Sally Ride: America’s
First Woman in Space
by Lynn Sherr
Small in stature yet large in courage, so private that she didn’t come out of the closet until her obituary, pioneering American astronaut Sally Ride is a classic American enigma, a feminist icon who led by example instead of dogma, a cipher trapped in the body of a celebrity—the ideal subject for a posthumous biography. Ride’s widow, Tam O’Shaughnessy, deserves high praise not only for spearheading the project, but for providing intimate access to her late mate’s private life, a move that Ride herself would’ve emphatically disapproved of during her lifetime. Simon & Schuster, $28.00, 320 pp.
Tom of Finland:
The Complete Kake Comics
by Dian Hanson, Tom of Finland
If you need proof that today’s revolutions are tomorrow’s institutions, look no further than the Finnish postage stamp recently earned by Touko Laaksonen, aka Tom of Finland, the artist famous for drawing men with giant muscles, penises, and moustaches, wearing tight uniforms and leather (if anything) while enthusiastically indulging in anonymous macho mansex. Or, since by his own admission Laaksonen’s quality control meter lay in his crotch, do look further. Over several decades, Tom of Finland’s drawings, including his Kerouacian wandering alter ego “Kake,” who he rendered in a sketchier style than his Cadmus-like signature tableaux, did more to promote gay male hypermasculinity than James Dean, Brokeback Mountain, and Bob Paris combined. His cumspurting leathermen are now coffee-table appropriate. Taschen, $19.99, 704 pp.
How Culture Shapes Madness
by Joel and Ian Gold
Since the rise of antidepressants, the general trend in psychiatry has been to ascribe mental illness to chemical imbalances in the brain and other neurobiological phenomena. The psych-professor Gold brothers, in the course of treating patients at Bellevue and elsewhere, have been exploring the possibility that insanity and culture influence each other in ways as yet unexamined. Why did they start seeing so many patients who thought they were Truman Burbank from The Truman Show after 2003? Evidently, they hypothesize in a droll Oliver Sacksian tone, culture has a great deal of influence on trends in madness. Perhaps that Pharell Williams song really is driving you nuts. Free Press, $26.00, 288 pp.
The Wrong Carlos: Anatomy
of a Wrongful Execution
by James S. Liebman, Shawn Crowley,
Andrew Markquart and Lauren Rosenberg
Texas has the most capital punishment-happy state government in the country. According to the writers of The Wrong Carlos, the Lone Star State has executed “four times more than any other state.” Combine racial profiling with the death penalty and you get the story of Carlos DeLuna, a severely unlucky mentally challenged Corpus Christi resident who, in 1983, happened to be cowering under a pickup truck after a murder. A white eyewitness claimed that he’d seen DeLuna fleeing; this led to DeLuna’s execution in 1989. It later developed that he merely bore a resemblance to the man who probably committed the crime, his namesake Carlos Hernandez, who “spent . . . 45 years committing crimes for which he was barely or never punished.” The authors have reproduced a great deal of primary materials in the book, but sadly, since both men have died, it’s an open and shut case. Columbia University Press, $85.00 (paperback $27.95), 448 pp.
The Nixon Tapes: 1971–1972
by Douglas Brinkley and Luke Nichter
To celebrate (or perhaps just commemorate) the 40th anniversary of Richard Nixon’s ignominious departure from the White House, the infamous Nixon tapes have been painstakingly translated into book form. This involved the transcription of some 3,500-odd hours of secret recordings made by the president in the Oval Office and elsewhere between 1972 and 1973, parts of which became crucial evidence leading to the Watergate scandal and Nixon’s eventual resignation. The big question: Will there be a gap of 18:20 in the audiobook? Houghton Mifflin, $35.00, 784 pp.
The Nixon Defense: What He
Knew and When He Knew It
by John W. Dean
You know Olivia Pope, the woman Kerry Washington plays on Scandal, who busts her butt trying to cover up all the career-killing intrigue in Washington? Imagine that it’s 1973 and she’s a white man working for Richard Nixon. Years after plea bargaining and testifying against Nixon, then reinventing himself as an author and TV pundit, Dean has recently emerged from a stupendous mound of paper—”more than 150,000 pages of documents in the National Archives and the Nixon Library,” according to his publisher—to answer definitively any lingering questions about his former boss’s intentions and guilt. And perhaps his own guilt, but don’t bet the rent. Viking, $29.95, 416 pp.
The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan
by Rick Perlstein
Yes, it’s the Summer of Tricky Dick. On the day after the 40th anniversary of Nixon’s resignation, Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner Rick Perlstein releases the third 800-to-1,000-page book in what appears to be a gargantuan, multi-volume sweeping history of conservative thought in the second half of the 20th Century (before “conservative thought” became oxymoronic). First he dissected Goldwater, then the rise of Nixon, and now The Invisible Bridge chronicles the fall of Nixon and the rise of Reagan, during which, Perlstein hypothesizes, the country rapidly switched gears from American disillusionment to American delusion. Simon & Schuster, $37.50, 926 pp.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 21, 2014