Nonfiction Previews, Jun. 2013, Pt. 3: Of Hamlet, English Spelling, Italy by Rail, and More

Chopra, Aneesh. Big Small Smart: How American Government Can Accomplish More with Less Through Open Innovation, Collaboration, and Participation. Atlantic Monthly. Jun. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780802121332. $25. POLITICAL SCIENCE
As the federal government’s first chief technology officer, Chopra worked hard to help Americans through online means, bringing in everything from electronic records for veterans to broadband access for rural communities while modernizing government record keeping. President Obama calls his work groundbreaking. Here Chopra clarifies his recommended approach: not big or small, actually, but smart. Listen up, politicos of all stripes.

Critchley, Simon & Jamieson Webster. Stay, Illusion! The Hamlet Doctrine. Pantheon. Jun. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780307907615. $25. LITERATURE
What more can be said about Shakespeare’s great Hamlet, known to just about every thinking person on earth? But this book is different, aiming not for literary but cultural and psychological analysis; the authors want to understand how the play has had such an impact on psyche and society. As Critchley is Hans Jonas Professor of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research and series moderator of “The Stone,” a philosophy column in the New York Times, and Webster is a psychoanalyst, they bring a different perspective to the work. Are you ready, Shakespearians? That is the question.

Crystal, David. Spell It Out: The Curious, Enthralling and Extraordinary Story of English Spelling. St. Martin’s. Jun. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9781250003478. $22.99. LANGUAGE
If you loved Crystal’s The Story of English in 100 Words, you’ll probably also love his new work, which seeks to explain the insanity of English spelling in 37 smart, crisp chapters. Lordy, what those Roman missionaries hath wrought by imposing the Roman alphabet on the twisty indigenous languages of the British Isles.

Parks, Tim. Italian Ways: On and Off the Rails from Milan to Palermo. Norton. Jun. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780393239324. $25.95. TRAVEL
A British novelist who has won Somerset Maugham and Betty Trask honors, Parks also writes best-selling nonfiction, particularly about Italy, where he has lived since 1981. Here he describes developments in his adopted homeland over 30 years from the perspective of the railway, capturing his daily commute from Milan to Verona and jaunts farther afield to Florence, Rome, and beyond. What better way to sum up Italy’s special brand of delicious disorganization than from a train seat? For all travelers, armchair or not.

Robinson, Jo. Eating on the Wild Side: The Missing Link to Optimum Health. Little, Brown. Jun. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780316227940. $26.99. AGRICULTURE
Bad news: for 400 generations, ever since humans nurtured those first seedlings, we’ve been cultivating all wrong, picking plants that tend to sugar and starch rather than the vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants we need. Robinson, whose work on pastured animals has appeared in venues like the New York Times, spent years researching efforts to cultivate plants that have the food value of their wild brethren and the flavor to grab today’s palates. Billed as the next step in the food revolution; get ready.

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.