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After the Wind: 1996 Everest Tragedy— One Survivor’s Story

Lou Kasischke. Good Hart, $25 (328p) ISBN 978-1-940877-00-6

Kasischke, a former lawyer and avid mountain climber, adds to the extensive documentation of the 1996 Mt. Everest tragedy, in which eight people perished while attempting to summit the highest mountain on Earth, with this firsthand account. He describes his personal struggle to make the grueling climb, his emotional turmoil as circumstances turned hazardous and then fatal, and his brush with death on the terrifying descent. His narrative is stark and accessible, bringing the mountaineer’s journey to life in accessible language, though the internal monologue veers toward self-indulgent reflection and recriminations. In many ways, Kasischke’s story is a response to more famous retellings, like Jon Krakauer’s Into Thin Air, which assigns blame to expedition leader Rob Hall, who didn’t make it home. “It was a story about poor judgment,” Kasischke writes, recalling that the initial ascension plan wasn’t followed. “It seems hard to believe that such experienced climbers were so muddled about what to do. If [the plan had been followed], there would have been no tragedy.” Regardless of why the tragedy occurred, Kasischke’s account provides an eye-opening look at the perils and extreme conditions on Everest. Evocative illustrations by Jane Cardinal further enhance the text, and include maps and time lines. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Chicagoland: Illusions of the Literal

Steve Gubin. Cyanatic Images, $64.99 (134p) ISBN 978-0-6923399-4-7

This quietly evocative book captures the energy, diversity, and soul of Chicago in more than 100 black-and-white photographs taken during a six-year period beginning in 2008. Gubin, a fine-art and documentary photographer, says street photography captures a moment in time, yet it’s also an illusion of that specific moment and open to interpretation—“paradoxically both a fact and a fiction.” His goal is to reveal “a subtle sense of mystery and surrealism, odd frozen moments of uneasy ambiguity and whimsicality.” Photographs of stern-faced pedestrians and graffiti exude a gritty, urban vibe, commingling with blurred images that convey artistic purity with no easily accessible story line. Gubin speaks beautifully to mood with a stunning, romantic night shot of an isolated street during a snowstorm, and weather-driven images of bundled-up walkers in the snow (he calls one “Chicago Gulag”). Photographs of pedestrians, dog-walkers, and Lake Michigan swimmers capture the everyday rhythm of life. Interspersed throughout the book are crisp, textural images, showing the ordinary and showcasing the magnificent: a crisp, extended shot of an elevated train station; an industrial block lined with shadows; a cracked sidewalk from above; an alley; the reflective Cloud Gate sculpture, thronged with visitors; and Louis Sullivan’s gorgeous ironwork ornamentation. Gubin’s images are the narrative in this story of everyman’s Chicago. (BookLife)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Bone to Pick: The Good and Bad News About Food, Along with Wisdom, Insights, and Advice on Diets, Food Safety, GMOs, Farming, and More

Mark Bittman. Clarkson Potter/Pam Krauss, $26 (272p) ISBN SBN 978-0804-186544

Bittman (How to Cook Everything Fast) compiles pieces primarily written during the past four years (from the New York Times and the Times Sunday Magazine) in this overview of contemporary food-related concerns. Eschewing chronological presentation, Bittman groups the essays under six headings: “Big Ag,” “Sustainability and What’s in Between,” “What’s Wrong with Meat,” “What Is Food and What Is Not,” “The Truth About Diet(s),” “The Broken Food Chain,” and “Legislating and Labeling.” Bittman covers a variety of issues; though a well-known cookbook author, he’s also a reporter who often gets out of the kitchen. His travels take him to Sacramento Valley (to see a “big tomato operation”), pig farms in Iowa, and a food bank in Rhode Island. Bittman has far more than one “bone to pick,” lecturing on cruelty to farm animals, the use of antibiotics and pesticides, worker rights, the dangers of added sugar, and insufficient government oversight, to name just a few. His complaints about what he calls a “broken” food system are consistently balanced with viable solutions; his resounding message (“eat real food”) is simple enough, and supports his overall goal of human health and agricultural sustainability. Bittman’s compelling essays are a call to action and a reminder to readers that the future of food—and of the planet—is in their own hands. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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More Fool Me: A Memoir

Stephen Fry. Overlook, $29.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4683-1133-4

“There is nothing very appealing about show business memoirs,” comedian Fry writes in the first sentence of this new installment of his autobiography, which picks up where The Fry Chronicles left off. With canny accuracy, Fry illustrates his point in what is ultimately a meandering, pedantic memoir that covers about a decade of his life. Fry found himself at the height of his success as a comedian and actor in his early 30s, rushing from party to party, diving into cocaine addiction and sex. In one lucid moment, however, Fry comes to himself and recognizes the line between wisdom and folly: “When I started taking coke my life was more or less perfect. I had enjoyed preposterous success.” Fry does veer off his path momentarily to recall his meeting with Princess Diana, who revealed her secret love of a particularly naughty television show, as well as to introduce his sister, Jo, who became his superlative personal assistant. Looking back over his diaries, Fry wonders about his folly as a young man and where his life might have led if he had not partied so heavily. In the end, though, Fry imparts little wisdom about himself. (May)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Seven Good Years: A Memoir

Etgar Keret. Riverhead, $26.95 (192p) ISBN 978-1-59463-326-3

In this slim, episodic set of recollections, acclaimed Israeli fiction writer Keret (The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God) covers the span between the birth of his son and the death of his father. In spare, wry prose, he recounts his child’s birth, the same day as a terrorist attack, and sums up the violent underpinnings of current Israeli life when he tells a disappointed journalist that “the attacks are always the same. What can you say about an explosion and senseless death?” This apolitical, irreligious, and wry fatalism recalls a great deal of Jewish humor, a meditation on the absurd and vital. The initial courtship of Keret’s parents, both Holocaust survivors, is lovingly described with a thirst for life that reflects the vitality of Israel’s earliest decades. Keret thinks and feels deeply, but he makes heavy points with a light touch, describing a childhood friend as having “the smiling but tough expression of an aging child who had already learned a thing or two about this stupid world.” While the short chapters move in linear fashion, each stands firmly on its own.. Without overplaying any single aspect of a complicated life in complicated times in a complicated place, Keret’s lovely memoir retains its essential human warmth, demonstrating that with memoirs, less can often be more. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Who Gets What—and Why: The New Economics of Matchmaking and Market Design

Alvin E. Roth. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Eamon Dolan, $28 (260p) ISBN 978-0-544-29113-3

Roth, who shared the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2012, shines a light on the everyday world of matching markets in diverse areas such as organ donation, public school choice programs, college admissions, employment, and online dating. Unlike commodity markets such as stocks and bonds, where price alone determines who gets what, in a matching market you are not free to choose but must also be chosen. Roth is in the forefront of the “market design” school, which aims to solve problems plaguing matching markets that are not “thick” enough (lacking sufficient participants) or suffer from “congestion” (an overwhelming range of options). As an example, he points out that over 100,000 people in the U.S. are waiting for kidney transplants, yet only about 11,000 non-directed kidneys become available each year. Using market design principles, Roth helped design the New England Program for Kidney Exchange. As another example, he examines the college application process, a vicious cycle in which, as students apply to more colleges, acceptance rates go down. After reading Roth’s book, readers may or may not make better matches, but they will better understand how matching markets work. Agent: Jim Levine, Levine Greenberg Literary Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Women Artists: The Linda Nochlin Reader

Edited by Maura Reilly. Thames & Hudson, $50 (432p) ISBN 978-0-500-23929-2

Linda Nochlin has been a groundbreaking art critic and curator for decades, but this is the first collection devoted to her writing on the topic with which she is most associated: female artists. Opening with a new author interview, the text moves from 1971’s groundbreaking “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” through many years’ worth of catalogue essays, journal articles, and previously unpublished works. Nochlin is far from a one-note theorist; her concerns are varied and her thinking incisive. Among the topics she addresses are women painters after the French Revolution, subversive modes in Nancy Graves’s sculptures, and the uncanny in contemporary photographer Miwa Yanagi’s Fairy Tale series. She maintains a lucid and controlled style of prose, and even those essays with the strongest academic bent are highly readable. Readers will be delighted by this opportunity to watch Nochlin’s ideas advance over the decades, including the revisiting of her earlier arguments in “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists: 30 Years After.” Nochlin’s contributions have been crucial in rethinking art history and rejecting the narrow idea of a core female aesthetic. 247 illus. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Very Dangerous Woman: The Lives, Loves, and Lies of Russia’s Most Seductive Spy

Deborah McDonald and Jeremy Dronfield. Oneworld, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-78074-708-8

Maria Ignatievna Zakrevskaya, called Moura by friends and family, led a life as turbulent as the Russian revolution she cunningly managed to survive. Biographer McDonald (Clara Collet 1860–1948) and novelist Dronfield (The Locust Farm) explore that life in a fast-paced story of European intrigue, featuring an enigmatic, strong-willed woman who married twice and whose lovers included Alexander Kerensky, Maxim Gorky, and H.G. Wells. Moura was raised in a wealthy Ukrainian family with connections to the Russian czar, and her first husband, Djon Alexandrovich von Benckendorff, was from an equally upper-class Estonian family. The outbreak of the Great War in 1914 disrupted this life of privilege; von Benckendorff resigned his diplomatic post in Berlin and joined the Russian army. Once the revolution started, Moura didn’t hesitate to cultivate sexual connections as a means of protecting herself. In 1918, she met Robert Lockhart, head of the British diplomatic mission in Petrograd, and they embarked on an affair that got her embroiled in a plot to overthrow the Bolsheviks, turned her into a spy for the Soviet secret police, and eventually drove her into exile in England. Moura’s survival story is fascinating on its own; unfortunately, the authors overcommit to the unnecessary love story angle. Illus. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Private Doubt, Public Dilemma: Religion and Science Since Jefferson and Darwin

Keith Thomson. Yale Univ, $30 (224p) ISBN 978-0-300-20367-7

Thomson, emeritus professor of Natural History at the University of Oxford, explores the well-trod ground of the conflict between religion and science, and does so in a way that is both informative and engaging. Rather than focusing on specific aspects of both fields that may be in conflict, Thomson examines broad patterns. He asserts that “the celebrated conflict between religion and science is really part of a much broader phenomenon occurring whenever there is change in our knowledge—either or both in what we know and the context in which we know it.” He supports his argument with a close look at the lives and work of Thomas Jefferson and Charles Darwin, two individuals who grappled with the relationship between religion and science throughout their lives. Thomson maintains that an important trait shared by both is an appreciation of doubt, a “fundamental ingredient of progress.” Humility follows doubt, he argues, opening up opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration. Seeing a glimmer of hope in areas such as environmentalism where the two fields have joint “ownership,” Thomson believes it is possible for collaboration to occur between theologians, scientists, and the public for the greater good of society. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Physicist and the Philosopher: Einstein, Bergson, and the Debate That Changed Our Understanding of Time

Jimena Canales. Princeton Univ, $35 (464p) ISBN 978-0-691-16534-9

In illuminating a historic 1922 debate between Albert Einstein and Henri Bergson about the nature of time, Canales (A Tenth of a Second: A History) marks a turning point in the power of philosophy to influence science. At the time, Bergson was “one of the most respected philosophers of his era”; he was far better known, even outside of his native France, than the upstart German physicist, and his insistence that relativity was merely a “metaphysics grafted upon science” carried weight—to the point that Einstein worried about whether their disagreement would cost him the Nobel Prize. Canales recreates an intellectual world in which disagreements were settled by civil discussion. Einstein was determined to describe the universe objectively and to explain its laws in the “simplest possible way.” He had no patience for Bergson’s mysticism and anti-rationalism. They were opposites in nearly every respect, from their views of the natural world to those of religion, politics, and social values. Canales draws an intriguing picture of the times while revealing the influences of other historical figures on the Einstein/Bergson argument. In the end, Einstein’s “dilated time,” so disdained by Bergson, proved its worth in a century of technological advances and more than earned its place as a cornerstone of modern physics. (June)

Reviewed on 04/17/2015 | Details & Permalink

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