Barbara's Picks, February 2012, Pt. 4: Clover Adams, a Da Vinci Drawing, and More

Alger, Cristina. The Darlings. Pamela Dorman: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780670023271. $26.95. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. POP FICTION
Son-in-law of billionaire financier Carter Darling and much accustomed to the good life a l√† New York, pink-slipped attorney Paul Ross gratefully accepts the offer to head the legal team at Carter’s hedge fund. Then a regulatory investigation materializes, leading to scandal, and Ross must choose between saving himself or standing by the family and its business. A former Goldman, Sachs analyst whose father was CEO of Alger Management until 9/11, Alger should know her stuff. And she seems to write with a certain sharp and knowing elegance. Lots of good noise about this one.

Dykstra, Natalia. Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life. Houghton. Feb. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780618873852. $26. BIOGRAPHY
Dykstra sets out not only to write a biography of Clover Adams, wife of the redoubtable Henry and a luminary who dominated Gilded Age Washington, DC, with her wit and wisdom, but to solve the mystery surrounding her death. Adams, who had begun enthusiastically teaching herself photography, killed herself in 1885 by drinking potassium cyanide, a chemical used in developing film. Dykstra investigates the Adams’s 13-year marriage to determine what went wrong. Highlighted at the Librarians Shout and Share at BEA; I’m anticipating a fresh and absorbing read about someone not that well documented.

Feldman, Deborah. Unorthodox: The Scandalous Rejection of My Hasidic Roots. S. & S. Feb. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9781439187005. $23; eISBN 9781439187029. MEMOIR
It’s hard to imagine life in any strict religious community, and the Satmar Hasidim seem particularly remote from the experiences of many Americans. Raised in a Satmar Hasidim community in Brooklyn, Feldman gives us special insight into a closed and repressive world. Always resistant to the rules yet made to buckle under, even as her mother walked away without her, Feldman had little education and was married off at 17 to a man she had known for less than an hour. Ready to fly, she started taking classes at Sarah Lawrence and soon determined that she had to leave the community, together with her young son. At first glance, her memoir is fresh and tart and utterly absorbing.

Lester, Toby. Da Vinci’s Ghost: The Untold Story of the World’s Most Famous Drawing. Free Pr: S. & S. Feb. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9781439189238. $26.99. ART HISTORY
A contributing editor at the Atlantic and author of Barnes & Noble Discover Award finalist The Fourth Part of the World, Lester tells the story behind what is one of the most revered drawings in art history: Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man, whose splayed legs and arms seem to encompass our imagination. At the same time, he aims to portray da Vinci’s resounding era, when the world opened up and art, science, and philosophy bloomed together gloriously. What a great idea!

Seung, Sebastian. Connectome: How the Brain’s Wiring Makes Us Who We Are. Houghton. Feb. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780547508184. $27. SCIENCE
Identity. It’s not in our genes, argues hugely upcoming MIT neuroscientist Seung, but in the connections between our brain cells. Seung leads a team that aims to map these connections, neuron by neuron, in an effort to disclose the basis of personality, intelligence, and memory and perhaps also the cause of conditions like schizophrenia. Seung writes for rags like the New York Times and the Economist, so he knows how to craft prose that won’t be daunting to nonscientists. In fact, I’ve checked him out; he’s a lucid communicator whose well-wrought imagery effectively explains complex issues. Important reading, even for science sissies.

Weber, Doron. Immortal Bird: A Family Memoir. S. & S. Feb. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9781451618068. $25; eISBN 9781451618082. MEMOIR
When Weber’s son Damon was born, his heart lacked a second ventricle, so blood returning from circulating through his body could not be pumped back into the heart to get rid of carbon dioxide and pick up oxygen. Two open-heart surgeries allowed him to manage a full life that included excelling academically while pursuing a love of acting (he appeared in the HBO series Deadwood). Then, at age 13, Damon’s heart rebelled, and he faced a shocking life-threatening illness. In language at once vivid, heartfelt, and angry, as revealed by a quick read of the galley, Weber recounts the medical battle that followed while powerfully conveying his love for his son. This one will disrupt your sleep.

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.