Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review Round-Up

Readers who work with images, either in teaching or scholarship, may be interested in Errol Morris's Believing Is Seeing (Observations on the Mysteries of Photography) (Penguin), reviewed this week in both the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal (subscribers only). According to the WSJ review, it is the result of the film director's interest in the circumstances surrounding iconic photographs (Roger Fenton's famous shots from the Crimean War, Dorothea Lange's work for the Farm Security Administration, the damning images from Abu Ghraib) and, ultimately, about "what constitutes photo graphic truth."

The WSJ (subscribers only) also reviews Leningrad: The Epic Siege of World War II, 1941-44 (Walker & Co.), by Anna Reid (here); Ethan Allen: His Life and Times (Norton), by Willard Sterne Randall (here); and The Life and Thought of Herbert Butterfield: History, Science and God (Cambridge), by Michael Bentley 

The New York Times covers The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us (Bloomsbury), by social psychologist James W. Pennebaker (here); Wendy and the Lost Boys: The Uncommon Life of Wendy Wasserstein (Penguin), by Julie Salamon (here); and Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America (Harper/HarperCollins), by Enrique Krauze (here) (mentioned in an earlier round-up, here).

Readers might also enjoy Geoff Dyer's essay on "What We Do to Books." Fair warning: you might be grossed out by the part about the blood stains.

The Washington Post spotlights The Honored Dead: A Story of Friendship, Murder, and the Search for Truth in the Arab World (Spiegel & Grau), by Joseph Braude (here); The Secrets of the FBI (Crown), by Ronald Kessler (here); and Class Warfare: Inside the Fight to Fix America’s Schools (Simon & Schuster) by Steven Brill (here) (mentioned in last week's round-up, here). The Kessler review, by Bryan Burrough, is fun, if a bit snarky ("the FBI’s Quantico, Va., training ground . . . can’t be too secret if it was portrayed 20 years ago in 'Silence of the Lambs'").

The Post also spotlights three books on Libya, picked by Dirk Vandewalle (Dartmouth College). The two histories and one novel "admirably capture the evolution of Libya under its strong-arm leader."

Over at The New Republic: The Book, you'll find more discussion of a hot topic: teachers unions and their significance for the U.S. education system. Richard D. Kahlenberg reviews Special Interest: Teachers Unions and America's Public Schools (Brookings Institution), by Terry Moe. Here's a taste:

The book’s title, Special Interest, invokes a term historically applied to wealthy and powerful entities such as oil companies, tobacco interests, and gun manufacturers, whose narrow aims are often recognized as colliding with the more general public interest in such matters as clean water, good health, and public safety. Do rank and file teachers, who educate American school children and earn on average about $54,000 a year, really fall into the same category? Moe thinks so.
Kahlenberg disagrees.