Nonfiction Previews, October 2012, Pt. 1: From the Tower of London to Critic James Wood

Blatner, David. Spectrums: Our Mindboggling Universe from Infinitesimal to Infinity. Walker, dist. by Macmillan. Oct. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780802717702. $24. SCIENCE
Numbers, size, light, sound, heat, and time: these are the six spectrums we meet regularly in a world that’s hard to comprehend, ranging as it does from the infinitesimally small proton to distances measured in light-years, from absolute zero to the heat generated by an atomic bomb. The author of the popular and award-winning The Joy of Pi brings it all back home. Good, accessible science.

Freeland, Chrystia. The Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Super Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Oct. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781594204098. $27.95. BUSINESS
Formerly with the Financial Times and now global editor at large at Reuters, Freeland here leaps past the one percent to the stratospheric wealth that lies beyond, amassed by a tiny minority of aggressively successful businesspeople on the international scene. Mostly self-made, these folks identify more with one another than with their compatriots; Freeland shows how they operate, citing, for instance, an internal Citigroup memo urging clients to consider the international .1 percent as they plan their portfolios. Sobering, if we can grasp the implications.

Greig, Geordie. Breakfast with Lucian: The Astounding Life and Outrageous Times of Britain’s Great Modern Painter. Farrar. Oct. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780374116484. $28; eISBN 9780374709242. BIOGRAPHY/ART
During his lifetime, the preeminent and ever unsettling British artist Lucian Freud squelched two biographies, but Greig, editor of the London Evening Standard, makes up for the loss. Having regularly breakfasted with Freud, he recalls details (from Freud’s gambling debts to his views on Velázquez) and blends them with comments from Freud’s friends, lovers, and children as well as his own fine-tuned understanding of Freud’s work. Not a paint-by-the-numbers life study, then, but something more personal.

Hutchinson, Robert. Young Henry: The Rise of Henry VIII. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9781250012616. $27.99; eISBN 9781250012746. BIOGRAPHY
Divorced, beheaded, died; divorced, beheaded, survived. We all know the history of Henry VIII and his six wives‚ and how, in his quest for an heir, Henry changed the course of history. But what about the young Henry, devil-may-care and indulged, who suddenly found the crown thrust upon him. Here’s a biography that, says BBC History Magazine, offers a compelling new analysis of the king’s early years. You’ve got readers.

Jones, Nigel. Tower: An Epic History of the Tower of London. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. 464p. ISBN 9780312622961. $35; eISBN 9781250018144. HISTORY
From William the Conqueror’s White Tower to the sobering Traitor’s Gate, from the site of Anne Boleyn’s beheading to the building housing the Crown Jewels, the Tower of London truly embodies British history. Here, historian/journalist Jones gives a thoroughgoing account of the Tower, working thematically to highlight its importance. Having just trod the Tower’s greensward, I’m eager to see this, but I won’t be the only one; the Tower is the UK’s busiest tourist site.

Klam, Julie. Friendkeeping: A Field Guide to the People You Love, Hate, and Can’t Live Without. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Oct. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9781594488061. $25.95. SELF-HELP
Klam’s best-selling You Had Me at Woof celebrated the canine-human relationship; this book celebrates the human-human relationship, particularly between friends. We often shed our pals as we grow up, change jobs, or move around, which is too bad; friendship is infinitely sustaining. Here Klam explains how to keep up the relationship. Yes, more self-help, and given Klam’s rep, there will be requests.

Lawrence, Alistair. Abbey Road: The Best Studio in the World. Bloomsbury USA, dist. by Macmillan. Oct. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781608199990. $75. MUSIC
Not just the Beatles: folks from Pink Floyd to Florence and the Machine have recorded at the Abbey Road studios, and the scores for five Star Wars films and the Lord of the Rings trilogy were first heard there, too. This cultural history offers facts, figures, a timeline, a discography (dating from the 1930s and featuring numerous album covers), and lots of fresh photos. Maybe gifty (see the price), but check out for music fans.

McKinney, Devin. The Man Who Saw a Ghost: The Life and Work of Henry Fonda. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. 448p. ISBN 9781250008411. $29.99; eISBN 9781250017765. BIOGRAPHY/FILM
A journalist whose work has appeared in the Village Voice, Film Quarterly, and elsewhere, McKinney aims for a nuanced portrait of all-American actor Henry Fonda, whose life and work have yet to receive much sustained treatment. What ghosts haunted the man considered upright by some and icy by others? Grand for all those old-movie buffs.

Mordden, Ethan. Love Song: The Lives of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780312676575. $29.99; eISBN 9781250017574. BIOGRAPHY/MUSIC
Mordden, your go-to guy about anything having to do with the musical theater, here offers what must inevitably be a dual biography of the cantor’s son and the coachman’s daughter who joined forces to give us some of the greatest musical theater of the 20th century. Worth a lot more than three pennies.

Paglia, Camille. Glittering Images: A Journey Through Art from Egypt to Star Wars. Pantheon. Oct. 2012. 208p. ISBN 9780375424601. $30; eISBN 9780307907806.
The ever-provocative, Paglia returns with a survey of Western art, captured in 24 essays that move from Egyptian tombs to Titian’s Venus with a Mirror to Eleanor Antin’s conceptual art project 100 Boots. The provocative part? In the end, she proclaims that the avant-garde is dead and that George Lucas is our greatest living artist. This will get the smart folks talking.

Parker Bowles, Tom (text) & Cristian Barnett (photogs.) Let’s Eat: Recipes from My Kitchen Notebook. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781250014337. $35.99. COOKING
When he’s not busy attracting attention as the son of Camilla Parker Bowles, Duchess of Cornwall, and the stepson of Prince Charles, Parker Bowles is an award-winning British foodie; he’s food editor of British Esquire and a weekly columnist for the Mail on Sunday. Having gone all exotic with The Year of Eating Dangerously, a culinary travelog that recounts his gorging on stuff like bees and spleen, he goes all homey here, offering 140 recipes for simple fare he likes to prepare for his family. So who says the Brits can’t cook?

Shawcross, William, ed. Counting One’s Blessings: The Selected Letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother. Farrar. Oct. 2012. 528p. ISBN 9780374185220. $30. LETTERS
Among British media sorts, Shawcross is royalty; he’s the official biographer of the Queen Mother and was writer/presenter of the BBC series Monarchy and the Golden Jubilee‚ year series Queen and Country. Here he plumbs the Royal Archives and materials at Glamis Castle to assemble this anthology of correspondence from the Queen Mother, which span the 20th century. Go, royalty fans!

Sinoway, Eric. Howard’s Gift: Uncommon Wisdom To Inspire Your Life’s Work. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781250004246. $24.99; eISBN 9781250015624. CD: Macmillan Audio. BUSINESS
After 40 years at Harvard Business School, business strategist/entrepreneur Howard Stevenson has helped shaped a lot of today’s business leaders, including Axcess Worldwide cofounder and president Sinoway. Here he sums up a lifetime of learning from his mentor, including maxims like Plan for the ripple, not the splash, i.e., make decisions for the long-term and not mere effect. Lots of social media on this one, including an author-subject Fireside Chat.

Welch, Wendy. The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap: A Memoir of Friendship, Community, and the Uncommon Pleasure of a Good Book. St. Martin’s. Oct. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9781250010636. $24.99; eISBN 9781250010643. MEMOIR
The book is dead. The bookstore is dead. And the economy is really, really sick. That’s what Welch and her husband kept hearing six years ago when they decided to flee professional dissatisfaction and realize their dream of opening a bookstore. They set up shop in the ground-down Virginia coal-mining town of Big Stone Gap (of Adriana Trigiani fame); now, Tales of the Lonesome Pine Used Books is thriving. Here’s an account that emphasizes the sense of community good books bring.

Wiencek, Henry. Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves. Farrar. Oct. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780374299569. $30. HISTORY
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in 1999 for The Hairstons: An American Family in Black and White, Wiencek returns to the bloody ground of white/black, master/slave relations that have defined America. He seeks to explain why our liberty-spewing third President continued to keep slaves (including some that were his own children) by looking at his account books. Here we see Jefferson taking out a slave-equity line of credit with a Dutch bank to facilitate the building of Monticello and relying on slave labor and commerce to pay his ongoing debts. Not for the starry-eyed or faint of heart.

Wood, James. The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays. Farrar. Oct. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780374159566. $27; eISBN 9780374709068. LITERATURE
Literary criticism sometimes takes itself too seriously, so it’s a pleasure to see that preeminent literary critic Wood’s very title reminds us what literature is really about: fun. Here he offers his heartfelt views on writers ranging from Thomas Hardy, Leo Tolstoy, and Mikhail Lermontov to Cormac McCarthy, Lydia Davis, and Michel Houellebecq. The 23 essays have all appeared in some form in The New Yorker, where Wood is a staff writer; get ready for some bracing delights.


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.