Nonfiction Previews, Apr. 2013, Pt. 4: From Jones’s Plantagenets to Arana’s Bolivar

Apkon, Steven. The Age of the Image. Farrar. Apr. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780374102432. $26. LANGUAGE ARTS & DISICPLINES/LITERACY
Never mind that we are surrounded by visual storytelling, with the advent of today’s video recording and editing technology paralleling the invention of movable type. According to Apkon, founder and director of the Jacob Burns Film Center, we are visual illiterates, unfamiliar with the language of visual communication. He’s here not only to explain that language but to celebrate it, examining how storytelling has influenced us through the millennia and how the visual form is the enticing wave of the future. The publisher is hot on this one.

Arana, Marie. Bolivar: American Liberator. S. & S. Apr. 2013. 544p. ISBN 9781439110195. $35; eISBN 9781439124956. BIOGRAPHY
Author of the memoir American Chica, a National Book Award finalist, plus two well-received novels and a collection of her Washington Post columns, Arana is also a former editor of the Washington Post Book World (she’s still a Writer at Large at the Post). So she sounds ready for the big challenge she is taking on here. She’s offering an epic biography of Simon Bolivar, the Great Liberator, who ultimately freed six Latin American countries from Spanish rule. Arana dug into numerous primary sources to tell her story, and, as she was born in Peru, should offer special cultural insight. I’m expecting a great read.

Gura, Philip F. Truth’s Ragged Edge: The Rise of the American Novel. Farrar. Apr. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780809094455. $30. HISTORY/LITERATURE
The William S. Newman Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a National Book Critics Circle finalist for American Transcendentalism, Gura returns with a book that sounds like a ground-breaker for the literary set. This survey of the early American novel starts with religious tracts, then moves on to the city novels of the 1840s and the big, introspective novels from the likes of Hawthorne and Melville that appeared directly before the Civil War. Gura argues that these early novels never really yanked up their roots in those Christian instructional texts, as they continued to explore tensions in American Christianity and culture.

Irwin, Neil. The Alchemists: Three Central Bankers and a World on Fire. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781594204623. $25.99. BUSINESS & ECONOMICS/ECONOMIC HISTORY
Irwin, economics reporter for the Washington Post, considers five years of economic crisis from an interesting perspective: the bimonthly meetings in Basel, Switzerland, of the world’s most prominent bankers. He starts with the May 2010 meeting, introducing three “alchemists” at the meeting: the European Central Bank’s Jean-Claude Trichet, the Bank of England’s Mervyn King, and the Federal Reserve’s Ben Bernanke, all weathering political storms even as they struggle to keep their institutions upright. A potentially fascinating way to come to understand better our economic woes.

Jones, Daniel. The Plantagenets: The Warrior Kings and Queens Who Made England. Viking. Apr. 2013. 560p. ISBN 9780670026654. $36. HISTORY
Robin Hood, the Black Death, the Black Prince, and the Hundred Years’ War. How could you not love a history book that takes in all these things? Noted historian Jones starts when the first Plantagenet king wrests control from the Normans and ends with an empire running from Scotland to Jerusalem. Jones is an award-winning journalist, too, so expect accessible writing. And this was a No. 1 U.K. best seller, another big recommendation.

Raine, Adrian. The Anatomy of Violence: The Biological Roots of Violence. Pantheon. Apr. 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. 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; originally scheduled for February 2013.

Sedaris, David. Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. Little, Brown. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780316154697. $26.99. CD: Hachette.ESSAYS
The author of laugh-out-louders like Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris returns with another book that, judging by its title, will surely be hilarious. With Sedaris we travel the world, visiting hungry Australian kookaburras, the squat-style toilets of Beijing, and a French dentist (you will remember that one from The New Yorker). Hard to turn down.

Weiss, Helga. Helga’s Diary: A Young Girl’s Account of Her Life in a Concentration Camp. Norton. Apr. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9780393077971. $24.95. HISTORY/MEMOIR
Weiss first witnessed Nazi brutality in 1939 as an 11-year-old in her hometown, Prague; by 1941, she began keeping a diary in school exercise books and continued when she was sent to Terezín (Theresienstadt) with her parents. Her uncle, who worked in Terezín’s records department, saved her diary when she was sent to Auschwitz‚ from which she emerged among only 100 survivors of the 15,000 children who had arrived from Terezín. Translated for the first time, with rights sold to 15 countries; originally scheduled for January 2013.

Winder, Elizabeth. Pain, Parties, Work: Sylvia Plath in New York, Summer 1953. Harper: HarperCollins. Apr. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780062085498. $25.99. lrg. prnt. BIOGRAPHY
Guest-editing the annual college issue for Mademoiselle, known as the “intellectual fashion magazine,” should have been the time of ambitious young Sylvia Plath’s life. She went to the ballet and a Yankees ballgame, danced at the West Side Tennis Club and ate caviar, chased Dylan Thomas and typed rejection letters to New Yorker authors. But check out poet Winder’s title; one of three words Plath used to describe her experience was pain. In this portrait of 26 significant days in the life of the troubled poet, Winder aims to show that what looked to be a golden experience actually tipped Plath over into damning anxiety. A focused work for literature lovers and especially Plath fans that was originally scheduled for February 2013; with a 35,000-copy first printing.

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.