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American Pain: How a Young Felon and His Ring of Doctors Unleashed America's Deadliest Drug Epidemic

John Temple. Globe Pequot/Lyons, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4930-0738-7

This exhilarating blow-by-blow account details how brothers Chris and Jeff George and their sidekick, Derik Nolan, steroids-fueled collaborators with no prior medical experience, exploited Florida's lax prescription drug laws to operate the largest pain clinic in the United States, from 2008 until a raid brought it all crashing down in 2010. Money poured in so fast that bills were stuffed in garbage cans behind cashier windows. A corrupt doctor taught the brothers how to sell massive quantities of the legally controlled (and highly addictive) painkiller oxycodone under the guise of a medical clinic. As long as a physician prescribed the drug and told so-called patients to adhere to the recommended dosage, everything was considered on the up and up. Eventually, the George brothers ran rival clinics, and Chris George's American Pain became the premier facility of its kind on the East Coast, luring junkies from as far away as Kentucky and Ohio, where oxycodone control laws are tougher. Journalism professor Temple (The Last Lawyer) dissects the Georges' criminal operation and documents the rise and fall of American Pain with precision and authority in this highly readable true crime account. Agent: Jacqueline Flynn, Joelle Delbourgo Associates. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things

Jenny Lawson. Flatiron, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-250-07700-4

Popular blogger/author Lawson (Let's Pretend This Didn't Happen) writes that this "funny book" about mental illness is not so much a sequel to her last book, but rather "a collection of bizarre essays and conversations and confused thoughts stuck together by spilled boxed wine and the frustrated tears of baffled editors." While followers of Lawson's blog will be familiar with her fascination with unusual topics (e.g., stuffed critters, the mysteries of Japanese toilets), newcomers may initially be jolted by the author's litany of diagnoses (depression, anxiety, autoimmune disorders, phobias, insomnia, etc.) as well as her unique ability to turn life's lemons into hilarious stories. Lawson decides that rather than wave a white flag, she will combat mental illness by being "furiously happy." Helping her stuffed raccoons ride on her cats, visiting Australia in a koala bear costume, and battling menacing swans are just a few of the ways she creates humor in a life that might defeat a less inventive individual. She also shares days of darkness, social anxiety, and a range of fears that sometimes keep her housebound. Though mostly comedic, the text also addresses such serious issues as self-injury and why mental illness is misunderstood. Lawson insightfully explores the ways in which dark moments serve to make the lighter times all the brighter. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Stagg vs. Yost: The Birth of Cutthroat Football

John Kryk. Rowman & Littlefield, $40 (336p) ISBN 978-1-4422-4825-0

At the start of this account of one of the major rivalries in early American collegiate sports, Kryk, the national NFL columnist for the Toronto Sun and Sun Media, promises but does not entirely deliver a no-holds-barred battle royal between two iconic football coaches. Football, which caught America's attention in the 1890s, first attracted fans with a violent gladiator edge, where linemen stood and mauled opponents at the scrimmage line, often injuring them with fractured skulls, dislocated shoulders, broken noses, and an occasional death. Rival coaches Amos Arnold Stagg at the University of Chicago and Fielding H. Yost at the University of Michigan had pristine reputations, but Kryk reveals that both indulged in serious violations in eligibility, tactics, and illegal payments to players from alumni. A surprisingly large number of innovative rules and regulations were put in place during the reign of the combative pair, who were obsessed with victories at all costs. The men are fascinating, but the author's narrative runs out of steam, and the reader becomes slowly bored with their self-centered antics. Kryk shows a real knack for describing the time period, the sport, and the bitter rivals, but their duel fizzles to nothing. (July)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Positivity: How to be Happier, Healthier, Smarter, and More Prosperous

Harry Edelson. SelectBooks, $17.95 trade paper (224p) ISBN 978-1-59079-355-8

Edelson shares knowledge gained through a lifetime of successful ventures in his first self-help book. He grew up in the poorest section of Brooklyn and worked his way up to starting a venture capital investment firm, so he has firsthand experience of self-improvement. The advice he gives is practical and timely, centering on lifelong learning and the premise that anyone, no matter their circumstances, can make improvements to their life. He gives tips on mnemonics and the art of memorization, speed-reading, solving math problems in one's head, public speaking, and overcoming stress. He identifies happiness as coming from "a certain state of mind," namely one that is purposefully optimistic and focused on the future. He also gives solid financial advice: not spending above one's means, and saving more using simple ideas and practices. Edelson has put together a thoughtful and concise resource, though his prose is sometimes clouded by a superior tone, and by utilizing Edelson's ideas, it seems entirely possible to enjoy a better life, starting now. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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The Book of Luke: My Fight for Truth, Justice, and Liberty City

Luther Campbell. Amistad, $24.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-0623-3640-8

Campbell, the rich and rude businessman and founder of "Dirty Rap," presents himself as an unlikely achiever of the American dream. Raised in Miami's infamous Liberty City, Campbell used his West Indian work ethic to soar above a string of odd jobs, Jim Crow segregation, crime, and poverty to create a raunchy brand of Southern hip-hop as leader of 2 Live Crew. Campbell sees the exodus of high-end entertainment from South Florida to Las Vegas, the influx of rich Cubans rising to key city posts, and the twin plagues of guns and drugs take a lethal toll on the black population. Despite a crowded field of hip-hop bands, he created a winning formula for his rap group, stressing catchy hooks, outrageous blues lyrics, and big-bottomed eye candy. The price of success was police harassment and a much-publicized obscenity trial. After Campbell's fame ebbed, he became a football coach and mentor to at-risk students, a newspaper columnist, and a spokesman for revitalizing Liberty City. Profane yet practical, "Uncle Luke" writes persuasively of making America more tolerant via one funky beat and a Constitutional challenge. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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I'll Never Write My Memoirs

Grace Jones, with Paul Morley. Gallery, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4767-6507-5

Jones's outrageous influence endures to the present day, so it is disappointing that her memoir, promising blood and thunder, instead turns into a litany of experiences, lacking the spark that would keep the reader interested. Jones was a 1970s runway model turned disco recording star, whose classics include the lasting "La Vie en Rose." She narrates her journey beginning with a painful childhood in Jamaica, where she was regularly beaten, and her rejection of how religion was practiced there. She writes that she felt "nothing" upon leaving Jamaica for America. Later she embraced her native country, letting Jamaica into her music. Jones plods from event to event, recounting bare facts of her life that could be easily found elsewhere. She gets more personal when talking about her love of hats and hoods, and in her discussion of her theatrical performances, channeling her androgynous persona into finding "a different way to be black, lesbian, male, female, animal." At the end, she is alone, but writes that she is not lonely. After a duet performance with Pavarotti, she feels afraid of being abandoned. She is disappointed with the singers who came after her because they don't stay true to themselves. And she writes about the sex, drink, drugs, and arrests that may come with fame. But all these anecdotes are unfortunately detached from emotion and insight. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Hirohito's War: The Pacific War, 1941-1945

Francis Pike. Bloomsbury, $45 (1152p) ISBN 978-1-4725-9670-3

Pike (Empires at War), a journalist and historian who focuses on Asian military history, offers a spectrum of fresh perspectives on a war generally presented in Western terms that minimize Japan's agency. He addresses the Pacific conflicts in WWII in the context of a comprehensive century-long struggle for dominance over the Pacific. Within that framework, Pike establishes Hirohito's central position in "the mythology of Japanese exceptionalism." He interprets the attack on Pearl Harbor strategically as the outcome of mutually incompatible geopolitical objectives and operationally as "at best a superficial success and at worst a colossal mistake." The narrative takes off from there. Pike's integrated analysis of Japan's simultaneous victories in Malaya, Burma, Philippines, and Dutch East Indies presents them as a virtuoso performance unsurpassed in modern warfare. Yet these victories resulted in a strategic overreach, due to Japan's belief that quick victories would be followed by rapid settlement. Instead, the U.S., Britain, and China dug in for a war of attrition on levels Japan could not hope to match, and Japan suffered "the most stunning military defeat in its history." The U.S. decisively "brought home to the Japanese the catastrophe of their rulers' military adventures," and Pike tells the epic story on a fitting scale. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Population Wars: A New Perspective on Competition and Coexistence

Greg Graffin. St. Martin's/Dunne, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-01762-8

Historians and scientists both see life as about competition, but it is more about cooperation, says Graffin (Anarchy and Evolution), frontman for the punk band Bad Religion and occasional Cornell University lecturer. In this spirited work, he explains that losers of human wars undergo less "annihilation" than "assimilation." Similarly, in the creation of complex life, he says that what mattered most was simple organisms' assimilation—not annihilation—of one another. However, Graffin makes some sweeping generalizations that lack essential nuance. For instance, he says that our nuclei are probably assimilated Precambrian viruses; our macrophages, assimilated amoebas. Neither theory is widely accepted, yet he grants them the same weight that he gives to the more established notions that our mitochondria are assimilated proteobacteria and plants' plastids are assimilated cyanobacteria. There are other passages that will give specialists pause, and brighter lines should have been drawn between guesses and genetically supported theories. Still, while his speculations supporting his thesis—that symbiosis is the key driver of complex life—are not all fully backed by research at this time, they are always intensely thought-provoking. Graffin's view that complex life is generally more about cooperation than conflict remains controversial among evolutionary biologists, but many of his arguments are intelligent, challenging, and inspiring. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Among the Swamp People: Life in Alabama's Mobile-Tensaw River Delta

Watt Key. Univ. of Alabama, $29.95 (216p) ISBN 978-0-8173-8890-4

The pleasures and dangers of the Mobile-Tensaw River Delta are seen through the eyes of a Mobile, Ala., native in this sentimental account that spans a decade, from the author's first trip there in 1996, through Hurricane Katrina, and up to 2006, when the author's debut novel, Alabama Moon, was published. Novelist and screenwriter Key, who made the wetlands area his regular weekend retreat after building a small cabin on a leased plot of land, brings the swamp's everyday occurrences to life with vivid descriptions of its human and animal inhabitants. Alligators play just as prominent a role in the story as do Ace, an unpleasant neighbor, and Carson, a hunter who captures and sells catfish, hogs, and minnows. Key's strengths as a writer are clearest when he relates personal interactions with these and other locals, providing snippets of conversation and monologue that play at the line of cliché without ever stepping over it. Key's story of his early struggles with writing feels shoehorned into the narrative, but the book works well as both a travelogue and a portrait of humans struggling with and living alongside nature. 20 b&w illus. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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Trim Healthy Mama Plan: Keep It Simple, Keep It Sane

Pearl Barrett and Serene Allison. Harmony, $19.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-101-90263-9

Sisters and blogging partners Barrett and Allison leave some essential ingredients out of this pared-down version of their self-published Trim Healthy Mama (THM) program guide. Based on what the writers call "Biblical truths" and on their personal experience with diet and weight loss, the plan calls for a mix of fat-centric "Satisfying Meals" and carb-centric "Energizing Meals," suggesting that eating this way pushes your body to burn fat and thus lose weight. Other THM meal types and approved foodstuffs may be added to support a range of dietary concerns, such as the needs of children, pregnant or breast-feeding women, or vegetarians. The Mamas are sweetly encouraging, but the folksy tone they use will be off-putting for some, as will the plan's unstructured nature and glaring lack of recipes. Readers may want to bypass the book and head to the THM site and Facebook page, as well as to the THM-recipe-touting blogs and Pinterest boards that the writers so often mention throughout this guide. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 08/28/2015 | Details & Permalink

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