Nonfiction Previews, March 2012, Pt. 1: Pagels on Revelations, Turing's Cathedral, and the First Woman To Own and Edit a Newspaper

Crouch, Gregory. China‘s Wings: War, Intrigue, Romance, and Adventure in the Middle Kingdom During the Golden Age of Flight. Bantam. Mar. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780553804270. $30. HISTORY
Never heard of the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC)? I’m humbled to say that I haven’t either. An endeavor jointly undertaken by China and America, CNAC was formed in 1929 to facilitate transportation and communication over China’s huge distances and eventually served as the only supply route (across the looming Eastern Himalayas, famously called the Hump) when China was blockaded after the Japanese invasion. West Point grad Crouch brings us a story that’s part adventure, part unearthed history. Not just for history buffs.

Dodson, James. American Triumvirate: Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan, and the Modern Age of Golf. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780307272492. $27.95; eISBN 9780307957399. SPORTS
Sam Snead, Byron Nelson, Ben Hogan: Three near-mythic golf champions dominant from the 1930s to the 1950s who completely changed the game and how it is perceived. They were all born in 1912, so what better time than their centenary to celebrate their accomplishments? From Dodson, a former Golf magazine writer responsible for Hogan’s authorized biography; with a four-city tour to Atlanta/Augusta, Jacksonville, New York, and Orlando.

Duhigg, Charles. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do. Random. Mar. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9781400069286. $28; eISBN 9780679603856. CD: Random Audio. PSYCHOLOGY
Cue, routine, reward: that’s how habits are formed. Duhigg, a George Polk Award‚ winning business reporter for the New York Times, relies on scientific research, classroom experiences, and business case studies to explain how habits are acquired, how they can be changed, and how changing just one can radically remake your life. Lots of media interest from places like the Today show, NPR, and the History Channel, plus rights to 15 countries; it may sound like just another self-help title, but this one is looking big.

Dyson, George. Turing’s Cathedral. Pantheon. Mar. 2012. 512p. ISBN 9780375422775. $29.95. eISBN 9780307907066. SCIENCE
In the 1940s and 1950s, the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, NJ, was a hotbed of intellectual creativity. The scientists gathered there realized Turing’s dream of a universal machine, doing work that led to computers, digital television, modern genetics, and more. Because their work was funded exclusively by the government, which therefore got the benefit of using their results, it also led to the creation of the hydrogen bomb. Dyson is not only a distinguished science writer but the son of renowned physicist Freeman Dyson, who worked at the institute in the 1950s, so you can expect him to deliver an insightful book. With an eight-city tour to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Portland (OR), San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Haskell, David. The Forest Unseen: A Year’s Watch in Nature. Viking. Mar. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780670023370. $25.95. NATURAL HISTORY
For one year, University of the South biologist Haskell visited a one-square-meter patch of old-growth Tennessee forest to see what he could see. Here he reports on the microbes and salamanders, spring blooms and scuttling mammals found at this site to portray ecosystems that have been in place for thousands, even millions, of years. Not this list’s biggest book but enchanting nonetheless and a special in-house favorite.

Kandel, Eric R. The Age of Insight: The Quest To Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present. Random. Mar. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9781400068715. $35. PSYCHOLOGY
Kandel knows his science; he won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 2000. He also knows how to write; his In Search of Memory won a Los Angeles Times Book Award in 2006. All of which suggests that this study of how we came to recognize the unconscious will make great reading. Kandel tells his story by starting in 1900 Vienna and focusing on five individuals‚ physician/psychologist Sigmund Freud, physician/novelist Arthur Schnitzler, and artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele‚ whose insights laid the foundations for today’s brain science. Science and art as partners, I love it! For your smart readers.

Kennedy, Paul. Engineers of Victory: The Making of the War Machine That Defeated the Nazis. Random. Mar. 2012. ISBN 9781400067619. $30; eISBN 9781588368980. HISTORY
Master historian Kennedy dates his coverage of World War II from January 1943, when the Allies convened at the Casablanca Conference to plan their European strategy. But he’s not interested in an overview. Instead, he wants to show us how the Allies actually executed the war, moving men and matériel into place in a demonstration of the organizational prowess that finally facilitated D-Day. This should be unimpeachable reading for those passionate about World War II and military history generally.

Leonard, John. Reading for My Life: Writings, 1958‚ 2008. Viking. Mar. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780670023080. $32.95. CRITICISM
Kurt Vonnegut called Leonard the smartest man who ever lived, and readers of his multitudinous critiques‚ not only of books but of film, TV, media, and politics‚ might just agree. This big, bold collection includes his best work, much of it never available in book form. Essential for literati and other thinking folks.

Luhrmann, Tanya. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780307264794. $26.95; eISBN 9780307957504. RELIGION
Standford psychological anthropologist Luhrmann truly throws herself into her studies. To understand the depth of evangelical belief and its consequences for believers, she not only conducted experiments to determine how extended prayer affects the mind but also joined an evangelical congreation. The result is a fair and balanced study on why people believe and what religion can do‚ in some ways, a concrete counterpart to Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists: A Non-Believer’s Guide to the Uses of Religion (see Picks). I’d like to push this toward thinking folks.

McInerney, Jay. The Juice: Vinous Veritas. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780307957283. $26.95. BEVERAGES
McInerney isn’t just the award-winning author of Bright Lights, Big City. He also writes about wine for venues as varied as House & Garden and the Wall Street Journal. For his efforts, he’s won the M.F.K. Fisher Award for Distinguished Writing. And you can find out why by reading this essay collection.

Negev, Eilat & Yehuda Koren. The First Lady of Fleet Street: The Life of Rachel Beer, Crusading Heiress and Newspaper Pioneer. Bantam. Mar. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780553807431. $30; eISBN 9780345532381. BIOGRAPHY
The marriage of Rachel Sassoon and Frederick Beer united two leading Jewish families in Victorian London‚ the Sassoons had been wealthy Bombay merchants, and Beer’s father invested brilliantly in the era’s leading technologies. The socially aware Rachel didn’t want to be just a rich matron, so she ended up owning and editing a national newspaper‚ the first woman to do so, at a time when women did not yet have the vote. The authors specialize in intriguing, little-known lives, having written about a dwarf family that survived the Holocaust and Assia Wevill, the woman who came between Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes, so Rachel Beer seems right up their alley. I’m intrigued.

Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation. Viking. Mar. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780670023349. $27.95. RELIGION
This is a book of revelation: Princeton religion professor Pagels, who changed forever how we look at Christianity with books like The Gnostic Gospels, here rethinks a key piece of the New Testament canon. The Book of Revelation has always been regarded as a near-fantastic vision of the world’s end, but Pagels sees it as an attack on Roman decadence at a time when Jews were rebelling against the Roman occupation of Jerusalem, which ended in the desecration of the Great Temple. Later, the emerging Christian sect repurposed the work as a sword thrust to anyone challenging their primacy. Of tremendous interest to educated readers.

Rashid, Ahmed. Pakistan on the Brink: The Future of America, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Viking. Mar. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780670023462. $26.95. CURRENT EVENTS
If you read the Financial Times, the Washington Post, or the New York Review of Books or attend to NPR, CNN, and the BBC World Service, you’ll know Rashid as the far-sighted Pakistani journalist who envisioned the emergence of Pakistan and reemergence of Afghanistan as important factors in the current Middle East equation. Here he considers what withdrawal from Afghanistan will mean for America, particularly as it reconsiders its relationship with Pakistan. Serious reading; with a six-city tour.

Reading, Amy. The Mark Inside: A Daring Swindle, Its Cunning Revenge, and a Small History of the Big Con. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780307272485. $25.95. HISTORY
If you’ve ever wondered about the origins of the phrase confidence man, here’s your chance to find out. Reading tells the story of Frank J. Norfleet, a self-made man swindled out of his entire fortune by notorious con man Big Joe Furey and how he sought revenge. Lots of interesting history, and the book is being positioned as relevant to today’s economic climate; Reading traces some of modern finance’s maneuverings to the con artistry of yesteryear. For upscale readers.

Shipler, David K. Rights at Risk: The Limits of Our Liberty. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780307594860. $28.95; eISBN 9780307957627. CURRENT EVENTS
Following hard on the heels of Shipler’s The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties, out in trade paperback in February 2012, this book expands on Shipler’s argument that our civil liberties are under attack. Shipler’s examples include an Iraqi refugee arrested on transparently false charges and an impoverished woman sentenced to life in prison owing to her lawyer’s conflict of interest. Sobering reading for the serious-minded.

Stoessinger, Caroline. Kind of Prayer: A Century of Wisdom from the Life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the Oldest Living Holocaust Survivor. Spiegel & Grau. Mar. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780812992816. $23; eISBN 9780679644019. CD: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY/INSPIRATION
As an inmate at the Theresienstadt concentration camp, pianist Alice Herz-Sommer performed more than 100 concerts for her fellow inmates and surreptitiously gave lessons to the camp’s children, including her son. Now, at 107, she is the oldest living Holocaust survivor, and though she lost many family members and friends to the Nazis she opted to move on. This work by Stoessinger, a pianist and founding director of the Mozart Academy of New York, seems less a biography than an inspirational life-lessons piece (which does leave me unsettled, given the subject). The remarkable Herz-Sommer, who knew Franz Kafka and has entertained the likes of Leonard Bernstein and Golda Meir at her home in Israel, still practices the piano daily. Rights sales to ten countries and Herz-Sommer’s YouTube popularity suggest that this book will be big.

Teresi, Dick. The Undead: Organ Harvesting, the Ice-Water Test, Beating Heart Cadavers‚ How Medicine Is Blurring the Line Between Life and Death. Pantheon. Mar. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780375423710. $26.95; eISBN 9780307907110. SOCIAL SCIENCE/MEDICINE
The difference between life and death would seem to be abundantly clear. But as science writer Teresi clarifies, it’s not. Talking to brain-death experts, hospice works, transplant surgeons, and anesthesiologists who study pain in those legally dead, Teresi highlights organ harvesting as a big business and uncovers pressures to declare patients dead rather than try to save them. Much creepier and more immediately dangerous than vampires, zombies, and ghouls.

Titus, Mark. Don’t Put Me In, Coach: My Incredible Journey from the End of Ohio State’s Bench to the End of Ohio State’s Bench. Doubleday. Mar. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780385535106. $24.95. SPORTS
At Ohio State, Titus played basketball alongside seven future NBA picks and holds the record for career wins. During that time, as you’d know from reading his popular blog (we’re talking three-million-plus views), he scored a total of nine points. A paean to the average guy from the best-known benchwarmer in the game, this book is the perfect antidote to triumphalist sports stories and likely a comfort to a lot of readers. Titus has already had some media exposure, so expect demand.

Vikmanis, Laura & Amy Sohn. It’s Not About the Pom-Poms: How a 40-Year-Old Mom Became the NFL’s Oldest Cheerleader‚ and Found Hope, Joy, and Inspiration Along the Way. Ballantine. Mar. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780345532909. $25. MEMOIR/INSPIRATION
Overweight and newly separated after a brutal marriage, Vikmanis joined a pole-dancing exercise class and met a former Cincinnati Bengal cheerleader who liked her dancing and suggested that she try out for the team. So she got in shape and at 40 was accepted, becoming the NFL’s oldest cheerleader. Now she’s in her third season. Lots of buzz: the media have been demanding interviews, though Vikmanis agreed to only the Early Show until the book comes out, and New Line bought the film rights. Okay, this path is not open to me, but the idea that one can remake oneself at any age has considerable appeal.

Winterson, Jeannette. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Grove. Mar. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780802120106. $25. CD: Brilliance Audio. MEMOIR
Those who admire Winterson’s scalding fiction‚ and memoir fans simply looking for something good‚ should investigate this forthright, ultimately tumultuous memoir. Raised by adoptive parents in a grimy north England industrial town, Winterson endured a religious fanatic of a mother with two sets of dentures, a pistol in the drawer, and a tendency to lock her daughter outside the house at night. The past caught up with the author in adulthood, leading to rocky times and a search for her biological mother. What finally saved her: literature. Now that’s a lesson worth repeating. With an eight-city tour to Boston, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle.

Zacks, Richard. Island of Vice: Theodore Roosevelt’s Doomed Quest To Clean Up Sin-Loving New York. Doubleday. Mar. 2012. 432p. ISBN 9780385519724. $27.95; eISBN 9780385535113. CD: Random Audio.
Before Theodore Roosevelt became President, he served as New York City’s police commissioner. But he failed miserably in his attempt to curb the brothels, gambling, and crime rings that defined late Gilded Age Gotham. Readers of Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City should enjoy, though this isn’t quite so dark. Zacks got his start specializing in lewd and offbeat historical trivia, and the publisher has a sense of humor; the book will be sent to key folks in current New York City law enforcement.

Correction: Despite the first-person narrator, Sara Levine’s Treasure Island!!! (Europa, Feb. 2012), featured in the August 1, 2012, edition of Prepub Alert, is not a memoir but a novel. My apologies for the error.

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.