Seasonal Roundup: 25 Top Nonfiction Titles from January Through April 2012

Bartels, Peggielene & Eleanor Herman. King Peggy: An American Secretary, Her Royal Destiny, and the Inspiring Story of How She Changed an African Village. Doubleday. Feb. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780385534321. $25.95. Downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR
Born in Ghana and now an American citizen, Bartels awoke one day to find herself king of Otuam, a town of 7000 residents on Ghana’s coast, after the former king, her uncle, had died. With a first serial in O: The Oprah Magazine (March issue) and a confirmed CBS Sunday Morning booking, this title already has some wind beneath its wings. Good quotes, too‚ Alexander McCall Smith calls Bartels a real-life Mma Ramotswe.

Benfey, Christopher. Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781594203268. $25.95. MEMOIR/ART
Literary critic/author Benfey’s mother traces her lineage to colonial craftsmen steeped in Quaker radicalism and, more recently, to brick-making artisans in rural North Carolina. His father fled Nazi-occupied Europe with his uncle and aunt, Bauhaus artists Josef and Anni Albers; Josef eventually became director of famously cutting-edge Black Mountain College. I love the very idea of this book, blending the personal with the larger story of American art‚ and, ultimately, America itself. So though it’s early to talk about media interest, I’m thrilled to hear that Benfey’s memoir has considerable editorial and sales support.

Brady, Diane. Fraternity. Spiegel & Grau. Jan. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780385524742. $25; eISBN 9780385529624. CD: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY/HISTORY
In 1968, Rev. John Brooks, a Jesuit priest at Holy Cross College, went on a hunt for talented young African American high schoolers whom he brought to the college and mentored. Among them: Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Pulitzer Prize‚ winning author Edward P. Jones. So far, I’ve heard only raves about this first book from Brady, senior editor and content chief at Bloomsberg Businessweek. Perfect for libraries, and, meanwhile, check out this cool iTunes offering.

Broadwell, Paula with Vernon Loeb. All In: The Education of General David Petraeus. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781594203183. $29.95. CD: Penguin Audio. CURRENT EVENTS/MILITARY AFFAIRS
Drawn from exclusive interviews with Petraeus and his top officers and soldiers, this work is not a biography but a study of his military experience. That Petraeus is now head of the CIA makes reading about him seem especially smart. That Broadwell’s recent postings onAfghanistan have kicked up a bit of a dust storm makes this book even more intriguing. And since the blurbs are apparently terrific (the best, says the publicist, she’s ever seen), this is likely mandatory reading for anyone interested in current events

Busch, Benjamin. Dust to Dust: A Memoir. Ecco: HarperCollins. Mar. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9780062014849. $25.99. MEMOIR
Here’s another memoir I find special. From a charmed childhood as the son of novelist Frederick Busch, to two medal-strewn tours of duty as a marine in Iraq, to work as an actor who played a cop on The Wire, Busch has a life story well worth hearing. This meditation, with chapters framed by basics like water and metal, blood and bone, considers how we don’t put away childish things, keeping our younger selves with us always. Lots of publicity and already a big write-up on Library Love Fest; his mom’s a librarian.

Druckerman, Pamela. Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781594203336. $25.95. PARENTING
A former reporter for the Wall Street Journal, Druckerman moved to Paris, had a baby, and noticed that French women just weren’t that uptight about child rearing yet had splendidly well-adjusted kids. Here she explains how they do it, which could be just the thing for all us overanxious American mamas and papas. Already, there’s strong interest for the first serial and from the print and broadcast media generally; good early quotes, too, including from the Tiger Mother herself. Paris and parenting, what could be better; I see a Woody Allen film here.

Dykstra, Natalia. Clover Adams: A Gilded and Heartbreaking Life. Houghton. Feb. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780618873852. $26. BIOGRAPHY
Having received an National Endowment of the Humanities grant for her work on Clover Adams, Dykstra sets out not only to write a biography about Adams, wife of the redoubtable Henry and a luminary who dominated Gilded Age Washington, DC, but to solve the mystery surrounding her death. The forthcoming LJ review calls this not only good history but a highly recommended page-turner.

Dyson, George. Turing’s Cathedral. Pantheon. Mar. 2012. 512p. ISBN 9780375422775. $29.95; eISBN 9780307907066. SCIENCE
Distinguished science writer Dyson chronicles the Institute for Advanced Study in the 1940s and 1950s, when work on Turing’s dream of a universal machine led to computers, digital television, modern genetics, and more. What’s most intriguing is the number of feature stories I’m finding that reference the book this far in advance of publication. Here’s one from Electrum Magazine and another from The European, headed by this resounding Dyson quote: Information is cheap, meaning is expensive.

Gessen, Masha. The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781594488429. $27.95. BIOGRAPHY/CURRENT EVENTS
Russian born, American raised, now back in Moscow, and the author of several books on Russian topics, Gessen chronicles the rise of Vladimir Putin, the faceless former secret police chief who has since gutted the independent media and the electoral process and delivered opponents to exile or death. There’s strong serial interest in this work, reputedly so explosive that the manuscript is being kept under wraps, and in February Vanity Fair will feature a piece by Gessen on Russian corruption. Big media noise expected.

Ghonim, Wael. Revolution 2.0: A Memoir and Call to Action. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780547773988. $26. MEMOIR/CURRENT EVENTS
In fall 2010, Cairo-based Google executive Ghonim anonymously launched a Facebook page to decry the death of an Egyptian man at the hands of the security police. The rest is history, and here we have, excitingly, a present-at-the-creation account. A huge book for the publisher, with lots of radio and TV in the offing (e.g., Nightline, Good Morning America), interview demand, a Wall Street Journal excerpt, and a two-legged tour, with the Free Library of Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Public Library getting into the mix.

Gumbel, Andrew & Roger Charles. Oklahoma City. Morrow. Apr. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780061986444. $26.99. lrg. prnt. CURRENT EVENTS
Award-winning investigative journalists who have covered the Oklahoma City bombing from the beginning, the authors argue that Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols did not act alone but were part of a disaffected antigovernment militia. A wave maker; even this far out, media interest is intensive.

Judt, Tony with Timothy Snyder. Thinking the Twentieth Century. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9781594203237. $35. HISTORY
University Professor at New York University, founder of the Remarque Institute, and the hugely distinguished author of 15 books, the recently deceased Judt joined with Yale history professor Snyder (Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin) to consider the ideas that shaped the entire 20th century. Powerful early interest, partly because this is (alas) Judt’s last book; Snyder will be doing events in New York, Los Angeles, and Seattle.

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
A Nobel Prize winner in medicine and author of the Los Angeles Times Book Award winner In Search of Memory, Kandel explains how we came to recognize the unconscious by focusing on the stories of five individuals‚ physician/psychologist Sigmund Freud, physician/novelist Arthur Schnitzler, and artists Gustav Klimt, Oskar Kokoschka, and Egon Schiele. Fascinating people, fascinating concept, and Kandel’s sense of Vienna from his early life there (profoundly altered by the Anschluss) should make this an especially insightful read.

Khalil, Ashraf. Liberation Square: Inside the Egyptian Revolution and the Rebirth of a Nation. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781250006691. $25.99. CURRENT EVENTS
Egyptian American journalist Khalil has lived in Cairo since 1997, so he can provide the necessary historical context to the revolution there, which he witnessed firsthand. Here he continues coverage through the following months, moving as close as he could to the current election before sending the book to press. He’s also been providing coverage at Foreign and will soon be seen in the Washington Post‘s Political Bookworm Blog and the Wall Street Journal. Major media interest.

King, Carole. A Natural Woman. Grand Central. Apr. 2012. ISBN 9781455512614. $27.99. lrg. prnt. CD: Hachette Audio. MEMOIR
The four-time Grammy Award winner, whose Tapestry still holds the record for album by a female that remained longest on the charts after four decades, goes back to the beginning to cover her life and career. In 2010, Live at the Troubadour, recorded with James Taylor, sold 400,000 copies, and a recent piece on King’s newly released holiday album proclaims that she’s not just for baby boomers anymore. Naturally.

Laqueur, Walter. After the Fall: The End of the European Dream and the Decline of a Continent. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9781250000088. $26.99. HISTORY
When I first wrote about this book back in August, it seemed like important reading. Now that the euro, hence the E.U., hence the entire global market truly totter on the brink, I would deem it essential. Director of London’s Institute of Contemporary History, Laqueur can give us context; in a recent National Interest piece, he argues that while Europe’s decline seems inevitable, it does not have to collapse. Whew.

Lehrer, Jonah. Imagine. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780547386072 . $26. SCIENCE
Wired contributing editor and neurosceince whiz kid Lehrer here argues that creativity is not a single, rarely given attribute but a set of processes that we can all learn to use more effectively. So far, lots of retail and media interest, with over two dozen venues weighing in, ranging (rather widely) from NPR (March 19) and Scientific American to Time and Fortune.

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, 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 encompass our entire imagination. Already talked up on NPR; just can’t get this book out of my head.

Masters, Alexander. The Genius in My Basement: A Sumography of the Genius Simon Norton, Who Disappeared Mysteriously at the End of the Last Century. Delacorte. Feb. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780385341080. $25; eISBN 9780345532213. BIOGRAPHY
When still in his early twenties, prodigy Simon Norton published The Atlas of Finite Groups, one of the most significant contributions to mathematics in the second half of the 20th century; now he is Masters’s landlord, living in the basement. Shortlisted in the Biography/Autobiography category for the 2011 Galaxy National Book Awards, this book has come in for strong praise in the UK (astonishingly good, Sunday Times), which bodes well.

Obama, Michelle. American Grown: How the White House Kitchen Garden Inspires Families, Schools, and Communities. Crown. Apr. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9780307956026. $30. GARDENING
Inspired by her daughters, Michelle Obama plants a garden at the White House‚ the first since Eleanor Roosevelt’s Victory Garden. Now she wants to get you planting, too. No word on promotion yet; proceeds will go to charity.

Robinson, Marilynne. When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays. Farrar. Mar. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780374298784. $26. LITERATURE/ESSAYS
So many readers know and love Robinson’s prize-winning novels‚ Housekeeping , Gilead, and Home‚ but here’s an essay collection that already has readers lining up. Robinson revisits favorite themes, considering the impoverishment of consumer culture, the role of faith, and the complexities of human nature.

Sandel, Michael J. What Money Can’t Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets. Farrar. Apr. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780374203030. $27. SOCIAL SCIENCE
A Harvard University professor of government and author of the international best seller Justice, Sandel shows that we have shifted from having a market economy to being a market society‚ and he doesn’t think that’s good. He’s been working on this idea for some time, having given an address with this title at Oxford in 1998 and published a piece called What Money Shouldn’t Buy in the Hedgehog Review in 2003, which sounds even more to the point. The publisher sees this as likely its biggest nonfiction of the entire year.

Scheiber, Noam. The Escape Artists. S. & S. Mar. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781439172407. $30. CURRENT EVENTS
A senior editor at the New Republic, billed as the go-to guy on the current administration, Scheiber here focuses on Obama’s handling of the economic crisis and is said to raise a few eyebrows. Still not much word on content, but the title, just picked, suggests where Scheiber is going.

Shadid, Anthony. House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780547134666. $26. MEMOIR/CURRENT EVENTS
Captured by forces loyal to Colonel Qaddafi with other New York Times reporters, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Shadid was released after six days and returned to an estate built by his great-grandfather in Lebanon, which he had been restoring. This promising blend of the personal and the political has already earned Shadid a slot on MSNBC’s Morning Joe in late March, other media are calling, and some big reviews have already been assigned.

Stringer, Chris. Lone Survivors: How We Came To Be the Only Humans on Earth. Times Bks: Holt. Mar. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780805088915. $27. SCIENCE
Famed paleoanthropologist Stringer of London’s Natural History Museum uses new archaeological and genetic evidence (e.g., DNA studies of Neanderthals) to proclaim that distinct humans coexisted, competed, and even interbred throughout the African continent. In so doing, he challenges a position he himself has long held. I like flexibility, and understanding where we’ve come from is really important.

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.