Nonfiction Previews, Feb. 2013, Pt. 3: Chagnon, Kaplan, Shlaes, and Tuszynska Court Controversy

Bouton, Katherine. Shouting Won’t Help: Why I—and 50 Million Other Americans—Can’t Hear You. Sarah Crichton: Farrar. Feb. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780374263041. $26. HEALTH & FITNESS/HEARING
Nearly 20 percent of Americans suffer from some form of hearing loss, and Bouton, who was a senior editor at the New York Times for over two decades, is one of them. Here she offers not only a personal account of her difficulties (e.g., struggling to hide her growing deafness in editorial meetings) but information gleaned from conversations with doctors, neurobiologists, and others like her. Not just for oldsters; the percentage of those with hearing loss is increasing, with onset generally between 19 and 44.

Budiansky, Stephen. Blackett’s War: The Men Who Defeated the Nazi U-Boats and Brought Science to the Art of Warfare. Knopf. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780307595966. $27.95. HISTORY
World War II was won partly through science, as respected journalist and military historian Budiansky clarifies in his new work. Here he shows how British physicist Patrick Blackett led a group of British and American scientists who used basic mathematics and probability theory to help initially resistant Royal Navy officers rethink their campaign against German U-boats. Blackett himself should make for interesting copy; a former naval officer and eventually a Nobel prize winner, he was also a firmly convinced Socialist.

Chagnon, Napoleon. Noble Savages: My Life Among Two Dangerous Tribes—the Yanomamö and the Anthropologists. S. & S. Feb. 2013. 544p. ISBN 9780684855103. $32.50; eISBN 9781451611472. ANTHROPOLOGY
In the late 1960s, having spent several years in the Amazon basin studying the Yanomamö, one of the world’s few remaining hunter-gatherer tribes, Chagnon stepped into a hornet’s nest by publishing a hugely best-selling book claiming that Yanomamö society was essentially violent. Fellow anthropologists rose up to accuse him of naïveté, willful bias, and even of inappropriate behavior. In turn, he accused them of unyielding political correctness. It got ugly. The controversy continues to simmer; as recently as 2010, Secrets of the Tribe, a film exploring certain accusations made against Chagnon and others and their ultimate vindication, was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 2010. Larger-than-life Chagnon is looking for the last laugh here, I’ll bet, and he reputedly writes that rare thing, the informed page-turner. See what you think.

Kaplan, Fred. The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot To Change the American Way of War. S. & S.  Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9781451642636. $28. CURRENT EVENTS
A former Pulitzer Prize–winning reporter for the Boston Globe and now Slate’s “War Stories” columnist, Kaplan certainly has a story to tell. He dug into previously unavailable documents and interviewed over 100 individuals, including Gen. David Petraeus himself, to show how the new generation of officers charged with implementing war in Afghanistan and Iraq looked at the enemy and changed how the U.S. Army fought. While adapting the enemy’s techniques in a post–Cold War world of small insurrections rather than major conflagrations seemed like a smart idea, that approach has stiffened into intractable dogma, argues Kaplan—and it’s led us deeper into the quagmire when we should be rethinking every military move.

Marrs, Jim. Our Occulted History: Who or What Is Trying to Control Our Lives. Morrow. Feb. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780062130310. $26.99; eISBN 9780062130334. lrg. prnt. NEW AGE
The flying vimanas of Hindu Vedic literature and the weird airships reportedly seen in the 1800s? Evidence, says Marrs, that aliens have visited us throughout human history and may in fact have been here from the beginning, giving human society its start. Marrs’s Crossfire made him the darling of conspiracy theorists everywhere and inspired Oliver Stone’s JFK; other books, like Alien Agenda, have been big sellers. And this book has a 75,000-copy first printing. Demand is obviously anticipated; see if it’s right for you.

Ostrofsky, Marc. Word of Mouse. Free Pr: S. & S. Feb. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9781451668407. $24.99; eISBN 9781451668421. TECHNOLOGY
The New York Times best-selling author of Get Rich Click!, who made himself a bundle as a domain name investor by selling the name for $7.5 million, is here to tell you what technology means in our lives: a lot. Consciously or not, we’ve made technology the centerpiece of all our activities, but often we use it without thinking of its implications. Ostrofsky’s got tips and trend reports that will help you use all that techie stuff around you more efficiently and effectively. Technology self-help? You bet.

Samet, Matt. Death Grip: A Climber’s Escape from Benzo Madness. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781250004239. $25.99. MEMOIR/SPORTS
Samet has been climbing since he was 15 and has served as editor in chief of Climbing magazine, but his biggest scramble was out of the pit of addition to benzodiazepines, or benzos, prescribed to him because of depression exacerbated by the stresses of his training. Here he offers a cautionary tale about addiction to prescription drugs, decidedly on the rise, and particularly to the little-discussed benzos. Not just for climbers; watch.

Shlaes, Amity. Coolidge. Harper: HarperCollins. Feb. 2013. 480p. ISBN 9780061967559. $35; eISBN 9780062097972. CD: Harper Audio. BIOGRAPHY
Originally scheduled for July 2012, this book has been pushed back to February 2013. Still boasting a 150,000-copy first printing and still with a one-day laydown, now on February 12, this sympathetic biography by the director of the George W. Bush Institute’s economic growth project and author of the New York Times best-selling The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression compares Coolidge to Abraham Lincoln. Shlaes might have an uphill battle there; certainly this book will be good for debate.

Stern, Ken. With Charity for All: The Terrible Truth of Charitable Failure. Doubleday. Feb. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780385534710. $26.95. BUSINESS/NONPROFIT                                   
Once head of a major nonprofit, Stern has a lot of uncharitable things to say about charities in America, which make up ten percent of our economy. He certainly wants us to reconsider how charities are organized and how we conduct our own hopeful giving. Gosh, can’t we get even this right? Wonder how Stern would react to John Wood’s Creating Room To Read, previewed below.

Tuszynska, Agata. Vera Gran: The Accused. Knopf. Feb. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780307269126. $28.95. BIOGRAPHY
Vera Gran lit up Warsaw nightclubs in the 1930s with her reportedly wondrous voice, accompanied by Władysław Szpilman, made famous by his memoir, The Pianist, and Roman Polanski’s Academy Award–winning film of the same name. Then she spent a year in the Warsaw Ghetto. While Szpilman was proclaimed a hero at war’s end, Gran was accused of collaboration, and though she was eventually found innocent she remained an outcast, her voice forever silenced. Polish poet Tuszynska tracked down Gran and persuaded her to tell her story, which includes accusations that Szpilman collaborated with the Nazis. A controversial book, then, certainly important and with something to prove, that’s already making its way through eight countries.

Wood, John. Creating Room To Read: A Story of Hope in the Battle for Global Literacy. Viking. Feb. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780670025985. $27.95. BUSINESS/NONPROFITS
As he recounted in Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, Wood left a lucrative position to do good, founding the nonprofit Room to Read, which has since served six million children by building more than 1500 schools and 13,000 libraries throughout Asia and Africa. Now he recounts the organization’s second act: learning to expand, raising funds in a poor economy, and publishing books for children whose language has no books. Keeps you hopeful; with a seven-city tour.


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.