Nonfiction Previews, February 2012, Pt. 3: From Venice to London to American Economic History

Alford, Mimi. Once Upon a Secret: My Affair with President John F. Kennedy and Its Aftermath. Random. Feb. 2012. 208p. ISBN 9781400069101. $25; eISBN 9780679603443. CD/ Downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR
While serving as an intern in the White House press office in 1962, Alford had an affair with President Kennedy, something she never revealed to anyone. Somehow Robert Dallek found out and mentioned it briefly in 2003’s An Unfinished Life. Now Alford tells her story, discussing not only the affair but its consequences and the sheltered upbringing that hadn’t prepared her for any of this. The media are all clamoring for Alford’s book, and a big story in the New York Times has churned interest. My knee-jerk reaction? It might be a bit newsy-sensational for my taste, but the book is being positioned as a cautionary study about secret-keeping and the exploitation of young women. I could get behind that.

Crowley, Roger. City of Fortune: How Venice Ruled the Sea. Random. Feb. 2012. 480p. ISBN 9781400068203. $32; eISBN 9780679644262. HISTORY
Crowley leapt from teaching in Istanbul, where he developed an interest in Turkish history, to traveling the Mediterranean, to writing the New York Times best-selling Empires of the Sea: The Siege of Malta. (I love it when deep-seated history like that goes gold.) Here he hops over to the glorious City of Water, covering 500 years of history from Ascension Day in 1000 through the Crusades, the spice routes, the fall of Constantinople, and all that fascinating stuff. Crowley, whose sales have been building, appears to write absorbingly and accessibly for all readers of history.

Dean, Josh. Show Dog: The Pampered Life and Trying Times of a Near-Perfect Purebred. It: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780062020482. $23.99. PETS
You’ve met bad-dog Marley, adventurous Merle, and brave, lovable Oogy. Now meet Jack, an Australian Shepherd with the special life of a competitor. Dean, former deputy editor of Men’s Journal, follows Jack from promising adolescence through the February 2011 Westminster Dog Show. Along the way, he discusses the history of breeding and shows while also detailing some of the backstage nuttiness. With over 11,000 American Kennel Club‚ sanctioned shows, and millions of dog lovers generally, there’s an audience out there for books like this. Of course, if Westminster had a pound hound category, my dog would win.

Lind, Michael. Land of Promise: An Economic History of the United States. Broadside: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780061834806. $26.99; eISBN 9780062097729. HISTORY/ECONOMICS
The economy is a mess, but you knew that. Lind, policy director of New America’s Economic Growth Program and author of a trio of New York Times Notable Books, wants to give us some perspective by providing a long-range economic history. He takes a wholly different approach, arguing that in the past new technologies have so radically transformed industry that political institutions had to play catch-up, adapting to the new conditions. (He ties the invention of the steam engine to the Revolution, for instance.) Now we so locked into the global free-market system that government can’t adapt to this kind of change. At 30,000, not as big a print run as I might like‚ I think we need to talk about these issues‚ but this fresh take is bound to stir some good talk, and Lind does have a reputation.

Smith, Jean Edward. Eisenhower in War and Peace. Random. Feb. 2012. 944p. ISBN 9781400066933. $40; eISBN 9780679644293. BIOGRAPHY
Leading biographer Smith, whose works include Lucius D. Clay: An American Life, John Marshall: Definer of a Nation, Pulitzer finalist Grant, and FDR, a national best seller and winner of the Francis Parkman Prize, here revisits Dwight Eisenhower. She pegs him as one of the most successful Presidents of the 20th century, right after FDR. Solid.

Taylor, Craig. Londoners: The Days and Nights of London Now‚ As Told by Those Who Love It, Hate It, Live It, Left It, and Long for It. Ecco: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9780062005854. $29.99. TRAVEL
Here’s a startling fact: More people visit London each year than New York and Paris combined. They’ll likely enjoy Taylor’s effort, five years in the making and a book with push. Taylor covered the city, telling the stories of folks like the actress who is the voice of the London Underground, a soldier at the Buckingham Palace, a rickshaw driver, a fancy nightclub doorman, and more, then combining them all into themed sections. No, not a travel guide, precisely; something more fun.

Wentworth, Ali. Ali in Wonderland: And Other Tall Tales. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780061998577. $25.99; eISBN 9780062098092. MEMOIR
What a story. The daughter of President Ronald Reagan’s White House social secretary, Wentworth went on to become a very funny actress and writer (e.g., Starz’s Head Case), an Oprah regular, a Marie Claire columnist, and wife of George Stephanopoulos. So this memoir should cover a lot of ground‚ and drop a lot of names. Oh, and her WASP mother offers some sage advice (e.g., I would tone down the fart and pee references). Expect funny and frank‚ Kathy Griffin calls this Chicken Soup for the Vagina. With a 100,000-copy first printing.

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.