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The Simplicity of Stillness Method: 3 Steps to Rewire Your Brain and Access Your Highest Potential

Marlise Karlin. Watkins (Sterling, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-78028-755-3

Karlin’s (The Power of Peace in You) book is like cotton candy: easy to ingest but insubstantial. The Simplicity of Stillness (SOS) method draws on new age concepts such as new science, epigenetics, and subtle energies, and it is intended to tap into the unconscious. The author states that Stillness Sessions were developed to access “advanced meditative states,” but that readers can now “activate [their] potential” without having to begin in a meditative state, through audio recordings. The ideas on the page are similar to many others in the wisdom tradition—a belief in the power of intention-setting and quietening the mind to access “infinitely intelligent Energy and break the binds that hold you.” Testimonials, stories, and case studies bulk up the pages. The titular three steps are “apply,” “activate,” and “act,” and the first two send the reader to a website where sessions can be purchased; an explanation of these sessions would be helpful, but none is provided. Agent: Susan Mears, Susan Mears Agency. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Lockdown on Rikers: Shocking Stories of Abuse and Injustice at New York’s Notorious Jail

Mary E. Buser. Palgrave Macmillan, $27 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-07784-4

Buser’s intimate portrayal of life working at the Rikers Island jail complex is eye-opening. Buser, a social worker who began her career as an intern in the complex’s women’s ward, was drawn to helping the neediest inmates. She ended up learning far more than she ever expected about the jail system, such as how poverty and drug addiction keep people imprisoned and how lengthy waits for sentencing lead even those who maintain their innocence to make plea deals. She focuses on several individual inmates: Daphne, who found jail a respite from brutality at home; Tiffany, a drug addict held captive by dependency; and Daisy, a genuine sociopath. Buser also witnessed the plight of mentally ill inmates, observed and heard of dehumanization and brutality being meted out by corrections officers, and gauged the psychological devastation caused by solitary confinement. Ultimately, she left because she realized she was losing herself, but continued, as she writes here, to be an advocate for prisoners. Buser’s writing style is direct and knowledgeable, and readers will be drawn into her story right away. Though her work lacks the sensationalist elements many have come to expect from prison exposés, it’s nonetheless both enlightening and troubling. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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R.F.K., Jr.: Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. and the Dark Side of the Dream

Jerry Oppenheimer. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-250032-95-9

In this latest unauthorized biography from Oppenheimer (The Other Mrs. Kennedy), empathy for his subject is in short supply. The indisputably tragic aspects of Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s life—losing his father and uncle to assassins’ bullets (he was 14 when his father was murdered), the deaths of two siblings in adulthood, and his ex-wife Mary’s suicide—are likely to engender some sympathy from readers, especially when coupled with evidence that his mother was absent from his life when he was growing up. But Oppenheimer spends the bulk of his time on the first half of Kennedy’s life and chooses to focus on his long track record of bad behavior, including infidelity and substance abuse, without really attempting to put it in context. Toward the very end, Oppenheimer cites an unnamed confidant of Kennedy who describes him as “a very complex guy who has had very difficult things thrown at him through his life.” But nuance and complexity are not the book’s strengths; the writing is sloppy and Oppenheimer relies heavily on unnamed and un-enumerated sources. Oppenheimer’s story of a flawed son of a flawed family is more salacious than thought-provoking. Agent: Jonathan I. Lyons. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Hotel Years

Joseph Roth, edited and trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. New Directions, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2487-1

Roth (1894–1939) might be best remembered for novels such as The Radetzky March, but this collection of short newspaper pieces shows that his literary skill extended far beyond the fictional worlds he created. The selections, most written in the 1920s, originate in Roth’s work as a correspondent for the Frankfurter Zeitung and other newspapers. Hofmann, who has translated Roth’s work previously (What I Saw), organizes the collection by subject rather than chronology. He groups together sketches concerned with specific countries, such as Albania, Austria, and the U.S.S.R., and assembles others into thematically linked sections on hotels, death, and “pleasures and pains.” The opening section, on Germany between the world wars, does not contain the book’s strongest material, but does show how Roth focused on portraying the eye-catching details of everyday life. When he turns his gaze onto subjects unfamiliar to modern American readers, such as émigré-filled hotels and Albanian president (later king) Ahmed Zogu, Roth’s voice is at its most pointed and eloquent. Roth evokes the melancholy of a vanished Europe in this poetic and sharp-eyed collection of journalistic sketches. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Fate of Ideas: Seductions, Betrayals, Appraisals

Robert Boyers. Columbia Univ., $35 (304p) ISBN 978-0-231-17380-3

The 12 literary essays collected in this volume are bottomless wells of provocation and insight. In each, Boyers (founding editor of the journal Salmagundi) scrutinizes a thematically broad topic from a variety of angles and approaches. He begins “Authority” from a sociopolitical perspective before segueing into an appreciation of Susan Sontag’s confident authority as a cultural critic. In “Fidelity,” he explores the topic in contexts ranging from marriage to the student-teacher relationship. Several essays on widely divergent ideas resonate harmoniously with one another, notably “Reading from the Life,” in which Boyers discusses several celebrated authors who embraced opposing values in their life and art, and “Saving Beauty,” about his ambivalence toward a friend who’s a charming, attractive serial philanderer. Boyers skillfully grounds philosophically heady topics in understandable everyday realities, as in “The Sublime,” which at one point he senses as the “outsize sentiment” he feels for “things Italian,” despite his frustration with the country’s inefficient bureaucracy. He is also adept at encapsulating an idea in a well-turned phrase, as in his observation that “we admire beauty, in works of art especially, because they embody a successful mastery of everything that says no or impossible to every effort at an ideal, unimpeachable sufficiency.” Readers who crave rich food for thought will find much to savor in this volume. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Doomed to Succeed: The U.S.-Israeli Relationship from Truman to Obama

Dennis Ross. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-37414-146-2

One of the world’s strongest alliances emerged through fractiousness and misunderstanding, according to this insightful history of American-Israeli relations by a noted participant observer. Ross (The Missing Peace), a diplomat and policy maker in several American administrations, surveys presidential policy toward Israel as it oscillated through warm spells under Truman, Kennedy, Johnson, Reagan, Clinton, and George W. Bush, and cold snaps under Eisenhower, Nixon, Ford, Carter, George H.W. Bush, and Obama. Ross deftly explores the contingencies of this history, which hinged on personality clashes, the chaos of events, and the personal attitudes held by presidents, while stressing broader themes. One is the steady strengthening of the relationship as America came to view Israel as a partner against Soviet influence and terrorism, and as domestic political sentiment embraced Israel. A countervailing dynamic, the author contends, has been the persistent belief in the State Department and elsewhere that close ties to Israel would damage U.S. relations with Arab countries; his well-argued conclusion is that Arab leaders consistently place other priorities above the Palestinian issue and give America no credit for distancing itself from Israel, instead expecting still more concessions. Ross’s fluently written account includes colorful firsthand recollections of crises and diplomatic wranglings. Readers of all political persuasions will enjoy this fresh, contrarian analysis of America’s Middle East policy. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM Partners. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Mushroom at the End of the World: On the Possibilities of Life in Capitalist Ruins

Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing. Princeton Univ., $29.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-691-16275-1

In this ethnography of the global matsutake mushroom trade, Tsing (Friction: An Ethnography of Global Connection) weaves an adventurous tale about the diverse forms of “collaborative survival” that living beings—both human and non-human—negotiate despite the “capitalist damage” of our times. The matsutake, a delicacy in Japan, grows there and in China, Finland, and the U.S. This comprehensive and hopeful book examines the varied “assemblages” (a word used by ecologists in preference to “communities”) that affect the species, from the transnational commodity chain between off-the-grid pickers in Oregon and importers in Japan, to the different trees, nematodes (roundworms), and other forms of life that are necessary for matsutake to thrive. Tsing reveals lesser-known corners of global capitalism by following foragers in three countries: Vietnamese refugees and Vietnam War vets in Oregon, rural workers in China’s Yunnan province, and intergenerational pickers in Japan. Her engrossing account of intersecting cultures and nature’s resilience offers a fresh perspective on modernity and progress. 29 halftones. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Shades of Blue: Writers on Depression, Suicide, and Feeling Blue

Edited by Amy Ferris. Seal, $16 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-58005-595-6

The stigma associated with mental health issues leads many people with depression to feel they must face it alone. Ferris (Marrying George Clooney: Confessions from a Midlife Crisis) aims to help people suffering from the disorder feel they are in good company by assembling essays by gifted writers who have all been affected by depression, in themselves or others. The compelling selections include therapist Sherry Amatenstein coping with “sad belly” while forever being the outward-seeming optimist, writer and editor Hollye Dexter dealing with a life-altering house fire, writer Regina Anavy’s doubts about her commitment to radical politics spiraling into an identity crisis in 1971 Cuba, and radio and TV personality Kathryn Rountree recuperating from her brother’s death. Starting off the book is Ferris’s own essay, where she poignantly states her reasons for delving into the topic of depression: by sharing stories and helping others, people with depression can make the pain “bigger than ourselves” and “worth the struggle.” It is possible to find hope and solidarity in these pages, but don’t expect a feel-good trip. It’s a true-to-life kick in the pants designed to bring comfort to anyone who’s feeling hopeless. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Lioness in Winter: Writing an Old Woman’s Life

Ann Burack-Weiss. Columbia Univ., $30 (192p) ISBN 978-0-231-15184-9

Burack-Weiss, a social worker specializing in working with the elderly, weaves writings from key female authors into this stirring and enlightening reflection on women and aging. The author chose her profession, she now recognizes, due to her own fear of aging, “shoring up resources of information and insight to sustain me when I became one of them.” Here, she turns to favorite writers, such as Maya Angelou, Joan Didion, and Marguerite Duras, who have “grown old in print,” calling them “my Lionesses. ” The themes she finds in their work include society’s lack of interest in “old” women and the conflict between mothers and daughters. The excerpted writings also reveal a wide range in responses to the aging process, from May Sarton’s sense of being surrounded by “loving kindness” to Marilyn French’s rage at dependency. Burack-Weiss writes frankly and eloquently about the difficulties of growing older, observing that “the threads that united the fragments of my personality into a coherent whole, a recognizable self, have grown slack” and left “bits and pieces of who I was to cobble together [into] who I will now be.” Filled with warmth, wisdom, and knowledge, Burack-Weiss’s work eloquently encourages dialogue and understanding about the inner and outer life of aging women. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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These United States: A Nation in the Making, 1890 to the Present

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore and
Thomas J. Sugrue. Norton, $39.95 (672p) ISBN 978-0-393-23952-2

Embodying the latest consensus interpretations and approaches of historians of the modern U.S., this book from historians Gilmore (Yale) and Sugrue (University of Pennsylvania) surveys the long 20th century in America. Its inclusion of many topics not usually taught in schools until very recently—including studies related to poverty, labor, African-Americans, immigrants, and women—makes it relevant to today’s readers. Yet the major topics it addresses are altogether conventional, beginning with Woodrow Wilson, continuing through the New Deal, and ending with Barack Obama’s presidency. The authors don’t flinch from offering unblushing left-liberal takes on the 13 decades they cover. The trouble is that the book’s audience isn’t clear. Designed in short sections (some a mere half-page long), the work has the aspect of a survey textbook fit for course assignments. It’s publicized as containing sketches of typical Americans, but these are short, rare, and discontinuous. They seldom affect the conventional inclusion of major historical figures and subjects that a book like this must cover. And “a nation in the making”? Didn’t that start in 1789? This is a solid, authoritative examination of a recognizable American nation but not strikingly different from others of its kind. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 07/24/2015 | Details & Permalink

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