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Eileen Gray: Her Work and Her World
Eileen Gray: Her Work and Her World
by Jennifer Goff
Edition: Paperback
Price: $56.95
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5.0 out of 5 stars Why Gray matters, March 19, 2015
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As I write this review, the premiere of "The Price of Desire," a feature film starring my favorite actress, the magnificent Orla Brady, as the Irish architect and designer Eileen Gray is just hours away. The film is the latest project to debut as part of the loose "Eileen Gray Project" (#TheEileenGrayProject in social media). Other projects gathered under this umbrella have included the documentary film "Gray Matters," and -- perhaps most significant, in terms of the scope and total work involved -- this highly impressive book by Jennifer Goff.

Dr. Goff is curator of furniture, silver, music, scientific instruments, and (most relevantly) the Eileen Gray collection at the National Museum of Ireland. Arguably no one is better positioned, therefore, to finally rescue Eileen Gray from the obscurity into which she fell during her own lifetime, and to put her in her proper place and context as a trailblazer in art, architecture, and design in the twentieth century. The NMI is the repository of Gray's surviving papers and library, and Goff made exhaustive use of them to show the influences and inspirations Gray drew on across her long career. The early sections of this book are divided up by media: painting, sculpture, and photography; lacquer; furniture; and finally architecture. This topical approach made the chronology a bit hard to follow sometimes, but you can only admire the breadth, not only of Gray's work, but also of Goff's.

Goff's writing is well-sourced and informative, if sometimes a bit leaden. It occasionally falls into a rhythm of simple, declarative sentences. One sentence states a fact. The next sentence states a second fact. At times it felt like riding on a train, with a steady thump-thump-thump of unvarying style. There are also sometimes odd effects like this: "Gray says to Haweis in one letter that he tells her nothing personal about himself: `You tell me nothing about yourself'" (p. 327). Still, it's worth putting up with in exchange for all the information you glean.

Where the writing becomes more spirited is in describing the conflict between Gray and Le Corbusier over E.1027, the house Gray designed and built in the south of France (this conflict is the centerpiece of "The Price of Desire," too). A large part of the reason Gray disappeared from history was the deliberate effort by Corbu and others to deny her credit for E.1027. Goff clears away the mud and proves -- in a way I hope settles this for good -- that E.1027 was Gray's work in design and execution. Goff shows the fight was not only a battle of artistic egos, with more than a little vindictive misogyny thrown in, but also of philosophy. In a brilliant reply to Corbu's dictum that "a house is a machine for living in," Gray wrote (in a passage Goff likes enough to quote three times, by my count), "A house is not a machine to live in. It is the shell of man, his extension, his release, his spiritual emanation. Not only its visual harmony but its entire organization -- all the terms of the work -- combine to render it human in the most profound sense" (p. 347).

Despite this, and although Gray's interaction with many of her art and design contemporaries as well as friends and family members is well documented, the one area I kept feeling like this book was coming up short was in giving us a really good look at Eileen Gray as a person. This is I'm sure due in part to Gray's own "withdrawn, reserved" (p. 79) nature and her desire to "control not only her environment but also the people around her" (p. 429), including her destruction of many of her personal papers and early works. Yet it must also have been a conscious decision by the author, possibly (I speculate) because the drama of Eileen Gray's life has been told and retold so many other places. News stories surrounding the release of this book have mentioned that it was distilled from a PhD thesis almost five times as long. I can't help but wonder how much more fascinating information was in the 400,000 or so words that had to be pared to prepare this book for publication.

In the Irish Times, "Price of Desire" director Mary McGuckian says "Eileen Gray: Her Work & Her World" is "as much a must-have addition to any coffee-table collection as a definitive biography." Excellent and important as this book is, however -- and with the greatest respect for Ms McGuckian and her films -- the above is why I can't entirely agree. "Her Work" may never be better contextualized, and "Her World" is far better situated now, thanks to Jennifer Goff's groundbreaking and essential efforts. But the unadorned "Her" could have used just a bit more focused attention, I think, to make this a truly definitive personal biography.

Nevertheless, this is without question a five-star title. My hat is off to Jennifer Goff as a researcher, curator, and presenter, not only of art, but of information.


Revisiting the Jewish Question
Revisiting the Jewish Question
by Elisabeth Roudinesco
Edition: Paperback
Price: $24.95
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4.0 out of 5 stars Takes some effort, but the insights are worth it, March 13, 2015
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Densely-written and densely-argued (though elegantly translated by Andrew Brown), "Revisiting the Jewish Question" is not an easy or quick read. The insights are definitely worth consideration for readers with a particular interest in the subject of ancient and modern anti-Semitism and how it shapes and is shaped by today's global geo-politics, but it's definitely not the sort of thing a casual reader would be likely to leave on her bedside nightstand.

The central pillar of author Elisabeth Roudinesco's analysis is the distinction between anti-Semitism (which she defines as a racial prejudice) and anti-Judaism (opposition to the Jewish religion). The bulk of anti-Jewish activity in Europe over the centuries, Roudinesco sees as anti-Judaism driven by a Christian view of the Jew as within but not a part of "Christendom." Anti-Semitism, in contrast, came to the fore in the late nineteenth century as a reflection, in part, of rising nationalisms which viewed the Jews, at least in part, as being an alien people as opposed to an errant or false religion. There's quite a lot more to her argument, of course, which is why I say this book is very densely written and densely argued. She covers a lot of history and quotes a great many philosophers. At the same time, though, there are affecting personal moments, as when she describes an incident when she was a teacher in Algeria and her school was covered in painted swastikas by students protesting the Six-Day War in 1967. The students, she discovered, knew nothing about the Holocaust, but appropriated Nazi symbolism by equating National Socialist anti-Semitism with modern opposition to the acts of the Israeli state. That was, for me, one of the more memorable parts of the book, as well as a powerful introduction to one of the key discussions of the book, the extent to which criticism of, or opposition to, Israeli policy or political Zionism in general can be considered either to be, or to be informed by, anti-Semitism.

Although this book was published in 2009, with this English edition from Polity in 2013, the fact that critics of Israel's war in (or "on," as you prefer) Gaza last year often faced the charge of anti-Semitism shows how very timely this issue still is. This book may not provide lasting or widespread answers to "the Jewish question," but it gives us some useful lenses through which to formulate an analysis.


All United Nations Members - UN Member Set BASE
All United Nations Members - UN Member Set BASE
Offered by Flags Unlimited, Inc.
Price: $188.10
2 used & new from $176.00

4.0 out of 5 stars If you have this many flags and the room, this is what you need, February 17, 2015
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I'm very happy with this flag display rack. Now that I finally have space for something this long (note the dimensions carefully), it's the perfect way to display almost 200 4x6" flags in an impressive way. I have just two complaints. The smaller one is that the wooden dowels meant to attach the side pieces to the middle section were too large for the holes they were meant to fit into -- or so large, at least, that getting them to fit would have required a good bit of force. So I left them out, which has worked out fine because the rack isn't in a place where it's likely to be jostled or otherwise fall out of position.

The other, more significant, complaint is that the outermost two or three holes on each side of the center section cause the flags in them to stick out at an angle that forces them to run into the first few flags on the corresponding side section. I've left those holes empty so the display looks less crowded. Other than that, though, this is a great display piece. If you've got the flags and the room, this is a very good option.
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Maeve De Markievicz: Daughter of Constance
Maeve De Markievicz: Daughter of Constance
by Clive Scoular
Edition: Paperback
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting perspective on the life of her more famous mother, February 9, 2015
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Having recently read and reviewed Anne Haverty's Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary and determined to read more about this Irish "founding mother," the chance to find out more about Constance's one child, her daughter Maeve, was too interesting to pass up. "Maeve de Markievicz: Daughter of Constance" is a very brief book (I read it in one sitting), but that seems to be about right for the facts available on Maeve's life and, honestly, the historical importance of the subject. I would never say any human life is "insignificant," but even author Clive Scoular has to admit that, at the time of her death in 1962, "few Irishmen and women would even have remembered that Maeve had existed" (p. 77).

The most interesting and useful reason for reviewing Maeve's life, it seems, is for what it tells us about Constance. There's no avoiding the fact that Constance basically abandoned (Scoular prefers the word "neglected") her daughter to pursue her life, first as an artist and later as a revolutionary. Maeve was raised by Constance's mother until, in what Scoular describes as a second abandonment, Maeve is shipped off to school in England at age 15. Although Constance and the adult Maeve were able to craft some sort of stable relationship late in Constance's life, Scoular argues, with justice I'd think, that Maeve's serial abandonment by most everyone she knew and loved -- mother, father, grandmother, and ultimately her half-brother too -- left bitterness, imperiousness, and resentfulness as significant elements of her personality.

One element of Maeve's life I wish Scoular had described a little more fully was the question of her romantic and emotional relationships. She never married, and I don't recall there being any mention of suitors early or later in life. At least two women are described as her "companion" at various times, and the latter, Penelope Kirby, was the sole beneficiary of Maeve's will. That raises certain obvious questions to the reader in 2015, but Scoular is perhaps what Snoopy called "a GENTLEMAN biographer," and so the names occur only in passing. On the whole, though, readers with an interest in Constance will probably appreciate a slightly more in-depth look at the life of her daughter than is found in the standard biographies.


It's NOT JUST about the Money
It's NOT JUST about the Money
by Richard Perry
Edition: Paperback
Price: $14.95
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars It's NOT JUST for the major gifts officer, December 22, 2014
"Shepherding donors is a sacred trust," Richard Perry and Jeff Schreifels write on page 79 of this important book. A "mysterious and mystical responsibility to be valued and treasured."

Seeing the word "shepherding" in a book about fundraising may not be that uncommon. But encountering "sacred," "mysterious," "mystical," and "treasured" in the same sentence must be more unusual. It gives you an idea, not only of how passionate Perry and Schreifels are about their topic, but more importantly of the intellectual and spiritual commitment they argue lies at the heart of proper fundraising. That passion and commitment makes "It's Not Just About the Money" a book that can strengthen, inform, and inspire not just major gift officers (even those who are already pretty sure they're doing it right), but those of us engaged in any fundraising activity.

Richard Perry was co-founder of The Domain Group, the Seattle-based agency that in the 1990s and 2000s was the intellectual proving-ground for so much of modern data-driven, donor-centered, fundraising. Jeff Schreifels was a client-services leader at this skunkworks. Domain alum Jeff Brooks (The Fundraiser's Guide to Irresistible Communications) provides the introduction. (Disclosure: I was there too: Perry interviewed me during my hiring process, and Schreifels arrived around the same time I did.) The insights in this book are rooted in the Domain philosophy that, as the title says, it's not about the money or even the plan, but about the people and the relationships.

That makes the first half of this book, "Discovering the Heart of Fundraising," valuable reading for any fundraiser -- but especially for directors, board members, and others responsible for shaping a donor-centered culture of philanthropy.

Once that relationship-focused mindset is explained, though, this book IS -- intensely -- "about the plan." Perry and Schreifels show how to build a major-gifts strategy from the ground up. Their approach starts, not with targeting or analytics, but with making sure you have the right people in major gift officer positions, then giving them the tools and freedom they need to do their job. Then follows a step-by-step discussion of major-gift strategy and tactics.

It's not every book that can credibly combine high-level philosophy with ground-level nuts-'n'-bolts, but Perry and Schreifels make the combination sing. The book's timing is great, too. Fundraisers, nonprofit execs, and agency types looking to recharge their passion and commitment at the start of a new year should spend a few hours in these pages. It could do wonders ... not only for you and your cause ... but for the donors who see in that cause "the embodiment of [their] passions, values, and interests" (p. 133) to make the world a better place.


Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary
Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary
by Anne M. Haverty
Edition: Paperback
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5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating figure, well-placed in her context, December 9, 2014
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Every so often, I feel compelled to push aside everything else I should or could be reading to focus my attention on some new topic. Currently, that topic is modern Irish history. While a biography of Constance Markievicz might seem an odd place to begin exploring this topic, so much larger than one person's life, Anne Haverty's biography actually turned out to be an excellent introduction. That's because she not only tells her subject's story in an engaging way, but also places her squarely in the context of her time, highlights her significance, and draws out some key lessons of the Irish revolutionary experience from all Constance did and lived through.

Constance Gore-Booth de Markievicz was a socialist, a feminist, a land-reformer, a republican, and a nationalist -- all tendencies that, except for the last, came up with the short end of the stick following the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 which, as happens in so many real or supposed revolutions, ensured that the hands on the levers of power changed, but the essential structures of that power remained largely intact. She was also a woman, at a time when even many of her socialist and reformist colleagues had no interest in conceding any real, or certainly visible, leadership role to women. And, finally, she was an aristocrat, an artist, and a free spirit. How Constance combined, confronted, and/or managed to work through, these contradictions and challenges makes for a fascinating story. Haverty tells it well, and also briskly -- in slightly over 200 pages. I have a lot more reading ahead, I expect and hope, on the larger topic as well as on Constance herself, but as a text both introductory and foundational, this turned out to be an excellent choice. I'm sure more advanced students of Irish history would get even more out of it, even 25 or more years after it was first published.


Safe From Harm (A Sugar Land Mystery)
Safe From Harm (A Sugar Land Mystery)
by Stephanie Jaye Evans
Edition: Paperback
Price: $11.53
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Well-crafted story that may not be to everyone's taste, December 9, 2014
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"Safe From Harm" is a well-written, well-plotted story with engaging characters. What it's not, "A Sugar Land Mystery" series title notwithstanding, is a traditional murder-mystery novel. While -- as the reviews on this page show -- many readers have found this and the earlier title in the series very worthwhile reading, they're not really mystery novels in the standard sense. Readers looking for THAT kind of book should be prepared.

This book takes some of the elements of the author's first book, Faithful Unto Death (A Sugar Land Mystery), and magnifies them. At one point, as our narrator Walker "Bear" Wells was having another heart-to-heart with his daughter Jo, I thought, "I wish we could finish this and get on with the investigation." That's when I finally figured out that those heart-to-hearts are the point of the story. In other words, "Safe From Harm" is not about a crime and an investigation so much as it is about the effects of a tragic, even horrific, event on a family and a community. Figuring out whodunit is more about closure, pardon the cliché, for the family than about solving a puzzle. Once I understood that, I found the book more satisfying.

It was interesting to me how Bear has grown since the earlier title. He seemed less determined to lay down the parental law to his daughter, more willing to listen and discuss. He still has some unattractive, but quite true and human, characteristics, which are to the author's credit. For instance, I still find him far too deferential to police officers: If James Wanderley is going to insist on being addressed as "Detective," then certainly Reverend Doctor Wells has the equal right to insist on similar courtesy in return -- especially since Wanderley is, as Bear notes, closer in age to his daughters than to Bear himself. Assuming there will be a third entry in this series, I'll definitely add it to my to-read list.


The Smarter Working Manifesto
The Smarter Working Manifesto
by Guy Clapperton
Edition: Paperback
Price: $18.89
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4.0 out of 5 stars What do you do, and why do you do it there?, November 6, 2014
I've read a number of books about remote working, broadly defined, and how people can find the work arrangements that produce the best results for them and their employers. Most of these books can be placed somewhere on the following graph: One axis runs from books designed for managers and employees of existing companies, on one end, to self-employed entrepreneurs on the other. The other axis runs from manifestos making an outspoken case for "the new world of work" or similar, to extremely practical, how-to-do-the-work reviews of software applications and the like.

"The Smarter Working Manifesto" is unquestionably written for employees and managers, so that part of the placement is easy enough. But despite the word "manifesto" in the title, the book stretches broadly along the other axis, containing as it does both the intellectual case and the practical how-to for creating the best, most productive physical and cultural environments for getting work done.

My use of the plural "environments" in the previous sentence was intentional. For while authors Guy Clapperton and Philip Vanhoutte are enthusiastic defenders of getting out of the office, they don't see, or sell, remote working as a one-size-fits-all solution. "Smarter working isn't about getting rid of the office," Clapperton writes in his introduction. "It's about getting rid of having only one option" (p. 23). A good portion of this book, in fact, is about office design -- how to literally construct workspaces to maximize productivity for information work (as befits, perhaps, Vanhoutte's perspective as a VP of audio technology company Plantronics, there's a surprising but welcome emphasis on the noise of the modern workplace and how to contain it). I particularly appreciated the part of this discussion titled "Your workspace, your brand," which argues the self-evident (but apparently controversial?) point that a company's physical spaces say a lot about what the company -- and particularly the company's leaders -- believe to be important. "Your office," the authors write, "should be not only functional but a pleasure for the right employee to visit; they may work remotely, but coming into base should feel like some sort of treat" (p. 95).

Though the section on office design may be the most unusual and distinctive part of "The Smarter Working Manifesto," it's only some of the ground the authors cover. Another key section explores building, equipping, and sustaining virtual teams, with emphasis on the importance of trust between managers and managed: "The need is to jettison the traditional employer-employee relationship in which the employer buys the staff's time and effort for money, and convert it into a productive working community based on positive contribution and mutual benefit" (p. 141). Again, this section includes both theory and practical steps, and many real-world examples.

Overall, this is one of the most idea-dense books I've yet come across on these topics. Yet it's also readable and engaging, and filled with practical "action points" a reader can put to work, even if you don't manage your company's facilities budget. And if you do, so much the better.


Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour, and the Romance in Aviation's Glory Years
Jet Set: The People, the Planes, the Glamour, and the Romance in Aviation's Glory Years
by William Stadiem
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $20.60
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, gossipy look at the long-gone age when travel was glamorous, October 28, 2014
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I thought at first, for some reason, that this book might be about the business of air travel in the years after world war two, but really it's an entertaining people-study that reads at times like an extended magazine profile. That's not a bad thing, because I could see this book being read by a pool or in a resort with a fruity drink at your elbow. Author William Stadiem has a good time telling the story of the "jet set," from the days before that term was even invented to the final fall of the international playboys in the unhappy 1970s. Along the way, he checks many, many names from the worlds of entertainment, politics, and wealth, as well as plain (or maybe "plane") ol' business. His favorite technique is the extended contrast: 707 vs DC-8; Temple Fielding vs Arthur Frommer; Claude Terrail vs Conrad Hilton; Igor Cassini vs, well, himself mostly; and many others. You may finish this book feeling like you're putting down a 350-page issue of US magazine or something, but there's some well-done history underneath all the dish, and there is something to be said for a combination like that if this is an era you want to know more about.


Faithful Unto Death (A Sugar Land Mystery)
Faithful Unto Death (A Sugar Land Mystery)
by Stephanie Jaye Evans
Edition: Paperback
Price: $6.00
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4.0 out of 5 stars Nicely-done first mystery novel, October 25, 2014
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I bought this book and the second title by the author, I admit, because I was intrigued by the idea of a murder mystery series set in Sugar Land, Texas, a community just south of my home and where I've spent a fair amount of time. (The fact that the author, like me, lives with "two badly behaved pugs" also helped.) What kept me reading, though, was the well-crafted story and an ending that didn't give itself away too soon.

One of the intriguing things about this book was that I didn't actually like our narrator Walker "Bear" Wells very much. There was a lot about how he related to other characters that I found unpleasant -- and not in a curmudgeonly-but-ultimately-endearing way like, say Inspector Morse. The fact that other characters called Bear on this behavior from time to time helped, though, and reassured me that first-time novelist Stephanie Jaye Evans hadn't fallen into the trap of creating an idealized superhero as her lead character. Bear is a very fallible man.

The other thing I found interesting is that Bear is not really attempting to solve the murder in this story. He's content to let the Chesterton-reading Detective Wanderley do that. Instead, Bear keeps -- as the back cover blurb puts it -- finding himself and his family wrapped up in the mystery. There's a lot more I could say about this, but it could cross the line into spoilers.

One final point to note, since this is "A Sugar Land Mystery," is how nicely the author captures the atmospherics of suburban Houston -- which is to say, there basically *are* no atmospherics. Fort Bend County is the most ethnically diverse county in America, and this shows up in a few ways on these pages. But readers from other parts of the country who might expect a whole lotta Texas flavor here may be disappointed -- the front-cover blurb from Susan Wittig Albert about "down-home Texas twang" notwithstanding (I would recommend the pre-sword and sorcery Tres Navarre novels of Rick Riordan, set in San Antonio, for readers looking for that sort of thing; start with Big Red Tequila). Detective Wanderley sports an admirable collection of boots, and Bear himself is practically royalty, having once been a starter on the University of Texas football team, but on the whole Sugar Land is pretty standard-issue suburbia, and that in fact is reflected here quite accurately.

As usual, my to-read pile is pretty huge, but I'm looking forward to getting into Safe From Harm (A Sugar Land Mystery) as soon as I can, and then keeping my eyes out hopefully for a third title in the series.


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