Book Reviews: Spring 2018

By: Anna Faktorovich, PhD

Amazing Study of Space Travel and Other Scientific Frontiers

Michio Kaku. The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth. New York: Doubleday, 2018. $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-385-54276-0. 339pp.


I had an hour to spend at the Dallas airport before a 6am flight to Los Angeles. There was supposed to be a bookstore in that wing, but it turned out that I went the wrong way and ended up in a grocery store with only a few books and magazines. This book immediately drew my attention because I had just started researching how an alien species might travel to planet earth for my first science fiction novel. At first, I read it standing up, then I sat down on a magazine shelf until the morning papers were brought in and I had to move. Finally, my alarm clock rang and I had to depart for my gate. It took me a few minutes past this point to put this book down. I have not purchased any books for a few years since I started receiving free review copies, so I decided to contact the publisher instead of spending $29.95 on a newly released hardcover. I described my attraction to the book, and now I have a copy of this brilliantly researched examination of our likely future in my collection.

I have examined other books, articles, documentaries and other materials on this subject, and this is the best of these for anybody who wants to go beyond surface ideas that are repeated in the rest. The book begins with a history of where space travel has been up to the present. Then, it departs into immediate goals for space programs around the world: mining planets and asteroids, or preventing cosmic collisions with earth. It goes further considering that a robot might be able to handle the time, nutritional and other requirements of interstellar travel better than humans. It describes in detail all of the various types of starships that might take us out of our solar system, including the types of fuel, energy, waves, or other sources of motion that surpass our current limitations. The third part is devoted to considering questions like immortality, extraterrestrial life, and the likelihood of advanced civilizations in this universe or beyond it. All science fiction writers should read Kaku’s book cover-to-cover as too many mistakes have been made in fictionalizations of science in the past. Nanoships, laser sails, fusion rockets and other amazing inventions are within science’s grasp or at least within its understanding, so writers that touch on space travel have to be familiar with what is already known to depart from it and into fiction. Is warp drive, wormholes, hyperspace, and parallel universes complete departures from reality or is there science that leave them in the realm of possibility; surprisingly, most of these can be supported by scientific theories.

The author, Michio Kaku, is one of the best-known experts in this field, appearing in numerous documentaries. He teaches theoretical physics at CUNY. He is one of the co-founders of string field theory. This is definitely not his first book in this field.

Set aside a few days to read this book. It is more entertaining than any science fiction I have seen to date. Exploring the next steps in science can be more exciting than the same explorations in fiction because the truth is always more complex and stranger than merely imagined beautifully arranged lies. If the publisher did not send a copy of a free book, I might have broken my rule against spending money on buying books for this one…

Descriptive Military Science Fiction Series

David Weber. Uncompromising Honor. Riverdale: Baen Books, October 2, 2018. $28. ISBN: 978-1-4814-8350-6. 768pp.


I received a free copy of this novel at the Texas Library Association convention as I did a round to collect books from exhibitors. Around half of the books in this set of reviews came from this run-around. This particular publisher, Baen Books, gave me two titles, Weber’s and Butler’s. I did an interview with Butler about his releases in this issue as well. Their chief Editor explained that Baen is one of the only surviving science fiction publishers that still accepts unsolicited and un-agented submissions. They are distributed by Scholastic, access that allows them to reach New York Times bestseller (as has been the case for Weber’s series) and other retail achievements for their titles. The science fiction and fantasy titles stand out as especially dense and complex in linguistic, structure, storylines and philosophy. Their submission requirements even specify that a central philosophy must be present in potential novels. This description and the Editor’s explanation encouraged me to start my first science fiction novel, so I would have something to submit for their consideration. Among other authors, they have published Larry Niven, with who I have previously done an interview for PLJ, and who is one of the best science fiction (and especially science fiction comedy) writers.

This particular hard science fiction novel is a study of military strategy and theory. The conflict described centers around the Solarian League (who are freedom-loving) and the Mandarins (bureaucratic and corrupt), of which the latter want to annihilate a newly formed Star Kingdom of Manticore. A strong female character, Honor Harrington, is at the head of this threatened kingdom, and war is her last resort after the Mandarins commit atrocities she cannot tolerate. The battles are described in detail as well as the starships, out-of-this-world weapons and other science fiction elements.

The book is full of cliff hangers, and curious observations about state dinners, duels, alien computers, the workings of cyberneticists, and tactical discussions. Lasers are fired, battles engulf enormous seas of fighters, all while the leaders plot how they are going to access food and other resources despite the continuing war. All fans of science fiction and writers who want to write in this genre, should read this book to understand the science fiction formula and humanities’ wars better.

An Engaging Adventure Fantasy

  1. J. Butler. Witchy Winter. Riverdale: Baen Books, April 2018. $25. ISBN: 978-1-4814-8314-8. 586pp.


This fantasy is the second installment in the Witchy series. The story takes place both in a realistic Tennessee and in the fictional mounds of Cahokia. The female protagonist, Sarah Calhoun has a witchy-eye that might produce some puss, but also gives her great power. Her father, The Elector Calhoun, has reigned over the kingdom of Cahokia. Now it is up to Sarah to lead her people by capturing the Serpent Throne, a goal that requires defeating seven rivals. She relies on the power and the will of the “hidden goddess.” The landscape of the west, Tennessee and Ohio, are transformed into magical places, where priests and shamans both use the power of the earth to influence their destinies. The state of Ohio has been re-carved into Seven Kingdoms, with The Kentuck below it in place of Kentucky. Nashville has retained its name, and Pittsburgh too, but other places of the map of this region have mutated into German Duchies or Wisdom’s Bluff. D. J. Butler, the author, led a successful career in the law before shifting into writing fantasy and children’s books full-time.

This novel is full of suspense, plot twists, dramatic dialogue, dangers, and tension. Here is an example: “Abd al-Wahid sawed through Talleyrand’s head in several long strokes and then handed back the chevalier’s blade politely. The Abbe’s body hit the stone floor with a thud. The chevalier laid the dagger on a stack of papers, marring them with the Acadian’s blood…” (114). The story takes readers on an intense adventure, as they sympathize with the heroine’s quest for power and honor, while maintaining her soulfulness.

A Painstaking Study of a Courageous Businesswoman

Alexandra M. Nickliss. Phoebe Apperson Hearst: A Life of Power and Politics. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, May 1, 2018. $39.95. ISBN: 978-1-4962-0227-7. 664pp.


Women have been succeeding in business for centuries. It seems like it is almost harder for smart women to reach the same level of success as our predecessors. Thus, studying biographies of some of these pioneering women helps to put the present struggles into perspective. Phoebe Apperson Hearst (1842-1919) was a financial manager, but she was also a reformer and a philanthropist in Gilded Age San Francisco. She mothered William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper mogul, and was married to George Hearst, the mining baron and U.S. senator. Like other women in these early centuries of American business history, Phoebe first gained independent business power upon the death of her husband. Maintaining a business can frequently be equally challenging to starting one. Since women infrequently have been allowed the confidence of entrepreneurship, showing strength in carrying the reigns of power and success demonstrates that the lack of equivalent earlier confidence had been a misjudgment. She gave away a large portion of her wealth to organizations benefiting health reform, women’s rights, higher education, and other causes she believed in. Women’s rights were at the forefront of her causes, as she took leading positions on their organization. The research in this book clearly saw the inside of San Francisco archives as the author, Alexandra M. Nickliss teaches history at the City College of San Francisco. With 664 pages, it is one of the most thorough biographies I have reviewed to-date.

The front piece is a photograph of Phoebe on what looks like a throne, but is more likely to be a highly decorative wood-cut, tall chair. She is wearing a gown that would look natural at a ball in United Kingdom a century before this photo was taken, as it is clenched with a corset under her outfit, and she is covered with gold and pearls, and a queenly robe. Other portraits in the interior offer either similar grandeur or show a gentle woman focusing on signing a women’s constitution rather than on displaying flashy clothing. Other pictures show the buildings her philanthropy helped fund, or her participation in public ceremonies. A sad photo shows her in a black outfit, writing at a high desk in a timid Camp Sesame in California, while her husband was sick. The book is divided into sections on her youth or the abilities she gained in this early period, then a section on how she originally came into money, then a section on her husband’s and her own political agenda, and then on how she gained power in her own right in business, and then a few chapters that focus on how she spread this power to those in need. The final chapter is called, “The Vote.” While Phoebe did not back some of the radical feminists who wanted a more thorough overhaul of sexism (including oppression of wives by their husbands), she did a good deal to organize women in California to stand united for the right to vote.

The research is proven and explained with two hundred pages of notes that detail where the easy to read prose in the book is coming from. There are numerous quotes, and added evidence here that might have made the center of the book harder to read if it was left there instead. In addition to cited books, and newspaper stories, archive collections like the University of California Department of Anthropology and Museum have been consulted.

Here is an example of the type of business and social description that fills this book: “The Pacific Improvement Company played a key role in helping Hearst move into the YWCA’s national power and political structure while the Hacienda Conference convened. The PIC was a construction and real estate development company controlled by Southern Pacific Railway tycoons, or the ‘Big Four’…” (338).

Modern feminists, masculists, historians and students or avid readers of American history can all benefit from having this book in their collection. Libraries should definitely make it available to patrons.

A History of the Struggle of the Huichol Indians in Mexico

Michele McArdle Stephens. In the Lands of Fire and Sun: Resistance and Accommodation in the Huichol Sierra, 1723-1930. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, May 1, 2018. $50. ISBN: 978-0-8032-8858-4. 222pp.


This is a history of the Huichol Indians in Mexico, and how they have held onto their independence for centuries since the days of Spanish initial colonization of the region. Archeology helps to fill gaps in the written record of these distant times. The author, Michele Stephens, is an assistant professor of Latin American history at West Virginia University. The book includes a few photographs of Huichol Indians in traditional clothing, face paint, feathers, and other intricate cultural details. It also includes some lithographs from Mexico City that depict the “Congress of Huichol Indians” and “Salute to the Sun.” Their yarn painting of Kauyumarie and peyote has a uniquely abstract style, with circles with crosses inside of them and other geometric shapes. A closeup of a traditional Shaman’s straw hat with crosses on it also has a unique style unlike other Native American tribes. Maps of the region show their strongholds, neighboring mining towns, and other geographical features. The book is chronologically organized. It begins with the history of Spanish conquest. The next chapter looks at how it became a young Nation-State. Then, there is a look on how this group embraced and rejected the Church (a likely influence on the crosses in their straw hats and paintings). The later chapters discuss how they struggled to keep control of their lands, and to fight invasion (cultural and political). They suffered two decades of war before their strongholds broke down from this violent period of revolution and rebellion. While the political landscape has shifted, descendants of the Huichol still keep a link to their culture, and live around their ancient home region.

The book is written with passion and with a strong, empowering message for the Huichol. Here is a great example of this: “Diaz was inconsistent in his treatment of native people. This is because he believed they were a negligible factor politically, socially, and economically; positivist ideolog, so prevalent in late-nineteenth-century thought, instructed that native people blocked national progress…” (61).

This is an interesting study for anybody interested in the history of Mexico, Latin America, and the native people around the world, and in particular the Huichol. It is also a great read as the Wixarika people have suffered extreme violence, economic suffering, wars, displacement, political turmoil and all the other dramatic turns that make reading history an engaging pastime.

A Hilarious Attempt to Sell Fictional Marketing

Donald Miller. Building a Story Brand: Clarify Your Message So Customers Will Listen. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. $24.99. ISBN: 978-0-7180-3332-3. 228pp.


This book inspired me to write a fictional short story about a marketing guru that makes all the classic mistakes in branding and selling a pop musician. I have read several similar books over the years. The first of these was Rich Dad Poor Dad. This first reading impressed me as I was mesmerized that to become rich I should focus on starting a business rather than on working for somebody else. When I read a later version of this same series more recently, I realized that starting businesses is not what these books are about. The author is selling his investment services: the more obscure and convoluted the advice in the book is, the more likely readers are to pay thousands of dollars for private consulting from the author. This is the case with Donald Miller’s book too. The front flap and an opening in this book begins thus: “Every day, most business leaders make a mistake that costs them thousands if not millions of dollars: they don’t explain clearly what it is their company does.” This statement is intended to make potential readers feel as if they are losing something if they do not spend money on this book. While most other books in this self-help marketing category then go on to summarize some basic marketing strategies, Miller explains marketing through the structure of fictional stories. He argues that marketing can be broken down into “characters” that have a “problem that meet a guide, who gives them a plan, and calls them to action that helps them avoid failure and ends in a success.” These phrases and words are the titles of some of the chapters. Basically, customers are the characters for whom a company is supposed to imagine a problem that their product solves. Terrifying customers into believing the world is about to end is one possible problem, and then the product can solve this problem of the company’s invention. This formula is also the formula used in most bestselling romance, mystery, fantasy and most other genres, where a hero solves a problem the victims that need his or her help are facing. The summation of this formulaic structure might help wanna-be pop fiction writers but none of this advice is of practical use to somebody who is about to dive into creating a company brand. Of course, many modern companies do use this type of advice to brand their companies. Donald uses several examples that demonstrate this like that Apple’s Steve Jobs flopped in sales when he was trying to sell computers with a pages-long technical plan, but then succeeded when he started advertising the iPhone with a much simpler message to which consumers, who do not want to read the details and just want an attractive story, are drawn. So, those who study marketing scams would definitely benefit from reading this book to understand the machinations behind them. Those who want to create their own brand should stay away, and find a sold college-level marketing textbook with some practical ideas that will launch a business without gimmicks.

An Intricate Account of the Pioneering Expedition of the West

Gary E. Moulton. The Lewis and Clark Expedition: Day by Day. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, April 1, 2018. $75. ISBN: 978-1-4962-0338-0. 768pp.


This book takes readers on a journey most travelers wish they had joined back when it happened in 1804. The Lewis and Clark expedition is one of the best known journeys in the history of travel. The began the trip in Illinois that year and returned to St. Louis in September of 1806. Despite its fame, I did not know that William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, the captains, also traveled with the Corps of Discovery, made up of four enlisted men. This is not simply a travelogue, but also looks at their scientific and geographical achievements. They found new species of flora and fauna. The author, Gary E. Moulton is a Professor Emeritus of American History at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He previously edited the Journals of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, so he has familiarized himself with this widely read narrative as closely as any researcher can. He explains in the “Preface” that this behemoth task took him from 1979 to 1999, and after this he also published an abridged version of this thirteen-volume set. And only now has he attempted to put all of the fragments of Lewis’, Clark’s and other relevant accounts together into a scholarly explanation of the intricacies of the trip. This project was so exhaustive that Moulton needed to take a decade off it. I simply had to request this book for review because it’s the ideal source for understanding travel in general and in particular at the turn of the nineteenth century. There is research material here for a fictional story or scholarly articles about the culture of the time.

The chapters are organized chronologically, with two or more months covered per chapter. Since there were no state lines across this unknown territory, the chapter headings refer to the Rockies, the Pacific Coast, as well as the stops they made before reaching the “unknown” and sections on their trip back. There is around a dozen maps of their expedition route that shows which now named places they traversed through. These have been drawn for this book. If somebody wants to follow a portion of their route, these drawings together with the descriptions should make for a very interesting hike, though the exact zoomed-in trails they took cannot be established to the foot as obviously they could not have left too many markers. Some of the drawings only label the spots where they stopped and described unique land features without even a dotted line to guess where they might have walked to connect these points. While this expedition had a great deal of political significance before and after it, only a few paragraphs in the “Introduction” are reserved for Jefferson, who picked these two explorers and decided on the nature of the trip. What average people might imagine this expedition was like is definitely a poor shadow of the reality. The details show adventures on every page. Members of the team went missing, they got sick, they encountered Native Americans without knowing how they would be received, and this is only a few phrases. The details here dive into the intricacies of coastal natives’, like the Chinooks, linguistics. They experience petty theft. Members of the team deserted and took food, weapons and other supplies with them. Here is one example from June 15, 1805: “When he awoke, Lewis discovered a large prairie rattlesnake nearby, killed it, and counted 176 scuta on its abdomen and 17 on its tail, the same as the one on May 17. The captain sent his men out to bring in more of the meat obtained by Drouillard the day before and continue the drying operation…” (179).

To summarize, this book took the author nearly 40 years, and it was time well spent among one of the most intense and suspense-laden adventures of America’s history. Even if a traveler wanted to attempt this type of wilderness traversal today, he or she could not find such a large stretch of undeveloped land anywhere in the world. So, anybody who enjoys traveling should enjoy this read just as an educational and fun read. Those who research American history would find a great deal of information on just about everything connected with the trip. I recommend it most highly, and hope other researchers will dedicate as many years to books I will review in the future.

A Needed Study on Corruption in Banking

Nomi Prins. Collusion: How Central Bankers Rigged the World. New York: Nation Books, 2018. $28. ISBN: 978-1-56858-562-8. 384pp.


While teaching in China, I realized that China deliberately keeps the value of their currency down in order to make their manufactured and other products competitive or to make them the cheapest option in the world market. This book shows a much larger manipulation of international markets by Central Bankers in America. It shows how their intervention created the 2008 financial crisis. The argument is that central bankers and IMF should seize intervening in world economics as they are overstepping on the rights of nations and individuals and are doing more harm than good. Rather than talk theoretically, this book finds evidence of specific collusion by the players most known in this field like Janet Yellen, Mario Draghi, Ben Bernanke and Christine Lagarde. The insights offered are appropriately detailed and intricate because the author is a former Wall Street executive, as well as a journalist. The book is broken down by location with chapters on Mexico, Brazil, China, Japan, and Europe. Paragraph biographies are given of the main colluders in the opening pages of the book to orient readers in this maze. The “Author’s Note” explains that Nomi Prins to each of the locations she discusses to personally confirm what he remote research and previous personal experiences were showing. She has previously published similarly critical books such as Other People’s Money: The Corporate Mugging of America. This book is up-to-date and looks at Donald Trump’s economic policies. Anybody who feels that documentaries and newspaper articles on this topic are repetitive and only brush over the surface will definitely find all the information they might want here. The chapters are broken down into sections on “Foreign Money Flows and Currency Wars” and “Temer’s Coup,” which make it pretty easy to find concepts a reader might be searching for. On the other hand, most of these sections have pretty cryptic or general headings that would have been more helpful with clarification, such as “Meirelles the Hawk Becomes the Dove” or a series of headings in the “China” chapter that are cold “Year of the Rabbit” and then the names of the other Zodiac signs. This seems to be a chronological organization by year, but it would have been easier to find the year one needs if they were just called that year. There is a pretty good “Glossary” in the back and a long set of “Notes” that explain where the information is coming from. The Index would have helped me search through this book, but it will be added later on, as this is an advance reading copy. Therefore, this book is not for a casual reader, and does not present information in an easily digested form. A reader has to come with a goal or with a need for proof of collusion and must set out on a quest for this evidence to make the most out of this study. If I ever write about banking, I will definitely return to this analysis and will explore its offerings.

A Historical Biography of an NBA Star with Challenges

Charley Rosen. Sugar: Michael Ray Richardson, Eighties Excess, and the NBA. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, April 1, 2018. $24.95. ISBN: 978-1-4962-0216-1. 192pp.


This book attempts to understand the 1980s decade in basketball by examining the experience Michael Ray Richardson had in the NBA. This period is explained as a turning point in the game when it gained mainstream appeal. Richardson spent eight years in the NBA, playing for different teams because his drug usage made him volatile. His cocaine usage made him into the first and only player to ever be permanently disqualified from playing in the NBA. This biography begins with Richardson’s rise and follows him through his peak and then his attempts to redeem himself. The challenges the aggravated his drug usage and other problems were racism, anti-Semitism, womanizing, and potential point-shaving. The author, Charley Rosen, worked as a commentator and has authored numerous other books about basketball. Because Richardson moved around between teams, the chapters are somewhat geographically organized, with one on the big Apple, another on moving from one coast to the other, and another on living outside the US, and then one on coming back to the US, and yet another on playing in the Wild, Wild West. The book is not written with too much theoretical depth, so it should be an easy read for sports fans. It is clearly intended for casual fans interested in learning a bit more about the game rather than for sports or culture researchers at higher levels. It’s a small book physically at 5.5X8.5”. It has very wide margins and it’s short by scholarly standards. On the other hand, it does not have pictures inside of it, so it’s not really written for pure fans either. Some of the book consists of interviews with insiders such as Jack Molinas, who “was banned from the NBA in January 1954 for repeatedly betting on his own team to win…” The author objects to this supposition by writing that it “wasn’t exactly the truth…” and then goes on to quote Molinas’ narrative of how this controversy happened. Throughout this book does not hold back any punches, really going after racism with frank observations. These comments are different from what other critiques of racism in sports have done in the past. Here is an example of the author discussing reverse-racism: “There has always been a certain disdain that black players have historically had for their white counterparts. One example that proves the point is Pete Maravich, a scoring machine whose flashy game was disrespected by virtually all the NBA’s black players” (78). Those who are interested in learning more about controversy in 1980s NBA and particularly about Richardson, will benefit from this engaging book.

Inspiring Biography of Traveling Artists

Frederick C. Moffatt. Paintbrush for Hire: The Travels of James and Emma Cameron, 1840-1900. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-62190-365-9. 367pp.


This is an inspiring account of how two married painters traveled to find commissions to make beautiful art. Artists today all want to know how they can find patrons to support their passion. Some create KickStarter campaign to solicit money from numerous backers. Artists from the nineteenth century more typically appealed directly to the wealthy and might have been received better than an artist would be if he or she attempted the same pitch to the rich today. Of course, Emma S. Cameron and James Cameron did not make a living entirely through patronage. In addition to working as a landscapist and portraitist, he was also an “inventor, a missionary, an ordained minister, a land agent, farmer, clothing merchant, and Sunday school teacher.” The bulk of his best-known paintings were produced in a ten-year stretch in East Tennessee. This narrative of their travels and career struggles is primarily based on Emma’s journals and correspondences. They also traveled to and painted in Knoxville, Chattanooga, Memphis, Nashville, Augusta, and New Orleans. One of James top-earning jobs was as the resident artist at a summer resort, Lookout Mountain Hotel. Emma worked as a nurse there, and across their careers was very active in helping bring in money. She even started a Presbyterian church of her own in parallel with her husband’s in California after 1874. This book reports that Cameron felt that he lived in a society that devalued artists’ achievements, and this trend has only continued to the present day. Today, a few people make millions on very abstract art that requires minimum time to create and gains value because of gambling on it by investors who buy it in hope of reselling it at a profit rather than because of its quality. Meanwhile, outstanding artists like Cameron find little patronage or other types of support to keep them in the arts. The author of this biography is Frederick C. Moffatt, emeritus professor of art history at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

The book is chronologically organized and by the names of the places where the couple worked. The center pages of the book include a dozen high-quality color reproduction of James’ paintings: these are really beautiful and original. They include intricate details and a dark, striking style. The “Col. And Mrs. James A. Whiteside, Son Charles and Servants” (1858) oil painting is particularly interesting. The perspective is a bit broken as a servant at the front and an African American boy servant closer to the back are both around the same size and are both smaller than the lead couple, which is larger and sitting on fancy chairs and around a marble, round table on a patio that oversees a scenic little town near a mountain and a river. Closeups are provided of the table with an intricate letter on it and the details of the little town below the high point the wealthy patrons live on. The faces of the patrons are greenish, and a tree behind them has lost half of its leaves. The floor below is checkered. All these elements combine to remind me of surrealism or Dali, as these details are almost a social commentary on wealth, power and powerlessness than simply a reproduction of life in this household. Most of the other paintings are much sunnier and warmer, focusing on natural beauty of people and nature. Images that display wealth in jewelry and outfits tend to have dark backgrounds and haunting facial expressions.

Any artist who is actively looking for patronage should read this book despite the time gap. Emma writes that potential patrons learned about James’ work through papers covering his exhibitions and him as an artist. Similar press might be harder to obtain in today’s papers, and exhibitions might be harder to come by for anybody who is not already at the top of the art world. Curiously, one of their longest engagements at the Lookout Mountain started by them exchanging a month’s rent for painting the owner. Emma thought they were ripped off in this initial deal because the room cost $80, while they were charging $100 per painting. But James “was apparently satisfied that the advertising advantages justified the added expense” as he argued that “‘people do not like to sit, until they see someone they know painted’” (144). This is just one example of the type of wisdom that can be gathered from a close reading of this book. Is it too much of an expense for a writer to rent a room in a pricy hotel in exchange for drawing the patron? It’s doubtful a similar deal could be reached today, but some exchanges of artistic and other services do come up as options to this day. The ending of this book serves as a warning for artists as Emma’s last fifteen years were in a charity-based nursing home while her top patrons suffered from suicides and ruin. The couple had invested into a new western town and their churches and these proved to be not as profitable as they hoped. James became sick decades before Emma deteriorated. He had suffered from a serious fever. Then, he had a combination of two medicines he was taking “a tonic digestive to be routinely taken at noon, the other a wash of carbolic acid to be applied externally to the leg wound”, apparently Emma mixed the two up and gave him the external medicine by mouth, which made him die shortly thereafter (219). While this is likely to have been an accident, the slight chance Emma intended to kill James only adds mystery and intrigue to this curious double-biography. If that doesn’t attract readers, what would?

Digressions About the Abstraction of Sound and Logic

Joan Richardson. How to Live, What to Do: Thirteen Ways of Looking at Wallace Stevens. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, March 1, 2018. $19.95. ISBN: 978-1-60938-549-1. 132pp.


This is an abridged biography of a canonical poet, Wallace Stevens, made by Joan Richardson, who previously authored the two-volume critical biography on this subject. Richardson is a professor of English at CUNY. I was anticipating that this would be the longer work when I requested this book. I have a bit of a bias against abridgements made in this manner from prior books I read in this genre. Even the titles of the chapters suggest that this is a theoretical literary exercise rather than a detailed look at the life of an author. Here are some of the chapter titles: “Notations of the Wild”, “Adequate to this Great Hymn”, “The Sound of Words”, “Man on the Dump”, and “Darken Your Speech”. “The Sound of Words” makes some sense, suggesting that it will cover sounds in poetry or linguistics. But instead of focusing on how Stevens uses sound in his poetry, Richardson digresses into these types of reflections: “Sound is, of course, the most abstract quality of language, ‘the most cognitively complex’ of our sensory modalities, triggering, with its unalterable vibrations, the neuronal firings and circuitings that are the pattern we call thinking” (34). A reader who is looking for information about Stevens’ life is likely to skim through this, and those who want to understand poetic linguistics also are unlikely to make much sense out of it. What is this sentence saying? Is language “abstract”? No. Language as a category is not at all abstract by itself. Language has very specific and non-abstract rules. There are nouns and verbs, and they have to be used correctly. Abstract language would lack clear boundaries and would be devoid of clarity and detail. A specific writer’s language can be abstract, but all sound that language makes cannot be abstract. Sounds in language are the least abstract part of language. The sound in “ah” is exactly the same when it’s a specific part of a word and the like, and cannot be vague or uncertain. And why would “sound” be more “cognitively complex” than written language? Understanding and recording written language came later in humans’ evolutionary process. A baby can make sounds, but surely cannot put them in writing before a certain age of cognitive maturity. Sound triggers thinking? No. It’s the other way around; our brains reach out into our environment and perceive sounds. That’s why when we are engaged in one task, we might not notice or hear distracting noises coming from a TV or radio next door, while after we finish the task, these sounds become apparent as our brain is ready to take in additional outside stimuli in terms of sound. I dissected this one particular sentence, and similar critiques can be offered on almost any sentence in a book written in this style. Other nonsensical philosophers’ linguistic ramblings are used as proof that an obviously untrue supposition is a fact. It’s almost impossible to read through a book like this cover-to-cover, so few critics dare to say the obvious…

I hope this book will not be assigned in any graduate classes. I read plenty of these types of books during my MA and PhD programs. I now have an allergy to them. I hope professors in these classes will read a book like this themselves cover-to-cover prior to such an assignment, and read it closely enough to question things like if “sound” is “abstract.”

Economic Theories of Sustainability and Growth in the Caribbean

Debbie A. Mohammed and Nikolaos Karagiannis, eds. Caribbean Realities and Endogenous Sustainability. Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-976-640-642-4. 291pp.


This book considers how the Caribbean has moved from being run by plantations to resorts from the colonial age to the age of globalization. Each chapter looks at a different perspective on economic change in this region. One chapter looks at how corporate governance has influenced progress or regression. Another looks at how independence affected performance of the region’s economies. Yet another one looks at how Caribbean businesses can become more competitive in the international marketplace. The last chapter questions if trade unions are beneficial actors in Caribbean businesses’ struggle to be successful. This is a particularly relevant time to ask these types of questions about the Caribbean as global warming has been causing extreme flooding, and other disasters across it, so the businesses and economies here are under particular pressure, and need the attention. Here’s how the editor summarizes the problems this region is facing at this moment:

globalization has already impacted the economies and societies of the Caribbean: exacerbation of economic instability, rising current account and fiscal deficits alongside high debt obligations, a slowdown in productivity growth, limited adjustment in traditional sectors, high unemployment and underemployment, reduction and deterioration of public services and the quality of infrastructure, degradation of the environment and natural resources, increasing social problems (including crime and violence), the growing distance between rich and poor, marginalization and social exclusion and unfair competition arrangements which put Caribbean nations in a situation of ever-increasing inferiority (2).

Each of the chapters offers a different perspective from a different author, who each converge on discussing these same problems outlined above. I typically don’t enjoy reading books written by so many authors because they tend to repeat the same message with only slight variations without as a whole explaining the topic fully. But, this set of studies seems to have a focus on research into the hard facts rather than a digression into different theoretical possibilities. Several tables, statistical explanations, graphs and other assisting components inform the reader throughout. Economic history is used to make arguments about the past and to suggest solutions for the future. Here is one example: “the challenge of preparing for a world of intense trade competition” was “aggravated by the near-total dependence of many of the smaller Caribbean countries on revenues from the special preferential trade programmes…” (77). Is aid given to the Caribbean hindering or assisting their progress? Most paragraphs in this book are equally intense and offer a lot of food for thought.

This book should be read by those researching the Caribbean and also by those who plan on traveling to the Caribbean for a vacation. Are visitors exploiting this region’s environment without returning a fair share to this land, or should more tourists come to pump more tourism funds here to help with further growth? To be informed world citizens, we should all read more books like this study.

An Autobiography of a West Indies University Chancellor

George Alleyne. The Grooming of a Chancellor. Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-976-640-651-6. 274pp.


This is a thorough autobiography of Sir George Alleyne, the emeritus Chancellor of the University of the West Indies. He grew up in Barbados, and talks about facing racism there. Then, he won a scholarship to study medicine at the University College of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica (a new medical program at the time). He discusses his struggles as a postgraduate intern, a digression into clinical medicine and science. He focused on research and remained at the university as a professor. He later left Jamaica to enter international medical governance. He became the director of the Pan American Health Organization, and later became the Director General of the World Health Organization. He describes the details of this election, as it was far from certain that his candidacy would be forwarded given that he was from Jamaica and competition was fierce. He was running against candidates from Mexico and Colombia. Here is a curious description of this campaign: “The ministry had a dossier on every country, with the dates of change of government, diplomatic debt to the Caribbean, and probability of support. It sent diplomatic notes to all thirty-eight countries accompanied by my curriculum vitae” (117). He had to have enormous pull in the organization to inspire this sort of extensive assistance. He includes a chapter called “The Myth of Retirement” before jumping into why he returned to Jamaica. As a crowning achievement he became the university’s Chancellor in 2003 and remained in this role until 2017. Once his tenure was over, he published this book to summarize his achievements and share the lessons he learned along the way. Over a dozen black and white photos of Alleyne are included in the center of the book, and show him conducting research, campaigning and otherwise at work. A helpful index in the back should help readers find information about specific institutions and people.

This book should inspire anybody in the Caribbean to struggle on in the hope of achieving top academic and political offices. It is also of interest to those anywhere in the world who want to become a chancellor of a university. Few chancellors write a frank book about how they received the post and what they do with it, so this is a helpful contribution to the study of this field.

A Biography of a Socially-Conscious Caribbean Novelist

Ameena Gafoor. Aftermath of Empire: The Novels of Roy A.K. Heath. Jamaica: University of the West Indies Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-976-640-636-3. 256pp.


This is a biography of Roy A.K. Heath (1926-2008). It covers his youth in British Guiana (back then a British colony, and now independent and renamed as Guyana) and then in the United Kingdom, where he worked as a teacher and writer, while keeping his lawyer-degree on the shelf. He published nine novels, all about the culture of modern Guyana. According to the cover: “This is the first critical study on Heath’s entire body of work.” The author of this biography, Ameena Gafoor, founded and edits the comparative literature, scholarly Arts Journal. Most of the biography is based on the lives of the fictional characters Heath created. For example: “Kwaku’s relationship with a hopelessly corrupt government functionary, the ironically named Minister of Hope, captures a sense of the underlying perversity of the social world Heath engages” (182). It’s always difficult to follow a biography that discusses characters this much without being already familiar with the books in question. And those who have read the novels probably don’t want to re-read these summaries, so they are difficult to get through. In theory, this is a good analysis of an important Caribbean author, but there are limitations to its readability. If the author left more content behind about his daily life, it might have been more of a biography and less of a literary theory study. Still, students of Caribbean literature and culture can definitely use this text if they plan on writing about this highly regarded novelist.

Biography of a Founder of Modern Tennis

Allen M. Hornblum. American Colossus: Big Bill Tilden and the Creation of Modern Tennis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, March 1, 2018. $39.95. ISBN: 978-0-8032-8811-9. 520pp.


Bill Tilden had a similar fame to Babe Ruth during the 1920s or the “Golden Age of Sports,” when these sports were initially shaped into what they have since become. He was the first American-born player who won Wimbledon. He ranked at the top of American tennis for a decade. In addition to this game, Tilden also performed in comedies and dramas on stage and screen and published dozens of fiction and non-fiction books (including those on tennis instruction). After the luster of his career was over, in the 1940s, he was imprisoned for seven months for “an incident involving an underage boy in his car”. This biography is written by Allen M. Hornblum (criminal justice administrator and professor) and John Newcombe (tennis winner of twenty-six Grand Slam championships). The scandal that collapsed Tilden’s reputation through the present day is recounted in the last chapter. Tilden had suffered a car crash yearlier in 1946 that brought him to emergency room. Then, in late November: “When Bill’s big Packard Clipper was pulled over on Sunset Boulevard by Beverly Hills police officers, a fourteen-year-old boy was found behind the wheel of the auto, wit Bill in the passenger seat, his one arm suggestively around the boy’s shoulders and the other on the boy’s lap. When they asked the boy to get out of the car, they noticed four of the four buttons on his fly were undone” (383). So, Bill was charged with “contributing to the delinquency of a minor.” When commenting about this incident, he acknowledged that this trouble started “when I was very young and stupid many years ago”, suggesting that he had engaged in these types of molestations or relationships since his youth. Other than this, the Index’s entry for “homosexuality of Bill Tilden” does not lead to any clear clues one way or the other. In fact, Hornblum’s argument is that Bill was not “flamboyantly” homosexual, and some of the conclusions in this book even suggest that he might not have been homosexual. At the same time the incident with the boy in the car is not disputed. Towards the end of his life, Bill was teaching tennis and living a pretty good life, despite the controversy that knocked him down from fame. The lack of a moral or a philosophical conclusion about Bill’s identity is probably a good way for a biography to go. The path of applauding the choices of the subject, or ridiculing them detract from the detached narrative a good biography should stick to.

It is difficult to put this book down. It grabs attention like a mystery novel. It includes an enormous volume of interesting information about the history of the sport of tennis, and its inner workings. This book should be helpful to those casually interested in sports and who want a good read, as well as those who research sports at the highest levels.

Military Strategy Guide to a Battle in the Civil War

Matt Spruill and Lee Spruill. Decisions at Stone River: The Sixteen Critical Decisions That Defined the Battle. Command Decisions in America’s Civil War. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-62190-378-9. 251pp.


This is a unique study of military strategy in the Civil War written by Matt Spruill (retired U. S. Army colonel) and Lee Spruill (retired U. S. Army lieutenant colonel). Since these two experts have been in recent combat and have taught this subject, their descriptions of the conflicts include details that are seldom as vivid in books written by professional historians. They see these battles as if they are imagining commanding them, and offer the types of details only those engaged in it can realize are essential. The battle in question took place between December 31, 1862 and January 2, 1863. The winning Union forces were led by Major General William S. Rosecrans. This was the first victory in many more defeats and helped to turn the war around in the Union’s favor. The battle is presented through a series of critical decisions that changed the course of the battle: this is the element that makes this study more strategically detailed and intensive as it considers why things turned out as they did. An Appendix at the back of the book offers an equally detailed battlefield guide that can be followed by tourists and historians alike to view the field of battle as the nature around it has mostly remained unchanged. The back cover promises that this is the first in a series of similar strategy studies on the Civil War. This book is divided into three main chapters: “Before the Battle”, “The Armies Collide” and “The Battle Continues.” Within these chapters the “sixteen critical decisions” that make up the bulk of the discussion include “Confederate Army Reorganized”, “Bragg Fails to Significantly Weight the Main Attack”, and “Bragg Decides to Attack Rosecrans’s Left Flank.” Each of these sections is divided into sub-sections on the “Situation”, the “Options” (which gives a couple of things the leaders might have done), the “Decision” (they ultimately took), the “Results/Impact” (of this decision), and then an “Alternate Decision and Scenario” (are presented to suggest how a different side might have won that part of the conflict if the leaders took a different route). Here is an example of one of these alternate scenarios: “Given the climate of Lincoln’s administration in November and December 1862, Rosecrans could have been replaced with another commander… Had Bragg remained at Murfreesboro during the winter, he could have used the railroad from Chattanooga to increase his supply and ammunition stocks and his army” (37).

I plan on returning to this book as I return to writing my first science fiction novel to find inspiration for how battles are fought and what twists can change the course of a conflict. This book should be beneficial to both casual and professional students and teachers of the Civil War and of military history in general.

A Guide to Politics in Tennessee

William Lyons, John M. Schebb II, Billy Stair, and Joseph G. Jarret. Government and Politics in Tennessee, Second Edition. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-62190-348-2. 408pp.


This extensive book explains the political system of Tennessee. This is a new edition of an established textbook; the first edition came out in 2001. Its authors are William Lyons (deputy to the mayor/chief policy officer for the City of Knoxville and professor at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville), as well two other professors, John Scheb II and Joseph G. Jarret, and a state government veteran, Billy Stair. This book is divided into chapters by different components of Tennessee’s political system, including its constitution, General Assembly, the Governor’s Office, Judiciary, political parties, elections, and public education. Dozens of photographs illustrate these pages with images of the relevant buildings and political characters. It explains the relationship of the present system to Tennessee’s roots since it became a state in 1796 when the state only had 77,000 mostly illiterate farmer residents. The particular intricasies of Tennessee state law as opposed to federal law is explained here, including notes on its “Freedoms of Speech and Press”, “Freedom of Religion” and “Excessive Bail, Cruel and Unusual Punishments”. State rights make a huge difference for most Americans even if they are not aware of the particulars until a specific law comes into their path. For example, owning a gun is a lot tougher in some states in the US than in others. The types of courts a state has also varies. Campaign coverage boundaries and other unique situations are uniquely governed by states. The education section explains efforts that Tennessee has made to raise education standards in its schools. There is also a section that discusses contentious bits of the state’s politics; one of these for Tennessee is “whether and how cities can expand their boundaries… City leaders tend to believe their cities need to grow to remain viable. Residents outside the city do not necessarily share this view” (340). At the back of this book, Appendix I provides The Constitution of the State of Tennessee (2014).

Overall, this is a great introductory reference source for those who want to run for office, file a lawsuit, or otherwise engage with Tennessee’s political system. It is also a great textbook for a class in the state’s history. And some researchers might find this book useful to start a research project by looking up some relevant political and historical facts.

A Biography of an Architect and a Study of the Roots of American Architecture

Robert Russell. William Strickland and the Creation of an American Architecture. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-62190-346-8. 344pp.


This is a biography of William Strickland (1788-1854), one of the “most notable architects in U.S. history.” He began his career in Philadelphia and was very productive, but most of his buildings have not survived through the present, so there has been relatively little scholarship into his life and work; this is an attempt to rectify this lack. One of Strickland’s first recognized projects was the Second Bank of the United States in Philadelphia. Another project explored here is the Tennessee State Capitol Building in Nashville. Despite the buildings that have been lost, the hundred illustrations of Strickland’s buildings that survive are plenty to show this notable architect’s style and vision. The author of this book is Robert Russell, a retired architectural historian, who has written other books on southern architecture. The biography is naturally organized chronologically, starting with how Strickland first became an architect. Then the chapters are divided into his main projects and locations for his work. There is also a chapter on his retreat to Europe after the peak of his fame. After he returned, he worked in Tennessee and on monuments and memorials, and attempted engineering in his final chapter. This book has extremely wide margins to fit elongated photographs of some of Strickland’s buildings. Since the book is over 300 pages, and many of the pictures fit in half of a page or less, the three-inch margins look excessive, but also give the book an architectural negative-space feel.

The book opens with what is unknown about Strickland, which is clearly a lot: “He was probably born on a farm in Navesink, Monmouth County, New Jersey, in 1788.” His father moved the family to Philadelphia, and became a carpenter. He gradually moved up the ranks in this field until he was able to arrange for an apprenticeship in 1801 for his son, William (12-13 at the time), with a known architect, Latrobe (1). These arrangements were the only way to enter a top trade in this period of American history, so William was very lucky to be chosen for this initially barely paying assignment. He had little education in classrooms, but the practical education with an architect secured a future for him. Since so little is known about the details of William’s life, the bulk of the book focuses on describing and explaining his architecture, as in this example: “The influence of the Picturesque movement on the exchange helps to explain its otherwise singular qualities as a Strickland work. It is not just that this is the only significant building in his career where he used the Corinthian order, or employed curved forms on the exterior – with the eastern rotunda helping to move the eye around the curve of Dock Street – but even his lost interior was treated in an unusual and particularly elaborate fashion” (131). This is a great example of useful and intricate architectural analysis with descriptions that prove the theoretical points.

A wonderful study into how an architect was made and developed in early America. It should be very useful for those studying architecture today and who hope to become architects in the future. While construction methods and tastes have changed, a career in architecture is still illusive and mysterious to most who do not have ready access to an internship or another in. Thus, this is a way to get through the gate to peek at what goes on in this industry before any formal invitation to join it.

A Know-Nothing Nightmare About Trump

David Cay Johnston. It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018. $28. ISBN: 978-1-501-7416-2. 306pp.


After seeing David Cay Johnston talk about Trump in a video, I requested his book on Trump for review. I gave it a positive review, and then invited Johnston to do an interview with me. He agreed to an interview and sent this second book for my review, so I could have some more content on which to base questions. I create intricate questions for him about how he managed to start five or so different colleges without finishing any of them (according to his Wikipedia page) and other leading questions. Like many other celebrities, he used ideas from my questions in the interviews he later did with mainstream media, but never replied to me directly. When I asked him about it via email, he asked me to resend the questions, saying he did not receive them. I re-sent them, and still no replies to them. It takes me a lot of time and energy to come up with questions for a specific author, so this is pretty rude, and I am ill disposed to write this review of this new book now. My bias aside, when I looked over this book to come up with the questions, my opinion of it was already low. The press release introduces it as an expose on “Trump Administration ‘termites’ that are being appointed to destroy existing government policy and agencies from within.” This type of discussion is alarmist while failing to clearly describe what it is referring to, thus leaving readers scared and confused. Reasonable scholarship should not be so misleading. This book was written and sent for review a few months into Trump’s presidency, so obviously it has little information to rely its conclusions on. For example, there is a discussion on Trump’s Wall, but it discusses it in theory whereas in reality Trump still has not made much progress in building it, so theoretical reflections on who will pay for it are irrelevant. Then, this book makes an argument that simply placing an anti-environmentalist like Scott Pruitt on top of the EPA will be enough to destroy America’s environmental policy. It further argues that Trump has filled his cabinet with the Swamp-things that he promised to rid the administration of. Obviously, a corrupt businessman like Trump who lies for a living was going to keep the Swamp intact; there is hardly anything new about this. Johnston is just describing the cabinet picks Trump made in his first days in office, and he’s fired most of those by this point. He also discusses that Trump is asking those who want to win favor with him to stay in his hotels or pay to play; this has been at the top of the news for over a year, and does not reveal anything worthy of a book. He discusses Trump’s first foreign trip to the Saudis as an attempt to assist them in suppressing news (161). He just summarizes what everybody could see from news coverage, and then summarizes the history of the region and makes conclusions about the connections between them without any new research. The sources of this information explain the problem. Johnston is primarily using transcripts of presidential phone calls from newspapers like Washington Post, with some bits from SNL, and widely reviewed reports like the U.S. Global Change Research Program Climate Science Special Report (which he refers to in the book as the “673-page document”). It’s definitely a very short “Notes” section. An example from a random paragraph in this book explains how it is full of hot air: “The clearest example of Trump administration know-nothingism in world affairs emerged on the final day of the visit to Riyadh. Wilbur Ross, the richest member of the Trump cabinet, appeared on the CNBC business channel, where he unintentionally revealed his ignorance about how rare the freedoms Americans enjoy are and why petition and protest are constitutional rights” (154). Johnston goes on to explain that Ross lied about the value of the arms sales Trump reached an agreement with the Saudis about, and that he also failed to understand that Saudis were not protesting during their trip because the government there does not allow public protests. Johnston goes on to explain that Ross was wrong because the Saudis are extremely morally flawed to be blocking their citizens from protesting unlike the benevolent America, who allows for all manners of demonstrations. American police departments (in contrast to these assumptions), have been arresting thousands of American demonstrators and also attempting to silence them. Overall, this book sounds like it’s attempting to make a pro-Trump argument wrapped in a disguise of supposed anti-Trumpism. It is also attempting to relate no new information to keep readers in a state of “know-nothingism.” This is very troubling and disturbing. I hope somebody will write a book about Trump that will reveal truths about what is going on in that White House, but this definitely isn’t it. Don’t read this book, it will give you nightmares that you can’t explain or understand.

A Silent Artbook

Minh Le and Dan Santat. Drawn Together. New York: Disney, 2018. $17.99. ISBN: 978-1-4847-6760-3. 42pp.


I went around TLA asking for mostly scholarly books. From children’s book publishers I asked for very artsy books that would show some extraordinary modern art beyond standard, formulaic children’s books. This is the result of this quest. In it a boy has difficulty communicating with his Vietnamese grandfather, who wants to watch shows in his native language, which the young boy does not speak. They eat different foods: one American, the other Vietnamese. The boy does not like the shows the old man wants to watch. Suddenly, they discover that they both have a passion for drawing. The grandfather draws an Asian-style black-and-white version of the super hero character in a cape that the boy is drawing. They draw several pictures together, communicating through these images. The images are drawn in a pretty unique style, with watery markings and some pencil marks left behind the paint. The Asian elements are made in an authentic style that mimics classic elements. Compositions are unique, and caricatures are amusing, and also beautiful and elegant. The colors are tamer than the typical disturbingly bright colors used in most children’s books. The message in this book is culturally significant and inspiring. I would definitely recommend this book for any child who has relatives, friends or acquaintances who do not fully speak English. Artists would also benefit from learning about an alternative artistically unique way of making a children’s book by studying this innovative project.

An Absurd Reversal of Hansel & Gretel

Bethan Woollvin. Hansel & Gretel. Atlanta: Peachtree Publishers, 2018. $16.95. ISBN: 978-1-68263-073-0. 34pp.


This children’s book has been created by Bethan Woollvin, a Cambridge School of Art graduate, who has won prizes for her previous children’s books. This particular book is a curious experiment. It is basically a black and white book with a shade of orange inserted into it. The use of these simple colors makes it stand out for those who want more abstraction from children’s books. The lines are very simple. To draw a forest, the artist drew four different trees and then re-pasted them across a page spread. The witch, Willow, is mostly a simple triangle with two ladders for feet, and a couple of arms sticking out. Hansel and Gretel are also simply drawn I matching orange outfits. When the kids eat the gingerbread house, their cheeks gain circles to demonstrate they are stuffing them. And after they eat all of Willow’s food, their stomachs become circles. When they perform naughty spells without permission, the cat reaches the ceiling, so the regular sized cat is just expanded automatically into this composition. It is refreshing to see these simple drawings because most children’s books also simply figures but they add a few details that make them seem more complex. Just leaving the drawings abstract and uncomplicating leaves room for the reader to focus on the story instead. The story is about naughty children who invade a good witch’s house, pushing her into her own oven until she snaps and retaliates against them. It’s a very relevant message for today’s children who are indeed “rude” “brats” that are in need of these types of horror fairytales to teach them that it is wrong to be malicious, selfish and harassing. If your kids are eating your house and you, definitely give them this children’s book to read.

How to Spot a Terrorist by His Facial Expression

Michele Rigby Assad. Breaking Cover: My Secret Life in the CIA and What It Taught Me about What’s Worth Fighting for. New York: Tyndale Momentum, August 2017. Memoir. $25.99. ISBN: 978-1-4964-1959-0. 250pp.


I read this book cover-to-cover, and wouldn’t have minded reading a second volume. This is a memoir of Michele Rigby Assad’s experiences as a CIA operative. She describes how she was hired by the CIA. It was a long painful process where she was first told she got the job, and then it was rescinded, and then she reapplied, and was finally accepted. She describes how she was constantly sent into the most dangerous war zones while others in her class got to go to beautiful cities and stayed in wonderful accommodations. She describes living in trailers in Iraq as bombs fell on the military encampment around her. She talks about sexism in the CIA and among the religious Muslim men that she worked with since her degree was in their Arab language. She mentions that despite passing a graduate language course in this language, she could barely use it in practical situations and needed a translator. She also talks about how she finally resigned from the CIA and went into private security contracting. It is strange that she explains that the CIA does not allow prior operatives to put their CIA experience on their resume, so they have to put their cover story (reporting for her) on the resume instead. And yet, here she is publishing an entire book that confesses to per having worked for the CIA. Clearly, this would be a security breach by the stated requirements on silence. It was also troubling for me to read that she determined if somebody was a terrorist or not based on her intuition rather than facts. Her job was to determine who was sincerely interested in converting to Christianity and who was holding onto their Muslim religion. She also had to separate terrorists from Muslims who did not want to kill Americans by their facial expressions, by their anger level, or by what others said about them. She admits that on some occasion the intel she gathered this way was incorrect and led to officers in the field who followed her directions into setups to be killed. She paints herself as the hero of this saga, and shifts the blame onto the lying or self-interested snitches who gave her false info in exchange for money. I did not like this book because I trusted that the author was a good and honorable character, but rather because despite the subterfuge, this is the most honest book I have seen so far about how the war on terror is playing out in reality. It is definitely helping my research into this conflict. Why did America receive faulty intel that Iraq had weapons of mass-destruction? Well, they probably gathered the false intelligence in similar scenarios as described in this book, also using somebody that barely spoke any Arabic, did not understand the local culture, and trusted their intuition to determine what was a nuke and what was a benign pile of rubbish.

Assad is now working to help businesses with their intelligence problems out of a fancy house in Florida. She has written this book to attract more clients who want to have an “in” to the CIA and to other officials in the American government. To offset all this somewhat shady business cooking she is doing, she describes a story toward the end of a humanitarian project she assisted with (for a lot of money), wherein she (and her husband, also ex-CIA) connected a bit over a hundred Christians to escape from a conflict zone to Slovenia because they were being discriminated against by their Muslim neighbors. Based on her description, their job was to figure out the logistics, and to convince an airline to fly them, and the country to accept them. She writes more about this seemingly simple migration than she does about the sole interrogation that she had with a terrorist, or the friendly terrorist for whom she cooked dinner to convince him to work with the Americans instead. Anybody who is at all familiar with American and world politics will be flabbergasted as they read this book. If a foreign government’s intelligence agent captured a CIA agent and tortured them for years, they would not get as much information about CIA operations as Assad is giving away here. Anybody who is concerned about how America’s War on Terror is going, will definitely find the problems, and should be inspired with ways to fix them upon reading this book. Assad does not see any of this as a problem… but hopefully an educated reader will. I hope to see many more books like this one come across my desk, so I can share the mouth-dropping revelations within.

An Analysis of Military Strategy in Star Wars

Max Brooks, John Amble, ML Cavanaugh, and Jaym Gates, eds. Strategy Strikes Back: How Star Wars Explains Modern Military Conflict. New York: Potomac Books, May 1, 2018. $29.95. ISBN: 978-1-64012-033-4. 272pp.


This is a collection of essays from members of the military as well as historians, fiction writers, and other researchers, who all attempt to explain the elements of military strategy in the Star Wars series. I have never been able to finish one of the Star Wars films, but I am always interested in reading pop-culture criticism as I have published books in this field as well. Here is how the cover summarizes the contents of this book: “A chapter on the case for planet building on the forest moon of Endor by World War Z author Max Brooks offers a unique way to understand our own sustained engagement in war-ravaged societies such as Afghanistan. Another chapter on the counterinsurgency waged by Darth Vader against the Rebellion sheds light on the logic behind past military incursions in Iraq.” All of these topics are as relevant to today’s real warfare as they could get. Fiction has always been used to comment on history. In this case, the Star Wars screenplays were written long before the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began so the author could not have foreseen a parallel; instead, these critics are drawing this parallel from this fiction written in the past and modern conflicts. In a way, this book is showing how modern conflicts were inspired by and followed the lessons Star Wars instructed. Is Trump deliberately acting like Darth Vader? This book should help readers answer this and many other mysteries. The book is divided into four parts: “Society and War,” “Preparation for War”, “Waging a War” and “Assessment of War.” While it’s a pretty absurd exercise to find significance in formulaic combat in a pop science fiction series, there is a lot of interesting conclusions that these authors reach as they go much further into their analysis than perhaps anybody has before with any science fiction novel. They question why a given side won, as well as what they might have done differently. They evaluate these aliens’ infrastructure, bases, weapons, and philosophy of warfare. There is perhaps more controversial commentary about the problems with warfare here than in books that address conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq directly (as the authors might have felt more pressure to keep away from ridiculing America’s military strategy in books directly about these conflicts). Here is an example of the type of analysis you’ll find in this book: “Despite this incredible technology and being able to build submersibles capable of traveling through the planet’s watery core, they didn’t have vehicles or lasers; instead they rode animals, carried spears, and hurdled blue energy balls with slings and catapults, because Phantom Menace…” (152). It looks like there is a typo at the end as a new thought is started but isn’t finished. Still, this shows how this book questions the absurdities in the Star Wars system while also being amazed by the complexity of its different weaponry and methods of attack.

I learned a great deal from this book about how to structure science fiction battles. Well, I don’t think I am going to attempt to mimic anything in Star Wars in my own science fiction battles. Instead, I learned that I have to read non-fiction about realistic battle strategy before I write out my own fictional universe. If a species is advanced enough to go through a planet, they really should have weapons that can do unspeakable destruction. Crafting a believable conflict between species that have never existed is definitely an extremely complex process, or at least it should be. Military experts might be analyzing a science fiction series for centuries to come, so it better stand up to this toughest possible scrutiny.

A Delightfully Outrageous and Entertaining Life of a Powerful Woman

Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff. Red Hot Mama: The Life of Sophie Tucker. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2017. $27.95. ISBN: 978-1-4773-1236-0. 276pp.


A biography of Sophie Tucker, a television, film, radio, and vaudeville star for sixty years. She was the first female president of the American Federation of Actors (AFA). She was an activist for African American rights in the entertainment industry, since she was primarily a jazz singer and interacted in their circles. Meanwhile, she was the daughter of Russian Jewish immigrants, without speaking up as much for this sector. The research presented here comes primarily out of Tucker’s scrapbooks. The author of this book, Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff, is an associate professor of history at the University of South Carolina in Columbia. Mama is organized chronologically, with abstract chapter titles that refer to her climb up, stardom, jazz success, recognition through awards, and her work as the president of AFA. The book is beautifully designed. The cover presents an elegant portrait, and two-color title information with great contrast. The title page is black with a white title on it. In the middle of the book there are some great photographs, good because as an entertainer, Tucker obviously had some amusing and beautiful portraits done of herself and others in her life and career. She is hardly conventionally beautiful. As the book’s title and a chapter title state, she was everybody’s Mama, rather than a love interest. She was on the thinner and more elegant side when she was younger, but anybody that has a sixty-year career in entertainment eventually does not want to be known for their looks. One photo shows her in “menswear” from 1937: she’s in a dark baggy suit and hat, with both hands in her pockets and legs spread wide, as if challenging the masculine establishment. There is also a photo of Tucker at the front of a train with a sign behind her, “Sophie Tucker for President”, which is explained in a plaque below: “A Hilarious and Spicy Material Song on Mercury Records by the Queen of Them All… Sophie Tucker…” So, she did not actually run for president; the idea that she might have run was a joke intended to sell more records: this record came out in 1952; the pitch from Sophie is available on YouTube under “Sophie Tucker: ‘For president’”. It’s a pretty stern criticism of men, which mentions cutting off men’s private parts. Tucker is definitely an amusing and radical feminist character that should be more familiar to the mainstream. This book does a great job of bringing her achievements and rebellions to the forefront. Here is an example from the book that coincides with her radical presidential run song. Tucker was allowed to sign about the shimmy, “but it is unclear whether they were accompanied by her usual physical movements – shaking her body and running her hands over her curvy figure. In general, anything seen as un-American, whether labor activism or sexually provocative lyrics, was quickly squashed. Because it was ‘dangerous’ for any singer in ‘legitimate or vaudeville houses’ to use double entendre or sexually suggestive messages, content became much more sanitized and continued to express patriotic themes” (96). There are three entries under “prostitution” in the Index, so this is a tame rebellion by Tucker’s standards.

Strongly recommend this book for anybody who wants to see an entertaining feminist doing more outrageous things than the toughest feminists are attempting today. It is inspiring to see a powerful woman taking men head-on and winning.

Exploration of Police Dopers and Aggression

John Hoberman. Dopers in Uniform: The Hidden World of Police on Steroids. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. $29.95. ISBN: 978-0-292-75948-0. 302pp.


This is an unflinching look at police officers who illegally use steroids to bulk up, and the impact this has on their inability to control their emotions and thus on over-reactive, violent policing. The motive for this study is figuring out why police officers are increasingly using deadly force against unarmed suspects, a pattern that has seen a movement rise up in Black Lives Matter. It is a felony for these officers to engage in anabolic steroids. The author, John Hoberman (historian at the University of Texas at Austin), admits that there is a “Blue Wall of Silence” that he had to get through to find the data he managed to gather for this study. One of the reasons this steroid use is not caught more frequently is because police unions argue against testing due to police officers’ right to privacy. The book is divided into chapters on the facts of cop steroid use, on police chiefs’ response to usage, on the unions response, on the culture of hyper-masculine policing, and on steroids in the military. In the “Introduction”, Hoberman explains that the topic of police steroid usage has been suppressed from media coverage as even cases where usage was the obvious cause of violence, this detail was omitted from television reports on the incidents. This does explain why despite police in urban areas being incredibly buff currently, stories about their doping are very uncommon, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single story on this topic before in the news. In the chapter about what is known about police steroid use, Hoberman gives statistics about most police shooting cases being dismissed, but there are no clear statistics on the percentage of officers who are using steroids. Of course, such statistics would necessitate officers confessing to illegal drug usage, and that is unlikely to happen. Hoberman does present evidence of individual cases where steroid use was uncovered, including one of Dr. Joseph Colao, “an antiaging doctor and bodybuilder who dropped dead of a heart attack at age forty-five,” who “prescribed illegal anabolic steroids and human growth hormone (HGH) for thousands of clients. His patients included 248 law enforcement officers and firefighters from fifty-three agencies in New Jersey, all of whom acquired their hormones at taxpayer expense” (22). Given these statistics, this single doctor was prescribing steroids to around four officers per district. How many officers could there have been in those districts, and how many officers used other doctors? Clearly, these types of indirect statistics indicate a major problem. Whenever I watch television shows of policing in Britain, I am always surprised by how calm, chubby, thin, or and otherwise non-threatening (in the best of ways) police officers are over there. Girls can be officers, and they don’t seem to be putting their lives in danger. If the officers are nice, it seems unlikely that the most violent offenders would react with much force, as it’s just uncivil to meet a friendly smile with an overreaction. From these types of media portrayal differences, it seems likely that steroid usage is higher in the US: it would be interesting if Hoberman made a comparison of US with other countries. Hoberman does make an attempt to measure the extent of this problem in the US: “there are at least 25,000 steroid-consuming police officers in the United States… ‘up to 25 percent of all police officers in urban settings with gangs and high crime use steroids’” (37).

This is an extremely thoroughly researched study on one of the most critical subjects in modern America. If there is any chance any of us might be killed without being a threat by a police officer on steroids, there definitely need to be a lot more books like this one to explain this phenomenon and to think of ways to solve it. It is courageous of Hoberman to take on this controversial topic with so much wisdom. It is also a very dramatic or high-tension read. Anybody who is considering or has joined a police department should definitely read the details of this study: hopefully to stay away from steroids. Those who are participating in Black Lives Matter and other anti-violent-policing protests should also read this book to understand what is controlling these officers’ actions. It’s also a beautifully and abstractly designed book that is just a nice object to put on a shelf.

A Rageful Cry Against Sexism in Authorship

Joanna Russ. How to Suppress Women’s Writing. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. $19.95. ISBN: 978-1-4773-1625-2. 199pp.


A great summary of the problems discussed in this book is offered in the cover design, in a paragraph that it explains in black text with red parenthetical comments: “She didn’t write it. But if it’ clear she did the deed… She wrote it, but she shouldn’t have. (It’s political, sexual, masculine, feminist.) She wrote it, but look what she wrote about. (The bedroom, the kitchen, her family. Other women!) She wrote it, but she wrote only one of it. (‘Jane Eyre. Poor Deer, that’s all she ever…’) She wrote it, but she isn’t really an artist, and it isn’t really art. (It’s a thriller, a romance, a children’s book. It’s Sci Fi!) She wrote it, but she had help. (Robert Browning. Branwell Bronte. Her own ‘masculine side.’) She wrote it, but she’s an anomaly. (Woolf. With Leonard’s help…) She wrote it, but…” I am currently researching the authorship of two books that have for centuries been attributed to Defoe, Moll Flanders and Roxana, who I am sure were authored by Eliza Haywood. While Defoe has only been confirmed as authoring non-fiction, Haywood wrote many dozens of very similar novels to these. A single male publisher of these books claimed Defoe’s authorship and since then Defoe has become canonized while Haywood is barely visible in libraries and has been neglected by scholars, who have criticized her novels as women’s romances. Suppression of women’s writing has been a problem since the first days of the printing press. Women have been rejected from publication; they have been paid less in the genres that they are associated with, and they have otherwise dealt with a mountain of bias from male critics who are out to prove their inferiority. Thus, is a very important book, as this is definitely the right moment to finally lift female writers up with deserved praise. And this book initially came out back in 1983, and little has been done to solve these problems in the decades that followed.

The author, Joanna Russ (1937-2011) was a feminist science fiction writer (a genre that is known to discriminate against female authors), and an English professor at the University of Washington. The chapter names also summarize the main obstacles female authors face: prohibition, bad faith, denial of agency, pollution of agency, double standard of content, false categorizing, isolation, anomalousness, lack of models, and (negative critical) responses. This book covers some little thought about forms of censorship like that women have historically lacked the money for independent leisure necessary to develop complex sonnets or other advanced works of art (6). A great deal of this book is based on sexism expressed by men, and how female writers have responded to sexism.

On the negative side, this is a very heavy book, as it lays on criticism that men have shoved at women’s writing since writing began. I think it would have been a stronger and more helpful book if the author inserted some solutions women might employ to these problems. Women to-this-day have not discovered such solutions, while the problems are still readily apparent. So, it kind of reads more like a book that is instructing how men might suppress women’s writing, rather than how women can stop such oppression. Still, the problem has to be seen to be solved. I wrote a book on this subject, Gender Bias in Mystery and Romance Novel Publishing, and I also explained the problems rather than offer solutions. I attempted to compare the linguistical differences and indistinguishable similarities between female and male authored novels, and how publishers screen out books that contradict expected differences. Russ discusses her excessive quotations in her “Afterward”, which she composed in 1982, after finishing the book in 1978. She explains she attempted to cut down on the number, but could not “put the Atlantic Ocean in a teacup” (170). Of course, it is important to let women’s voices speak, so such quotations are very useful. Another troubling element in this book is that Russ occasionally slips away from the scholarly argument and into poetics, like in the “Afterward” she writes: “It was episodic./ It ws thin./ It was uninteresting./ The characters talked funny.” This is in reference to Zora Neale Hurston’s classic, Their Eyes Were Watching God. Russ concludes that this novel is “clearly inferior to the great central tradition of Western Literature” (168). I have come to the same conclusion myself, as has Virginia Woolf in A Room of One’s Own. Woolf also explains the shortages on the challenges women have to overcome just to sit down to write, and the lack of female authorial role models. Russ then ends the book with a series of quotes without a concrete conclusion. At the end of the “Author’s Note” that precedes the “Afterward”, she expresses that she hopes somebody else will “write a genuine history of the suppression, discouragement, and downgrading of women’s writing…” She admits that this “work may stand as testimony to the hurriedness and peculiar ‘amateur’ status of much feminist work of the last ten years” (166). It is very unusual for a critical book to acknowledge its own flaws so openly.

There is a lot to ponder in Russ’ book, and I will definitely return to it to give it some more consideration. While it has various problems, these issues fit nicely into postmodern absurdities of the type of literature and critical analysis that has been popular across the last century. Why should a critique of sexism be logical and neatly organized. If the author is “impotent” and enraged, perhaps it’s okay for the resulting book to be likewise.

A Non-Fiction Mystery About the Water Crisis

Seamus McGraw. A Thirsty Land: The Making of an American Water Crisis. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. $27.95. ISBN: 978-1-4773-1031-1. 277pp.


A study of the American water crisis with a look at how it has been handled in the past, and potential solutions for the future. I was particularly interested in this project because at its center are the problems Texas has with water, and since it is my home for the foreseeable feature, I need to know as much as I can about this problem in this particular geographic setting. Here in Quanah, where my little house is, there’s a drought every winter and crops have difficulty growing. Meanwhile, everybody is familiar with the great flood that drowned Houston last hurricane season. So, water is attacking Texas from all directions, and environmental regulations are particularly loose in this part of the country, so advice is needed to keep the citizens of Texas from drowning themselves. The author, Seamus McGraw, is an award-winning journalist and has published a couple of books on climate change previously. In this project, in addition to standard research methods, McGraw interviewed farmers, ranchers, businesspeople, citizen activists and politicians to gather their opinions and experiences on this issue. The book has suspense written into it, as the narrator prepares readers for a payoff and then goes back and gives historic background, so readers have a reason to read until the end. The payoff in the first chapter is that on August 5, 1969 (in the middle of another drought), Texas voted against a plan that would have re-directed the waters of the Mississippi River into it to satisfy its thirst for water. The rest of the chapter explains how Texas changed from a rural state to one dominated by industry and business around this same time. Most of the chapters have very cryptic names that do not give away their contents easily, like “Dow by Law” and “That’s the Kind of Thinking That Will Get Your Land Took from You.” The latter sounds very Texan, but it is difficult to imagine what this has to do with water. The chapter starts just as mysteriously with: “Maybe it was the way the summer sun glided through the lush leaves of the white oaks, the pecans, the hickories, and the ash on the far bank” (39). This is a very beautiful image, and McGraw continues with descriptions of boys playing, the river, oaks, and the like for a page before he starts arriving at his point: Texans were coming to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for water like they used to come for timber by 2000. The problem mentioned in the chapter title is finally explained at the end of the second page: “even landowners miles removed from the proposed reservoir site could lose control of their land in the process of providing the growing metroplex with affordable water” (40). The chapter includes lengthy dialogues between conflicting sides. It also includes a lengthy speech on the subject with specific numbers and projections. Across the book, there are great illustrations of the impact of various water-related changes on the land.

This book would have been improved from a research perspective if it had more subheadings in the chapters that explained what points each section is covering. I would have appreciated if the chapters also had simpler to process titles, so I could more easily find the exact information that might be relevant to a particular research project I am doing. As it stands, it is inviting for casual readers who are interested in a good read or who might be passionate about this issue and in need of some background information. This is definitely a good thing for them. But, anybody who needs the raw data and digested information to figure out what strategies in this book can be of practical use, will just have to slow down and read the whole things to get these bits. It’s not totally inaccessible though as the Index is pretty detailed and includes the names of the main water developments covered. The “Notes” section is pretty light, as it includes articles from newspapers, court documents, development reports, and a few books. Once again, this is definitely not a scholarly, but rather a general interest book. Since a democracy decides Texas’ and the countries’ water policies, there is definitely a greater need for a readable general interest book on this topic like this project, rather than a more intensive scholarly analysis that might be unreadable for almost everybody that actually votes in America. So, great book overall, very intensely written with interesting and impactful information.

An Inspiring, Freely Conceived Collection of Classic Photography

Ralph Gibson. Text by Gilles Mora. The Black Trilogy. Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018. $40. ISBN: 978-1-4773-1626-9. 198pp.


I am delighted to be adding this book to my collection. The three photography books that make up its composition are all out of print and collector’s items, so I am anticipating that this edition will become a collector’s item before long. On top of this, it’s a delightful collection of radical photography. Ralph Gibson put together images that explore the boundaries of photography in their shadows, contrasts, and compositions. At the same time, the photographer seems to be on vacation with friends and lovers and snapping pictures of them at their ease. Despite this extreme relaxation, the positioning of the bodies is hardly accidental or random, but tells a story and communicates deeper meanings beyond the weight, beauty, fitness-level, or other flighty components that much of pop photography stresses. The book advertises itself as “surrealist” and indeed there are some surrealist elements to it. The front cover shows the picture of a slightly open door with a glowing hand hovering above the knob without touching it. The hand is ghostly without a body visibly attached to it. There are also several images that leave viewers uncertain about what is being shown like the one on page 155. It might be a hotdog, or it might be a bomb, or a battery. Another image on page 151 is of a foot that might be inserted between butt cheeks or between breasts, or between some other circular body parts. In the middle collection of the trilogy, on page 101, there is an image of a gothic fog that might be over water or land: the ground is obstructed from view, so it has an otherworldly feel to it. Then there are the two pictures where the right half is of a figure’s back against a water background, and the picture on the opposite page seems to be the continuation of the same figure with just a naked arm holding a pistol, but the background here is mostly of rolling hills so it does not fit fluidly with the image of the sea. There might be a bit of sea in the distance, so the viewer is left uncertain if the two images belong together or not. Another curious image, in the first part of the trilogy on page 54, is of a man and a woman with a bandana and an eye cover over their eyes as they are sitting outside in a beautiful park. The image is surreal because usually in this type of a picture, the couple would be admiring the park rather than blinding themselves to this natural image.

Ralph Gibson founded his own photography publishing house, Lustrum Press, and inaugurated it with the publication of three of his own photography books: The Somnambulist (1970), Deja-vu (1973), and Days at Sea (1974). The three of them together are known as “The Black Trilogy” because they are entirely black and white on their covers and interiors. They “are now considered classics of the twentieth-century photo-book genre” because they inspired many of the photographers that released photo books afterwards (according to the cover). The innovative bits in these collections are in its “visual syntax – page layouts, the pairing of photographs face-to-face, graphic and thematic echoes.” One example of this is the image of the hand with the gun and the back on the opposing page. Since a photo book has facing pages, it is logical to use them to create a connected storyline, and Gibson contributed to making this potential trick a standard in the genre. This collection is a beautifully done reprint of the original with an added essay on these works by Gilles Mora, a photographer, author and magazine editor, as well as the director of the city of Montpellier’s Pavillon Populaire. Mora’s introduction explains that Gibson gave up on commercial photography just before founding his own publishing house, but he has since done some advertisement photography for brands, and has occasionally switched into color photography (since he is now 79 and still very active in the field, this is only natural as art evolves and goals change and money might eventually become necessary…). Before these collections, he had a career working as a photography for talent agencies, and for well-known photographers. The work from this collection and other innovative pieces appears in some of the world’s top museums.

Some of the images are very erotic. For example, a blurred, nude body in motion is pictured in a type of handstand on page 46. But this nudity is made absurd in most of the images on the opposite pages; in this case, on page 47, there is a figure of a man in trunks awkwardly walking through a swamp, his head, one arm and one foot are cut out of the frame, so he is also abstracted from full view even though he is not naked. A few pages later, there is a figure of a nude woman from waste down with what might be a tan-line along her middle-region (50). A few pages later, a nude man with a body like a classic Greek statue holding onto a thin tree and hanging backwards from it with his eyes ecstatically closed (53). The cover of Days at Sea is probably the most extreme of these as it shows the naked rear of a woman with a feather inserted between the cheeks. This feather image is a better composition than the hand at the door image that University of Texas Press chose to use on the cover for this collection; obviously, this book might have been marked as somewhat pornographic by bookstores if the feather made it on the front cover instead.

If you enjoy photos of naked rear ends, this is a book for you. If you enjoy classical art and photography, also a great choice for your collection. If you are an art collector, you can’t do much better at this price. Libraries should also pick it up now, as it might not be in print for long. Photographers should definitely study the tricks, techniques and jokes Gibson employs here to inspire and guide their next photography book.

Secrets within on the Cold War and Conflicts in the Middle East

Randall Fowler. More Than a Doctrine: The Eisenhower Era in the Middle East. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, May 1, 2018. $34.95. ISBN: 978-1-61234-997-8. 272pp.


A study of the January 5, 1957 Eisenhower Doctrine Address that established America as the region’s “protector of freedom” against Communist aggression. This doctrine was an early sign of Cold War hysteria, and the fears behind it continue to influence world politics to this day. Hence, this is an important examination of what led President Dwight D. Eisenhower to make this declaration and how it has changed world affairs since. At the end of the book, Randall Fowler gives examples of similarities between Eisenhower’s original 1957 speech and speeches on related topics from John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H. W. Bush, or pretty much every president since. The repetition of rhetoric from a bygone era in later American presidential speeches is very common. Frequently, later politicians ask technical writers to write up speeches for them on the usually relevant topics, and these writers return to classic speeches for inspiration. If a writer goes off-script and proposes something new, there is a chance it might become a new classically repeated speech or it might bomb and be ridiculed across the media for its untested, youthful radicalism. So, repeating a speech from the Cold War error is a safer bet despite world politics having moved on from those times. Eisenhower’s goal at the time was that “aggression, direct or indirect, must be checked before it gathered sufficient momentum to destroy us all…” (167). But the intricacies of this statement have been lost, as recently America has been entering wars in the Middle East where an aggressor’s threat is not only indirect but might be non-existent (as with the Iraq nuclear weapons fiasco). America has become the aggressive threat in a region that is as fragile politically and theologically as any in the world. Instead of putting an end to wars, America is now starting them, and politicians are blaming Eisenhower for the theory that guides these decisions. Clearly, this book is very much needed today so that speech writers and politicians can understand this background and perhaps be inspired to make sounder decisions in the future. Here is a curious explanation from this book that shows its value: “In terms of rhetoric the Eisenhower administration, rather than engage publicly in an attempt to bring about an Arab-Israeli peace, largely dealt in an economy of secrecy: it sent surrogates on covert missions and plotted with the British to force a settlement on (at least) two sovereign nations” (99). Why would the US benefit from forcing settlements on Arabs or Israelis, and more importantly, why would Arabs or Israelis want the US deciding who should settle where in their contested regions? In most other parts of the world land disputes are eventually settled, but Israel and Palestine have not come to an agreement after a century of negotiations. If US’s intervention is meant to assist this process, it has not worked, and it’s perhaps time for the US to step aside and for the affected sides to sit back at the table and decide on the matter without intervention. Why are the British stuck in the middle of this too? The answers to these types of questions are in this book, so it is an important piece of scholarship for anybody who wants these answers.

Thought-provoking and radical book that explores an explosive subject that is as relevant today as it was in 1957. Thoroughly researched, so that it includes some once top-secret materials that probably have had few eyes laid on them to-date. A great find for any library collection that serves young and old scholars alike.

The History of a Southern Tenant Farmers Union

James D. Ross Jr. The Rise and Fall of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in Arkansas. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-62190-352-9. 166pp.


A history of the Southern Tenant Farmers Union in eastern Arkansas. It was founded during the harsh times of the Great Depression. It stands out among unions because of its biracial membership, and the socialist leanings of its leaders. It declined because of mechanization of agriculture, and changing political beliefs of its members. The author of this study, James D. Ross, proposes that the union’s decline was not so simple, but rather resulted from a disharmony between the messages sent out about its goals from the leadership and the actual goals of the tenant farmers that made up the membership. The farmers “wanted their immediate needs for food and shelter met, and they wanted to own their own land and thus determine their own futures. Ross summarizes the differences as the leaders being Marxists, while the membership was primarily fundamentalist, Pentecostal Christian. James Ross is an associate professor of history at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.

The book provides some useful visuals, like graphs of the changing cotton price across this period. There are also some dramatic photos of rickety sharecroppers’ homes that look hand-made and like they are about to fall apart. The photos of African American sharecropping families on plantations are also striking. One image shows an evicted family sitting outside on their expelled, barely holding together furniture. The same evicted family is also shown cooking outside in a giant pot on a ground-fire. Other images show sharecroppers with picket signs. Two pictures of the union’s white leaders are in stark contrast to these as they are in gentlemanly outfits and are sitting casually (one is smoking a cigarette with one of his feet up on a chair).

Since this is a history, it is organized chronologically, without any chapter subheadings. The underlying conflict in this book is summarized in the first chapter: “From slave to landowner to sharecropper, John Wells exemplified these changes as they were experienced by a generation of African-Americans. He carried deep within him the hopes of landownership and economic power promised in the post Civil War era, and all the sorrows of the betrayal of those promises” (10).

This is a great theoretical and historical explanation of the tensions between socialism, religiosity, morality, poverty, business acumen, and other forces in Depression Era and post-Depression America. It is relatively short and an easy read, so it should fit scholars from high school upwards. Since unions have continued to decline in number and power since the Depression period in America, this book might help to explain to current union leaders what has gone wrong in earlier attempts and how these problems might be corrected.

How to Use Cyber Technology to Take Over the World!

Mark T. Peters II. Cashing in on Cyber-Power: How Interdependent Actors Seek Economic Outcomes in a Digital World. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, July 1, 2018. $27.95. ISBN: 978-1-64012-013-6. 280pp.


A study on real and potential applications of digital strategies in military, economic and other strategies that attempt or succeed in shifting world power. The tactics examined include “intellectual property theft, espionage to uncover carefully planned trade strategies, and outright market manipulation through resource and currency values.” Mark T. Peters II considers nearly two hundred major past cyberattacks in the last decade to perform a comparative analysis. One of these is the 2010 “intellectual property theft of a gold-detector design from the Australian Codan corporation.” A direr case examined up-close is the 2015 cyberattacks on Ukrainian SCADA systems. The book is divided into parts that are examined as hypothesis with the “Problem” being presented, then evidence and research questions being examined before a “Summary” is reached. The topics covered are interdependence, power, cyber applications, and future potential for this field. The first chapter explains that the book addresses a barely considered question in this field of “why”. The answer given is that cyber attacks add value to a country’s offensive and defensive strategy because “hard power” campaigns like those U.S. has launched in Iraq and Afghanistan fail to offer as much power as well-tailored cyberattacks. “Cyber means offer an opportunity to pursue both asymmetric and soft-power approaches to assert influence between states” (1). So, this is a how-to book, in a way, on how countries around the world can use digital strategies to gain world dominance. This is a humongous promise, and definitely a controversial one. Should the U.S. or any country be using cyberattacks against neighbors without formally declaring war on them? Some cyberattacks can lead to assassinations (directly or indirectly), and can cause economic, social and other types of harms to competing countries: why would such attacks be legal for any country? If America is currently questioning Russia’s potential intervention in the U.S. election, can anybody among these critics argue that the U.S. should be replying in kind? Other than the moral questionability of cyberattacks in general, the main problem with this book is its lack of clarity about its position on this topic. In general, the hypothesis presenting approach is also confusing, as it repeats the motions of analysis without moving the book towards a clear resolution or using some kind of a chronological or logical order. At the same time, it is possible that this book is simply too complex for anybody to understand it without reading it very closely. An example of this is the extensive table at the back of the book that presents the hundreds of cyberattack events reviewed. This table ranks them by functional and physical vulnerability, the approach, the target, the impact, the method, the origin, the effect and the actor. It is showing numbers as responses, but the explanations for what these numbers mean is given elsewhere in the book. A summary of nearly all major attacks across a decade would definitely be useful to any intelligence agency who is interested in researching cybercrime. But, a casual reader would definitely be lost and overwhelmed here. The “Summary” at the end of one of these chapters shows the types of intricate conclusions reached within: “In the Japanese case, one can clearly see how the loss of confidential data associated with trade negotiations delayed Japan’s own entry into TPP discussions. The Ukraine hack shows the vulnerability of SCADA systems and the difficulty in discerning which actions are most relevant during an economic cyberattack. Finally, the Codan case showed the economic losses when one suffers an IP theft to either a state or non-state actor” (186). So, this book is not a guide on how to perform cyberattacks, but rather an attempt an unbiased and detached research into past attacks in search for patterns between them and lessons from them.

This is a book for the international intelligence community, and for graduate or higher intelligence researchers. Nobody who is not pursuing a graduate degree or has advanced knowledge of cybercrime should attempt reading this book. It’s likely to give them a headache and a feeling of dire confusion if they try to tackle it. Meanwhile, countries who are threatened by cybercrime (or pretty much all countries), should definitely put a few intelligence operatives on this book and utilize the lessons within to tighten their own security.

The Murder Trial That Made Lincoln Famous

Dan Abrams and David Fisher. Lincoln’s Last Trial: The Murder Case That Propelled Him to the Presidency. Ontario: Harlequin Enterprises Limited: Hanover Square Press, June 5, 2018. $26.99. ISBN: 978-1-335-42469-3. 288pp.


A non-fiction account of Abraham Lincoln’s last murder trial, which was widely reported on and established Lincoln’s name as a potential candidate for the presidential run. Abraham Lincoln was a self-taught lawyer, and worked hard in these trenches before suddenly emerging into prominence with help from this push; the cover advertises that Lincoln was “involved in more than three thousand cases – including more than twenty-five murder trials – during his two-decades-long career”. The potential murderer on trial in 1859 that Lincoln was hired to defend was a twenty-tow-year-old, Peachy Quinn Harrison in Springfield, Illinois. Lincoln was of interest to the press during this trial because of the preceding debates he had with Senator Stephen Douglas. The case was personally challenging for Lincoln because the murder victim had trained for the law in his own office. And the accused killer was a son of a close friend. A rival revivalist preacher, who Lincoln ran against in elections, was needed to strengthen the case. This book is authored by Dan Abrams (CEO of Abrams Media, and chief legal affairs anchor for ABC News) and David Fisher (author of over twenty New York Times bestsellers).

As I was walking through the aisles at TLA, I noticed the Harlequin booth and stopped to study the covers since I wrote about this publisher in my previous books on the romance genre, of which in its present form they were one of the main founders. To my surprise, the books on display were not entirely romance-minded. The three female editors around the booth quickly pointed out that Harlequin had moved away from these romantic roots. They showed me this non-fiction title about Lincoln and invited me to email them to request review copies of this and perhaps some other books as they did not bring enough copies to hand out for these highbrow titles. I followed up and here it is.

Harrison’s argued that he acted in self-defense, a claim that was defended with a celebrity preacher’s eyewitness testimony (10). Given that a bestselling author co-wrote this book and it has been released from a publisher best-known for suspense fiction, this non-fiction is written with fiction tropes, or cliffhangers and background information offered to paint a picture rather than simply to convey the relevant information to explain the case. Meanwhile, the lawyer among the two authors has stepped in to double-check that all “restaurants, streets and hotels in Springfield” are accurately depicted. Everything Lincoln “did and even purchased on particular days during the trial was gathered from historical data” (11). There are a lot of details in this book that needed researching It starts out with a description of a “sweltering afternoon,” reflected also in the “beads of sweat” on Robert Hitt’s forehead, and proceeds to point out that he practiced his “shorthand on the ever-shaking rails” (15). This book attempts to place readers into this murder mystery so they can visualize the scenes and actions as they would have appeared to the protagonists and antagonists. The stress is laid on the relationships and feelings the characters have for each other rather than focusing purely on their fiscal, legal or professional entanglements. Though the political and other types of involvements are definitely also explained. The emotions are just used to connect scenes and to give the reader something to relate to, so they can sympathize with the players and get into the story on a personal level (30). While it is admirable that Harlequin is attempting to make a historical legal case relatable to the general reader, it is too simple for my taste in many places. For example: “The whole slaver issue confounded Hitt, as it did just about everyone with whom he discussed it. The morality of the issue was obvious, but getting out of it was so complicated. The economy of the South had grown dependent on it…” (135). While emotionally slavery is a powerful symbol, it’s troubling for me as a researcher to see it handled thusly. These are pretty empty sentences that in a scholarly study of the case would have been handled with detachment and the facts. Instead, they are shown from the perspective of a confused person who is unsure about the matter and doesn’t know much about it. If Hitt is clueless on the subject, why mention what he thought about it? By what the rest of the paragraph discusses, it seems the subject of slavery was something that Hitt contemplated might have been a matter people might “kill each other” over (135).

Thus, I could never read this book from cover-to-cover as it would be extremely painful for me to re-read these types of obvious statements. I would have a lot more fun reading the original transcript of the trial that this version is based on. If you enjoy fiction and dramatic narratives more than dry legal documents, then this is a book that you would enjoy. It is thoroughly researched, and includes curious details about Lincoln and the place and time when he worked as lawyer. It should fit most library collections nicely.

Alternative History of Washington’s Downfall

Charles Rosenberg. The Trial and Execution of the Traitor George Washington: A Novel. Ontario: Harlequin Enterprises Limited: Hanover Square Press, June 26, 2018. $26.99. ISBN: 978-1-335-20032-7. 432pp.


I really shouldn’t have requested this one for review. I was very curious how this might be done, but obviously the author has set a tremendous challenge for himself with this exercise. I have an extremely high bar for presentations of history in fiction. If an author attempts to depict an execution of George Washington during the Revolutionary War instead of his heading of the American army and then a successful presidential run, I am expecting a miracle. I want to enter a story that paints exactly where George Washington was when he was captured. I want to see exactly who took over the army when he disappeared and what strategic difficulties led them to potentially lose the Revolutionary War. I want to see exactly where Washington would have been taken, exactly which legal mind would have taken his case, and exactly how he would have finally been executed. This is not this historical fiction I envisioned based on its summary. It does not ever entirely focus on Washington. The hero is a British special agent Jeremiah Black, who kidnaps Washington and brings him to London. The actions of the kidnapping, the trip and the personal conflicts between characters take center stage and not the legal, philosophical, and tactical debates that I anticipated would be of interest in a book on this subject. Even the lawyer chosen to represent Washington is a bit of a joke as he doesn’t really work hard on the case. Thus, the author avoids diving into a difficult legal discussion by presuming that even the lawyer doesn’t really understand the matter at hand. The author of this book is Charles Rosenberg, a legal thriller writer, lawyer, and legal consultant for various TV shows. One great example of the absurdity and silliness of this novel is in this quote from it: “The afternoon before, right after his meeting with Forecastle had ended on such a sour note, he had returned home. Once there, he had prevailed on Polly to travel to the haberdashery and return his tricorner hat and to explain that, though no fault of his, it had shrunk” (376). What does the shrinking of a hat have to do with Washington’s trial, a revolution or any of the other grand subjects this book can be full of? Most of this book is full of empty dialogue that at best drive the actions forward, such as: “‘Do you think Abbott suspects the men were ours?’” (236). Most of the dialogue is even shorter, just little phrases, as the speakers go back and force asking questions to figure out the backstory.

It is probably above average for the genre of alternative fictional histories, but I have not read any books in this genre before, and have no inclination to do so now. Those who do enjoy this genre, probably would enjoy reading this light and either funny or dramatic (depending on your perspective) narrative.

A Tough-Girl Story About Fight Club from the Doctor’s Perspective

Linda D. Dahl. Tooth and Nail: The Making of a Female Fight Doctor. Ontario: Harlequin Enterprises Limited: Hanover Square Press, July 24, 2018. $26.99. ISBN: 978-1-335-01747-5. 304pp.


Once again, the back cover summary for this book sounds like it would be a highbrow non-fiction, but it just isn’t what I thought it would be. The premise is that this is a memoir for the first female ringside boxing doctor in New York City, Linda D. Dahl, who also has an otolaryngologist private practice there. She felt isolated as a Middle Eastern-origin individual in the Bronx, so she started attending boxing matches with her husband. Since she became a huge fan of the game, she was invited to become a fight doctor by the New York State Athletic Commission. I wanted to determine (with help from this book) how and why she was invited to take on this role while no other female doctor received such an honor. But the explanation is that she was the biggest fan of them all. This isn’t believable for me. Usually, women who attain these types of roles before others work harder and longer in a given field than others. But she just receives a phone call with the invitation as if by miracle. This kind of serendipity does not help me, as a researcher, to learn from her experience to understand how women have succeeded in male-dominated fields. Instead of zooming in on important moments like this one, this book stresses conversations she had with famous boxers like Mike Tyson, Wladimir Klitschko and Miguel Cotto. These chats are casual and only touch the surface, so they don’t really help explain the grand issues of feminism, and medical intervention in a sport that is intentionally violent and harmful toward opponents. For example, when describing her first meeting with Mike Tyson, she includes a conversation she had with her superior, who shoved her toward Tyson while she was protesting that she was not his “groupie.” She explains that Tyson was the reason she “had stopped watching” boxing. She refuses to meet Tyson, and instead sits down to talk with Dr. Williams about his gambling addiction. What does gambling have to do with Tyson? Who knows. It so happens that this Dr. Williams was one of the doctors defending Tyson during his “Holyfield situation.” After Dr. Williams explains to her that Tyson was clearly innocent, she now insists that he introduce her to Tyson. What does Tyson say to her? “‘Oh my gosh, aren’t you pretty. You a doctor? Why don’t you come over here with me, and let’s talk awhile…’” What did you learn from this situation and discussion? Tyson proceeds to ask what her sign is as he’s bluntly flirting with her. She tells him she reads “a lot.” Finally, she has to leave to get on with medically supervising the game, so Tyson tries to stop her with “more of a plea than a request, “‘Will you come back?’” (169-71). How does this exchange help any woman figure out what it takes for a woman to succeed in a male-dominated field? Flirt with the stars? Interact with celebrities even if you hate what they represent? Pretend to be a clueless little girl and chat about nonsense while you are supposed to be there to watch over the players’ health?

This is one of the most depressing accounts I have ever read about medicine or celebrity… If this description sounds like this book will be a fun read, proceed into it. If you also would have a reflux disorder at these types of descriptions, do your best to stay away.

Wan: The Little-Known Chinese Man Who Inspired Miranda

Scott D. Seligman. The Third Degree: The Triple Murder That Shook Washington and Changed American Criminal Justice. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, May 1, 2018. $29.95. ISBN: 978-1-61234-994-7. 25 photographs, 7 illustrations, 1 chronology. 224pp.


The history of how Miranda rights became a standard law in America when a Chinese man was accused of murdering three Chinese diplomats in Washington DC in 1919. The young man’s name is Ziang Sung Wan and his case made it to the Supreme Court. The Miranda rights are not Wan rights because it was the Miranda v. Arizona decision that followed Wan’s case that made these rights official. The author of this book, Scott D. Seligman, confesses in the introduction that he is not a lawyer, but he has consulted and interviewed many lawyers and legal experts to understand the American legal system and present it accurately in this book. Seligman also ventured out to Shanghai and other parts of China to trace the “unhappy days” Wan lived out there “after his ordeal in America was over” (xiv). These days were unhappy indeed: “he fell victim to the Campaign to Suppress Counterrevolutionaries… He was detained and sent without trial to a ‘reform through labor’ camp in Jiangsu Province. Having worked for the hated Nationalists and lived abroad, he was an obvious target. He remained in the camp… from the early 1950s until 1964…” He died in prison in Shanghai in 1968 (157). This ordeal included brutally coercive interrogation practices by the police and a seven-year journey through the U.S. legal system. Clearly, the subject of coerced confessions and police brutality and bias is still as relevant as a century ago, so this is a timely book.

This topic was of particular interest to Seligman because he has managed a multi-national public relations agency in China and has lobbied the Chinese government. He is also a journalist and a widely published author.

The book is organized in a very logical and chronological way to assist its digestion. It begins with the three Chinese men being found in a tub, then moves on to the coercive interrogation, then the false confession, then the trial, followed by the appeal, then the Supreme Court case, the retrial, and finally Wan’s freedom. The last chapter explains the path these rights took between Wan’s case and the Miranda one. An index, bibliography and notes help guide researchers. A lot of the sources are newspapers like the Washington Post and the New York Times (there are even abbreviations for their names). Testimony from the relevant trials is also used. Only a few secondary sources, like The Chinatown Trunk Mystery, are used. Memoranda from Solicitor General James Beck was consulted in the Library of Congress collection. These sources are reasonably exhaustive considering the subject. A “Chronology” of the related events at the back of the book should help researchers who are looking for patterns or want to understand the progression of the case. There are many great archival and newspaper-located photographs that illustrate what the characters involved looked like, and show scans of the handwritten Supreme Court decision and other interesting documents.

In this particular case, it helped the narrative that the author did not simply look at the legal proceedings, but also zoomed in to look at how Wan lived while imprisoned and otherwise under scrutiny. For example, he started a pie baking business in prison and then operated the “Wan’s Mandarin Creams “confectionery business in Delaware starting in 1927, but he abandoned this business (which cost him $25,000 to start) once he received his reentry permit in 1928 and was finally released from all charges by 1930 (131-2). The dry courtroom rhetoric would not have related everything Wan suffered as a result of being wronged by police.

A dramatic and insightful read for anybody who cares about human rights and wants to understand the roots of the Miranda warning.

A Humorous Mystery Children’s Book

Brian Selznick and David Serlin. Baby Monkey, Private Eye. New York: Scholastic Press, 2018. $16.99. ISBN: 978-1-338-18061-9. 192pp.


This illustrated children’s book is primarily black and while with a few accents of red on objects that the Baby Monkey, Private Eye, finds for his or her clients. This is a unique book because it relies on pretty intricate drawings rather than on color drawings that mostly fill in colors rather than sketching in details. For example, the Baby Monkey has glowing, multi-layered eyes, and its shaded and made to look three-dimensional and unique. It is a bit repetitive as the Baby Monkey repeats a pattern of being encountered by a new client, looks for clues, writes notes, eats a snack (usually a fruit or a vegetable), puts on his pants (across nine pages or so), and then solves the case without any explanation other than the missing item being found and the culprit being tied up, after which the Baby Monkey is celebrated in a newspaper as a hero. These types of repetitions are formulaic to most children’s books. They are used instead of poetic rhyme repetitions as a kind of sing-songy technique. Perhaps, it helps kids learn about putting on their pants and eating snacks? Despite these annoying bits, these are better drawings than I have seen in most other children’s books over the years. It is more likely that a child would want to read another book after looking through this funny series of anecdotes than a more formulaic picture book. It has a curious “Key to Baby Monkey’s Office” at the end, where the memorabilia from classic films and art in the detailed drawings of this office are explained with the names of the artists or artistic works depicted. Oddly enough, there is also an “Index” with entries like “Typewriter” and “Zebra.” The lead author and illustrator is Brian Selznick, a Caldecott Medal-winning creator of three New York Times bestselling novels in pictures. His co-writer is David Serlin, who teaches at the University of California, San Diego.

Sex-Slavery and Genocide in the Islamic State of Iraq

Nadia Murad. The Last Girl: My Story of Captivity, and My Fight Against the Islamic State. New York: Tim Duggan Books, October 2017. $27: Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-5247-6043-4. 320pp.


A memoir of a surviving sex-slave from northern Iraq, Nadia Murad. She was born in a farming and shepherding village of Kocho, in a Yazidi community. On August 15, 2015, when she was twenty-one, Islamic State militants executed “men who refused to convert to Islam and women too old to become sex slaves”, and took Nadia and “thousands of other Yazidi girls, into the ISIS slave trade.” She was then held captive, raped and beaten. She managed to escape, and became the first UN Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking. She is now bringing the Islamic State before the International Criminal Court “on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.” One shocking element related herein is that Iraq is undergoing this genocide while the war in Iraq is supposed to be drawing to a close. Fighting has resumed since 2014 when the Islamic State of Iraq picked up a new offensive and took control over northern Iraq. Then again, there is mass human trafficking within U.S. borders as well, but no military action is waged against the traffickers that rape and beat women domestically or bring women into the U.S. from overseas to enter the forced sex trade. Given the extent of human trafficking and enslavement across the world, Nadia’s story has international interest rather than being relevant to the conflict in Iraq. Nadia explains that the terrorist attacks against the Yazidi people intensified since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. She writes that the Yazidi religion is ancient, but that unlike major religions, there are only around a million Yazidi worshipers left in the world. The attack in 2014 on her village began when two farmers from it were kidnapped, and a ransom demand was made. Then two sheep were stolen. They attempted to solve this dispute as most village disputes are solved in the region with help from Ahmed Jasso, their “practical and diplomatic mukhtar”, but he sided with Hezni to keep their relationship with the Sunni from becoming further strained (5-8). The conflict escalated from there. She describes the first assault where an ISIS member grabbed her breast and the assaults that followed as “a slow, painful death – of the body and the soul” (119). Nadia considers suicide, but then she makes a pact with the other girls not to kill themselves, but rather to search for a route to escape (132). She describes the slave market where they were sold despite their screams for help: “I howled and screamed, slapping away hands that reached out to grope me” (137). ISIS used these girls or “sabaya as incentive” for its militants, discussing this sex trade “in their glossy propaganda magazine, Dabiq, in an attempt to draw new recruits (139). The details of the repeated rapes and abstractly described for the sake of modesty. The traditions and other cultural particularities of the region are described across the narrative to explain how this happened in northern Iraq, what motivated these abusers, and why those who participated in this trade did not object, and why the girls had a difficult time escaping from this situation. Conversations between the girls help explain their fears of abuse, loneliness, the unknown and other elements of the horrific situation they went through.

This is an extremely courageous and powerful account for somebody who survived all this torture. It is fluidly and intensely written, and places the reader three-dimensionally into situations that are too lightly drawn in fictions on this topic. This should be required reading for American forces and intelligence agents in Iraq, as well as for Iraqis who might not otherwise know what has been happening in this region. This book explains where this illegal sex trade is advertised, and offers other clues that should help local law enforcement officers to crack down on it. Police rather than military action seems to be needed to catch these traders. This is definitely a book that shouts out for assistance for a group that cannot defend itself against this atrocious genocide.

A Breathtaking Journey Through Space

Alan Stern and David Grinspoon. Chasing New Horizons: Inside the Epic First Mission to Pluto. New York: Picador, May 1, 2018. $28: Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-250-09896-2. 320pp.


The history of the space exploration project, New Horizons’ mission to Pluto, as related by the mission leader, Alan Stern and other key players. The small NASA spacecraft flew by Pluto on July 14, 2015, 3 billion miles from Earth, at more than 32,000 miles per hour. It took data readings and images of Pluto before continuing its journey. New Horizon’s mission isn’t over, as it will reach its next encounter next year, in 2019. The hardcover version of this book includes two 16-page full-color inserts; sadly, my Uncorrected Proof version does not have these: I love space photography and would have really enjoyed these. The cover is a beautiful image of Pluto, so I don’t feel too bad. The book is separated into chronological chapters. It begins with how the New Horizon mission was first conceived. It describes the years when this spaceship was slowly put together and funded. Then, it describes how the project came together and prepared for lift-off. Then, the journey and the stop around Jupiter is detailed. Then, the team explains how they calculated the best approach to make toward Pluto, how the spaceship made the approach, and what billions around the world saw when it arrived at this dramatic destination. The Appendix at the back includes an interesting list of “The Top Ten Science Discoveries from New Horizon’s’s Exploration of the Pluto System”, which include: the complexity of Pluto (“ground fogs, high-altitude hazes, possible clouds, canyons, towering mountains, faults, polar caps… suspected ice volcanoes… evidence for flowing (and even standing liquids in the past)”), activity on Pluto’s surface, 1,000-kilometer nitrogen glacier, atmospheric hazes, low atmospheric escape rate, hints of liquid water ocean inside Pluto today, and Pluto having four small moons (275-81). All of these elements were question marks when the mission to Pluto was initially conceived in the 1970s (11). There are numerous surprises and interesting twists to this story. Various teams competed in the “playoffs” to determine who could build the safest, surest, and cheapest spaceship for the trip, a contest that the New Horizons team won out (92). Even the clouds were a dangerous and threatening element that might have crushed the mission before it launched (158). The process of identifying “alternate trajectories through the Pluto system that would avoid various potential hazard zones” was “monumental” as each new “pathway” required a new recalculation or each “flyby phase had to be completely redesigned, rebuilt, and fully retested” (205). There are numerous intricacies to space flight described in this book that do not cross into the popular narrative of the trip, wherein we mostly just see the resulting photographs and a summary of the top scientific discoveries.

This is an outstanding study into space travel and not just the mission to Pluto. Anybody who is considering become an astronaut or a space engineer, this is already required reading. Those who are interested in space travel as curious members of the public, should find this as a relatively easy and enjoyable read. Researchers in this field are likely to find some new information that has not been explored in prior studies, as some of these first-person accounts have been made for the first time (since it’s only been a couple of years since the central visit to Pluto took place).

A Stunning New Release from the Timeless Zora Neale Hurston

Zora Neale Hurston. Barracoon: The Story of the Last “Black Cargo”. New York: Amistad: HarperCollins Publishers, May 2018. $24.99. ISBN: 978-0-06-274820-1. 208pp.


Reading a never-before-published book by a canonical author is a special event. Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) is such a classic author, best-known for Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937), and Barracoon is this work. This is a non-fiction story of Cudjo, one of the last-known survivors of the Atlantic slave trade, related in his vernacular. This story was written up when Zora Neale Hurston traveled to Plateau, Alabama (an African-centric community founded by former slaves from the ship Clotilda) in 1927 to interview Cudjo Lewis (originally named Oluale Kossola and born in 1841 to the Yoruba people of West Africa). He recounted the raid that “led to his capture and bondage, fifty years after the Atlantic slave trade was outlawed in the United States.” She returned again 1931 and continued their conversation for three months. The title of the book comes from the barracoon Cudjo was held for “selection.” Cudjo recounts his capture by the Dahomian warriors, the dangerous journey he took through the Middle Passage, the five years he spent in slavery until the end of the Civil War, and then his struggles in the Jim Crow South. Since this work was written long before Hurston penned Their Eyes, clearly it had an impact on her imagination and shaped the emotional power of the message in the latter fictional account. Students and professors alike who are writing about the novel, definitely should consider the philosophy and history in Barracoon and how it shaped Hurston’s thinking. The research Hurston conducted with Cudjo was sponsored by Dr. Carter G. Woodson (initially intended for his Journal of Negro History), with half of the $1,400 fellowship funds coming from the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, and with matching funds from Elsie Clews Parson of the American Folklore Society. The October 1927 issue of the Journal ran “Cudjo’s Own Story of the Last African Slaver”, a piece that was heavily based on Emma Langdon Roche’s Historic Sketches of the South (1914). Critics have since struggled to explain why Hurston borrowed so heavily from another author’s work (without sufficient credit) instead of utilizing more of her actual interviews with Cudjo. After this criticism came out, she set out to write a properly documented and more authentic account of Cudjo’s story. A great deal of background that includes historical basis, cultural explanations and all sorts of other useful bits are included in the “Introduction” by Deborah G. Plant. Hurston is very careful throughout the narrative to put direct quotations in Cudjo’s dialect or linguistic style into quotations. Sometimes he uses words in his native language, like “‘Edem etie ukum edem etie upar’”, which refers to a couple of different trees to signify: “‘Partly a free man, partly free’” (15). She describes where Cudjo lived during their interviews, including the “ingenious wooden peg of African invention” he uses to lock his gate (17). Sometimes she recounts the questions she asked, and how he answered, but most of it is a continuous story from Cudjo’s perspective in double-quotes. It must have been extremely difficult for Hurston to record his story with the accurate dialect at the speed he was saying it. Here are some complex lines from this narrative: “‘Den de drums begin to play. De big drum, Kata kumba, de drum dat speaks lak a man, it begins to talk. An’ de man what is insibidi, he begin to dance. Dey lead de murderer out into de center of de square… And as he dance, he watch de eye of de king, an’ de eye of all de chiefs…’” (31). Many writers have attempted to imagine the experience of enslaved African people, but few have gathered first-hand accounts like this one and especially at this intricate level of detail. There are some other slave autobiographies out there, but they are too hyper-edited, so that little of the original voice remains. Instead, this account is extremely respectful to Cudjo’s cultural background and puts readers into his shoes.

Researchers of Zora Neal Hurston, of American and African history and of linguistics will find a rich ground for exploration in this dense book. Hopefully, they will be discussing this newly available content for centuries to come.

How the Container Ship Sunk

Rachel Slade. Into the Raging Sea: Thirty-Three Mariners, One Megastorm, and the Sinking of El Faro. New York: HarperCollins, May 2018. $27.99. ISBN: 978-0-06-269970-1. 400pp.


This book would have been a miracle if Rachel Slade managed to find diaries or CCTV footage with audio of the dramatic twenty-four hours before the El Faro sank on October 1, 2015 in the middle of Hurricane Joaquin headed for the Bermuda Triangle. Sadly, most of the conversations and actions recorded in these pages are based on what Slade images must have happened. It is written as a dramatic reenactment based on “hundreds of exclusive interviews with family members and maritime experts.” The first of these two categories could not have known much about the events from the ship as it could not even be found, so it seems unlikely that relatives could have reached those on board over the phone to learn what was transpiring there in these final hours. Experts definitely should have been able to explain the tragedy, and I would have preferred to read a book on this subject that relies fully on scholarly discussions with such experts. A crew of thirty-three died in this disaster. The mystery this fictionalization attempts to answer is how a ship with “satellite communications, a sophisticated navigation system, and cutting-edge weather forecasting could suddenly vanish.” It might seem fictionalized to me, but perhaps all of the text is evidence-based. Eric Bryson, “the pilot who sailed the El Faro out of the Port of Jacksonville on its final voyage”, according to the Press Herald, wrote to me in response to this review with this correction: “The reviewer states that the dialogue in the book is fictionalized. It is not. It is clear to anyone who read the book that the dialogue is directly quoted from the transcript of the voyage data recorder (black box) that was recovered.” Meanwhile, Slade promises that this book has come up with definitive proof. She is sure the crew were terrified as they “struggled to carry out Captain Michael Davidson’s increasingly bizarre commands, which, they knew, would steer them straight into the eye of the storm.” Slade explains this lunatic trust in mad directions in that these men were suffering from “America’s aging merchant marine fleet,” as well as the shipping industry that has “razor-thin profits” while hurricanes grow stronger due to global warming. I believe that the promise of certainty is very much over-stated. The captain might have held the crew at gun-point to make them go into the storm for all we know. The ship might have been taken over by terrorists. It could have been an insurance scam, wherein the crew sunk the ship and retired on some island to recuperate the insurance money for the loss of their lives and vessel. Slade explains that there were transcripts discovered of what the crew were saying in these last twenty-four hours. Such evidence should have been the only evidence presented in dialogue between characters or as quotes from those on the ship. One of the conversations Slade recounts is with the parents of Rich, one of the youths that died in this incident. She describes his room, and the sadness felt by his parents (349). In the “Epilogue”, Slade mentions a problem that seems obvious to me: “The cargo insurers, however, relentlessly searched for ways to get their money back. In the spring of 2017, they launched a $7 million lawsuit against StormGeo… Lawyers representing the cargo insurers argued that the BVS software provided ‘outdated and erroneous’ data about the hurricane’s path, which led Davidson to his fateful decisions” (357). It’s not an awful account, but the back cover builds it up to be the grandest shipwreck non-fiction mystery solution ever written. If you are looking for a relatively laid-back read that is more fiction than fact, then you will enjoy this book. There is some truth, and there are some revelations about the shipping industry here, but a researcher cannot rely on these speculations as if they are facts.

Christian Propaganda from a Swedish Congregation Leader

Annahita Parsan with Craig Borlase. Stranger No More: A Muslim Refugee’s Story of Harrowing Escape, Miraculous Rescue, and the Quiet Call of Jesus. New York: Nelson Books: Thomas Nelson: HarperCollins Publishers, 2017. $22.99. ISBN: 978-0-7180-9571-0. 269pp.


I do not know how this book came to me. I definitely did not request a book about a Muslim refugee’s joyful conversion to Christianity. All religious books disturb me. This one is particularly troubling. The author of this memoir is Annahita Parsan, born into a Muslim Iranian family. She married and became a mother before turning eighteen. Then, she became a widow and entered an abusive second marriage. She fled from this marriage by converting to Christianity. She describes not only her marriage but also the Muslim faith as “oppressive”. This is culturally troubling, as all religions are innately oppressive to anybody outside of them, while for believers they appear to be liberating. Annahita had to spend months in prison before escaping to Europe: only then did she discover her faith in Jesus. Obviously, she had to claim she was Christian in order to remain as a legal refugee, and to receive other aid she would not have been afforded if she related the same story, but kept her Muslim faith. The book circumvents these realities, focusing instead on “the quietly constant voice of Jesus…” The details that would have been more interesting is how this foreigner managed to climb up to become a leader of two congregations in Sweden; but one explanation is that she has led the conversion of hundreds of Muslims to Christianity through her congregations. The book is co-written by Craig Borlase, a bestselling British author, and this story does have a strong stamp of fiction as most theology must. One of the oppressive things she suffers from her second husband is that she purchases an elegant and expensive piano (despite not being able to play it), and her “drunk” husband dares to give it away to somebody in need (167-8). Hah? This is like a backwards “giveth to the poor” tale… The giver is the evil villain? She explains that she was imprisoned for “‘leaving the country without authorization” and “falsely obtaining a passport” (227). How is immigration fraud heroic? Before this moment, she even considers going back as a positive step that might better her condition, so clearly there was no dire need for her to flee her country (only perhaps her piano-donating husband). She only becomes convinced that she should be baptized in the last few pages of the book (235). And for all of these reasons, this is a disturbing and frightening book about abstract fictions that excuse all types of evils while enriching the storyteller.

Why Did the Soldier Rob the Bank?

Ben Blum. Ranger Games: A Story of Soldiers, Family and an Inexplicable Crime. New York: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, September 12, 2017. $28.95. ISBN: 978-0-385-53843-5. 432pp.


The account of the life of Alex Blum, a Colorado high school hockey player who survived the difficult U.S. Army Ranger training course and was going to depart on the next day to fight terrorists in Iraq when, instead, he “got into his car with two fellow soldiers and two strangers, drove to a local bank in Tacoma, and committed armed robbery.” Alex’s story is described by his first cousin, Ben Blum. In addition to the facts, Ben attempts to give his family an answer as to why Alex strayed into criminality when he did not need the money. “At first, Alex insisted he thought the robbery was just another exercise in the famously daunting Ranger training program. With the help of a world-renowned psychologist, his attorney presented a case based on the theory that the Ranger indoctrination mirrored that of a cult. Or was it the influence of the soldier who planned the robbery, Alex’s superior, Luke Elliott Sommer, a charismatic combat veteran…?” The book opens with “The Ranger Creed” or its doctrines. There are some unique formatting stylistics here, like text messages that are written in new paragraphs with small (instead of capital letters) at the start of the lines (to mimic how the texts were originally written) (314-5). The details in this book are explained as Alex having confessed to Ben Blum, thus allowing for a memoir-style elaborate account of everything that led up to the crime, the deed, and what followed. It kind of feels as if Alex himself wrote this book and it was edited by Ben, or the two wrote it together and were helped by a very demanding editor from Knopf. Though a good portion of the story is explained from the perspective of the Blum family or from Ben’s point of view as he sits through the trial, visits a prison, or interacts with Alex during his probation. One of the reasons Ben explains caused him to be personally involved in this case is that the police stopped his car in what he assumed was a carjacking and started arresting him, before they figured out that he was Ben and not Alex Blum (106-7). Meanwhile, there are too many digressions in this book like when Ben writes: “I finally got a job in New York designing routing and scheduling algorithms for a green transit startup” (253). In fact, the bulk of the explanation for the robbery comes in a few chapters at the end of the book. There are some interesting relevant descriptions interspersed through the book like this one: “Privates Blum, Ryniec, and Martin clicked awake like soldiers, with none of that shell-shocked fog that clung in your brain during the Ranger Indoctrination Program, when all the late-night wake-ups by sergeants screaming at you for your latest failures wore the edge off the self you recognized…” (63).

This is not a defense of Alex’s actions, neither is it a condemnation. It kind of blames the FBI and police for overreacting, but not really. It sort of explains the cult-mentality in the army, but not as much as a researcher would hope it would. If you don’t mind digressions, confusion, uncertainty, abstraction, absurdity, and a general sense of bewilderment, you would enjoy casually reading this book. Psychiatrists trying to understand the minds of soldiers and robbers would probably drive themselves mad searching for clues in these pages.

Random Flights Across Tiny American Towns

James Fallows and Deborah Fallows. Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America. New York: Pantheon Books, May 2018. $28.95: Hardcover. ISBN: 978-1-101-87184-3. 432pp.


What a strange note on which to end this set of reviews. The title is confusing. I drive from Los Angeles to New York City takes around 2,800 miles. To drive 100,000 miles, a car would have to go back and force across the country over 35 times. The authors, husband and wife, James and Deborah Fallows, took a private, small plane on this journey. Jim was the pilot. On each trip they took around America, they “landed in dozens of towns and cities” to interview locals, to gather stories about their progress, and to describe these obscure locations. Even if flying is less time-consuming than driving, why would anybody want to cross America so many times, stopping in places without particular historical significance, without known museums, without opera houses, and generally without much of anything to see? If they wanted to see the details of life in America, wouldn’t a drive through these places be more intimate than flying overhead and only stopping at a few random places? I have made the trip from coast-to-coast across American several times myself (in a car), and I’ve recently moved into a tiny town (Quanah, Texas). So I’m closely familiar with these types of random places. When I’ve tried to write about them, I focus on agrarianism, farming, the environment, or local culture. This book attempts something like this, covering a series of random topics of interest to the authors. In Eastport, Maine, Deborah (signified by the image of an ink pen at the start of the section, while James’ sections start with the image of a plane) describes the Women of the Commons, a women-only venture that is attempting to empower women and local artists, who make “traditional woven baskets, burl bowls, jewelry, photographs, note cards, paintings, hand-knit sweaters” and the like (75). Meanwhile, James is more interested in describing “a failure of the spark plug on cylinder number three” that had to be repaired (230). Later on, Deborah describes the founders of a K-8 charter school, Kepler Neighborhood School, and the challenges they overcame to start it (295). Elsewhere, Deborah describes the view from the plane and then switches to talking about a college friend, Phil Aaberg, a native of the town he inspired them to visit, and a pianist and composer “with a collection of awards” (343). There are a couple of chapters at the end where they attempt to summarize “What We Saw and What We Learned” and “The Big Themes”. The latter, draws a few conclusions about small American towns in general, or that they don’t have divisive politics, “people know the civic story”, “they have downtowns”, “they are near a research university”, “they have, and care about, a community college”, “they have unusual schools”, “they make themselves open”, and “they have big plans” (402-7). The need for this couple to go all over the place without a logical destination is explained partly by their biographies. James is a national correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly, which requires him to travel around the U.S. and abroad in search for stories. Deborah is a linguist, so she has a passion for local cultures, languages and other particularities. While it’s wonderful that this couple got to travel across America and found a publisher for this eclectic book… why do I have to read through this chaos? I hope this review will stop readers from attempting this mountainous climb. It’s wonderfully written, but it’s a continuous digression into whatever these two feel like talking about. The reader feels as if they are taken on this 100,000-mile journey with them, and they are not being paid to cover stories about the local culture and whatnot – so they’re basically dragging along in the back and screaming: “Are we there yet?” Only to hear the strange response: “There? Who needs a destination. We’re on a journey without end!”


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