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Cheats and Deceits: How Animals and Plants Exploit and Mislead

Martin Stevens. Oxford Univ., $39.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-19-870789-9

Cheating and deception abounds in the natural world, as Stevens, associate professor in sensory and evolutionary ecology at the University of Exeter (U.K.), reveals in this discussion of the ways plants and animals make use of deceptive strategies to enhance their chances of reproducing. He discusses myriad examples from around the world, always focusing on the evolutionary pressures at work. Stevens shares information from Victorian natural historians—such as Alfred Russel Wallace, Henry Bates, and Charles Darwin—who first noted some of the most obvious cases of mimicry and offered explanations for their existence. Current scientists also receive their due, revealing how increasingly sophisticated experiments have become as they try to determine how and whether deception occurs. Throughout, Stevens draws a distinction between sensory exploitation and mimicry, pointing to the evolutionary pressures that yield dramatically different results in the two cases. His somewhat encyclopedic approach, coupled with his rather dry writing style, make the book better for dipping into than voraciously absorbing. The color plates nicely supplement Stevens's text and will help readers appreciate the nature of many of the deceptions discussed. Illus. (May)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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American Heiress: The Wild Saga of the Kidnapping, Crimes, and Trial of Patty Hearst

Jeffrey Toobin. Doubleday, $28.95 (368p) ISBN 978-0-385-53671-4

Toobin (The Run of His Life: The People v. O.J. Simpson), a New Yorker staff writer and CNN senior legal analyst, provides another definitive and nuanced look at a notorious crime case—this time, the 1974 abduction of heiress Patty Hearst in San Francisco by the Symbionese Liberation Army, and its sensational aftermath. Two months into the kidnapping, in a tape released by the SLA, Hearst declared that she’d joined the group; two years later, she faced a federal trial for armed bank robbery. Toobin’s rigorous detective work is enhanced by his placement of the Hearst case in the context of its times, with the U.S. shaken by the continuing Watergate revelations as well as the devastating OAPEC oil embargo, and his expert critique of the work of both prosecution and defense in Hearst’s 1976 trial. His thorough research, careful parsing of all the evidence, and superior prose make the book read like a summertime thriller. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Terror Years: From Al-Qaeda to the Islamic State

Lawrence Wright. Knopf, $28.95 (400p) ISBN 978-0-385-35205-5

Suffering, violence, and tense intrigue run through these dispatches from the frontlines of the “war on terror,” culled from the author’s New Yorker articles. Pulitzer-winning journalist Wright (Thirteen Days in September) investigates every facet of the shadowy conflict, including Washington officialdom, terrorist cells, and the lives and deaths of the war’s victims, from Syria to lower Manhattan. The pieces include profiles of al-Qaeda mastermind Ayman al-Zawahiri as his militancy is forged under torture in Egyptian prisons; FBI counterterrorism agent Ali Soufan, who used sympathy and cagey questioning rather than waterboarding to get information; and Egyptian Islamist Dr. Fadl (as he’s commonly known), a leading theorist of jihad who renounced violence in 2008. Quieter but equally searching pieces explore the plight of Syrian filmmakers walking a tightrope between expression and government co-optation; the author’s experience training journalists in Saudi Arabia, where they are stifled by theocratic dictatorship; and the heartbreak of families of five American hostages held by ISIS. Wright mixes engrossing procedural writing on organizing and fighting terrorism with vivid firsthand reportage. (Surveying veiled Saudi women, he writes, “It felt to me that all the women had died, and only their shades remained.”) He writes with empathy for every side while clearly registering the moral catastrophes that darken this pitiless struggle. Agent: Andew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Not Taught: What It Takes to Be Successful in the 21st Century That Nobody’s Teaching You

Jim Keenan. A Sales Guy, $14.99 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-0-6925-2076-5

Keenan, CEO of A Sales Guy, a consulting and recruiting firm, debuts what he calls the “new rules of success,” examining how the path to achievement has changed in the Internet age. He presents his book as a means for readers to learn new things that they need to know before they can achieve success in today’s world. Keenan proposes that humankind has moved into a new era, the information age, in a shift as significant as the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. He focuses on how the greatly increased amount of information available through the Internet has changed the playing field for businesses, creating new platforms for company-consumer interaction, the spread of products, and the dissemination of information. The downside of this seismic change, he argues, is that those over 30 are in the dark, and no one is teaching them the new rules. However, the nuggets of wisdom he offers—advising readers to expand reach, self-brand, and take chances—have long been touted. His claim that academic degrees are less important today than problem-solving skills and passion is mildly provocative but fails to live up to the earthshaking shift he insists is occurring. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Who Shot Sports: A Photographic History, 1843 to the Present

Gail Buckland. Knopf, $45 (329p) ISBN 978-0-385-35223-9

Who is the operative word in the title of this wonderful book on sports photography that serves as a tribute to sports photographers everywhere. Though the names of many of the photographers whose work make up the book are not well known, their images will certainly be familiar to readers: Babe Ruth takes a bow at his final appearance, Ali standing over the fallen Sonny Liston, a portrait of the thoroughbred race horse Secretariat (which later became a postage stamp), and so many others serve as purveyors of pop culture’s collective memory. Yet Buckland (Who Shot Rock & Roll) keeps a steady focus on the people behind the camera with short biographical sketches of each of the 165 photographers whose work, selected on the basis of pictorial merit, is featured in the book. Likewise, the book’s organization divided into themed chapters prioritizes the craft of the photo over its subject. A chapter entitled “The Decisive Moment,” for example, explores the ways in which a photo is organized in order to give its subject power, grace, and form. Other themes include portraiture and vantage point. Buckland writes with such authority that her thoughts on photography, as an art form, and her analysis of individual images in and out of the sports context make this a must-read for pop culture enthusiasts and anyone interested in photography. (July)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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One of These Things First: A Memoir

Steven Gaines. Delphinium, $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-8832-8569-2

Gaines (Philistines at the Hedgerow) looks back at the central issue of his Jewish childhood in Brooklyn, and the unnerving disorder of feeling different, as he works in his grandmother’s ladies’ clothing store. The author, who was 15 in the early 1960s, places readers right in his Borough Park neighborhood. The family thinks he’s going crazy, possibly due to his unmasculine work, while he tries to explain the sexual chaos in his head. His father takes the youth to a doctor who suggests treatment in a mental hospital, landing Gaines at exclusive Payne Whitney. At the hospital, his doctor approaches his case in the conventional manner to cure his homosexuality, while Gaines witnesses the priceless and zany antics of a supporting cast of oddballs—neighbors and fellow patients—worthy of a Marx Brothers madcap romp. By turns comic, honest, and riveting, Gaines tells a story of a well-meaning shrink and his troubled young charge locked in a war of wills to ease “the trauma of homosexuality” and restore his humanity in a conservative world. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Land of Enchantment: A Memoir

Leigh Stein. Plume, $22 (224p) ISBN 978-1-101-98267-9

Novelist Stein (The Fallback Plan) is 22 at the onset of this disturbing and heartfelt memoir about an abusive relationship. The author meets Jason, an 18-year-old dead ringer for James Dean, at a theater audition in Chicago in 2007. Soon they are romantically enmeshed and on their way to New Mexico, “the land of enchantment,” where they attempt to support each other’s dreams—his to eventually succeed as an actor, hers to write a novel. In chapters that alternate between the past and more recent years, Stein examines the relationship and its gradual dissolution, tragically ending with her lover’s early death. Stein shares details of her ongoing struggle with depression and poor self-esteem, factors that play into her willingness to be manipulated and oppressed by the unpredictable and sometimes violent Jason, who also suffers from depression and manic outbursts. Long after the romance ends, Stein is haunted by memories, and she reveals the complicated emotional ties that make it difficult for a victim to break free. Stein’s is a brave and poignant coming-of-age story. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Tastes like Chicken: A History of America’s Favorite Bird

Emelyn Rude. Pegasus, $27.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-68177-163-2

In this largely bland culinary history, food writer Rude plucks the bird clean to the bone as she traces the rise of America’s culinary love of the chicken from the 15th century, through and Colonial times, and up to the early 21st century. In 2015, the average American ate more than 90 pounds of chicken, or 23 birds a person, which adds up to 8.6 million chickens being consumed over the course of a year. According to Rude, the chicken wasn’t always quite so popular: in the early 20th century, roasted chicken might have been the centerpiece of Sunday dinner, but Americans ate only about 10 pounds of chicken each year. As she examines these changes, she provides recipes for various chicken dishes that illustrate diverse ways of preparing the fowl at various times and circumstances in American history: for example, chicken salad grew in popularity in the 19th century era among wealthy Americans, who drank champagne as an accompaniment. The kosher chicken business became contentious in early-20th-century New York. Chicken consumption soared in the 1940s, thanks to John Tyson and Jesse Jewell, among others, who found ways to industrialize the process of raising chickens. Rude concludes that no matter the issues surrounding the raising of chickens in the 21st century—free-range versus caged, antibiotic and hormone-free versus not—Americans now consume chicken more than ever. Agent: Peter Steinberg, Foundry Literary + Media. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Sick on You: The Disastrous Story of the Hollywood Brats, the Greatest Band You’ve Never Heard Of

Andrew Matheson. Blue Rider, , $16 ISBN 978-0-39918-533-5

Matheson’s memoir of the Hollywood Brats, a 1970s British glam band, is an impeccably grubby recollection of trying to change the course of musical history while living in squalor, nourished only by rock-solid self-belief, reused tea bags, and stolen groceries. Brats lead singer and songwriter Matheson accesses his teenage rock-star braggadocio to chart the implosion of the prepunk pioneers he led through hysterical highs and not infrequent lows. The highs include a weekend at Cliff Richard’s country retreat; gigs in the presence of Keith Moon, Jeff Beck, Bryan Ferry, and Rod Stewart; and venues full of sweaty patrons dancing and chanting the band’s moniker. The highest point may be getting a record deal with Immediate Records while living in a rat-infested squat. The lows include getting arrested and then being ridiculed by a cop for having just a few pennies and a lipstick in their collective pockets, and setting the famous Regent Sounds Studio on fire. Matheson is unrepentant, which elevates the memoir from a dusty, forgotten history. Like a two-minute punk song, the Brats were over all too soon—an arresting memory to a handful of true believers but less than a footnote in any music history written by its victors. The raw, well-paced tale is delivered with great humor. Spending a few hours in Matheson’s company is akin to catching up with a shambolic friend from ones university days—readers will be enthralled, in stitches, and horrified. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Pablo Escobar: My Father

Juan Pablo Escobar. St. Martin’s/ Dunne, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-10463-2

In this surprisingly dispassionate account, Escobar examines the meteoric career of Pablo Escobar, a notorious Medellin cartel boss. To the world, the senior Escobar was a supervillain; to the author, he was Dad, and the son attempts to set the record straight about a man who had become myth long before his violent death. As a young criminal, Pablo Escobar stumbled into cocaine trafficking just as the demand for the white powder reached new highs in the U.S. Ruthlessness and business acumen gave him a lion’s share of the growing market. He often said that if he didn’t earn a million pesos by the time he was 30, he’d kill himself; in fact, by 30, he’d earned billions. For drug dealers, however, notoriety is the kiss of death; a bullet finished him on a Medellin rooftop in 1993, but not before he helped drag Colombia into chaos. His son grew up in a world of incredible privilege that included a private zoo on the family estate. Yet he also lived in isolation, his playmates a coterie of bodyguards. While focusing largely on his father, Escobar also includes the grim repercussions the cartel boss’s career had on his family. The matter-of-fact prose serves the material well—when one’s daily life is a surreal blur of excess and danger, there’s no need for embellishment. Escobar, now an architect in Argentina, certainly has an agenda, but he’s not oblivious to the lives cut short by his father’s death dealing. As the closing acknowledgement states: “To my father, who showed me what path not to take.” (Aug.)

Reviewed on 06/24/2016 | Details & Permalink

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