Arts & Culture

Book reviews

A how-to for women at work, a legal thriller, and tales of eating really weird stuff.

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What Works for Women at Work

Joan C. Williams ’74 and Rachel Dempsey ’09, ’15JD
NYU Press, $24.95
Reviewed by Hilary Appelman ’86

Hilary Appelman ’86 is a freelance writer and editor in State College, Pennsylvania.

Women have made great strides toward equality in the workplace in recent decades. The discrimination that remains is often harder to identify—but still very real. What Works for Women at Work, by University of California–Hastings law professor Joan C. Williams ’74 and her daughter, Rachel Dempsey ’09, ’15JD, looks at the biases that have stalled the gender revolution and offers practical strategies for combatting them.

Based on interviews with dozens of successful women in professional fields and academia, the book is full of anecdotes and highly readable. But what sets it apart from the crowded field of advice literature is its solid grounding in research—hundreds of studies showing how bias affects the decisions and behavior of even those who think they are the most fair-minded.

Bias can come in the guise of benevolence—such as when working mothers are passed over for travel and promotion opportunities because it’s assumed they aren’t interested. “While it’s true that women sometimes lean back, often it’s not women who take themselves off the fast track,” the authors say. And while common wisdom says women in the workplace need to be more assertive, the book notes there can be negative repercussions for that as well. “Too much of the advice out there puts the blame squarely on women’s shoulders without acknowledging that what works for a man may not work for a woman.”

While identifying the need for broad structural change, such as flex-time policies that don’t penalize those who take advantage of them, the authors offer concrete suggestions on combatting biases and overcoming obstacles now, such as lists of “What to Say When You’re Judged on a Stricter Standard than a Man” and “Smooth Comebacks for Rough Moments,” as well as advice on documenting work accomplishments and saying no to “office housework.” Williams, founder and director of the Center for WorkLife Law at UC–Hastings, says the book is “designed to offer the kind of advice a good mentor offers her mentee.”

What Works for Women at Work is an eye-opening, thought-provoking, and above all practical handbook for every woman who works. It should be required reading for every manager—male or female.


Anything That Moves: Renegade Chefs, Fearless Eaters, and the Making of a New American Food Culture

Dana Goodyear ’98
Riverhead Books $27.95
Reviewed by Sarah Lyall ’85

Sarah Lyall ’85 is a writer-at-large for the New York Times.

“I will eat disgusting things, but only those with long-established culinary traditions,” declares Dana Goodyear ’98 at one point in Anything That Moves, declining to taste the tailless whip scorpion that her hostess has just dipped in tempura batter and sizzled up in a pan.

Not that she’s not fearless: in the course of her eye-opening and enjoyable tour through America’s curious and apparently thriving world of “extreme foodie-ism,” Goodyear meets people who eat giant embryonic ants smuggled from Mexico; spiders made into sushi; crab guts; live shrimp; the windpipes of pigs; the feet and heart of lambs; and elaborate meals in which each course incorporates marijuana in some novel way. Sometimes she tries these things herself; sometimes the reader feels a little queasy, thinking too vividly about the foods. (I myself draw the line at the still-squirming octopus that, one of her subjects warns, will “try to climb up the chopstick.”)

The beauty of the book lies in Goodyear’s intrepid good cheer, her endless curiosity, and her generous, non-judgmental attitude toward her subjects, some of whom are very weird indeed. Her wry, understated writing style is a pleasure to read and often riotously funny. (Turn to page 198 to find out how she deals with the ox penis she finds herself eating.) And the things people say to her! “In ten years, marijuana will be the new oregano.” “Prawns don’t have a great deal of intelligence but they know when they’re going to die.” “So they brought the dish out finally. It was boar, and the pieces actually had hair still on them.” “There’s so much about slimy that is good.” Anything That Moves is an unexpectedly delightful book.


The Hanging Judge

Michael Ponsor ’74JD
Open Road Media E-riginal, $16.99
Reviewed by Christina Baker Kline ’86

Christina Baker Kline ’86 is the author of Orphan Train, a New York Times bestseller, and four other novels.

Clarence Hudson, nicknamed “Moon” by an uncle who compared his dark skin to a new moon, is a small-time drug dealer and ex-con. When Hudson is arrested for the murder of a rival gang member and a white female bystander, the US Attorney pushes to try the murders in federal court. It will be the first death penalty trial in Massachusetts in 50 years, and the judge, David Norcross, dreads the inevitable circus.

Michael Ponsor ’74JD, himself a federal judge, fully inhabits the world of the courtroom in this—his first—novel, giving readers an all-access pass to the kind of wheeling and dealing that only an insider would know. He juggles a large cast of characters, revealing the compromises, tactics, and manipulations of fact that each person involved in the trial employs. From the judge to the mother of a ruthless criminal, all the characters have reasons for behaving the way they do, based on their self-interest, limited viewpoints, and sense of morality. “Judge Norcross and Maria Maldonado observed the same court proceeding,” Ponsor writes, “one from the front and one from the back, seeing utterly different things.”

Ponsor takes the reader on a fast-paced ride through back streets and back rooms, and by the time we get into the courtroom, we are hooked; the two lawyers’ opening statements are riveting theater. At a certain point the literal smoking gun shows up—and the drama intensifies.

Contrasting this ripped-from-the-headlines story with the historical tale of a notorious 1806 Boston murder trial in which two Irish Catholic men were sentenced to death on shoddy and incomplete evidence, Ponsor wades fearlessly into the death-penalty debate, touching on issues of race, class, religion, and ethics.

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