Nonfiction Previews, June 2012, Pt. 1: Looking at James Joyce, Michael Jackson, and the Banana King

Bowker, Gordon. James Joyce: A New Biography. Farrar. Jun. 2012. 624p. ISBN 9780374178727. $35. BIOGRAPHY
The biographer of Malcolm Lowry, George Orwell, and Lawrence Durrell, Bowker now takes on the literary Everest that is James Joyce. Working with newly discovered materials, he aims to reveal more of the author’s interior landscape, exploring his commitment to writing despite poverty, censorship, and relentless criticism. Richard Ellmann’s monumental biography still tops the charts; let see how this one does.

Coates, John. The Hour Between Dog and Wolf: Risk Taking, Gut Feelings, and the Biology of Boom and Bust. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9781594203381. $27.95. BUSINESS/SCIENCE
The French refer to twilight as entre le chien et le loup‚ between the dog and the wolf, the time when one has trouble telling the two apart.Wall Streeters use the term to highlight that shifty moment when a trader can take a risk or retreat to cut possible losses. Coates, a research fellow in neuroscience and finance at Cambridge, once worked in derivatives and came to believe that trading behavior was deeply related to hormones. His experiments showed that testosterone, bolstered by success, reduces the fear of risk in men, particularly young men (but not women), while failure causes an increase in cortisol, which inhibits risk taking. This biology of risk helps us understand how mind and body work together for success, separating the dogs from the wolves in a wide range of endeavors. For smart readers; makes sense, right?

Cohen, Rich. The Fish That Ate the Whale: The Life and Times of America’s Banana King. Farrar. Jun. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780374299279. $27. BIOGRAPHY
Arriving in America in 1891, Samuel Zemurray started out as a fruit peddler and ended up as head of the United Fruit Company‚ and one of the richest men in the world. As told by Cohen, his is both a rags-to-riches success story and a cautionary tale about the damage done by corporate greed and the exploitation of other countries. A Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair contributing editor with a bunch of best sellers to his name, Cohen should pull this off nicely.

Dolan, Marc. Bruce Springsteen and the Promise of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Norton. Jun. 2012. 592p. ISBN 9780393081350. $29.95. BIOGRAPHY/MUSIC
Associate professor of English, American studies, and film studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, and at the City University of New York Graduate Center, Dolan would seem to have the background to write something more than a flashy account of Springsteen’s rise to fame. And that’s what he intends, probing the cultural and political forces that shaped Springsteen while drawing on numerous sources, including unreleased studio recordings and bootlegs of live performances. For serious fans.

Gallagher, Michael & Jonathan Fetter-Vorm. Trinity: Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb. Hill & Wang. Jun. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9780809094684. $22. GRAPHIC NOVEL/HISTORY
Fetter-Vorm has illustrated a number of literary sources, including Beowulf and Moby-Dick, but here he takes on an important aspect of history, chronicling the development of the atomic bomb. The book moves from early research and a vividly rendered depiction of a nuclear chain reaction to the launching of the Manhattan Project and the ethical quandaries of those involved. Strongly consider wherever graphic nonfiction moves.

Jarnow, Jesse. Big Day Coming: Yo La Tengo and the Rise of Indie Rock. Gotham: Penguin Group (USA). 288p. ISBN 9781592407156. $18. MUSIC
Yo La Tengo has been around for three decades, defining indie rock and refusing to go glam by joining a big record label. Music journalist and radio show host Jarnow (The Frow Show, WFMU) tells their story. Note the paperback original format, absolutely fitting to the content and the audience. Get wherever music books beyond those celeb bios circulate.

Johnson, Boris. Johnson’s Life of London: The People Who Made the City That Made the World. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9781594487477. $27.95. HISTORY
London is a fascinating city, and who better to tell its story that the mayor himself, familiarly known as Boris. This he does by focusing not on events but individuals, from Hadrian to Shakespeare to the Rolling Stones. Before serving in the House of Commons and then becoming mayor, Johnson was a journalist (he was eventually editor of the Spectator), so he should be able to write. Just in time for the 2012 Olympics, this should be an entertainingly irreverent take on a powerhouse city.

Kemper, Steve. A Labyrinth of Kingdoms: 10,000 Miles Through Islamic Africa. Norton. Jun. 2012. 432p. ISBN 9780393079661. $27.95. HISTORY
Never heard of Heinrich Barth? Acting for the British government, this German national became part of an expedition through North and Central Africa in 1849, enduring a five-and-a-half year trek over 10,000 miles and the deaths of most of his comrades before finally reaching that shining, legendary city, Timbuktu. But because of Europe’s changing political landscape and Barth’s concern with learning about the African peoples rather than figuring out how to exploit them, he didn’t get the attention at the time that he deserved. His story is known primarily by scholars, to whom his discoveries remain invaluable, which makes this an important corrective to our understanding of Africa’s exploration. And it sounds fascinating.

Koslow, Sally, Slouching Toward Adulthood: Observations from the Not-So-Empty Nest. Viking. Jun. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780670023622. $25.95. CURRENT EVENTS
A novelist (With Friends Like These) and journalist (O: The Oprah Magazine, Huffington Post), Koslow draws on her own experience, as well as research and interviews, to talk about a crucial issue these days: the number of adult children who have returned home to live with their parents. She calls these children adultescents, and her book seems less a discussion of why this is happening and what (if anything) to do about it than a portrait of the adjustments families are now making.

Mann, James. The Obamians: How a Band of Newcomers Redefined American Power. Viking. Jun. 2012. 432p. ISBN 9780670023769. $26.95. CURRENT EVENTS
In his best-selling Rise of the Vulcans, Mann profiled the advisers who helped shape George W. Bush’s foreign policy. Here he looks at the idealistic young advisers Obama brought with him to the White House who found themselves up against both the messy realities of world politics and an older, more seasoned group of advisers (e.g., Joseph Biden, Hilary Clinton) who had a different view of things. Food for the political nuts among us, and there are lots.

Rees, Martin. From Here to Infinity: A Vision for the Future of Science. Norton. Jun. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9780393063073. $23.95. SCIENCE
A lot of folks are intimated by science, and Cambridge astrophysicist Rees wants them to get over it. After all, many of the crucial issues we face today, from health care to energy policy to climate change, demand an understanding of science. Rees here makes a case for increased communication between scientists and nonscientists so that we can all be better informed. It’s an important idea that I hope finds readers.

Sullivan, Randall. Untouchable: The Strange Life and Tragic Death of Michael Jackson. Grove. Jun. 2012. 388p. ISBN 9780802119629. $26.95; eISBN 9780802195654. BIOGRAPHY/MUSIC
As the subtitle suggests, this book by a former Rolling Stone contributing editor and writer recounts not only Jackson’s in-the-spotlight upbringing and the controversies of his adult life‚ the business errors, pedophilia accusations, savaged reputation, and comeback album and 50 megaconcerts he was planning at his death‚ but the death itself, including the public’s reaction, the estate battles, and the trial of Dr. Conrad Murray. Seems there’s an effort here at balance; likely lots of demand.

Wahls, Zach. My Two Moms: Everything I Needed To Know About Gay Marriage I Learned in Boy Scouts. Gotham Bks: Penguin Group (USA). Jun. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9781592407132. $26. MEMOIR
There are plenty of charming, Eagle Scout engineering students about, but only one testified before the Iowa House of Representatives in January 2011 that the sexual orientation of his two moms had had, as he said, zero effect on the content of his character.” That was Wahls, just 19, and his speech subsequently appeared on YouTube, soon racking up more than two million views. Here he expands on his life story, speaking first to youngers like himself, raised by a same-sex couple, and then to all those who feel like outsiders, telling them that they are not alone. A needed book, and Wahls is now a known quantity.

Zuckerman, Peter & Amanda Padoan. Buried in the Sky: The Extraordinary Story of the Sherpa Climbers on K2’s Deadliest Day. Norton. Jun. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780393079883. $26.95. MOUNTAINEERING
As long as Westerners have been scaling the Himalayas, Sherpas‚ inhabitants of Nepal’s most mountainous regions‚ have climbed with them, not merely as porters but as expert mountaineers. Yet they have never been given their due. Here is the story of Chhiring Dorje Sherpa and Pasang Lama, who participated in the 2008 assault on K2 that left 11 climbers dead, though they themselves survived. The book takes pains to explore their culture and the burden felt by such impoverished young men who take on dangerous work that pays well yet remains an offense to the mountains they revere. Sobering.

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.