Nonfiction Previews, Feb. 2013, Pt. 1: American Tech, from Edison to Detroit to Online Dating

Freeberg, Ernest. The Age of Edison. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781594204265. $27.95. HISTORY
The late 19th century saw a surge of technological advancement, but probably nothing as important as Edison’s invention of the light bulb. Here, University of Tennessee history professor Freeberg, author of the Los Angeles Times Book Prize finalist Democracy’s Prisoner, shows how radically the light bulb transformed America, freeing it from the stranglehold of the gas companies, turning it from a rural to an urban society and, as the electrical grid took over, drawing a sharp line between city and country, rich and poor. For history buffs and techies alike.

LeDuff, Charlie. Detroit: An American Autopsy. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781594205347. $27.95. U.S. HISTORY/MEMOIR
Having won a Pulitzer Prize reporting for the New York Times, LeDuff returned triumphant to his hometown, Detroit, to become a television journalist for FOX2 News. He found a city, once one of the nation’s richest and most innovative, now reigning supreme in unemployment, illiteracy, foreclosure, and dropouts, a city of innumerable vacant lots where his mother’s shop has been firebombed, his brother repackages nails from China, and his sister has bowed to drugs. Talking to police and firemen, politicians and union organizers, business owners and the homeless, LeDuff tries to understand what happened. And he presents Detroit as emblematic of all U.S. cities today. Read with Detroit City Is the Place To Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis (Holt. Nov. 2012), in which another hometown boy, Mark Binelli, argues that Detroit is showing some energy and insight in pulling itself out of the trough.

Mele, Nicco, The End of Big: How the Internet Makes David the New Goliath. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781250021854. $24.99. SOCIAL SCIENCE/MEDIA STUDIES
Technology has changed the balance of power, argues Mele, partner at the Internet strategy consulting firm EchoDitto and adjunct professor at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Individuals connecting instantly worldwide can challenge governments, corporations, and seats of learning. Not that there aren’t issues. If web-based micro-businesses start outstripping today’s big-name corporations, how will basic regulations like product safety be enforced? And if bloggers and tweeters overtake journalists at established papers, can we really trust the news? Not just a pitch for the wonders of the Internet, then, but also a plea for making good choices. Listen up, Goliaths and Davids.

Newsom, Gavin & Lisa Dickey. Citizenville: Connecting People and Government in the Digital Age. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Feb. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781594204722. $25.95. POLITICAL SCIENCE/WEB
When Newsom became mayor of San Francisco, he found that this gleaming, high-tech city was actually behind places like Estonia in the area of digital governance and set about to right the situation. Now, as California’s lieutenant governor, he argues that digital tools can be used to transform civil society and break the political deadlock that has kept America from solving its problems. His suggestions include opening up government data to facilitate the creation of useful apps and instituting feedback loops that would allow citizens to participate directly in government. Whoa! Here’s a book that could engender plenty of good nonfiction book club debate. Online and social network promotions, naturally.

Raine, Adrian. The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Violence. Pantheon. Feb. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780307378842. $26.95. CRIMINOLOGY
As shown by current research—particularly research by upcoming criminologist Raine, Richard Perry University Professor in the Departments of Criminology, Psychiatry, and Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania as well as graduate chair of the Department of Criminology—any impairment to the region of the brain governing decision making or feelings like empathy, fear, and remorse can lead to increased criminal behavior. The implications are far-reaching—and make Raine something of a controversial figure in the academic world and beyond. Are criminals born, not made? Should they be punished for their behavior? Should we intervene when someone seems biologically predisposed to committing a crime? Raine not only introduces the latest research but discusses possible cures; something as basic as nutritional supplements could make a difference. There are issues of relentless interest here, and Raine has become more visible to the lay audience after some TV appearances, so this could boom.

Webb, Amy. Data, a Love Story: How I Gamed Online Dating To Meet My Match. Dutton. Feb. 2013.  320p. ISBN 9780525953807. $25.95. MEMOIR/RELATIONSHIPS
An award-winning journalist who went on to found Webbmedia Group, a digital-strategy consultancy that works with Fortune 500 companies, major media companies, and the like, Webb was nevertheless bombing out on the online dating scene. Then she decided that she wasn’t evaluating the right data. So she made a detailed list of what she really wanted in a mate and went online again, this time masquerading as a man. After using her strategic skills to figure out what key words attracted men, how women timed their messages, and what photos really worked, she rewrote her profile. Among the flood of replies she got was one from the man to whom she is now married. Potent stuff, with 40 million people dating online; not surprisingly, Webb attracted a standing-room-only crowd when she spoke recently at South by Southwest.


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.