Nonfiction Previews, Mar. 2013, Pt. 4: Of Current Interest; Randall Kennedy, David Rohde, Emily Rapp, and More

Alter, Adam. Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781594204548. $25.95. PSYCHOLOGY
Professional cyclists pedal faster when others are watching, folks contribute more to hurricane victims when the storm’s name begins with their own first initial, and using blue to illuminate a Japanese railway line discourages crime because that color is associated with the police. These are some of the aperçus offered by New York University marketing/psychology professor Alter in a book aimed at delineating what shapes our thinking. Books like this often turn out to be more popular than I had anticipated, so I’ll step up and recommend.

Baum, Dan. Gun Guys: A Road Trip. Knopf. Mar. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780307595416. $26.95. SOCIAL SCIENCE
Baum is a liberal Jewish Democrat raised in New Jersey who happens to love guns. Instead of picking a fight here, he aims to take readers on a tour of gun culture in America, showing us gun stores, competitions, and the guy who moved from Brooklyn to Arizona to create an improved version of the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. This should be informative—what does it feel like to carry an unconcealed weapon in the Boulder Whole Foods?—and it’s billed as funny, too. You decide.

Becker, Elizabeth. Overbooked: The Global Business of Travel and Tourism. S. & S. Mar. 2013. 432p. ISBN 9781439160992. $28. TRAVEL
Part of a team that won the New York Times a Pulitzer Prize for public service, Becker does not offer a fluff piece on the joys of travel. Instead, she wants to show us how tourism is reshaping and sometime threatening the world. As Costa Rica abandons cattle raising to save the jungles for ecotourism (and wealthy ecotourists), cruise ships foul the oceans, visitors damage Angkor Wat, Venice is reduced to an amusement park, and Dubai is one big shopping mall. I don’t want to stay home, but perhaps I should.

Berger, Jonah. Contagious: Why Things Catch On. S. & S. Mar. 2013. 224p. ISBN 9781451686579. $26; eISBN 9781451686593. CD: S. & S. Audio. SALES
Word of mouth: it trumps advertising (not to mention reviews) every time. James G. Campbell Jr. Assistant Professor of Marketing at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, Berger explains how anyone can create the right word of mouth to make a product or idea go viral. Great expectations in-house and sales to nine countries; not just for business types, for, as several recent books have pointed out, we all have something to sell.

Carroll, Rory. Comandante: Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9781594204579. $27.95. BIOGRAPHY/CURRENT EVENTS
Democratically elected in 1999 and since responsible for jailing opponents, consolidating power, commandeering the oil industry, and tweaking the West, Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez is both worshiped and reviled. He’s also the modern absolutist dictator: he has his own TV show, ¡Alo Presidente! An in-depth study by Carroll, formerly the Guardian’s Latin American bureau chief; normally I ignore blurbs, but I’m impressed that Alma Guillermoprieto and Michela Wrong spoke up.

Fagin, Dan. Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation. Bantam. Mar. 2013. 560p. ISBN 9780553806533. $28; eISBN 9780345538611. Downloadable: Random Audio. SCIENCE/HISTORY
Pulitzer Prize finalist Fagin’s chronicle runs from September 1971, when a shady trucker dumped leaky drums of industrial waste onto the grounds of a Tom River, NJ, chicken farm, to a 2001 legal settlement (rumored to be $35 million) after a government study confirmed that the area’s alarming incidence of childhood cancers resulted from the pollution that trucker initiated. Comparable to Jonathan Harr’s A Civil Action; local promotion but of national relevance.

Ghattas, Kim. From Beirut to Washington: A Journey with Hillary Clinton to the New Frontiers of American Power. Holt. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780805095111. $26. POLITICAL SCIENCE/INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
From Wikileaks to the Arab Spring uprisings, Hillary Clinton has seen a lot in her four years as secretary of state, and BBC correspondent Ghattas has seen it with her; her job requires her to travel regularly with Clinton. Here she shows Clinton both tough in the spotlight, as the world’s chief diplomat, and tired as she crawls onto a plane at 3:00 a.m. for the next crucial takeoff. Half-Dutch and half-Lebanese, Ghattas grew up in Lebanon during the civil war and steps back here to ask some arresting questions about America’s place in the world.

Kennedy, Randall. Race, Affirmative Action, and the Law. Pantheon. Mar. 2013. 246p. ISBN 9780307907370. $25.95; eISBN 9780307907387. POLITICAL SCIENCE
In spring 2013, as it adjudicates Fisher v. University of Texas, the United States Supreme Court is expected to hand down a landmark ruling on the constitutionality of affirmative action. Who better to provide the requisite context than Kennedy, Michael R. Klein Professor of Law at Harvard Law School, who clerked for Thurgood Marshall and wrote the best-selling Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word and, more recently, The Persistence of the Color Line. With a seven-city tour to Atlanta, Boston, Los Angeles, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, DC.

Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor & Kenneth Cukier. Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. Eamon Dolan: Houghton Harcourt. Mar. 2013. 240p. ISBN 9780544002692. $27. BUSINESS & ECONOMICS/INFORMATION MANAGEMENT
What’s big data? What we get because of our unprecedented ability to collect facts, facts, facts. This book on big data? A study by Mayer-Schönberger, professor of Internet Governance and Regulation at the Oxford Internet Institute, Oxford University, and Cukier, data editor of the Economist, on the consequences. Not just for techies.

O’Connor, Sandra Day. Out of Order: Stories from the History of the Supreme Court. Random. Mar. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780812993929. $26; eISBN 9780812993936. Downloadable: Random Audio. LAW/LEGAL HISTORY
Here, the first woman to serve as a Supreme Court lustice tells us stories—not so much about her time on the Court but about the key people and events dating from the first chief justice, John Jay, that have made the Court what it is today. Fans of briefs, unite!

Rapp, Emily. The Still Point of the Turning World. Penguin Pr: Penguin Group (USA). Mar. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781594205125. $25.95. MEMOIR
“How do you parent without a future?” That’s the heartbreaking challenge that Rapp faced when her son, Ronan, was diagnosed at nine months with Tay-Sachs disease, a degenerative illness that is always—and quickly—fatal. Instead of worrying about whether her child would get into Harvard, she has had to think about how to make his few short years as meaningful as possible. Which begs the crucial question, What is a meaningful life? In a book that’s a memoir of grief, parenting, and then some, Rapp (a Rona Jaffe Award winner) considers thinkers and writers from C.S. Lewis to Sylvia Plath as she explores that question.

Robinson, Mary. Everybody Matters. Walker. Mar. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780802779649. $26. MEMOIR
The seventh, and first female, president of Ireland and a former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Robinson has some story to tell. Here she talks not only about her activist lawyering and political career but about being raised in a devout Catholic family, all set to become a nun when she realized she had another calling. We could use some inspiration like this.

Rohde, David. Beyond War: Reimagining American Influence in a New Middle East. Viking. Mar. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780670026449. $27.95.
Rohde has earned his strong opinions on our military policy in the Middle East. A two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, now a columnist for Reuters and the Atlantic Monthly, Rohde was kidnapped by the Taliban in 2008 while reporting for the New York Times. His best-selling A Rope and a Prayer, written with his wife, Kristen Mulvihill, discusses that ordeal. Here he argues that while we’ve rattled sabers, lost lives, and wasted a fortune on contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan, we have ignored our most powerful tools: American consumerism, technology, and investment, which moderate Arabs want so that they can build their societies. Good arguing points.

Shelden, Michael. Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill. S. & S. Mar. 2013. ISBN 9781451609912. $30; eISBN 9781451609936. BIOGRAPHY
Not current events like other books on this list, Shelden’s study of how Winston Churchill redeemed himself rather spectacularly after some serious stumbles early in his career should interest devoted history/biography readers and more. (How do any of us pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start all over again?) Biographer Shelden (Mark Twain: Man in White) shows us just how rich and formative Churchill’s so-called “wilderness years” really were.

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.