By Kate Lunau - Thursday, March 22, 2012 - 0 Comments
Book by Neil deGrasse Tyson
Appearing on The Daily Show to promote his latest book, astrophysicist Tyson politely informed Jon Stewart that the image of Earth that appears at the opening of his show “is spinning in the wrong direction.” It was a great line from the director of the American Museum of Natural History’s Hayden Planetarium, who isn’t shy about speaking his mind—especially about the need to reinvigorate the U.S. space program, his impassioned plea in Space Chronicles.
After decades of being the world superpower in space, NASA’s influence is faltering, while nations like China quickly catch up. As Tyson reminds us, humans first set foot on the moon in 1969 and, after five more manned landings, haven’t been back since 1972. While other technologies from the sixties seem ridiculously outdated now, he writes, when it comes to space travel we “haven’t surpassed the Saturn V,” the rocket that enabled every Apollo mission to the moon during those years. This despite the fact that people once expected we’d have moon bases and Mars colonies by the 1990s—an idea that’s still science fiction today.
People complain that space missions are too expensive, an argument that Tyson is fond of dismantling. When asked to justify the $3.3-billion price tag of the Cassini mission to Saturn and its moons, Tyson points out that it’s a 12-year mission, so the real price tag is under $300 million per year. “Americans spend more than that on lip balm.”
By Patricia Treble - Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 6:05 PM - 0 Comments
Book by Helen Rappaport
Queen Victoria’s world stopped on Dec. 14, 1861, when her husband, Albert, died. She mourned her beloved until her own death in 1901. Yet paradoxically, in this new analysis of Victoria, she stands revealed as an emotionally needy woman whose obstinate character pushed her overworked spouse into exhaustion. He died, Rappaport persuasively argues, not from typhoid, the official cause of death, but from an attack of Crohn’s disease brought on by unrelenting stress.
Victoria had always been fascinated by death. She grieved intently and revelled in the arcane rules of mourning, which could continue for up to a year, depending on a person’s relationship to the deceased. In 1855, during the slaughter of the Crimean War, she even ordered mourning for the Russian czar, whose army was fighting hers. In the year of Albert’s death, she invoked it seven times.
Beyond just an intimate look at Albert’s death, Rappaport’s book is also a devastating critique of how Victoria’s already unhealthy interest in death escalated into an obsession so all-consuming that it threatened the monarchy itself. Everything else was an afterthought, including her nine fatherless children. She hid away from the public, pleading ill health as an excuse to avoid her constitutional duties. As Britons realized this mourning period would never end, criticism spread. “It is impossible for a recluse to occupy the British throne,” the Times thundered in 1864. The Queen had to return to public life and could not “postpone [her duties] longer to the indulgence of an unavailing grief.”
By Michael Petrou - Thursday, March 22, 2012 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
Book by Kenneth S. Broun
In 1964, Nelson Mandela, facing the capital charge of sabotage in a Pretoria court, stood to address the judge who would decide his fate. Over the next five hours, Mandela did not deny the most serious charges against him but tried to explain why his actions were necessary. Nearing the end of his speech, Mandela put down his notes and spoke from memory:
“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for, and see realized. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Mandela did not die. Based on the evidence against him, and on South African legal precedent, he easily could have hanged. Indeed, Mandela prepared a statement to read when his death sentence was announced. Instead, he was sentenced, along with seven of his 10 co-defendants, to life in prison. He therefore survived to guide his country out of apartheid’s darkness and into a much more hopeful future.
By Chris Sorensen - Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 6:25 PM - 0 Comments
Book by Adam Lashinsky
In the five months since his death, much ink has been spilled on the subject of Apple Inc. co-founder Steve Jobs and his contributions to the digital age. But far less is known about the future of his secretive company. Lashinsky, an editor-at-large for Fortune magazine, takes a stab at answering what has become a US$500 billion question—that’s what Apple’s market capitalization has just passed. He argues that, just as Jobs was a unique figure, Apple is an incredibly unusual company, even by Silicon Valley standards. It was the combination of the two that allowed Apple to seemingly defy the normal rules of business.
For one thing, Apple is not set up like a normal large corporation. “You know how many committees we have at Apple? Zero,” Jobs said during a 2010 interview. “We are organized like a startup.” In fact, the entire operation is overseen by a small group of key people, all of whom report directly to the CEO. This non-hierarchical structure kept Jobs—and now presumably keeps his replacement, former COO Tim Cook—involved in granular decisions about Apple’s relatively small number of products, everything from button design to packaging. Another neat Apple trick is to physically segregate employees from one another to create the illusion that they work for a much smaller operation.
It all led to some interesting paradoxes, according to Lashinsky. Apple is the world’s most valuable company, but consumers view it as an underdog. Its products are fun and whimsical, but are made by people with a reputation of being all work and no play. But as long as Jobs and his “reality distortion field” was around, nobody saw how the sausage got made. “Now that the curtain has been pulled back a little, we can see that real men and women are working furiously to keep things in motion,” Lashinsky writes, adding that the end result may be Apple’s transformation from an “insanely great” company to one that is merely “great.”
REVIEW: The Lady in Gold: The Extraordinary Tale of Gustav Klimt’s Masterpiece, Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer
By Joanne Latimer - Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 6:20 PM - 0 Comments
Book by Anne-Marie O’Connor
A Viennese beauty gets her portrait painted by Klimt and sets the wheels in motion for a 100-year saga involving sex, genocide, betrayal, a landmark legal battle and millions of dollars. The Lady in Gold is the harrowing account of that painting’s fate. O’Connor takes readers from the belle époque salons of old Vienna, where Adele Bloch-Bauer reigned as an assimilated Jewish matron (and probable mistress of Klimt), to the art museums of Vienna in 2006. Along the way, the painting was stolen, hidden, renamed and consigned to a shadowy bunker by art administrators first acting on behalf of the Nazis, then the postwar regime.
Klimt’s work had fallen out of favour with Hitler, yet his paintings were still among the thousands of confiscated pieces of artwork the government considered state patrimony. In its day, the 1903 portrait of Adele was worthless, but it became something very different after the war: a symbol of Austria’s refusal to make amends for its large role in the Holocaust. If there are any Holocaust deniers left, they will be hard pressed to explain away this scathing indictment of Austria’s eager Nazi collaboration. Most shocking are the author’s interviews with unreconstructed bigots. Restitution claims, they say, have gone too far. One blames the Jews for not getting out of Austria before the Anschluss. Maria Altmann, Adele’s 80-year-old niece, thought otherwise and started a six-year legal battle to get the portrait back.
Cataloguing the Bloch-Bauer family tragedies, O’Connor gives each of her subjects a dignified historical airing. She is merciless when exposing the postwar bureaucrats who blocked art restitution claims. Adele’s relatives got their painting back, then sold it at auction for $135 million. The family was criticized in some circles for not donating it to a museum. To those critics, this reader holds out her copy of The Lady in Gold, saying, “Read this and reconsider.”
By Brian D. Johnson - Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 6:05 PM - 0 Comments
Book by Geoff Dyer
Any writer reading Zona, especially a film critic, will likely be stricken with envy. British writer Dyer has done the authorial equivalent of getting away with murder: he’s devoted an entire book to a rambling essay on a somewhat obscure Russian art film, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979). To summarize Stalker in a sentence, rather than 228 pages, it’s a metaphysical journey about three men in a bar (Stalker, Writer, Professor) who travel through a postwar wasteland of rusting artillery into a puddled wilderness called the Zone, and more specifically the Room, a grail-like gulag where all one’s wishes come true.
The film left a radioactive imprint on Dyer’s psyche—eventually he lets drop that around the time he encountered it, he was ingesting a lot of LSD and magic mushrooms, while immersing himself in cinema. Dyer conducts a shot-by-shot tour of Stalker, but Zona is not some microscopic act of cinephilia. He doesn’t revere the film. Instead, he marvels at it, argues with it, makes fun of it—and basically uses it as a daydream machine to launch flights of digression and memoir. As footnotes start crowding out the text, Dyer’s tangents skip from Kafka and Wordsworth to Bergman and Tarantino, from his love for quicksand to the aesthetics of Chernobyl, from his wife’s resemblance to Natascha McElhone to his unfulfilled desire for a threesome. A rotary phone rings in the film and prompts an aside on the evolutionary decline of the index finger and the ascendancy of the texting thumb.
It’s all great fun, and astute in the bargain. Like a literary love child of Pauline Kael and Henry Miller, Dyer strays from his subject with guiltless delinquency, but never loses sight of it. As he sifts through Stalker’s archaeological layers, puzzling over the point of the movie—and his book—he concludes: “If someone will deign to publish this summary of a film that few people will have seen, that will constitute a success far greater than anything John Grisham could ever have dreamed of.” Immodest but true.
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, March 15, 2012 at 6:00 PM - 0 Comments
Book by Gary Weiss
For anyone who remembers Ayn Rand (1905 to 1982)—the founder of objectivism and prophet of unfettered capitalism—only from her late 1950s days of glory to her relegation to the intellectual sidelines a decade later, Weiss offers a book full of surprises. Rand’s works actually sell like frozen peas, especially her two famous novels, The Fountainhead (1943) and Atlas Shrugged (1957): polls show that about a third of Americans claim to have read the latter. But The Virtue of Selfishness (1964)—Randian dogma demands, inter alia, that social welfare programs like Medicare and indeed the government itself (except for policing) be abolished—and other non-fiction tomes are also selling briskly.
Aside from Rand’s overall resurgence, part of a rise of libertarian thinking in the U.S. (and Canada), there is her particular appeal to the Tea Party: she’s “as much a part of the Tea Party’s soul as Ronald Reagan, Glenn Beck, and Jesus Christ,” according to the alarmed Weiss, a leftist financial journalist. And that’s certainly surprising, because Tea Partiers are overwhelming religious, while Rand’s atheism is strident enough to make Christopher Hitchens’ assault on Mother Teresa look tepid. Then there’s the disproportionately Canadian presence among her chief acolytes, especially during Rand’s lifetime, some of whom later became objectivism’s chief heretics.
But nothing’s more surprising than the way Weiss occasionally finds himself in kind of, sort of, oh-my-God-she’s-right agreement with Rand. He does emerge with his core principles intact: a Randian U.S.“would resemble the lands from which our ancestors emigrated.” But he recognizes the root of her appeal: preaching rugged individualism taps into deeply held American values and so too does the way Rand’s adherents make moral arguments, declaring policies right or wrong rather than prudent or reckless. That’s what Weiss wants his side to do: not ignore “the godmother of the Tea Party” or argue about practicalities, but take its own moral stance, based on its own reading of American tradition.
By Martin Patriquin - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 1:16 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Adrian Humphreys
You’d think Marvin Elkind would have wound up in a ditch, barely a footnote in the bloody history of the Mob in Canada. A pudgy, pugilistic Jew with a self-described “big, fat, round kisser” and a wicked tongue, Elkind graduated from reform school punk to loan shark henchman to waiter at New York’s famed Copacabana where, thanks to his dependability, he quickly endeared himself to Jimmy Hoffa. A decent boxer, he took a dive for Meyer Lansky. He became a driver for Montreal don Vic Cotroni. Elkind was forever on the outer edges of organized criminality, big enough to have a job but small enough to forget. The perfect snitch, in other words.
The Weasel—the title comes from the nickname boxer George Chuvalo gave him—documents Elkind’s 20-year career as a professional tattler for the OPP, the RCMP and the FBI, among many others. The breadth of his scores are jaw-dropping; working with his trusted OPP handler, Elkind infiltrated dozens of phony cheque schemes, weapons deals, pornography rings and murder-for-hire plots. He is the reason a planned coup d’état in Ghana in 1987 never materialized, and a group of Libyan terrorists could never make good on their plans to attack Israel. And once the cops swooped in, Elkind would quietly ease back in with the bad guys.
The beauty of The Weasel is in the parsing of Elkind’s motivation to betray those who trusted him most. Elkind says he always did it for the money—he could hardly hang on to the stuff—but journalist and crime writer Humphreys makes the case that the Mob was an extension of Elkind’s disdainful stepfather, an abusive foster mother, and her son who took advantage of him. Like his own family, the Mob never trusted Elkind enough to be anything more than an errand boy—and Elkind made sure everyone paid for this conceit. The Weasel is a delicious, delightful and dirty read about a guy who should have been dead a long time ago.
REVIEW: Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now— As Told By Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long For It
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 1:14 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Craig Taylor
The eccentric cast of characters Taylor assembles from among the eight million inhabitants of the Anglosphere’s great metropolis would—for the most part—happily echo Samuel Johnson’s celebrated declaration that, “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford.” Sometimes, anyway. At other moments every one of them would retort, in the words of another famous Londoner, “Bah, humbug!” That’s precisely the point the author, a transplanted Canadian who is now an entrenched Londoner, wants to make in his vivid portrait of the 21st-century city.
There are 83 interviews here, with people as varied as an airline pilot distinguished by his rare ability to literally see the city as a whole, a proper black-cab driver (naturally) and a Wiccan priestess. Taylor’s skill at inducing his fellow Londoners to actually tell him what’s on their minds is evident, but it’s helped in no small measure by the fact that London is clearly what is often on Londoners’ minds.
A nightclub bouncer revels in its “purple-pinky” light at summer dawns; a street photographer worries the late-to-arrive high-rises are stealing that same light. Almost everyone is concerned with what recent years of riots— both economic and physical—have done to their town. A sour antique restorer thinks the city’s slogan should be, “London: It just gets worse.” A former inhabitant, who fled for rural England, considers London a nest of “Asperger’s people.” But for every one like them there’s another like Ethel Hardy, an East End pensioner who wasn’t at all surprised that two young Asian men sat with her, holding her hand after she fell, until paramedics arrived. Forget Johnson and Dickens—Taylor may have found the most apt summation of his city in the words of a Thames River boatman: “If there is just one London, I have two arses.”
By Anne Kingston - Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 8:05 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Lionel Shriver
Edgar Kellogg is a thirtysomething former prep-schooled fat kid who never lost his ambition to be “The Man.” When the reader meets the protagonist of Lionel Shriver’s satiric novel, he’s embarking on a financially suicidal reinvention: from well-paid, bored Wall Street lawyer to freelance foreign correspondent for a second-rate rag. His first assignment is in the fictional Portuguese peninsula of Barba, where he’s filling the big shoes of Barrington Saddler, a British journo of legendary reputation who has suddenly gone missing.
The only reason the world cares about Barba, a backwater awash in odiferous prickly pears, is that its homegrown terrorist group, the Os Soldados Ousados de Barba (“The Daring Soldiers of Barba”), or SOBs, is gaining infamy for blowing up stuff internationally, ostensibly to separate from Portugal. Kellogg takes occupancy of Saddler’s grandiose house—and, slowly, his life. As he settles into the viperous nest of foreign correspondents, he sets his sights on the lovely but married Nicola Tremaine who, like everyone else in the godforsaken hellhole, remains in Saddler’s mythical thrall. Soon that includes Kellogg, for whom Saddler’s ghost provokes a chain of events that thrusts him often absurdly into the heart of international terrorism.
To say more would reveal too much of Shriver’s clever plot, which twists and turns nicely, if languidly, around vivid scenes (including a memorable masturbation tableau) and wry observations about love, hero-worship and journalistic delusions. A picaresque novel about terrorism is a bold gambit, one Shriver carries off ably, even if the characterizations occasionally seem arch. Shriver’s avid fanbase should know this is not a new novel: she wrote The New Republic in 1998 but couldn’t summon publisher interest in a comic novel about terrorism until her first big success, We Need to Talk About Kevin, in 2003. But by then, post-9/11 sensitivities had intervened, which is why it hasn’t been published until now. Some will still say, “Too soon.” They likely wouldn’t have enjoyed the delightfully dark romp anyway.
By Patricia Dawn Robertson - Thursday, March 8, 2012 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Ali Wentworth
Move over Tiny Fey. There’s a new gal on the block and her book is funnier than Bossypants. Comedian Ali Wentworth never lets her prep school pedigree get in the way of a good joke, which explains the against-type casting of the Candice Bergen-esque blond in the edgy sketch comedy show In Living Color for two seasons.
Most pampered women Wentworth’s age—she’s 47—are consumed with preserving their dignity, but not Ali. She seems intent on self-destructively deconstructing her WASP heritage with a zeal familiar to fans of novelist John Irving. Married to politico and journalist George Stephanopoulos, Wentworth is a caustic combination of a K Street insider and Lucille Ball.
Young Ali’s misadventures at boarding school stand out in this collection. She lampoons the prison-like atmosphere of these storage units for hands-off parents. Here’s what she says about one classmate’s mother and father: “Her parents seemed nice enough, for elitist drunks who drove around in golf carts in Gilligan hats.” Another classmate is portrayed as the “latent lesbian who always wanted to brush people’s hair and could tell fortunes by reading belly buttons.” I’m guessing Wentworth will be absent from the next class reunion.
“I don’t even take Sudafed for fear I might stab an ex-therapist,” writes Wentworth in a preamble to her recalling her one and only bad trip when she gets really high on cocaine as a student and nerdily hops a plane home. “The plane ride was endless. The stewardess looked concerned, kept asking me if I was okay and if I needed water. I was licking my lips like a puppy who’d been fed peanut butter.” Ali in Wonderland is a must-read for Gen-X Judy Blume readers who charged snacks on their parents’ golf club tabs, favoured Laura Ashley skirts and kept Bonne Bell lip smackers in their Roots purses.
By Dafna Izenberg - Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 8:15 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Ross Raisin
Raisin’s second novel opens along the River Clyde, where the death of shipbuilding in the 1970s left many Glaswegian families adrift. Riveters, caulkers, welders, platers—men whose trades were embedded in their bones—were suddenly without work. Worse, many had plaque in their lungs after years of exposure to asbestos. Sometimes this brought on mesothelioma, a deadly cancer. And sometimes the cancer struck their wives, who also breathed in a daily dose of the stuff, rolling it out of turned-up trouser legs before doing the wash.
That’s what happened to Cathy, Mick Little’s wife. After she dies, Mick sleeps on the floor next to their bed and peers listlessly at old photographs, wondering if the disease had already taken hold when Cathy was just a new mom, tanned and hopeful as she smiled up from her gardening. Soon, Mick takes to the shed in the backyard, reading old newspapers and hiding from the memories in the house. He can’t bear to reach out to his sons and dreads the pitying looks of his co-workers at the taxi garage. Out of money, Mick hocks some of Cathy’s jewellery and gets on a bus for London. He is all alone and terrified, but somehow, right now, that’s as close to comfort as he can get.
Raisin works magic with bleak and disturbing material. His first novel, Out Backward, exquisitely captured the voice—endearing, quirky, ultimately frightening—of a dangerous young delinquent. Waterline chronicles the day-to-day scramble for survival of a heartbroken and destitute old man, someone most people would turn away from on the street. But in Raisin’s hands the story is magnetic, delivered in a playful Glaswegian dialect that radiates Mick’s humour and warmth—he calls do-gooders running a church shelter the “Hallelujahs,” is coy about having a cup of tea in bed (“Sometimes it’s no a tea, but there ye go”), and becomes engrossed in Barbara Taylor Bradford romances. Without ever hitting a preachy note, here is a book that makes homelessness human, sometimes even funny.
By Brian Bethune - Wednesday, March 7, 2012 at 8:10 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Jack Beatty
If there is a consensus among historians about any seminal event in human affairs, it’s that the First World War had to happen. Not necessarily in 1914 because an Austrian archduke was assassinated, but around then and for some excuse. Too many people with the power to make war happen thought it was the answer to their nation’s problems, and far too few had any idea what it would unleash: the deaths of nine million soldiers and the utter ruin of the old order. That presents journalist Beatty’s counter-argument with an uphill battle from the start; that he succeeds in making an intriguing (if ultimately unsuccessful) case is an achievement in itself.
As many paths led away from war as to it in 1914, Beatty argues. In France on March 16, the wife of the finance minister fired four shots that may have been as significant as the bullets that killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Henrietta Caillaux, convinced the editor of Le Figaro was about to ruin her husband’s career, killed him. Joseph Caillaux, France’s leading supporter of reconciliation with Germany, would have otherwise almost certainly have been prime minister during the decisive days between Franz Ferdinand’s June 28 death and the guns of August.
Yet to point out might-have-beens that could have negated actual events is not to overturn the view that something would have eventually lit the fuse of war. At least, that is, for as long as the war party in Germany, the Great War’s driving force, remained ascendant. But that’s an assumption Beatty challenges. Like Britain, on the brink of civil war over Irish Home Rule, Germany was riven by internal tension: if war was staved off for even a few years, change—peaceful or otherwise—was coming. Beatty doesn’t muster a very strong argument for that idea, and, in fact, gives the impression his heart isn’t really in it. What he really wants to proclaim is that peace is always a work in progress, and we should never give up on it.
By Joanne Latimer - Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Book by William J. Broad
Broad gives readers something unique—a dispassionate evaluation of the science surrounding yoga. He unearths a century’s worth of studies and tries to separate facts from unfounded claims repeated in yoga studios around the world. His book is just what the doctor ordered. It reads more like an exposé than a clinical review of the literature and, to keep us interested, Broad sprinkles in talk of sex and money. Lululemon’s famous Groove Pant gets a mention, as does Ontario’s Institute for Consciousness Research.
Back to the sex. Broad finds that studies support yoga’s effect on the libido. Russian researchers proved that cobra pose, in particular, raises testosterone 16 per cent in men and 55 per cent in women. Broad finds equally compelling research supporting claims that yoga helps lift depression and unlock creativity. But he also upends commonly held beliefs, such as: yoga fills bodies and brains with extra oxygen; it burns a high number of calories; it’s the only form of exercise needed to maintain optimal fitness. Not so. Yoga slows the metabolic rate and will not, alone, make you slim. Broad also talks about poses that are prone to cause injuries, like paralyzed limbs, droopy eyelids, yoga foot drop, and a collapsed lung. Headstands can be perilous, considering the rash of poorly trained yoga teachers.
Broad is particularly good at dismantling the credibility of Yoga for Dummies, written by a yoga enthusiast with a Ph.D. from an unaccredited institution, and disdains the Yoga Journal’s lack of rigour, but notes that yoga literature is improving with a new generation of reformers worrying about their practice’s reputation. There’s an air of urgency about the book, as Broad suggests ways to improve that reputation before the profit motive takes over. A transparent accreditation process, he concludes, is a good start. In this book, he’s trying to goad and cheer the yoga community into better regulation, and it just might work.
By Brian Bethune - Tuesday, March 6, 2012 at 8:20 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Allan C. Hutchinson
Considering that the roots of the English-speaking world’s legal traditions reach back more than a millennium, it’s manifest that the common law is an organic entity, constantly subject to pruning and updating, mostly by judges. Nonetheless, judicial discretion is always a bone of contention between legislators and judges. Sometimes, as in Canada now, it even becomes a hot political issue, which makes Hutchinson’s book timely indeed.
Hutchinson’s eight great judges run from relative unknowns like Albie Sachs, who retired from South Africa’s Constitutional Court in 2009, to the famous: John Marshall, whose 34-year term (1801 to 1835) as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court raised that institution into full equality with Congress and the presidency. Then there is the one Canadian, Bertha Wilson, whose nine-year career on our Supreme Court highlights many of the points Hutchinson ponders as he weighs up the factors that make a great judge.
Some of those factors are not in any individual’s control. Wilson was certainly in the right place at the right time. Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, seeking a woman and a candidate who shared his individual-rights-based approach to the new Charter of Rights, named her as the court’s first female member only a month before Queen Elizabeth II signed the Charter into law. If Trudeau also wanted someone as unyielding in her principles as he was, he had certainly found her. As well as crafting her share of majority opinions, Wilson wrote more than 80 concurrences—meaning she agreed with the outcome, but not with the reasoning that led to it—and almost as many dissents. Both numbers, Hutchinson notes, are well above the norm. Her work in these areas often bore fruit afterwards, influencing later court decisions.
And that is where Wilson earns her place among Hutchinson’s greats: an ability to convince fellow judges to follow along on the path being blazed is the most important factor he considers. Wilson was lucky in her opportunity, but she made the most of it.
By Marni Jackson - Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 8:30 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Stephen Davis
Despite having hits like Anticipation and You’re So Vain, Carly Simon’s appeal has always been mixed up with other, non-musical elements: her troubled marriage to James Taylor, a family background that combined privilege with pain, romances with stars like Warren Beatty and (possibly) Mick Jagger, and the world’s most famous case of stage fright. As one weary manager put it, “Every moment of her career was a drama.”
Veteran journalist Stephen Davis is a long-time friend of the Simon family—which may have been a blessing and a curse. A reader can feel the author’s loyalty to the Simons (“Thanksgiving, 2009. Carly appears on the Care Bears float at the Thanksgiving Day parade … ”) doing battle with the great imperative of a rock biography: to dish. He doesn’t disappoint. We get the furious phone call from Bianca Jagger to James Taylor (“My husband and your ﬁancée are having an affair”) and details of Simon’s lunches with friend Jackie Onassis (“Jackie loved to eat”). We get the singer’s admission that during a fling with Jeremy Irons (“I think it was the first time I really ‘did’ cocaine”) she became pregnant. Simon lived the sexual revolution of the ’70s, inside and out. Then she sold the rights to Anticipation for $50,000 to a ketchup ad.
Davis pays scrupulous attention to her musical career, but Simon still comes across as a hothouse diva and a world-class narcissist. After her first child was born and she was back in shape, Simon explained to a reporter why she chose a sexy cover image for her new album. “There was this sort of, ‘Oh, my God. Here’s this body again,’ and I sort of got … turned on by it.” Mick Jagger may have had similar thoughts about himself, but he was too crafty to voice them. Simon had a radical, girlish openness that helped her songs connect with fans. But for a reader encountering her on the page, it can get cringe-worthy.
By Brian Bethune - Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 8:15 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Quintus Tullius Cicero
The more things change: aside from the fact that dealing with Iran was a perennial foreign policy issue for both groups, candidates for consul of the Roman republic (the highest office of state) 2,000 years ago and candidates for president of the American republic in 2012 faced radically different worlds. But when it comes to getting elected, campaign manager Quintus’s pragmatic advice for his famous brother Marcus could have been written by Karl Rove. (Small wonder George W. Bush’s electoral éminence grise provided How to Win an Election with a fulsome blurb.)
Don’t forget to remind voters, Quintus urges, in words Rove could have penned, “what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with their crimes, sexual scandals and corruption.” Attack ads may well be, as many despairing observers consider, a curse of our jaded times, but there is nothing new about them. In his campaign of 64 BCE, Marcus had a bit of an advantage in that regard—some of his opponents really were criminals and scoundrels. One—Catiline, who later led an armed rebellion against the republic—was notorious for a litany of offences, from sexual involvement with his sister to personally decapitating a political enemy during one of Rome’s periodic violent upheavals.
The wretched quality of his rivals not only gave Marcus, Rome’s greatest orator but an outsider without family connections, a shot at victory, Quintus shrewdly observed, it also justified his own tactics. An election for consul—or, today, for president—does not turn on who is the ideal person for the job, but on who is the best of the available candidates. Marcus had to do what it took to keep Catiline out of office. To that end, his brother told him, assure the rich and powerful you support their privileges, and tell the common folk you’re on their side. Promise everyone whatever it takes: after the election, you can explain how circumstances beyond your control prevent you from carrying out those promises. Timeless wisdom indeed: Marcus won.
REVIEW: King Peggy: An American secretary, her royal destiny, and the inspiring story of how she changed an African village
By Joanne Latimer - Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 7:35 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Peggielene Bartels and Eleanor Herman
Originally from Africa, Peggielene Bartels spent most of her working life as an office administrator at the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington. Then the phone rang one morning at 4 a.m. and a relative informed Peggy she had been chosen to be the “lady king” of her Ghanaian village, Otaum. The idea was absurd to Peggy, although she was from the royal Ebiradze bloodline. Prompted by a dream, she reluctantly accepted the crown and began shuttling back and forth to Africa, where a dilapidated palace awaited repair. King Peggy is the funny, wide-eyed account of her struggle to overcome sexism, systemic corruption and poverty without losing her will to lead or the love of her 7,000 subjects.
In Africa, Peggy says, women aid and abet scamming men with their own timidity and deference. Not Peggy. Her American notions of equality give her the strength to roust corrupt elders and a scheming priest. She reclaims fishing and land-sale taxes to modernize the village. Appointing a trustworthy regent, she uses her own money to rebuild the palace and restore respect to the throne. One by one, she tackles her people’s problems: no running water, no school, no decent road, no ambulance and no hospital beds. Peggy’s story hits the Washington newspapers and attracts African-American benefactors, who sheepishly visit to discover their roots.
Amongst the episodes of palace intrigue, Peggy makes astute comparisons between her village life and her urban existence in Washington, where she eats alone every night in her tiny condo. In Ghana, she shares a bed with her cousin and is constantly surrounded by squabbling relatives. It’s a joyful chaos that nourishes her soul. Divorced with no children, Peggy finds new purpose as a lady king. Co-author Herman says her interest in Africa came from the fiction of Alexander McCall Smith; she thinks she has met in Peggy a real-life Mma Ramotswe, and readers will quickly agree.
By Dafna Izenberg - Thursday, March 1, 2012 at 7:30 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Alan Shapiro
“Sunrise, sunset, swiftly fly the years.” This Fiddler on the Roof lyric is exactly the kind of misty-eyed lens through which Shapiro’s Miriam Bluestein loves to cast her life. Growing up in a Boston suburb in the 1940s, Miriam often pretends to be a character in a play, a lifelong habit that helps her escape troublesome realities including: being rejected by her mother and estranged from her father; the monstrous anti-Semitism raging in Europe and its more genteel cousin at home, where Miriam’s high school drama teacher refuses to let “Jewesses” perform; and the fear she feels as a young bride when she finds herself alone in the bedroom with her handsome new husband, Curly Gold.
Miriam is faulted—sometimes ridiculed—by Curly, and eventually her children, for being so fanciful. But her rose-coloured glasses often serve the family well. Despite her difficulties with intimacy, she cozies up to Curly at the drive-in, singing songs from Guys and Dolls and The Best Things in Life Are Free while he holds her tight. Rather than be wounded by her daughter’s near-indifference to their relationship, Miriam looks on the bright side: Julie is self-possessed, focused. And while she pushes her middle son, Ethan, much too hard to make something of his musical talent, she is surprisingly accepting of the quirkiness of her youngest son, Sam, who, as a child, refused to cut his food, told inappropriate jokes and spent all his money on strange hats.
Miriam never realizes her own dream of standing on a big stage beneath bright lights, but her days brim with more drama than any three-act play could accommodate—teenage sons who still wet the bed, a complicated but ultimately decent marriage, a daughter who is somehow out of reach. In his first novel, Shapiro (who is best known as a prize-winning poet) shows a keen and affectionate eye for the inherent tragedy and comedy in family life. Miriam is often a controlling, stubborn mother who embarrasses her children, but she also makes them laugh and her love is unconditional. As parents go, you could do a lot worse.
By Sarah Weinman - Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Cristina Alger
With unemployment rates and income inequality remaining at alarming highs, how can readers find literary sympathy with the so-called one per cent? In her sly, sophisticated debut novel, Alger does it by making one Upper East Side-based family vulnerable to a scheme that loses them hundreds of millions of dollars and imperils their generations-old perks, but which ultimately makes them realize they can make do on far less than they expected.
Alger clearly takes her inspiration for the plot device that drives The Darlings from the Bernard Madoff Ponzi scandal of 2008, recasting Madoff as Morty Reis, the Darling family’s trusted honorary uncle who parks his car near a city bridge, takes off his shoes and apparently jumps to his death. The shocking tragedy blows a hole through the Darlings’ entire existence: who among them knew that the outstanding performance of Reis’s investment firm—which drove more than 30 per cent of their business—was an utter fraud?
As the story gallops along, we get to know patriarch Carter, the self-made hedge fund man now on the brink; his steely, face-saving wife, Ines; younger daughter Lily, immersed in quasi-celebrity and a perfume business; pragmatic eldest daughter Merrill and her husband, Paul, a North Carolina boy yearning to fit in with the family but faced with a wrenching choice: save his own skin or sacrifice himself for the Darlings, who may be richer than Croesus, but who are tougher and less self-centred than they first appear.
Alger knows very well the world of which she writes: she was born and raised in Manhattan, the daughter of a hedge fund owner who died during the Sept. 11 attacks, and a former corporate lawyer. Her observations about the rich are pointed without being cruel. It is strange to say that catastrophes befalling the rich can be escapist, but Alger’s entertaining tale is just that—while also being a compulsively good read.
REVIEW: Five Days That Shocked the World: Eyewitness Accounts From Europe At the End of World War II
By Brian Bethune - Tuesday, February 28, 2012 at 8:40 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Nicholas Best
On May 1, 1945, Pte. Josef Ratzinger, 18, abandoned his Wehrmacht post in Bavaria and set off for home. There was an anxious moment when he ran into two soldiers with orders to shoot deserters, but they too, the future Pope Benedict XVI later recalled, “had had enough of war,” and let him go. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, always too outspoken for his own good, was in a Moscow prison, while 11-year-old orphan Roman Polanski was playing with grenades on the streets of Krakow. U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Bob Dole, his spine badly damaged by shrapnel, was lying in a hospital bed outside Florence. He had been paralyzed for two weeks, and his doctors expected his imminent death, but the man who would be Bill Clinton’s opponent in a presidential election 51 years later had just managed to wriggle his toes.
Best’s kaleidoscopic tale of individuals caught up in the chaotic final days of history’s greatest upheaval is utterly absorbing, made all the more compelling by the reader’s awareness the people in it just have to last a few days, a few hours more. Many do not, especially the infamous. There’s Hitler, having a last meal of spaghetti with two secretaries, their bizarre conversation focusing on dog breeding, and Mussolini and his mistress strung up by the heels in a Milan square.
But Five Days’ real power lies in the snapshots of moments in the lives of the later famous. Teenaged Audrey Hepburn, for one, starving in Holland with her Dutch mother and now vastly relieved she no longer ran the risk of ending up in an SS brothel. Or that other lieutenant and future leader of his church; Robert Runcie, a decorated warrior known as “Killer” to his men, was leading his three Churchill tanks toward the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. Thirty-six years later, as archbishop of Canterbury, he officiated at the wedding of Charles and Diana. For all the millions killed in the Second World War, it reassembled the lives of millions more.
By Nicholas Köhler - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 10:15 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Matthew Forsythe
Forsythe is 35, lives in the Mile End section of Montreal and has a dog. Somehow from that workaday world he’s generated a fairy-tale land that draws together all his preoccupations as an illustrator, cartoonist and children’s author: Jinchalo, a wordless comic strip printed almost entirely in monochrome and set in a magic version of ancient Korea, begins with a magpie dressed in hat and tunic and armed with a walking stick, and ends with a terrifying metamorphosis that brings the story full circle. At bottom it is a poignant look at innocence versus the mayhem of experience.
The hero is Voguchi, a little girl who commits transgressions, disappoints her bent-backed granddad and tries, desperately, to make amends. Her adventures introduce her to a furry monster with a funny hat much too small for him, odd landlocked sea creatures with one eye, robots, lush market scenes where the produce stares back at you, and a mysterious shape-shifter who, once hatched from a strange, large egg, rules her life.
An award-winning cartoonist whose first children’s book, My Name is Elizabeth, was last year a New York Times Notable Book, Forsythe here creates a world as strange, intricate and as ineffably profound as those in animator Hayao Miyazaki’s films. But where Miyazaki borrows from the folklore of Japan and works in Japanese anime, Forsythe’s Jinchalo is a mutt of influences—from underground comics (Jinchalo is published by alternative comics powerhouse Drawn & Quarterly) to manga, Korean mythology and menacing demons out of Hieronymus Bosch.
By Kate Lunau - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Adrian Bejan and J. Peder Zane
Believers of intelligent design are fond of holding up the recurring patterns in nature—forked, tree-like structures shared by river deltas, lightning bolts and even the air passages of our lungs—as evidence of a creator. Instead, Adrian Bejan, a professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, attributes this to what he calls the constructal law: “a single law of physics [that] shapes the design of all around us,” he writes in his new book, Design in Nature, with J. Peder Zane, a journalism professor at St. Augustine’s College.
According to the constructal law, everything that moves—whether living or inanimate—is a flow system, evolving over time to facilitate movement. A lightning bolt, they note, is a flow system to shoot electricity from a cloud. A river basin moves water toward the river mouth. Our lungs, blood vessels, and neurons pump currents through our bodies. This tree-like design doesn’t just occur in nature; we see it everywhere, from highway systems to corporate structures. “The engineered world we have built so that we can move more easily does not copy the natural design,” they write, “it is a manifestation of it.”
Bejan and Zane use the constructal law to discuss all sorts of things, from ideal airport design to why athletes manage to keep breaking records year after year. Like other flow systems, animals, they explain, have evolved over time to move their mass more easily over distance; as people evolve to become “bigger, taller and more slender,” they write, “world records must fall.” At the 2008 Beijing Olympics, six-foot-ﬁve Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt and six-foot-four American swimmer Michael Phelps went on to record victories, as the constructal law predicted.
Bejan and Zane’s book, filled with fascinating observations and brainteasers, is gracefully written. The constructal law “provides scientific evidence for the soaring sense of oneness we feel when we walk in the woods,” they write. “The ground, the trees, the air, and our own selves are indeed connected.”
By Richard Warnica - Thursday, February 23, 2012 at 8:05 AM - 0 Comments
Book by Nathan Englander
As young women, Yehudit and Rena lived on opposite hills in Israel. One night, when their husbands and sons were away fighting in the Yom Kippur War, Yehudit’s daughter fell gravely ill. With no hope of getting to a hospital, or of a doctor getting to them, Yehudit sold the infant to her friend, hoping that whatever curse had befallen her family would lift when the baby passed to another home. The gambit worked. The girl survived and, returned to her family, grew into adulthood. But when Rena’s own children die, she claims the daughter she bought decades before. In “Sister Hills,” one of eight stories in this new collection, Nathan Englander tells of what happens when Rena comes to get what’s hers.
Englander, who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish home, seems deeply fascinated with Jewish life, both Israeli and American. Other stories in the collection focus on a summer camp for Jewish seniors, an escalating war between a goy bully and a band of Jewish children in New Jersey, and a lapsed Jew who finds himself in a panopticon-like strip club in New York. The title piece involves a reunion of childhood friends in Florida who end up playing the “Anne Frank Game,” where they wonder which of their neighbours would shelter them if a second Holocaust came.
Englander’s stories are sometimes disquieting and often funny. But all are outrageously accomplished. The most affecting piece in the collection is “Everything I Know About My Family On My Mother’s Side.” Raw and emotionally open, it features a narrator named Nathan and reads more like an essay than a short story. For the record, Englander says it’s “fiction, all the way. Except that it’s weaving back and forth across that line.” Regardless, it will likely stay with you for a very long time.
By Anne Kingston - Monday, February 20, 2012 at 11:20 AM - 0 Comments
Book by George Gurley
When he was the “nightlife” reporter for the New York Observer, Gurley wrote an avidly read column based on transcripts from the therapy sessions that he attended with his girlfriend, Hilly, to fix their seemingly doomed relationship. Dr. Harold Selman entered the couple’s lives to solve an impasse when they’d been together three years. Hilly, a fashion PR-type with a princess complex, was desperate for George to commit (or at least to buy her a big, sparkling ring). George, a charming man-boy approaching 40, was conflicted: terrified of becoming an Upper East Side “castrati” but also afraid of losing Hilly, the first woman to make him think a “real relationship” was possible.
Now George and Hilly’s privileged travails aired over their six years of therapy have been immortalized in a book—which will cheer those left hanging when Gurley’s column ended in 2008, and anyone else who delights in reading about screwed-up relationships being salvageable. Gurley, who’s locked in a Bright Lights, Big City ’80s time warp at the outset, is amusing and often insightful as he charts the couple’s seemingly frivolous First World problems: his bad-boy ways, Hilly’s Manolo Blahnik and nightly Sancerre habits, their tension-filled trip to Rome, and being forced to live together due to the astronomical New York real estate market.
Through it, they face mutual addictions—booze and debt—and share an evolving maturity and acceptance. Exactly why their therapy succeeds is never quite clear. Is it because the “abstracted and guarded” Dr. Selman is a genius? Or because the couple’s mutual frustration with his methods and attitude forged a common bond? Or maybe, as they both suspected, because they’re meant to be together? Whatever the reason, it worked: Hilly has her ring (if not her big wedding) and George has abandoned his boyish ways. “Boring became the new exciting,” Gurley writes—and fortunately is savvy enough to end it there.