Sex and the Constitution: Sex,
Religion, and Law from America’s
Origins to the Twenty-First Century.
By Geoffrey R. Stone.
Mar. 2017. 704p. illus. Norton/Liveright, $35
Sex comes first in legal scholar Stone’s (
Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime, 2004)
massive book. Indeed, the Constitution arrives only after page 100. Before then, part
one provides an elegantly literate précis of
historical attitudes about sex in the U.S.’
line of cultural inheritance,
from classical Greece and
Rome and the Bible to
Christian Rome and Western Europe to Puritan and
and its American colonies.
Throughout, Stone focuses
on obscenity, birth control,
and homosexuality—precisely the matters
that U.S. law has struggled with from the mid-nineteenth century onward. That troika of
torments is less evident in part two, “
Founders,” which tracks the deliberations over the
relationship of religion and government that
led to a Constitution without mention of
God, and, eventually, the First and Ninth
Amendments, the concept of unenumerated
rights, and Jefferson’s “wall of separation” between church and state. Part three consists of
brilliant historical distillations of social phenomena—the Second Great Awakening, the
suppression-of-vice movement, the anticon-traception and antiabortion movements, and
the criminalization of homosexuality—and
their legal ramifications. The last three parts
present a century of cases that have, Stone
says, brought the U.S. to a revolutionary moment, a high point in personal rights of sexual
expression. The story continues, of course,
but this is the definitive account of its past
and present. —Ray Olson
Superfandom: How Our Obsessions Are
Changing What We Buy and Who We Are.
By Zoe Fraade-Blanar and Aaron M.
Mar. 2017. 288p. Norton, $27.95 (9780393249958).
Here’s an insightful and entertaining look at
the culture of fandom, from its early days right
up to the present. The authors focus on the
way fandom has evolved from an essentially
passive pastime—people liked something, so
they tried to acquire it or produce their own
versions of it—to a symbiotic relationship
between consumer and producer. These days,
acquisition is a lot easier than it used to be,
thanks to online shopping, which means that
fans have more time for peripheral activities,
including—and this is the most fascinat-
ing element of the book—persuading the
people who make things to make the things
the fans want. The authors call it a “fandom
singularity”: marketers exploit fans by pro-
ducing things they know the fans will buy,
while at the same time fans influence what
the marketers produce (there’s a hugely pop-
ular, entirely computer-generated Japanese
pop singer, Hatsune Miku, whose material
is often suggested or even written by “her”
fans). Well-reasoned and engagingly written,
this book will make readers realize that a new
product that seems to have been made just for
them, so perfectly does it fit their taste, prob-
ably was—because marketers know what we
want and because we’ve told the marketers to
give it to us. Fascinating and more than a little
frightening. —David Pitt
The Unmade Bed: The Messy Truth about
Men and Women in the 21st Century.
By Stephen Marche.
Mar. 2017. 256p. Simon & Schuster, $26
It begins with a metaexercise. Marche, novelist (The Hunger of the Wolf, 2015) and culture
writer, begins by mansplaining the evolution
of the word mansplaining. He makes us fully
aware he is cognizant of the inherent irony,
and that it is perhaps an exercise in discovery
as much for him as it is for us. He is searching, it seems, not just for his place in a culture
where mansplaining is a thing but where,
however reluctantly and in spite of himself,
he might participate. In often poetic prose,
he recounts some deeply personal experiences
that make him question cultural gender roles
and his own confusion amongst them. In
contemplative descriptions of his daily life,
Marche makes arguments for the validity of
his feelings with both well-researched cultural
evidence and notes from his wife. The book
feels almost like a type of cerebral entry an
educated writer, father, or husband might
make to himself in his journal: a private fact-finding mission to meditate on the rules of
today and better survive the culture of tomorrow. Thankfully, Marche made this particular
journal entry public. —Glendy X. Mattalia
Leadership Step by Step: Become
the Person Others Follow.
By Joshua Spodek.
Feb. 2017. 256p. AMACOM, $24 (9780814437933);
e-book (9780814437940). 658.4.
Before thinking of Spodek’s book as yet another HR-type tome, ask yourself, How does
anyone learn to lead—
outside of business school and
institutes devoted to that
subject? Taking a page or
two from the performing arts, Spodek bases his
advice on a simple rubric:
practice, practice, practice.
In Spodek’s plan, becoming a leader who’s followed and respected
involves four progressive goals (
understanding yourself, leading yourself, understanding
others, leading others—which are a lot more
difficult than these simple headings sound)
with 22 total exercises. Every chapter is one
step, containing one exercise with instruc-
tions, a checklist, questions to reflect on,
and post-exercises. The process itself in-
volves much introspection, some dedicated
time, and the real opportunity to become
a leader. As just one example: to find your
authentic voice, capture your inner mono-
logues—and practice them with others.
Think about Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have
a dream” speech or Victor Frankl’s memoir
of the Holocaust in terms of voicing beliefs.
This is practical leadership training made
perfect. Bravo! —Barbara Jacobs
Curators: Behind the Scenes of
Natural History Museums.
By Lance Grande.
Mar. 2017. 432p. Univ. of Chicago, $35
(9780226192758); e-book (9780226289431). 508.092.
Many people visit a natural history museum at some point in their lives, but how
many know what goes on behind the exhibits? That museums have far more specimens
and artifacts in storage than on display? And
that those specimens often support ground-breaking research by scientists from all over
the world? Grande, a senior curator of paleontology at Chicago’s world-renowned Field
Museum of Natural History, takes readers
on an intimate tour backstage to explain
exactly what natural history museum curators do.
He also uses his career as
a framework to present an
inside view of the entire
profession. As he recounts
his start in science and
profiles his mentors, we
get a personal look at the
development of a research scientist. He also
portrays many of his colleagues and shares
their experiences, and tells fascinating stories
about events both well known (the bidding
war, eventually won by the Field Museum,
for the fossil T. rex known as Sue) and more
obscure (the herpetologist who kept notes of
his symptoms as he was dying from a venomous snakebite). Grande’s illumination of the
evolving role of the natural history museum
and of collection curators completes this
passionate memoir and celebration of an essential public resource. —Nancy Bent
Health & Medicine
Get Well Soon: History’s Worst Plagues
and the Heroes Who Fought Them.
By Jennifer Wright.
Feb. 2017. 336p. illus. Holt, $25 (9781627797467). 614.4.
Wright (It Ended Badly, 2015) ably moves
from one gloomy-but-fun topic to another.
With great cheer, she devotes chapters to
such scourges as the bubonic plague, smallpox, syphilis, tuberculosis, cholera, and
leprosy. Polio paralyzed 39-year-old future