Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New Boswell's Best--Fresh Off the Boat, Heat, The Inventor and the Tycoon, Invisible Armies

It's time to look at some new nonfiction titles hat are on the Boswell's Best for this week.

Max Boot's Invisible Armies: An Epic Histry of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present (Liveright) was already featured on the front page of The New York Times Book Review. Reviewer Mark Mazower reports "Its tenor is moderately upbeat: Boot believes lessons can be learned if only we look at history the right way. The war in the shadows may be here to stay, but we should not despair, he insists, because even now the odds are against the insurgents, provided armies tackle the job with patience, good sense and a consciousness of the importance of winning over hearts and minds."

I find Max Boot to be a classic historian's name, and expected him to be 85, being that this is his third book and its almost 800 pages of research. He's not. He  is, however, theJeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow in national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. I like to start sentences with conjunctions, but when it comes to job titles, I follow the more traditional protocol and tend not to capitalize them, though it seems like common usage indicates otherwise. Rick Atkinson calls the book "sweeping, meticulous, and exceptionally thoughtful, while the unnamed copywriter calls Invisible Armies a 21st century version of On War. Atkinson has his own new book coming out later this spring (May 14th), The Guns at Last Night, which is the final book in his trilogy about the Allied forces during World War II.

A very different take on history (an Erike Larson meeets Simon Winchester-ish take, specifically) is Edward D. Ball's The Inventor and the Tycoon: A Gilded Age Murder and the Birth of Moving Pictures (Doubleday).  Ball was awarded the National Book Award for Slaves in the Family. It's the story of Eadweard Muybridge, a developer of stop-motion photography and moving pictures, whose endeavors were bankrolled by railroad tycoon Leland Stanford.

But apparently Mubridge was also a "remorseless killer," a spree jumpstarted when he discovered the child recently borne by his young wife (apologies, I'm using some copy here) was not, in fact, his. The USA Today reviewer, Don Oldenburg, noted the writing was great but that folks might have a little with the shuffled storyline. That said, if you like seeing a disheveled and remorseless criminal hang, "there are enough diverse story lines here to hang the murderer Muybridge many times over."

Another book that's already getting a lot of attention is Eddie Huang's  Fresh Off the Boat.(Spiegel and Grau), which has already been getting reviews and feature stories all over the place. From Dwight Garner at The New York Times: "It’s a rowdy and, in its way, vital counterpoint to the many dignified and more self-consciously literary memoirs we have about immigration and assimilation. It’s a book about fitting in by not fitting in at all."

Eddie Huang is the propriator of Baohaus on 14th Street in New York (he'd laugh mockingly at me that I walked ten blocks out of my way to have lunch at Wao Bao on State Street in Chicago during the recent gift show, but what were my alternatives?) but is probably built his brand best by hosting a show called Fresh Off the Boat for ViceTV, Cheap Bites for the Cooking Channel, and co-stared with Anthony Bourdain for The Layover. He's also written for The New York Observer, Grantland, and his own blog, The Pop Chef.

This is such a Julie Grau book, isn't it? She loves her hip hop stylings.

I thought that Heat: Adventures in the World's Fiery Places, (Little, Brown) Bill Streever, was also a foodie book, but my brain was still thinking of Bill Buford's old memoir, or perhaps I was thinking of Gail Simmons on Top Chef complaining about the lack of heat, or too much heat, or something. But Streevor's new book is a companion to his bestseller Cold, and is more like travel/adventure/history. Firewalking hot coals, sweating it out in Death Valley, tracing the invention of matches, and the chemistry of burning fuel, it's all there. 

The Huffington Post has a "why we're reading this book" feature organized akin to a questionnaire. And Streever talked to Rachel Martin at NPR about some of his experiences and discoveries. On walking on hot coals: ""Well, first of all, it wasn't that hot to actually walk on the coals. Where the heat comes in is when you're right up next to the fire, and the heat was really, absolutely present. But then you step onto the coals, and really what my feet were feeling was more of a sense of, almost like walking on popcorn — kind of a crunchy sense"

All these books are 20% off in store through February 4, and possibly longer. Hope you find something that takes your brain for a spin.

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