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The Permaculture City: Regenerative Design for Urban, Suburban, and Town Resilience

Toby Hemenway. Chelsea Green, $24.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-60358-526-2

This eagerly awaited book from West Coast permaculture expert Hemenway, author of the classic Gaia's Garden, pushes permaculture design beyond its usual realm of homesteading and gardening, applying it to the complex systems that make up contemporary urban life. Other permaculturalists are also exploring these ideas, but Hemenway's intelligent, down-to-earth analyses, astute systems thinking, and clear organization offer a particularly comprehensive, open-ended, and sophisticated yet understandable overview to readers who want to discover, evaluate, utilize, and integrate the untapped resources abundant in any city or town. Hemenway focuses on the philosophical, "whetting appetites" and providing toolkits rather than in-depth instruction, with the goal of teaching readers "to become adept at a whole-systems approach to living in and finding solutions in cities, towns, and suburbs." Referencing livable-city innovators such as Jane Jacobs and human-scale design thinkers such as Christopher Alexander, Hemenway shows how permaculture concepts can be stretched and rethought in an urban setting to include not just one's house, garden, and yard but also neighbors, parks, and city agencies. (July)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Sex, Drugs, and Rock 'n' Roll: The Rise of America's 1960s Counterculture

Robert C. Cottrell. Rowman & Littlefield, $38 (408p) ISBN 978-1-4422-4606-5

This massive and impressively researched look at the cultural revolutions in the U.S. in the post-WWII years is a perfect text for a college class on 1960s culture. Fully aware that "the hippies of the 1960s, of course, were hardly the first countercultural figures to appear in the United States," Cottrell (Icons of American Popular Culture) begins with detailed looks at four early countercultural figures: Allen Ginsberg, whose poetry attacked the "conservatism and conformity" of American 1950s culture; Jack Kerouac, whose novel "On The Road" popularized the youthful image of the restless wanderer; Timothy Leary, the most notable proselytizer for LSD; and author Ken Kesey, whose Merry Prankster commune "kicked off the liberal employment of psychedelics." Cottrell expertly shows how their outlaw images and ideas influenced almost every aspect of the 1960s counterculture, including the political shift from peaceful protest to the violence of the Weathermen, the popularization of the use of psychedelics for personal liberation, and the move from cities into country communes as an escape from the collapsing countercultural ideals in the 1970s. Cottrell believes that the positive aspects of 1960s culture live on, quoting Whole Earth Catalog editor Stewart Brand's belief that "the counterculture's scorn for centralized authority provided the philosophical foundations of not only the leaderless Internet but also the entire personal-computer revolution." (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Man from Muscle Shoals: My Journey from Shame to Fame

Rick Hall. Heritage Builders, $34.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-941437-52-0

Hall changed the course of popular music history in the early 1960s when he opened his FAME Recording Studios in the tiny town of Muscle Shoals, Ala.—the first professional studio in the entire state. Hall's memoir is a fascinating tale of how he combined a love of country music and rhythm and blues with a band of talented local musicians ("The Swampers," immortalized in Lynyrd Skynyrd's hit "Sweet Home Alabama") to create "a safe haven where blacks and whites could work together in musical harmony," producing hits for many different musicians including Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex, Clarence Carter, Aretha Franklin, Paul Anka, and the Osmonds. The "Muscle Shoals Sound" created at FAME is often associated with the rival Muscle Shoals Sound Studio founded in 1969 by the Swampers after an acrimonious split with Hall. But the book firmly puts the spotlight on Hall's unique accomplishments, and provides a moving tale of Hall's rise from a poverty-stricken youth surrounded by "starvation, deaths, sickness, divorces, and tornadoes" to his nurturing of a regional sweet soul sound that exploded onto the national music scene. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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A Lucky Life Interrupted: A Memoir of Hope

Tom Brokaw. Random House, $27 (240p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6969-9

Brokaw's cushy, busy retirement, bolstered by the popularity of his Greatest Generation books about WWII and his long tenure as a highly respected NBC newsman, was derailed in 2013 by a dreaded diagnosis of cancer. The former anchorman, now 75, went to the famed Mayo Clinic for a second opinion on a nagging back problem, with the verdict of incurable myeloma, a cancer of the blood. Brokaw writes that the cancer transforms everything it touches. Some readers will be saddened by the distracting remembrances of D-Day events, Nelson Mandela's waning moments, the crumbling of the Twin Towers, and the constant name-dropping; those who expect the book to center on the rigors of the disease and chemotherapy will instead find that Brokaw focuses on the joys of his blessed life: "I've had a life rich in personal and professional rewards beyond what should be anyone's even exaggerated expectations." Unlike some influential narratives on life and maladies, such as Audre Lorde's Cancer Journals and Susan Sontag's Illness as Metaphor, Brokaw's observations and opinions are frank only up to a point, without too much grim analysis, sobering reflection on morality, or despair. (May)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Kaufman's Hill

John C. Hampsey. Bancroft, $25 (200p) ISBN 978-1-61088-153-1

This sensitive and often sad memoir shows the same skill that Hampsey (Paranoia and Contentment) has brought to his many short stories and his work as a professor. The book, set in Pittsburgh between 1961 and 1968, begins with the seven-year-old Hampsey recounting his memories of a group of young boys discovering a dead rat at Kaufmann's Hill (spelled "Kaufman" in the title because of the way a sign looks from the hill's top) in the center of their neighborhood. This short chapter sets the stage for the rest of the themes that Hampsey explores: the youthful discovery of life and death, of sex and love, of family happiness and tragedy. All of the stories are linked by twilight; Hampsey proclaims, "Six to seven [p.m.] was my time—when I could go out and do whatever I wanted and not run into anyone." During those hours he can avoid bullies Teddy Keegan and Buddy Nevin, the troubled priests and teachers from his Catholic grammar school, and also his father, a distant man whose longing for something beyond his family made him "too serious and unhappy in a way everyone could tell, just by looking at him." Hampsey also shows the racial strife that begins to touch his early teens, but his focus is on capturing the furtive beauty of his youthful adventures during "that perfect playtime—the space between almost-dark and when the streetlights come on, when twilight really does exist for a while." (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Madeline Kahn: Being the Music, a Life

William V. Madison. Univ. Press of Mississippi, $35 (336p) ISBN 978-1-61703-761-0

Madison, a former CBS News producer, gives comedian Madeline Kahn (1942–1999) the star treatment and provides fans with an in-depth, heartfelt look into her too brief life. Kahn died far too young at age 57, having enjoyed an early meteoric rise and earned back-to-back Oscar nominations for her work in the films Paper Moon and Blazing Saddles. For years, Kahn's professional and personal decisions were defined by her tumultuous childhood, specifically the fallout from having an undiagnosed mentally ill mother whom she looked after financially, and a father and stepfather who both left her mother. Kahn attended Hofstra on a drama scholarship but gave it up over the roles she was assigned and transferred to the music department. She worked in cabarets and made her opera debut in La Bohème. Realizing she couldn't keep up with singing's physical demands, she found herself in the enviable position of being directed by Peter Bogdanovich and Mel Brooks in career-defining roles. However, Kahn, who was a serious, earnest actor, worried about how audiences perceived her and struggled with the comedic, spacey parts she was often given. Madison offers a warm portrait of Kahn, and ends on an upbeat note, observing that Kahn experienced overdue romantic and professional fulfillment in her last years, including winning a Tony award and acting in the award-winning Judy Berlin for her final film. B&w photos. (May)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The WikiLeaks Files: The World According to US Empire

Introduction by Julian Assange. Verso, $29.95 (624p) ISBN 978-1-78168-874-8

This compilation of contributions from WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Assange, WikiLeaks section editor Sarah Harrison, and a team of journalists, professors, and writers is full of eye-opening scholarly analysis of the diplomatic cables made public by the WikiLeaks group, focusing on the 2010–2011 "Cablegate" disclosures. It takes on a huge amount of data and delivers a thorough introduction to the narratives of U.S. policy that the cables reveal. The first part is divided into sections by political topic, such as relations with dictators and economic strategy. These overarching analyses provide the background for the focused work in the second part, which highlights specific countries and regions; it includes chapters on Wikipedia's PlusD (Public Library of U.S. Diplomacy) database of leaked State Department cables and on U.S. policy regarding the International Criminal Court. The analysis is provided with appropriate context and sources cited and quoted. Organizing the book by theme and region makes the information in the cables accessible to a wide audience of readers who may not otherwise have the time or background knowledge to search through the data themselves. Some knowledge of political terminology is needed to understand the research, which will appeal mainly to readers already interested in politics and U.S. foreign policy. The insights from researchers provide an excellent resource and solid foundation for further research by scholars or lay readers. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Senator Next Door: A Memoir from the Heartland

Amy Klobuchar. Holt, $30 (368p) ISBN 978-1-62779-417-6

This political memoir is not a particularly exciting read, but it does serve as an apt reminder that some decency remains in American politics. Klobuchar has been a U.S. senator for almost a decade. In that time, the senior senator from Minnesota has proven herself a consensus builder, ethical almost to a fault, and quietly effective for her constituents, while remaining impervious to scandal or partisanship. Klobuchar's memoir paints the picture of a steady, indefatigable, honest servant of the people. She tells candid (good and bad) stories of growing up the daughter of a legendary local newspaper reporter, her early witnessing of the dangers of alcohol abuse, the end of her parents' marriage, her daughter's early health problems, her first campaign, and her experiences in Washington. Klobuchar's stories are carefully positioned (unsurprisingly for a sitting politician) to be both accessible and carry the ring of authenticity while appealing to a broad spectrum of political affiliations. Her even-handedness could be cynically perceived as playing to the middle, but it sounds refreshingly genuine. Readers will come away feeling a bit more positive about the political system and the people working within it. 16-page color insert. Agent: Paul Fedorko, N.S. Bienstock Agency. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Three-Week Professionals: Inside the 1987 NFL Players Strike

Ted Kluck. Rowman & Littlefield, $32 (160p) ISBN 978-1-4422-4154-1

Veteran sportswriter Kluck recalls the drama and miscues of the 1987 NFL Players strike, when the owners put anyone who could suit up on the gridiron to give the fans their Sunday spectacle. As a boy of 11, he worshipped the National Football League mystique and its legendary players, and was stunned by the 24-day work stoppage as the teams demanded a better wage and the right to seek free agency. Kluck's wandering narrative captures the true spirit of the hapless recruiting methods of the "scab" squads, the union's hardball tactics, the public's refusal to accept the game's amateurs, and the owners' reluctance to negotiate. Kluck profiles some of the strike breakers, including football vets Mark Gastineau and Lawrence Taylor and even future rap exec Marion "Suge" Knight, and concludes the quality of play was "painful to watch, with fumbles, bad punt snaps and dropped passes." This very slight read, with its sketchy recaps of poorly played replacement games, will leave the typical NFL fan cold. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Flirting with Fire

Kate Meader. Pocket, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8590-5

Meader (the Hot in the Kitchen series) provides a strong start to her Hot in Chicago contemporary romance series. Kinsey Taylor, who handles PR outreach for the Mayor of Chicago, is trying to spin fireman Luke Almeida's image. Luke was caught on video in a fistfight with a policeman and is the new designated public proof of institutional insubordination; the Mayor is up for re-election and doesn't need a scandal. But Kinsey, armed with charity calendar shoots and community block party plans, finds Luke almost too stubborn to work with. A large and eclectic cast of side characters and a charmingly real-feeling Chicago provide lightness and fun. Sadly, the central couple never feel fully three-dimensional, and their romance has a few too many plot-required bumps in it. The setup for eventual future books in the series is more interesting than the central situation. Still, Meader's general writing skill and good humor go a long way. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 07/31/2015 | Details & Permalink

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