Nonfiction Previews, August 2012, Pt. 4: Nicholson Baker and the Caliph of Baghdad

Baker, Nicholson. The Way the World Works: Essays. S. & S. Aug. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781416572473. $25. ESSAYS
Having stirred us up with his latest novel, House of Holes, Baker offers a second essay collection that should prove just as thought-provoking, whimsical, and physically detailed as that novel and indeed all his work. These essays, which have appeared in publications like The New Yorker, range from political controversy and video games to paper mills, Wikipedia, the OED, and the invention of the gondola. Smart entertainment.

Bobrick, Benson. The Caliph’s Splendor: Islam and the West in the Golden Age of Baghdad. S. & S. Aug. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781416567622. $28. HISTORY
Recipient of the Literature Award of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, historian Bobrick tends to focus on American history but has ranged from Ivan the Terrible to the English Bible. Here he goes forth to examine the late 700s caliphate of Harun al-Rashid, when Islam spread from the Iberian Peninsula to China and Harun’s capital, Baghdad, glowed at the world’s center. Fascinating history and fascinating perspective as we leave Iraq.

Douglas, Ron. America’s Most Wanted Recipes Just Desserts: Sweet Indulgences from Your Family’s Favorite Restaurants. Atria: S. & S. Aug. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9781451623369. pap. $18.99. COOKING
The America’s Most Wanted Recipes series has been going strong since 2009, and now it’s time for my favorite type of food: desserts. Over 100 recipes, from “Applebee’s Deadly Chocolate Sin” to “Cracker Barrel’s Banana Pudding,” collected by former JP Morgan finance director Douglas, who founded the top-ranked

Grande, Reyna. The Distance Between Us: A Memoir. Atria: S. & S. Aug. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781451661774. $25. MEMOIR
After writing two award-winning novels, Across a Hundred Mountains and Dancing with Butterflies, Grande gets down to the nitty-gritty and chronicles her life as an undocumented immigrant, crossing the border at age nine to live with her father. The distance widens between her and her father, ambitious for his children but hobbled by his alcohol-fueled anger, until she must finally leave home and make her own life. My first thought: brave to write this memoir.

Lee, Martin A. Smoke Signals: A Social History of Marijuana‚ Medical, Recreational & Scientific. Scribner. Aug. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9781439102602. $30. SOCIAL SCIENCE
While investigative reporter Lee (Acid Dreams) does discuss the social history of marijuana, especially its place in the culture wars starting in the 1960s, his focuses just as much on its medical use‚ and the often underreported scientfic research showing how helpful it is‚ to treat cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and more. Serious stuff.

Meredith, James with William Doyle. A Mission from God: A Memoir and Challenge for America. Atria: S. & S. Aug. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781451674729. $25. MEMOIR
Though he spearheaded the desegregation of the University of Mississippi in 1962 and the March Against Fear in 1966, Meredith declared, I am not a civil rights hero. I am a warrior, and I am on a mission from God. Here he recalls key moments in that crusade, as well as key figures, from Medgar Evers to former Klan leader David Duke. As the challenge in the subtitle suggests, there’s a prescriptive element here, too.

Sherrod, Shirley with Catherine Whitney. The Courage To Hope: How I Stood Up to the Politics of Fear. Atria: S. & S. Aug. 2012. NAp. ISBN 9781451650945. $24.99. MEMOIR/CURRENT EVENTS
In July 2010, Sherrod was fired from her job as Georgia State Director for Rural Development at the USDA after a blogger alleged that she was racist, deftly excerpting from a speech she had made. When the White House and the NAACP finally viewed the entire video of the speech, it was evident that the allegation was false. Obama offered her another job, and the NAACP’s Ben Jealous apologized both publicly and privately. Here Sherrod offers her side of the story, assesses the media coverage, and explains why efforts to help the poor, black or white, have been repeatedly stymied. Sounds like an eye-opener.


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.