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Book Review Roundup

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Did you trudge out into the snow this weekend to get the Sunday book review, like Gerald Sindell? If you missed the weekend's book reviews, here are some of the highlights:

"Something Is Out There," Richard Bausch
The New York Times

In this fine new collection, Bausch presents us with young people and old people; married, single and divorced people; straight and gay people; professional and blue-collar people; and people who are simply layabouts. They make bad choices, occasionally even deadly choices, because they can't help themselves -- and because the universe is full of peril and temptation.

"The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050," Joel Kotkin
The New York Times

Given the viral finger-pointing and hand-wringing over what's seen as America's decline these days, Mr. Kotkin's book provides a timely and welcome -- if sometimes Panglossian -- antidote. He builds his case for the prevalence of American exceptionalism on the nation's adaptability, ingenuity, vast land and other resources and religiosity (and also on a less convincing argument that the country has rebounded before).

"Horns," Joe Hill
The Los Angeles Times

As in Hill's first novel, 2007's "Heart-Shaped Box," the strands of the supernatural are woven tightly with the psychological, lending his work a dreamlike resonance. It's this quality that puts Hill in league with our finest fantasists (and distinguishes his style from that of his father, Stephen King).

"The Death and Life of the Great American School System," Diane Ravitch
The Los Angeles Times

As President Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan, embrace charter schools and testing, picking up just where, in her opinion, the George W. Bush administration left off, "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" may yet inspire a lot of high-level rethinking. The book, titled to echo Jane Jacobs' 1961 demolition of grandiose urban planning schemes, "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," has similarly dark warnings and equally grand ambitions.

"The Science of Liberty," Timothy Ferris
The San Francisco Chronicle

Ferris is an engaging narrator with clear insights into the workings of science and democratic societies. This is an important and extremely readable book; he has a powerful message, too: Science can support a free society only if science itself is free, and no society can remain free and viable without science to continually nourish it.

"The Routes of Man," Ted Conover
The San Francisco Chronicle

Roads are the human world's circulatory system, says Ted Conover at the start of this light-footed, chromatic and keen investigation into their two-edged consequences. Without them, life would grind, at best, to an arteriosclerotic shuffle.

"Blood, Iron, and Gold," Christian Wolmar
The Wall Street Journal

Mr. Wolmar, who bills himself as Britain's leading railway expert, is something of a cheerleader for railroads, and he does not shy away from hyperbole. At least three times in this book he compares one railway project or another to the construction of the pyramids in ancient Egypt. But he has a point: The railroads were indeed a vast undertaking, vastly impressive in their technologies, accomplishments and social effects.

"Habeus Corpus: From England to Empire," Paul D. Halliday
The New Republic

Halliday's lucid and learned account is implicitly structured around two large-scale transfers of power: the first from local institutions and executive institutions to the King's Bench at Westminster, the second from the judges to Parliament. In the first stage, the judges of King's Bench of the later sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries used habeas corpus as a centralizing device. Despite the libertarian mythology surrounding habeas, which grew up in a later period, the predominant justification for the writ was not so much the liberty of the subject as the prerogative of the King.

"Reality Hunger," David Shields
The Guardian

What Shields wants essentially is less plot - less fictionalising, in fact - and more reality in all its messy "truthiness". He sees himself at the vanguard of a still unfocused literary movement that celebrates the "raw", the "seemingly unprocessed, unfiltered, uncensored and unprofessional". One wonders, at times, if he has heard of the blogosphere.