Final April 2013 Previews: Rees on Hitler, Meyer on the Borgias, and Best Poetry of 25 Years

Barnett, Kristine. The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius. Random. Apr. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780812993370. $27; eISBN 9780679645245. CD/Downloadable: Random Audio. MEMOIR
At age 12, Jacob Barnett became a paid researcher in quantum physics, and his IQ is higher than Einstein’s was. But as a distracted toddler, he was diagnosed with autism, and Jacob’s parents were advised to abandon dreams of a bright future and focus on basic skills. Instead, Barnett decided to let Jacob follow his own interests (his “spark”) and encouraged his sense of play, drawing on what she has learned running a daycare center. After some hard work, Jacob was out of special ed, into mainstream kindergarten, and on to some jaw-dropping accomplishments. Not every child diagnosed with autism is a hidden genius, but every child has a spark, so there should be much that’s useful here for any parent—or education expert.

Best of the Best American Poetry: 25th Anniversary Edition. Scribner. Apr. 2013. 320p. ed. by David Lehman & Robert Pinsky. ISBN 9781451658873. $35; pap. ISBN 9781451658880. $18. POETRY
Founded in 1988 by distinguished teacher and poet David Lehman, who serves as editor in chief while bringing in a guest editor each year (here it’s former Poet Laureate Pinsky), The Best American Poetry is “a ‘Best’ anthology that lives up to its name” (Chicago Tribune). This compendium, culled from previous volumes to celebrate 25 outstanding years, should give a splendid overview of American poetry’s recent history and where it stands today.

Brill, Amy. The Movement of Stars. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Apr. 213. 400p. ISBN 9781594487446. $27.95. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
A writer and producer who has worked for PBS and MTV, Brill should bring a strong visual touch to this intriguing-sounding historical novel, set in 1845 Nantucket. By day, 24-year-old Hannah Gardner Price leads a quiet life within her Quaker community, but by night she’s on the roof, hoping to discover a comet so that she can become the first woman to win a gold medal from the king of Denmark. She befriends Isaac Martin, a dark-skinned whaler from the Azores, teaching him about the stars. But that leads to trouble. Inspired by the life of Maria Mitchell, America’s first professional female astronomer, this work is generating some nice in-house enthusiasm.

Bryson, Bill. At Home: Special Illustrated Edition: A Short History of Private Life. Doubleday. Apr. 2013. 512p. ISBN 9780385537285. $39.95. HISTORY
Inspired by the idea that “history mostly is masses doing ordinary things,” Bryson’s best-selling At Home travels from room to room in the Victorian vicarage where he lives, using each room as an occasion for a history lesson. This special edition has more than 200 full-color illustrations.

Casey, Anne-Marie. An Englishwoman in New York. Amy Einhorn Bks: Putnam. Apr. 2013. NAp. ISBN 9780399160219. $25.95. POP FICTION
Bad news for Lucy: she and her husband have lost everything in the financial crash and must move the family into a tiny apartment ion Manhattan’s East Village. But then the good news: Lucy falls in love with New York (as the author herself did) and has adventures with three different women friends on the verge of big life changes. Casey’s been a scriptwriter/producer of prime-time television in the UK and Ireland, so her sense of drama should be strong.

Cook, Kevin. Flip: The Inside Story of TV’s First Black Superstar. Viking. Apr. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780670025701. $26.95. BIOGRAPHY/PERFORMING ARTS
Clerow “Flip” Wilson dropped out of grade school, made his way through the Chitlin’ Circuit of segregated nightclubs, and, with the 1970 debut of The Flip Wilson Show, became television’s first black superstar. He even made the cover of Time magazine. Author/journalist Cook (The Last Headbangers) gives an overview.

Coyle, Marcia. The Roberts Court: The Struggle for the Constitution. S. & S. Apr. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781451627510. $28; eISBN 9781451627534. LAW
Chief Washington correspondent for the National Law Journal and winner of a George Polk Award (among other honors), Coyle offers a history of the Roberts Court, exploring its generally 5-4 conservative/liberal divide through a variety of cases (e.g., on corporate money as free speech) and considering its impact on America’s future. Get informed.

Dawisha, Adeed. The Second Arab Awakening: Revolution, Democracy, and the Islamist Challenge from Tunis to Damascus. Norton. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780393240122. $26.95. CURRENT EVENTS
Our short memories: we forget that in the 1950s and 1960s the Arab world took to the streets to throw off colonialism and invest in a democratic future. Instead, despots emerged. Within this context, Baghdad-born Dawisha (University Distinguished Professor of Political Science at Miami University of Ohio) considers the direction the Arab Spring might take, whether democratic institutions have a chance throughout the Middle East, and the consequences of Islamist victories at the polls.

Dreher, Rod. The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life. Grand Central. Apr. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9781455521913. $25.99. lrg. prnt. CD: Hachette Audio. MEMOIR
When younger sister Ruthie was diagnosed with a fast-growing cancer, Philadelphia-based journalist Dreher (the American Conservative) was moved by how generously folks in the little town of St. Francisville, LA—the town he’d left behind—rallied ’round her. At Ruthie’s funeral, he decided to move his wife and children to St. Francisville so that they could all benefit from small-town closeness and tradition. Sweet affirmation for the right readers.

Marklund, Liza. Lifetime. Atria: S. &. S. Apr. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9781451606973. $25. THRILLER
Riddled with bullets, a policeman is found dead in bed,  his wife raving by his side. She claims that a woman barged into the house, shot her husband, and made off with their son. With the wife about to be charged with murder, Annika Bengtzon, the Stockholm-based reporter covering the story, feels obliged to investigate. From an internationally best-selling author; many thriller fans will want.

Mazari, Najaf. The Honey Thief. Viking. Apr. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780670026487. $26.95. LITERARY FICTION
Having left Afghanistan in 2001 for Australia, where he owns a shop selling traditional Afghan rugs, Mazari offers a first novel that weaves together various tales from the Afghan storytelling tradition to offer an affirmative portrait of his native land. My favorite story: Master Poisoner Ghoroob of Mashad is so good at what he does that victims deem it an honor to die by his hand. Not a huge book but of particular interest, given our involvement in Afghanistan.

Meyer, G.J. The Borgias: The Hidden History. Bantam. Apr. 2013. 544p. ISBN 9780345526915. $30. HISTORY
In The Tudors, Meyer offered a serious study of the Tudor dynasty and its times, meant less for Philippa Gregory fans than engaged history fans, notwithstanding the spicy cover. One can expect the same here from this former Woodrow Wilson Fellow and Edgar nominee in Best Fact Crime for The Memphis Murders.

Navasky, Victor S. The Art of Controversy: Political Cartoons and Their Enduring Power. Knopf. Apr. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780307957207. $26.95. CARTOONING
The former editor and publisher of the Nation, Navasky knows the power of the word—and the power of the image. Here he offers a grand assessment of the history and impact of political cartooning, with an acute look at 50 cartoons, from British anti-Hitler propaganda to the Danish images of Muhammed, inked by folks ranging from George Grosz to Ralph Steadman. Many of these cartoonists have appeared in the Nation or Monocle, the Sixties-era satirical magazine he edited. Cartoons as serious business; evidently with great reproductions of the cartoons themselves, in full color of black and white.

Rees, Laurence. Hitler’s Charisma: Leading Millions into the Abyss. Pantheon. Apr. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780307377296. $30; eISBN 9780307908131. BIOGRAPHY
Having served as creative director of the BBC’s history programs and written several books on World War II, including the award-winning Auschwitz: A New History (companion to a television series), Rees recently launched, a subscription multimedia educational resource that’s come in for some high praise. His new book is not a standard, blow-by-blow biography of Hitler (lots of those) but an account of his rise to power focusing on the formation of a personality both powerfully persuasive and utterly profane. How did a thin-skinned, hate-filled little painter of tourist portraits come to sway a nation?

Sankaran, Lavanya. The Hope Factory. Dial: Random. Apr. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9780385338196. $26. LITERARY FICTION
In Bangalore, the prosperous Anand needs money and land for his factory, both scarce commodities in India, and his marriage is foundering. Meanwhile, the family’s maid, Kamala, lives on the edge and worries about her teenage son. Promising: Sankaran’s debut story collection, The Red Carpet, won Poets & Writers magazine’s Best First Fiction Award.

Smolin, Lee. Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe. Houghton. Apr. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780547511726. $28. SCIENCE
Noteworthy theoretical physicist Smolin, who stirred things up with his best seller, The Trouble with Physics, aims to do it again with this revisionist look at the nature of time. We note the tick-tock of the clock as something fixed and real, but most physicists don’t, and embracing a different conception of time will not only move physics forward but wildly change how we look at ethics, economics, law, and more. For all those readers who have made science such a hot topic in the book world.


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.