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Letting Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors: A Workbook of Hope and Healing

Lisa Ferentz. Routledge, $165 (288p) ISBN 978-1-138-80077-9

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Targeted at adolescents and adults struggling with severe behaviors—eating disorders, substance abuse, self-harm—this workbook is a valuable resource. “The healing journey often begins with... courage and curiosity” clinical social worker Ferentz explains, inviting readers to start by discovering the “why” of their behaviors. From the outset, she warns that this journey is best taken with a trained mental-health professional’s support. Each set of exercises—which include journaling and drawing therapy—is accompanied by anonymous testimony about significant negative life experiences from a diverse group of respondents, ranging in age from 11 to 63. As this well-organized book progresses, the brief quotations become more positive, reflecting the speakers’ increasing nearness to recovery. By its end, Ferentz has laid out a clear script to help people “reframe the experience” at the root of problem behavior. For anyone struggling to recover from a traumatic event, Ferentz offers a consistently compassionate and encouraging voice. Her approach, the multitude of exercises, and the accompanying professional expertise all contribute to making this a valuable recovery tool.

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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God, Guns, Grits, and Gravy

Mike Huckabee. St. Martin’s, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-06099-0

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Anyone who has enjoyed any of the previous books by Huckabee—former governor, one-time presidential candidate, and Fox News host—will be more than satisfied with this examination of the differences between “Bubbleville” (New York, L.A., and D.C.) and “Bubbaville” (the rest of America). In clichéd prose, he describes New York as “not completely Sodom and Gomorrah” and himself as “a catfish and corn bread kind of guy, not a caviar and crab salad connoisseur.” Huckabee offers a laundry list of grievances and discusses his stances on guns, religion, gay marriage, Obama, and Hollywood: he believes that American Christians are “cultural lepers,” marriage “is not merely a secular institution,” the IRS “is a criminal enterprise,” reality TV’s Duck Dynasty and Jim Bob Duggar “reflect all that is good and decent about family,” and poverty relief is “about perpetuating government programs.” Huckabee’s leavens his musings on the state of the union with a sense of humor (“I prefer boots over Birkenstocks. Does that make me weird?”) that makes him enjoyable to read. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World

Naomi S. Baron. Oxford Univ, $24.95 (272p) ISBN 978-0-19-931576-5

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The solidity of the printed word disappears when transferred to the computer screen, with consequences both cultural and cognitive, according to this probing study of e-reading. American University linguistics professor Baron (Always On: Language in an Online and Mobile World) surveys the history and brain science of reading, drawing on her own research into college students’ reading experiences to explore the effects of reading off of Kindles, laptops, and cell phones. These technologies, she argues, have spawned habits of shallow skimming, distracted multitasking, and quick forgetting rather than the deep, focused attention and analysis we accord to printed books; the result is a new paradigm of literacy “in which length and complexity and annotation and memory and rereading and, especially, concentration are proving more challenging.” That’s the bad news; the good news, she notes, is that ordinary readers maintain a healthy preference for paper and ink and are pushing back against the onscreen-reading bandwagon. Baron’s breezy prose—written in brief, pithy sections, a structure that owes much to online conventions—packs much erudition into a lucid, engaging style. Among the many death-of-the-book jeremiads, her case for the ongoing relevance of the printed page stands out for its clarity and common sense. Photos. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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White Magic: The Age of Paper

Lothar Müller, trans. from the German by Jessica Spengler. Polity (Wiley, dist.), $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-7456-7253-3

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Müller, an honorary professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin, has written a history of paper that makes for an incredibly rich and thought-provoking reading experience—for those who have the dedication and determination to get through it. The author tracks paper’s development from China through the Arab world and into Europe, examining both its development as a product and its diffusion, in a multitude of forms, into Western society. Eschewing a comparison between the “Gutenberg era” (the age of the printing press) and our digital era, Müller instead looks at paper itself in order to evaluate today’s shift toward digitization. We also live not just in the Gutenberg era, but the broader “Paper Age,” and Müller concludes that this age is not over yet. He supports historical facts with close literary analyses of works by writers such as Cervantes, James Joyce, and Paul Valéry. By nature, this book elevates the reading experience, bringing the physical sheets of paper to the forefront of the reader’s consideration. Although the term white magic is not an explicit theme of the book, the title feels appropriate; the academic tone and density of the text may put off most non-scholarly readers, but Müller’s work leaves the reader admiring something that feels magical. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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This Idea Must Die: Scientific Theories that Are Blocking Progress

Edited by John Brockman. Harper Perennial, $15.99 trade paper (592p) ISBN 978-0-06-237434-9

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Brockman (What Should We Be Worried About?), founder of the Edge Foundation, has compiled a series of humorous and thought-provoking short essays from a wide array of scientists, science writers, and assorted academics. Several essays deal with concepts that aren’t fully understood, even by experts; string theory, for instance, is addressed in several sections, each from a slightly different angle. More philosophical topics receive consideration as well, such as free will, nature vs. nurture, and the difference between the brain and the mind (if there is one). Even economics is included. Some topics, like the lament over the term rocket scientist or the problem with artificial intelligence, are arguments about definitions, while other discussions contemplate the morality of certain practices in science. One fascinating result of having several authors address the same topic is seeing firsthand the ways experts disagree with one another. A common thread throughout is the reminder that science and its practitioners do not exist in a vacuum: those who work in areas that many consider esoteric still fight traffic and worry about what their work will do to make the world better. Brockman succeeds in presenting scientific work that will appeal to a variety of readers, no matter their background. Agent: Max Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tales from Both Sides of the Brain: A Life in Neuroscience

Michael S. Gazzaniga. Ecco, $28.99 (432p) ISBN 978-0-06-222880-2

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Gazzaniga (Who’s in Charge?), who helped develop the left-right theory of the brain, tells a winding tale of a life lived in science and the joys of bringing science to the public. Gazzaniga’s work on the “split brain” case studies spanned decades, universities, and medical schools, but as he makes clear, there’s much more to a life than the pursuit of science as a career. Outside his research, Gazzaniga kept busy by organizing public debates featuring William F. Buckley Jr. and others, which led Buckley to invite him on Firing Line and to write pieces for National Review, including a spoof of the Pentagon Papers. But the substance of his work with patients is also covered in exhaustive detail that conveys how science is made: “slowly, with lots of people contributing.” Less successfully, episodes from Gazzaniga’s personal life—marriages, burials, new houses, job searches—are also included. Perhaps these show the contours of an academic life, but they read drily. Gazzaniga’s book is of great interest to those embarking on careers in pure research, and to anyone intrigued by the story of one of the greatest discoveries in cognition. Agent: John Brockman, Brockman Inc. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Sleepwalking into a New World: The Emergence of Italian City Communes in the Twelfth Century

Chris Wickham. Princeton Univ, $29.95 (296p) ISBN 978-0-691-14828-1

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Using Milan, Pisa, and Rome as his focus, Oxford medieval historian Wickham (The Inheritance of Rome) explores the evolution and role of non-monarchal consuls, or “urban rulers,” and the elite families that exerted judicial and economic control, sometimes to the detriment of the long-established aristocracy. Far from being intentional, the rise of autonomous city-states throughout Italy inadvertently created the consul-ruled commune governments that followed the collapse of the Kingdom of Italy in the mid-12th century, paving the way for more flexible class structures and widespread innovation that led to the Italian Renaissance. While the three primary cities shared a similar governing system and elevated certain able families to leadership, bureaucratic adjustments, such as the differing number of consuls in each city, allowed for each to develop a nimble and unique government. Ideal for readers familiar with medieval history, Wickham’s expert analysis and meticulous academic approach build on previous, limited examinations and substantial documentation to turn established research on its head, as he presents a fresh look into how communes in the mid-12th century successfully prepared Italian power structures for the cultural significance they would later have. It is a well-written monograph, but it is best for those really interested in the era and Italian government. Maps. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Scientist in Wonderland: A Memoir of Searching for Truth and Finding Trouble

Edzard Ernst. Imprint Academic (Ingram, dist.), $29.90 (200p) ISBN 978-1-84540-777-3

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Ernst, the former chair of the department of complementary medicine at England’s University of Exeter, documents his transition from a rebellious young musician into an esteemed doctor, writer, alternative-medicine researcher, and academic with meticulous, though stolid, detail in this memoir of a remarkable medical and academic life. From his time as a medical student through his first job at a Munich homeopathic hospital—where he learned the “incredible power” of the placebo effect—to a brief stint working at a psychiatric hospital in England, Ernst’s trajectory propels him to the heights of academia: he became a professor in rehabilitation medicine in Hannover by age 40 and, in short order, chairman of rehabilitation medicine at the vaunted Vienna Medical School. Now an alternative-medicine skeptic, Ernst excoriates Prince Charles in a long chapter on the royal’s affinity for alternative therapies; this portion may surprise Americans, but it’s a measured, if biting, critique. Yet what stands out is Ernst’s extraordinary research at Exeter and how alternative practitioners have rejected his scientific approach. His stated “mission impossible” to “shine the cool, dispassionate light of reason on to the whole topic of alternative medicine” is exhilarating in both scope and impact, and this should be a must-read for practitioners and patients. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Operation Gladio: The Unholy Alliance Between the Vatican, the CIA, and the Mafia

Paul L. Williams. Prometheus Books, $24 (305p) ISBN 978-1-61614-974-1

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Williams (Crescent Moon Rising: The Islamic Transformation of America) struggles to convince readers of the many of the conspiracies presented in his book, such as the improbable claim that “the Vatican played a key role in the emergence of the cocaine trade by offering the drug cartels its money-laundering service in exchange for stiff fees.” But not many readers are likely to be persuaded by his blend of hyperbole and innuendo. For example, Williams exaggerates in claiming that the “only” regime to create “a state of fear approximating that of Argentina [in the late 1970s] was Hitler’s Germany.” He condemns those with deposits in a CIA-backed bank in the Bahamas, including Creedence Clearwater Revival—without producing any evidence that the band was, or should have been, aware of the bank’s role in laundering money. Williams also doesn’t always connect the dots he feels should be connected; he notes, for example, the claims that ex-CIA agents were present when Pope John Paul II was shot, without explaining why their presence would make any sense, even if they were a party to a conspiracy. The book, as a result, is an unconvincing account of over half a century of megaconspiracies. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Line in the Tar Sands: Struggles for Environmental Justice

Toban Black, Stephen D’Arcy, Tony Weis, and Joshua Kahn Russell. PM Press (IPG, dist.), $24.95 (384p) ISBN 978-1-62963-039-7

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Academics, environmental scientists, and climate-change activists from across North America rail against the extraction of tar sands in Alberta, Canada, and controversial developments such as the Keystone XL pipeline, in this collection of pointed essays. It’s a fight that Naomi Klein and Bill McKibben here call one of “the epic environmental and social justice battles of our time,” and the variety of perspectives gives the collection comprehensive insight and broad appeal. The book’s tone is intense and emphatic. Extracting tar sands from the Athabasca River Basin in western Canada, the authors say, destroys the environment, affecting huge portions of boreal forest and numerous animal habitats. The essays also make clear how extraction practices have the potential to create an ecological wasteland reminiscent of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Mordor, threatening “the homelands of Cree, Dene, and Metis peoples.” Similarly, transporting crude oil to faraway refineries through a network of pipelines also poses significant health risks: local communities see elevated rates of cancers and respiratory illnesses due to air-quality issues and water contamination. Though these sorts of projections seem stark, apocalyptic, and stomach-turning, the worries are legitimate and give this volume substance and urgency. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 12/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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