6 Booklist September 15, 2016 www.booklistreader.com
in spy thrillers, cybercryptology, and the history of U.S. espionage will find this book to
be both entertaining and helpful in understanding today’s complex landscape of leaked
classified information. —Raymond Pun
Stalin’s Englishman: Guy Burgess, the
Cold War, and the Cambridge Spy Ring.
By Andrew Lownie.
Oct. 2016. 448p. illus. St. Martin’s, $29.99
(9781250100993); e-book, $14.99 (9781250101013).
Lownie tackles the puzzle of why a privileged young man, born and bred to the idea
of social hierarchy, would be drawn to the
diametrically opposed tenets of communism.
Even more puzzling is that there was a ring
of young, privileged Brits who betrayed their
country by spying for the Soviet Union during WWII and the Cold War. Lownie makes
the case that among the members of the Cambridge Spy Ring, made up of Donald Maclean,
Kim Philby, Anthony Blunt, and Guy Burgess,
the latter was the most intriguing—and possibly the most pernicious. The core of Lownie’s
argument is that Burgess’ (and others’) homosexuality—at a time when this orientation was
both against the law and hypocritically reviled
by the establishment—made these Cambridge
undergraduates feel like outcasts in their own
country, vulnerable to recruitment. This well-researched biography follows Burgess from
Eton in the 1920s, through Cambridge in the
’30s, on through his careers in the BBC, Foreign Office, and the British Secret Intelligence
Service, and, simultaneously, his skillfully managed double life as a Soviet agent. Thoroughly
engrossing. —Connie Fletcher
Urban Forests: A Natural History of Trees
and People in the American Cityscape.
By Jill Jonnes.
Sept. 2016. 416p. Viking, $30 (9780670015665). 333.75.
When urban planners want to provide city
dwellers with an environmentally friendly respite from concrete and steel, one of the first
resources they consider are trees, especially
fast-growing, expansive, and shade-providing
trees like poplars, honey locusts, and red oaks.
In this well-written, informative collection
of 22 essays on trees in U.S. cities, Jonnes,
acclaimed author of Eiffel’s Tower (2009),
explores the challenges America’s horticul-turalists have faced while cultivating the leafy
plants in metropolitan settings as well as demonstrating how much trees are cherished by
those who work and live among them. Jonnes
looks at the popularity of particular tree species in certain cities, such as the abundant
cherry trees in Washington, D.C., and the
spread of bug-free “celestial” ailanthus trees in
New York City. She also recounts the plight of
beloved American chestnuts and elms, felled
respectively by fungus and tiny bark beetles,
before crafty entomologists recently cured
and restored them to city landscapes. A fascinating slice of both urban and natural history
that tree lovers and everyone interested in city
life will enjoy. —Carl Hays
When We Rise: Coming of Age in
San Francisco, AIDS, and My Life in
By Cleve Jones.
Nov. 2016. 256p. Hachette, $35 (9780316315432);
e-book, $13.99 (9780316315449). 306.766.
LGBTQ activist Jones, the father of the
AIDS Memorial Quilt, imbues his enlightening memoir with a powerful sense of
history in the making. From his youth in the
Arizona desert—an apt metaphor for the sexually confused and isolated
young man—to his discovery that he did indeed have
a place in the world to his
national activism, his story
builds to a crescendo of LG-BTQ-rights breakthroughs.
Though these culminated in
the U.S. Supreme Court’s
landmark 2015 decision legalizing same-sex
marriage, the road was never smooth as Jones
and the LGBTQ community took small
steps, bigger steps, and missteps based upon
their faith that they were entitled to the same
rights and freedoms as every other American.
En route to this seismic shift in American
culture and politics, there were painful setbacks. Jones is unsparing in his account of
the 1978 assassination of San Francisco supervisor and LGBTQ activist Harvey Milk
and the terrible toll of the catastrophic AIDS
epidemic, including discovery of his own
HIV infection. Jones’ powerful memoir is
a primary source for ABC’s forthcoming
miniseries, also titled When We Rise, starring
Guy Pearce as Jones. Sure to be requested.
Writing to Save a Life: The Louis Till File.
By John Edgar Wideman.
Nov. 2016. 224p. Scribner, $25 (9781501150272). 364.1.
In 1955, Wideman, the winner of two
PEN/Faulkner Awards, was the same age as
Emmett Till when he saw photos of the brutalized 14-year-old black youth murdered in
Mississippi for allegedly whistling at a white
woman. During the trial for Till’s accused
murderers, news leaked of declassified military records showing that Emmett’s father,
Louis Till, had been hanged in 1945 for allegedly raping and murdering white women
in Italy, where he was stationed. With his
trademark penetrating style, Wideman
recounts the life of Louis Till, the circumstances that brought him to his death, and
the circumstances that would end the life of
his son 10 years later. Wideman details the
long, arduous task of securing Louis Till’s
scant military file and his personal journey
to view the ignominious grave where he
rests, along with scores of other black soldiers similarly dismissed. Wideman draws
parallels between the lives of Louis and Emmett Till and those of his father and his own
life, the harrowing circumstances faced by
black men of respective generations, circumstances that sadly continue to a degree today.
Bridge of Words: Esperanto and the
Dream of a Universal Language.
By Esther Schor.
Oct. 2016. 384p. illus. Holt/Metropolitan, $32
The artificial language, Esperanto, which
literally means “hopeful,” was the quixotic invention of nineteenth-century ophthalmologist
Ludwig Lazarus Zamenhof, who grew tired
of witnessing the many quarrels and misunderstandings between ethnic groups in his
multicultural native city, Bialystok, Russia. In
the first in-depth study of Esperanto and its
colorful creator, Schor takes a broad approach
to biography, expanding beyond Zamenhof’s
life to examine the philosophical and psychological elements at work in the language’s
continual evolution and current usage by several million people worldwide. From her personal
sojourns on five continents where Esperanto is
spoken and written, usually as a third or fourth
language, Schor discovered that Zamenhof’s
idealism about using this cobbled together but
easily learned communication tool to reduce international conflict and bloodshed is still shared
by its supporters. But she urges caution, observing that past Esperanto promoters misused it
to uphold various extreme political views. Must
reading for those fascinated by linguistics and
utopian endeavors and an essential volume for
every library’s language collection. —Carl Hays
The Word Detective: Searching for
the Meaning of It All at the Oxford
By John Simpson.
Oct. 2016. 368p. Basic, $27.99 (9780465060696); e-book
The Oxford English Dictionary is one of our
most revered reference works, consulted by
readers for precise definitions
and accurate entomology. It
hardly seems it could be produced by mere mortals. But
it is, and former chief editor
Simpson makes that point
in recounting his 37 years
with the OED, a time when
the Victorian-era dictionary
transformed into a modern online publication. Starting in 1976 as a reader searching
through texts for words, he learned every step
of producing the dictionary. The process even
involved work by many volunteers collecting
illustrative sentences to be woven together by
scholars into word histories. As an editor, he
recruited people from many professions in the
OED’s word search. Simpson’s memoir features entertaining, culturally revealing stories
of many curious words, phrases, and roots,
including epicentre, queen, crowd-sourcing,
hue-and-cry, and -ology. He also tells about
his marriage and the challenges of raising a
nonverbal daughter. Although scholars and
librarians will be particularly interested in the
OED history, all readers can enjoy Simpson’s
sincere and lively memoir. —Rick Roche