Burleigh, Nina. The Fatal Gift of Beauty: An American Girl and a Murder in Italy. Broadway. NAp. Aug. 2011. ISBN 9780307588586. $25. eISBN 9780307588609.
On November 1, 2007, Meredith Kercher, a British student at the University of Perugia, was found sexually assaulted and murdered in an apartment she shared with American student Amanda Knox and two other women. Knox reportedly returned home the following day to find the door open and bloodstains on the floor; police later found Kerchner’s body in her locked room. Knox, along with boyfriend Raffaele Sollecito, was eventually convicted of helping a local named Rudy Guede murder Kercher when she resisted his advances. Amid a firestorm of media coverage, allegations were made that the investigation was botched; counter-allegations said the trial was fair and that portrayals of Knox as a victim were unwarranted. Here, journalist/author Burleigh (e.g., Unholy Business) reconstructs a murder case that has proved to be about much more than murder. There will be interest.

Dwyer, Jim & Kevin Flynn. 102 Minutes. Holt. Aug. 2011. NAp. ISBN 9780805094213. $NA.
In 2004, New York Times reporters Dwyer (a Pulitzer Prize winner) and Flynn (the paper’s police bureau chief at the time of the World Trade Center attacks) released an account of the attacks told from the inside, drawing on radio transcripts, phone messages, emails, and interviews with survivors and rescue workers to communicate what being at Ground Zero was really like. Here they offer a revised edition, which would seem important to consider in light of forthcoming 9/11 observations.

Dyer, Geoff. The Missing of the Somme. Vintage. Jul. 2011. 176p. ISBN 9780307742971. pap. $14.95.
Noted for his sharp criticism (Out of Sheer Rage was a National Book Critics Circle finalist) and inventive fiction (e.g., Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi), the London-based Dyer wrote this reflection on World War I in 1994, but it has never been published here. As one might expect, it’s not your standard history‚ it is about mourning and memory, about how the Great War has been represented, said the Guardian‚ and it will appeal to readers interested in looking beyond the facts to the meaning and consequences of war in general.

Greenhouse, Lucia. fathermothergod: My Journey Out of Christian Science. Crown. Aug. 2011. 304p. ISBN 9780307720924. $25. eISBN 9780307720948.
Greenhouse grew up amid a loving family in an affluent suburb, attending a private school and enjoying country-club privileges. But because her parents were Christian Scientists, no medicine (not even aspirin) was allowed in the house‚ something that she and her siblings didn’t question until early adulthood, when their mother fell seriously ill. Not a horror story like Carolyn Jessop’s Escape, her account of fleeing the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints, this should appeal to many readers interested in understanding how people depart from their beliefs.

Holroyd, Michael. A Book of Secrets: Illegitimate Daughters, Absent Fathers. Farrar. Aug. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9780374115586. $26.
Award-winning biographer Holroyd takes on an interesting task here: he starts with the Villa Cimbrone, located in the hills above Ravello, Italy, and then profiles the intriguing people who have passed through its halls‚ though they never met. Among them: Eve Fairfax, who inspired Rodin, and Vita Sackville-West’s lover, Violet Trefusis. This should be both absorbing and solidly grounded reading for the smart set.

Kessler, Ronald. The Secrets of the FBI. Crown. Aug. 2011. 304p. ISBN 9780307719690. $26. eISBN 9780307719723. CD/Download: Random Audio.
Having reported on the FBI for decades and written two best sellers on the agency, Kessler really does have some secrets to share. These have less to do with how the FBI functions than with what its agents have learned while dealing with White House scandal, Wall Street misbehavior, terrorists, spies, the Mafia, and more. Oooh, some dirty revelations? Try for all your crime-fiction fans.

Leibowitz, Herbert. Something Urgent I Have To Say to You: The Life and Works of William Carlos Williams. Farrar. Aug. 2011. 560p. ISBN 9780374113292. $35.
A quick search suggests that not a lot of biographies on leading American poet William Carlos Williams are currently available, so it’s good to see this big new work examining Williams’s life, times, and accomplishments. That the author is the longtime editor of the literary magazine Parnassus is a plus. Buy where serious readers gather.

Manning, Lauren. Every Day, a Choice. Holt. Aug. 2011. NAp. ISBN 9780805094633. $NA.
A partner at Cantor Fitzgerald, Manning was burned over 80 percent of her body during the World Trade Center attacks on 9/11. Here she offers a memoir of ten long years of recovery‚ and of the determination she needed to survive, learned as a child and carried through to her work in the financial world. This follows Love, Greg & Lauren, husband Greg’s 2002 account of Manning’s first months of recovery. Obviously affecting and timely, with the tenth anniversary of 9/11 coming soon.

My Pick
Peck, Don. Pinched: Why Most Americans Remain in Reverse in the Wake of the Great Recession. Crown. Aug. 2011. 192p. ISBN 9780307886521. $22.
When the Atlantic hit the newsstands in March 2010, the cover story How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America‚ written by deputy editor Peck‚ kicked up quite a storm. It generated over 700,000 page views in three weeks, was printed out by some 100,000 people, and attracted the attention of President Obama, who had it distributed throughout the White House. In this expansion, Peck argues that the aftermath of the current recession will be long and hard and will affect everyone regardless of age or class, with jobs lost, underemployment rampant, and retirement funds gutted. While he assesses government efforts to ease the pain, he seems to aim mainly at providing a sobering portrait of where we are now and where we’ll be in the foreseeable future. Important reading.

Phillips, Christopher. Constitution Café: Jefferson’s Brew for a True Revolution. Norton. Aug. 2011. 288p. ISBN 9780393064803. $24.95.
Did you know that Thomas Jefferson argued that the Constitution should be periodically revised to keep up with the times? He wanted to get everyone participating and keep democracy fresh in our land. In that spirit, Phillips talked with folks at high schools, parks, malls, and venues like the Burning Man Project to discuss possible additions/revisions to the Constitution. He’s no stranger to such conversations, having penned the Socrates Café books, in which he reports chatting in cheerful and accessible style about the big questions philosophers have wrestled with through time. This book should be as cheerful and accessible, too, and it’s powerfully germane. A good bet for most readers; with a five-city tour (no surprise he’s out there) to Washington, DC, Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and Williamsburg, VA.

Prinz, Jesse. Beyond Human Nature: How Culture and Experience Shape the Human Mind. Norton. Aug. 2011. 416p. ISBN 9780393061758. $28.95.
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at CUNY and a member of the editorial board of Cognitive Science, Prinz is clearly a nurture guy in the nature-nurture standoff. He draws on a range of research, from neuroscience to anthropology to psychology, to argue that DNA is not destiny and that experience helps along and can even supplant whatever is inborn. Empiricists, you can cheer. I’m betting that this is sophisticated but accessible reading for the Pinker/Damasio/Dennett set.

Sharlet, William. Sweet Heaven When I Die: Faith, Faithlessness, and the Country in Between. Norton. Aug. 2011. 256p. ISBN 9780393079630. $24.95.
A contributing editor to Rolling Stone and best-selling author of The Family and C Street, about fundamentalist influence in America (and beyond), Sharlet here profiles the fringiest of fringe beliefs to give us a broader view of faith in this country. Evangelists, banjo players, urban anarchists, the Mind, Body, Spirit Expo‚ they’re all here in what should be a fascinating read.

Tyre, Peg. Good School. Holt. Aug. 2011. NAp. ISBN 9780805093537. $NA.
Everyone wants to find a good school for his or her child, but how? Education journalist Tyre, author of the best-selling The Trouble with Boys, relies on the most recent research plus her own reporting to give us some answers. Vexing as the question of education is, I’ve always found book coverage of the subject somewhat sparse, so I’m glad to see this book.

My Pick
Wainaina, Binyavanga. One Day I Will Write About This Place: A Memoir. Graywolf. Aug. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9781555975913. $24.
Kenyan-born Wainaina initially worked as a freelance food and travel writer (he’s collected 13,000 authentic African recipes); won the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing for his short story Discovering Home; founded Kwani?, a major African literary magazine; and currently serves as director of the Chinua Achebe Center for African Writers and Writing at Bard College. Here he ranges over his life, from memories of his mother’s beauty parlor and his disappointing sojourn in South Africa studying computer science to the start of his writing career and his thoughts about postelection violence in his home country. Given the rise of African literature and the growing importance of Africa in the world today, this is one book I’m really looking to read.

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.


  1. Karen Ferb says:

    Correction: Not William Sharlet, but Jeffrey Sharlet.


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