November 1, 2015 Booklist 5 www.booklistonline.com
the millenarian doctrines of Ann Lee, the New
Harmony that industrialist Robert Owen constructed on his Enlightenment blueprint for
“the New Moral World,” and the Oneida Community of Perfectionists established by John
Humphrey Noyes. Despite marked differences
separating these utopian movements, Jennings
prizes in all of them their distinctive—and utterly American—optimism in facing a future
in which their adherents believed they would
usher in a glorious new social order. Looking
back over the decades since these movements
all unraveled, Jennings laments that twenty-first-century America has lost the spark of hope
that energized them. Tough-minded readers
will hardly join Jennings in admiring these
utopian dreamers. But readers who resent the
constraints of a barren realism will value this
deep-probing inquiry into the quest for new
social possibilities. —Bryce Christensen
Political Animals: How Our Stone-Age
Brain Gets in the Way of Smart Politics.
By Rick Shenkman.
Jan. 2016. 336p. Basic, $26.99 (9780465033003). 320.
Why do American citizens and their leaders
make so many poor political decisions? According to historian Shenkman, there are several
factors at play here, but behind them all, we
are driven by our Stone Age brains. When we
evolved as a species in the Pleistocene epoch,
we lived in communities rarely larger than 200
individuals. We knew everyone well, and most
important, we knew whom to trust. Now, with
the same brain abilities, we live in a global society removed from our leaders and dealing with
people on other continents. We have little firsthand knowledge about our political candidates
and the policies they reportedly favor. Once
elected, they may and often do act differently
than promised. Shenkman recounts political
events from the past half century. Focusing
much of his text on American presidential administrations, he shows all of them bending
truth to exploit our Stone Age decision making to the detriment of the nation at large. He
suggests ways for us to recognize and modernize our outdated political thinking to save our
country. —Rick Roche
Little Victories: Perfect Rules for
By Jason Gay.
Nov. 2015. 224p. Doubleday, $25 (9780385539463).
Gay, the popular and witty Wall Street Journal sports columnist, is the rare man who can
elicit laughs even when writing about testicu-lar cancer and infertility. (He overcomes both
problems, though “every IVF treatment costs
about the price of a lightly used Honda.”) Early
in his memoir, he visits his childhood Massachusetts bedroom, “where girls were called and
the fathers of girls were hung up on.” Later he
makes a funny list of “actual stress” (“middle
seat on airplane”), “perceived stress” (“New
York Knicks Basketball”), and “not stress”
(“Netflix is buffering”). Humor aside, he gives
sound life advice. Seriously. Get the crying
baby out of the church. The ideal number of
dinner guests? Seven. (Even numbers become
gatherings of couples.) Be on time for parties,
and don’t keep phones at the table. Chapter
titles are wise: “Your Phone Is Not You” and
“Only a Game (But Not Really).” Readers will
chuckle. It’s a title for everyone, not just sports
fans, and all will root for Gay and his “little victories” and feel inspired, too. —Karen Springen
Lingo: Around Europe in Sixty
By Gaston Dorren.
Dec. 2015. 304p. illus. Atlantic Monthly, $25
As author Dorren astutely notes in his
introduction, the attitude of English speak-
ers to foreign languages is generally simple:
“Let’s plunder, not learn them.” Yet here’s a
book, filled with photos, charts, and more,
delineating both what English speakers have
missed stealing and from where they stole,
and it’s wonderful—from a list of the Inari-
Sami’s 20 words for snow to Charlie Chaplin’s
Esperanto (well, Esperanto-like) signs in The
Great Dictator. And Dorren doesn’t just fo-
cus on Europe’s languages and their families,
histories, politics, vocabularies, and gram-
mar but also on, for example, “Movers and
Shakers,” whom he calls “linguists who left
their mark.” Many of the often short, al-
ways interesting chapters end with a word
already in use from a particular language and
another that could be functional in English
(e.g., the modern Norwegian word utepils, “a
lager drunk in the open air”). This intrigu-
ing, thoughtful book will delight those who
love words; it is also a round, solid education
in the vastness of the world’s citizens’ ability
and desire to express themselves, intended,
Dorren states, “as an amuse-bouche.” Amus-
ing, too! —Eloise Kinney
A Friend of Mr. Lincoln. By Stephen Harrigan. Knopf, $27.95 (9780307700674). Feb. 2016.
This author has a track record for writing deeply intelligent, greatly humane novels,
including The Gates of the Alamo (2000), and his latest one, about our beloved sixteenth
president during his pre-presidential years spent in Springfield, Illinois, will only enhance
Harrigan’s reputation and readership.
How to Make Your Money Last: The Indispensable Retirement Guide. By Jane Bryant
Quinn. Simon & Schuster, $28 (9781476743769). Jan. 2016.
A popular financial guru turns her economic acumen and writerly talents to a topic most
of us will face eventually: those “golden years,” better known as retirement.
In Other Words. By Jhumpa Lahiri. Knopf, $26.95 (9781101875551). Feb. 2016.
Distinguished novelist and short story writer Lahiri fell in love with the Italian language,
and, consequently, she, along with her family, moved to Italy. In her first nonfiction work,
she explores what it’s like to learn a new language.
Lit Up: One Reporter, Three Schools, Twenty-Four Books That Can Change Lives. By David Denby. Holt, $30 (9780805095852). Feb. 2016.
A staff writer and former film critic for the New Yorker, Denby sat in on classes at three
public schools for an entire academic year, observing dynamic teachers making reading a
pleasure for their students.
The Little Red Chairs. By Edna O’Brien. Little, Brown, $27 (9780316378239). Mar. 2016.
The doyenne of Irish letters, noted as a fine short story writer, demonstrates once
again her abilities as a novelist; this one is about the disruption in a small Irish town
caused by the advent of a stranger.
Lovecraft Country. By Matt Ruff. HarperCollins, $26.99 (9780062292063). Feb. 2016.
Ruff is known for creating plots with great imagination, for which he has gained a sizable cult following based on three of his previous novels, including The Mirage (2012). His
latest is a story of racism cast in fantasy form.
The Mystery of the Venus Island Fetish. By Tim Flannery. St. Martin’s/Minotaur, $24.99
(9781250079428). Feb. 2016.
This Australian has garnered much esteem as a conservationist, and now he leaves
familiar waters to write his first novel, a mystery that brings in his abiding interest in
HIGH-DEMAND HOT LIST
Look for reviews of these high-demand titles in forthcoming issues of
Booklist. —Brad Hooper