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Ingredienti: Marcella’s Guide to the Market

Marcella Hazan and Victor Hazan. Scribner, $20 (256p) ISBN 978-1-4516-2736-7

This practical guide to selecting and cooking with high-quality ingredients is an indispensable reference volume for professional and home cooks. Published posthumously, it is the last in a series of books by the Italian-born Marcella (Essentials of Italian Cooking), and her husband, Victor. In this volume, Marcella, an authority on Italian cuisine and winner of the James Beard Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, steers clear of recipes, instead offering instruction on how to shop for, store, and cook ingredients. Emphasizing seasonality, she says to reveal, rather than add to, flavors inherent in quality produce from artichokes to zucchini. In the straightforward, authoritative tone that drives all of her classic cookbooks, she explains how to assess ingredients by look, weight, color, and smell while at the market. Along with tips about procuring the best produce, pantry items, salumi, olive oil, and cheese, she shares a list of online sources for specialty items from truffles to the traditional Christmas treat of panettone. The simplicity and purity of Marcella’s approach has rightfully earned her the distinction “godmother of Italian cooking” in America. Perhaps best known until now for her classic sauce consisting simply of tomato, onion, and butter, this book links her forever to the value and integrity of ingredients in general. Illus. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Love and Ruin: Tales of Obsession, Danger, and Heartbreak from ‘The Atavist’ Magazine

Edited by Evan Ratliff. Norton, $16.95 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-0-393-35271-9

In 2011, at the height of chest-clutching panic about the state of reporting in the era of blogs and Tumblr, editor Ratliff, along with partners Jefferson Rabb and Nicholas Thompson, founded the Atavist, definitively and resoundingly proving that quality long-form journalism is alive and kicking. The 10 stories collected here are the best works of the digital periodical’s first five years, displaying an eclectic variety in style and subject. The “obsession” of the subtitle seems to be the unifying theme. Some standouts include “52 Blue” by Leslie Jamison, the story of the “loneliest whale in the world” and his fervent fans, who see themselves reflected in him; “American Hippopotamus” by Jon Mooallem, the unlikely tale of two lifelong enemies who united under the banner of importing African hippos to America, only to end up antagonists again; and “A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite” by Adam Higginbotham, about how one terrifying, desperate, and charismatic man built the most complex amateur bomb the FBI had ever seen. (The latter two pieces have been optioned for film.) This vital collection is sure to win the Atavist many new devotees, and is a must for established fans who missed any of these pieces. Agent: David Kuhn and William LoTurco, Kuhn Projects. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Brazillionaires: Chasing Dreams of Wealth in an American Country

Alex Cuadros. Random/Spiegel & Grau, $28 (328p) ISBN 978-0-8129-9676-0

Part memoir, part exposé, and part historical narrative, this fascinating look at wealth in Brazil is a strong debut for Cuadros, former Bloomberg News “billionaires reporter” for Latin America. It’s not surprising that a country larger in size than the United States and home to vast natural resources has become one of the world’s top economies. What is surprising is Brazil’s number of billionaires—54 in U.S. dollars and 150 by the Brazilian real—and how quickly some got rich, such as oil magnate Eike Batista, who rapidly acquired $30 billion and then lost it all in just a year and a half. Born and raised in America, Cuadros relates his experiences as an outsider, writing that he sometimes “missed the codes” regarding issues such as race, religion, and government. While explaining how Brazil’s billionaires “get rich and stay rich,” he explores the role of agriculture, environmental regulations, corruption, and media. Touching on the last point, he describes how the enormous Globo TV network, owned by the billionaire Marinho family, frequently inserts didactic morals into its immensely popular telenovelas. Power is clearly the real impetus for the driven individuals profiled in the book. Readers will be eager to see what topic Cuadros tackles next. Agent: Howard Yoon, Ross Yoon Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Human Superorganism: How the Microbiome Is Revolutionizing the Pursuit of a Healthy Life

Rodney Dietert. Dutton, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-101-98390-4

Dietert, a professor of immunotoxicology at Cornell University, introduces readers to a new perspective on human health, arguing that humans are “superorganisms” composed of thousands of microbial species that live on and in us—ancient microbial partners against which we have been waging a devastating war. He asserts that the 21st-century “epidemic” of non-communicable ailments such as allergies, autism, cancer, heart disease, obesity, and even depression has arisen due to “the loss of a higher order of self-integrity involving our microbiome.” Due to antibiotic “overreach,” diet, urbanization, elective C-section births, and medical treatments that ignore the microbiome, Dietert writes, humans are missing the microbes needed to stay healthy. He concedes that it is possible to modify an individual’s microbiome, but the necessary analyses of skin scrapings and swabs, evaluation of microbial genes, and the appropriate blood chemistry work are unlikely to be offered at anyone’s next routine visit to the doctor. In addition to his survey of the microbiome, Dietert explores microbiotic self-care, which largely involves probiotics; on this front he offers both an impressive personal recommendation and a brief list of resources on probiotics. Dietert makes a fascinating case for an exciting, emerging field that offers a new way of thinking about the human body and health. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Tyrannosaur Chronicles: The Biology of the Tyrant Dinosaurs

David Hone. Bloomsbury/Sigma, $27 (304p) ISBN 978-1-47291-125-4

Hone, a lecturer in ecology at Queen Mary University of London, lets his dinosaur-obsessed inner child run wild in this well-organized, up-to-date fact book about Tyrannosaurus rex and its 25 or so near relatives. He first offers necessary background, such as information about modern changes in naming and organizing conventions, as well as brief explanations of cladistics, morphology, and phylogenetics. Next he dives into the physical evidence, dividing the material into the kind of topics any children would recognize while giving the level of detail an adult reader requires. Hone runs through what bones and tracks tell researchers about how tyrannosauroid bodies looked, moved, grew, and functioned; how tyrannosaurs hunted their prey; and which other large carnivores existed alongside them in their Mesozoic environment. He uses current research but conservatively keeps his narrative clear by focusing on ideas that match established consensus. Similarly, illustrator Scott Hartman meticulously renders a traditional view of bones covered in skin rather than the scales and feathers described by some recent analyses. Hone provides a solid meal to feed the popular fascination with these tyrant lizards, easily digestible but made from ingredients that, at least in paleontological terms, are quite fresh. Illus. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Middle Kingdom and Empire of the Rising Sun: Sino-Japanese Relations, Past and Present

June Teufel Dreyer. Oxford Univ., $34.95 (464p) ISBN 978-0-19-537566-4

Dreyer, professor of political science at the University of Miami and former senior Far East specialist at the Library of Congress, traces the often strained relationship between China and Japan—currently the world’s second- and third-largest economies, respectively—through periods of turmoil, grudging recognition, and outright war. The narrative opens with brief historical notes, including the first direct contact between the Chinese and Japanese in the first century C.E. Dreyer spends the bulk of her analysis on the late 19th and 20th centuries, when the two regional powers came into conflict over territorial claims, trade, international alliances, and the legacy of Japan’s wartime empire. She argues that these contestations cannot be viewed as merely contingent on circumstances and thus easily resolvable; they stem from a long history of rivalry and resentment between the two nations. The book lacks the analytical sophistication of other works that have investigated the relationship between China and Japan from the perspectives of nationalism and nation-building, including Prasenjit Duara’s pivotal Sovereignty and Authenticity; instead it presents a bland, if thorough, recounting of crises and lulls in Sino-Japanese relations over time. Still, Dreyer’s authority on her subject is unmistakable, and the book provides an easily accessible overview of a geopolitical relationship too often overlooked. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Louis: The French Prince Who Invaded England

Catherine Hanley. Yale Univ, $40 (296p) ISBN 978-0-300-21745-2

In this captivating account, medievalist Hanley (War and Combat, 1150–1270) covers an almost forgotten adventure in which Louis VIII of France (1187–1226) nearly became the king of England. Sandwiched between his formidable father, Phillip II, and his saintly son, Louis IX, Louis VIII is often overlooked. Hanley recounts the events of 1215, when King John was excommunicated and ignoring the Magna Carta, and a group of English barons invited Prince Louis to take the throne. He accepted, and Hanley, judiciously using contemporary chronicles and popular tales, details the 16 months of Louis’s invasion. She brings to life the drama’s minor participants, reveals the ways fortunes of war were decided by the weather in the English Channel or the sudden death of the pope , and points out the disregard both armies had for the people whose land was being destroyed. Blanche of Castile, Louis’s devoted queen, receives her fair share of credit for raising armies and money, and Hanley obliquely contrasts their loving marriage to that of King John and his unhappy wife, Isabelle. Louis was 35 when he became king, and he only lived another three years, dying in the Albigensian Crusade. Scholarly without being stodgy, Hanley’s work vividly depicts the texture of the times with an enthralling, novelistic narrative. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Our Sister Republics: The United States in an Age of American Revolutions

Caitlin Fitz. Norton/Liveright, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-87140-735-1

In this accessible, scholarly account, historian Fitz reframes early U.S. history in light of American perceptions of Latin American revolutions during the early 19th century. As an insurgent Latin America toppled European tyranny and embraced republican forms of government, onlookers in the U.S. reacted to these breakthroughs with enthusiasm and support—including naming towns and children after the liberator Simón Bolívar, providing arms, and volunteering as armed adventurers—as well as plenty of self-aggrandizement, often viewing their own anticolonial conflict and subsequent embrace of republicanism as the primary impetus for the entire hemisphere’s revolutionary developments. However, as Latin American insurrections went beyond republicanism and toward abolitionism, the continuing proliferation of slavery and tightening racial hierarchy within the U.S. exposed the limits of the American Revolution and soured Americans’ enthusiasm for their southern neighbors. Fitz argues that a previously unrecognized turning point occurred in which a “racialized strain of nationalism” based on U.S. white exceptionalism began to develop, in which the U.S. perceived itself as the “white, moderate, and prosperous exception to a hemisphere bursting with incompetent, aggressive, antislavery radicals.” This study, based on strong academic foundations and written with captivating and elegant prose, is an impressive achievement that suggests intriguing origins of American exceptionalism. Illus. Agent: Wendy Strothman, Strothman Agency. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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How the Post Office Created America: A History

Winifred Gallagher. Penguin Press, $28 (336p) ISBN 978-1-59420-500-2

The post office may not have actually “created” America, but journalist Gallagher (New: Understanding Our Need for Novelty and Change) makes a strong case for its historical importance in this brisk history. Forging early links among the colonies and then uniting the nation and its frontier as settlers moved west, the post office has by necessity survived by modernizing and developing in parallel with the nation. The institution single-mindedly pursued more efficient systems of delivery for generations, though it struggled with the demands of independent contractors—whether stagecoach operators or airlines—and opportunistic competitors that were able to adapt faster than the federal bureaucracy. The 1970 transformation of the Post Office Department into the U.S. Postal Service, a business run by the government, was meant to ameliorate these problems. But, as Gallagher explains, this shift in emphasis from innovation to the bottom line may have doomed the post office as it entered the digital age. Despite its waning relevance, Gallagher still sees the post office as a pride-inducing institution. Socially progressive since its inception, the post office represents one of the purest distillations of America and takes on one of modern democracy’s most necessary (and tedious) tasks: the convenient distribution of information and ideas to every American with a mailbox. Agent: Kristine Dahl, ICM. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Focus: The Sexy, Secret, Sometimes Sordid World of Fashion Photographers

Michael Gross. Atria, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6346-0

Gross (Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women) opens this paradoxically unfocused book with an interesting exegesis on the grandfathers of fashion photography, Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. These men practically invented the oeuvre, with technical and stylistic innovations, including seamless backdrops and candid snapshots, “in direct contrast to what was being done” by others in the industry. Their segue from portraiture and penury into successful careers as fashion photographers is a study in upward mobility in America. But after a strong start, the text devolves into an endless litany of photographers, models, photo shoots, and magazine layouts. Far too much attention is given to magazine publishers and the various editors at Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, including Edna Chase, Carmel Snow, Diana Vreeland, and finally Anna Wintour. The parts involving art directors Alexei Brodovitch and Alexander Liberman are fascinating in their own right, but they dim the book’s already faltering emphasis on fashion photography. (July)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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