George Harrison's untimely death was a reminder that it's been 21 years since John's. Originally published in 1988, Albert Goldman's newly reissued landmark biography The Lives of John Lennon (A Cappella, $18.95) is a sensual but devastating journey down a long and winding road landmined with smack, applause, and primal screams. Express alumnus Ken Kelley pops up -- as a "hippie journalist" for whose new magazine the embittered John promised to write a column circa 1973, actually hoping to put Rolling Stone out of business. (He was furious at its publisher, Jann Wenner, but no such luck.) John and Yoko were in the Bay Area trying to kick methadone, not to mention find a remedy for what Goldman calls "the drying up of their sex life." Yoko hoped to find an acupuncturist, though the practice was still illegal in California; she found one just south of San Francisco International Airport.
If you ever hated Yoko, this book is for you. Goldman, who died in 1994, spares no details in his exsanguination of the artist who, among other capers, sicced bad santeriacutea magic on a rival. Not only that, but she went after Paul before John.
Everyone knows Adolf Hitler loved opera, but he had a penchant for astrology, too. In 1932 he met a flamboyant psychic who was so popular, who held so much sway with the German public, that his bold prediction of Hitler's imminent success actually, according to UC Berkeley professor Mel Gordon, made it happen.
Gordon first read about the Viennese psychic in pulp magazines, though official Hitler biographies never mention him. The gears of German history, Gordon believes, shut out Erik Jan Hanussen, né Hirschmann Steinschneider. Not only would it be verboten to admit that the Führer owed his crown to a psychic, but also -- even worse -- Hanussen was a Jew, born into poverty, pretending to be an aristocratic Aryan Dane until foes revealed the truth, with tragic consequences.
"Here's a person who changed history. Here's the Jew who brought Hitler to power," says Gordon, whose new book Erik Jan Hanussen: Hitler's Jewish Clairvoyant (Feral House, $24.95) follows the restless showman from traveling circuses to La Scala to the yacht where nabobs attended his orgies and got up to scandalous high jinks under hypnosis.
German academics "insisted it never happened," Gordon says, "but it's all in the pulp magazines." He collected piles of these magazines and translated their articles into English, in addition to interviewing key figures such as Hanussen's daughter, Erika: "She was friends with Sophia Loren and married an Italian baron, and was saved from the Nazis by the Pope." The result of these efforts is an unnerving study of a bygone, gullible Europe eager to believe in seances, fakirs, and magic beads -- and where assimilation was standard practice but often fatal.
"It was the world of people like Peter Lorre" and Madeleine Albright's parents, whom "nobody knew was Jewish," Gordon says. "If your parents were Jews but had converted" to join the mainstream, "no Jew would consider you Jewish. But," as Hanussen learned too late, "the Nazis would."
How Berkeley can you be? The Whole World's Watching: Peace and Social Justice Movements of the 1960s and 1970s (Berkeley Arts Center, $15.95) is one way to find out. Based on a traveling photo exhibition celebrating the era that put this town on the map, this book of pictures by the likes of Cathy Cade, Robert Hsiang, and Richard Misrach includes commentary by writers including Judy Grahn, Peter Coyote, and Pulitzer Prize-winner Leon Litwack. Topics include the women's movement, the Panthers, student unrest, and more. Look back and see where some of what we take for granted started.To read Naomi Wolf, Marge Piercy, Robert Pinsky, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman in one sitting, check out Best Contemporary Jewish Writing (Jossey-Bass, $16.95). Edited by Michael Lerner, the rabbi and Tikkun magazine editor who netted a PEN Oakland award this year, it's the first in a series and includes big thoughts from some of today's hottest writers on Jewish identity, culture, politics, and memory. At the back of the book, Lerner offers a list of the hundred best contemporary Jewish books.
"Why only a hundred? There could easily be a thousand," he admits. But book lists tend to come in hundreds, and this one includes both Anita Diamant's The Red Tent and Selected Poems, 1947-1995 by ex-East Bayite Allen Ginsberg, whose name is -- oops! -- misspelled in the list. But if you're in an East Bay beatnik state of mind, two new Jack Kerouac biographies -- he used to live on Berkeley Way -- might be your cup of joe. The coffee-table gem by David Sandison (Chicago Review, $24.99) is heavier on pictures and the newly reissued paperback by Berkeley poet Tom Clark (Thunder's Mouth, $14) is heavier on text, but both are titled Jack Kerouac and both sport heartfelt introductions by the long-suffering Carolyn Cassady. So many stamens, so little time. They say Georgia OKeeffe was actually surprised to hear that viewers saw something erotic in her paintings of flowers. But Adam Kufeld -- whose new book Flowers: Portraits of Intimacy (Stuart, Tabori & Chang, $30) came very close to being titled Flowers: The Art of Seduction -- knows exactly what he's up to. This collection of lush color shots by the award-winning Berkeley photographer gets up closer and more personal than most of us have ever been with begonias, hydrangeas, and other sluts your garden grows. As revealed by Kufeld's close-range "macro" lens, the colors, textures, and shapes in blossoms' depths prove that petals aren't everything.
"It's all about attracting pollinators," says the award-winning Berkeley photographer. His images of the velvety tips buried deep inside a chrysanthemum, of a felicia's buttery pollen, and the moist green folds of a paphiopedilum orchid prove, as he says, that "every flower has its own strategy."
An amateur orchid-grower, Kufeld ran a plant shop for years and loved his merchandise, "but I never had the time to take their pictures when I had the store." His earlier books were about Cuba and El Salvador, and a forthcoming one is about Chilean artists who have been imprisoned, tortured, and exiled. Flowers sticks closer to home, but its universal message is no less eye-opening, no less of a challenge.
We buy flowers, we water them, but we nearly always regard them in the middle distance, as colorful blobs in a landscape or on a table across the room.
"Do we ever really stop and look at them?" asks Kufeld, whose prints are on display now at Oakland's Steelworks Gallery. "Once you start, it's a whole new world." Can cranberry juice really help you kick those pesky bladder infections? Find out in The Complete Home Wellness Handbook (Rebus, $34.95). UC Berkeley's John Swarzberg and Sheldon Margen, both of whom are doctors, join with the editors of the School of Public Health's monthly Wellness Letter (named the nation's best health newsletter by both US News & World Report and the Washington Post) to answer countless questions and offer a goldmine of useful advice about home remedies, prevention strategies, and self-care. First aid for a knocked-out tooth? Which drugstore meds will really help you sleep? Prepare for each season's ills way in advance, and learn to live with tendinitis. Bugs both big and small get attention in this enormous book, as do long-term troubles such as wrinkles, heart disease, and flab. Marlboros and Big Macs? Just say no. Religion -- you never know where it'll turn up. That's what Oakland science writer Gordy Slack found out while he was working on his latest book. Faith in Science (Routledge, $15.95), coedited with philosopher W. Mark Richardson, is a collection of interviews in which thirteen top contemporary scientists talk about atoms and air -- and God.
In asking how they balance a deeply religious identity with a lifework that would seem its diametrical opposite, Slack found "joy," he says, in "being given license to ask questions I'd ordinarily be afraid to ask." Not a religious man himself, he's been surrounded by those big questions nearly all his life -- with a born-again Christian father, a mother who's a spiritualist, one sibling who has converted to Judaism and another who is Hindu.
Some of the scientists told Slack that faith and work occupied entirely separate chambers in their lives and did not intersect: "like painters who bowl," he says. But others reported that at the heart of their work was a groping toward truth which, for them, brought science and faith closer together.
Nobel Prize-winning UC Berkeley physicist Charles Townes told Slack that claiming God didn't exist would be as absurd as saying that love didn't exist. Another Bay Area physicist, Arno Penzias, won the Nobel "for detecting the first material evidence of the Big Bang. You'd think that would have been a really religious experience," Slack muses, "but he said it wasn't, that it was just another day in the lab." For Penzias, becoming a father was a spiritual milestone instead.
Other interviewees include Anne Foerest, a German cleric hired as spiritual advisor to the artificial-intelligence researchers at MIT.
"The question was whether or not we will ever want to baptize machines," says Slack, who will be at Diesel on Jan. 17. "She thinks someday we will." As September 11's wake stretches wider and wider, travelers are still ever so antsy about where it's safe to go and how to get there. That's the topic of a panel discussion on January 24 at Easy Going's Walnut Creek store. Updating an earlier discussion on a similar theme which attracted a standing-room-only crowd, this one includes a new array of speakers including Contra Costa Times travel editor Anne Chalfant and yours truly.
Culture Spy - December 8, 6:10 PM
What the Fork - December 6, 3:51 PM
What the Fork - December 1, 1:56 PM
What the Fork - November 28, 1:33 PM
What the Fork - November 15, 1:37 PM