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Shelf Life

WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE?

A Nearly Perfect Copy, Allison Amend, '96; Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, $25.95.

Two characters face their irresistible temptations in this intricate, witty page-turner about authenticity. Art dealer and young mother Elm (short for Elmira) sees her chance to ease an unfathomable grief. Displaced painter Gabriel gets a shot at fulfilling his considerable talent. In an art world that "rewards youth because it's novel" and "simple art because it's palatable," what is owed the old and complicated? And in a technological world that can copy to the point of cloning, who will decide what is saved?

 
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, ANTHONY MARRA; Hogarth, $26.

The title is a Russian medical dictionary's definition of life—and it's free of hyperbole, given the Tolstoyan sweep of this enthralling debut novel. Marra, a 2011-13 Stegner fellow, writes about love, despair, courage, betrayal and scant-but-tenacious hope in wartime Chechnya. An 8-year-old village girl—the target of soldiers bent on enemy extinction—is hidden by her last neighbor in a ruined city hospital. Her not-particularly-willing protector there is an exhausted surgeon who stays in the country on the remote chance she might find her vanished sister.

The Sun Never Sets

The Sun Never Sets: Reflections on a Western Life, L.W. "BILL" LANE JR., '42, with BERTRAND M. PATENAUDE, MA '79, PHD '87; Stanford U. Press, $27.95.

Before Martha Stewart, Sunset created a distinctive brand of living. Before the Microsoft campus in Seattle or the Googleplex in Mountain View, Sunset created the definitive employee-friendly workplace. At its helm was publisher Bill Lane, a devoted family man who loved to sell advertising, ride horses and promote the West. Ambassador to Australia, Yosemite fan and Stanford benefactor, Lane (who died in 2010) wrote this unadorned autobiography with Patenaude, a Stanford lecturer.

Top Dog

Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing, PO BRONSON, '86, and ASHLEY MERRYMAN; Twelve, $27.99.

"An investigation into competitive fire—what it is and how to get it," Top Dog is packed with examples of adaptive and maladaptive vying in all manner of human endeavor. (Experienced ballroom dancer or novice skydiver—the fear can be about the same physiologically.) Added pleasures of the book are realizing the ingenuity used to devise experiments that study competition and imagining the mountain of tiny sponges and gauze squares on which subjects' stress-telltale saliva has been collected.

Rule the Clan

The Rule of the Clan, MARK S. WEINER, '89; Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27.

A work of political anthropology that spans kinship-ruled societies from medieval Iceland to contemporary Pakistan, this book is subtitled "what an ancient form of social organization reveals about the future of individual freedom." Weiner, who teaches at Rutgers School of Law, thinks the world's proud individualists would be wise to recognize clan rule's strengths (in both the merit and endurance senses of the word) as they work to spread liberal democracy.

Signs, Streets and Storefronts

Signs, Streets, and Storefronts: A History of Architecture and Graphics Along America's Commercial Corridors, MARTIN TREU, '79; John Hopkins U. Press, $49.95.

The attention paid to architectural history is seldom paid to commercial signage, and yet the latter can be just as key to distinctive landscape and is more easily lost. Treu has spent a lot of time on blue highways and in town squares documenting signscapes that he thinks are too often dismissed as "eyesores" and too readily stripped down to ahistorical or bland conformity.

The Tiffany Box

'Life is not held together by fame and fortune. Life is held together by Post-its and mothers.'

—Kathleen Buckstaff, '88, MA '92, in The Tiffany Box, Two Dolphins Productions, $14.99 .

 

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