Off the Books
by Sudhir Alladi Venkatesh (Harvard)
A sociologist examines the underground economy of a poor Chicago neighborhood and discovers a thriving system of licit and illicit exchange. Although the resourcefulness of certain drug dealers, back-alley mechanics, and fly-by-night day-care providers is remarkable, Venkatesh argues that under-the-table transactions work to further separate their participants from the economic mainstream.
The Way to Win
by Mark Halperin and John F. Harris (Random House)
Two ultra-insider political journalists sketch a road map for prospective 2008 presidential hopefuls and bemoan the media “Freak Show” that will make those unlucky candidates’ lives a shallow, overexposed nightmare. Halperin and Harris’s observations manage to be both knowing and learned, but their zest for the horse race is everywhere palpable, and so renders their good-government protestations a little suspect.
Justice for All
by Jim Newton (Riverhead)
A thorough and enlightening biography of Earl Warren, a man responsible for no shortage of polarizing Supreme Court decisions: Brown v. Board of Education, Griswold v. Connecticut, and Miranda v. Arizona, as well as the conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in assassinating John F. Kennedy. Newton avers that Warren had an instinctively conservative temperament somewhat at odds with his liberal legacy, and presents his life as a “reminder that centrism today is a lonely idea, honored mostly in the breach.”
The Classical World
by Robin Lane Fox (Basic)
An Oxford classicist provides this sweeping and stylish history ranging from Homer’s Greece to Rome in the second century A.D. Fox’s command of his material seems effortlessly complete, and the events of his narrative feel surprisingly immediate.
by Christopher Clark (Harvard)
From the military and agricultural innovations of Frederick the Great to nineteenth-century high academic politics to Bismarck’s social-security system, this magisterial and remarkably well-written history of Prussia traces back to the eighteenth century the region’s surprisingly tolerant and intellectually rich culture. Clark, a Cambridge historian, suggests that the world is poorer for Prussia’s absence.
by Jörg Friedrich (Columbia)
Recently, many Germans have taken to seeing themselves as victims of atrocities inflicted by the Allied air campaign during the Second World War. Depending on one’s point of view, this is evidence either of a mature effort to see the war afresh or of a chronic obtuseness coupled with an unlovely tendency toward self-pity and self-righteousness. This haunting book, which recounts the effects of the bombing campaign, is largely responsible for Germans’ new perspective. Written by a formerly left-wing Berlin-based historian, it has aroused a sensation in Germany, where both peace activists and neo-Nazis have lauded it. Forceful, incendiary, and selective in its arguments, it’s now translated into English.
by Felipe Fernández-Armesto (Norton)
In this elegant survey of human exploration from prehistory to the present, a prominent British historian describes humanity’s long, slow discovery of its scattered constituent parts. For all the explorers’ apparent gains, however, Fernández-Armesto somewhat poignantly regards their efforts as “a march of folly, in which almost every step forward has been the failed outcome of an attempted leap ahead.”
Dark Side of the Moon
by Gerard J. DeGroot (NYU)
DeGroot presents a more focused chronicle of exploration, concentrating on the utter uselessness of NASA’s lunar missions, boondoggles every bit as myopic and costly as the Cold War that spawned them.
The Female Thing
by Laura Kipnis (Pantheon)
In acid, intelligent essays on “envy, sex, dirt, and vulnerability”—here defined as the four primary regions of the female psyche—the author of Against Love presents an overview of the present’s extremely complicated relationship to feminism and femininity.
What Paul Meant
by Garry Wills (Viking)
The author of What Jesus Meant turns to the apostle most often blamed for steering Christianity toward a joyless rigidity. Wills takes a more positive view, arguing that Paul’s epistles (which predated the Gospels) “stand closer to Jesus than do any other words in the New Testament.”
Moving the Chains
by Charles P. Pierce (FSG)
A Boston-based sportswriter chronicles a season in the life of New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. A lowly draft pick who rose to Super Bowl stardom through honesty, thrift, and hard work, Brady is no doubt admirable, but that Pierce is admiring nearly to a fault proves distracting as the chapters go by.
by Mike Freeman (William Morrow)
A more complex figure than Brady, Jim Brown was, in the eyes of this biographer, “the greatest pure football player the sport has ever known”—not to mention a civil-rights activist, the first black action-movie star, and the unwitting quarry of a hyperactive FBI. From Brown’s early heroics to his occasionally violent, uncertain, and disappointing later life, his story is as all-American in its way as Brady’s.
by Budd Schulberg (Ivan R. Dee)
In this anthology of boxing reportage, the veteran novelist and screenwriter casts his eye on the sweet science, from Tom Molineaux and Tom Cribb’s marathon thirty-nine-round bare-knuckle brawl in 1810 to the more recent exploits of Lennox Lewis and Floyd Mayweather Jr. There’s an operatic, carnival-barker quality to Schulberg’s reporting (Evander Holyfield’s Tyson-nibbled ear becomes a “cannibalized auricle,” and said nibbling is judged “sick, sad, sordid, and psycho”) that reflects the high-low vertigo of the best sportswriting.
Spy: The Funny Years
by Kurt Andersen, Graydon Carter, and George Kalogerakis (Miramax)
An anthology/memoir tracking the first seven years of the legendary satire rag, compiled by three of its original editors. When the authors note in the introduction that it would be simply too self- promoting to endorse one journalist’s recent claim that “We’re all Spy now,” all parties seem to have it right.
From Counterculture to Cyberculture
by Fred Turner (Chicago)
Disentangling strands of beaded network cable, Turner recaps the turn of events by which the hippieish brain trust behind the Whole Earth Catalog helped bring about the digital age, co-opting in the process the very military-industrial-technology complex its members once railed against.
The Light of Evening
by Edna O’Brien (Houghton Mifflin)
With her lush prose, the prolific O’Brien sensually evokes the early-twentieth- century Irish experience. The story is typical and, because it is so vivid, unique to her protagonist, a seventy-seven-year-old woman, seriously ill, who reviews her life as she awaits the arrival of her daughter. Less arresting sections of the novel are from the overly intellectual daughter’s point of view. Despite love affairs and marriages, it’s the expectations and disappointments between mothers and daughters that form the heart of this book.
by Isobel English (Black Sparrow)
This brief, emotionally restrained novel, released in Britain in 1956 but only now being published in the United States, is one of just three written by English, whose talents Muriel Spark and John Betjeman enormously admired. The plot, in which the narrator’s honeymoon on a Spanish island collides with her half-understood past, is mostly too subtle for drama (although the moment of impact provides a nice punch), but English’s writing is both dead-on and gorgeous.
Inés of My Soul
by Isabel Allende (Harper Collins)
Passionate and bold, like Allende’s fictional women, Inés Suárez escaped a life of tatting in sixteenth-century Spain and became, arguably, the mother of Chile. In her authoritative style, Allende has dramatized actual events to produce an epic about the career of this little-known but significant conquistadora that’s well-grounded but doesn’t linger over historical detail. As always, Allende focuses on the story, in this case one propelled by lusts of various kinds.
by Gerard Donovan (Overlook)
At once elegantly written and gripping, Donovan’s third novel—in which a book-centric, reclusive, and disturbingly sympathetic man exacts revenge after his dog is deliberately shot by a hunter— juxtaposes an understated tone and the unforgiving, inhuman landscape of northern Maine with extremes of human emotion and action.
by Carl Hiaasen (Knopf)
Hiaasen drags us through the Thousand Islands with a relentlessly dysfunctional and immensely entertaining cast of characters. There’s half-Seminole Sammy Tigertail, to whom bad things keep happening and who just wants to be left alone. There’s the engagingly manic-depressive Honey Santana and her long-suffering twelve-year-old son, Fry. There’s Honey’s ex-husband, who still loves her against his better judgment. And then there are the villains, who all get what they deserve (and then some). This is a fun, fun ride.
by Joseph Wambaugh (Little, Brown)
Wambaugh, one of the originators—if not the originator—of the modern police novel, returns after a long hiatus to the fictionalized inner workings of the LAPD. Here he tracks a series of seemingly unrelated stories in the jurisdiction of L.A.’s Hollywood Station, and offers all the characteristic Wambaugh magic: unlikable and conflicted characters we grow to love; a perfect mix of good guys and bad (and a confusion, sometimes, about which are which); and small vignettes that tie together seamlessly by the end.