Nonfiction Previews, Jan. 2013, Pt. 2: Best Sellers Paul Kennedy, Charles Wheelan, David Wilcock, and More

Blinder, Alan S. After the Music Stopped: The Financial Crisis, the Response, and the Work Ahead. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9781594205309. $29.95. ECONOMICS
The Gordon S. Rentschler Memorial Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Princeton University and a former vice chair of the Federal Reserve’s Board of Governors, Blinder has a lot to say about the economic crisis. He argues that it resulted from a financial system that was too complex and insufficiently regulated, that the United States has created the worldwide economic downturn by pushing unreliable investment products abroad, and that without government intervention the situation would have been drastically worse. Then he tells us what we really want to know: what happens next (and for that we have to read the whole book).

El Feki, Shereen. Sex and the Citadel: Intimate Life in a Changing Arab World. Pantheon. Jan. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9780307377395. $27.95. SOCIAL SCIENCE
A Cairo-based TEDGlobal Fellow who writes regularly about social issues in her neck of the woods‚ she’s reported for both the Al Jazeera Network and the Economist‚ the half-Egyptian, half-Welsh Shereen has spent four years investigating an intriguing and potentially explosive subject: changing sexual attitudes and behavior in the Arab world. Why sex, you ask, when governments have been falling? Because intimate relationships can reflect the larger sociopolitical forces as work. A thoughtful study not to be treated as titillation; not the biggest book on this list, but the publisher is really behind it.

Flora, Carlin. Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are. Doubleday. Jan. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780385535434. $25.95. PSYCHOLOGY
According to evolutionary psychologists, friendship likely had its roots in our need to cooperate with others in order to survive. And, according to psychologists in general, friendship confers enormous benefits, helping us achieve our dreams, overcome major illness, and even lose weight, quit smoking, and sharpen our problem-solving skills. With the recognition that friendship skills are exactly the kind of skills we need to thrive in today’s world, research on the subject has exploded. Flora, a former features editor Psychology Today, explains what’s happening. Read it with your best buddy.

Kennedy, Paul. Engineers of Victory: The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War. Random. Jan. 2013. 528p. ISBN 9781400067619. $30. HISTORY
Originally scheduled for publication in March and featured in Prepub Alert, 9/11/11, this book is not an overview. Instead, best-selling historian Kennedy shows quite literally how the Allies won the war‚ that is, how they moved men and matériel into place in a demonstration of the organizational prowess that finally facilitated D-Day. Kennedy opens with the Casablanca Conference in 1943. Passionate lovers of World War II history will want.

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9781594204371. $27.95. Downloadable: Penguin Audio. PSYCHOLOGY
We’re all primed to think that the turning points in our life will radically affect our happiness, with good-news events like career success upping the ante and downbeat stuff like divorce spelling doom. Some of us may also suspect that this thinking is, as University of California, Riverside, professor suggests in her title, mythic. Lyubomirsky goes one step further to show us what research shows: we’re more adaptable than we think, it’s our mindset that matters, and after life-changing events, we generally swing back to an accustomed level of happiness. We just need to boost that level. Rigorous self-help, so to speak.

Raboteau, Emily, Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora. Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780802120038. $25. SOCIAL SCIENCE
Author of a well-received novel, The Professor’s Daughter, the biracial Raboteau considers the concept of home by probing her own search for where she could fit in and, more broadly, the hunt for Zion‚ the Promised Land‚ which has specific meaning for Africans and the African diaspora as well as for Jews. Her story began when she went to Israel to visit her childhood best friend, who truly had found home, and where she was intrigued to encounter black Jews. Inspired, she traveled through Jamaica, Ethiopia, Ghana, and the American South, where she saw how the idea of Zion served to express spiritual freedom. This book originated with an essay that appeared in both Best American Nonrequired Reading and Best African American Essays, which is certainly promising; I’m psyched to read it.

Sheridan, Sam. The Disaster Diaries: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Apocalypse. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Jan. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781594205279. $26.95. MEMOIR/OUTDOOR SKILLS
Having completed tours of duty at both the U.S. Merchant Marine and Harvard and worked as an amateur boxer, EMT, wilderness firefighter, cowboy, and construction worker at the South Pole, Sheridan should be ready for anything. But when his son was born he decided that he didn’t feel ready to protect him from disaster. So he ranged far and wide, learning how to handle a knife, brave the arctic wilderness, apply emergency medicine, and even steal a car (training with a former gang member). Serious-minded, with each chapter featuring a hypothetical catastrophe, but told in a bright, engaging tone.

Weatherall, James Owen. The Physics of Wall Street: A Brief History of Predicting the Unpredictable. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780547317274. $27. ECONOMICS
When the economy crashed, complex financial instruments caught the blame; for many, terms like derivatives became dirty words. An assistant professor of logic and philosophy of science at University of California, Irvine, Weatherall begs to differ; he sees them as fine tools that were badly misused. Here he explains how models conceived by physicists and mathematicians first arrived on Wall Street, changing it forever (e.g., a model for predicting earthquakes also predicted a big stock-market crash); he further argues that such models, effectively used, are decidedly the wave of the future in finance. Trendy stuff, physics and finance, and the book is set to raise a few eyebrows. (Maybe even Alan Blinder’s? See After the Music Stopped, previewed above.)

Wheelan, Charles. Naked Statistics: Stripping the Dread from the Data. Norton. Jan. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780393071955. $26.95. SCIENCE/MATHEMATICS
How does Netflix decide which movies you would like? How are schools that cheat on standardized tests caught out? What are batting averages and political polls, after all, but statistics, statistics, statistics. Here, the author of the best-selling Naked Economics explains a subject that has most of us yawning or quivering in our boots, making it all not just clear but fun.

Wilcock, David. The Synchronicity Key: The Hidden Intelligence Guiding the Universe and You. Dutton. Jan. 2013. 464p. ISBN 9780525953678. $29.95. SPECULATIVE
Bringing modern science to bear on ancient myth, Wilcock produced a big best seller last year in The Source Field Investigations, which aimed to illuminate all those prophecies regarding 2012. (I guess we shouldn’t relax, as the year’s not done.) Here he uses a surprising mix of tools, including history, astrology, quantum mechanics, and Jung’s theory of synchronicity, to argue that hidden forces create endlessly repeating cycles that replicate Joseph Campbell’s the hero’s journey‚ a basic pattern seen in myths worldwide. Both individuals and nations are subject to these cycles, says Wilcock, and would do well to figure them out. Definitely an audience.

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.