Tuesday, February 4, 2014

This Week in Books

Why does a college course on death have a three-year waiting list?

When nurse Norma Bowe decided to teach a course on death at a college in New Jersey, she never expected it to be popular. But year after year students crowd into her classroom, and the reason is clear: Norma’s “death class” is really about how to make the most of what poet Mary Oliver famously called our “one wild and precious life.”

Under the guise of discussions about last wills and last breaths and visits to cemeteries and crematoriums, Norma teaches her students to find grace in one another. By following her over four years, award-winning journalist Erika Hayasaki shows how Norma steers four extraordinary students from their tormented families and neighborhoods toward happiness: she rescues one young woman from her suicidal mother, helps a young man manage his schizophrenic brother, and inspires another to leave his gang life behind. Through this unorthodox class on death, Norma helps kids who are barely hanging on to understand not only the value of their own lives, but also the secret of fulfillment: to throw yourself into helping others. Hayasaki’s expert reporting and literary prose bring Norma’s wisdom out of the classroom, transforming it into an inspiring lesson for all. In the end, Norma’s very own life—and how she lives it—is the lecture that sticks.

In 2005 a Chinook helicopter carrying sixteen Special Ops soldiers crashed during a rescue mission in a remote part of Afghanistan, killing everyone on board.

In that instant, machine gunner Caleb Daniels lost his best friend, Kip Jacoby, and seven members of his unit. Back in the US, Caleb begins to see them everywhere—dead Kip, with his Alice in Wonderland tattoos, and the rest of them, their burned bodies watching him. But there is something else haunting Caleb, too—a presence he calls the Black Thing, or the Destroyer, a paralyzing horror that Caleb comes to believe is a demon.

Alone with these apparitions, Caleb considers killing himself. There is an epidemic of suicide among veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan, men and women with post-traumatic stress disorder who cannot cope with ordinary life in the aftermath of explosions and carnage. Jennifer Percy finds herself drawn to their stories, wanting to comprehend their experiences and pain.

Her subject, Caleb, has been bringing damaged veterans to a Christian exorcism camp in Georgia that promises them deliverance from the war. As Percy spends time with these soldiers and exorcists and their followers—finding their beliefs both repel­lant and magnetic—she enters a world of fanaticism that is alternately terrifying and welcoming.

With a jagged lyricism reminiscent of Michael Herr and Denis Johnson, Demon Camp is the riveting true story of a veteran with PTSD and an explora­tion of the battles soldiers face after the war is over. Percy’s riveting account forces us to gaze upon the true human consequences of the War on Terror.

A provocative and lively exploration of the increasingly important world of macroeconomics, by the author of the bestselling The Undercover Economist.

Thanks to the worldwide financial upheaval, economics is no longer a topic we can ignore. From politicians to hedge-fund managers to middle-class IRA holders, everyone must pay attention to how and why the global economy works the way it does.

Enter Financial Times columnist and bestselling author Tim Harford. In this new book that demystifies macroeconomics, Harford strips away the spin, the hype, and the jargon to reveal the truth about how the world’s economy actually works. With the wit of a raconteur and the clear grasp of an expert, Harford explains what’s really happening beyond today’s headlines, why all of us should care, and what we can do about it to understand it better.

In provocative detail with more than one hundred illustrations, critically acclaimed author Virginia Postrel separates glamour from glitz, revealing what qualities make a person, an object, a setting, or an experience glamorous.

What is it that creates that pleasurable pang of desire—the feeling of “if only”? If only I could wear those clothes, belong to that group, drive that car, live in that house, be (or be with) that person? Postrel identifies the three essential elements in all forms of glamour and explains how they work to create a distinctive sensation of projection and yearning.

The Power of Glamour is the very first book to explain what glamour really is—not just style or a personal quality but a phenomenon that reveals our inner lives and shapes our decisions, large and small. By embodying the promise of a different and better self in different and better circumstances, glamour stokes ambition and nurtures hope, even as it fosters sometimes-dangerous illusions.

From vacation brochures to military recruiting ads, from the Chrysler Building to the iPad, from political utopias to action heroines, Postrel argues that glamour is a seductive cultural force. Its magic stretches beyond the stereotypical spheres of fashion or film, influencing our decisions about what to buy, where to live, which careers to pursue, where to invest, and how to vote.

The result is myth shattering: a revelatory theory that explains how glamour became a powerful form of nonverbal persuasion, one that taps into our most secret dreams and deepest yearnings to influence our everyday choices.

2013 Nieman Reports Top 10 Investigative Journalism Book

Seymour Hersh has been the most important, famous, and controversial journalist in the United States for the last forty years. From his exposé of the My Lai massacre in 1969 to his revelations about torture at Abu Ghraib prison in 2004, Hersh has consistently captured the public imagination, spurred policymakers to reform, and drawn the ire of presidents.

From the streets of Chicago to the newsrooms of the most powerful newspapers and magazines in the United States, Seymour Hersh tells the story of this Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and author. Robert Miraldi scrutinizes the scandals and national figures that have drawn Hersh’s attention, from My Lai to Watergate, from John F. Kennedy to Henry Kissinger.

This first-ever biography captures a stunningly successful career of important exposés and outstanding accomplishments from a man whose unpredictable and quirky personality has turned him into an icon of American life and the unrivaled “scoop artist” of American journalism.

The First World War produced an extraordinary flowering of poetic talent, poets whose words commemorate the conflict more personally and as enduringly as monuments in stone. Lines such as 'What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?' and 'They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old' have come to express the feelings of a nation about the horrors and aftermath of war. This new anthology provides a definitive record of the achievements of the Great War poets.

As well as offering generous selections from the celebrated soldier-poets, including Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Rupert Brooke, and Ivor Gurney, it also incorporates less well-known writing by civilian and women poets. Music hall and trench songs provide a further lyrical perspective on the War. A general introduction charts the history of the war poets' reception and challenges prevailing myths about the war poets' progress from idealism to bitterness. The work of each poet is prefaced with a biographical account that sets the poems in their historical context.

Although the War has now passed out of living memory, its haunting of our language and culture has not been exorcised. Its poetry survives because it continues to speak to and about us.

Motivated by potentially turning Flushing Meadows, literally a land of refuse, into his greatest public park, Robert Moses--New York's "Master Builder"--brought the World’s Fair to the Big Apple for 1964 and ’65. Though considered a financial failure, the 1964-65 World’s Fair was a Sixties flashpoint in areas from politics to pop culture, technology to urban planning, and civil rights to violent crime.

In an epic narrative, Tomorrow-Land shows the astonishing pivots taken by New York City, America, and the world during the Fair. It fetched Disney’s empire from California and Michelangelo’s La Pieta from Europe; and displayed flickers of innovation from Ford, GM, and NASA--from undersea and outerspace colonies to personal computers. It housed the controversial work of Warhol (until Governor Rockefeller had it removed); and lured Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters. Meanwhile, the Fair--and its house band, Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians--sat in the musical shadows of the Beatles and Bob Dylan, who changed rock-and-roll right there in Queens. And as Southern civil rights efforts turned deadly, and violent protests also occurred in and around the Fair, Harlem-based Malcolm X predicted a frightening future of inner-city racial conflict.

World’s Fairs have always been collisions of eras, cultures, nations, technologies, ideas, and art. But the trippy, turbulent, Technicolor, Disney, corporate, and often misguided 1964-65 Fair was truly exceptional.

A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn't had the easiest childhood.

But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.

So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he's fairly sure he's done the right thing…

Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.

Richard Meryman began an enduring friendship with Andrew Wyeth (1917-2009) while on the job as a Life magazine editor in 1964. For Meryman, this unique friendship yielded more than four decades of recorded conversations with Wyeth, his family, friends and neighbors in Wyeth's homes in Pennsylvania and Maine. Meryman notes that, whether during formal interviews, shared meals, car rides or long walks, "Wyeth applied to himself the same sensitive understandings that fueled his art. A lifelong realist who swam against the art world tide of modernism, he showed himself to be fundamentally a painter of emotion--of people and objects that somehow embodied his memories and imagination, triggering feelings inexpressible in words, but recognized by viewers." In five skillfully crafted monologues composed by Meryman around key themes in Wyeth's work, we hear the voices of not only the artist but also his subjects, neighbors, relatives and critics. The book includes reproductions of the works of art discussed by Wyeth in his own words, as well as previously unpublished photographs of Wyeth's studio taken in 2009.

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