Pulse: 60 Second Critic

Nonfiction: Top of the Class; Soo Kim Abboud and Jane Kim

Only four percent of the U.S. population is Asian, but check out the Ivies: 18 percent Asian at Harvard, 25 percent at Columbia, 25 at Cornell. This book by two second-generation Korean sisters, one a surgeon and professor at Penn, the other an attorney, is subtitled How Asian Parents Raise High Achievers—And How You Can, Too. The hows? Limit extracurriculars, spur competition, and downplay following one’s passions, instead emphasizing financial rewards. But it takes a strong stomach to curtail fun to a Dickensian degree, screen your kids’ friends’ parents for similar values, and sign Junior up for the SATs in middle school. The authors offer only anecdotes to buttress their arguments, not stats. Still, they do get one thinking about cultural mores. —Sandy Hingston

Grade: C+

Endorsements: The Inquirer editorial board

Bill Clinton says elections are about choices, which is why the Inky editorial board’s recurring inability to pick a side is a staggering display of ball-lessness. Last year the paper recommended “none of the above” between the under-investigation Vince Fumo and the underqualified John Morley. Last month, it punted when confronting a choice of Hillel Levinson, an old Rizzo hand once indicted for perjury and extortion (the indictment was later quashed), or Alan Butkovitz, a state legislator who voted for the recent pay raise. When a corrupt former governor faced off against a Klansman for the Louisiana governorship, stickers read, “Vote for the crook. It’s important.” If the Inky has such a hard time choosing between hack and crony, what use is it to voters? —Sasha Issenberg

Grade: F

Nonfiction: Black Brothers, Inc.; Sean Patrick Griffin (Milo Books) 

Using the federal corruption probe as prologue and epilogue, Griffin presents a confident chronicle of Philly’s Black Mafia, the decades-long collaboration among drug dealers, Muslim clerics and local politicos. But those seeking a compact history of how Imam Shamsud-din Ali ended up in the slammer won’t find it here. Griffin, a Penn State-Abington criminologist, is enamored of his research, and every bit player gets his due. Bruno, Scarfo and Simone stand in the shadows throughout, and are a foil as Griffin disassembles the racist calumny about black crime: that it is violence born of convenience. Griffin punctures that myth with a salient detail that shows a criminal outfit highly organized: At early Black Mafia meetings, minutes were taken. —S.I.

Grade: B

DVDs: Rittenhouse Square (Max L. Raab Productions) 

This year-in-the-life-of survey of the bustling Center City park, from indie legend Robert Downey Sr. and Philly producer Max L. Raab (Strut!), offers an impressionistic look at how the place permeates the minds of different people. After a visual recap of the Square’s history, we meet practicing musicians, street artists and students, while the affable Downey talks to such local luminaries as film commission ­honcho Sharon Pinkenson and recovering restaurateur Neil Stein. Interspersed with the chitchat are montages of park events and voyeuristic views of attractive women—sunning, walking, and just hanging out. Fused by delightful musical interludes, this feature-length video essay is strictly “Squaresville”—but in a good way. —Irv Slifkin

Grade: B

CDs: Various Artists; Up the Stairs … and Through the Hall (Sherman Community Arts) 

Most Philadelphia musicians eventually wind up in West Philly, thanks to its dirt-cheap rents, liberal attitudes and ample rehearsal space. So finding 33 bands from the neighborhood for this grassroots-­produced double CD isn’t an impressive feat. What is impressive is the expanse of genres and the fact that so many of the tracks are so damn good. What begins liltingly with Partridge Family pop becomes gritty art-rock, then twangy alt-country, then a simply plucked classical guitar. Before you know it, you’re lost in a headphones-only Brian Eno wash of blips, bleeps and stormy surges. With a $10 price tag for more than two hours of music, you’ll think you woke up in 1975. Visit shermanarts.org for availability. —Victor Fiorillo

Grade: A