Thankfully, King’s book is an impressive work of restoration—the author helps readers see this painting for the first time.

LEONARDO AND THE LAST SUPPER

An absorbing study of a disappearing masterpiece.

King (Defiant Spirits: The Modernist Revolution of the Group of Seven, 2010, etc.) tells the story of the most famous painting no one has really seen, at least since the 16th century: The Last Supper, the masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci that began deteriorating almost as soon as the paint dried. King places the painting in its political, social and artistic context, describing both the meaning of da Vinci’s work and the violent 15th-century Italian world that spawned it. Proof that art, like life, sometimes happens when you’re making other plans, da Vinci’s greatest painting came about because his dream project—an enormous horse-and-rider sculpture honoring the father of his patron, Lodovico Sforza—was scuttled when Italy needed the bronze for war. For the next two years, da Vinci painted the scene of Jesus and his disciples on the wall of a monastery. In its masterful use of perspective, complementary color and achievement of lifelike detail, it marked a turning point for Western art. King plumbs the painting’s religious, secular, psychological and political meanings, registered in the facial expressions and hand positions, the significance of the food on the table and, most fascinatingly, the salt spilled by the betraying Judas. (And no, Dan Brown, Mary Magdalene is not in it.) Alas, da Vinci’s ignorance of the fresco technique meant the pigments did not bond to the plaster, and the paint would begin flaking within years. As early as 1582, it was described as being “in a state of total ruin.”

Thankfully, King’s book is an impressive work of restoration—the author helps readers see this painting for the first time.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8027-1705-4

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Walker

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Forney’s story should resonate with those grappling with similar issues, while her artistry should appeal to a wide...

MARBLES

MANIA, DEPRESSION, MICHELANGELO, AND ME: A GRAPHIC MEMOIR

For anyone who loves graphic memoir or has concerns about bipolar swings, creativity and medication, this narrative will prove as engaging and informative as it is inspirational.

Since the connection between artistry and mental instability has been well-documented, plenty of those diagnosed with bipolar disorder share the fears articulated in this unflinchingly honest memoir by Forney (I Love Led Zeppelin, 2006, etc.). “I don’t want balance, I want brilliance!” she exclaims during one of her manic phases. “Meds would bring me down!” Taking pride in her membership in “Club van Gogh (The true artist is a crazy artist),” she subsequently suffered from periods of depression that brought her down far lower than medication even could. “During a manic episode, depression seems entirely impossible,” she writes, but depression often made it impossible for her to imagine feeling so good or feeling much of anything beyond a benumbed dread. Forney chronicles her years of therapy, her research into the literature of depression and her trial-and-error experiences with medication—and cocktails of medication—searching for the combination where the benefits outweighed the side effects. She directly confronts the challenge facing anyone trying to monitor and assess her own mental state: “How could I keep track of my mind, with my own mind?” Not only does her conversational intimacy draw readers in, but her drawings perfectly capture the exhilarating frenzy of mania and the dark void of depression. “It was a relief to discover that aiming for a balanced life doesn’t mean succumbing to a boring one,” she writes with conviction.

Forney’s story should resonate with those grappling with similar issues, while her artistry should appeal to a wide readership.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59240-732-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Gotham Books

Review Posted Online: July 12, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Vonnegut’s most human of hearts beats on every page.

KURT VONNEGUT

LETTERS

Selected and edited letters by the author of Cat’s CradleSlaughterhouse-Five and other enduringly popular novels, letters that reveal Vonnegut’s passions, annoyances, loves, losses, mind and heart.

Edited and annotated by his friend and fellow Hoosier novelist Wakefield (The Hijacking of Jesus: How the Religious Right Distorts Christianity and Promotes Prejudice and Hate, 2006, etc.), Vonnegut’s letters, arranged by decade, reveal his wit and literary style, as well as his demons. Wakefield annotates lightly and introduces each decade with a swift biography and commentary. Mostly, however, the letters stand alone—and stand tall, indeed. A letter from 1945 tells his worried parents about his experiences as a POW in Dresden during the firebombing; the final letter declines an invitation to appear at Cornell. “At 84,” wrote Vonnegut, who died in 2007, “I resemble nothing so much as an iguana, hate travel, and have nothing to say. I might as well send a spent Roman candle in my stead.” Vonnegut remained close to his many relatives, and readers can chart his personal life here—his first marriage (ended in divorce), his relationships with his children (some were adopted), his second marriage (to photographer Jill Krementz). That marriage was often difficult, and he writes bitterly about finding evidence of her infidelity. His professional growth chart is here, too—his early struggle, his time teaching at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, his rising celebrity and fame, and his struggles to write later in his life. The political Vonnegut is much in evidence, as well. There are fiery letters about censorship and book burning and some anti-conservative rhetoric. Wakefield also includes Vonnegut’s touching letters to encourage other writers and to deal with an angry daughter.

Vonnegut’s most human of hearts beats on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34375-6

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson’s core that accounts for so much of his...

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THOMAS JEFFERSON

THE ART OF POWER

A Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer lauds the political genius of Thomas Jefferson.

As a citizen, Jefferson became a central leader in America’s rebellion against the world’s greatest empire. As a diplomat, he mentored a similar revolution in France. As president, he doubled the size of the United States without firing a shot and established a political dynasty that stretched over four decades. These achievements and many more, Time contributing editor Meacham (American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, 2008, etc.) smoothly argues, would have been impossible if the endlessly complicated Jefferson were merely the dreamy, impractical philosopher king his detractors imagined. His portrait of our most enigmatic president intentionally highlights career episodes that illustrate Jefferson’s penchant for balancing competing interests and for compromises that, nevertheless, advanced his own political goals. Born to the Virginia aristocracy, Jefferson effectively disguised his drive for control, charming foes and enlisting allies to conduct battles on his behalf. As he accumulated power, he exercised it ruthlessly, often deviating from the ideals of limited government he had previously—and eternally—articulated. Stronger than any commitment to abstract principle, the impulse for pragmatic political maneuvering, Meacham insists, always predominated. With an insatiable hunger for information, a talent for improvisation and a desire for greatness, Jefferson coolly calculated political realities—see his midlife abandonment of any effort to abolish slavery—and, more frequently than not, emerged from struggles with opponents routed and his own authority enhanced. Through his thinking and writing, we’ve long appreciated Jefferson’s lifelong devotion to “the survival and success of democratic republicanism in America,” but Meacham’s treatment reminds us of the flesh-and-blood politician, the man of action who masterfully bent the real world in the direction of his ideals.

An outstanding biography that reveals an overlooked steeliness at Jefferson’s core that accounts for so much of his political success.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6766-4

Page Count: 800

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

An eye-opening take on how romantic sentimentalism about nature can have destructive consequences.

NATURE WARS

THE INCREDIBLE STORY OF HOW WILDLIFE COMEBACKS TURNED BACKYARDS INTO BATTLEGROUNDS

Journalist Sterba (Frankie's Place: A Love Story, 2003, etc.) employs humor and an eye for the absurd to document the sometimes bizarre conflicts that arise as a consequence of America's transformed relationship with nature.

As forest cover has grown back to more than two-thirds of its pre-colonial extent, wildlife recovery from the “so-called era of extermination in the last half of the nineteenth century” has accelerated. People who grew up with teddy bears and Disney's Bambi have different attitudes to furry, cuddly creatures than their grandparents did. Nowadays, someone can get death threats while trying to protect communities from resurgent populations of dangerous wild creatures like coyotes and bears, or even from the activities of feral cats. Sterba provides a summary history of the wilderness colonists found, the replacement of the great Eastern forest with farmland and the market-driven extermination of wildlife through commercial hunting and trapping. He continues with cases studies of beaver, deer, bear and geese to show how, as land has reverted to forest, human communities have been polarized by the development of “problems” with each of these species and others. The author presents a repeating pattern: At first, returners are welcomed and encouraged with food, only to be rejected as the dangerous downside begins to emerge. Detailed accounts of efforts to outline solutions, and also of such often-overlooked consequences of this pattern as roadkill, supplement this deeply conflicted overall picture.

An eye-opening take on how romantic sentimentalism about nature can have destructive consequences.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-34196-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

An informative and moving book that raises profound issues regarding the nature of love, the value of human life and the...

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FAR FROM THE TREE

PARENTS, CHILDREN AND THE SEARCH FOR IDENTITY

National Book Award–winning journalist Solomon (The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression, 2001, etc.) uses issues raised by disability to examine the nature of parenthood, the definition of disability and the ability to control reproduction to create designer children.

More than a decade ago, when he was assigned to cover a student protest at the Lexington Center for the Deaf in Queens, N.Y., over the hiring of a CEO with normal hearing, the author began to look at medical and cultural issues raised by disability. The protesters demanded that deafness not be considered a disability, but rather a neuro-diversity on par with ethnic diversity. Some members of the deaf community even considered cochlear implants in young children as “a genocidal attack on a vibrant community” because of the linguistic richness of sign language. Solomon also wrote a piece on child prodigies based on an interview with the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin, and he followed with a story about the lives of dwarfs based on the experience of a friend who sought role models for her daughter. Gradually, Far from the Tree began to take shape as the author explored more deeply the question of disability. Additional chapters cover Down syndrome (a genetic disorder), autism (of unknown origin), transgenderism and more. Solomon writes about the transformative, “terrifying joy of unbearable responsibility” faced by parents who cherish severely disabled children, and he takes an in-depth look at the struggles of parents of autistic children who behave destructively. He also explores the fascinating mental lives of independently functioning autistic individuals and speculates on the possibility that geniuses such as Mozart and Einstein were at the far end of the spectrum. Throughout, Solomon reflects on his own history as a gay man who has been bullied when he didn't conform to society's image of masculinity.

An informative and moving book that raises profound issues regarding the nature of love, the value of human life and the future of humanity.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-7432-3671-3

Page Count: 906

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

Casual readers will find plenty to like about this excellent collection, but journalism and philosophy students should find...

LOST AT SEA

THE JON RONSON MYSTERIES

A sterling collection of amazing stories from an offbeat journalist at the top of his game.

Ronson (The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry, 2011, etc.) is a British writer and documentarian whose printed work appears mainly in the Guardian, where all but two of these pieces originally appeared. Perhaps best known for The Men Who Stare at Goats (2004), about the military’s attempt to weaponize psychic phenomena, the author is a born skeptic who, nevertheless, is strongly attracted to the incredible and outré. The pieces range from a discussion about God, horror movies and magnets with the Insane Clown Posse to the title story, about a young woman who disappeared while working on a Disney cruise off the coast of Mexico. Ronson also visited mothers of “Indigo children” (toddling psychics), took pop star Robbie Williams to a UFO conference in New Mexico, leafed through director Stanley Kubrick’s obsessively compulsive collection of film research artifacts, and weathered the wrath of the “sociopathic” inventor of neurolinguistic programming (among other extraordinary hotheads). Each piece is delicious in its own way, amusingly told by Ronson, who is always a character in the story. Two standouts: “Who Killed Richard Cullen?” a damning and prescient look at the credit industry’s targeting of risky clients for subprime rates, and “Blood Sacrifice,” about the Jesus Christians, a tiny sect that decided collectively to donate kidneys to strangers.

Casual readers will find plenty to like about this excellent collection, but journalism and philosophy students should find it especially stimulating.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59463-137-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

A breathtaking, informative tour of faraway lands.

AMONG THE ISLANDS

ADVENTURES IN THE PACIFIC

From the tides of the South Pacific to the impossible peaks of jungle islands, one zoologist sets out to find the living riches of the planet.

Flannery (Here on Earth, 2011, etc.) is not just an internationally acclaimed zoologist; he’s also an adventurer and storyteller who has discovered creatures no other human has seen. His latest record of exploration traces the beginnings of his career during the 1980s and takes him through more than a decade of study in remote islands of the South Pacific. There, he encountered untouched environments and their native inhabitants, and he renders these lost worlds in full color. Often humorous, he provides anecdotes of crocodiles waiting for their prey, mountains of bat feces and islands crawling with giant rats. Flannery’s writing is generous and exuberant. His enthusiasm for the subject is contagious enough to infect even the least science-minded of readers, but you can be sure his aim is not simply to entertain. “To some,” he writes, “our adventures might seem to be nothing more than a romantic frolic. After all, why should anyone care about an obscure creature found only on a distant island? Would the world lose anything with its extinction?” The answer is most emphatically yes, and the author situates obscure animals in a worldwide perspective that entwines all living things, including humans, together. Flannery’s research efforts contribute significantly to continuing conservation efforts, and he is clearly grateful and appreciative to be a part of it.

A breathtaking, informative tour of faraway lands.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2040-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

A first-rate example of history told from the bottom up.

THE AMISTAD REBELLION

AN ATLANTIC ODYSSEY OF SLAVERY AND FREEDOM

Rigorous account of a slave-ship rebellion that altered American and African societies.

In The Slave Ship (2007), Rediker (History/Univ. of Pittsburgh) provided a macro view of the ugly business of transporting slaves. Here, he examines what happened on one ship, the Amistad. The 1839 rebellion on the Amistad was one of the few successful uprisings while a slave ship was under sail. The story unfolds from the bottom up, as Rediker pieces together the lives of several dozen men and women forcibly captured in what is now Sierra Leone. Other books about the rebellion focus on what occurred after the slaves broke their shackles and committed high-seas murder (off the coast of Cuba) before eventually being arrested near Long Island, N.Y. The jailing of the slaves and legal proceedings constituted the obvious, easy story to tell. Rediker, however, dug deeply to document the personal histories of the rebellious slaves. When captured, none of the slaves could speak or understand the English language. A lengthy search in the United States for an interpreter broke the logjam to some extent, allowing at least a partial narrative to be written during the 1840s and in later generations. Rediker does not ignore the Supreme Court decision in the convoluted case of international law as applied to murder on the high seas; the decision, given the biased backgrounds of quite a few Supreme Court justices, seemed almost miraculous at the time, and the slaves headed home to Sierra Leone.

A first-rate example of history told from the bottom up.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02504-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

As smart, lively and assured as modern debunkery gets.

THE STORY OF AMERICA

ESSAYS ON ORIGINS

“When the legend becomes fact, print the legend,” says a character in John Ford’s The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. As New Yorker contributor Lepore (American History/Harvard Univ.; The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death, 2012, etc.) sees it, American historians have been doing just that since the dawn of the republic.

Tackling a wide variety of subjects—e.g., the Founding Fathers, Charles Dickens, Clarence Darrow, Charlie Chan, voting regulations, the decline of inaugural speeches—the author proves to be a funny, slightly punky literary critic, reading between the lines of American history. She takes historians to task for embellishing myths, citing the way John Smith's long-discredited history of Jamestown is still used to support contrasting views of colonial life. She calls out Nathaniel Philbrick, in his 2006 book on the Mayflower, for leaning uncritically on the suspiciously self-centered account of the militia captain Benjamin Church. She rereads original documents and finds that Benjamin Franklin’s advice in Poor Richard’s Almanack was made mostly in jest. Lepore also takes a fresh look at the U.S. Constitution, explaining why everyone debates original intent: “A great deal of what many Americans hold dear is nowhere inked on those four pages of parchment, nor in any of the twenty-seven amendments to the Constitution.” She examines how the legend of George Washington began, with his own writings brutally edited by Jared Sparks to dress the first president in full patriotic trappings. Most interestingly, Lepore finds that Longfellow’s 1861 “Paul Revere’s Ride” is both a subtle call to overthrow slavery and "a fugitive slave narrative.” The author weighs her opinions throughout with research and original insight; the same goes for her essay on Edgar Allen Poe, although it does have a bit of a mean streak.

As smart, lively and assured as modern debunkery gets.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-691-15399-5

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Princeton Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

Essential for Manchester collectors, WWII buffs and Churchill completists.

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THE LAST LION

WINSTON SPENCER CHURCHILL: DEFENDER OF THE REALM, 1940-1965

A (very) posthumous study of the late, great British leader by the late, great popular historian, aided by journalist Reid.

Just before Manchester (A World Lit Only by Fire: The Medieval Mind and the Renaissance—Portrait of an Age, 1992, etc.) died in 2004, he handed over the task of finishing his Churchill biography to Reid, who retains Manchester’s habit of writing at extreme length, and it’s clear where Manchester left off in his own primary research: Though the book spans the years 1940 to Churchill’s death in 1965, roughly only one-tenth of it covers the “lion’s” last 20 years, while the vast bulk is given over—fittingly enough—to Churchill’s leadership as British prime minister during World War II. The documentation would not pass a professional historian’s muster, but Manchester never wrote for historians, and general readers, as always, will be taken by his boundless abilities as a storyteller. Manchester also saw patterns that may not have been apparent to most other writers. Whereas Hitler was famously known as an artist manqué, Churchill “came at every issue with a painter’s eye,” whether developing a battle plan for the invasion of Italy or “parsing geopolitical matters such as continental hegemony.” The great-man theory of history, too, may be passé in academia, but Manchester/Reid gladly subscribe to it, with an account of the friendship of Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt (and rivalry with Josef Stalin) that is both searching and unsentimental. The authors clearly admire Churchill, for reasons that they make evident throughout, but there is little in the way of hero worship. Indeed, their critical account of Operation Torch—which Dwight Eisenhower exaggeratedly called “the blackest day in history”—is thorough and convincing, and it does not reflect well on the cigar-chomping PM. The manuscript is replete with Manchester’s journalistic flourishes, some of which cross into cliché, and it’s as much a monument to the author as to its subject.

Essential for Manchester collectors, WWII buffs and Churchill completists.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-54770-3

Page Count: 1232

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

This broad approach toward harnessing our "negative capability" deserves wide readership; the author’s nonprescriptive...

THE ANTIDOTE

HAPPINESS FOR PEOPLE WHO CAN'T STAND POSITIVE THINKING

A fascinating, wide-ranging exploration of negativity, positivity, failure, success and what it means to be happy.

Guardian feature writer Burkeman's (Help!, 2011) popular newspaper column, "This Column Will Change Your Life," often reads like a more nuanced, erudite version of the writings of Malcolm Gladwell and Jonah Lehrer. Burkeman places a psychological theory at the center and then builds outward. Here, the author begins by poking gentle fun at the shelves of "by your bootstraps" optimism-laden positivity books and the motivational seminars that offer a secret, answer or formula. Burkeman quickly pivots to the underlying structure of the book, which is a thoughtful examination of the various alternatives to the optimism-at-all-costs approach. His research yields some surprising, counterintuitive results, with examples of how embracing goal-setting as essential to achievement and profit can blind those involved to a need for change, should the goals prove to run counter to the original aim. By Burkeman's report, this is a difficult pill for businesspeople to swallow, but noting the effect of relentless goal pursuit on the Mt. Everest hikers made famous in the book Into Thin Air suggests that single-mindedness can be dangerous. Throughout the book, the author advises against this single-mindedness, exploring the benefits of keeping an open mind and not careening wildly toward some type of narrowly defined idea of closure or happiness—“the grinning insistence on optimism...or the demand that success be guaranteed.”

This broad approach toward harnessing our "negative capability" deserves wide readership; the author’s nonprescriptive message has the potential to effect genuine, lasting changes for people who find happiness just out of reach.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-86547-941-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Faber & Faber/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Impressively authoritative.

1775

A GOOD YEAR FOR REVOLUTION

A noted historian and political commentator claims 1775 as the American Revolution’s true beginning.

It will probably take more than this deeply researched, meticulously argued, multidimensional history to dislodge 1776 from the popular mind as the inaugural year of our independence, but Phillips (Bad Money: Reckless Finance, Failed Politics, and the Global Crisis of American Capitalism, 2008, etc.) makes the persuasive case—as Jefferson insisted long ago—that a de facto independence existed well before the Declaration of Independence. It wasn’t merely a matter of military skirmishes, raids, expeditions and battles that bloodied the year, but also of campaigns opened on other, critical fronts: the ousting of numerous royal governors and lesser officials from office; the takeover of local militias and the establishment of committees, associations and congresses to take up the business of self-government; the desperate scramble for gunpowder and munitions to prosecute the war; and the courting of European powers happy to see Britain weakened. In all these fights during 1775, the colonists made crucial advances, both material and psychological, from which the plodding British never quite recovered. Highlighting, especially, developments in the “vanguard” colonies of Virginia, Massachusetts, Connecticut and South Carolina, where the concentration of wealth, population and leadership accounted for an outsized influence, Phillips explores the ethnic, religious, demographic, political and economic roots of the revolution. He examines the differing class interests (including those of slaves and Native Americans), regional preoccupations and various ideologies, sometimes clashing, sometimes aligning, that contributed to the revolutionary fervor and reminds us how much sorting out was necessary to prepare the national mind for the new order that the Declaration merely ratified. Casual readers may find Phillips’ treatment a bit daunting, but serious history students will revel in the overwhelming detail he marshals to make his convincing argument.

Impressively authoritative.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02512-1

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

A text that thrums with life and assures the rest is not silence.

THE RICHARD BURTON DIARIES

The inspiring, salacious, sad, materialistic, insecure, arrogant, hilarious and dull ruminations of a most gifted actor.

Burton was not assiduous about his diary. There are fascinating flurries of activity, generally surrounding his work on film (from The Taming of the Shrew to The Battle of Sutjeska) or on a play (a revival of Camelot in 1980). But there are also months, even years, that go by in silence. Occasionally, Burton had nothing to say—e.g., a six-day stretch in 1975 when each day’s entry offers but a single word: “Booze.” Burton struggled throughout his career with alcohol (the diary records alternating periods of abstinence and drunkenness) and cigarettes. He constantly battled his weight, as well, clearly disturbed when he was only a few pounds over what he wished to be. His relationship with his two-term wife, actress Elizabeth Taylor, will no doubt interest many readers, and the diary at times resembles a seismograph marking the rumbles in their relationship. The author often waxes eloquent about her, recording her beauty and her talent (he believed she was a gifted actress). Perhaps most impressive, however, is the catalog of Burton’s reading. He makes “voracious” sound feeble. He consumed mystery novels and thrillers, yes, but also Proust and Gibbon and weighty works of history and philosophy. (He read In Search of Lost Time twice, just to be sure.) When he was preparing for travel, he always assembled a thick stack of books to take with him. Williams (Welsh History/Swansea Univ.; Capitalism, Community and Conflict: The South Wales Coalfield, 1898-1947, 1998, etc.) provides scrupulous editing—there are a myriad of fascinating footnotes, only a few of which are questionable: Do we really need to be told who Mark Twain is?—and the book includes countless juicy comments from Burton about colleagues, directors, authors, family, politics and celebrity.

A text that thrums with life and assures the rest is not silence.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-300-18010-7

Page Count: 546

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

A sexy story resting on a bed of comprehensive scholarship and pursued with Sherlock-ian imagination.

THE GREAT CHARLES DICKENS SCANDAL

A noted Dickens scholar and biographer traces the story of Dickens’ relationship with young actress Nelly Ternan, an affair that has titillated Dickens fans and scholars since the mid 19th century.

Slater (Victorian Literature Emeritus/Birkbeck Coll., Univ. of London; The Genius of Dickens, 2011, etc.) begins and ends with recent news and headlines related to the story—the story that, as the author shows convincingly, is not likely to go away soon. The two principal questions remain: Did Dickens and Ternan have a sexual relationship? Did she deliver Dickens’ child? Slater begins by sketching Dickens’ early romantic attachments and disappointments followed by his marriage to Catherine Hogarth, a marriage that by the late 1850s was essentially over. Dickens and his wife separated, and the story spread everywhere. One early (and false) story was that Dickens had become involved with his wife’s sister. But gradually, eyes turned to Ellen “Nelly” Ternan, a young woman in a family of actors who’d met Dickens in 1857 while performing with him in a play, The Frozen Deep. She was more than two decades younger than the phenomenally popular writer. A friendship and much more ensued. As Slater proceeds, he examines the Dickens-related biographies and scholarship and journalism to show us how each work portrayed the relationship and how each little documentary discovery prompted inference and theory. (Dickens and his heirs had done much to destroy and cover up; letters and other documents disappeared in flames.) Slater is evenhanded in his assessments and has solid praise for the work of Claire Tomalin, whose book The Invisible Woman (1991) first propelled the story toward a more general audience. Slater concludes: surely sex, probably no child.

A sexy story resting on a bed of comprehensive scholarship and pursued with Sherlock-ian imagination.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-300-11219-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

An optimistically levelheaded book about actually dealing with global warming.

THE CARBON CRUNCH

HOW WE'RE GETTING CLIMATE CHANGE WRONG--AND HOW TO FIX IT

A serious attempt to address climate change: “why it matters, what causes [it], and who is responsible.”

Broadly speaking, it has been 20 years since global warming received the attention it deserved, and still, writes Helm (Energy Policy/Univ. of Oxford), “the emissions keep going up, and nothing of substance has been achieved.” The author is well aware of the issues involved, and he displays a facility in explaining the complexity of global warming mechanisms and the nature of energy. This is no time for dithering, he writes. We must identify the culprits, find alternatives and take immediate action. Helm fingers coal as the greatest man-made contributor to the greenhouse effect, and we are all perpetrators, from South Africa to the United States to Europe—although juggernauts China and India are really dashing to coal as cheap energy. The U.S. and Europe may have sloughed off the worst polluting operations to the Far East and the subcontinent but have not in the least decarbonized consumption. Helm writes that we must integrate carbon into our economy and pay for the emissions we cause through carbon pricing. The author points out the serious sustainability problems of current renewable energies—wind, solar, biomass and biofuels—and suggests a transitional strategy of switching from coal to natural gas, which has half the carbon footprint of coal (the author is well aware of the issue surrounding fracking), and start investing in research into new low-carbon technologies, including energy storage and smart technologies.

An optimistically levelheaded book about actually dealing with global warming.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-300-18659-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

A fully realized, important portrait of a significant 20th-century leader.

MENACHEM BEGIN

A LIFE

The “first full-scale biography” of Israel's controversial Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1913–1992).

Israel Hayom op-ed page editor Shilon compellingly integrates his subject’s life story and his contributions into the origins and growth of the state of Israel. Born in Brest-Litovsk, Begin escaped after his family was murdered by the Nazis; he was subsequently imprisoned by the Soviets. Released to fight for the Jewish units of the Anders Army, he was deployed to the Palestinian territories. There, he joined the Jewish underground, rising to leadership in the Irgun faction, which was responsible for blowing up the British headquarters at the King David Hotel. Shilon provides a fascinating account of Begin's government service between 1977 and 1983, including what became known as the “Begin doctrine,” under which Israel committed to not allowing “our enemies to develop weapons of mass destruction,” as well as the parallel peace agreement with Anwar Sadat's Egypt, for which Begin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The author’s account of the earlier conflicts over how to fight, who the enemy was, and what Israel would be shows how his subject participated in shaping the political lineups within the country for years after his tenure. Marginalized politically for many years and ridiculed by David Ben-Gurion and members of the Mapai, Begin was recalled from the fringes to government service prior to the outbreak of the 1967 war. Subsequently, he worked closely with Ariel Sharon and a group of generals, who helped him to victory and joined his coalition. Shilon demonstrates how Begin's religious conceptions greatly affected his country's political landscape.

A fully realized, important portrait of a significant 20th-century leader.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-300-16235-6

Page Count: 584

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

A wrongful-conviction saga different from most others because there is no justice at the end.

THE INJUSTICE SYSTEM

A MURDER IN MIAMI AND A TRIAL GONE WRONG

Stinging account of a questionable 1986 death penalty case by the lawyer who tried to get it overturned.

By the time Smith (Eight O'Clock Ferry to the Windward Side: Seeking Justice in Guantanamo Bay, 2007, etc.) became involved in the case of Kris Maharaj, the once-wealthy Trinidadian businessman of Indian heritage had been convicted and sentenced to death in Miami for the murder of a former business partner and his son. Smith received a request to examine the conviction from British diplomatic officials. Despite an already overwhelming workload at his New Orleans public-interest law firm (which seeks justice for indigent defendants victimized by unfair trials) and the lack of a budget to pay him, Smith said he would investigate. He sensed quickly from reading the trial transcript that Maharaj had been railroaded. While gathering evidence, Smith pieced together a grim scenario of a conviction based on the machinations of a crooked homicide detective, cheating prosecutors, biased forensic experts, a dishonest judge and appellate justices determined to uphold it no matter how strongly new information suggested Maharaj's innocence. Worst of all, the author determined that the defendant's original trial lawyer had been grossly incompetent and may have intentionally lost the case because of threats made against his family. As the chronicle ends, Smith sees no realistic hope for exoneration, even though he can present an alternative solution that involves South American drug dealers (who had nothing to do with Maharaj) and includes the identities of the actual murderers. In the author’s view, the case is a glaring, but by no means unique, example of massive flaws in the American criminal justice system.

A wrongful-conviction saga different from most others because there is no justice at the end.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02370-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

It did not, and nothing came easy to any of the Kennedys, that tragic clan, who continue to fascinate. Exhaustive yet...

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THE PATRIARCH

THE REMARKABLE LIFE AND TURBULENT TIMES OF JOSEPH P. KENNEDY

Sprawling, highly readable biography of the dynast and larger-than-life figure whose presence still haunts American political life.

Working from his subject’s extensive archives, Nasaw (Andrew Carnegie, 2006, etc.) pieces together a sometimes-sympathetic, sometimes-critical view of Joseph P. Kennedy (1888–1969), father of John F. Kennedy and most definitely a man of parts. Born into wealth, he learned the ropes in the banking business before heading to Hollywood to try his hand at filmmaking. In the last pursuit, he charted only some successes, but he made great use of the perks of the job in bedding starlets, notably Gloria Swanson. Kennedy left Hollywood to return to finance, moving among several palatial homes in Florida, New York and Massachusetts and building a massive fortune thanks to what Nasaw calls “an almost uncanny knack for being in the right stock.” His children, including future politicians John, Robert and Edward, grew up surrounded by opulence, though the patriarch took care that they not become spoiled by too much too soon. Yet, by Nasaw’s account, when the Depression hit and reduced his fortune along with everyone else’s, Kennedy’s mood seemed to turn, and he spent the rest of his long life in brooding and contrarian turns, courting plenty of trouble along the way. Accused, as Nasaw notes, of various crimes and moral failings, ranging from bootlegging to anti-Semitism, Kennedy nevertheless instilled in his family a sense of dedication to service and of the necessity of hard work. As he writes, Jack Kennedy recognized that despite the advantages of wealth, he had obstacles to overcome that were at least due in part to his father: “If I were governor of a large state, Protestant and 55,” he said, “I could sit back and let it come to me.”

It did not, and nothing came easy to any of the Kennedys, that tragic clan, who continue to fascinate. Exhaustive yet accessible, Nasaw’s book illuminates.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1594203763

Page Count: 896

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

Nonscientists especially will applaud Bynum’s lively narrative, which certainly delivers on his opening line: “Science is...

A LITTLE HISTORY OF SCIENCE

A brief but panoramic account of science from Hippocrates to Crick.

Bynum (History of Medicine Emeritus/University College London; The History of Medicine: A Very Short Introduction, 2008, etc.) begins with ancient priests, who surveyed land and measured distances to learn about the world, and concludes with modern scientists attempting to explain the Big Bang and the human genome. Stressing that “at any moment of history, the science has been a product of that particular moment,” the author devotes each essaylike chapter to the achievements of a different significant period. In the ancient world, Aristotle tried to make scientific sense of things, and Galen, doctor to the gladiators, diagnosed disease by feeling his patients’ pulses. In the 19th century, British fossil hunters Mary Anning and Gideon Mantell revealed a prehistoric world, and Michael Faraday experimented endlessly with electricity and magnetism. In modern times, scientists have discovered penicillin and other wonder drugs and have counted human genes by using DNA sequencing. In each instance, Bynum offers bright, accessible descriptions of the scientists (the cranky Newton, the contrary Galileo) and the underlying science that earned them a place in this chronology. The author’s conversational style makes his readable history all the more engaging and disguises his considerable scholarly authority. One of the book’s pleasures is to realize the astonishment with which people greeted many of these moments, including the first dissection of human bodies, the introduction of X-rays and Einstein’s thinking about the universe.

Nonscientists especially will applaud Bynum’s lively narrative, which certainly delivers on his opening line: “Science is special.”

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0300136593

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

A dark but hopeful chronicle that shows how even humanity’s worst can fracture and fall.

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IRON CURTAIN

THE CRUSHING OF EASTERN EUROPE, 1945-1956

A Pulitzer Prize–winning author returns with the story of those dark decades in Eastern Europe when the Soviet Union slammed the prison doors on people, cultures and countries.

Realizing she could not tell the whole story in one volume, Washington Post and Slate columnist Applebaum (Gulag: A History, 2003, etc.) focuses on Poland, East Germany and Hungary and shows how their stories were representative. She begins as World War II was ending. The Russians were plowing through Eastern Europe on their way to Berlin. While many of the Allies were thinking of home, the Soviets had grander and grimmer ideas. Applebaum shows how the communists gained political control of individual countries (they were sometimes surprised in “elections” how unpopular they were), then charts how—in the service of their iron ideology—they systematically destroyed economies, organizations, the arts, education, the press, the judiciary, the church, the entertainment industries and every other social institution. Internment camps and prisons became the true growth industries. Applebaum also explores the tactics employed to keep people in line: fear and intimidation, of course, but also a massive propaganda industry that sought to convince everyone that things were better than they were, but not nearly as good as they would be in five years or so. They invested much hope in education, believing they could indoctrinate an entire generation. It didn’t work. Periodically, the author chronicles what was happening in the West (the Marshall Plan, the Berlin Airlift). Beginning with the death of Stalin, Applebaum shows how and why things slowly began to change. The emerging youth culture, the resurgence of religious belief, the rise of a new generation of writers and artists—these were among the factors that energized the 1956 uprisings, which, of course, the Soviets temporarily crushed.

A dark but hopeful chronicle that shows how even humanity’s worst can fracture and fall.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-51569-6

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

Roe’s biography acutely displays the intensity, anguish and triumph of a great life for whom the clock was always ticking.

JOHN KEATS

A NEW LIFE

Roe (English/Univ. of St. Andrews; Fiery Heart: The First Life of Leigh Hunt, 2005, etc.) delivers a tightly focused and highly useful biography of the great English Romantic.

Born to a family with a history of health problems, fatherless at an early age and trained for a career in medicine, John Keats (1795–1821) pursued poetry with a faith in his own genius and a well-founded fear that he would not live long enough to fulfill it. He was ambitious from the beginning, modeling himself on Spenser and Shakespeare, testing himself with lengthy epics like Endymion, and fully aware that the competition was fierce, with all of the High Romantic poets writing at the same time. Roe’s Keats is both sensitive and hotheaded, naturally gifted but also constantly pushing himself to the next level. He was a frustrated young man too: by what he hadn’t experienced, by his unconsummated passion for his fiancee, and by the slow, wasting deterioration of his final years. Roe quotes and examines the poetry at length, and he is especially attentive to determining how a talented but immature poet blossomed into a great one. He also ventures an intriguing analysis of why Keats’ poetry received such harsh criticism in its day: The vernacular style represented by the so-called “Cockney School of Poetry” was a threat not just to the classical style, but the social order.

Roe’s biography acutely displays the intensity, anguish and triumph of a great life for whom the clock was always ticking.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-300-12465-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2012

Readers old or new are in for a fine treat; there really has been nothing in the history of science writing comparable to...

THE ANNOTATED AND ILLUSTRATED DOUBLE HELIX

The classic Double Helix (1968) is here again, this time annotated and illustrated and told in all the bold, brash, bumptious style that has become Watson’s (Avoid Boring People and Other Lessons from a Life in Science, 2007, etc.) trademark in the intervening years.

The book scandalized Watson’s peers, got scathing reviews from some, threats of libel from others and all but destroyed relations between Watson and his co-discoverer, Francis Crick. Of course, there was that classic first sentence: “I have never seen Francis Crick in a modest mood.” Reading it again does nothing to diminish the excitement of the pursuit: Watson and Crick batting ideas back and forth, reading, experimenting, consulting, making models, zealous to win out over the competition, primarily Linus Pauling at Caltech. What makes this version so rewarding is the fact that editors Gann and Witkowski have wonderfully put the pursuit in context. The footnotes and illustrations provide thumbnails of the cast of past or contemporary scientists who played a role: in London, Maurice Wilkins and Rosalind Franklin, whose X-ray crystallographic images of DNA were critical clues, or those scientists at the Cavendish lab in Cambridge, where Watson and Crick worked. But context also means scenery and lifestyle: the pub lunches, the girl-chasing, the films, dances, ski trips and holidays in storied mansions that Watson so adored. Interestingly, even at the height of battle, with the double helix almost in view, Watson needed time off to play tennis, see a film or attend parties. The book’s publication marks the 50th anniversary of the Nobel Prize awarded to Watson, Crick and Wilkins.

Readers old or new are in for a fine treat; there really has been nothing in the history of science writing comparable to Watson’s tell-all memoir.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4767-1549-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

The distilled perceptions of a lifetime of study, beautifully illustrated.

CUSTER

A Pulitzer Prize winner’s idiosyncratic take on one of American history’s great blunderers.

Clearly well-read on the subject—McMurtry (Hollywood: A Third Memoir, 2011, etc.) generously refers readers to Evan Connell, Nathaniel Philbrick and others for more detailed information—once the owner of a vast collection of Custer-ology, twice a visitor to the Little Big Horn battlefield, the celebrated novelist offers not quite a history and barely the “short life of Custer” he proposes. Rather, this effort is best understood as an informed commentary on the dashing cavalry officer and on the Custer moment, the closing of “the narrative of American settlement,” which featured an unusual twist: a dramatic victory by the ultimate losers, the Native Americans. A few of McMurtry’s observations are not especially interesting (the author’s own encounters with the Crow and Cheyenne tribes), and some wander off topic (Sitting Bull’s passion for Annie Oakley), but many offer fresh insights on the Custer story. McMurtry fruitfully muses on the striking similarities between Custer and another overhyped western legend, John C. Fremont, the “confusion of tongues” that complicated the period of Western settlement, the willingness of Custer’s Indian scouts to accompany their commander to a certain death, George and Libbie Custer’s complicated marriage and the “modern” (in 1876) media mechanisms poised to supercharge Custer’s fame. Many products of that publicity machine are spectacularly reproduced here, including photos, maps, paintings, lithographs, posters, magazine covers and newspaper headlines, all of which attest to the national fascination with this endlessly revisited story and with the man whose final message to his subordinate—“Come on, be quick. Be quick”—went tragically unheeded.

The distilled perceptions of a lifetime of study, beautifully illustrated.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2620-9

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

An affecting yet never saccharine glimpse of the relationship among place, family and fiction.

ELSEWHERE

A MEMOIR

The celebrated best-selling novelist recalls his late mother’s powerful, often frustrating influence on his life and work.

Fans of Russo’s fiction (That Old Cape Magic, 2009, etc.) likely know that the model for his novels’ working-class Northeast settings is Gloversville, N.Y., a factory town that fell on hard times in the 1960s. The author escaped his hometown when he went to college, but not without some company: His mother joined him as they drove to Arizona, and she’d rarely be far from him in the decades that followed. Russo describes how his life decisions were often limited by the need to accommodate his mother’s particular needs and, later, debilitating illness: One of the book’s most powerful chapters describes the author’s mother as her dementia begins to set in, fussing over a clock as if the device itself had the power to control time. (What his extended family and estranged father called “nerves” was likely a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.) Though she routinely made her son’s life more difficult, this book isn’t borne out of bitterness, yet he doesn’t place his mother in soft focus either. What Russo strives to do is place his mother’s life in a social, cultural and personal context. He explores how her options were limited as a single mother in the ’60s, as a product of a manufacturing culture that collapsed before her eyes, and as a woman who needed to define herself through other men. That Russo found the time and emotional space to write novels is somewhat miraculous given her demands, but he acknowledges he couldn’t have written them without her. He inherited her sense of place as well as her compulsive personality, and this book contains much of the grace and flinty humor of his fiction.

An affecting yet never saccharine glimpse of the relationship among place, family and fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95953-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

HALLUCINATIONS

Acclaimed British neurologist Sacks (Neurology and Psychiatry/Columbia Univ.; The Mind’s Eye, 2010, etc.) delves into the many different sorts of hallucinations that can be generated by the human mind.

The author assembles a wide range of case studies in hallucinations—seeing, hearing or otherwise perceiving things that aren’t there—and the varying brain quirks and disorders that cause them in patients who are otherwise mentally healthy. In each case, he presents a fascinating condition and then expounds on the neurological causes at work, drawing from his own work as a neurologist, as well as other case studies, letters from patients and even historical records and literature. For example, he tells the story of an elderly blind woman who “saw” strange people and animals in her room, caused by Charles Bonnet Syndrome, a condition in with the parts of the brain responsible for vision draw on memories instead of visual perceptions. In another chapter, Sacks recalls his own experimentation with drugs, describing his auditory hallucinations. He believed he heard his neighbors drop by for breakfast, and he cooked for them, “put their ham and eggs on a tray, walked into the living room—and found it completely empty.” He also tells of hallucinations in people who have undergone prolonged sensory deprivation and in those who suffer from Parkinson’s disease, migraines, epilepsy and narcolepsy, among other conditions. Although this collection of disorders feels somewhat formulaic, it’s a formula that has served Sacks well in several previous books (especially his 1985 bestseller The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat), and it’s still effective—largely because Sacks never turns exploitative, instead sketching out each illness with compassion and thoughtful prose.

A riveting look inside the human brain and its quirks.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95724-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

An eye-opening, unconventional war story in which the war itself resides in the training.

THE GUERRILLA FACTORY

THE MAKING OF SPECIAL FORCES OFFICERS, THE GREEN BERETS

A retired U.S. Army Special Forces officer provides a behind-the-scenes look at the physical, psychological and emotional toll one pays to join the ranks of America’s most elite fighting force.

In his debut memoir, former Green Beret Schwalm minces no words recounting the near-tortuous training endured by America’s Special Forces. The author begins by categorizing Special Forces soldiers into two types, the Supermans and the Daniel Boones: While “Superman goes, does, and leaves” the Daniel Boone variety of soldier “goes, does, and stays and stays and stays.” The staying is the hard part, explains Schwalm, because it demands that trained killers learn to make nice with local citizens in foreign, dangerous terrain. It is a tightrope walk depending more on rhetoric and rapport than conventional weaponry, though for Special Forces soldiers like Schwalm, both brain and brawn have their place. The author’s riveting account into the inner workings of elite training proves particularly interesting to military outsiders, who soon learn of icy swims in makeshift rafts, endless midnight runs and war games so realistic that the word “games” seems wholly inaccurate. After enduring POW training—which demanded Schwalm and his comrades be locked in hot boxes and deprived of all basic necessities—the exhausted soldier leaves the extreme training exercise having drawn a single conclusion: “I would rather be a pile of bleached bones shining in the sun than taken alive.” Soon after, the student becomes the teacher; Schwalm was dispatched to Trinidad to train Trinidadian commandos in the ways of American warfare. Yet in the wilds of Trinidad, he was faced with a new and humbling challenge: learning to lead despite vast cultural differences.

An eye-opening, unconventional war story in which the war itself resides in the training.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-2360-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

A fascinating exercise in futurology.

HOW TO CREATE A MIND

THE SECRET OF HUMAN THOUGHT REVEALED

A pioneering developer of optical character recognition and text-to-speech software explores the possibility of creating a synthetic neocortex that could surpass the human mind.

Kurzweil (The Singularity Is Near: When Humans Transcend Biology, 2005, etc.) bases his prediction on modern insights into how the brain has evolved a hierarchical pattern-recognition structure. We perceive the bare outline of events and reconstruct memories in an ordered sequence, and our ability to fill in the blanks provides the foundation for conscious experience. “We are constantly predicting the future and hypothesizing what we will experience,” writes the author. “This expectation influences what we actually perceive.” Kurzweil estimates that at birth, the neocortex contains 300 million pattern processors connected horizontally and vertically, which allow us to connect patterns. In his opinion, it is these processors, rather than the neurons of which they are composed, that are the fundamental units of the neocortex. They allow us to fill out an increasingly complex picture of reality, enabling us to rapidly evaluate our environment and then confirm our hypothesis by checking out the details. Then we are able to respond rapidly to changes in our environment by creating new technologies. Why not create a synthetic extension of our brain using advanced computer technology? It could “contain well beyond a mere 300 million processors,” perhaps as many as a billion or a trillion. Our dependence upon search engines and other technology is a harbinger of a future in which we will not only outsource information storage but directly enhance our mental functioning. In a parallel development, Kurzweil and other software developers are designing more advanced computers based on complex modular functioning.

A fascinating exercise in futurology.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02529-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

An impressive cache of primary-source documents, normally the province of scholars, presented here in an entertaining,...

REPORTING THE REVOLUTIONARY WAR

BEFORE IT WAS HISTORY, IT WAS NEWS

In his first book project, Andrlik, the curator and publisher of Raglinen.com, an online archive of rare newspapers, presents an intriguing real-time look at the American Revolution.

To supply context and analysis, the author enlists a few dozen other Revolutionary War scholars—some, such as Bruce Chadwick, Ray Raphael and Thomas Fleming, will be well-known to war buffs—for essays and remarks elucidating the excerpts from 18th-century newspapers handsomely reproduced here. He reminds us “there are no photographs of the American Revolution,” that newspapers remain the closest thing we have to snapshots of the conflict as it developed. Focusing on the years 1763 to 1783 and drawing on publications from both sides of the Atlantic, this lavishly illustrated volume contains reporting on the war’s signal battles, Lexington and Concord to Yorktown, and many lesser engagements as well. It covers controversies over Parliament’s Sugar, Stamp, and Townsend Acts, reported from vastly different perspectives in, say, the Pennsylvania Gazette or the London Chronicle. In the 18th century, printers scrambled for information, often poaching private letters or plagiarizing each other for accounts of the Boston Tea Party, Benedict Arnold’s treason, the alliance between France and America, or Washington’s resignation of his commission. Andrlik artfully directs readers’ eyes to these and hundreds of other events reported on the page right next to advertisements for hogsheads of “Jamaica Spirit,” the sale of a wooden tenement, a plea for “200 barrels of pork,” or a notice about a “strayed or stolen” brown cow. As they accumulate, these pages charmingly return us to a troublesome time when average people were leading their lives as close to normal as they could manage, when our war for independence was breaking news, the outcome far from certain.

An impressive cache of primary-source documents, normally the province of scholars, presented here in an entertaining, aesthetically pleasing fashion guaranteed to entice general readers.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4022-6967-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Sourcebooks

Review Posted Online: Nov. 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

Not every piece will connect with every reader, but Barnes is a fine literary companion.

THROUGH THE WINDOW

SEVENTEEN ESSAYS AND A SHORT STORY

The focus on books and literature makes this more cohesive than the usual collection of journalistic miscellany.

Barnes deserves a breather after hitting his novelistic peak with the Man Booker Prize–winning The Sense of an Ending (2011), preceded by a best-selling meditation on mortality (Nothing to Be Frightened Of, 2008). The preface to these critical pieces on individual authors or works (plus one short story, “Homage to Hemingway”) should strike a responsive chord in anyone who loves books. As Barnes writes, “I have lived in books, for books, by and with books; in recent years, I have been fortunate enough to be able to live from books.” He then makes a series of deep, loving plunges into the world of literature, into posthumous celebrations of Penelope Fitzgerald (who had been, in his estimation, “the best living English novelist”) and John Updike (whose Rabbit Quartet, he writes, constitutes “the greatest post-war American novel”). Many of the essays concern those who Barnes thinks should be better known, or at least more often read, including three pieces on Ford Madox Ford that explore “his past and continuing neglect” and one on the “marginal” poet Arthur Hugh Clough. Barnes’ celebration of the “virtually unknown” 17th-century French author Nicolas-Sébastien Roch de Chamfort ranks with the most interesting here, as does his assessment of the notorious Michel Houellebecq: “There are certain books—sardonic and acutely pessimistic—which systematically affront all our current habits of living, and treat our presumptions of mind as the delusions of the cretinous.”

Not every piece will connect with every reader, but Barnes is a fine literary companion.

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-345-80550-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Vintage

Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2012

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