For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw by Nancy Marie Mithlo and the Smithsonian Institution

Arresting images of his community, taken by a Kiowa photographer, enriched by commentary.

for love

Horace Poolaw (1906-1984), a Kiowa Indian from Oklahoma, was an avid photographer who never made a living from that passion. For a Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw is the first major collection of his work, and serves as companion to a 2014 exhibition under the same name at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Poolaw’s own photographs of his family and community, many never before published, are accompanied by related artwork in a collection of more than 150 images; these striking, vibrant images are not the only appealing aspect of this beautiful book. Essays and interviews by scholars, natives and non-natives, artists and activists and Poolaw’s family put his work in artistic, political and historical context, and portray him as documentarian of his time, place and people. These diverse contributors express Poolaw’s intention to preserve his piece of the 20th century, and complement the richness of his vivid work.


This review originally ran in the November 28, 2014 gift issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 6 feathers.

Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest by Ian McAllister

Beautiful photographs of the Great Bear Rainforest, at risk on the west coast of Canada.

great bear
Great Bear Wild: Dispatches from a Northern Rainforest is an impassioned plea for the conservation of the Great Bear Rainforest in British Columbia, photographed and written by Ian McAllister (“talk to anyone in the Great Bear about wildlife and eventually Ian’s name will come up,” writes Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., in the foreword). This distinctive coastal region is threatened by pipelines, oil tankers and liquefied-natural-gas transport; environmental groups and First Nation people are coming together in the fight to protect the enormous biodiversity, cultural heritage and immense beauty at stake.

McAllister, an accomplished photographer and longtime resident of the Great Bear, has local connections and a deep understanding of the issues at hand. Readers can flip through his work solely for the breathtaking photographs–of bat stars, spirit bears, sea wolves, salmon and many other remarkable creatures–but this accomplished collection also begs to be consumed chapter by chapter, for its ardent, beautifully written, informative prose.


This review originally ran in the November 28, 2014 gift issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 9 herring eggs.

Ships, Clocks, and Stars: The Quest for Longitude by Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgitt

The historic quest for naval navigation measurements, heavily illustrated and enlightening.

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For the tercentenary of Britain’s Longitude Act of 1714, the Royal Museums Greenwich offers an exhibition and accompanying book, Ships, Clocks, and Stars: The Quest for Longitude. For centuries, longitude, which locates a place on the Earth on an east-west basis, was impossible to track at sea, posing not only economic but safety challenges. This issue was eventually solved in the 1700s, largely by British scientists and philosophers, including astronomers, inventors and clockmakers. The story of quest for a solution–first define the question, then ascertain a reliable way to determine longitude while out in the open ocean, then build reliable and consistent tools–is one of innovation, cooperation and competition, as well as science. Richard Dunn and Rebekah Higgitt, both researchers and museum curators, relate the quest for longitude in accessible prose, complementing the text with more than 150 images, maps and artwork. While the ample notes will be welcomed by academic readers, the intriguing and varied illustrations and lively subject matter–a first-class adventure tale–will entertain anyone who dreams of travel and exploration.


This review originally ran in the November 28, 2014 gift issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 6 degrees.

book beginnings on Friday: The Conversation: A Revolutionary Plan for End-of-Life Care by Angelo E. Volandes, M.D.

Thanks to Rose City Reader for hosting this meme. To participate, share the first line or two of the book you are currently reading and, if you feel so moved, let us know what your first impressions were based on that first line.

conversationThe Conversation focuses on a subject near and dear to me, after a little time spent in a hospital setting myself – although never in the position held by this author, a medical doctor.

It was a blustery March morning at the crack of dawn, and my medical team was refueling with ample cups of coffee in the hospital cafeteria before reviewing our list of patients. Just as I took a scalding sip, the overhead speaker blared.

“Cold Blue, Greenberg Five! Code Blue, Greenberg Five!”

I like that these opening lines really grab our attention. Shocking, perhaps? But also a realistic way to get into his head, I’d wager.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Teaser Tuesdays: Publishing by Gail Godwin

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.

publishing

The plentifully published Gail Godwin looks back on her career in Publishing. She is charming and humorous as well as moving; and I think these lines begin to express that.

“What kind of editor would you like to work with?” was Robert Gottlieb’s first question to me in his office, and I replied rather pompously, “Well, it will have to be someone who appreciates great literature,” then burst into sobs.

and several paragraphs later,

…on that late 1970 December day, he waited out my sobs and then said kindly, in response to my Great Literature stipulation, “Well, Gail, I’m afraid that’s going to be me.”

Lest you think her, well, obnoxiously pompous, I assure you she had reasons to be crying that day. And this description of these events is, I think, sweetly funny. I do recommend her.

This quotation comes from an uncorrected advance proof and is subject to change.

Sex on Earth: A Celebration of Animal Reproduction by Jules Howard

The sexual habits and workings of the animal kingdom described in decidedly entertaining fashion.

sex
Jules Howard is a well-established zoologist, but you wouldn’t know it from the self-deprecatingly droll tone he takes in his first book, Sex on Earth: A Celebration of Animal Reproduction. The subtitle is slightly misleading; far beyond simple reproduction, Howard is intrigued by sex in all its forms and purposes. Inspired by captive pandas saddled with a reputation for sexual failure (unfairly, he thinks), he pursues diverse and myriad questions. He is specifically interested in getting beyond issues of who has the largest penis (the blue whale, if you must know) or exhibits the most outrageous behaviors–matters he finds, frankly, slightly pornographic–and instead examining the everyday as well as the eccentric. The heartwarming monogamous habits of the jackdaw, the incredible asexual abilities of the rotifer, homosexuality in penguins and iguana masturbation are just the beginning. And while the outlandish is indeed presented, Sex on Earth likewise narrates basic mechanics and relates them to evolution and animal life in the face of human impact.

Howard approaches his many expert consultants with a wide-eyed respect bordering on awe, and this is just one of the charming personality quirks that win his readers’ hearts. A comic (and overwhelmingly British) tone borders on the silly, but Howard’s science is solid and the overall effect is positively winning. In Howard’s capable hands, the sex habits of diverse creatures such as dinosaurs, hedgehogs and caddisflies are engrossing (not gross), and the language is accessible. His debut achieves a fine balance to which all popular-science writing should aspire.


This review originally ran in the November 25, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for Readers. To subscribe, click here, and you’ll receive two issues per week of book reviews and other bookish fun!


Rating: 9 macaques.

Severed: A History of Heads Lost and Heads Found by Frances Larson

Strong-stomached readers will enjoy this accessibly written cultural anthropology of severed heads.

severed

The human head is remarkable. Not only does it boast receptors for each of the five senses and house the brain–the command center for the body–but it also displays the face, which (for better or worse) defines our identities to the outer world. In Severed, anthropologist Frances Larson (An Infinity of Things) examines a dark side of the human head–specifically, its separation from (and attempted reattachment to) the human body in myriad ways and with different purposes, intentions and results.

The Western world has balked at shrunken heads, trophy heads, headhunting and wartime brutalities, but still maintained a macabre enthusiasm for collecting these specimens, which, ironically, led to an increase in the practices. In Europe, beheadings for criminal and political offenses led to the development of the guillotine during the French Revolution. Despite its gore, this machine was heralded for its efficiency and arguably humane approach relative to other execution methods. Detached heads have served as religious and secular relics; scientific or pseudo-scientific tools; artists’ inspiration; soldiers’ souvenirs; and objects of ritual and political symbolism. In fact, much of Larson’s study considers the interplay between the head as part of an individual and head as object: it is necessary to objectify in order to decapitate or dissect. An overarching concern is whether the head alone holds the essence of each of us. The question remains unanswered, even as Larson investigates cryonic suspension of severed heads and head transplants (or as their practitioners prefer, “body transplants”) in one of her most intriguing and memorable chapters.

Larson’s examinations of the head’s place throughout history and the present are endlessly fascinating. Her writing is never gratuitously gruesome, but necessarily deals in grisly detail. (In addition to the myriad lessons within these pages, readers may well learn the threshold at which they become disturbed by such subject matter.) Severed explores the head in idiom, in its “linguistic ubiquity,” and as a tool for justifying racism: one major collector of skulls and related data rounded average skull size up for Germans and Anglo-Saxons, but down for “Negroid” Egyptians.

In this thoughtful survey of decapitated heads and their implications in history and across cultures, Larson is sensitive and thorough, allowing occasional humor while giving her subject the respect it deserves, offering entertainment alongside a truly engrossing educational experience. For readers of science, history, culture, anthropology and generally quirky nonfiction, Severed will be thought-provoking and unforgettable.


This review originally ran in the November 18, 2014 issue of Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade. To subscribe, click here.


Rating: 8 measurement tools.
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