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The Old Man and the Cat: A Love Story

Nils Uddenberg, trans. from the Swedish by Henning Koch. St. Martin’s/Dunne, $22.99 (176p) ISBN 978-1-250-05975-8

When a homeless cat decides to move into a retired psychology professor’s house on a cold winter morning, a dilemma is born. Certainly, the professor and his wife can’t keep the cat. They travel frequently, and for long periods of time. But that doesn’t stop the cat from insinuating herself into their lives. In this sweet memoir, Uddenberg (Ideas About Life) details how a reluctant cat owner grew to love his furry friend more with each passing day. Of course, being a former professor of psychology, Uddenberg can’t help but ruminate on his cat’s psychological state, questioning whether the little cat has a sense of humor—and whether she actually cares for him and his wife. Written in a simple but heartfelt style, Uddenberg’s remembrances of life with Kitty will undoubtedly appeal to cat lovers who will recognize and appreciate the little nuances, behaviors, and idiosyncrasies Kitty brings to the retired professor’s household, and the way she wriggled herself into his life and affection. Agent: Johanna Kinch, Hedlund Agency. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Walking the Kiso Road: A Modern-Day Exploration of Old Japan

William Scott Wilson. Shambhala, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-61180-125-5

Samurai expert Wilson (The Book of Five Rings) leads a tour through time and space in this engrossing memoir of his three-week hike in 2013 along a 60-mi. stretch of road that weaves through central Japan. The Kiso road, an ancient trade route that is currently home to the modern Chuo railway line, is punctuated by 11 post towns that provide overnight lodgings and the opportunity to step “backward in time.” Wilson invokes the great philosophers who “walked to become more alive.” Opening with the Upper Kiso, the hike unfolds in a series of vividly described meals and historical tidbits about local deities such as Horse-Headed Kannon. Each chapter cites elevation at the outset and concludes with the number of miles covered that day plus hiking time. All along the route, food outranks politics as a subject of conversation, with the Yugawa sake distillery a highlight of the journey. Those familiar with hiking in Japan will smile at the mention of the ubiquitous roadside Jizo statues and the sign that reads, “When it sees trash the mountain cries.” While the book would profit from a map to help readers better understand the terrain, it provides a useful trail guide for hikers, while armchair travelers can enjoy Wilson’s hike vicariously. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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When Mexico Recaptures Texas: Essays

Carmen Boullosa, trans. from the Spanish by Nicolás Kanellos. Arte Público, $17.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-55885-806-0

Esteemed feminist Mexican poet and novelist Boullosa (Cleopatra Dismounts) confronts the legacies of imperialism in this dual-language collection (the Spanish originals appear first) of 29 essays on revolutionaries and rebellious artists whose lives and work have been elided by dominant historical narratives. Blending criticism and history, she combines invigorating analysis with reflections on the ordinariness of violence and corruption in the West. Some of her protagonists include poet and activist Susana Chavez, who was murdered in her hometown of Juarez in 2011; labor activist Bettina Brentano Von Armin, who Boullosa speculates may have inspired one of the first protest rallies on Wall Street, in 1857; and Cynthia Ann Parker, a white girl who was abducted by Comanches at nine years old in 1836, renamed Nauda (Found Thing), and rescued—or kidnapped again—by whites many years later. Boullosa’s wide-ranging topics range from modern-day stories of drug cartels and the Ciudad Juarez feminicidio (mass killings of women) to the 19th-century Cuban poets who championed their country’s liberation from Spain. Rather than accepting imposed narratives and ostensibly self-evident truths, Boullosa introduces the vanquished, silenced, and obscured into the historical record, with special attention to women’s resistance. Her witty storytelling and penchant for the irreverent make each essay fascinating and subversive. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Wall Streeters: The Creators and Corruptors of American Finance

Edward Morris. Columbia Univ./Columbia Business School, $29.95 (368) ISBN 978-0-231-17054-3

Morris, a finance professor and former investment banker, explains American high finance through profiles of some of its formative figures in this interesting, if slightly stodgy, study. Writing for laypeople who are baffled by the recent history of Wall Street—from the meteoric growth of investment banking and the financial services industry to the 2008 crisis and the ongoing recovery—Morris presents short biographies of 14 men behind the financial innovations and markets that underpin the U.S. economy. Innovators Ferdinand Pecora, Charles E. Merrill, Myron S. Scholes, Michael Milken, and Sanford I. Weill are respectively categorized as reformers, democratizers, academics, financial engineers, or empire builders, while J. Pierpont Morgan receives his own chapter. Summing up his view of the complex, volatile world of U.S. finance, Morris observes that “ ‘bad’ on Wall Street is often just ‘good’ taken to a ruinous extreme.” Though sometimes slow going, this is a worthwhile read for those looking to understand the roots of the financial crisis and the present state of the economy. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Two Percent Solutions for the Planet: 50 Low-Cost, Low-Tech, Nature-Based Practices for Combating Hunger, Drought, and Climate Change

Courtney White. Chelsea Green, , $22.50 ISBN 978-1-60358-617-7

In this brief work, White (The Age of Consequences), conservationist and cofounder of the Quivira Coalition, sketches 50 strategies for improving the environment and fighting hunger. Few of these strategies are aimed at the planet’s urbanized majority; while chapters dealing with rooftop gardens or aquaponics may inspire city-dwellers, most of the four-page chapters give short overviews of tactics that will primarily be useful to farmers, ranchers, and policymakers who deal directly with the land. White repeatedly refers to the writings of Aldo Leopold and is also fond of creek reclamation specialist Bill Zeedyk, who urges those attempting to restore watersheds to “think like a creek.” White stresses the importance of improving the quality of watercourses and the ability of soil to retain carbon, thus mitigating climate change. The section “Wildness” addresses a range of wildlife, including such different creatures as the dung beetle and the beaver. Since each solution receives swift treatment, White isn’t able to give detailed instructions, but each segment includes online and print resources for further reference. White offers a good starting place for agriculturalists looking for ways to improve their farms and ranches, as well as the larger environment. Color photos. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few

Robert B. Reich. Knopf, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-385-35057-0

Reich (The Work of Nations), a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley, has written an arresting, thought-provoking treatise on the need to reverse the trend of income inequality in the U.S. One of the book’s central points is that the hot-button debate over whether the free market is more effective than government control is irrelevant, and directed at the wrong issue. In fact, Reich asserts, the “free” market is a myth, and the problem is not how big or small the government is—it’s who the government is there to serve. His solution is an “activist government” that will tax the affluent more, invest heavily in education and opportunities, and support the needy. In readily understandable language, Reich explores private property, bankruptcy, inflated Wall Street salaries, different definitions of freedom, the “rise of the working poor,” and the decline of institutions such as unions that were once able to challenge economic elites. Reich’s powerful final argument is that Americans need to rid themselves of the idea that it’s too late to change their economy; the market is a human creation, not a fact of nature, and only humans can save it from what it’s become. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, ICM/Sagalyn. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy

Linsey McGoey. Verso (Random, dist.), $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-78478-083-8

This debut from University of Essex lecturer McGoey is a scathing but overly one-sided indictment of contemporary global philanthropy, with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation as the primary target. McGoey claims that the charitable sector’s rapid growth is being driven more by greed, ego, and the pursuit of good PR than a commitment to lasting change. She devotes considerable time to tracing the roots of American philanthropy, evoking figures such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller, before launching a critique of the “international architecture of celebrities and policy-makers” that includes Bill Clinton and his Clinton Global Initiative as well as elite conferences such as TED, Davos, and Skoll. Turning to the Gates Foundation, she skewers their initiatives in education and health, concluding that philanthropy is “a mode of giving that is not imperiled by its own ineffectiveness” but instead “thrives upon it.” It is clear that McGoey has done considerable research on global philanthropy. However, her unwavering attack on the Gates Foundation and a generation of global philanthropists comes across as tedious, and she neglects to consider other perspectives. Despite the abundance of interesting information, the nonstop harsh negativity may lose the reader’s interest. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Nixon’s Gamble: How a President’s Own Secret Government Destroyed His Administration

Ray Locker. Globe Pequot/Lyons, $29.95 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4930-0931-2

Locker, a USA Today investigative reporter focusing on politics and Congress, reconstructs the rise and fall of Richard Nixon. His well-conceived thesis is that Nixon believed the entrenched, self-interested forces of Washington—the national press corps, Congress, and the CIA, FBI, and Pentagon—were making it impossible for him to achieve his goals: reaching an arms agreement with the Soviets, establishing a détente with China, and ending the Vietnam War. Determined to succeed at any cost, Nixon stealthily created a shadow government adept at secret foreign policy initiatives. According to Locker, Nixon’s commitment to secrecy generated a culture of domestic spying, fostering the infamous break-ins, until “cover-up begat cover-up” and led to Nixon’s demise. Locker describes Nixon’s machinations in minute detail, and readers may be overwhelmed by the narrative’s parade of large and small players, but they will marvel at Nixon’s drive, paranoia, duplicity, and accomplishments. Surprisingly, while the unfolding of the world events makes for captivating reading, the debacles of the Pentagon Papers and Watergate seem like an old story. In Locker’s view, Nixon’s successes place him high in the pantheon of effective presidents, but his perfidy makes an equally compelling narrative of failure. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Making a Point: The Persnickety Story of English Punctuation

David Crystal. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-06041-9

Crystal (Spell It Out) will delight anyone interested in written language with this exploration and explication of English’s deceptively complex system of punctuation. Rather than trying to convey how each punctuation mark should be used—a surprisingly difficult task—Crystal offers a charming journey through the evolution of punctuation, from the role of spacing as the earliest form of punctuation to the influence of the Internet. He tackles the age-old question of whether punctuation exists to help readers or speakers and explores the roles that typesetters, publishers, editors, and proofreaders have played in shaping punctuation and, in some cases, authorial voice and intent. Crystal, a professor of linguistics, brings scholarly acumen and gravity, as well as delight and good humor, to his subject. He illuminates punctuation’s transformation over time, as needs and preferences changed, and finds that the Internet is a particularly intriguing source of inventiveness. Crystal’s ultimate message isn’t about rigidly enforcing the rules of punctuation; instead, he highlights the importance of understanding punctuation as a system and the pleasure of using it to its fullest potential. Illus. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Getting Gamers: The Psychology of Video Games and Their Impact on the People Who Play Them

Jamie Madigan. Rowman & Littlefield, $38 (316p) ISBN 978-1-4422-3999-9

This is a smart, thorough, and funny journey into the world of video games. Madigan, a psychologist, takes a scholarly approach, incorporating notable studies from the past, such as Philip Zimbardo’s experiment of having subjects supposedly administer painful electric shocks, related here to the “reduced social accountability” observed in online game play. He bolsters the scientific subject matter with humor and a personable and accessible tone, especially when sharing his own experience as a gamer. His theories about mental focus don’t seem particularly specific to video games, but rather are relevant to most forms of electronic and social media. Some readers might be left wanting more detailed portraits of actual gamers, beyond Madigan’s brief anecdotes, but when he does highlight individual studies, he makes a concerted effort to flesh out the faces behind them. This is also a considerately conceived discussion, with handy bullet points at the end of each chapter. Madigan’s work has disappointingly little to say about the possible benefits of games, but there’s enough to get the attention of intellectually curious gamers, however momentarily. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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