Nonfiction Previews, September 2012, Pt. 3: All in the Family, plus Bill and Hillary

Ashcroft, Frances. The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body. Norton. Sept. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780393078039. $28.95. SCIENCE
From the first stirrings in the primordial muck to our brain’s elaborate pulsings when we read or watch Shakespeare, electricity is life, and much-honored Oxford physiologist Ashcroft‚ recently winner of the top honor in the L’OR√âAL-UNESCO for Women in Science Awards‚ explains how it drives the body. Historical perspective, too (the book harks back to the Greeks); insight from a master.

The Best Science Writing Online 2012. ed. by Jennifer Ouellette. Scientific American/Farrar. Sept. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780374533342. pap. $16. SCIENCE
You have to love a science writer whose accomplishments include maintaining the Cocktail Party Physics blog. That’s Ouellette, who here guest edits the sixth edition of an anthology launched by Bora Zivkovic, editor of the blog network at Scientific American. With pieces ranging from fluids to fungi, written by rising stars, here’s online writing about science‚ how much more cutting edge can you get?

Brown, Lester R. Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity. Norton. Sept. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9780393088915. $27.95. SCIENCE/POLICY
As the subtitle suggests, Brown‚ president of the Earth Policy Institute, a MacArthur Fellow, and a prolific author to boot (e.g., World on the Edge)‚ has something potent to say about the human-made aspect of the famines that keep stalking this planet. Dedicated readers will appreciate.

Cantu, Robert, MD & Mark Hyman. Concussions and Our Kids: America’s Leading Expert on How To Protect Young Athletes and Keep Sports Safe. Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780547773940. $27. SPORTS/HEALTH
Concussion has become a major issue in sports, plaguing professional athletes and youngsters alike. A clinical professor of neurosurgery and codirector of Boston University’s Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy, as well as chair of the Department of Surgery at Emerson Hospital, Cantu has treated of thousands of patients with brain trauma. Here he both explains how to treat concussions and, more important, how to prevent them. There will be national TV coverage, so expect interest.

Chafe, William H. Bill and Hillary: The Politics of the Personal. Farrar. Sept. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780809094653. $28. BIOGRAPHY
That the personal is political is a well-worn adage, but it takes on new meaning when examining not one politician but two‚ specifically, Bill and Hillary Clinton, whose commitment to each other, as well as to key issues like race and gender equality, have shaped their careers. Duke history professor Chafe, whose numerous titles include The Rise and Fall of the American Century, considers their early years, copresidency, tempestuous relationship, and more.

Cotton, Dorothy. If Your Back’s Not Bent: The Role of the Citizenship Education Program in the Civil Rights Movement. Atria: S. & S. Sept. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780743296830. $25; eISBN 9781439187425. AUTOBIOGRAPHY
This autobiography by Cotton, former director of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Citizens Education Project and the only woman in Martin Luther King’s inner circle, was featured here as a pick in September 2011. The subtitle change since then (from How the Civil Rights Movement Gained Victory) suggests a shift in focus that makes the book more personal.

Dauch, Richard. American Drive: The Road to More Jobs, a Stronger Economy, and Renewed Industrial Dominance in America. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781250010827. $27.99; eISBN 9781250010834. ECONOMICS
In 1994, after 30 years in the automotive industry, Dauch decided to get behind the wheel and bought an ailing axle and supply company, which included five crumbling plants in the center of Detroit. After rebuilding the plants, renegotiating with unions, and instituting job training, he opened up for business‚ and made a $60 million profit in the first month. His account is being positioned as a blueprint for fixing our economic woes.

Eco, Umberto. Inventing the Enemy: Essays. Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780547640976. $25. ESSAYS
Eco’s recent The Prague Cemetery proposed that countries needs enemies and invent them if none are to be found‚ an intriguingly relevant thought in today’s world and the basis of one of the essays in his new collection. Other topics: censorship, Wikileaks, James Joyce’s Ulysses, lost islands, and‚ not surprisingly from the author of the immortal The Name of the Rose‚ the medieval world. Bonbons for the literati and maybe others.

Elie, Paul. Soundabout: Reinventing Bach. Farrar. Sept. 2012. 496p. ISBN 9780374281076. $30. MUSIC
A senior fellow with Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs whose first book, The Life You Save May Be Your Own, received the PEN/Martha Albrand Prize, Elie explains how Bach shaped music‚ not simply through his ineffable compositions but by perfecting the tuning scheme we use today, for instance‚ and how subsequently Bach has been shaped by musicians from Albert Schweitzer to Pablo Casals, Glenn Gould, and Yo-Yo Ma. Today, technology from smartphones to multimedia presentations is allowing us to hear Bach’s multiple voices in different ways. Such a cool idea if it works.

Gottman, John & Nan Silver. What Makes Love Last?: How To Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal. S. & S. Sept. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9781451608472. $26; eISBN 9781451608496. SELF-HELP
Gottman runs the Love Lab at the University of Washington, Seattle, which sounds hippy-dippy until you realize that his 35 years of research into marriage have earned him honors from the National Institute of Mental Health and the American Psychological Association, among other organizations. Here he talks about maintaining trust, rebuilding after betrayal, and watching out for what he calls sliding door moments‚ pivotal points when a couple can connect more deeply or start to spin apart. Bigger than your standard self-help stuff.

Makary, Marty. MD. Unaccountable: What Hospitals Won’t Tell You and How Transparency Can Revolutionize Health Care. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Sept. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9781608198368. $28. HEALTH
The Johns Hopkins surgeon who developed the checklist that inspired Atul Gawande’s best-selling The Checklist Manifesto, Makary here challenges the lack of transparency in health care, which leaves patients ignorant and error rates uncomfortably high despite efforts to curb them. Here he argues for accountability, aiming to reward the good doctors and ditch the bad ones. Let’s hear it from the inside! With a five-city tour to Baltimore, Boston, Washington, DC, Philadelphia, and New York.

Marshall, Penny. My Mother Was Nuts. New Harvest: Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780547892627. $26. MEMOIR
Marshall started out as Laverne in the beloved sitcom Laverne and Shirley but made her mark as the first woman to direct films that made more than $100 million, namely, Big and A League of Their Own. Your chance to spend some more time in Hollywood.

Min, Janice. How To Look Hot in a Minivan: A Real Woman’s Guide to Losing Weight, Looking Great, and Dressing Chic in the Age of the Celebrity Mom. St. Martin’s. Sept. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9780312658977. $26.99; eISBN 9781429960588. FITNESS/GROOMING
The former editor of US Weekly and current editorial director of The Hollywood Reporter, Min knows how Hollywood types make motherhood look glam. Now she’s sharing these secrets with ordinary mortals. Too late for me, but the rest of you might be interested; check out the author tour and heavyweight promotion, which will include fashion, parenting, and mommy blogs.

Pinsky, Drew. Recovering Intimacy. Atria: S. & S. Sept. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781451605716. $26; eISBN 9781451605730. SELF-HELP
Despite our in-your-face interconnectedness via social media, achieving true intimacy is hard‚ some would say harder than ever. Doctor, best-selling author, and TV personality, Pinsky explains how to sense when a relationship is faltering and to build and maintain deep personal bonds, whether with friends, family, or partners. Pinsky has fans.

Roth, Marco. The Scientists: A Family Romance. Farrar. Sept. 2012. 192p. ISBN 9780374210281. $23. MEMOIR
Dinnertime conversations about scientific advances and house concerts open to guests‚ that’s what it was like for Roth, who grew up in New York, the only child of a doctor and a concert pianist. Then his father started exhibiting the first signs of AIDS, which he had contracted in the 1980s, radically rearranging Roth’s world and leaving behind a legacy of silence. A cofounder of n + 1 and recipient of the 2011 Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism, Roth can be expected to offer an elegant examination of what we learn from our parents and what we have to learn for ourselves.

Self, Robert O. All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s. Hill & Wang: Farrar. Sept. 2012. 512p. ISBN 9780809095025. $30. HISTORY
Here’s what family values have meant to the Left since the 1960s: first Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society and War on Poverty, then the fight for racial and gender equality, then the fight for gay rights, health care reform, and welfare reform. Those multiplying interests have fractured Leftist ranks, allowing the Right to sweep in with its version of family values: a single-minded traditional take. So argues Brown history professor Self, a James A. Rawley Prize winner for American Babylon, who’s clarifying an idea many of us have sensed for some time. Intriguing to think of this as backdrop for the elections.

Silber, William L. Volcker: Central Banker. Bloomsbury, dist. by Macmillan. Sept. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781608190706. $30. BIOGRAPHY
We owe a lot to Paul A. Volcker. As Federal Reserve chair, he helped curb booming inflation in the 1970s, while as chair of the Economic Recovery Advisory Board he grappled with 2008’s financial implosion; Obama dubbed the centerpiece of his Wall Street regulation the Volcker Rule. Silber is not just director of the Glucksman Institute for Research in Securities Markets at NYU’s Stern School of Business but an author as well‚ from trade titles to the standard textbook Money, Banking and Financial Markets‚ so should be able to explain Volcker’s accomplishments to the financially challenged.

Sullivan, Robert. My American Revolution. Farrar. Sept. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780374217457. $26. HISTORY
Maybe the shot heard ’round the world was fired in Lexington, MA, but most of the fighting during the Revolutionary War took place in the Middle Colonies. This I know, having grown up in a family deeply invested in supporting Trenton’s Old Barracks and in visiting Pennsylvania’s Valley Forge. Sullivan wanted to experience the war where it actually happened, so he witnessed reenactments of the crossing of the Delaware, tramped through New Jersey backyards, built a Colonial-style signal beacon, and even evacuated illegally from Brooklyn to Manhattan in a handmade boat. History as lived, not just read‚ which sounds great.

Tough, Paul. How Children Succeed: Rethinking Character and Intelligence. Houghton Harcourt. Sept. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780547564654. $27. EDUCATION
Listen up, pushy parents; intelligence is not necessarily the attribute children need to develop most. Psychologists, neuroscientists, and even economists are now refocusing on qualities like perseverance, optimism, and curiosity as the true catalysts of success. So may we now throw out the SATs? This book served as the basis of a New York Times magazine cover story, and there’s a 12-city tour to Boston, New York, Washington, DC, Denver, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Toronto, and Montreal, so expect demand.

Tyler, Patrick. Fortress Israel: The Inside Story of the Military Elite Who Run the Country‚ And Why They Can’t Make Peace. Farrar. Sept. 2012. 560p. ISBN 9780374281045. $30. POLITICAL SCIENCE
A longtime reporter at the Washington Post and then the New York Times whose The Great Wall won the 2000 Lionel Gelber Prize, Tyler here argues that Israel is not the democracy it proclaims itself to be but a military society built with the Holocaust in mind and now committed to maintaining war. Look for the controversy over this one.


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.