My Pick
MacGregor, Neil. A History of the World in 100 Objects. Viking. Oct. 2011. 736p. ISBN 9780670022700. $45.
We are what we make, and MacGregor proves it. Director of the British Museum, he uses 100 objects, ranging from a two-million-year-old hand ax to a solar-powered lamp and charger, circa 2010, to survey human history. Sounds absolutely fascinating and gorgeous, too (with more than 150 full-color photographs), and the advance notice is terrific. The book was chosen by 11 publications as Book of the Year in the U.K., and the joint BBC Radio program has been downloaded 12.5 million times. Get this one.

My Pick
Pinker, Steven. The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Viking. Oct. 2011. 848p. ISBN 9780670022953. $40.
The subtitle might seem counterintuitive, but Pinker reminds us that, in fact, centuries past were saturated with slavery, child abuse, assassination, pogroms, and cruel and unusual punishments of all kinds. Those things have declined, as evidenced by the charts and graphs Pinker supplies. A heartening thought; what will be even more interesting is seeing how the penetrating Pinker, Harvard psychology professor and author of the Pulitzer Prize finalist The Blank Slate, explains how and why the better angels of our nature are prevailing. Pinker can be demanding and yet is pervasively popular‚ as suggested by the 12-city tour‚ and this book expands beyond his previous audience.

Hammond, Darrell. God, If You’re Not Up There, I’m F***ed: Misadventures with Fake Noses, Funny Accents, Addiction, and Saturday Night Live. Harper: HarperCollins. Oct. 2011. 208p. ISBN 9780062064554. $25.99. lrg. prnt; eISBN 9780062064578.
Hammond lasted longer than any Saturday Night Live cast member (from 1995 to 2009, though he’s appeared on the show since then), and this memoir does go behind the scenes to discuss cast members, celebrity hosts, and some nasty business that cost a few jobs. But he focuses on personal trauma, revealing childhood abuse that led to alcoholism, self-mutilation, and psychiatric hospitalizations, with multiple relapses until he finally achieved sobriety and a measure of peace. Apparently, he can be bitingly funny about this, which is some accomplishment. With a 75,000-copy first printing; the multiple angles here will attract readers.

Holley, Michael. War Room: Bill Belichick and the Patriot Legacy. It: HarperCollins. Oct. 2011. 256p. ISBN 9780062082398. $25.99.
A Boston Globe sportswriter for ten years who now cohosts the Dale & Holley Show on Boston sports radio station WEEI, Holley follows New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, and Atlanta Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff from the 2010 training camp through the Super Bowl and on to the April draft to show how Belichick has influenced the sport. (The three men have longstanding connections.) Considering what’s happening in the NFL right now, this could be interesting history; with a 75,000-copy first printing.

Johnson, Paul. Socrates: A Man for Our Times. Viking. Oct. 2011. 240p. ISBN 9780670023035. $25.95.
Historian Johnson’s breadth is truly astonishing‚ he’s ranged from histories of Christianity, Judaism, and the American people to biographies of Napoleon, Churchill, and big thinkers (Intellectuals: From Marx and Tolstoy to Sartre and Chomsky). Here he goes back to the beginning for a biography of Socrates, founder of philosophy though he never wrote down a word (Plato did it for him). This is also a study of how Socrates lived his beliefs. Catnip for a certain set (including this philosophy major).

Krasnow, Iris. The Secret Lives of Wives: Women Share What It Really Takes To Stay Married. Gotham: Penguin Books (USA). Oct. 2011. 256p. ISBN 9781592406807. $26.
So what if reputedly half of U.S. marriages end in divorce? That means that half go on and on. Author of the New York Times best-selling Surrendering to Marriage, Krasnow interviewed women with long-lasting marriages (up to 70 years) and discovers that marriage works best when both partners have a sense of self separate from the marriage. Since Krasnow regularly speaks to women’s groups, often addressing 1000-plus women a month, she’ll have an audience. Listen up to see whether she’s in your neighborhood, and dig the Twilight-like cover.

Lagasse, Emeril. Sizzling Skillets and Other One-Pot Wonders. Morrow. Oct. 2011. 320p. ISBN 9780061742965. pap. $24.99.
Here are dishes like Boeuf Bourguignon, Cajun Shrimp Stew, and Fettucine with a Crawfish Cream Sauce that can be made in a single pot, skillet, baking dish, Dutch oven, or slow cooker, all from force-to-be-reckoned-with New Orleans chef Lagasse. Cookbooks are so hot, and this one comes with a 100,000-copy first printing.

Lithgow, John. Drama: An Actor’s Education. Harper: HarperCollins. Oct. 2011. 336p. 9780061734977. $26.99. lrg. prnt. CD: HarperAudio.
This really is a book about an actor’s education, not a tell-all confessional. Lithgow talks about working with the likes of Mike Nichols, Bob Fosse, Liv Ullmann, Meryl Streep, and Brian De Palma, considering the very nature of theater and what drives actors to act. He places special emphasis on what he learned from his father, Arthur Lithgow, an actor/director/producer who worshiped Shakespeare and introduced his son to the joys of the stage. Not for celebrity spies but serious theater/film buffs, this promises to be informative and delightful. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

McKinney. Megan. The Magnificent Medills: The McCormick-Patterson Dynasty; America’s Royal Family of Journalism During a Century of Turbulent Splendor. Harper: HarperCollins. Oct. 2011. 464p. ISBN 9780061782237. $27.99.
Joseph Medill really started something when he bought the bankrupt Chicago Daily Tribune in 1855. He became hugely influential, helping to found the Republican Party and propel Abraham Lincoln into power; his grandchildren managed the biggest newspapers in Chicago, New York, and Washington, DC; and his great-granddaughter launched Newsday. Along the way, this media dynasty was plagued by alcoholism, madness, and general trauma. Not as big as some books on this list, but those who care about the legacy of newspapers will want to read; with a 40,000-copy first printing.

Palast, Greg. Vultures’ Picnic: Big Oil, Bigger Money, Biggest Lies. Dutton. Oct. 2011. 384p. ISBN 9780525952077. $26.95.
Having spent decades studying oil and money, Palast has put together a case that tragedies like the recent Gulf oil spill result from the corrupt connection between oil giants and the financial institutions (e.g., the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund) beholden to them. Palast is a heavy-duty investigative journalist happy to try to topple the targets clearly indicated by the titles of his New York Times best-selling books, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Armed Madhouse: From Baghdad to New Orleans‚ Sordid Secrets and Strange Tales of a White House Gone Wild. In addition, he’s said to offer here a Sam Spade‚ style narrative of journalistic derring-do, which should make this an engrossing read.

Pearlman, Jeff. Sweetness: The Enigmatic Life of Walter Payton. Gotham: Penguin Books (USA). Oct. 2011. 448p. ISBN 9781592406531. $28.
Noted sportswriter Pearlman, author of books like the New York Times best-selling The Bad Boys Won!, profiles Chicago Bears running back Walter Payton‚ nicknamed Sweetness in college. Lots of stories from on and off the field, which Pearlman got by interviewing over 700 people.

Pépin, Jacques. Essential Pépin: More Than 700 All-Time Favorites from My Life in Food. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2011. 704p. ISBN 9780547232799. $40.
Pépin, who’s been at the stove for 60 years (hosting 12 PBS shows and winning multiple awards in the process), picks out favorite recipes from Onion Soup Lyonnaise-Style to Warm Chocolate Fondue Soufflé. You can master techniques with the accompanying DVD, which has Pépin demonstrating. With a nine-city tour to New York, Boston, Providence, Washington, DC, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.

Philbrick, Nathaniel. Why Read Moby-Dick? Viking. Oct. 2011. 144p. ISBN 9780670022991. $25. CD: Penguin Audio.
So you liked Philbrick’s In the Heart of the Sea, which re-created the wreck of the whaleship Essex, inspiration for Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick? Then you’ll love his new book, which vivifies Melville’s classic for modern readers. Philbrick is a wonderful and knowing writer, and it’s cool that he’s also founding director of the Egan Maritime Institute on Nantucket, where he lives. This book will have atmosphere; if only I allowed myself three picks! For all readers of American history and literature; with a four-city tour.

Post, Peggy & others. Emily Post’s Etiquette. 18th ed. Morrow. Oct. 2011. 736p. ISBN 9780061740237. $39.
Must I respond to every email? Is it rude to unfriend someone on Facebook? Should I hide my tattoo at a job interview? Can the bride tweet her own wedding? Not the kinds of questions Emily Post faced when writing the first edition of this book, but we gotta know now. Emily’s great-granddaughter Peggy is joined by great-great-granddaugthers Anna and Lizzie and great-great-grandson Daniel Post Senning to keep us mannerly in the 21st century. This edition’s all-new format includes fresh illustrations and a larger trim size. With a 100,000-copy first printing; buy to replace the previous edition or where you think readers could benefit from such instruction.

Rogers, Kenny. Untitled. Morrow. Oct. 2011. 336p. ISBN 9780062071811. $26.99. lrg. prnt. CD: Harper Audio; eISBN 9780062071606.
Fifty years in Nashville. Sixty-five albums. Palling around with Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton, and Ray Charles. It would seem that Rogers has much to share with country music fans‚ as the 200,000-copy first printing suggests.

Shatner, William. Shatner Rules: Your Key to Understanding the Shatnerverse and the World at Large. Dutton. Oct. 2011. 208p. ISBN 9780525952510. $21.95.
The man who embodied Captain Kirk and currently stars in the surprise CBS hit show $#*! My Dad Says offers not so much a birth-to-now memoir as a demonstration of personality, explaining how he sees the world, his career, and himself. For fans, including his 400,000 Twitter followers.

Sorley, Lewis. Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2011. 400p. ISBN 9780547518268. $30.
The general who led the war in Vietnam did not understand its complexities, stuck to a bad strategy despite evidence that it wasn’t working, and lied to Congress about what was really happening there. So says Sorley, who has some insiders’ knowledge. A third-generation graduate of the U.S. military academy, he served in Vietnam as well as the offices of Secretary of Defense James R. Schlesinger and of Westmoreland himself. Since we are still fighting this war in our hearts, Sorley’s book should generate interest.

Suskind, Ron. Untitled. Harper: HarperCollins. Sept. 2011. 384p. ISBN 9780061429255. $29.99. lrg. prnt.
How did the Obama administration handle the financial crisis? Pulitzer Prize‚ winning journalist Suskind, whose books routinely appear near the top of the New York Times best sellers list, put in hundreds of hours interviewing administration figures (and the President himself) to discover how the battle between Washington and Wall Street played out. With a one-day laydown on September 13 and a 350,000-copy first printing; get it.

Vlasic, Bill. Once Upon a Car: The Fall and Resurrection of America’s Big Three Auto Makers‚ GM, Ford, Ford, and Chrysler. Morrow. Oct. 2011. 352p. ISBN 9780061845628. $26.99. lrg. prnt.; eISBN 9780062042224.
Detroit bureau chief for the New York Times, a two-time Golden Wheel award winner for automotive reporting, and coauthor of Taken for a Ride, about the merger of Chrysler and Daimler-Benz, Vlasic seems perfectly positioned to profile the impact of the financial crisis on Detroit’s Big Three automakers. It’s all here, from board room shenanigans to factory closings to Washington’s intervention. Important for serious students of the American economy; with a 50,000-copy first printing.

Wetzel, Dan & others. Death to the BCS: Totally Revised and Updated; The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series. Gotham: Penguin Books (USA). Oct. 2011. 208p. ISBN 9781592406869. $22.
If over 90 percent of sports fans hate the Bowl Championship series (just ask Sports Illustrated readers), why is it still in business? Mostly because this unholy mashup of polls and rankings, which leads to just two Division I-A playing for the national championship, leaves college football with more money at the end of the season. The authors, all Yahoo! Sports guys, not only critique the system (having checked out things like contracts and tax returns) but offer alternatives. The first edition having sold 30,000 copies, the publisher felt motivated to offer a new edition, completely updated.

Wilkinson. Kendra. Untitled. It: HaperCollins. Oct. 2011. 256p. ISBN 9780062091185. $24.99.
Folks, you’ll know if you need this new memoir from Hugh Hefner’s former girlfriend, star of the reality TV show Kendra, which tracks her new life as wife of pro-football player Hank Baskett. Since her first memoir, Sliding into Home, sold over 100,000 copies and she has a million Twitter followers and more than a half million Facebook fans, you just might. With a 150,000-copy first printing.

Wills, Garry. Verdi’s Shakespeare: Men of the Theater. Viking. Oct. 2011. 240p. ISBN 9780670023042. $25.95.
We know Wills as an author of smart historical, political, and religious studies, but he’s also an opera fan. Here he examines not only Giuseppe Verdi’s relationship to Shakespeare‚ many consider Verdi’s three Shakespeare operas, Macbeth, Othello, and Falstaff, his finest artistic achievements‚ but the relationship both Verdi and Shakespeare had with their respective collaborators and the performers of their works. More specialized than Wills’s other books but of great interest to opera fans; I expect Wills to turn in something engrossing and am anticipating this one.

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.