Nonfiction Previews: August 2012, Pt. 1: The Rise of Rome and a Julia Child Biography

Brick, Michael. Saving the School: The True Story of a Principal, a Teacher, a Coach, a Bunch of Kids, and a Year in the Crosshairs of Education Reform. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Aug. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781594203442. $25.95. EDUCATION
Aiming to show education reformers that charter schools are not necessarily the answer, Brick recounts the near-death of John H. Reagan High School, where students were failing standardized tests even as truancy and teenage pregnancy rates soared. Then Anabel Garza, pregnant at 16, widowed at 25, and an English teacher to Mexican immigrants, agreed to be principal. She hunted down dropouts, fired slack teachers, and individualized tutoring efforts while bringing back the old-fashioned aspects of high school, like plays, dances, and yearbooks. So far, it’s working. Inspired reading.

Carvajal, Doreen. The Forgetting River: A Modern Tale of Survival, Identity, and the Inquisition. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Aug. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9781594487392. $26.95. MEMOIR
Though raised Catholic in America, Carvajal discovered that her ancestors might have been Spanish Jews forced to convert during the Inquisition. So she traveled to the Andalucian town of Arcos de la Frontera to try to dig up her roots, then investigated documents about a Carvajal family burned at the stake in 1500s Mexico. What she discovered, above all else, is that the past is a river running very, very deep. Such an intriguing topic, and Carvajal, a Paris-based reporter for the New York Times (her beat was once book publishing), certainly knows how to write.

Everitt, Anthony. The Rise of Rome: The Making of the World’s Greatest Empire. Random. Aug. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9781400066636. $30; eISBN 9780679645160. HISTORY
British historian Everitt chronicles the rise of Rome from a sleepy market town in the eighth century B.C.E. to the world’s greatest empire, stretching from the British Isles to the Middle East and smartly assuring strength and stability by offering citizenship to defeated peoples. Will folks be eager to read classical history? Well, the film Gladiator and the HBO series Rome were hits, and Everitt’s biographies Cicero, Augustus, and Hadrian together have sold more than 300,000 copies.

Gorra, Michael. Portrait of a Novel: Henry James and the Making of an American Masterpiece. Liveright: Norton. Aug. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780871404084. $29.95. LITERATURE
Not so much the biography of a writer as the biography of a book, this work uses fact, critique, and travelog to explain how Henry James’s Portrait of a Lady came to be written. At the same time, we come to understand both James’s world and the psychological forces that compelled him to write. Essential for literati.

Kantrowitz, Stephen. More Than Freedom: Fighting for Black Citizenship in a White Republic, 1829‚ 1889. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Aug. 2012. 496p. ISBN 9781594203428. $36. HISTORY
A history professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, Kantrowitz wants us to rethink our understanding of the abolitionist movement, which we tend to see as focused solely on the emancipation of the slaves. But as early as the 1820s, black men and women began calling themselves colored citizens and fighting not just for the end of slavery but for rights, respect, and equal treatment as well. Had they not, argues Kantrowitz, emancipation might never have come. Heady reading during the Civil War’s sesquicentennial.

Klinkenborg, Verlyn. Several Short Sentences About Writing. Knopf. Aug. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780307266347. $22.95; eISBN 9780307958495. WRITING
Klinkenborg’s meditative pieces for the New York Times, for which he serves on the editorial board, are models of concise, persuasive excellence. He’s also been teaching writing for more than 25 years, so this work packs in a whole lot of hard-earned knowledge. It’s the anti-guide, actually, arguing that we should toss out everything we’ve heard about spurring creativity, brainstorming ideas, and outlining and instead remember that writing is a matter of close observation and thinking caught in the very act. Aimed at a broad spectrum of writers, including bloggers, journal keepers, and tweeters; I’ll need to get this, too.

Morris, Errol. A Wilderness of Error: A Murder Mystery. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Aug. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781594203435. TRUE CRIME
The Academy Award‚ winning director of films like The Thin Blue Line and Tabloid, Morris bravely goes where others have dared to go before‚ namely, Joe McGinniss in Fatal Vision and Janet Malcolm in The Journalist and the Murderer. Morris investigates the mystery surrounding Jeffrey MacDonald, the Green Beret doctor convicted of killing his pregnant wife and two daughters in the 1970s, and concludes that MacDonald may be innocent. Along the way, he considers the nature of proof and how truth can be twisted. Bound to be in demand, especially with all that promotion.

Muller, Richard A. Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines. Norton. Aug. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780393081619. $26.95. SCIENCE
We still haven’t resolved issues like global warming, dependence on foreign oil, and the challenges of nuclear energy‚ in fact, we hardly understand them. Surely Muller, a Berkeley physics professor and MacArthur fellow responsible for the best-selling Physics for Future Presidents, can lend us a hand.

Orwell, George. Diaries. Liveright: Norton. Aug. 2012. 608p. ISBN 9780871404107. $39.95. LITERATURE
Orwell kept diaries throughout his life. Only 11 survive, all collected here, but they reflect on everything from his early visits with miners to the horror of World War II to his composition of Animal Farm and 1984. This first U.S. publication will attract attention from smart readers.

Ruhlman, Michael & Brian Polcyn. Salumi: The Craft of Italian Dry Curing. Norton. Aug. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780393068597. $39.95. COOKERY
With cooking the top-circulating nonfiction subject in public libraries, even a non-meat-eater like me feels obliged to recommend this book on the Italian method of dry curing meats. (It’s how we get pancetta and prosciutto.) From the authors of the best-selling Charcuterie; with a four-city tour to New York, Detroit, Cleveland, and Chicago.

Spitz, Bob. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child. Knopf. Aug. 2012. 432p. ISBN 9780307272225. $28.95; eISBN 9780307961129. lrg. prnt. CD: Random Audio. BIOGRAPHY
Journalist/biographer Spitz does celebrities well; he’s responsible, for instance, for the hugely best-selling The Beatles: The Biography. This book, publishing on August 15, the 100th anniversary of Julia Child’s birth, has the support of Child’s estate and promises to be the definitive account. The 100,000-copy first printing says it all.


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.