Monday, May 27, 2013

Hot titles for summertime fun

Long Shot by Mike Piazza with Lonnie Wheeler

Kirkus Reviews –

Arguably the game's greatest offensive catcher recounts his controversial career. Of all the Hall of Fame–worthy catchers of the past 40 years, few names start an argument more quickly than Mike Piazza. Chosen 1,390th by the Dodgers in the 1988 draft, a courtesy pick engineered by family friend Tommy Lasorda, Piazza went on to set the all-time home-run record for his demanding position, playing, as one observer remarked, "as if he is tearing somebody's head off." With the assistance of Wheeler (co-author: Sixty Feet, Six Inches: A Hall of Fame Pitcher and a Hall of Fame Hitter Talk About How the Game is Played, 2009, etc.), Piazza explains the reasons for this intense single-mindedness, an anger ballplayers describe as "a chronic case of the red-ass. " The stink of his low draft position never really dissipated, he insists, retarding his progress in the minors, opening him up to charges of nepotism and leaving him at the mercy of the game's politics. Jealousy over his family's vast wealth, resentment of his interfering father's widespread baseball connections and enduring skepticism over his defensive skills (a bum rap, he says) all conspired to deprive him of honors due--at least a couple of MVP awards--or even simple credit for the hard work he put in to excel. That unrelenting dedication is well-documented here, along with the season-by-season highlights of his sterling career, principally with the Dodgers and Mets. He addresses his famous confrontations with Roger Clemens, writes movingly about playing in New York when the twin towers fell and adamantly denies performance-enhancing drug rumors that threaten his Hall of Fame candidacy. A curious mix of fervent metal head and devout Catholic, Piazza appears to understand how his self-centeredness needlessly alienated many, but his apologies can barely be heard over the loud and constant rehashing of grievances. A superior ballplayer, still a work-in-progress as a human being.

Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us by Michael Moss

Kirkus Reviews –

A revelatory look at America's increasing consumption of unhealthy products and at how the biggest food manufacturers ignore health risks, and employ savvy advertising campaigns, to keep us hooked on the ingredients that ensure big profit. In an era where morbid numbers of people are living with diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure,New York Times Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter Moss (Palace Coup, 1989) discovers through ardent research--much of it interviews with current and former executives of Kraft, PepsiCo and other massive conglomerates--that there is shockingly little regulation of the processes behind the design and sale of foods purposely laden with dangerous levels of salt, sugar and fat. As the average American works longer hours and spends more time outside of the home, the demand for easy-to-cook and tasty meals has skyrocketed. In response, food giants provide an enormous slate of processed food options, almost all of which require immense amounts of salt, fat and/or sugar to cover the taste of poor-quality ingredients. Pulling no punches, the author points out that the recent trend of "healthy" items is no loss for these food manufacturers, who capitalize on creating new lines of spinoff products labeled "low-salt" or "sugar-free," when in fact those products require a significant increase in one of the other triad of flavors to remain palatable. Many products are laden with these ingredients in ways that would surprise the consumer: A single cookie, for example, might require several servings' worth of undetectable salt to retain its irresistible crunch, while it also contains up to five teaspoons of sugar. Moss breaks down the chemical science behind the molecular appeal of these foods, as well as behind the advertising strategies that are so successful in getting consumers to buy not only the "healthier" versions of popular foods, but the originals, as well. If this trend is to be reversed, he argues, it might take a social revolution of empowered consumers, a goal within reach if accurate information is available and pressure is put on these companies to dramatically alter the contents of its processed foods. A shocking, galvanizing manifesto against the corporations manipulating nutrition to fatten their bottom line--one of the most important books of the year.

The Theoretical Minimum: What You Need to Know to Start Doing Physics by Leonard Susskind and George Hrabovsky

Publishers Weekly –

Readers ready to embrace their inner applied mathematician will enjoy this brisk, bare-bones introduction to classical mechanics drawn from Stanford University’s “Continuing Studies” program. Although physicist Susskind (The Black Hole War) and science advocate Hrabovsky touch briefly on electricity and magnetism, the book is primarily about mechanics and the motion of particles. The authors open with a look at closed and open systems and the reversibility of physical laws, a concept central to the field. Next are rigorous chapters on trigonometry and vectors, and a no-nonsense intro to differential and integral calculus, and how these tools are used to calculate the motion of objects through space. Not for the faint of heart, successive chapters introduce Newton’s law of motion, the complex mathematics of “systems” of particles, phase space, conservation of momentum, and the Principle of Least Action, which allows scientists to “package” a system’s velocity, mass, direction, and forces into a single function. The authors intend this book as a toolkit for determined readers who want to teach themselves basic mechanics. Although their discussions are clear enough, even the hardiest reader will want to bring a basic calculus text along for the journey. 

The Vatican Diaries: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Power, Personalities and Politics at the Heart of the Catholic Church by John Thavis

Kirkus Reviews –

A seasoned reporter on the Vatican beat takes us for an irreverent and revealing visit. Frequently from the vantage of the reportorial fly on the wall, Thavis, retired Rome bureau chief of the Catholic News Service, looks candidly at the goings-on at Saint Peter's. His report, even without comment on the problematic events at the Vatican Bank, serves as a case study in management--and mismanagement--at a considerable worldwide enterprise with 400,000 priestly representatives. Though much history resonates throughout all church events, Thavis concentrates on the history he has witnessed firsthand, including the process of bell-ringing on the naming of a new pope and the work of various functionaries in the organization. We learn of the fight to save a unique ancient cemetery against the need for more underground parking and how the matter of the Legion of Christ was bungled when its founder was revealed as a thieving predator and why His Holiness didn't deal with an anti-Semitic bishop. Thavis also relates his time on the road with the pontiff and notes a futile visit by George W. Bush. He reviews the stalled drives to canonize the late John Paul or Pius XII, whose wartime role is still debated. Especially provocative are the chapters dealing with the mismanagement of diverse sex scandals and, finally, an appraisal of the opaque personality of Benedict, who seems, at least in public, detached, disengaged and often distracted. Like many in political life, the incumbent pope's remarks are subject to considerable spin, "part of the great communications disconnect at the Vatican." (Yet now His Holiness has acquired the Twitter handle "@pontifex." How it's used remains to be seen.) Not only provocative, this report is illuminating and fully accessible to members of the faith and doubters alike.

Why Priests?: A Failed Tradition by Garry Wills

Kirkus Reviews –

Pulitzer Prize winner Wills (Verdi's Shakespeare, 2011, etc.), a venerable voice on church history, thought and practice, provides a stunning critique of the Roman Catholic priesthood. Without equivocation, the author argues that the entire institution of the priesthood is based on pure fallacy. Wills' argument is not a Protestant one disguised as Catholic; it is entirely Catholic in its tone and approach, making it all the more compelling to all readers. The author begins by explaining the unparalleled importance of the priesthood in Catholic doctrine, always reminding readers that this importance is based primarily on Eucharistic theology. The miracle of transubstantiation is the linchpin for the power of the priesthood. By systematically deconstructing the Book of Hebrews, Wills begins to undermine the concept of the Roman Catholic priest. Going further, he boldly confronts the idea of Christ's death as "sacrifice," theorizing that the incarnation, not the crucifixion, was the truer source of humanity's atonement. Wills' book is sure to provoke controversy, but his arguments are well-constructed and hard to ignore. While giving due respect to those priests through the ages who served others in humility, he points out that the exalted caste of the priesthood is at best antithetical to Jesus' teachings about community and piety. At worst, it allows sin and corruption to fester. Wills' writing is informed by accessible erudition and marked by subtle sarcasm (such as describing the Host as "a kind of benevolent kryptonite," or discussing the things Anselm "does not allow God to do"). Though many Catholics will flatly reject Wills' arguments on principle, many others will find him to be elucidating doubts they may have already had. A comprehensive, critical exploration of the origin and meaning of priesthood and a formidable volley lobbed at tradition.

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