Beckert, Sven. Empire of Cotton: A Global History. Knopf. Nov. 2014. 704p. ISBN 9780375414145. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385353250. HISTORY
Taking an ancient Asian trade, land claimed during the European exploration of the Americas, and forced labor claimed from Africa, European entrepreneurs of the 1700s revolutionized a key manufacturing industry while cementing imperialism and the global reach of capitalism. The industry in question was, of course, cotton, and Beckert, the Laird Bell Professor of American History at Harvard, gives us an expansive history of its cultivation, processing, and sale not simply to show how cotton manufacturing changed the world then but how it influenced where we are now.
Bernstein, Richard. China 1945: Mao’s Revolution and America’s Fateful Choice. Knopf. Nov. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780307595881. $30; ebk. ISBN 9780385353519. HISTORY
A longtime reporter and cultural commentator who has written frequently about China (his Ultimate Journey was a New York Times Best Book), Bernstein makes us rethink our assumptions about the relationship between China and America by examining the turning-point year of 1945. Early that year, America was on comfortable terms with Mao and his Communist followers, but Mao’s ambitious maneuvering, ideological conflict in U.S. military and diplomatic ranks, and the sense that China would soon be emerging on the world stage combined to push the U.S. government toward Chiang Kai-shek. A lot of what-ifs will get played out in this book; important reading.
Farah, Nuruddin. Hiding in Plain Sight. Riverhead. Nov. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781594633362. $27.95. LITERARY
Among Africa’s most distinguished novelists (his honors include the Neustadt International Prize for Literature), Somali novelist Farah was forced into exile after receiving death threats following the 1975 publication of his second novel, A Naked Needle; currently, he divides his time between South Africa and America, teaching at Bard College. His new novel features Bella, a coolly inscrutable photographer of international renown unsettled when political extremists kill her Mogadishu-based half-brother, with whom she shares a Somali mother. Leaving Rome for Nairobi, where her teenage niece and nephew are in boarding school, she’s trying to decide whether she can and should take over their care when the mother who had essentially abandoned them reappears. A study of blended political, social, and personal responsibilities, extending Farah’s reach.
Helm, Sarah. Ravensbrück: Life and Death in Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Nov. 2014. 656p. ISBN 9780385520591. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780385539111. HISTORY
An estimated 100,000-plus inmates representing more than 30 nationalities were interned at the Ravensbrück concentration camp, built by Himmler just before World War II scarcely 50 miles from Berlin. All were women—including antifascists, Communists, Resistance fighters, lesbians, prostitutes, and even New York City mayor Fiorello LaGuardia’s sister—and many thousands died after various brutal tortures and medical experiments. British journalist Helm interviewed survivors and dug into German and newly available Russian archives to write what purports to be the first full-scale history of Ravensbrück—not as well known as other camps, perhaps, as the author argues, because its inmates were entirely female and not predominantly Jewish, so it doesn’t fit into the larger history of the war.
King ,Stephen. Revival. Scribner. Nov. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9781476770383. $30. SUSPENSE
King offers his expected unmatchable suspense in a novel that certainly sounds deeper than your average chillfest. Sometime in the mid-late 20th century, Rev. Charles Jacobs arrives in young Jamie Morton’s small New England town with his alluring wife and wows the community. Then, when tragedy strikes Jamie’s family, Jacobs lashes out violently at God and religious belief and is therefore banished. Years later, Jamie, a drug-addicted rocker still running from familial woe, encounters Jacobs and enters into a relationship that turns positively Faustian. The conclusion promises to rock us to our bones while echoing Hawthorne and Poe. Awesome.
Millet, Lydia. Mermaids in Paradise. Norton. Nov. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780393245622. $25.95. LITERARY
The author of Pulitzer Prize finalist Love in Infant Monkeys and Magnificence, a finalist for both the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, Millet is always an author worth reading, and her new book promises to bring out the underlying wit of her previous works. While honeymooning in the tropics, handsome, glad-handing Chip and his new wife, the more cautious Deb (who narrates), meet a marine biologist who announces that she has discovered mermaids inhabiting a nearby coral reef—and then promptly drowns in the hotel bathtub. It’s up to Chip and Deb, plus a few other vacationers, to join forces against the corporation now sweeping in with plans to create a giant mermaid theme park.