Barrow, John D. The Book of Universes: Exploring the Limits of the Cosmos. Norton. May 2011. 304p. ISBN 9780393081213. $26.95.
Einstein’s Theory of Relativity suggests that we don’t live in a universe but a multiverse, with other worlds spinning along in odd fashion along with ours. Director of the Millennium Mathematics Project at Cambridge University, Barrow serves as tour guide. More grist for that physics-loving audience out there.

Blount, Roy, Jr. Alphabetter Juice: Or, The Joy of Text. Farrar. May 2011. 384p. ISBN 9780374103705. $26.
Wordsmith Blunt, the author of 21 wide-ranging books and a member of the American Heritage Dictionary Usage Panel, follows up Alphabet Juice (2008) with more entrancing alphaspeak. Countering linguistic wisdom, he argues that the connection between words and their meaning isn’t arbitrary; a whisk must be a whisk, even if Blount discovers that the OED‘s definition is inconsistent. For language nuts everywhere. (Love that subtitle.)

Busch, Jeff. Zombie High Yearbook ’64. Sterling. May 2011. 128p. ISBN 9781402784712. $14.95.
Zombie books (more of them than ever since Pride and Prejudice and Zombies first arose). Zombie walks (I’ve never done one, but hey!). Even zombie cupcakes (check out this week’s forthcoming What Else Is Hot? for what’s baking next spring). Here’s another twist on the trend. Playing on our nostalgic tendencies, award-winning book, movie, and video game illustrator Busch imagines a yearbook from an all-American zombie high school. Nicely printed in black and white and bloody red; apparently, the sales staff died laughing. Oh, wait‚Ķ.

Chelsea’s Family, Friends, & Others. Lies That Chelsea Handler Told Me. Grand Central. May 2011. NAp. ISBN 9780446584715. $24.99.
No, not Handler’s own stuff (she has had a busy year) but original stories from family, friends, and others who have been the victims of Handler’s endless pranks. Reportedly the first in a new imprint Handler is launching; she’s got enough fans to make her books best sellers.

Gilbert, Sandra M. Rereading Women: Thirty Years of Exploring Our Literary Traditions. Norton. May 2011. 384p. ISBN 9780393067644. $29.95.
Noted for her criticism, particularly from a feminist perspective (she’s coeditor, with Susan Gubar, of The Norton Anthology of Literature by Women), Gilbert here offers a collection of essays that revisit literary forebears from Charlotte Brontë to Sylvia Plath while considering what feminism means in the 21st century. Scholarly but valuable for the right crowd.

Gladstone, Brooke (text) & Josh Neufeld (illus.). The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media. Norton. May 2011. 192p. ISBN 9780393077797. $23.
A history of the media, beginning with newspapers in Caesar’s Rome, as told by the cohost of NPR’s much-heard On the Media in graphic format via the illustrations of the popular and award-winning Neufeld (e.g., A. D.: New Orleans After the Deluge). The book brings us right up to the present, with the media no longer outside our door but something we all participate in ourselves. Highlighed by the publicist; sounds absolutely fascinating.

Gottfried, Gilbert. Rubber Balls and Liquor. St. Martin’s. May 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780312668112. $24.99.
Is it a memoir? Is it social commentary? Is it a series of outtakes from Gottfried’s infamously way-over-the-top comedy routines? Not sure, but we are promised details of his most dispiriting gigs, a list of celebrities he would like to have sex with, close encounters of the worst kind with celebrities like Harrison Ford, clip-out jokes to help the laugh-challenged, and a chronicle of the dirtiest joke of all time‚ Gottfried’s retelling of the Aristocrats routine. Buy wherever people like tasteless humor.

Gottlieb, Robert. Lives and Letters. Farrar. May 2011. 496p. ISBN 9780374298821. $30.
Former president, publisher, and editor of Knopf and then editor of The New Yorker, Gottlieb has always written persuasively about the arts. Here he offers profiles ranging from Charles Dickens and Judith Krantz (really), to Isadora Duncan, Bing Crosby, and Talulah Bankhead. Then it’s on to New York with Diana Vreeland, the Trumps, and the fuss that resulted when Gottlieb replaced William Shawn at The New Yorker. Really fun reading for those who follow American culture.

Greene, Melissa Fay. No Biking in the House Without a Helmet. Farrar. May 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780374223069. $26.
Twice a National Book Award finalist (for Praying for Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing), Greene has a whole other life beyond standout reporting. When the first of her four children headed to college, she and her husband launched a policy to bring in another as each child left, ultimately adopting five children from orphanages in Ethiopia and Bulgaria. For Greene, this has meant 21 years of making cupcakes for school events. Billed as domestic comedy in the tradition of Erma Bombeck, but with stronger writing, I suspect.

Harford, Tim. Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure. Farrar. May 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780374100964. $27.
Undercover Economist and Dear Economist columnist for the Financial Times, Harford wants us to throw out the experts and solve the big problems, like climate change and poverty, by using an adaptive trial-and-error approach. Given how badly the experts did in the run-up to the current economic mess, he has a point. And his advice is certainly fitting at a time when we’ve practically become the media (see Brooke Gladstone’s The Influencing Machine, previewed above) and do-it-yourself foreign aid is catching on (see, e.g., Conor Grennan’s Little Princes). Personal applications promised, though this seems less like self-help than a large-scale think piece.

Hewitt, Mark Alan & Gordon Bock. The Vintage House: A Guide to Successful Renovations and Additions. Norton. May 2011. 304p. ISBN 9780393706192. $55.
Architectural historian and preservation architect Hewitt joins forces with Bock, veteran editor of Old-House Journal, to tell homeowners how they can maintain their homes’ authentic old-style charm while renovating and/or updating in accordance with sustainable practices. Really professional advice at a time when people just aren’t building new homes.

My Pick
Lovell, Mary S. The Churchills: In Love and War. Norton. May 2011. 640p. ISBN 9780393062304. $35.
Having done so splendidly with Beryl Markham (Straight on Till Morning) and the notorious Mitfords (The Sisters), Lovell should be spot-on when chronicling the family of Winston Churchill (recently voted the greatest Briton). She starts with the first Duke of Marlborough (1650‚ 1722), whose triumphs as a soldier were celebrated with the building of Blenheim. Down through the centuries, Blenheim’s upkeep nearly ruined the family, with the wild ways of some of Winston’s ancestors adding to the burden. The huge dowries from Winston’s mother, Jenny, and from Consuelo Vanderbilt, wife of Winston’s cousin, rescued the situation. Great context for all those books on (and by) Churchill and, I’m thinking, an absorbing good read even for folks who don’t typically indulge in history.

Lowe, Rob. Stories I Only Tell My Friends. Holt. May 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780805093292. $26.
From teen heartthrob to Eighties excess to The West Wing, Lowe recounts a life lived in the public eye. His memoir is reportedly not dirty or backbiting but entertaining and sometimes cry-worthy. That’s refreshing.

Magner, Mike. Poisoned Legacy: British Petroleum’s Deadly Path of Destruction. St. Martin’s. May 2011. 448p. ISBN 9780312554941. $27.99.
Adding to the trail of books on the BP oil disaster (see This Just In: First Look at the Chilean Miners and the BP Oil Spill), Magner chronicles BP’s history of shoddy work and environmental disregard, from its blithe refusal to clean up contaminants at a Kansas refinery it had acquired, to an explosion killing 15 at a Texas City refinery, to the despoiling of Alaska’s North Slope by spillage from a defective pipe. Journalist Magner, who has been tracking BP for years, inked at six-figure deal for this book; expect a big push.

Morgenson, Gretchen & Joshua Rosner. Reckless Endangerment: How Outsized Ambition, Greed, and Corruption Led to Economic Armageddon. Times: Holt. May 2011. 352p. ISBN 9780805091205. $28.
This might sound like a thriller (in fact, there is a thriller titled Reckless Endangerment by Robert K. Tanenbaum, so don’t get confused), but it’s a sober-minded account from Morgenson, the Pulitzer Prize‚ winning business columnist of the New York Times, and Rosner, managing director at independent research consultancy Graham Fisher & Co. The authors show how mortgage behemoth Fannie Mae resisted government oversight (never mind the subsidies) and how the Federal Reserve, FDIC, and more went right along with that game plan instead of protecting the public interest. Great if you enjoy having your blood boil.

Ryan, Rex. Play Like You Mean It. Doubleday. May 2011. 304p. ISBN 9780385534444. $26.95.
Head coach for the New York Jets, Ryan is both outspoken and respected, a nice combination that recommends his look at how playing football like you mean it ties in with qualities of leadership and motivation generally. The publisher’s one really big title this month.

Smith, Dr. Ian K. EAT: The Effortless Weight Loss Solution. St. Martin’s. May 2011. 224p. ISBN 9780312548438. $24.99. CD: Macmillan Audio.
Author of top-spot best sellers like The Fat Smash Diet, Smith goes after the folks who can’t even start to diet or who can’t keep the weight off past Day 3. He aims to create a stress-free diet, in the spirit of Mireille Guiliano’s French Women Don’t Get Fat, that doesn’t specify portions or deny certain foods but instead offers some simple rules, like Choose Color, Whole Grains All the Time, and Gorge at the Protein Bonanza. Hmm, I know what he means; maybe not surprising but sure to be popular.

Spence, Michael. The Next Convergence: The Future of Economic Growth in a Multispeed World. Farrar. May 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780374159757. $27.
With the Industrial Revolution, the West leapt far ahead of the rest of the world in terms of wealth and living standards. Now the five billion people in the developing world are catching up, posing question of how to coordinate growth internationally and maintain growth while protecting the environment. And why should we listen to Spence’s ruminations on this subject? Because he’s a Nobel prize winner in economics.

Wallis, Michael. David Crockett: The Lion of the West. Norton. May 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780393067583. $27.95.
He never did call himself Davy Crockett and eschewed coonskin hats, but he’s still a great American legend. Here’s hoping that the author of well-received books like Route 66 and Billy the Kid, also host of the PBS series American Road, can bring him to life.

White, Richard. Railroaded: The Transcontinentals and the Making of Modern America. Norton. May 2011. 736p. ISBN 9780393061260. $35.
Okay, who doesn’t love railroads? They carry a whiff of incredible romance and the power to shape a nation. A MacArthur Fellowship and Parkman Prize winner, White reminds us that the railroads didn’t just rearrange our sense of space and time but also introduced the idea of large-scale corporate culture‚ and the attendant greed. American history fans who don’t mind some myth busting should enjoy.

Winston, Hillary. My Boyfriend Wrote a Book About Me: And Other Stories I Shouldn’t Share with Acquaintances, Co-workers, Taxi Drivers, Assistants, Job Interviewers, Bikini Waxers and Ex/Current/Future Boyfriends but Have. Sterling. May 2010. 240p. ISBN 9781402779794. $17.95.
Winston started out at NPR, then moved on to television, where she became a successful comedy writer for My Name Is Earl and, currently, Community. Here she’s funny about her own life, reporting (for instance) that in a novel based on their relationship an ex-flame dubbed her the fat-assed girlfriend. Cutting without being raunchy and nicely self-deprecating; look for Winston at ALA Midwinter on the Association of American Publishers author panel.

Wood, Gordon. The Idea of America. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). May 2011. NAp. ISBN 9781594202902. $29.95.
Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University, as well as a Pulitzer Prize and Bancroft Prize winner, Wood has been writing persuasively about the American Revolution for a half century. This collection of essays, which range over his entire career, reveal how the Revolution has defined us as a nation. For more, see the forthcoming Publisher’s Perspective: The Meaning of Revolution.

Zakaria, Fareed. The Post-American World (Release 2.0). Norton. May 2011. 352p. ISBN 9780393081800. $26.95.
Folks listened up when Zakaria published the first version of this book in 2008; now, newly appointed editor-at-large at Time, he’s offering an update. As he has said, This is not a book about the decline of America, but rather about the rise of everyone else, so it should pair nicely with Michael Spence’s The Next Convergence, previewed above.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.