Barbara’s Picks, Oct. 2013, Pt. 2: Nonfiction from Robert Dallek, Richard Dawkins, Jonathan Franzen, Daniel Lieberman, & John W. Pilley

Dallek, Robert. Camelot’s Court: Inside the Kennedy White House. Harper: HarperCollins. Oct. 2013. 576p. ISBN 9780062065841. $32.50. lrg. prnt. HISTORY
Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, National Security Adviser McGeorge Bundy, and aides Ted Sorensen and Arthur Schlesinger: these were the courtiers of Camelot, the smart and feisty men, often at odds, with whom Kennedy surrounded himself. Noted historian Dallek, whose books include An Unfinished Life: John F. Kennedy, 1917–1963, shows that in many instances Kennedy stood on principle and resisted their advice. With 100,000-copy first printing and a one-day laydown on October 8.

Dawkins, Richard. An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist. Ecco: HarperCollins. Oct. 2013. 320p. ISBN 9780062225795; ebk. ISBN 9780062225818. $27.99. MEMOIR
Dawkins famously challenged the concept of faith in 2006’s The God Delusion, but he set off his first big earthquake in 1976 with The Selfish Gene, which compelled us to rethink evolution in terms of genetics. But what about his own evolution as a scientist? Here he starts at the beginning, with his upbringing in colonial Kenya, then proceeds to the intellectual wake-up call he received at Oxford, finally explaining what led to the thinking behind that first, groundbreaking book. As evidenced by his 610,000-plus Twitter followers and 541,400-plus Facebook fans, Dawkins really can talk science to the rest of us. With a seven-city tour to Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Portland (OR), San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Franzen, Jonathan. The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus. Farrar. Oct. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9780374182212. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780374710569. LITERATURE
No, not fiction, but this book should hold you until another grand-scale Franzen novel appears. Viennese satirist Kraus flourished in the first third of the 20th century, influencing writers like Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin as he gleefully skewered consumerist excess, media frenzy, and the last-gasp militarism of a doomed empire. Franzen seems well suited to translate the essays of this thorny, uncompromising, and opinionated idealist, offering extended annotations that pull Kraus into today’s culture. Kraus scholar Paul Reitter and the Austrian writer Daniel Kehlmann add their own views. Cultural criticism for the smart set.

Lieberman, Daniel. The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease. Pantheon. Oct. 2013. 464p. ISBN 9780307379412. $27.95. CD: Random Audio. SCIENCE
Chair of the Department of Human Evolutionary Biology at Harvard, Lieberman gracefully combines paleontology, anatomy, physiology, and experimental biomechanics to clarify how the human body has evolved and how evolutionary design now clashes with the particularities of modern society. Lieberman takes us through the emergence of bipedalism, the move away from a fruit-based diet, the rise of hunting and gathering societies, the development of a huge brain, and the growth of modern cultural abilities to show where we are now: troubled by dysevolution, as our long-evolved bodies fail to fit into modern culture and respond by developing diseases like diabetes. An important book; big promotion and a six-city tour to Boston, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Pilley, John W. Chaser: Unlocking the Genius of the Dog Who Knows a Thousand Words. Houghton Harcourt. Oct. 2013. 256p. ISBN 9780544102576. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780544102439. PETS
In 2010, dog lovers were not entirely surprised by headlines proclaiming that a Border Collie named Chaser had learned the names of over 1,000 objects and demonstrated an ability to learn new words through deductive reasoning. Now Pilley, Chaser’s trainer and an emeritus professor of psychology at Wofford College, is teaching her to understand syntax and semantics and to learn behaviors by imitation. Pilley’s success with Chaser, which has far outpaced work with other nonhuman animals, has taught us much about animal intelligence (including our own). Here, Pilley explains how he proceeded, revealing not just scientific method but some interesting training techniques that you and I can use, too. Not just a shaggy dog story; with a 100,000-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.