Saturday, March 31, 2007

"More Sex is Safer Sex"

Coming in April: More Sex Is Safer Sex: The Unconventional Wisdom of Economics by Steven E. Landsburg.

About the book, from the publisher:

Steven Landsburg's writings are living proof that economics need not be "the dismal science." Readers of The Armchair Economist and his columns in Slate magazine know that he can make economics not only fun but fascinating, as he searches for the reasons behind the odd facts we face in our daily lives. In More Sex Is Safer Sex, he brings his witty and razor-sharp analysis to the many ways that our individually rational decisions can combine into some truly weird collective results -- and he proposes hilarious and serious ways to fix just about everything.

When you stand up at the ballpark in order to see better, you make a rational decision. When everyone else does it too, the results, of course, are lousy. But this is just the tip of the iceberg of individual sanity and collective madness. Did you know that some people may actually increase the spread of sexually transmitted diseases when they avoid casual sex? Do you know why tall people earn more money than shorter competitors? (Hint: it isn't just unfair, unconscious prejudice.) Do you know why it makes no sense for you to give charitable donations to more than one organization?

Landsburg's solutions to the many ways that modern life is unfair or inefficient are both jaw-dropping and maddeningly defensible. We should encourage people to cut in line at water fountains on hot days. We should let firefighters keep any property they rescue from burning houses. We should encourage more people to act like Scrooge, because misers are just as generous as philanthropists.

Best of all are Landsburg's commonsense solutions to the political problems that plague our democracy. We should charge penalties to jurors if they convict a felon who is later exonerated. We should let everyone vote in two congressional districts: their own, and any other one of their choice. While we're at it, we should redraw the districts according to the alphabetical lists of all voters, rather than by geography. We should pay FDA commissioners with shares of pharmaceutical company stocks, and pay our president with a diversified portfolio of real estate from across the country.

Why do parents of sons stay married more often than parents who have only daughters? Why does early motherhood not only correlate with lower income, but actually cause it? Why do we execute murderers but not the authors of vicious computer viruses? The lesson of this fascinating, fun, and endlessly provocative book is twofold: many apparently very odd behaviors have logical explanations, and many apparently logical behaviors make no sense whatsoever.

Friday, March 30, 2007

"Inventing Human Rights"

New this month from W.W. Norton: Lynn Hunt's Inventing Human Rights: A History.

About the book, from the publisher:

How were human rights invented, and what is their turbulent history?

Human rights is a concept that only came to the forefront during the eighteenth century. When the American Declaration of Independence declared “all men are created equal” and the French proclaimed the Declaration of the Rights of Man during their revolution, they were bringing a new guarantee into the world. But why then? How did such a revelation come to pass? In this extraordinary work of cultural and intellectual history, Professor Lynn Hunt grounds the creation of human rights in the changes that authors brought to literature, the rejection of torture as a means of finding out truth, and the spread of empathy. Hunt traces the amazing rise of rights, their momentous eclipse in the nineteenth century, and their culmination as a principle with the United Nations’s proclamation in 1948. She finishes this work for our time with a diagnosis of the state of human rights today.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

"Cold Day in Hell"

Published this month by Random House: Richard Hawke's Cold Day in Hell.

About the novel, from the publisher:

In the stew and dazzle of New York City, savvy, irreverent Fritz Malone – who Susan Isaacs called “the perfect balance of noir P.I. and decent guy” – is embroiled in a string of grisly murders that drags him behind the lurid headlines into the tangled affairs of some the city’s most beautiful people and their ugly truths.

When two women linked with charismatic late-night TV personality Marshall Fox are found brutally slain in Central Park, Fox becomes the prime suspect and is charged with the murders. At the tabloid trial, one of Fox’s ex-lovers, Robin Burrell, is called to testify – and is instantly thrust into the media’s harsh spotlight. Shaken by a subsequent onslaught of hate mail, Robin goes to Fritz Malone for help. Malone has barely begun to investigate when Robin is found sadistically murdered in her Upper West Side brownstone, hands and feet shackled and a shard of mirror protruding from her neck.

But it’s another gory detail that confounds both Malone and Megan Lamb, the troubled NYPD detective officially assigned to the case. Though Fox is in custody the third victim’s right hand has been placed over her heart and pinned with a four-inch nail, just as in the killings he’s accused of. Is this a copycat murder, or is the wrong man on trial?

Teaming up with Detective Lamb, Malone delves deeper into Fox’s past, unpeeling the layers of the media darling’s secret life and developing an ever-increasing list of suspects for Robin’s murder. When yet another body turns up in Central Park, the message is clear: Get too close to Fox and get ready to die.

And Malone is getting too close.

In Cold Day in Hell, Richard Hawke has again given readers a tale about the dark side of the big city, a thriller that moves with breakneck speed toward a conclusion that is as shocking as it is unforgettable.
The Page 99 Test: Richard Hawke's Cold Day in Hell.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Coming in April: Untapped: The Scramble for Africa's Oil by John Ghazvinian.

About the book, from the publisher:

Although Africa has long been known to be rich in oil, extracting it hadn’t seemed worth the effort and risk until recently. But with the price of Middle Eastern crude oil skyrocketing and advancing technology making reserves easier to tap, the region has become the scene of a competition between major powers that recalls the nineteenth-century scramble for colonization there. Already the United States imports more of its oil from Africa than from Saudi Arabia, and China, too, looks to the continent for its energy security.

What does this giddy new oil boom mean — for America, for the world, for Africans themselves? To find out, John Ghazvinian traveled through twelve African countries — from Sudan to Congo to Angola — talking to warlords, industry executives, bandits, activists, priests, missionaries, oil-rig workers, scientists, and ordinary people whose lives have been transformed — not necessarily for the better — by the riches beneath their feet. The result is a high-octane narrative that reveals the challenges, obstacles, reasons for despair, and reasons for hope emerging from the world’s newest energy hot spot.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

"A Moveable Thirst"

Coming in April: A Moveable Thirst: Tales and Tastes from a Season in Napa Wine Country by Rick Kushman and Hank Beal.

About the book, from the publisher:


plus, Get the Lowdown on 141 Napa Tasting Rooms, From Top-Name Wineries to Hidden Gems

Hank Beal is a wine pro — the executive wine buyer at an upscale supermarket chain. Rick Kushman is an ordinary Joe — a guy who loves wine, but doesn't know a lot about it. Together, they set out to visit all 141 public tasting rooms in Napa during the course of a season. The result is A Moveable Thirst — an engaging, often hilarious book that's part Sideways, part Wine For Dummies, and part Frommer's.

The first half recounts their uproarious adventures on the road as Rick learns to swirl, sniff, and spit ... but can't stop asking stupid questions. The second part offers the most comprehensive and detailed guide ever published to Napa's wine rooms, with incisive information on everything from service and atmosphere to tasting tools and picnic prospects. Complete with invaluable tasting tips, it's the only book you need to map out your own Napa Valley wine adventure.


Learn from Hank's patient expertise and Rick's often-naive but relentlessly enthusiastic questions as they make their way around Napa tasting rooms

Find out how to charm the servers (hint: never, ever quote from Sideways),encourage generous pours, learn about wine, and have fun

Pick up essential wine-tasting dos and don'ts, from "Carry a cooler. Don't cook your wine" to "Eat. Seriously, eat"

Monday, March 26, 2007

"The Jesus Machine"

Published earlier this month: The Jesus Machine: How James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War, by Dan Gilgoff.

About the book, from The Jesus Machine website:

More than two-dozen amendments to state constitutions banning gay marriage. The reelection of George W. Bush by winning nearly 80 percent of the white evangelical vote. The Terri Schiavo congressional intervention. The Christian Right has achieved more in the last few years than at any time in its history. Yet the story of the man and the organization that have orchestrated those successes—James Dobson and his Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family—has gone almost entirely untold.

Until now.

In The Jesus Machine, U.S. News & World Report Senior Editor Dan Gilgoff provides the first inside look at Dobson’s vast national network, the most powerful web of organizations the Christian Right has ever known. From its origins as a Southern California radio show dispensing parenting advice, Dobson—not a minister, but a family therapist with a doctorate in child development—has turned Focus on the Family into the command center for an unrivaled grassroots army. Dobson’s radio show reaches up to ten million Americans a week and elicits so much listener mail that Focus needs its own zip code.

Gilgoff was afforded wide access to Focus on the Family’s Colorado Springs headquarters, its so-called Washington embassy, the Family Research Council, and its state-level affiliates. In addition to rare interviews with Dobson himself, The Jesus Machine showcases interviews with Jerry Falwell, Ralph Reed, Chuck Colson, the scandal-plagued Ted Haggard, and scores of others, including politicians as diverse as Republican senator and presidential hopeful Sam Brownback and Democrat John F. Kerry. Besides chronicling how Dobson became more powerful than Falwell, Reed, or Pat Robertson ever were, The Jesus Machine shows:

  • How Democrats applied the lessons of losing the “values” vote in 2004 to wage the congressional takeover of 2006.
  • How a small handful of evangelical activists in Dobson’s network coaxed Congress into intervening in the Schiavo case, even as most evangelical Americans opposed the effort.
  • How Focus on the Family’s Ohio affiliate organized the 2004 get-out-the-vote drive that sent Bush back to the White House.
  • How Dobson overcame fierce resistance from within the Christian Right to the idea of amending the U.S. Constitution to ban gay marriage, turning the amendment effort into the movement’s top priority—and giving Republicans an issue to win on.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

"Fatal Purity"

Due in April: Fatal Purity: Robespierre and the French Revolution by Ruth Scurr.

About the book, from the publisher:

Since his execution by guillotine in July 1794, Maximilien Robespierre has been contested terrain for historians. Was he a bloodthirsty charlatan or the only true defender of revolutionary ideals? The first modern dictator or the earliest democrat? Was his extreme moralism a heroic virtue or a ruinous flaw?

Against the dramatic backdrop of the French Revolution, historian Ruth Scurr tracks Robespierre’s evolution from provincial lawyer to devastatingly efficient revolutionary leader, righteous and paranoid in equal measure. She explores his reformist zeal, his role in the fall of the monarchy, his passionate attempts to design a modern republic, even his extraordinary effort to found a perfect religion. And she follows him into the Terror, as the former death- penalty opponent makes summary execution the order of the day, himself falling victim to the violence at the age of thirty-six.

Written with epic sweep, full of nuance and insight, Fatal Purity is a fascinating portrait of a man who identified with the Revolution to the point of madness, and in so doing changed the course of history.
Scurr recently put her book to the Page 69 Test.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"The Raw Shark Texts"

Due out: Steven Hall's The Raw Shark Texts.

About the book, from the publisher:

I was unconscious. I’d stopped breathing.
I don’t know how long it lasted, but the engines and drivers that keep the
human machine functioning at a mechanical level must have tripswitched,
responding to the stillness with a general systems panic.
Autopilot failure—switch to emergency manual override.
This is how my life started, my second life.

So begins The Raw Shark Texts, the startlingly original debut novel from Steven Hall that is already electrifying booksellers and publishers all over the world.

Eric Sanderson wakes up one day with no idea who or where he is. A note instructs him to call a Dr. Randle, who informs him that he is undergoing yet another episode of memory loss and that for the last two years—since the tragic death of his great love, Clio, while vacationing in Greece — he’s been suffering from an acute disassociative disorder.

But there may be more to the story, or it may be a different story altogether. As Eric Sanderson begins to examine letters and papers left behind by “the first Eric Sanderson” and the staggering tale they seem to contain, he and the reader embark on a quest to recover the truth and to escape the predatory forces that threaten to devour him. Moving with the pace and momentum of a superb thriller, exploring ideas about language and information as well as identity, The Raw Shark Texts is a brilliant novel about the magnitude of love and the devastating effect of losing that love. It will dazzle you, it will move you, and it will leave an indelible imprint like nothing you have read in a long time.

Friday, March 23, 2007

"Emotions Revealed"

New from Henry Holt and Owl Books: Emotions Revealed: Recognizing Faces and Feelings to Improve Communication and Emotional Life, second edition, by Paul Ekman.

About the book, from the publisher:

Renowned psychologist Paul Ekman explains the roots of our emotions—anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and happiness — and shows how they cascade across our faces, providing clear signals to those who can identify the clues. As featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s bestseller Blink, Ekman’s Facial Action Coding System offers intense training in recognizing feelings in spouses, children, colleagues, even strangers on the street.

In Emotions Revealed, Ekman distills decades of research into a practical, mind-opening, and life-changing guide to reading the emotions of those around us. He answers such questions as: How does our body signal to others whether we are slightly sad or anguished, peeved or enraged? Can we learn to distinguish between a polite smile and the genuine thing? Can we ever truly control our emotions? Packed with unique exercises and photographs, and a new chapter on emotions and lying that encompasses security and terrorism as well as gut decisions, Emotions Revealed is an indispensable resource for navigating our emotional world.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


New in April from Henry Holt and Metropolitan Books: Atul Gawande's Better.

About the book, from the publisher:

The struggle to perform well is universal: each one of us faces fatigue, limited resources, and imperfect abilities in whatever we do. But nowhere is this drive to do better more important than in medicine, where lives are on the line with every decision. In his new book, Atul Gawande explores how doctors strive to close the gap between best intentions and best performance in the face of obstacles that sometimes seem insurmountable.

Gawande’s gripping stories of diligence, ingenuity, and what it means to do right by people take us to battlefield surgical tents in Iraq, to labor and delivery rooms in Boston, to a polio outbreak in India, and to malpractice courtrooms around the country. He discusses the ethical dilemmas of doctors’ participation in lethal injections, examines the influence of money on modern medicine, and recounts the astoundingly contentious history of hand washing. And as in all his writing, Gawande gives us an inside look at his own life as a practicing surgeon, offering a searingly honest firsthand account of work in a field where mistakes are both unavoidable and unthinkable.

At once unflinching and compassionate, Better is an exhilarating journey narrated by “arguably the best nonfiction doctor-writer around” (Salon). Gawande’s investigation into medical professionals and how they progress from merely good to great provides rare insight into the elements of success, illuminating every area of human endeavor.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

"The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish"

New this spring: Elise Blackwell's The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish.

About the book, from the publisher:

Set in southern Louisiana in the weeks preceding the great flood of 1927, this novel depicts a place and way of life about to be forever changed. On the verge of manhood and a stone’s throw of the rising Mississippi River, Louis Proby is pulled between his love of the natural world and the glittering temptations of New Orleans, between the beautiful Nanette Lançon and a father who no longer seems larger-than-life, between the simplicity of childhood and the complicated decisions of adulthood.

Louis comes of age at a time when the country is coming of age. In Louisiana, it’s a time when the powerful prove themselves willing to sacrifice the poor to protect their position. As the people of Cypress Parish go about their daily lives, bankers in New Orleans are plotting to alter those lives irrevocably. Like so many calamities, the one that befalls Cypress Parish has both natural and human causes.

Based on historical events and narrated on the eve of another disaster, The Unnatural History of Cypress Parish tells the story of a young man growing up in a time and place not quite like any other. And in doing so it reveals the complexity of our own relationship to the past. This a beautifully turned novel of love and natural history, married to the shadowy politics of Louisiana, a novel about what manhood means now and what it meant in the south in the 1920s.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"The Color of a Dog Running Away"

Due out this month from Doubleday: Richard Gywn's The Color of a Dog Running Away.

From the publisher:

Lucas, a musician and translator living in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, comes home one day to find a cryptic invitation to a local art gallery slipped under his door. When he appears at the appointed time, he sets in motion a series of improbable, seemingly interconnected events that disrupt his previously passive existence. He meets the alluring Nuria and they begin an intense love affair. He is approached by a band of Barcelona’s mythic roof dwellers and has a run-in with a fire-eating prophet. But when he and Nuria are kidnapped by a religious cult with roots stretching back to the thirteenth century, Lucas realizes that his life is spinning out of control.

The cult’s megalomaniac leader, Ponteuf, maintains that Nuria and Lucas are essential to his plan to revive the religion. While Nuria is surprisingly open to Ponteuf and his theories, Lucas is outraged and makes his escape. Back in Barcelona, Lucas wanders the streets in a drug-and-alcohol-induced haze, pining for Nuria and struggling to make sense of what happened to him. He recounts his improbable adventures to his friends, who are wholly entertained by the story and deeply doubtful of its truth, a skepticism that is exacerbated by Lucas’s tendency to use the third person and flaunt different narrative styles.

A love story, tale of adventure, historical thriller, and evocative tour of Barcelona, The Color of a Dog Running Away is a dazzling blend of the surreal and the ordinary, a novel that beguiles and disturbs in equal measure.

Monday, March 19, 2007

"Made to Stick"

Published in January: Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.

From the authors' website:

Mark Twain once observed, “ A lie can get halfway around the world before the truth can even get its boots on.” His observation rings true: Urban legends, conspiracy theories, and bogus public-health scares circulate effortlessly. Meanwhile, people with important ideas — businessmen, educators, politicians, journalists, and others — struggle to make their ideas “stick.”

Why do some ideas thrive while others die? And how do we improve the chances of worthy ideas? In Made to Stick, accomplished educators and idea collectors Chip and Dan Heath tackle head-on these vexing questions. Inside, the brothers Heath reveal the anatomy of ideas that “stick” and explain sure-fire methods for making ideas stickier, such as violating schemas, using the Velcro Theory of Memory, and creating “curiosity gaps.”

In this indispensable guide, we discover that “sticky” messages of all kinds—from the infamous “organ theft ring” hoax to a coach’s lessons on sportsmanship to a product vision statement from Sony — draw their power from the same six traits.

Made to Stick is a book that will transform the way you communicate ideas. It’s a fast-paced tour of idea success stories (and failures)—the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who drank a glass of bacteria to prove a point about stomach ulcers; the charities who make use of the Mother Teresa Effect; the elementary-school teacher’s simulation that actually prevented prejudice . Provocative, eye-opening, and funny, Made to Stick shows us the principles of successful ideas at work — and how we can apply these rules to making our own messages “stick.”

Sunday, March 18, 2007

"Disturbing the Dead"

New this month from Poisoned Pen Press: Sandra Parshall's Disturbing the Dead.

From the publisher:

Tom Bridger, who is half Melungeon, thought he had escaped his mountain community's lingering prejudice against the mixed-race group when he left to work for the Richmond, Virginia Police Department. Tom was moving up the detective ranks when a family tragedy brought him back home and moved him into his father’s job as a county sheriff's deputy.

Now the bones of a Melungeon woman who disappeared ten years ago have surfaced on a remote mountaintop, and all evidence points to murder. Violence escalates as the victim's poor family and the wealthy white family she married into scramble to protect their secrets from Tom’s probing. But as he probes into his father's investigation of the case, he finds his father was not the man he idolized.

The woman Tom is falling in love with, veterinarian Rachel Goddard, is struggling to start over in a place that holds no memories for her. Rachel puts herself in danger when she befriends the dead Melungeon woman’s niece, Holly. As a child, the girl witnessed something that could implicate her aunt's killer, but she is too terrified to tell anyone what she knows. While Rachel is determined to keep Holly safe and help her piece together past events, the guilty are equally determined to silence the girl -- and Rachel too, if necessary.

Will this murder be Tom's and Rachel's undoing or will it free them to look into the future?

Saturday, March 17, 2007

"Grammar Lessons"

New this month: Grammar Lessons: Translating a Life in Spain by Michele Morano.

From the publisher:

In the thirteen personal essays in Grammar Lessons, Michele Morano connects the rules of grammar to the stories we tell to help us understand our worlds. Living and traveling in Spain during a year of teaching English to university students, she learned to translate and interpret her past and present worlds — to study the surprising moments of communication — as a way to make sense of language and meaning, longing and memory.

Morano focuses first on her year of living in Oviedo, in the early 1990s, a time spent immersing herself in a new culture and language while working through the relationship she had left behind with an emotionally dependent and suicidal man. Next, after subsequent trips to Spain, she explores the ways that travel sparks us to reconsider our personal histories in the context of larger historical legacies. Finally, she turns to the aftereffects of travel, to the constant negotiations involved in retelling and understanding the stories of our lives. Throughout she details one woman’s journey through vocabulary and verb tense toward a greater sense of her place in the world.

Grammar Lessons illustrates the difficulty and delight, humor and humility of living in a new language and of carrying that pivotal experience forward. Michele Morano’s beautifully constructed essays reveal the many grammars and many voices that we collect, and learn from, as we travel.

Friday, March 16, 2007

"Famine in North Korea"

New this month from Columbia University Press: Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform, by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, foreword by Amartya Sen.

Book description, from the publisher:

In the mid-1990s, as many as one million North Koreans died in one of the worst famines of the twentieth century. The socialist food distribution system collapsed primarily because of a misguided push for self-reliance, but was compounded by the regime's failure to formulate a quick response-including the blocking of desperately needed humanitarian relief.

As households, enterprises, local party organs, and military units tried to cope with the economic collapse, a grassroots process of marketization took root. However, rather than embracing these changes, the North Korean regime opted for tentative economic reforms with ambiguous benefits and a self-destructive foreign policy. As a result, a chronic food shortage continues to plague North Korea today.

In their carefully researched book, Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland present the most comprehensive and penetrating account of the famine to date, examining not only the origins and aftermath of the crisis but also the regime's response to outside aid and the effect of its current policies on the country's economic future. Their study begins by considering the root causes of the famine, weighing the effects of the decline in the availability of food against its poor distribution. Then it takes a close look at the aid effort, addressing the difficulty of monitoring assistance within the country, and concludes with an analysis of current economic reforms and strategies of engagement.

North Korea's famine exemplified the depredations that can arise from tyrannical rule and the dilemmas such regimes pose for the humanitarian community, as well as the obstacles inherent in achieving economic and political reform. To reveal the state's culpability in this tragic event is a vital project of historical recovery, one that is especially critical in light of our current engagement with the "North Korean question."

Thursday, March 15, 2007

"The Buried Book"

Due out this month from Henry Holt: The Buried Book: The Loss and Rediscovery of the Great Epic of Gilgamesh by David Damrosch.

From the publisher:

Adventurers, explorers, kings, gods, and goddesses come to life in this riveting story of the first great epic—lost to the world for 2,000 years, and rediscovered in the nineteenth century.

Composed by a poet and priest in Middle Babylonia around 1200 bce, The Epic of Gilgamesh foreshadowed later stories that would become as fundamental as any in human history, The Odyssey and the Bible. But in 600 bce, the clay tablets that bore the story were lost—buried beneath ashes and ruins when the library of the wild king Ashurbanipal was sacked in a raid.

The Buried Book begins with the rediscovery of the epic and its deciphering in 1872 by George Smith, a brilliant self-taught linguist who created a sensation when he discovered Gilgamesh among the thousands of tablets in the British Museum’s collection. From there the story goes backward in time, all the way to Gilgamesh himself. Damrosch reveals the story as a literary bridge between East and West: a document lost in Babylonia, discovered by an Iraqi, decoded by an Englishman, and appropriated in novels by both Philip Roth and Saddam Hussein. This is an illuminating, fast-paced tale of history as it was written, stolen, lost, and — after 2,000 years, countless battles, fevered digs, conspiracies, and revelations — finally found.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"Edinburgh Days"

Sam Pickering's new book, Edinburgh Days, or Doing What I Want to Do, is due out this spring.

From the publisher:

Part travelogue, part psychological self-study, Sam Pickering's Edinburgh Days, or Doing What I Want to Do is an open invitation to be led on a walking tour of Scotland's capital as well as through the labyrinth of the guide's swerving moods and memories. Along the way readers discern as much from Pickering's sensual observations of Scottish lives and landmarks as they do about what befalls the curious mind of an intellectual removed from the relations and responsibilities that otherwise delineate his days.

Pickering spent the winter and spring of 2004 on a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities at the University of Edinburgh, making his return to the city after a forty-year absence. Edinburgh Days maps the transition from his life in Connecticut, defined by family, academic appointments, and the recognition of neighbors and avid acolytes, to a temporary existence on foreign soil that is at once unsettlingly isolating and curiously liberating.

Torn between labeling himself a tourist or a sojourner, Pickering opts to define himself as an "urban spelunker" and embarks on daily explorations of the city's museums, bookshops, pubs, antique stores, monuments, neighborhoods, and graveyards. His ambling tours include such recognizable sites as Edinburgh Castle, the Palace of Holyroodhouse, Castle Rock, the Museum of Childhood, the National Gallery, the Writers' Museum, the Museum of the People, the Huntly House, the John Knox House, the Royal Botanic Garden, and the Edinburgh Zoo.

The holdings of city and university libraries present Pickering with the opportunity to revisit the works of a host of writers, both renowned and obscure, including Robert Louis Stevenson, Samuel Smiles, John Buchan, Tobias Wolfe, Russell Hoban, Patrick White, Hilaire Belloc, and Van Wyck Brooks.

"I have long been a traveler in little things," he muses, and it is his fascination with minutiae that infuses this collection of essays with the dynamic descriptions, quirky observations, and jesting interludes that bring the historic city to life on the page and simultaneously recall the very best of Pickering's idiosyncratic style.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Coming April 3, 2007 from Tor Books: Robert J. Sawyer's Rollback.

From the author's website:

The aliens have sent us a message, and we have responded.

Dr. Sarah Halifax decoded the first-ever radio transmission received from aliens. Thirty-eight years later, a second message is received — and Sarah, now 87, may hold the key to deciphering this one, too ... if she lives long enough.

A wealthy industrialist offers to pay for Sarah to have a rollback — a hugely expensive experimental rejuvenation procedure. She accepts on condition that Don, her husband of sixty years, gets a rollback, too. The process works for Don, making him physically twenty-five again. But in a tragic twist, the rollback fails for Sarah, leaving her in her eighties as the second message arrives.

While Don tries to deal with his newfound youth and the suddenly vast age gap between him and his wife, Sarah struggles to do again what she'd done once before: figure out what a signal from the stars contains....


Due out this week from Houghton Mifflin: Yellowcake, by Ann Cummins.

From the publisher:

For her acclaimed collection of stories, Red Ant House, Joyce Carol Oates hailed Ann Cummins as “a master storyteller.” The San Francisco Chronicle called her “startlingly original.” Now, in her debut novel, Cummins stakes claim to rich new literary territory with a story of straddling cultures and cheating fate in the American Southwest. Yellowcake introduces us to two unforgettable families — one Navajo, one Anglo — some thirty years after the closing of the uranium mill near which they once made their homes. When little Becky Atcitty shows up on the Mahoneys’ doorstep all grown up, the past comes crashing in on Ryland and his lively brood. Becky, the daughter of one of the Navajo mill workers Ryland had supervised, is now involved in a group seeking damages for those harmed by the radioactive dust that contaminated their world. But Ryland wants no part of dredging up their past—or acknowledging his future. When his wife joins the cause, the messy, modern lives of this eclectic cast of characters collide once again, testing their mettle, stretching their faith, and reconnecting past and present in unexpected new ways.

Finely crafted, deeply felt, and bursting with heartache and hilarity, Yellowcake is a moving story of how everyday people sort their way through life, with all its hidden hazards.

Read an excerpt from Yellowcake.

Monday, March 12, 2007

"A Perfect Union"

New in paperback: A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor.

From the publisher:

When the roar of the Revolution had finally died down, a new generation of politicians was summoned to the Potomac to assemble the nation’s capital. Into that unsteady atmosphere — which would soon enough erupt into another conflict with Britain — Dolley Madison arrived, alongside her husband, James. Within a few years, she had mastered both the social and political intricacies of the city, and by her death in 1849 was the most celebrated person in Washington. And yet, to most Americans, she’s best known for saving a portrait from the burning White House.

Why did her contemporaries so admire a lady so little known today? In A Perfect Union, acclaimed historian Catherine Allgor reveals how Dolley manipulated the contstraints of her gender to construct an American democratic ruling style and to achieve her husband’s political goals. By emphasizing cooperation over coercion — building bridges instead of bunkers — she left us with not only an important story about our past but a model for a modern form of politics.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

"The Reluctant Fundamentalist"

Coming in April 2007: Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist.

A synopsis, from the publisher:

At a café table in Lahore, a bearded Pakistani man converses with an uneasy American stranger. As dusk deepens to night, he begins the tale that has brought them to this fateful meeting....

Changez is living an immigrant’s dream of America. At the top of his class at Princeton, he is snapped up by the elite "valuation" firm of Underwood Samson. He thrives on the energy of New York, and his infatuation with elegant, beautiful Erica promises entry into Manhattan society at the same exalted level once occupied by his own family back in Lahore.

But in the wake of September 11, Changez finds his position in his adopted city suddenly overturned, and his budding relationship with Erica eclipsed by the reawakened ghosts of her past. And Changez’s own identity is in seismic shift as well, unearthing allegiances more fundamental than money, power, and maybe even love.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist is coming soon to the Page 69 Test; read an excerpt from the novel.

Friday, March 9, 2007

"Dead Head"

Published last month: Dead Head, by Allen Wyler.

From the publisher:

Brain Surgery or Murder?

When brain surgeon Russell Lawton is abducted at gunpoint by terrorists, he’s sure there’s a mistake: how could he be useful to them? To his horror, he learns they have kidnapped his only child, eight-year old Angela. Unless Russell does what they want, they will bury her alive.

To buy time Russell agrees, and is immediately confronted with a seemingly impossible surgical problem. He must develop an innovative computer that can manipulate a robot by using brain activity. And fast, or his daughter dies.

Why? When Russell finds out why the terrorists need the computer, and how they plan to use it on a human being, he can’t believe they’re serious. But the consequences for not taking them seriously are his daughter’s life, and the lives of millions of innocent people.
Dead Head is coming soon to the Page 69 Test.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

"The United States of Appalachia"

New in paperback this month: Jiff Biggers' The United States of Appalachia: How Southern Mountaineers Brought Independence, Culture, and Enlightenment to America.

From the publisher:

The idea of Appalachia holds a certain negative connotation in the eyes of many Americans — author Jeff Biggers shows how ignorant the rest of us are when it comes to the true history of a remarkable region

The word “Appalachia” is seldom uttered in the same sentence as the word “enlightenment.”

More likely, images of the film Deliverance, corncob-chomping grannies, or bonafide gun-toting hillbillies come to mind. However, in truth, Appalachia has been a cradle of U.S. freedom, independence, and enlightenment, as well as a region of progressive social history, literature, and music.

The United States of Appalachia reveals to us how so many of our nation’s basic freedoms and founding moments were born in and disseminated from the Appalachias. From the first declaration of independence to the beginnings of folk music, literature, and poetry, Jeff Biggers illuminates with humor, intelligence, and clarity reasons why we all need a lesson in Appalachia history.

Visit Jeff Biggers' official website.

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

"The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance"

Due out this month from Catherine Ryan Hyde, the author of Pay It Forward: a YA novel, The Year of My Miraculous Reappearance.

From the publisher:

Cynnie takes care of herself—and more importantly, she takes care of her little brother, Bill. So it doesn't matter that her mom is drunk all the time. Cynnie's got her own life. Cynnie's the one Bill loves more than anyone. Cynnie's the real mother in the house. And if there's one thing she knows for sure, it's that she'll never, ever sink as low as her mother.

But when things start to fall apart, Cynnie needs a way to dull the pain.

Never say never.

This unflinching look at the power of addiction is the story of one girl's fall into darkness—and the strength, trust, and forgiveness it takes to climb back out again.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

"Catching Genius"

Releasing today: Catching Genius by Kristy Kiernan.

From the publisher:

As children, Connie and Estella were best friends-until Estella was discovered to be a math prodigy, which led to the sisters' estrangement. Now, years later, they are forced to reunite on the Gulf Coast of Florida as they pack up their childhood home and ready it for sale. The reunion comes at a time when both Connie and Estella must come to terms with painful revelations and devastating consequences in their own lives. And once again, her sister's genius may alter Connie's life in ways she cannot control.
Visit Kristy Kiernan's website.

Monday, March 5, 2007

"Self Storage"

Published in January by Ballantine: Gayle Brandeis' Self Storage.

From the publisher:

Flan Parker has always had an inquisitive mind, searching for what’s hidden below the surface and behind the door. Her curious nature and enthusiastic probing have translated into a thriving resale business in the university housing complex where she lives with her husband and two young children. Flan’s venture helps pay the bills while her husband works on his dissertation, work that lately seems to involve more loafing on the sofa watching soap operas than reading or writing. The secret of her enterprising success: unique and everyday treasures bought from the auctions of forgotten and abandoned storage units.

When Flan secures the winning bid on a box filled only with an address and a note bearing the word “yes,” she sets out to discover the source of this mysterious message and its meaning. Armed with a well-worn copy of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that she turns to for guidance and solace, Flan becomes determined to find the “yes” in her own life. This search inward only strengthens her desire to unearth the hidden stories of those around her–in particular, her burqa-clad Afghan neighbor. Flan’s interest in this intriguing and secretive woman, however, comes at a formidable price for Flan and her family.

Set during the year following the September 11 attacks, Self Storage explores the raw insecurities of a changed society. With lush writing, great humor, and a genuine heart, Gayle Brandeis takes a peek into the souls of a woman and a community–and reveals that it is not our differences that drive us apart but our willful concealment of the qualities that connect us.
Gayle applied the Page 69 Test to Self Storage.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

"The Missing"

Due out this month: The Missing, by Chris Mooney.

From the publisher:

Chris Mooney, author of the thrillers Deviant Ways and Remembering Sarah, delivers an absorbing new novel about a female crime-scene investigator and the killer from her past, who is only now emerging from the shadows.

Darby McCormick had known Melanie Cruz and Stacey Stephens forever. Best friends since childhood, the threesome had survived high school together. But one night in the woods, drinking beers to celebrate Melanie's sixteenth birthday, the three unsuspecting teenagers witnessed the grisly murder of a woman. Darby and her friends fled the scene, but they left behind a clue to their whereabouts, which only simplified the killer's revenge. It didn't take long to find them. This time, only Darby survived. Twenty-five years later, Darby is a crime-scene investigator for the Boston Police Department. When a young woman is abducted from her home in the middle of the night, Darby finds an unexpected witness -- a woman dressed in rags hiding behind garbage cans kept underneath the back porch of the victim's house. The woman is dangerously malnourished and is so distraught, so terrified, she believes she is still locked inside a dark prison cell -- and that Darby is one of her fellow prisoners. Darby's investigation reveals that the woman, Rachel Swanson, has been missing for more than five years. And there are others. As Darby tries to get Rachel to talk about the other missing women and the horrors she endured, the killer known as Traveler is brought to light. As the race to find him heats up, Darby finds herself trying to unravel forensic clues about the case while attempting to uncover the existence of a killer who has eluded the police and FBI for more than two decades. A killer who, years ago, introduced Darby to violence and death. A killer who will use every means necessary to protect himself and to keep the missing women from ever being found. A breathless, gripping read from beginning to end, The Missing is an unforgettable story about a courageous woman whose past has literally come back to haunt her. Told with tremendous style at a breakneck pace, this is thriller writing at its best.

Friday, March 2, 2007

"Deep Economy"

New from Henry Holt and Times Books this month: Bill McKibben's Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future.

From the publisher:

In this powerful and provocative manifesto, Bill McKibben offers the biggest challenge in a generation to the prevailing view of our economy. For the first time in human history, he observes, “more” is no longer synonymous with “better” — indeed, for many of us, they have become almost opposites. McKibben puts forward a new way to think about the things we buy, the food we eat, the energy we use, and the money that pays for it all. Our purchases, he says, need not be at odds with the things we truly value.

McKibben’s animating idea is that we need to move beyond “growth” as the paramount economic ideal and pursue prosperity in a more local direction, with cities, suburbs, and regions producing more of their own food, generating more of their own energy, and even creating more of their own culture and entertainment. He shows this concept blossoming around the world with striking results, from the burgeoning economies of India and China to the more mature societies of Europe and New England. For those who worry about environmental threats, he offers a route out of the worst of those problems; for those who wonder if there isn’t something more to life than buying, he provides the insight to think about one’s life as an individual and as a member of a larger community.

McKibben offers a realistic, if challenging, scenario for a hopeful future. As he so eloquently shows, the more we nurture the essential humanity of our economy, the more we will recapture our own.

Thursday, March 1, 2007


Just published by Random House: Jon Clinch's Finn.

From the official Finn website:

In this masterful debut by a major new voice in fiction, Jon Clinch takes us on a journey into the history and heart of one of American literature’s most brutal and mysterious figures: Huckleberry Finn’s father. The result is a deeply original tour de force that springs from Twain’s classic novel but takes on a fully realized life of its own.

Finn sets a tragic figure loose in a landscape at once familiar and mythic. It begins and ends with a lifeless body–flayed and stripped of all identifying marks–drifting down the Mississippi. The circumstances of the murder, and the secret of the victim’s identity, shape Finn’s story as they will shape his life and his death.

Along the way Clinch introduces a cast of unforgettable characters: Finn’s terrifying father, known only as the Judge; his sickly, sycophantic brother, Will; blind Bliss, a secretive moonshiner; the strong and quick-witted Mary, a stolen slave who becomes Finn’s mistress; and of course young Huck himself. In daring to re-create Huck for a new generation, Clinch gives us a living boy in all his human complexity–not an icon, not a myth, but a real child facing vast possibilities in a world alternately dangerous and bright.

Finn is a novel about race; about paternity in its many guises; about the shame of a nation recapitulated by the shame of one absolutely unforgettable family. Above all, Finn reaches back into the darkest waters of America’s past to fashion something compelling, fearless, and new.

"Augusta Locke"

New in paperback this month: William Haywood Henderson's Augusta Locke.

From the author's website:

Henderson’s new novel tells of one woman’s troubled yet spirited life as she raises her daughter in the deserts and lonely ranges of Wyoming. Born in Minnesota in 1903, Augusta “Gussie” Locke moves with her mother to Colorado as a teenager. Distressed by her mother’s new husband, a man who wants to transform Augusta into an obedient daughter, Augusta runs off into the mountains, where a one-night stand with a young volunteer for the Great War leaves her pregnant. She heads north into Wyoming, and with her infant daughter Anne constantly in tow she works a long series of grueling jobs, from road crew and ranching to hauling supplies to the oil and mineral crews of the Great Divide Basin. As the years pass, Augusta wanders throughout Wyoming, abandoning people and places, being abandoned herself. Eventually, alone again, she settles in a remote cabin in the Wind River Valley, until years later her grandson and great-granddaughter seek to discover the woman behind the family myth.

Spanning the twentieth century, Augusta’s extraordinary challenges play out themes of love and loss, home and family, redemption and reconciliation. Redolent with myth, humor, strange landscapes, and stark reality, Augusta Locke is an indelible portrait of a woman who through great toughness of character blazes her own trail.
Bill applied the Page 69 Test to Augusta Locke last year.