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Your Inner Will: Finding Personal Strength in Critical Times

Piero Ferrucci. Tarcher, $25.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-399-17184-0

Why does the best in a person seem to come out only in times of dire crisis? In his newest volume of spiritual self-help, psychotherapist Ferrucci (What We May Be) explores the often unrecognized potential of willpower and how it can be consciously developed and accessed. Focusing on a different aspect of the struggles with and strengths of inner power, each chapter opens with a parable selected from one of many different cultures. Each then closes with an exercise that draws on techniques inspired by and adaptable to spiritual meditative practices or more secular therapeutic techniques. Structuring his analysis around themes such as "Plasticity," "Autonomy," and "Center," the author uses neuroscience, religious wisdom, and mythology, among other sources, to explore ways in which personal strength may be understood. A major influence is Roberto Assagioli's idea of psychosynthesis, and specifically the idea of realizing potentials that seem to not exist in the self. Crisis, suggests Ferrucci, may be a catalyst for change and growth, but the same may also be achieved with focus and practice. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Writers: Literary Lives In Focus

Edited by Alessia Tagliaventi, trans. from the Italian by Grace Crerar-Bromelow and Clare Costa. Contrasto (Consortium, dist.) $35 (514p) ISBN 978-88-6965-525-8

This massive collection of 250 profiles of literary stars, all accompanied by artful portraits, will likely send readers scurrying to their bookshelves, favorite bookstore or both. Arranged alphabetically, readers can peruse brief biographies on everyone from Chinua Achebe to Andrea Zanzotto and all points and genres in between. Selected authors include many of the expected: Franz Kafka, Haruki Murakami, Raymond Carver, Pablo Neruda, and more. There are some inevitable glaring omissions: gritty crime writers Dashiell Hammett, James Ellroy, and Raymond Chandler, all appear, but Elmore Leonard is conspicuously absent, as are horror writers—Stephen King's portrait is included but Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft are nowhere to be found. Despite the random selection, the book's breadth as well as its frequently surprising images (such as Aldous Huxley in mid-air, Thomas Pynchon's passport photo from 1955, and a photomontage of Philip K. Dick's head on a subway seat, staring at a fellow passenger). The accompanying text offers a pithy summation of the author's key works and their contribution to the literary canon. Many of these entries read like brief encyclopedia entries. That said, lovers of literature will likely appreciate this unique collection. Illus. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The World Atlas of Street Photography

Jackie Higgins. Yale Univ., $45 (400pp) ISBN 978-0-300-20716-3

The long shared history of photography and urbanity arrives at an exciting contemporary (and international) moment through this vibrant volume. Arranged into global regions and then further segmented into urban centers, the book becomes both an exploration of place and of contemporary photography. Brief introductions to the most dominant cities chart the specifics of photographic development within it, then give way to several-page considerations of contemporary practitioners. Street photography is defined inclusively, allowing that reportage and conceptual works all find comfortable homes in the art form as it is defined, Nikki S. Lee's projects of public performance art in New York City receiving the same consideration as Nontsikelelo Veleko's Johannesburg-based fashion photography. The images are beautiful, produced with the same vibrant attention that the text directs toward each celebrated photographer. It is rare for collections like this to pull off such simultaneous breadth and depth, yet this resource of over 100 artists succeeds, edifying and captivating throughout. Color illus. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Slim By Design

Brian Wansink. Morrow, $26.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-06-213652-7

Forget willpower—losing weight and living a healthier lifestyle can be as simple as rethinking your environment. So posits eating behavior expert Wansink (Mindless Eating), who cites research stating that 80% of the calories we consume are consumed or purchased within five miles of where we live—what he terms the "food radius." Wansink concisely breaks down this comprehensive eating zone into five parts (home, restaurant, supermarket, office and school), and offers tiny, "mindless" tweaks for each that will lead to decreased caloric intake and increased consumption of higher-quality foods. "We're all mindless eaters," he says. "Each of us makes more than 200 nearly subconscious food choices every day." Wansink provides a 100-point scorecard for every section of the food radius discussed, from the kitchen, to grocery shopping, to at-your-desk food choices, to outside-the-home dining approaches and school lunches. He even provides tips on encouraging others – such as local restaurant owners, employers, and school administrators– to practice improved mindless eating as well. Backed by 25 years of research and buoyed by its simplicity and no-cost implementation, Wansink's book may well be the healthy lifestyle Holy Grail for which many are searching. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Exercise Will Hurt You: Concussion, Traumatic Brain Injury, and How the Dangers of Sports and Exercise Can Affect Your Health

Steven J. Barrer, M.D. . Seven Stories, $22.95 (224p) ISBN 978-1-60980-535-7

"I hate to exercise" admits neurosurgeon Barrer, who plays devil's advocate against fitness culture in this disjointed diatribe. He intends to "bring some reason to the cult of exercise" through an unwieldy mix of scare-tactic statistics, stories from the field, and complaints. Targets of Barrer's vitriol range from "extreme" sports–boxing, football, and hockey--to the seemingly benign. And thus, readers learn the following: yoga can cause blindness. Gyms are germ-ridden pick-up spots. Even gardening poses a serious threat. The book's most informative section contains a basic anatomical overview of sprains, strains, pulls, and tears. But Barrer's tone varies wildly; it's often unclear whether he's sharing legitimate concerns or merely trying to be funny. Barrer, who claims to be "physically lazy," has himself been hurt biking, practicing Aikido, skiing, and playing softball, basketball, and golf, and he recounts these stories throughout the book. His family calls him injury-prone, but Barrer disagrees: "I suspect that's just a euphemism for people who do things that put them in harm's way." Given his unfortunate experiences, Barrer's bitterness toward exercise is perhaps understandable, but that doesn't make him right. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The End of Normal

James K. Galbraith. Simon & Schuster, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4516-4492-0

Since the 2008 financial debacle, University of Texas economist Galbraith – yes, he is Kenneth's son, and, yes, he is a stand-out economist in his own right – has made something of a splash. Galbraith criticizes efforts to revitalize banks and at all costs get back to "normal" growth. He explains convincingly why 2008 was a "turning point"– the end of normal – and gives an extended, articulate account of flush postwar economic growth, locating its end in the 1970s. He reviews the millennial derivatives orgy and the banking system's response. Drawing a dark portrait of high unemployment and unsustainable debt, and predicting an increasingly unstable Europe, Galbraith makes it clear he is no friend of "austerity" or capitalism's status quo. Bankers' orthodoxies about debt and credit go forward based on what Galbraith sees as postwar anomalies and false assumptions. In the portrait he draws, credit excesses in the 2010s are deep and worldwide, while energy, global leadership, and technology are wild cards. Systemic collapse, if and when it comes, he warns, will not be a pretty sight. His Cassandra-style conclusions are scattered and confrontational; his fixes are few. But Galbraith puts his pessimism into an engaging, plausible frame. His contentions deserve the attention of all economists and serious financial minds across the political spectrum. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Divine Art of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying

Karen Speerstra and Herbert Anderson. Divine Arts, $18.95 trade paper (284p) ISBN 978-1-611250-23-7

In this courageous and welcome addition to the end-of-life genre, Speerstra (Colors: The Language of Light) and Anderson (Mutuality Matters: Family, Faith, and Just Love) collaborate to produce an intellectually rich and passionately intimate exploration of dying. In four sections, "Taking the Turn toward Death", "Orienting toward Death", "Living Until We Die", and "Dying into Life," the authors trace the spiritual path that begins when someone decides to enter hospice care. Chapters begin with selections from Karen's Hospice Journal, written in a personable, reflective tone that invites readers to walk alongside Speerstra during the final stages of her life journey: "As time goes on, increased dosages of morphine have become a trustworthy companion to dull the pain and make sleep possible. But I continue to want to be awake during those precious last moments." Reflections from her family members and friends augment her story, and Anderson offers insightful theological reflections: "The nearness of death heightens our awareness of ordinary moments as bearers of grace." Bite-sized practical tips under the rubric "From the Caregivers Handbook" close each chapter. A valuable resource; this books brims with wisdom and grace. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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At Home with Jane Austen

Kim Wilson. Abbeville, $29.95 (144 pages) ISBN 978-0-7892-1209-2

Though there is no shortage of books about Jane Austen, this charming volume will no doubt find an appreciative audience. Wilson (Tea with Jane Austen) once again leads the reader through a specific aspect of Austen's life– in this case, the physical spaces which she lived in or visited. Individual chapters take us from Austen's childhood country home in rural Steventon to the bustling city of Bath, with which she is so associated, to her final dwellings in Chawton, where she wrote so many of her novels, and Winchester, where she passed away. Austen regularly visited friends and family and vacationed at the seaside, and the chapter on travel is particularly engaging, recounting in detail the vagaries and difficulties of Regency-era travel. Copious photographs and prints illustrate what Jane Austen might have experienced as well as what remains for us to enjoy. Quotes from Austen's letters convey the day-to-day experience of living in these places, and examples from her work demonstrate how often these experiences found their way into the novels. The volume will perhaps be best enjoyed by diehard Austenites, but even casual fans should enjoy following in the beloved author's footsteps. A useful appendix is also included.120 color illus. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Artemis: The Indomitable Spirit in Everywoman

Jean Shinoda Bolen. Conari, $22.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-57324-591-3

Jungian psychiatrist Bolen (Goddesses in Everywoman) explores the myth of Artemis, the Greek Goddess of Sun and Moon, as well as her mortal counterpart, Atalanta and the way their characteristics are manifested in modern women. Bolen connects Artemis to contemporary figures such as environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill, author Cheryl Strayed, and journalist Lara Logan. She discusses the themes in the myths, musing on symbolism of apples, awareness of the passage of time, romantic desire, and creative impulses, each of which bear heavy on women's psyches. Bolen also discusses other goddess archetypes, including the romance-oriented Aphrodite, contemplative Hestia, and Hecate, the wise crone. The exploration of Artemis and Atalanta as feminist icons is compelling but some of Bolen's analogies are strained or drift off-topic. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Unnatural Selection: Why the Geeks Will Inherit the Earth

Mark Roeder. Skyhorse/Arcade (Perseus,dist.), $24.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-62872-435-6

Urging Darwin's theory of evolution into the nihilistic, technological obsessed 21st century, Roeder presents the prototype ‘Homo Geektus' as the face of professional success in the digital age. He argues that once pitiable nerds with shy, studious personalities are the new ideal, conditioned to thrive in a cyber culture. The author takes a tone of sarcastic glee yet builds his case with convincing data from various evolutionary ages. The chapter called "The Gift of Weakness" sets the intellectual table, depicting Man's fight for survival in the "technological Greenhouse" instead of a cave as we shift from the nature-based "Holocene" age to the "Unnatural Selection" favoring know-how over physical aggression. Roeder emphasizes the "mutual interaction between the environment and nature," in this case, an invisible but powerful data infrastructures dominated by outsiders whose mental strength allows them to create/alter alternative informational and sensory realities "without…asking anyone's permission." Roeder offers a thoughtful, contemplative treatise told with wit and wisdom. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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