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Notable Books

Notable Books | Four nonfiction books

Issue: "Trouble in Egypt," June 2, 2012

An Economist Gets Lunch

Tyler Cowen is a foodie and a capitalist. From his perch as a George Mason University economist he wants to give people at many income levels the tools to eat well. His rules for good eating arise from both experience and economics. He shows how prohibition and the baby boom negatively affected food, and how immigration positively affects price and quality. He explains why budget diners are more likely to find tasty food on the east-west streets rather than the north-south avenues of Manhattan, and why Asian markets are a good source for fresh greens. Cowen wants to help readers understand the workings of food markets and the difference between food for taste and food for status acquisition.

A Journey Through American Literature

Hayes, a University of Central Oklahoma professor, divides his survey of American literature into genres-travel, autobiography, poetry, drama (including plays and TV dramas)-and themes. "American literature is about identity," he writes, and uses the first lines of eight books to draw out that theme. It's also about new beginnings, conquering the frontier, and confidence in the American way of life. Hayes' discussion of travel narratives should entice readers to explore lesser known genres of American literature. He includes a timeline of selected works that would be a good starting point for those who want to read off the beaten track.

Show Me a Story

The first books a child reads are picture books, but we rarely read about the artists who illustrate them. Marcus conducted interviews with some of the best illustrators, including Maurice Sendak (who died May 8), Peter Sis, Vera Williams, William Steig, Eric Carle, and Mitsumasa Anno. He asks questions ranging from, "What kind of child were you?" to "What prompted you to try your hand at making children's books?" to "Tell me about your first memories of books." Tana Hoban explains that her first books were black and white because her publisher didn't give her the option of shooting photographs in color. James Marshall explains the origins of the scary substitute teacher Viola Swamp, and Robert McCloskey says he was surprised to win the Caldecott Medal because he'd never heard of it before.

Detroit (A Biography)

Martelle's very readable biography of a city now under the spotlight begins with its early history as a French settlement. Advantageously situated on a bend of the Detroit River connecting two Great Lakes, Detroit prospered, especially after the Erie Canal and Soo Locks opened up waterways from Lake Superior to New York. Martelle describes Detroit's mechanical geniuses and brings to life the vibrant, restless city they built. The book is much less interesting when he reaches the 20th century, which he views almost exclusively through an economic and race narrative. He fails to analyze critically how labor and the auto industry agreed to unsustainable contracts that eventually brought Motown to its knees, and he ignores cultural factors-music, religion, sports, ethnicity-that give a city life.

Spotlight

Luci Swindoll

When Kay Wills Wyma realized that she-a successful professional woman who had stayed home to raise her five children (ages 4 to 14)-was raising kids with an unhealthy sense of entitlement, she decided to do something about it. She began a one-year experiment to "rid her home of youth entitlement." Cleaning House (Waterbrook, 2012) is a month-by-month account of her experiment fighting entitlement on the micro level by introducing her children to regular chores and responsibilities.

In Simple Secrets to a Happy Life: 50 ways to make the most of every day (Thomas Nelson, 2012), Luci Swindoll, sister of Chuck, follows her mother's lead by giving instructions in five-word sentences that start with a verb. In chapters entitled "Honor your Father and Mother," "Acquire a Brand-New Skill," and "Acknowledge Your Need for Help," Swindoll shares practical and spiritual lessons learned during her long life. Some of her advice will make you wiser and some will make you a nicer person to be around.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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