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PopMatters Best of Books 2008: Non-Fiction

Author: Fareed Zakaria Book: The Post-American World US publication date: 2008-05 Publisher: W. W. Norton Formats: Hardcover ISBN: 039306235X Image: Length: 288 Price: $25.95

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If the 1900s was the American century, what do the coming years have in store? In his follow up to 2003’s The Future of Freedom, Fareed Zakaria examines America’s shifting role in an increasingly multi-polar world. Zakaria’s engrossing case studies of India and China deftly illustrate the strengths of emerging powers, while his diagnoses of and prescriptions for American conduct are uniformly perceptive, fair-minded and wise. The future Zakaria imagines is not necessarily bleak. Economic development benefits everyone, and even the zero sum game of political power offers the US the Bismarckian role of honest broker. But that’s only if it takes it. Having been finished and released against the backdrop of 2008's presidential election campaign, The Post-American World makes it painfully clear how desperately the country needs bold leadership that will help restore American legitimacy abroad. Be thankful, then, that the President-elect has already read this fascinating book. Nav PurewalFareed Zakaria: The Post-American World

Display Artist: Nathan Nedorostek, Anthony Pappalardo Author: Nathan Nedorostek Author: Anthony Pappalardo Book: Radio Silence Subtitle: A Selected Visual History of American Hardcore Music US publication date: 2008-10 Publisher: powerHouse Formats: Paperback ISBN: 9781576874721 Image: Length: 224 Price: $29.95

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What Nedorostek and fellow compiler Anthony Pappalardo have effectively done here is taken the living, breathing culture of hardcore and channeled it all into this “catalogue of hardcore”. This is the hardcore equivalent of George Marshall’s The Spirit of ’69: The Skinhead Bible. This is more than a book – it’s a collection of photos, flyers, jackets, patches, personal letters and a library of essential 7”s and t-shirts. This is the story of American hardcore -- heard and seen through the artists, fans and photographers who captured it all. Radio Silence is hardcore’s legacy. Want to start a band? Read this book. Buy these records off of Ebay and Craigslist. Avoid the mall and hit up your local store for t-shirts and markers. Play the music the way you want it to sound and be 100 percent loyal to your friends, fans and other bands. That is the spirit of hardcore. Shyam K. SriramNathan Nedorostek, Anthony Pappalardo: Radio Silence

Author: Ammon Shea Book: Reading the OED Subtitle: One Man, One Year, 21,730 Pages US publication date: 2008-08 Publisher: Perigee Formats: Hardcover ISBN: 9780399533983 Image: Length: 240 Price: $21.95

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This self-confessed “lover of words” undertook the ridiculous task of reading the entire Oxford English Dictionary (OED) in a year and has emerged with a Pyrrhic victory. Though he may not admit it, Shea must possess some variation of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), for it quickly becomes apparent that no one but Shea could have read the entire OED because no one else could have done the book so much justice. This book is also an ode to dictionaries and the art of dictionary writing. Part literary criticism, part memoir and part adventure, this book should appeal to everyone who has even a basic interest in words.There’s no question that Shea loves the OED and his love is contagious because his simple, yet cogent writing style has produced one of the finest non-fiction books of the year. Shyam K. SriramAmmon Shea: Reading the OED

Author: The Saatchi Gallery Book: The Revolution Continues US publication date: 2008-07 Publisher: Rizzoli Formats: Hardcover ISBN: 0847832066 Image: Length: 272 Price: $60.00

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The Revolution Continues is not only a fantastically attractive and rich volume, but it also provides a beautiful and subtle post-structuralist guide to reading art without ever once explicitly dipping into historical or aesthetic theory. It never intends, or rather, does not seem to ever intend, the philosophical mantle which I laud upon its fair shoulders. It merely goes on its merry way in quiet profundity, displaying prints and photos of modern Chinese art. The subjects range from traditional canvas media to interactive installations of life-like silica sculptures in remote-controlled wheel chairs. There are several fragments of text interspersed through the displays in the first half of the book which provide historical context for the pieces and explain prominent imagery in the cultural consciousness of the society in which they were made and for whom they are largely intended. There are no references to theory whatsoever, though, and therefore the text reads more like a suggestion than any sort of dogma. This is the glorious trick of the book: getting readers to watch meaning generate and evolve all between one cover and the next. Not a word of philosophy is uttered and, perhaps not even intended. Nevertheless, philosophy pours out of this book from every resplendent page. Erik HintonThe Saatchi Gallery: The Revolution Continues

Display Artist: Steve Hely, Vali Chandrasekaran Author: Steve Hely Author: Vali Chandrasekaran Book: The Ridiculous Race Subtitle: 26,000 Miles. 2 Guys. 1 Globe. No Airplanes US publication date: 2008-07 Publisher: Henry Holt & Company Formats: Paperback ISBN: 9780805087406 Image: Length: 315 Price: $15.00

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I will say, in the interest of full-disclosure, that I am an avid bathroom reader. (But come on, who isn't?) I have a particular rubric by which bathroom books are measured: they should be amusing; not overly dense; and (perhaps most importantly) have frequent stopping points. By this measure, The Ridiculous Race is perhaps the best bathroom book ever written. The premise: in 2007, two TV writers (American Dad's Steve Hely and My Name Is Earl's Vali Chandresekaran) decided to race around the world, in opposite directions, without using airplanes. (Their reasons for doing this are unclear, but scotch seems to have been involved.) Somehow, they got a publisher to fund the trip, and this book is the result. What makes The Ridiculous Race so enjoyable is not only that the two men are funny, but also that they're such distinct characters. Vali cheats almost immediately and spends most of his part of the book jetting from place to place trying, as he says, to win the "awesomeness contest". Steve, on the other hand, is much more invested in the honor of the race -- he goes to great lengths not to cheat (he crosses both oceans by cargo boat) and worries constantly about what he will tell his grandchildren about the trip. Surprisingly, both writers seem to mature over the course of the trip but, assuredly, the serious moments are short lived. Not bad for two sitcom writers. Kyle DeasSteve Hely, Vali Chandrasekaran: The Ridiculous Race

Author: David Rooney Book: Ruth Belville Subtitle: The Greenwich Time Lady US publication date: 2008-10 Publisher: National Maritime Museum Publisher: IPG Formats: Hardcover ISBN: 9780948065972 Image: Length: 192 Price: $25.00

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Ruth Belville plunges the reader headlong into a densely packed gem of a history—one that author David Rooney, curator of timekeeping at the British Royal Observatory, is uniquely qualified to tell. Rooney reminds us that “New technology doesn’t just sweep aside old systems.They co-exist for far longer than one might expect." Throughout this brief but intriguing tale, Rooney emphasizes again and again the complex relationships between old and new, between man and machine, reminding the reader that such cultural interstices neither happen in a predictable fashion, nor do they follow linear paths. As Rooney puts it, “Stuff endures”, especially when there’s sufficient demand for it. The “stuff” of The Greenwich Time Lady will no doubt endure in its own right as a charming and thoughtful history of a subject that fascinates eternally: time. Emily F. PopekDavid Rooney: Ruth Belville

Author: Lewis M. Gediman Book: Semantricks Subtitle: A Dictionary of Words You Thought You Knew US publication date: 2008-06 Publisher: St. Martin's Formats: Paperback ISBN: 9780312377823 Image: Length: 144 Price: $12.95

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Semantricks is like wasabi: It’s not for everyone, but by limiting the size of the serving, it can be enjoyed with improbable frequency. The line between the groan-worthy puns and the more sophisticated play-on-words may be indistinguishable for some—certain people would no doubt dismiss reading this book as a waste of time bested only by the writing of the book—but for those of us who enjoy stretching the language so that it might contain our imagined concepts, this book is a labor of love. It's a twisted and peculiar affection, true, but love is defined by those within the throes of it. I was smitten from the start, romanced by the tongue-in-cheek charm of words like: Instigate: Ready-made fence entrance; Scurry: Fast-food favorite in India and; Flagrant: Outrageously aromatic. The re-definitions certainly do indulge in puns (e.g,. Abundance: A rhythmic wriggling of the buttocks to music), but the authors frequently transcend the pun by creating intricate and delightful new meanings for old words that retain, as they state, “at least a tangential reference to the meaning of the original word”. For instance: Custody: Responsibility for egg pudding; Hello: Opposite of Halo; Ineffable: Determinedly chaste; Logorrhea: Excessive timber harvesting and; Possum: Risk-averse member of posse. Bill ReaganLewis M. Gediman: Semantricks

Display Artist: Paul D. Miller (editor), Steve Reich (Introduction) Author: Paul D. Miller Author: Steve Reich (Introduction) Book: Sound Unbound Subtitle: Sampling Digital Music and Culture US publication date: 2008-05 Publisher: MIT Press Formats: Paperback ISBN: 0262633639 Image: Length: 362 Price: $29.95

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Miller’s book calls the distinctions between sound and music, and sound and noise, into question. Like his previous volume, Rhythm Science, this book offers a snapshot (to use a horribly analogue-culture metaphor) of the ways in which the human relationship to sound has traditionally been constructed and the ways in which, under the influence of what Miller calls “digital culture”, that relationship is changing. The book essentially contains three types of contributions. One axis of the collection deals with the relationship between cultural production, typically conceived of as the work of an individual, original creator, and sampling. Another addresses sampling not as cultural practice, but as metaphor—for the operation of the World Wide Web, for the workings of memory, even for race relations. And the third axis addresses not just sampling, but the ways in which we define—and, in so doing, limit—sound itself. Miller’s biggest claim in favor of the ideas he espouses can be found on the CD that accompanies the book, which features remixes of material taken from artists as diverse as James Joyce and Sonic Youth. Most of the material on the CD comes from the archives of Sub Rosa, a small record label specializing in archival sounds. Miller has a particular gift for unexpected couplings: Bill Laswell ends up combined with Magritte, for example. When he isn’t splicing together unlikely bedfellows, Miller practices the art of juxtaposition, setting tracks from Sun Ra, John Cage, and Morton Subotnick against recordings of Kurt Schwitters and Artaud (among many others). The overall effect is occasionally grating, but generally exhilarating. Erika NanesPaul D. Miller (editor), Steve Reich (Introduction): Sound Unbound

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