic meetings to interviewing criminals. A unique and pragmatic tome. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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I Think You’re Totally Wrong: A Quarrel

David Shields and Caleb Powell. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-35194-2

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Critic and writer Shields (Reality Hunger) and his former student Powell, once an aspiring artist, now a stay-at-home dad, spent four days together in 2011, conversing on a wide range of issues related to the artistic life. At the center of their quarrel is the push-and-pull between which is the best path: devotion to art or life experience? Shields concedes that Powell has traveled more, had more adventures, and raised more children, but Shields’s devotion to writing paid off in the form of published books, prestigious teaching positions, and engagement with the literary world. As a book-in-dialogue, the two freely discuss and dissect their debts to My Dinner with Andre and David Lipsky’s book-length interview with David Foster Wallace, Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself (2010). Shields and Powell keep waiting for “the flip,” or the moment when their roles in the interview will reverse, or one will convince the other he is right, but each is so full of complexity and contradictions that it’s difficult to imagine if such a flip is possible. Like any good belletristic conversation, the authors discuss dozens of literary figures, books, and movies, from novelists David Markson and Renata Adler to the movies Sideways and The Crying Game. And, like a true teacher, Shields is always pressing for the larger issue, questioning why art matters or how can suffering be alleviated. A worthy and important addition to the genre, this casual conversation pushes readers to rethink fundamental questions of life and art. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 10/24/2014 | Details & Permalink

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