Who could resist a book about parenting in the age of addiction that begins with this sentence, “Hi, my name is Jess and I’m an alcoholic”? Jessica Lahey, a middle-school teacher and journalist, quit drinking eight years ago, and her own struggle deeply informs this essential guide to making sure one’s own children do not succumb to substance abuse at the age when their brains are most wired for risk. You do not need to have gone through the experience of keeping a private bottle of scotch handy in order to top off the bottle in the liquor cabinet—and thus hide your habit from family members (Lahey’s dad and husband helped save her)—to empathize with what the author endured to arrive at the place she is now: a witty, knowing guide to recognizing the danger signals in adolescents and how to work effectively to save them.
It is a puzzle why Norman Jewison, now 94 years old, is not as well known as directors such as Robert Altman and John Schlesinger. The reason, in part, must surely be because his range was so wide; here, after all, is the man who directed The Thomas Crown Affair; In the Heat of the Night; The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming!; and Moonstruck. Ira Wells makes the persuasive case that Jewison deserves more fame than he has received, and along the way delivers a rollicking tale of Hollywood during Jewison’s most active years and plenty of backstage trivia. Jewison, for example, filmed In the Heat of the Night in Sparta, Illinois, because Sidney Poitier refused to work below the Mason-Dixon Line, and Rod Steiger would not have won his Oscar if George C. Scott had accepted the part of the Southern sheriff. And if in those days you ever thought of directing Steve McQueen in The Thomas Crown Affair, you would have done well to save yourself an ulcer and skip the job. An actor’s director, Jewison watched Cher win an Oscar for Moonstruck and thank her hairdresser and not him. Wells has provided a wonderful biography that more than compensates for Cher’s lack of gratitude.
For most people, if there is a secular saint in the world of science over the past 50 years, it is Stephen Hawking, the wheelchair-bound physicist from Cambridge whose book A Brief History of Time has sold millions of copies, most of them undoubtedly unread. Hawking, who died in 2018, embraced his celebrity and managed to make black holes and the big-bang theory popular in ways that his most significant accomplishment, the Penrose-Hawking singularity theorems, never became. (Two years after Hawking’s death, Roger Penrose won the Nobel Prize in physics.) Seife’s deeply researched book is a bracing antidote to the film The Theory of Everything, which won an Oscar for Eddie Redmayne as Hawking. Yet after reading it, one cannot help but feel that Hawking was as much trapped by his fame as he was by his wheelchair.